Opinion & Community

LIST: Cancelled flights due to bad weather

MANILA - Several domestic flights supposed to depart from Manila's main airport were cancelled Saturday as Tropical Storm "Urduja" made its way across central Philippines.

The following Cebu Pacific flights have been cancelled, according to the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA):

  • 5J 651/652 Manila-Tacloban-Manila
  • 5J 649/650 Manila-Tacloban-Manila
  • 5J 373/374 Manila-Roxas-Manila

Weather bureau PAGASA said Urduja is moving west towards the Northern-Eastern Samar area at 10 kph, dumping rains on it way. It is likely to make landfall Saturday afternoon or evening. 

Several parts of the Visayas and Luzon have been placed under storm warning signals because of the oncoming storm. 

 
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Supreme Court seen as next stop to derail TRAIN

he major provisions of the measure are those that would impose a P6 tax on diesel, cooking gas, kerosene and bunker fuel for electricity over three years up to 2020 and a hefty increase in the prices of other oil products like gasoline. File
MANILA, Philippines — As in the case of the extended martial law, the Supreme Court will be the next battleground to derail the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) or the tax reform bill ratified by Congress.

“We will challenge the approval of TRAIN before the Supreme Court,” Rep. Antonio Tinio of Alliance of Concerned Teachers said yesterday.
As this developed, health advocates urged President Duterte to veto the provision on low tobacco tax rate before signing the TRAIN into law this year.

His Makabayan bloc colleague, Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna, said: “We are now studying all our options, including going to the Supreme Court, to question and stop this railroaded anti-people tax reform package.”

The two are claiming that the House violated its own rules in approving the tax reform bill on Wednesday night.

However, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said the measure “was validly ratified.”

Fariñas said if any of his colleagues has any complaints, they could “go to the plenary, or, if not satisfied, to the courts.”

Zarate said the TRAIN bill was approved despite the clear absence of a quorum and their strong objections on the floor.

“There were only fewer than 20 members present when the wrecker TRAIN was railroaded. This is a blatant violation of our rules, which provide that the measure ‘shall be ratified by a majority vote of the members of the House present, there being a quorum’,” Zarate said.

“Obviously the runaway train that would wreak havoc on our people with new burdensome taxes was not validly ratified and (is) legally infirm,” Zarate added.

Tinio said he counted only 10 members present.

“The brazen railroading of this TRAIN wreck on the poor exposes yet again the blatant disregard of the Duterte administration and its supermajority in Congress for even the most minimal standards of democracy,” he said.

He said the tax reform bill was supposedly approved while administration allies were partying with Duterte at a luxury hotel in Manila.

The major provisions of the measure are those that would impose a P6 tax on diesel, cooking gas, kerosene and bunker fuel for electricity over three years up to 2020 and a hefty increase in the prices of other oil products like gasoline.

It would also bring tax relief to millions of taxpayers in the form of lower income tax.

But its net effect is that taxpayers would pay an additional P130 billion a year.

Zarate said it is the P6 diesel tax that would “inflict more hardship on our people because it will result in the increase of prices of almost everything.”

The Department of Finance, which proposed the bill, is satisfied with the final form approved by the House and the Senate before they started their month-long Christmas vacation.

Sin tax

Meanwhile, Action for Economic Reforms (AER) senior economist Jo-Ann Diosana said the dedicated funding for universal health care program as espoused in the 2012 Sin Tax Law was removed from the new tax bill, “relegating the dream of every poor Filipino household to get improved free health care even for outpatients out in the cold.”

The proposed law, however, still provides funding for tobacco-growing regions.

“The bill ratified by the House of Representatives and the Senate was a TRAIN wreck that will put the health of Filipinos at an even worse state than it is now if the President will not step in decisively,” she said.

Diosana noted the marginal increase in tobacco tax rate will not significantly reduce the number of smokers.

By next year, the amount of excise tax that will be imposed on cigarettes under the current Sin Tax Law would have been P31.20. The TRAIN tobacco tax rate increases this to only P32.50, or an increment of P1.30 per pack.

“These rates will favor only Philip Morris,” she said.

The AER also found out that the ratified TRAIN bill may replace the earmarking of 85 percent of incremental revenues for Philippine Health Insurance Corp. and other health programs with the new earmarking provisions in the proposed measure.

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Chief Justice Sereno dances away impeach woes

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno attends the Supreme Court Christmas party. Edd Gumban
MANILA, Philippines — If Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s impeachment troubles are causing her stress, it didn’t show at yesterday’s Christmas party at the Supreme Court, where she gamely danced after speaking about the high tribunal’s achievements under her leadership.

One of her dance partners was Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo, who is expected to testify in the impeachment proceedings against her in January.
Sereno and Del Castillo had a friendly embrace before dancing to “Jambalaya (On The Bayou)” by the Carpenters.

