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Love in the time of coronavirus: Weddings back on in Dubai at Philippines Consulate

After weeks of delay, Dubai couples finally got to say ‘I do’

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates–It was not how they planned their big day. But, at least, all’s well that ends well for two pairs of lovebirds who finally professed their marriage vows on Monday, after weeks of delay due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Love in times of coronavirus: Weddings are back on in Dubai (Video by Irish Eden Belleza and Angel Tesorero)

Filipino expats Vanessa Panotes, 32, and Fretch Brian Pagaduan, 28, were supposed to tie the knot on April 30 in a civil wedding ceremony, followed by a big celebration attended by around 100 guests and a trip to Georgia for their honeymoon.

The second couple, Glaiza Mae Gevero, 27, and Prince RJ Paraico, 31, also planned a big gathering after their wedding that was initially set on April 2.

Bride and Groom get an unusual entry welcome to the consulate
Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

But the pandemic happened. Movement restrictions were imposed and big gatherings were banned to curtail the spread of the virus. Weddings at the Philippine Consulate in Dubai were canceled and the couples had to postpone and scale down their plans.

But then again, ‘true love waits’, as the saying goes, and the couples said they actually utilised the downtime to build a stronger bond and ponder on their future.

“During the lockdown, we actually had more time to know each other,” said Mr and Mrs Pagaduan. “Unlike before, when we were both busy at work, we had more time to talk about things and plan our future,” they added.

The Paraicos also were able to draw up concrete plans and set priorities for their married life because of the ‘new normal’ ushered in by the pandemic.

Social distancing and a limit of numbers makes for a more solemn affair – here Prince RJ Paraico and Glaiza Mae Gervero tied the knot
Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

Here comes the bride

The wedding day, however, was no less exciting for the two couples. Both brides wore the traditional white dresses and each one carried a bouquet of roses. The grooms too came in white, symbolising their pure intentions.

There were ‘selfies’ but no photographers were allowed, except for the two companions each couple brought with them to bear witness to their wedding, as prescribed by Philippine law.

Precautionary measures were also strictly observed. Everyone was checked by the guard at the gate for their body temperature before entering the consular premises. Face masks and hand gloves were required to be put on throughout the ceremony, and physical distancing was observed – except for the couples, who were allowed to sat, shoulder to shoulder, beside each other.

Only four chairs were placed in the hall; there was no other furniture aside from the small table in front of the couple, where they signed the marriage contract. A rostrum was set for the solemnising officer, who was at least three metres away from the couple. There were the Philippine and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) flags and only the portraits of the Philippine president and vice president served as the other witnesses to the ceremony.

Prince RJ Paraico with Glaiza Mae Gevero: Awkward moments came when the bride and groom decided not to put the ring on the glove hand and whether to kiss with the mask on or off.
Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

Simple and more solemn

Civil weddings are now done one at time at the Philippine consulate, unlike before when Rizal Hall, where weddings took place, was filled to the brim with at least 20 couples and their witnesses.

Solemnising officer, Philippine deputy consul-general Renato Dueñas Jr., said: “The difference now is we do the wedding one couple at a time. It is actually quieter and more solemn as it should be.”

“Before, the hall was crowded with more than 20 couples – because we had weddings only once a week. Now, we had to observe physical distancing but the good thing is the ceremony has become more solemn and more meaningful to the couples,” he further explained.

He added: “As for my advice, I hope they will be stronger in facing the challenges in life and have a real, lasting relationship as husband and wife.”

Solemnising officer Renato Duenas Jr prefers the decorum of less people and less couples
Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

Start of a new life

Each ceremony was over in under 15 minutes. There were a few awkward moments during the wedding. At one time, one of the brides can’t decide whether or not to put the wedding ring with the hand glove on. One of the grooms also can’t decide to remove the mask before kissing the bride.

The couples also had simple receptions after their wedding, with only immediate family members and a handful close friends attending. Honeymoon plans were postponed and bigger celebrations will take place some other time.

But the marriage itself, according to the couples, was an indication that things will return to normal soon.

“Our weddings symbolised hope and the start of new life in the time of COVID,” the couples agreed. #

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This article was first published by Gulf News.

Filipino-American activists join protest caravans in US

By redlamp.net

WASHINGTON DC –Filipino American activists and allies representing various community and grassroots organizations joined protest caravans in solidarity with the Black community demanding justice for George Floyd and other victims of police racism and brutality.

