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Over 100 ‘Yolanda’-hit families still live in rooms the size of 2 'ping pong' tables


MANILA – More than three years after super typhoon Yolanda pummeled the coastal town of Basey, Samar, more than a hundred families remain in bunkhouses, which were built as emergency shelters after the 2013 disaster. Each family lives in a room with a standard area of 8.64 square meters, similar to the size of two table tennis or "ping pong" tables.

Jap Cabuboy, whose family has been living in a bunkhouse in Canmanila village for three years, said they envy other Yolanda-hit families who have already transferred to permanent houses

“It’s our dream, and we have been waiting for it. We are willing to wait until the time when the government tells us to transfer to our new home. Most of us here feel bad on the very slow response of (concerned) government agencies,” said Cabuboy, whose wife works as an Overseas Filipino Worker.

The bunkhouses are located along the national highway in a local government-owned lot.

Melissa Eracho, who shares a room with a friend, expressed the same sentiment for the dilapidating bunkhouses.

“Some of our friends have decided to return back to our old places along river banks and coastal communities, classified as danger zones,” Erachosaid. “I hope President Rodrigo Duterte will check our condition so he can help us.”

The bunkhouse built by the Department of Public Works and Highwaysin Yolanda-hit provinces in Eastern visayas in late 2013 is divided into 24 rooms to accommodate more families.

The bunkhouses are made of corrugated sheets, plywoods and coco lumber. Each bunkhouse has four toilets, two bathrooms and a kitchen.

Basey Mayor Igmedio Ponferrada said those who remained in emergency shelters in Canmanila are recipients of housing projects funded bythe Diocese of Calbayog, United Nations Development Programme and Ledesma Foundation.

The mayor said hundreds of families remain in coastal communities while waiting for the completion of housing units being built by the National Housing Authority (NHA).

The NHA contractors have started building houses in Basey only last year, which is why all projects are still ongoing, according to Ponferrada.

“Looking for the site where to construct the house was one of the major hindrances. Adding up to the delay is the long list of requirements,” the mayor added.

Construction is ongoing for 3,000 permanent housing units in threesites in this town.

“We also want the permanent houses to be done as soon as possible because we have been spending a lot for electricity bill and daily water supply to the bunkhouses,” the mayor told PNA.

Basey town is about 24 kilometers northeast of Tacloban, the regional capital. On Nov. 8, 2013, the town was one of the places heavily devastated by super typhoon Yolanda, leaving more than 200 people dead. -- PNA


132 NPA Rebels Neutralized Since Feb. 4

MANILA -- A total of 132 suspected New People’s Army rebels have been neutralized by the military since President Rodrigo Duterte terminated peace negotiations with the communists.

At a news conference on Wednesday, March 22, Armed Forces Public Affairs chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said that of those neutralized from February 4 to March 22, 24 rebels were killed while 20 others were arrested by authorities.

Arevalo added that more than 80 communists have surrendered to the military. Meanwhile, government forces also recovered 83 firearms from the insurgents.

The military also reported 64 armed encounters with the NPA during the same period.

Arevalo said the latest encounter with the communist rebels occurred on Tuesday at 5:45 a.m. in Lupi in Camarines Sur. No casualties were reported on both the government forces and the insurgents.

Meanwhile, Arevalo said the NPA committed 67 atrocities since January15.

“Record of NPA atrocities from January 15 to present ay umaabot sa 67. There were eight incidents of ambushes, 33 na harassments, seven incident ng abduction, 14 na panununog, isang robbery,” he said.

Arevalo reiterated the AFP’s support of attaining lasting peace with the communist rebels, saying they only operate against the NPA for their illegal activities.

“Kung meron mang grupo na gusto ngpangmatagalang kapayapaan para sa kapakanan ng ating bayan at para sapag-unlad, yun po ang ating Armed Forces of the Philippines. We have been consistently working our best in order to ensure that that end is realized,” Arevalo said.

“Kung nagpapatuloy ang paglabag sabatas ng mga kagawad ng NPA kagaya ng pangingikil, panununog, pagpatay, at panggigipit sa ating mga kababayan at komunidad, wala pong magagawa ang inyong Armed Forces pati yung Philippine National Police but to enforce the law,” he added.

Arevalo said operations against the NPA will continue until a ceasefire is declared.