The House justice committee is trying to establish probable cause to impeach Sereno, based on a complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon.

Committee chairman Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali had said Del Castillo might testify on the issue of corruption against the chief magistrate, including her acqusition of a Toyota Land Cruiser.

Aside from Del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe was the only other incumbent associate justice seen at yesterday morning’s Christmas party program at the SC quadrangle.

SC Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta was spotted watching from a distance at the back of the SC quadrangle. He briefly drew attention when his twin sons played the piano and clarinet on stage.

Also present was former Associate Justice Adolfo Azcuna, currently the Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA) chancellor.

The four magistrates also danced with their respective partners. Sereno and Bernabe were later seen going to the middle of the crowd, encouraging them to join in the dancing.

Employees said Sereno would usually dance at special occasions at the SC. As in previous Christmas parties, not all justices were present.

In her 14-minute Christmas message, the Chief Justice encouraged employees to spread the good news on their accomplishments in the past five years or since her assumption to office as SC chief.

She admitted that significant positive changes in the judiciary under her leadership were rarely talked about.

“We have been working and working… but many people are not aware of the changes that we have been making” toward attaining their goal of “gold standard for public service,” she said.

She said that the SC employees should let the nation know that they have been working with pride, honor and dignity in recent years.

Some of the SC’s achievements, she said, were its wise spending program as shown by its not having been issued a notice of disallowance by the Commission on Audit (COA), decongesting of dockets by 50 percent and the operation of 294 electronic courts by the end of the year.

The SC has also made possible the resolution of small claim cases in 24 hours. Furthermore, trial time has been reduced from five or seven years to only six months to one year.

She also announced the SC would decentralize its maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) to allow local courts to directly purchase needed office supplies.

Sereno also praised the SC employees, saying they deserve to be rewarded.

“That is why it gives me great pleasure to announce that we will keep on creating incentives for the judiciary for this kind of performance. You deserve everything that you are going to get this month and for the months to come because so much output has been produced,” she stated.

Meanwhile, Gadon said his impeachment case against Sereno is likely to boost his chances in the next senatorial elections. With more justices set to testify against the SC chief, Gadon told reporters at a forum in Pampanga there is “zero chance she would not be impeached.” He also made it clear he would turn down any offer of position from the administration so he could focus on his advocacies.

“I cannot do all these things if I were in the government,” he said.

Gadon, who previously had an unsuccessful run for the Senate, is also associated with the Marcoses and former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. – Ding Cervantes

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Duque to public: Don’t rely too much on vaccination to fight dengue

Amid the controversy surrounding the government’s dengue vaccination program, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III reminded the public, especially parents, that the vaccine is not a “standalone” preventive measure against dengue.

“Dapat [isipin] ng ating mga kababayan, lalo na ang mga nanay, [na] ang bakuna ay ‘hindi standalone, hindi siya lamang ang inyong [aasahan] laban sa dengue," he said in an interview on Super Radyo dzBB on Saturday morning.

He reminded the public to observe the Department of Health's anti-dengue program of  action that includes searching and destroying possible breeding places for dengue-carrying mosquitoes, and seeking immediate medical intervention at the onset of dengue symptoms.

Dengue-carrying mosquitoes are known to breed in clean, stagnant water, he said.

As for symptoms, the health chief advised the public to watch out for high fever lasting for more than two days, pains in the joints, vomiting, loss of appetite, among others.

If these symptoms are observed, patients should be brought to the nearest hospital.  In all cases, hydration is important. "Painumin ang  pasyente ng maraming tubig," Duque added.

More than 830,000 school children in Regions 3, 4-A and the National Capital Region received shots of the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia as part of the government’s now-suspended school-based immunization program in 2016.

In late November, the manufacturer of Dengvaxia released an advisory saying new clinical analysis showed that while the vaccine is effective for people who have been infected with dengue prior to immunization, it may cause a “severe” dengue cases for people who have not.

This has caused fear and anxiety among parents of grade school students who were given Dengvaxia shots.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are conducting inquiries—in aid of legislation—into the purchase of the vaccine and the government’s dengue immunization program.

Among those who have made testimonies at the hearings are former President Benigno Aquino III, former Health Secretaries Janette Garin and Paulyn Ubial, and Dengvaxia maker Sanofi Pasteur's Asia Pacific head Thomas Triomphe.

Moreover, Duque said that the DOH has also embarked into "heightened" monitoring efforts through dengue immunization identification cards for individuals who received shots of the controversial dengue vaccine.

These cards are on top of public information campaigns through various media that the DOH will be pursuing, he said.

He also reiterated that the government’s overall immunization program—which includes vaccines against rabies, polio, measles, and others—remains reliable amid the dengue vaccine controversy. —LBG, GMA News

 

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Military to step up operations in Mindanao


Residents of areas infested with communist rebels should expect military operations intensified in scope and coverage, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero said on Friday.