George Floyd was a security guard, who, after being suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill, was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota last May 25.

Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes leading to his death.

The incident sparked massive protests throughout the United States and in key cities around the world.

“This fascist government gives police state impunity not only to monitor and harass but to actively murder and kill all elements deemed as threat to security,” said Jo Quiambao of GABRIELA Washington DC.

Filipino-American activists join protest caravans in the Washington DC area against the killing of George Floyd and others by the police. (RedLamp photo)

Janeva Duran, a recent immigrant from the Philippines, said:  “For someone who just arrived in the States and is aware of the injustices here, it’s our social responsibility to show up and stand in solidarity with the Black community. I recognize that the issue of police brutality and militarization is happening here and also back in my home country of the Philippines.”

“In these times, it is crucial to build solidarity and work towards genuine systemic change, change that can address the fundamental causes of racial violence and police brutality. I hope that Fil-Ams continue to stand on the right side of history.” added Chrissi Fabro of Kabataan Alliance. “I hope that Fil Ams continue to engage in productive discussions about anti-blackness and what genuine solidarity is like,” he added.

The activist Fil-Ams likened what it called fascism in the US with events in the Philippines, especially with the Congress certifying the anti-terror bill as urgent.

The activists said the versions being pushed by administration legislators are tools that will clearly help the Philippine government violate civil liberties and further stifle dissent.

“There is a parallel with what’s happening both here and in the Philippines. In the US, we’re seeing it in the form of police brutality and racial profiling among Black and Brown folks. In the Philippines, we’re seeing it in the form of the Anti-Terror Bill and the $2 billion arms deal. Both of these perpetuate state violence against activists, human rights defenders, indigenous communities, and more,” said Jay Cleofe of Anakbayan Washington DC.

BAYAN USA coordinator Jhong Delacruz, added: “In the face of COVID-19 and police brutality, and against a system that values profit and property over lives, both here in the US and back home in the Philippines, we will continue to fight. In the wake of this deplorable rise in police-killings and of this historic caravan protest, we will continue to breathe.” #

Coronavirus: Parents of premature babies face extra fight during COVID-19 pandemic

Unpaid leave and salary cuts compound issues for struggling parents.

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: They are little brave warriors born prematurely who are putting up a good fight to survive in a world that is also struggling against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Their parents meanwhile, on top of worrying for the health of their babies, have also been struggling with their jobs and source of income. Some were put on unpaid leave while others received salary cuts because of the slowdown in economic activities brought about by the pandemic.

The babies are COVID-free. Their eyes and faint smiles reveal a resilient spirit but they need financial or material support to carry on. Their parents are seeking help to raise their children in a safe and healthy environment.

The first little warrior is Baby Rain Kristoff, who is now seven months old. He has grown and gained weight – now 2.3-kg, up from a mere 490-grams when he was born prematurely in October last year.

Baby Rain Kristoff (Image Credit: Supplied)

Baby Rain has survived two surgeries in his tummy but still has to be treated for pulmonary hypertension, sleep apnea, and bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a breathing disorder because his lungs were not yet fully developed, his parents Kim Chester and Roselle de la Vega told Gulf News.

“Our baby turns blue whenever he cries excessively and to treat the hypertension, he needs a high flow oxygen therapy (HFOT) machine, which we could not afford to buy,” the de la Vega couple added.

“The doctor suggested to modify a ventilator but we still could not afford the cheapest one which is around Dh30,000,” they added.

The Filipino couple also has unpaid hospital bills amounting to Dh220,000, after using their savings and health insurance.

“We have been out of work for over two months now because of the pandemic. We reached out to Gulf News in the hope that some kind readers would be able to help us. We’re really struggling to raise the money and we’ve exhausted borrowing from friends and family,” they added.

“Our baby was very small, looking so weak and very fragile when he was born but he has proven his fighting spirit. He wanted to live and we hoped to give him the best medical care,” they continued, with high hopes that their plea will be heard by Good Samaritans.

Sri Lankan baby girl

Another premature baby whose parents are seeking help is Adrielle Naomi Fernando, born on May 7.

