Items filtered by date: Sunday, 10 December 2017

[OPINION] Responsible anti-Communism

After courting them for the first year of his administration, President Duterte has now declared the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), terrorist organizations.

His declaration is unfortunate. Not only does it formalize the end of peace talks that could have ended a 50-year-old insurgency – the longest standing Maoist rebellion in the world – it also augurs violence. This regime is nothing but bloodthirsty and the label terrorist can trigger repression reminiscent of the butcher Jovito Palparan.

 
 
 
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My position on the CPP is centrist. On the one hand, I view the CPP as a dictatorial organization that directly threatens our liberal democracy. On the other, I do not believe in counter-insurgency methods that violate human rights. I also believe that members of communist front organizations like Bayan Muna and Gabriela should not be the targets of military operations, while maintaining that they should be tagged as CPP fronts, the better to inform voters who elect them to the legislature.

As with any centrist position, my views court disagreement from opposing sides. The Communists don’t like being called anti-democratic, and they don’t like their fronts being exposed (they say people like me expose their fronts to the military and therefore abet violence – a stupid position since the military already knows which groups are fronts). Meanwhile, the hardline anti-Communists think I’m soft on the Reds.As a liberal, I believe in struggling to find the golden mean, and a responsible, rights-based anti-Communism is one such mean. Anti-Communism, like many other ideologies has corrupt manifestations. In America, they witnessed the witch-hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy. In the Philippines, we saw Ferdinand Marcos use the Communist bogeyman as an excuse to destroy our democracy and murder student activists. How do we condemn a violent ideology without replicating their violence?

 

A responsible anti-Communism must begin with clear definitions. Not all socialists and not all Marxists are capital C Communists. Small c communism is a philosophical position best summarized by Marx’s adage, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

Capital C Communism refers to the view, articulated by Lenin and his Bolshevik Party, that a socialist revolution is best led by a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries. This party would serve as the most advanced representation of worker rights and would therefore usher in Marx’s “dictatorship of the proletariat.” The belief in the supremacy of a single party explains why Communist parties in power tend to create one-party states (the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, etc.). Communism is inherently authoritarian.

Communism is also bloodthirsty. After all, it was Lenin and not Duterte, who said: “Without mercy, without sparing, we will kill our enemies in scores of hundreds. Let them be thousands; let them drown themselves in their own blood.”

Like Duterte, Lenin made good in his promise. The latest historical scholarship shows, for instance, that in 1920 alone, Lenin’s regime executed 50,000 Tsarist soldiers and allies. Lenin also established gulags – brutal forced labor camps, which under Stalin, would house more prisoners than Hitler’s concentration camps. The earliest prisoners of the gulags, according to historian Anne Applebaum, were not capitalists or monarchists, but moderate socialists who criticized Bolshevik tactics.

Partisans of the CPP often label moderate socialists “revisionists”, who have dangerously altered the spirit of socialist politics. But they forget that, prior to Lenin, socialism had had a relatively peaceful record. In 1920, shocked by the bloodlust of the Bolsheviks, the French socialist Leon Blum declared that for the “first time in the history of socialism”, systematic violence was used “not merely a final recourse, not an extreme measure of public safety to be imposed on bourgeois resistance, not as a vital necessity for revolution, but as a means of government.”


     

Under Joseph Stalin, the terror expanded through a series of show trials and public executions. Uncle Joe imposed quotas on the number of executions per region. In the Sverdlovsk region alone, the quota of state enemies to be shot was 75,950.

Similar atrocities happened in China. With the opening of Chinese archives we now know that Mao Zedong – the Asian Stalin and the patron saint of our domestic commies – facilitated the execution and torture of two to 3 million of his people from 1958 to 1962 alone. Not to mention the others who died because of famine induced by the Great Helmsman’s coercive collectivization of agriculture.

In its glorification of violence and disdain for liberal democracy, Communism was similar to another extreme ideology of the 20th century: Nazism. Though their political goals were different, they shared common tactics and dispositions. Hitler himself acknowledged the similarities when he wrote: “I have always made allowance for this circumstance, and given orders that former Communists are to be admitted to the party at once. The petit bourgeois Social Democrat and the trade-union boss will never make a National Socialist, but the Communist always will.” It was the ideological resonances between Nazism and Communism that allowed Stalin to justify an alliance with Hitler early in the Second World War.

Why is this history relevant in our assessment of the CPP? Because this party draws inspiration from the Communist pantheon of mass murderers. They are officially a Leninist and Maoist organization, and, regarding Stalin, they believe that his “merits within his own period of leadership are principal and his demerits are secondary”. I used to get demerits in grade school, but they were not for genocide and mass incarceration.