While the focus of operations will be security threats in Mindanao, Guerrero said he had also realigned commanders and troops “to attend to other security concerns in other areas.”

“(Our operations will be) intensified in the sense that they [the public] can expect more patrols, checkpoints especially in the population centers,” Guerrero said at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on Friday.

“We want to establish visibility and presence in population centers to deter terrorist actions,” he said.

He said that military operations in western Mindanao would concentrate on jihadi groups, while actions in eastern Mindanao would focus on the communist New People’s Army (NPA).

“Right now, with the upsurge of atrocities in eastern Mindanao, we have started to put in more forces in eastern Mindanao for us to be able to address this problem,” he said.

But the military has also been gearing up for operations in the Southern Tagalog and Bicol regions.

Guerrero said at Camp Nakar in Lucena City on Thursday that operations in Southern Luzon would also intensify with the designation of Maj. Gen. Danilo Pamonag as the new commander of Southern Luzon Command (Solcom).

‘Bad news for enemies’

Guerrero said that the assignment of Pamonag, former commander of the military’s Joint Task Force Marawi, would be “bad news” for communist rebels.

“The combined strength of Solcom and the experience of General Pamonag can only mean good things for the AFP and bad news for our enemies,” he said.

“[This will be a] full-scale military operation that encompasses not only ground forces but also air and naval [assets],” Guerrero said.

The offensive will continue even during the Christmas season as Guerrero said that the military was not inclined to recommend a suspension of military operations (Somo) during the holidays.

“Somo is a political decision. It’s in the discretion of the President. But on the part of the AFP, we will not be recommending it,” he said.

“We are all in to win,” Pamonag said. “Let us be relentless and focus all our energies and resources to hit hard and degrade the capabilities of the remnants of all lawless elements in Southern Luzon.”

Last month, government forces killed 15 NPA rebels in a clash in Nasugbu town in Batangas province.

Brig. Gen. Ernesto Ravina Jr., Solcom deputy commander, led the command in an acting capacity for over a month before Pamonag assumed leadership.

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8 areas under signal no. 2 as Urduja moves closer to land

Satellite image as of December 16, 8 am. Image courtesy of NOAA 

MANILA, Philippines – Tropical Storm Urduja headed for the Eastern Samar-Northern Samar area early Saturday morning, December 16, ahead of its expected landfall within the day.

 

In a bulletin issued 8 am on Saturday, PAGASA said Urduja is already 125 kilometers east northeast of Borongan, Eastern Samar, moving west at 10 kilometers per hour (km/h). This speed is still slow, but it is slightly faster now compared to when it was barely moving on Friday, December 15.PAGASA forecaster Aldczar Aurelio earlier explained that the tropical storm's interaction with the northeast monsoon and the tail-end of a cold front had been preventing it from advancing faster.

Ahead of its landfall on Saturday afternoon or evening, Urduja has maximum winds of 80 km/h and gustiness of up to 95 km/h. (READ: EXPLAINER: How tropical cyclones form)

Signal number 2 is raised over:

  • Albay
  • Sorsogon
  • Masbate including Burias and Ticao Islands
  • Eastern Samar
  • Northern Samar
  • Samar
  • Biliran
  • Leyte

Signal number 1, meanwhile, is up in:

  • southern Quezon
  • Marinduque
  • Romblon
  • Catanduanes
  • Camarines Norte
  • Camarines Sur
  • Aklan
  • Antique
  • Capiz
  • Iloilo
  • Guimaras
  • Negros Occidental
  • northern Negros Oriental
  • Cebu
  • northern Bohol
  • Southern Leyte
  • Dinagat Islands
     

Floods and landslides have hit Eastern Samar, while Tacloban City is under a state of calamity.

PAGASA said residents of provinces in the tropical storm's path "must undertake appropriate measures against flooding and landslides and coordinate with their respective local government and disaster risk reduction and management offices." (READ: FAST FACTS: Tropical cyclones, rainfall advisories)

Below are the top 5 areas which received the most rainfall in terms of millimeters (mm), from 8 am of Thursday, December 14, to 8 am of Friday, or a 24-hour period. Guiuan, Eastern Samar is the hardest-hit as it received nearly two months' worth of rain in just one day.

  1. Guiuan, Eastern Samar – 780 mm (normal monthly rainfall: 440 mm)
  2. Borongan, Eastern Samar – 343 mm (normal monthly rainfall: 674.8 mm)
  3. Catbalogan, Samar – 215 mm (normal monthly rainfall: 322.7 mm)
  4. Tacloban, Leyte – 192.4 mm (normal monthly rainfall: 386 mm)
  5. Maasin, Southern Leyte – 95.4 mm (normal monthly rainfall: 226.1 mm)

Sea travel also remains risky in seaboards of areas under tropical cyclone warning signals.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) earlier activated the government's national disaster response operation to assist areas affected by the tropical storm.