The father, Sri Lankan expat Luckwin Fernando, wrote to Gulf News: “My wife (Tharushanaa) delivered our baby a month premature on the May 7 at Thumbay Hospital in Ajman. Due to low birth weight, our baby was placed in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The per day charge was between Dh4,000 to Dh5000.

Adrielle Naomi Fernando (Image Credit: Supplied)

“Our baby is now home but our hospital bill has reached around Dh65,000. And on top of this, we also don’t know where to find money to pay for our house rent,” added Luckwin.

He continued: “I saved money to pay for a normal delivery but it was not enough for the emergency. Worse, I lost my job due to the pandemic and I have spent all my savings for the miscellaneous hospital expenses.”

Double bundle of joy

Another doting father has reached out to Gulf News to seek help for his twin bundles of joy.

Egyptian national Mahmoud Zakria Aid, 31, who is married to a Filipina, said their babies (Sabila and Saja) are now in the pink of health but their financial situation is in dire red.

Mahmoud said: “My wife (Filipina Ocampo, 33) gave birth one month early on March 2 and unfortunately I cannot pay the hospital bill after our health insurance expired.”

Twin sisters Saja and Sabila (Image Credit: Supplied)

Mahmoud said: “My wife (Filipina Ocampo, 33) gave birth one month early on March 2 and unfortunately I cannot pay the hospital bill after our health insurance expired.”

“Our babies are already at home after I issued a cheque for Dh28,000 that is due on June 7. Until now, I haven’t raised any money after I was put on unpaid leave and I don’t know when my company will advise me to go back to work” added Mahmoud, who is a graphic designer for an events company.

“The babies are healthy – thanks to God – but I don’t know what will happen in the coming days, weeks and months. There are no events and I’ve been out of work. Whatever savings I have, I used it to buy milk for my babies and food for me and my wife,” he added.

He continued: “The babies are our bundle of joy – they are gifts from God – but, to be honest, there were times I felt helpless and I worried about the future of our babies. This is why I mustered enough courage to ask for help.” #

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This report was first published by Gulf News.

CPP denounces military’s detention of Red Cross convoy carrying wounded rebels

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) denounced the detention of an International Committee of the Red Cross convoy in Lianga, Surigao del Sur last Friday, May 29, saying Philippine Army’s action is an affront on international humanitarian law (IHL).

In a statement, the underground group said the 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army (IDPA) also subjected the three-vehicle convoy to search and interrogation.

“The flagging down and inspection of the ICRC convoy, clearly marked with the Red Cross logos, was an unacceptable affront on IHL. As a recognized guardian of IHL, the ICRC medical convoy should have been accorded due respect and allowed to travel unimpeded,” the CPP said.

The CPP said the ICRC convoy was reported to be transporting two wounded fighters identified as Jea Angeles Perez and Noel Dadang it said were both hors de combat. A hors de combat is a person who is no longer participating in hostilities, by choice or circumstance

The group said the convoy was stopped at a checkpoint and were surrounded by the soldiers. It was later “escorted” by military and police vehicles to the Davao Regional Medical Center in Tagum City, Davao del Norte province “with the aim of subjecting the two patients to arrest and detention.”

“The AFP virtually turned the ICRC convoy into a prisoner transport for the AFP in violation of the ICRC’s recognized international role,” the CPP said.

The ICRC, including its vehicles and buildings clearly marked with either the Red Cross or Red Crescent emblems, are declared immune from attack in accordance with the First Geneva Conventions of 1949.

In an Inquirer report, 4th IDPA spokesperson Capt. Al Anthony Pueblas admitted the convoy was “briefly detained” after fetching Perez and Dadang from San Agustin, Surigao del Sur, a known New People’s Army stronghold.

Military and police troopers block ICRC convoy.
(Photo by PNP Surigao del Sur)

Pueblas said the patients were probably wounded in a series of clashes between the NPA and government troops from May 14 to 19.

ICRC communications officer Allison Lopez said the Army and police were informed of the humanitarian evacuation before they transported the two wounded persons.

“This medical evacuation was carried out strictly for humanitarian purposes. As a neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian organization, the ICRC’s mandate is to protect and assist victims of armed conflict. Under the International Humanitarian Law, wounded and sick fighters regardless of which side they are from are entitled to the medical care and treatment required by their condition,” Lopez said.

The CPP said the incident marked a new level of impunity by the military and police, demanding reparation for the incident.