Communist sympathizers often tell me that the faults of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao are not those of the CPP, and that our domestic Commies may still learn from the mistakes of their forebears. But this is like saying we should go easy on Neo-Nazis because they have yet to bring about a second holocaust. The fact is: Communism-inspired great atrocities, and we should treat these as warnings.

For those who think that our Commies are immune from the kind of paranoia that led to the tortures and executions under Stalin, I suggest you read Bobby Garcia’s classic book on the CPP purges, To Suffer Thy Comrades. And there is an entire history of NPA troops targeting peasants from rival mass organizations that is waiting to be written.

It is the moral obligation of the historian in the Philippines to speak about Communism’s bloody history, especially since many idealistic students, farmers, workers, and indigenous people are willing to sacrifice their lives for this cause. But the obligation to speak out against Communism must come in tandem with a humanism that recognizes the rights and even morality of those who fight under the red banner. To dehumanize them, to treat them like terrorists that deserve extermination, makes us sink to the level of the bloody dictators they idolize.

When we say human rights are universal, this means we defend the human rights even of those whom we despise. – Rappler.com

Lisandro Claudio (@leloyclaudio on Twitter) teaches history at De La Salle University. He is the host of Rappler.com’s video series Basagan ng Trip.

 
 
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AMA to select 1st in 2017 PBA D-League Draft

Photo by Tristan Tamayo/ INQUIRER.net
Alvin Pasaol, the super scorer out of University of the East, is tipped to be the top selection in the 2017 PBA D-League Rookie Draft set on Tuesday at PBA Cafe in Metrowalk, Pasig.

AMA Online Education holds the rights to the No. 1 overall pick.

Titans coach Mark Herrera will have the luxury of picking his guy from the 201-man pool as he seeks beef up his roster bannered by hard-nosed big man Andre Paras.

This will be the second consecutive year that AMA will be selecting first, after nabbing Jeron Teng in the 2016 draft.
Aside from Pasaol, some of the highly-touted players this year include Arvin Tolentino of Far Eastern U, Abu Tratter of La Salle, Javi Gomez de Liaño of University of the Philippines, and Robbie Manalang of Adamson.
Wangs Basketball-Letran will pick at number two, while Batangas-EAC is at third.
Thirteen teams are set to participate in the 2018 PBA D-League Aspirants’ Cup, which tips off on January 18.
Eleven of the 13 squads participating this year will be school-based teams as they make early preparations for their respective mother leagues, namely CEU, Zark’s Burgers-Lyceum, Gamboa Coffee-St. Clare, and JRU, and debuting teams Che’Lu Bar and Grill-San Sebastian, Powerball-St. Benilde, Perpetual, and Akari-Adamson.
Only returning Marinerong Pilipino and newcomer Mila’s Lechon are the teams that won’t be featuring varsity crews.

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Ateneo honors its UAAP Season 80 champions with bonfire party

ONE BIG FIGHT. The Ateneo community comes together to celebrate with their champion teams. Photo by Martin San Diego/Rappler

 

MANILA, Philippines – Katipunan Avenue was on party mode as the Ateneo de Manila University held a bonfire party in celebration of its UAAP Season 80 first semester champion teams on Saturday, December 9.

Although the bonfire is done yearly to commemorate Ateneo’s champion student-athletes, the university held an extra special first semester-ending bonfire as hundreds of students, faculty, administrators and alumni flocked the university's Grade School grounds to celebrate the Blue Eagles men’s basketball team’s first title in 5 years.

The Men’s Judo Team and the dominant men and women of the Swimming Team were also honored at the event. But as expected from a basketball country, the men’s ballers were the focus of the celebrations.

After a highlight reel featuring every player’s best moments in Season 80, the new champs were then introduced one after the other by Ateneo alum and resident UAAP barker Rolly Manlapaz. Some were cheered louder than the rest, including clutch machine Isaac Go, sharpshooting point guard Matt Nieto and the Finals Most Valuable Player and Mythical Five member, Thirdy Ravena.

Through interviews onstage, the Blue Eagles amused the crowd with stories of their hardships and triumphs, including Matt and Mike Nieto’s own lifelong journey as twins through Ateneo.

“Sobrang sarap ng journey,” said Matt. “Pero pinakamasarap yung bonfire ngayon kasi dream come true sa amin ni Mike ‘to. Kasi nung bata pa kami, pinapangarap lang naming umakyat dito sa stage kaharap ng buong Ateneo community, and now, it’s really happening.”

(The journey is really sweet, but this year’s bonfire is the sweetest because it’s a dream come true for Mike and I. When we were kids, we only dreamed of coming up the stage facing the entire Ateneo community and now, it’s really happening.)

Others like Ravena used their time to shower thanks upon the fans and coaches.

“Marami po talagang pinagdaanan, pero ‘pag iniisip mo na gustung-gusto mo talagang ilaro para sa Ateneo community, ibibigay mo talaga para sa kanila. Gagawin mo lahat,” he said.