Based on its forecast track, Urduja will eventually get downgraded back to a tropical depression by Tuesday, December 19, then leave the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) on Wednesday, December 20.

Forecast track of Tropical Storm Urduja as of December 16, 8 am. Image courtesy of PAGASA
     

Forecast track of Tropical Storm Urduja as of December 16, 8 am. Image courtesy of PAGASA 

– Rappler.com

 
 
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Rappler Talk: Janette Garin on the Dengvaxia controversy

MANILA, Philippines – The spotlight is on former Department of Health chief Janette Garin, who launched the now-suspended dengue vaccination program.

She faced multiple congressional probes into how the government allowed public school students in 3 regions to be vaccinated with Sanofi Pasteur’s risky Dengvaxia dengue vaccine.

Garin maintains the immunization program went through the legal process and was implemented in good faith.

Watch the full interview on Rappler. – Rappler.com

 
 
 
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Tagle leads Simbang Gabi, hits discrimination vs Muslims

SIMBANG GABI. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle delivers the homily on the first Simbang Gabi on December 16, 2017. Photo by Maria Tan/Rappler 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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MANILA, Philippines – As Filipinos flocked to churches for the first Simbang Gabi this year, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle urged Catholics to end discrimination against people they consider "different," including Muslims.

In his homily on Saturday, December 16, Tagle recognized the need for Filipinos to come together despite differences in belief, attitudes, and characteristics.

 

"Ang kailangan natin ngayon ay ang pagkakasundo, ang pagsasama-sama, ang pagtigil sa hidwaan, sa pagkakanya-kanya na nauuwi pa minsan sa karahasan," the cardinal said. (What we need now is to be at peace with each other, to come together, to stop wars, to end selfishness which often leads to violence.)

"Walang magandang nadudulot ang pagsisiraan na nauuwi sa pagkakahati-hati," he added. (Nothing good comes out of saying bad things against each other, which only leads to division.)

Highlighting several incidents during the Marawi siege when Muslims protected Christians against harm and violence, Tagle called on his flock to bring down the wall of differences.(READ:Trapped in Marawi, Muslims shield Christians from terrorists)

"Atin pong iwasto ang ating tendency sa discrimination laban sa mga kapwa natin na iba sa atin," he continued. "Sana ang samahan ng mga Kristiyano at mga kapatid nating Muslim ay umayos."

(Let's fix our tendency to discriminate against others who are different from us. I hope that the relationship of Christians and our Muslim brothers progress for the better.)

Dwelling on differences would only strengthen walls that divide communities. 

To fix this, Tagle urged people to discover the personalities of those they deem "different" and to go beyond what is seen on the surface of another person.

Doing so, the cardinal said, would mean helping "give birth" to Jesus Christ.

"Makipagkaibigan po tayo kaya tuklasin ang tunay na pagkatao ng mabuwag ang mga pader na naghahati-hati, na umuuwi naman sa karahasan at pagkakanya-kanya," Tagle said. (We should befriend others to see their real personalities and to destroy the wall of differences and division.) 

Simbang Gabi is the traditional set of 9 Masses in preparation for Christmas Day. It is held either in the evening or at dawn, in churches and improvised places of worship, such as malls. (LIST: Simbang Gabi schedules across the Philippines for 2017) – Rappler.com

 
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Duterte eyes Efren Peñaflorida to lead PCUP

EDUCATING THE POOR. CNN Hero awardee Efren Peñaflorida speaks to media after a Kariton Klasrum culminating activity. File photo by Jee Geronimo/Rappler 

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte is considering Efren Peñaflorida, the man recognized by CNN for his pushcart classrooms, to lead the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP).

The PCUP was the government agency whose officials Duterte sacked because they supposedly have not met as a collegial body, and have joined "junkets" abroad.

 

"Ang una kong i-consider 'yung nagatulak bitaw ng, 'yung naga turo (The first one I consider is the one who pushes, the one who teaches)," he said, referring to Peñaflorida.

Duterte bared this late Friday night, December 15, in an hour-long speech before Davao City-based media at the so-called Malacañang of the South.

Peñaflorida was hailed CNN Hero of the Year in 2009 for his efforts to educate kids in Metro Manila's slums.

Apart from Peñaflorida, the President said Malacañang is also "looking" for Randy Halasan to join the PCUP.

Halasan was a Ramon Magsaysay awardee in 2014 for supporting a Matigsalug community in the hinterlands of this city.

This was also confirmed by Duterte's aide, Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go, as they said the search for PCUP officials is yet to be completed.

Duterte earlier removed PCUP officials, including its erstwhile chair Terry Ridon, for supposedly taking "too much" travels abroad.

Ridon, however, said such travels were work-related– Rappler.com

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