“The Party demands respect for the rights of the detained and calls for their immediate release under IHL,” it said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Access to PH Justice System Suffers Amid the Lockdown

The pandemic is laying bare lingering issues such as abuse of power, human rights violations, lack of access to the justice system, overcrowded jails and detention centers, lack of accountability, weaponization of the law, and impunity.

BY ANGELICA CARBALLO PAGO/Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

TWO months of lockdown have put the Philippine justice system under more stress and farther away from the reach of ordinary citizens.

Lawyers from the multisectoral network Courts Appointments Watch PH pointed to illegal or warrantless arrests, maltreatment of quarantine violators, transgression of labor laws, and a crackdown on free expression during a webinar titled “Access to Justice Under a Pandemic Crisis” on Wednesday, May 19.

Lack of legal information and access to the complex and formalistic judicial system has long been a problem for the poor and those in far-flung areas, said lawyer Sheila Formento of Alternative Law Groups (ALG).

In 2017, the Philippines had 2,200 courts, equivalent to just one court for every 50,000 people, according to figures submitted to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

That same year, one prosecutor handled an average 166 cases and disposed of 145 cases, according to the National Prosecution Service. At the Public Attorney’s Office, which serves indigent litigants, each lawyer handled 465 cases in 2018.
 
Courts constrained

Posting bail for detainees became particularly difficult, even for those with money, because of limited court operations during the lockdown.

“Even those who scraped up money for bail ay nahirapan pa rin makapagpiyansa dahil sa dami ng requirements at nahihirapan din magbayad,” said lawyer Jose Manuel ‘Chel’ Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).

(Even those who scraped up money for bail had a hard time because of so many requirements. It was also difficult to make payments.)

In some areas, bail could only be paid through state-owned Land Bank of the Philippines. Some branches were open just three times a week and for only half a day. Interbranch payments, ATM, and online banking services were not accepted.

In just a month after the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was enforced, the Philippine National Police (PNP) arrested 31,363 individuals, 2,467 of which were still in detention. Police filed 24,248 cases of quarantine violations.

These cases were on top of the arrests and killings under the war on drugs, which continued despite the lockdown. 

Dahil sa limitadong operasyon ng mga korte, ‘yung mga pending na kaso ay lalong made-delay at dahil madadagdagan pa ng mga violation ng ECQ, mas lalo pa itong dadami,” Formento said.

(Because of limited operations of the courts, pending cases will be further delayed, and the case loads will swell as violations of the ECQ pile up.)

Food or bail money?

Lawyers from the multisectoral network said unchecked abuses and human rights violations by law enforcers, as well as delays in the resolution of cases, have contributed to growing distrust in the judicial system among the poor and disadvantaged.

In many communities, the choice was either to post bail or go hungry, and the poor would rather spend their money on food and other necessities than file a case against abusers, ALG said.

Online initiatives to help to those in need, including remote legal advice and electronic filing of cases and bail petitions, were hampered by poor internet connection in far-flung communities and even in urban poor areas, it said.

The group has developed information materials on individual rights at checkpoints and during arrests, as well as on court procedures and other relevant issuances. 

Isang malaking hamon ang ibinigay ng pandemic na ito sa ating justice system. Bagama’t may kakulangan sa pasilidad at sa kahandaan ng organisasyon, dapat siguraduhing ang hustisya ay gumugulong para sa lahat. Kailangan ng pagmamatyag nating lahat na siguruhin ito,” Formento said.

(The pandemic is a big challenge to our justice system. Even if there’s a lack of facilities and organizational preparedness, the wheels of justice need to turn for everyone. We have to keep watch to make sure of that.)

Unwarranted arrests

Diokno said the pandemic further underscored lingering issues such as abuse of power, human rights violations, lack of access to the justice system, overcrowded jails and detention centers, lack of accountability, weaponization of the law, and impunity.

He cited instances when rules on warrantless arrests were not observed during the quarantine.

By law, warrantless arrests are allowed only in three situations: 1) when the crime is committed in the presence of police or in flagrante delicto, 2) when in hot pursuit based on personal knowledge of who committed the crime and 3) when arresting escaped prisoners.

“Unfortunately, the power to arrest without warrant has been, in my opinion, misused,” said Diokno.