“Wala pang declaration, wala pang umiiral na [suspension of military operations] at nagpapatuloy ang focused operations against the NPA,” Arevalo said.

In early February, Duterteterminated the government’s peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front.

But formal talks are expected to resume on April 2 to 6 in The Netherlands. This came following successful backdoor negotiations early this month. — GMA News


Investors Optimistic About PH Equities in Next 6 Mos

MANILA -- Investors in the Philippines are quite optimistic about investing in local equities in the next six months, given the improving market conditions, the latest Manulife Investors Sentiment Index(MISI) showed.

"The Manulife Investor Sentiment Index survey revealed that 92 percent of investors in the Philippines indicate that the next six months 'will be a neutral to good time' to invest in equities," Manulife said in a statement on Wednesday, March 22.

The top reasons for the optimism are improving market conditions, better employment situation and stable market place.

"The Philippines delivered encouraging growth momentum in 2016. Looking ahead, we expect a continued execution of larger infrastructure spending and co-investing projects with private capital," said Aira Gaspar, chief investment officer at Manulife Philippines.

"This will generate positive multiplier effects on employment, manufacturing, retail trade and productivity. These factors, coupled with supportive structural reforms, would drive stronger corporate earnings and create new catalysts for Philippine equities," Gaspar noted.

The Philippine economy grew by 6.8 percent in 2016, the fastest since 2013, mainly driven by manufacturing, trade and real estate business activities.

"It is expected that the Philippine economy will continue its strong performance delivered in 2016 and keep its upbeat economic momentum this year," Manulife said.

Manulife also noted good prospects for emerging markets in the region, given the improvement in global economic momentum.

"Despite considerable global political uncertainties, modest improvement in global economic momentum is expected to continue this year," it said.

A separate survey by Thomson Reuters noted that business sentiment at Asia's top companies rose to its highest level in almost two years in the first three months of the year, on the back of positive economic signs from the United States and China.

Earlier this year, First Metro Investment Corp. (FMIC) said it expects the local stock barometer to reach the 2017 full-year target of 7,500. — GMANews


China sets meeting with ASEAN on code of conduct framework

MANILA -- China is set to host a meeting with members of the Association of theSoutheast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in May on the Code of Conduct framework amidterritorial disputes in the South China Sea.

This was announced by Acting Foreign AffairsSecretary Enrique Manalo in a press conference along with other Cabinetofficials joining President Rodrigo Duterte for a two-day visit inThailand.

“China will be hosting a meeting in May andhopefully by that time, we have made significant progress on the framework,”Manalo said.

He said expert groups are already meeting on the Code of Conductframework.

“One of the key things that will be consideredthere will be the work on the framework kasingayon nagmi-meeting experts groups on the framework itself and the hope -- I’m not saying it will happen -- but the hope of everyone is that by thetime we get to the meeting in May, the senior officials in the ASEAN China maybe able to already have, at least, a preliminary agreement on the framework,”Manalo said.

“And the Philippines is fully committed in seeingthat we can get to that point,” he added.

Manalo said the framework, once completed, willjumpstart “serious discussions” on the “key elements” of the Code of Conduct.

The ASEAN and China have signed in 2002 aDeclaration on the Conduct of Parties on the South China Sea. A legally-bindingdocument to manage regional disputes, however, has yet to be approved.

Manalo said the Philippines’ insistence on thecompletion of the Code ofConduct is with the aim that disputes are settled throughdiplomatic and peaceful means.

“All countries, even though we may have somedisputes, we have to behave and deal with each other in a way that doesn’t leadto conflict but rather promotes cooperation,” he said.

“The President has been very clear. We want to havea peaceful and diplomatic settlement of these disputes but we will not fail toprotect our national interest if necessary,” Manalo added.

Manalo likewise said that a legally binding Code ofConduct will put the Philippines in a position “to actually discuss how we cansettle disputes peacefully.”

The Philippines has overlapping claims with Chinain the South China Sea, parts of which Manila refers to as the West PhilippineSea.

A decision issued by the Permanent Court ofArbitration in July last year ruled ruled in favor of the Philippines, as itinvalidated the so-called nine-dash line, China’s basis for claiming almost theentire South China Sea.