(There were really a lot of struggles, but if you think that you really want to play for the Ateneo community, you’d really give it all and do it all for them.)

There were also a lot of lighthearted moments, like the time Gian Mamuyac was asked whether he preferred his block on an NBA MVP (Steph Curry during a Taiwan exhibition) or a UAAP MVP (Ben Mbala during Game 3 of the Finals). Quivering in front of the massive crowd, the 18-year old rookie said, “UAAP.”

After the interviews, graduating team captain Vince Tolentino finally lit up the bonfire before the singing of the school hymn "Song For Mary". The night ended with fireworks across the sky as loud Atenean chants boomed into the night. – Rappler.com

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IOC 'confident' Tokyo 2020 venues will be ready on time

TOKYO, Japan – Tokyo organizers are back on track and will complete their 2020 Olympic venues on schedule, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said Monday, December 11, at the start of a 3-day visit.

After bungling the rollout of the showpiece Olympic stadium two years ago, local organizers have come under scrutiny but last month unveiled their first new permanent venue for the 2020 Olympics in a welcome public relations boost.

 

The new national stadium is set to be completed by November 2019 after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tore up the original blueprints over its eye-watering $2 billion price tag.

But the IOC's Games coordination commission chairman John Coates backed Tokyo 2020 to deliver the venue on time.

"It was a significant accomplishment to complete the first permanent venue," he said before a meeting with key Japanese officials, including Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike and Olympics Minister Shunichi Suzuki.

"There are 6 other venues under way and with the progress of the national stadium, we are very confident of meeting the delivery dates you've set."

Other items on the agenda in Tokyo this week are security, efforts to further reduce the $12 billion Games budget and anti-doping protocols, officials said.

Coates noted further progress with last week's shortlist of 3 Tokyo 2020 mascot candidates.

Schoolchildren from across Japan will vote on the winner by the end of February and Coates said the new sports approved for Tokyo 2020 – including skateboarding, sports climbing and BMX freestyle cycling – would bring some street cred to the Games.

"That youth focus and gender balance will be one of the greatest legacies of Tokyo 2020," he added, pointing to the record 48.8% of women set to compete in the Games.

Koike, who has often been at loggerheads with local organizers over the prickly issue of costs, revealed the IOC president had "praised Tokyo's progress" during a recent meeting in Paris as both sides painted a rosy picture before getting down to business.

Suzuki, meanwhile, underlined the role of the Japanese government in guaranteeing a safe Olympics.

"Of course security will be of paramount importance," he said. "To that end, the government's cooperation will be crucial, in particular in terms of counter-terrorism measures and identifying potential risks and threats to the Olympics."

Tokyo won hosting rights in 2013, beating bids from Istanbul and Madrid, but preparations have been far from smooth.

After the fiasco of the Olympic stadium, designs for the official Games logo were ditched following accusations of plagiarism.

There was more bad news in October when organizers admitted that prolonged summer rain had brought high levels of bacteria to a venue earmarked for triathlon and open water swimming. – Rappler.com

 

 
 
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Todd Kohlhepp, South Carolina serial killer, says he has more victims

Todd Kohlhepp enters the courtroom of Judge Jimmy Henson for a bond hearing at the Spartanburg Detention Facility, in Spartanburg, S.C. Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016.

 
 AP PHOTO/RICHARD SHIRO

The Herald-Journal of Spartanburg reports that, in an eight-page letter, Todd Kohlhepp wrote that he tried to tell investigators and informed the FBI, but he said "it was blown off." He also wrote, "At this point, I really don't see reason to give numbers or locations." 

Don Wood, chief division counsel with the FBI's Columbia office, said the agency has a pending investigation, but wouldn't comment specifically on what the FBI is doing. 

1akala2.jpg

Kala Brown

 WSPA

The 46-year-old Kohlhepp pleaded guilty in May to seven counts of murder for killings that took place over more than a decade, all as he ran a real estate business. He was sentenced to life in prison. 

Kohlhepp was arrested when investigators searching for a missing couple found a woman "chained like a dog" inside a shipping container. The woman, Kala Brown, had been raped and locked inside the container for more than two months after Kohlhepp shot and killed her boyfriend, authorities said. Charles David Carter, 32, was the last of the seven murder victims. 

CBS News does not normally identify victims of sexual assault, but Brown has spoken publicly about her ordeal. She said on the "Dr. Phil" show in February that Kohlhepp raped her daily during her captivity and bragged that he was good at killing, claiming that his victims numbered nearly 100.

Brown said she did what she had to do to survive.

"He told me as long as I served my purpose, I was safe," Brown told host Phillip McGraw.

Kohlhepp's mother Regina Tague, in an emotional interview with "48 Hours," insisted her son is "not a monster." 