Warrantless arrests have been used against people over jokes, memes, satires, and even legitimate opinions and speech on social media. 

In Cebu, Bambi Beltran was arrested for posting a satirical Facebook status, and the Zambales teacher Ronnel Mas, who posted a reward to “kill” President Duterte on Twitter, was brought to Manila under questionable circumstances.

“This pandemic has exposed the flaws in our justice system,” said Diokno. 

Diokno also said it was not unusual to hear of a poor person being arrested for a simple quarantine violation and then detained for more than 20 days.

FLAG also received reports that some detainees were beaten up in crowded jails, where social distancing was next to impossible, he said. (See related story: Philippine Jails are a Covid-19 Time Bomb)

Labor rights take the backseat

Job security and labor rights have also suffered as workers bore the brunt of business losses due to the lockdown, said Marco Gojol of National Union of Workers in Hotel, Restaurant and Allied Industries-Sentro (Nuwhrain-Sentro). 

Gojol said many companies were poised to let go of employees with losses mounting due to extended closures. Many companies were unable to get government subsidies, he said. 

Ang isa sa pinakamalaking issues na kinakaharap ng workers ngayon ay income loss. Maraming kumpanya ang napilitang itigil ang operasyon at apektado ang maraming no-work, no-pay (na mga manggagawa),” Gojol said.

(One of the big issues faced by workers is income loss. Many companies have been forced to stop operations and workers in no-work, no-pay arrangements have been affected.) 

Many employers avoided stoppage by shifting to alternative modes of work, such as work-from-home and skeletal operations, but regular employees were prioritized over contractual employees, Gojol said.

In areas under the less restrictive general community quarantine, employees had a hard time going to work because of lack of public transportation. Safety remained a question mark in the absence of mass testing for the coronavirus disease, he said.

Moreover, union-busting did not stop during the pandemic, and some workers were dismissed for demanding safe workplaces and protocols, Gojol said.

Gojol said food and beverage workers from the Sentro labor centerfiled a notice of strike due to lack of safety protocols in their workplace on May 18. The notice was received but not docketed by the National Conciliation and Mediation Board, whose operations were put on standstill by the pandemic.

Gojol called on justice system stakeholders to help the labor sector find ways to protect the fundamental rights of workers amid the Covid-19 outbreak. 

He cited the Department of Labor and Employment’s Advisory 17, which encouraged workers and employees to negotiate temporary adjustments to wages and other benefits.

Habang may pandemya, inevitable ang labor-management disputes. Paano ia-address ng mga parties ang issues ngayong ‘new normal’ at paano magwo-work iyong mga dispute resolution mechanisms in this situation?” Gojol said. 

(Labor-management disputes are inevitable during the pandemic. How will the parties address these issues during the ‘new normal’ and how will dispute resolution mechanisms work in this situation?)

Media, free expression under threat

Karol Ilagan of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism said truth-telling and holding government to account have become even more important during the pandemic.

“The crisis is transforming the business of journalism from gathering information, reporting, research to production, publishing and broadcast. It comes at a time when our role in disseminating reliable and verifiable information and holding power to account has never been more critical,” she said. 

The government’s pandemic response, however, has been accompanied by threats to press freedom, freedom of expression, and journalists’ safety. Some of these measures were meant, ostensibly, to stem the spread of disinformation, Ilagan said.

Ilagan cited the provision penalizing fake news in the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” which has been weaponized to punish or stifle dissenting voices, especially those on social media.

According to a report published by the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All netowrk, at least 60 individuals have been charged by government officials on the basis of this provision of the pandemic response law. (See related story: Journalists Struggle to Cover the Pandemic as Space for Media Freedom Shrinks)

In a jab against press freedom, ABS-CBN, the country’s biggest media network, was shut down on May 5 as lawmakers allowed its broadcast license to expire under pressure from the Duterte government.

 The shutdown has deprived Filipinos of access to information during the pandemic, and has jeopardized the livelihood of 11,000 network employees.

The Philippine Press Institute said over half of its members had ceased printing due to economic losses, and layoffs were expected in the next few months across media companies. ABS-CBN has said it would be forced to lay off workers by August without a new franchise.

“Reporters and newsrooms are under intense pressure during this pandemic, which is arguably the most complex story that we can cover right now. At stake is the public’s right to know at a time when the stakes are even higher,” Ilagan said.