China however has repeatedly refuse to recognizethe said decision. — GMA News


PHL, Thailand going for 'balanced' trade relations

THAILAND -- Trade relations between the Philippines and Thailand are expected to be "balanced" after the visit of President Rodrigo R. Duterte, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said Wednesday, March 22.

"Right now, Thailand is our sixth largest trading partner ... Mas malaki ang export nila sa atin kaysa ang export natin sa kanila. What we will do is to balance it," Lopez said in a press conference in Bangkok.

Duterte and his delegation arrived in Thailand on Monday, March 20, and will be there until Wednesday, March 22.

Part of the official delegation are Acting Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique A. Manalo, Tourism Secretary Wanda T. Teo and Senator Alan Peter S. Cayetano.

"In this Thailand trip, I guess what I can add is the commitment from Prime Minister [Prayut Chan-o-cha] to help us balance the trade between the two countries," Lopez said.

Latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed Philippine exports to Thailand reached $2.129 billion in 2016.

Meanwhile, imports from Thailand amounted to $6.472 billion. — GMA News


US-PH cooperation leads to successful anti-trafficking operation

Manila — The U.S. Embassy in the Philippines congratulates the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Anti-Human Trafficking Division for a successful operation resulting in the rescue of nine children and the arrest of Arlene and Emelinda Aringo for offering children for sexual acts in exchange for money.
This operation was undertaken thanks to close coordination between the NBI, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Manila, and HSI in Portland, Maine.
This operation was supported by the Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development and the International Justice Mission, a non-governmental organization.
Arlene and Emelinda Aringo were arrested for violation of the Philippine Republic Act (RA) 9208, Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 as amended by RA 10364, a non-bailable offense.


US awards science, technology, and innovation grants to Filipino scholars, universities

Manila – The United States government, through the US Embassy in the Philippines’ United States Agency for International Development (USAID), recognized 10 research scholars and 37 grant recipients in science, technology, and innovation who support the Philippine government’s push for innovation-led and inclusive growth.

The grants and scholarships are awarded by USAID’s Science, Technology, Research, and Innovation for Development (STRIDE) project, which boosts science and technology research in the Philippines to stimulate inclusive economic growth.
US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Y. Kim personally acknowledged the individual scholars and the research grant recipients. “Our grantees represent the best scientific minds in the Philippines,” said Ambassador Kim. “We look forward to the results of their research projects that will upgrade industries, generate jobs and investments, and build skills and capacities in communities, academic institutions, and companies.”
The awards included 24 P5 million ($100,000), one-year research grants to Philippine universities to undertake collaborative research with US universities on disciplines that contribute to high-growth sectors, including electronics, chemical industries, alternative energy, agri-business, and information technology.

USAID also funded 10 prototype development research grants, valued at P1.15 million ($23,000) each, and three innovation development grants that address human development challenges, valued at about P4 million ($80,000) each.

The universities who received research grants include University of the Philippines Diliman, Western Philippines University, University of Southeastern Philippines, and the Technological Institute of the Philippines.
USAID’s $32 million Science, Technology, Research, and Innovation for Development (STRIDE) Project is the US government’s largest higher education project in the Philippines. The five-year project strengthens the Philippines’ capacity for innovation-led inclusive growth through strengthening applied research capabilities in Philippine universities and industries, and bolstering human capacity development in science, technology and innovation (STI).

To date, the project has awarded approximately $5.5 million in collaborative science, technology, and innovation research grants to more than 20 universities around the country. It has awarded 56 scholarships to Filipinos to study in US universities, provided advanced technical training to scientists and researchers, and brought 28 U.S. professors to visit the Philippines. STRIDE is also establishing 10 knowledge and technology transfer offices at select universities in the Philippines.

USAID’s STRIDE project is implemented by RTI International, in collaboration with sub-grantees including the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan, Florida State University, Rutgers University, and local non-profit Philippine Business for Education.


Ambassador Kim honors Lorenzana with memorial award

MANILA — US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Y. Kim awarded the inaugural Major General Albert Jones Memorial Award to Secretary of National Defense Delfin N. Lorenzana for his steadfast commitment and invaluable contributions to the alliance of the U.S. and the Republic of the Philippines. The ceremony took place during the Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group’s (JUSMAG) 70th anniversary celebration hosted at the US Chief of Mission residence.