"I want [Brown] to know how sorry I am," Tague told "48 Hours." "And I think Todd is too. Because he didn't wanna hurt her, he just didn't know what to do."

Tague was found dead in her home in April. The coroner said she died of natural causes, CBS affiliate WSPA reports

 

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Liberal Outsiders Pour Into Alabama Senate Race, Treading Lightly

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey taking a photo with Doug Jones, center, the Democratic Senate candidate, in Montgomery, Ala., on Saturday. Credit Joe Raedle/Getty Images
SELMA, Ala. — In the poinsettia-trimmed pulpit of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday morning, the Rev. James Perkins Jr., the first black mayor of a city where the right to vote was won in blood, announced his support for the Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama’s special Senate election. He reminded his Selma congregants, without telling them how to vote, that sheep are to follow their shepherd.

Not that the congregation needed much reminding.

With only hours until the polls open on Tuesday in this unlikeliest of battleground states, Democrats are deploying a sprawling, multimillion-dollar get-out-the-vote operation in an effort to steal away a Senate seat and reduce the Republican majority to a single vote.

A constellation of liberal groups outside the state has showered money and manpower on turnout efforts aimed at helping Mr. Jones. But they are working discreetly, hoping to avoid the appearance of trying to dictate whom Alabamians should support.

As part of those efforts, former Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, only the country’s second elected black governor, was at Ebenezer to make the case for Mr. Jones. In the vestibule were stacks of sample ballots for the Democrat, whose smiling visage was on literature left on every car in the parking lot. A few blocks away, at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of Bloody Sunday in 1965, the message was starker: “Vote or Die” read a sign aimed at this region’s black majority, whose turnout could decide the race.

On Sunday, though, it was not an out-of-state liberal who offered an unexpected lift to Mr. Jones. Senator Richard C. Shelby, perhaps the most prominent of Alabama Republicans, made a rare national television appearance to excoriate Roy S. Moore, the Republican nominee and his would-be Senate colleague.

“I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore,” Mr. Shelby, who had previously said he would write in the name of another Republican, said on CNN. “The state of Alabama deserves better.”

Mr. Jones’s campaign immediately turned Mr. Shelby’s remarks into an online advertisement and was planning to play parts of the interview in automated phone calls to Republican households, according to a Jones adviser.

Public polling suggests that Mr. Jones remains a slight underdog in the election, though private surveys for both parties have found the race to be a tossup, according to people briefed on the data. Still, Alabama has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1992. President Trump won the state by nearly 28 percentage points, and Democrats have had a series of letdowns in special congressional elections this year in traditionally Republican territory.

Republicans caution that Mr. Moore’s grass-roots following should not be underestimated, and he has mobilized a volunteer network, stocked with conservative Christian activists, that has repeatedly propelled him to statewide office over the objections of establishment leaders turned off by his divisive social views.

Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama, stopped short of endorsing Roy S. Moore’s Democratic opponent in the special Senate election, but noted that he had written in the name of a “distinguished Republican” on his absentee ballot. Credit Al Drago for The New York Times

But Mr. Moore has been abandoned by some in his party and has effectively gone underground for the race’s final days rather than face questions about allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls. Should Mr. Jones be able to capitalize on that and score an upset here, it will be in large part because liberals quietly flooded Alabama with resources.

“If it’s possible to win a race in Alabama, we’ll do it,” said Paul Maslin, Mr. Jones’s pollster. “It may not be.”

Former President Barack Obama has taped a get-out-the-vote call for Mr. Jones, but on Sunday night the candidate’s advisers were still weighing whether to use it. Mr. Obama is beloved among black voters but is still unpopular among some of the Republican-leaning white voters Mr. Jones needs.

But Mr. Jones’s campaign is highlighting Mr. Obama in another way. It has deluged black radio stations with commercials promoting Mr. Jones, one of which describes Mr. Moore as “backed by the racist alt-right groups” and brands him “a birther, still insisting that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and isn’t an American.”

The commercials also highlight Mr. Jones’s tenure as a United States attorney in the 1990s, when he prosecuted the white supremacists who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, noting that he “took on the Klan and got justice.”

And in a bid to laser-target black voters, Mr. Jones’s campaign has bought a huge file of cellphone numbers for African-Americans, which it plans to use for a get-out-the-vote appeal via text message, two people familiar with the plan said. To win, Democrats say that African-Americans must represent at least 25 percent of those who turn out to vote.

Less visibly, some national Democratic groups have channeled resources to the state. A top aide at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee with experience in Southern politics, Tracey Lewis, has been in the state for weeks advising Mr. Jones’s campaign. A national Democratic consulting firm known for its work overseeing paid canvassers is also aiding Mr. Jones. And a Democratic “super PAC,” Highway 31, has sprung up to air radio and television ads supporting Mr. Jones.