While information about the pandemic has been made available online by various government agencies, access to other information about the inner workings of government has generally been delayed, she said.

The Presidential Communications Operations Office for a time has ordered the suspension of responding to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests during the quarantine period. Not all agencies cater to FOI requests, resulting in longer waiting times and delays for journalists looking for stories during the pandemic.

Bright spots still in sight

Ilagan said collaboration was key to tackling the difficulties and challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic as media and other stakeholders seek transparency and accountability in the legal system and the government.

“If we are to talk about solutions, there should be a concerted effort, particularly with the spread of disinformation. Alam nating aggressive ang nagpapakalat nito. We have to be more vigilant in providing verified and reliable info. And we have to work extra hard kasi nahihirapan tayo to do our job given the practical limitations,” Ilagan said.

Ria Nadora of the Association of Law Students of the Philippines urged the public to join in the national discourse for improved access to the justice system by using online spaces and social media.

“Not being silent about the matter helps in its own little way,” Nadora said.

Lyceum of the Philippines law dean Ma. Soledad Deriquito-Mawis, past president and chairperson of the Philippine Association of Law Schools, was optimistic of the solutions discussed during the webinar.

“This pandemic was not able to put a curse on our spirit in defending our freedoms and fighting for our rights. This pandemic did not put to sleep the Filipino spirit,” Mawis said.

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PCIJ is a member of Court Appointments Watch PH. The CAW webinars and its coverage are made possible by the support of The Asia Foundation.— PCIJ, May 2020

Filipino medical frontliner in UAE ran, cycled for 19 days to raise COVID-19 awareness

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: An Al Ain-based Filipino medical frontliner has distributed relief goods and medical supplies to his home country and a few workers accommodations here in the UAE after completing his COVID-19vs19 Project, where he ran and cycled for 19 days.

Romeo III Tumayao Puncia, 33, who works as an emergency medical technician at the Emergency and Public Safety Department, Al Ain, is also an international athlete. Last year he became the first Filipino male and first UAE resident to complete the 517.5km Ultraman Florida. He swam 10-km in open water, rode the bike for 423-km and finished an 84-km-ultra-marathon in three days.

Puncia ran 361-km on a running machine (Image Credit: Supplied)

This time, while preparing for the Ultraman World Championship-Hawaii in November, he and his team came up with a project “to promote awareness on the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and distribute relief goods as well as masks and personal protective equipment.”

“During the movement restrictions, we came up with a challenge which we called THE COVID19vs19 PROJECT, an indoor activity where I ran 19-km for 19 days and cycled 19laps x 19km,” Puncia said.

At his home in Al Ain, Puncia slugged it out on the treadmill for a total of 32 hours and 32 minutes, covering a distance of 361.34-km and, using a stationary bike, cycled 19-km laps for a total of 370.29-km in over 13 hours. The total distance he covered was 731.63-km in 19 days.

Puncia cycled 370-km on a bike (Image Credit: Supplied)

“The reason why I did the challenge was to inspire people that they can make a huge difference to somebody else’s lives while they are in the comfort of their home,” Puncia said.

“By completing the challenge, my team was able to raise funds which we used to buy goods to help frontliners, laborers and employees who were placed under no-work no-pay scheme. We were able to send 3,500 pieces of surgical masks, 100 pieces of face shield, 100 pieces of KN95 masks, 15 pieces of thermal scanner, and Dh3,000 worth of food items to the Philippine General Hospital and tribal and indigenous communities in Palawan, Philippines,” he added.

He admitted “the challenge was quite exhausting because I had to balance work, family and training. But because of the motivation and support of my team, I reached my goal.”

Relief goods like masks were sent back to Philippines and to some Workers Accommodations (Image Credit: Supplied)

Moving forward

Puncia said he is now gearing up for the upcoming Ultraman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, where only top athletes are invited to participate in the competition that requires 10-km swim, 423-km bike, and 84-km run. He is also warming up for the Ironman 140.6 in Kazakhstan and Ironman 140.6 in the Philippines.

An athlete with a mission, Puncia said he participates in various grueling international competitions to raise funds for his Katribo Charities Inc., which he helped set up back in 2005 in the Philippines.