The Major General Albert Jones Memorial Award recognizes a US or Philippine government official who has made significant contributions to the bilateral defense partnership. General Jones first commanded the 51st Division of the Philippine Army in 1940, and then commanded the 1st Philippine Corps until his capture at Bataan in 1942. Of the 76,000 Philippine and American soldiers, Jones was the only general officer on the infamous death march. He was held as a P.O.W. for over two years, and was among the many who endured torture and starvation. In testament to his grit, tenacity, and courage, Jones returned to the Philippines in 1946 to lead the U.S. military advisory mission in Manila, which evolved into JUSMAG a year later.

JUSMAG’s initial mission was to advise and assist with training and equipping the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Since then, the group has evolved to coordinating with the Armed Forces of the Philippines to develop all US-Philippine military training activities.


Overseas Voter Registration Sets New Record

The Department of Foreign Affairs - Overseas Voting Secretariat (DFA-OVS) announced today 15 March 2017, that the 2016-2018 overseas voter (OV) registration that commenced on 01 December 2016 and will end on 30 September 2018, has set a new record for first quarter performance, garnering a total of 67,497 new OV registrants for purposes of the 2019 elections. It has surpassed the numbers of the first three months of 2014 - 2015 OV registration with a total of 64,074 new OV registrants and the previous record of 64,917 that was set in 2009.
The overseas voter registration in preparation for the 2016 elections netted a cumulative total of 1,376,067 active registered overseas voters. The 826,881 new registrants for the 2016 elections, was more than a 100% increase over the 398,554 new registrants for the 2013 elections. Of the almost 1.4 million registered overseas voters, 590,440 were in the Middle East and Africa, 334,215 in the Asia Pacific, 263,316 in the Americas, 138,757 in Europe, and 49,339 were Seabased. The attainable target for this registration period is 1.1 million OV registrants, which would net a cumulative total of 2,130,000 active registered voters for the coming national elections.
“This new milestone can be mostly attributed to the hard-work and dedication of the men and women of our Foreign Service who are aggressively campaigning to encourage more overseas Filipinos to participate in this on-going electoral exercise. Our media partners and other OV stakeholders are also playing a vital role in disseminating overseas voting awareness among our kababayans abroad,” said Undersecretary Ariel Y. Abadilla, who is concurrently Chairman of DFA-OVS.
“There are still plenty of overseas Filipinos that have yet to register and vote so it’s the duty of DFA -OVS along with the Foreign Service Post’s to encourage them to register and vote because this coming midterm elections is important specially if constitutional amendment bill will be approved by the Philippine Congress,” OVS Chair Abadilla added.
All Filipino citizens who expect to be abroad from 13 April – 13 May 2019 during the overseas voting period for the 2019 Elections, at least 18 years old on 13 May 2019, and not otherwise disqualified by law, may register as an overseas voter, at all Philippine Foreign Service Posts including the three (3) Manila Economic and Cultural Offices (MECO) in Taiwan and Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Al-Khobar (for an updated list please go to www.dfa-oavs.gov.ph or www.comelec.gov.ph). REGISTER AND VOTE ! END


Austrian bishops slam human rights abuses in PH

This is the first non-Filipino Catholic bishops' conference to speak out against human rights abuses in Duterte-led Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – The Austrian Catholic Bishops' Conference joined their Filipino counterparts in slamming the human rights abuses in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte.

In a declaration on Friday, March 17, the Austrian bishops also condemned the proposals to reinstate the death penalty in the Philippines, and to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 9. (READ: CBCP on death penalty vote: We shall not be silenced)

This is the first non-Filipino Catholic bishops' conference to speak out against human rights abuses in Duterte-led Philippines.

The General Assembly of the Austrian Catholic Bishops' Conference said their group "shares the fundamental concerns" of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and "supports their firm advocacy for justice."

The CBCP earlier issued a statement against the "reign of terror" in poor Filipino communities as Duterte's war on drugs kills at least 7,000 people in the Philippines.

"This is why the bishops of Austria call upon political decision-makers in Austria to commit themselves to the respect of human rights in the Philippines," the Austrian bishops said.

"The Austrian government and European institutions are asked to use all political power and diplomatic channels to bring public attention to these human rights violations and help mitigate them," they added.

Heinz Hödl, a director at the Austrian Catholic Bishops' Conference, relayed this declaration to Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the CBCP, in a letter on Friday. Villegas in turn sent Hödl's letter to Filipino reporters.

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