Indivisible, the liberal grass-roots network, held a series of training sessions in Alabama, sending veteran activists into the state to hone the tactics of local organizers. The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, had multiple paid organizers on the ground and more than a dozen volunteers, one organizer outside Mr. Jones’s campaign office said.

A group called Open Progress is funding a large text message campaign with African-Americans. A nonpartisan group called the Voter Participation Center is reaching over 300,000 black voters here with direct mail and text messages. And NextGen America, a national group funded by Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental activist, lent an organizer to an Alabama-centric group, Woke Vote, to help mobilize historically black campuses.

But in a sign of the sensitivity about outside influence in the race, Mr. Steyer, who poured millions into last month’s election for governor of Virginia, has not spent any money directly backing Mr. Jones, an aide said. Unlike in Virginia, Mr. Jones cannot simply rely upon energized liberals and moderates to carry him to victory. He must also persuade some Republicans to support him in this deep-red state.

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“Jones needs the upscale soccer moms in Homewood to turn out for him,” said Steve Flowers, a former state legislator and author of a book on Alabama politics, referring to a Birmingham suburb.

A handful of Homewood women in their 40s who attended a Jones rally in downtown Birmingham on Sunday said they were eager to send a message to Mr. Moore and Mr. Trump, who has backed his candidacy, and had been making phone calls for Mr. Jones.

“We are not unicorns,” said Jennifer Andress, who is on the Homewood City Council.

But Ms. Andress and her friends were less certain that some of their more Republican-leaning contemporaries could bring themselves to back a Democrat, although they were heartened to have seen red “No Moore” signs on lawns of some Republican neighbors.

At the rally, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey delivered a fierce stump speech — part pep talk, part high-concept peroration — to volunteers, before laying out a more clinical case for Mr. Jones to reporters outside. Without mentioning Mr. Moore’s name, Mr. Booker warned that electing him would humiliate Alabama and cripple the state’s ability to wrangle favors from Washington.

“My friends on the other side of the aisle have told me, and said publicly, that they’re going to try to oust him as soon as he’s there,” Mr. Booker said of Mr. Moore. “Time is wasting. There are big bills coming through, spending bills and the like. Alabama needs its share.”

Mr. Jones, he insisted, is “somebody that Republicans are going to work with and Democrats are going to work with.”

With Mr. Jones and his newly visible allies stumping across the state, Mr. Moore has been comparatively invisible in the final stage of the race, trusting his appeal to Alabama’s intensely conservative culture and Mr. Trump’s late exhortations to carry the day. Mr. Trump has given a series of impassioned pleas for Mr. Moore, via Twitter and at his own campaign-style rally in the Florida Panhandle on Friday.

Mr. Moore has not held a public campaign event since early last week, and has announced just one before the vote on Tuesday — a rally on Monday night in rural southeastern Alabama, alongside Stephen K. Bannon, the former White House adviser, and Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas.

The candidate gave a rare interview over the weekend to a local television program, “The Voice of Alabama Politics,” jabbing at Mr. Jones as a “liberal Democrat” and casting himself as the truer avatar of Alabama values. Yet even with a gentle interlocutor, Mr. Moore spent long minutes parrying allegations that he had sexually abused young girls. “I did not date underage women,” he said. “I did not molest anyone, and so these allegations are false.”

To some veteran Alabama Democrats, Mr. Moore appears to be motivating Democrats as much as his own supporters. Outside the 16th Street Baptist Church on Sunday, after a service during which the congregation was exhorted repeatedly to head to the polls, David Russell, 65, said he saw Mr. Moore as a powerful spur to the Democratic base.

“We are going to use Roy Moore just like we used to use George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door,” Mr. Russell said, referring to the state’s polarizing former governor — who was elected four times.

Richard Fausset contributed reporting.

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At 230,000 acres, Thomas fire is now the fifth largest wildfire in modern California history

Santa Barbara County was under siege from the Thomas fire Sunday as fire crews fought to keep the destructive blaze from the region’s picturesque beach communities.

Authorities said the out-of-control blaze had scorched 230,000 acres by Sunday evening, making it the fifth largest wildfire in modern California history.

The fire grew by more than 50,000 acres during the day, triggering new evacuation orders for about 5,000 county residents, including those east of Mission Canyon and north of Highway 192. An additional 30,000 residents west of Mission Canyon to Highway 154 and south of Highway 192 to the county line were told to prepare to leave.

As the fire grew Sunday, containment dropped from 15% to 10%, authorities said.

The blaze has destroyed 524 structures and damaged 135 in the city of Ventura. In the unincorporated areas of Ventura County, 266 structures have been destroyed, while 56 were damaged. The fire consumed six structures on Sunday in beach town of Carpinteria, authorities said.

Santa Ana winds, aided by extremely low humidity, pushed the Ventura County fire over the Santa Barbara County line Saturday night. The winds that bedeviled fire crews from San Diego to Ojai last week were gusting at speeds of up to 35 mph, fire officials said.

Their greatest concern was for Carpinteria. The fire was moving west above the city in an area of very dry vegetation that hasn’t burned in about 100 years, said Steve Swindle, spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department.

“The fuels in there are thick and they’re dead so they’re very receptive to fire,” Swindle said.

New evacuations orders in Thomas fire
Watch huge smoke plume from the Thomas fire Sunday morning. (Video by Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Fire officials feared that if the fire moves into nearby creek beds, it might create a chimney-like effect, sending the flames roaring along the creek’s path.

Firefighters on Sunday morning were making a stand at a cluster of homes on Shepard Mesa Road where flames threatened to sweep through the area, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

The department posted a photo of one home burning on Gobernador Canyon Road. It’s unclear whether other structures were lost.

Crews were cutting lines outside the city in an effort to keep flames from further encroachment and “contingency strike teams” were dispatched throughout Carpinteria in case the blaze manages to cross fire lines, said Newport Beach firefighter Jude Olivas, a spokesman for the Thomas fire response.

By midmorning Sunday, the fire was burning the Camino Cielo mountain range and approaching Cate School, a Carpinteria boarding school under mandatory evacuation. On its website, the school said it would remain closed until after winter break, according to fire officials.

Southern California Edison officials said Sunday that up to 85,000 customers in Santa Barbara County were without power.

The Santa Barbara Zoo was closed to the public Sunday, and its 500 animals were confined to their night quarters. The zoo was outside the evacuation area and not in immediate danger, but there was smoke and ash on the 30-acre property.

“We drill for and are prepared for emergencies,” zoo director Nancy McToldridge said in a Facebook post. “We are taking all precautions to ensure the safety of our animals and our staff.”

The animal care staff was providing “enrichment,” including toys, treats and puzzles, to prevent the zoo residents from becoming bored inside, said director of marketing Dean Noble.

Wildfires scorch a hole through Southern California's mythology of paradise
“The gorillas like music,” Noble said.

Even as the Thomas fire surged, the approximately 8,500 firefighters battling the six wildfires across Southern California were making progress.

Firefighters had a successful day Saturday battling flames on the southern edge of the Thomas fire — working toward the coast as well as parts of Ojai — thanks to wind conditions and crews’ ability to improve the fire lines they had established, according to Bill Murphy, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

The Thomas fire has forced 88,000 people to flee their homes. Official estimates have put the cost of combating the fire at $25 million.

Across Ventura County, blackened hillsides and charred palm trees with only their trunks remaining have become a common sight.

By Sunday morning, evacuations had been lifted for most of the city of Ventura and for Santa Paula.

The cause of the fire, which began Monday east of Highway 150 near Thomas Aquinas College, is under investigation.

During a news conference at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, Gov. Jerry Brown said climate change may exacerbate the weather conditions that caused the wildfires to explode. He expressed sympathy for residents who had lost their homes and animals, saying the fires were horrific and a “terrible tragedy for so many people.”

“This could be something that happens every year or every few years,” he said. “We’re about to have a firefighting Christmas.”

In Los Angeles County, firefighters made progress on blazes in Sylmar, Santa Clarita and Bel-Air. The Creek fire was 90% contained, and the Rye fire was 90% contained as of Sunday morning. The Skirball fire was 75% contained.

In northern San Diego County, the Lilac fire, which was 60% contained, had burned 4,100 acres and destroyed 182 structures along the Highway 76 corridor that stretches west from the 15 Freeway through Bonsall and Fallbrook. Officials cautioned that dry, swirling Santa Ana winds could kick up embers that might start new fires.

At least 46 horses were killed at a thoroughbred training facility, San Luis Rey Downs in Bonsall, where an estimated 450 were stabled. Mike Marten, a spokesman for the California Horse Racing Board, said Saturday that a small number of horses had escaped to the wilderness through a fence that was knocked down and had yet to be found.

 

UPDATES:

6:45 p.m.: This article was updated with new figures on acreage burned and structures damaged.

5 p.m.: This article was updated with a new acreage burned number.

11:25 a.m.: This article was updated with efforts to defend Carpinteria and the Santa Barbara Zoo and new containment counts for various fires.

8:20 a.m. This article was updated with new acreage count.

7:55 a.m. This article was updated with information about power outages.

This article was first published at 7:05 a.m.

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Garin ‘ignored’ experts’ advice on Dengvaxia; no testing done to find out if children had dengue before vaccination

File photos of Dengvaxia vaccine (from Reuters) and former DOH chief Janette Garin (from Philstar)
MANILA, Philippines — As she announced in January 2016 that the Philippines would immunize one million children with a new dengue vaccine, the nation’s then health secretary Janette Garin boasted it was a world-first and a tribute to her country’s “expertise” in research.

At the time, it seemed the Philippines could be on the cusp of a breakthrough to combat a potentially lethal tropical virus that had been endemic in large parts of the Southeast Asian nation for decades.

Almost two years later, the program lies in tatters and has been suspended after Sanofi Pasteur, a division of French drug firm Sanofi, said at the end of last month the vaccine itself may in some cases increase the risk of severe dengue in recipients not previously infected by the virus.

Documents reviewed by Reuters that have not been disclosed until now, as well as interviews with local experts, show that key recommendations made by a Philippines Department of Health (DOH) advisory body of doctors and pharmacologists were not heeded before the program was rolled out to 830,000 children.

After Garin’s announcement, the Formulary Executive Council (FEC) of advisers urged caution over the vaccine because it said its safety and cost-effectiveness had not been established.

After twice meeting in January, the panel approved the state’s purchase of the vaccine on Feb 1, 2016 but recommended stringent conditions, minutes of all three meetings show.

“Based on the available scientific evidence presented to the Council, there is still a need to establish long-term safety, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness,” the FEC told Garin in a letter on that day. The letter was reviewed by Reuters.

The FEC said Dengvaxia should be introduced through small-scale pilot tests and phased implementation rather than across three regions in the country at the same time, and only after a detailed “baseline” study of the prevalence and strains of dengue in the targeted area, the FEC letter and minutes of the meetings said.

The experts also recommended that Dengvaxia be bought in small batches so the price could be negotiated down. An economic evaluation report commissioned by Garin’s own department had found the proposed cost of 1,000 pesos ($21.29) per dose was “not cost-effective” from a public payer perspective, the minutes from the meetings reveal.

For reasons that Reuters was unable to determine, these recommendations were ignored.

“VERY ANGRY”

The DOH purchased 3 million doses of Dengvaxia in one lot, enough for the required three vaccinations for each child in the proposed immunization program and paid 1,000 pesos per dose, a copy of the purchase order reviewed by Reuters shows.

It did conduct a “limited baseline study” in late February and March 2016, but the survey looked at “common illnesses” rather than the prevalence of dengue, according to guidelines issued by Garin’s office at the time and reviewed by Reuters.

Garin, who was part of the government of former president Benigno Aquino and replaced when President Rodrigo Duterte took power in June, 2016, did not respond to requests for comment on why she ignored the local experts’ recommendations.

A physician, Garin has defended her conduct and a program that she said was “implemented in accordance with WHO guidance and recommendations”.

“I understand the concern,” she told Philippine TV station ABS-CBN on Friday. “Even us, we’re also very angry when we learned about Sanofi’s announcement about severe dengue. I‘m also a mother. My child was also vaccinated. I was also vaccinated.”

DOH spokesman Lyndon Lee Suy also did not respond to text messages or questions emailed to him.

Sanofi Philippines declined comment on the Philippines government decision. However, Dr. Su-Peing Ng, Global Medical Head of Sanofi Pasteur, told Reuters: “We communicated all known benefits and risks of the vaccine to the Philippines government.”

Rontgene Solante, former president of the Philippines Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, said health officials were motivated to end the debilitating impact of dengue on the Philippines, where there are about 200,000 reported cases each year and many more unreported.

Over 1,000 people died of the disease in the country last year.

Two months after the FEC wrote to the health secretary, the DOH began immunizing one million students around the age of 10 in all three target areas in April 2016, in accordance with its original plan but at odds with the FEC’s recommendations to conduct a slow roll-out of the vaccine.

“The usual process for the DOH that has protected our children for so many decades was not followed. That’s a fact,” said Susan Mercado, a former Philippines health department undersecretary and former senior official at the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO said in April 2016 that the Philippines’ campaign appeared to meet its criteria for using Dengvaxia because the targeted regions had high levels of dengue exposure; the vaccine would be provided to children 9 years and older; and they would each receive three doses.

Now, after Sanofi’s warnings, WHO has said it agrees with the government’s decision to suspend the immunization program.

SHOULDN‘T IGNORE EXPERTISE

The current secretary of health in the Duterte administration, Francisco Duque, said he would carry out a “thorough analysis” of the FEC’s recommendations and the program before passing judgment. He said the Council’s recommendations were not legally enforceable.

“At the end of the day, the final decision is made by (the)secretary of health,” he told Reuters. “But because of the expertise that the members of the FEC have, it is something that you don’t want to ignore.”

Underpinning the concerns in 2016 about Dengvaxia, since confirmed by Sanofi, were fears that the vaccine would act like a primary infection for those who had never had dengue.

If they were bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus after the vaccination, it could be akin to getting dengue a second time, which often leads to far more severe symptoms and potentially death if bad cases are not treated quickly.

The concerns were first raised by noted U.S.-based tropical disease expert, Dr. Scott Halstead, who urged both Sanofi and the WHO to proceed with caution.

In the Philippines, Dr. Antonio Gans, an epidemiologist from the University of the Philippines, led a delegation of physicians to the DOH in March 2016 where, citing Halstead’s research, they pressed for the campaign to be aborted.

“The data was not definitive but it was clear there were uncertainties and risks. Why not wait for the complete studies to be finished before endangering so many children?” Gans told Reuters.

In a Senate hearing late last year, Garin said she was aware of Halstead’s assessment but dismissed it. “This is a theory … it has not been proven,” she said at the time.

FEAR AND CONFUSION

Two sources involved in the program said no antibody testing was undertaken, as recommended by the FEC.

Antibody testing, while not 100 percent accurate, indicates whether an individual has had dengue before.

Duque, the current health secretary, is demanding the company refund the 3 billion pesos ($60 million) paid for the vaccinations and has threatened legal action against Sanofi if it is proven to have withheld information.

A criminal probe is underway into how a danger to public health came about and two Congressional inquiries have been convened in the Philippines.

Duque told Reuters he was concerned that the program was paid from an “off-budget” allocation, meaning it bypassed Congressional scrutiny. Reuters was unable to confirm this.

Until now, one child out of the 830,000 vaccinated, a girl who was hospitalized with severe dengue, has been linked definitively by the DOH to the campaign. But the department of health says it still does not have complete data on those who fell ill after taking Dengvaxia.

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Kiko hits Duterte gov’t’s move to appoint as PNP drugs chief the ex-head of police unit linked to Jee Ick Joo slay

Philstar file photo of Sen. Francis Pangilinan
MANILA, Philippines — Warning that promotion instead of charges would lead to more abuses by law enforcers, Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan last Sunday criticized the Duterte administration’s move to appoint Senior Supt. Albert Ignatius Ferro — the former head of a police unit being linked to the abduction and slay of a South Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo — as new chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP)’s Drug Enforcement Group (DEG).

“Lalo lang lalakas ang loob ng pulis na gumawa ng hindi tama at abusuhin ang pwesto dahil promotion sa halip na parusa ang naghihintay sa kanila [This would all the more embolden the police to commit wrongdoings and abuse their positions because promotion, instead of punishment, await them,] Pangilinan, Liberal Party president, said in a statement.

The PNP announced Ferro’s appointment last Saturday, three days after President Rodrigo Duterte announced the drug war’s return to the police.

Ferro is the former head of the PNP’s Anti-Illegal Drugs Group that was dissolved last year after police officers under the ADG were accused of allegedly having a hand in the October 2016 kidnapping of Korean Hanjin executive Jee Ick Joo under the guise of a drug operation.

Jee was later killed inside the PNP headquarters at Camp Crame in Quezon City. His remains were cremated with his ashes reportedly flushed down the toilet.

“Si Ferro lang ba ang tauhan ng PNP na may kakayahang mamuno sa DEG at siya ang pinili? Mas marami naman siguro diyan na walang bahid ang pangalan at mas karapat-dapat na mamuno sa nasabing unit,” said Pangilinan.

[Is Ferro the only PNP law enforcer who has the capability to lead the DEG and that’s why he was the one chosen? Maybe there are still many others whose names remain untarnished and are more qualified to lead the said unit.]

He said the PNP “should be more circumspect in assigning their personnel, especially in sensitive and controversial posts like the DEG, as it could further place the government’s campaign against illegal drugs in a negative light.”

“How can the people trust the PNP’s campaign against illegal drugs if those people spearheading it are involved in controversy, like the Jee Ick Joo case, which remains unsolved until now and the victim’s family is still crying for justice?” Pangilinan asked.

“If the PNP wants to regain the people’s trust, then it should appoint officials with unblemished reputations in its war against drugs,” he added.

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4 current, ex-SC justices attend House hearing on Sereno impeach raps

File photos of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Supreme Court justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Francis Jardeleza, and Noel Tijam and former SC justice Arturop Brion
MANILA, Philippines — Four magistrates of the Supreme Court, including a former associate justice appeared at the House of Representatives on Monday, December 11, during the resumption of the hearing on the impeachment complaint against their colleague, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Noel Tijam and Francis Jardeleza and former Associate Justice Arturo Brion will testify on various acts allegedly committed by Sereno constituting culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, graft and corruption, and other high crimes.

Sereno has been invited anew to attend the proceedings, but chose not to show up. Her lawyers, in a letter to the House Committee on Justice dated December 8, said the chief magistrate “declines the committee invitation” and would just monitor the proceedings.

The complaint, filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, alleged that Sereno committed 27 acts that merit her impeachment.

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