Relief goods being boxed up and sent back to Philippines (Image Credit: Supplied)

He and his friends visit the ndigenous and tribal communities in Palawan once or twice a year to conduct feeding and medical programmes, education and sports activities, training and leadership skills and more.

More information on his charity work is available on www.romeopuncia.com and www.katribocharities.com.

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This report was first punlished by Gulf News.

COVID19: Being ‘negative’ is the new positive

By Jenny Padua

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates—I had myself COVID-19 screened last May 19.

Before that, I downloaded an app to book a session at a government-approved coronavirus testing center. The test was in compliance with the local government’s order to be tested before going back to normal work mode after Abu Dhabi’s lockdown. My Emirati boss asked all of his employees to take the test.

The test I took was classified as a screening test, as I and my colleagues did not have COVID-19 symptoms: fever, headache, body pain, sore throat. We are also under 50 years of age, not pregnant, without pre-existing conditions, not having disabilities, and have not been in contact with a suspected COVID-19 patient.

Laborers and other blue-collar job workers are given free tests here. Companies are also encouraged to pay for tests on their white collar workers such as myself. Otherwise, it costs UAE Dirham 370, as was in my case. Those who have the means may go to hospitals where they pay as much as 700 Dirham that includes going through a triage and a doctor’s appointment.

The point is, getting tested here is easy and, in fact, mandatory. Unlike in the Philippines.

Drive –thru test

The one where I went to at Zayed Sports City is a drive-through testing center, constructed and patterned after the South Korean centers. From the main gate, security guards direct vehicles towards several gates. I was assigned to Gate 19.

Before reaching the gates, medical staff in protective suits approach each car and conduct initial assessment by asking for confirmation of schedule and bar code for easy check and payment mode (company-sponsored or self-pay). Yes, we were in our cars all the time, minimizing contact and helping contain whatever virus we have in us.

At the main testing center, security guards ask for verification if one isn’t alone in the car and who will be taking the test. (I asked a friend to accompany me.) As I queued, I thought this part of the experience is similar to driving through for burgers and fries. All the while, friendly crews assist in inserting IDs on machines for identification. Once confirmed, an attendant signaled me to an assigned slot and asked me to turn the engine off. We then waited for a nurse to conduct the swab test.

Entrance to the screening center. (Photo supplied by the author.)

What was it like?

I prepared for this test physically and psychologically. Beforehand, I asked some friends who have already taken the test how it had been for them. I received mixed responses. Some said it was indeed painful, some said it would at least be uncomfortable, while some said it had been painless. I also watched videos of how it is done. Many of the videos had subjects appearing uncomfortable or in pain.

One physical preparation I did was thoroughly cleaning my nostrils, of course.

When the nurse came, I asked if it was ok to take photos during the swabbing, thinking it would be nice to share them to our families back home eager to know how it goes as well. It was ok, she said.

I was still sitting on the driver’s seat and my window was open. I was asked to adjust my seat and tilt my head backward. By this time, I was a bit nervous as you can imagine. When I saw the swab at the end of a long stick coming near my left nostril, I closed my eyes.

 I felt a tingling and ticklish sensation as the swab was slowly inserted way down my nasal passage. After a few seconds, the nurse said we are done and then I can go. He added the result wuld be sent via SMS within 24 to 48 hours.

I didn’t feel any pain at all, unlike my niece in Australia who experienced severe pain and headache after taking the test. An elderly friend in South Africa also suffered headache for hours after.

I guess one’s reaction to the test depends on one’s tolerance for such things. If one is sensitive or have nasal conditions or allergies, it may indeed be uncomfortable. Perhaps, I may have also been simply lucky for having a nurse who was careful and had a deft touch.

Author being swabbed. (Photo supplied by the author.)

The result

Medical test results that are not immediately known have the habit of making one nervous. I was confident I would be tested negative. At least that was what I was telling myself after the test.

This confidence was brought about by the fact that Abu Dhabi locked itself down early, while the number of cases had not been bad. It went as far as refusing entry to visitors who have already landed at the airport, keeping them there for days until everything was prepared or were flown back home. (The lockdown at the airport here was not as bad as those currently being suffered by returning overseas Filipino workers at Manila International Airport who complain of feeling “discarded” by the Philippine government.)

During the lockdown, I stayed home. I did not violate the quarantine policies of the local government, not having any reason to. This is another reason why Abu Dhabi’s lockdown seems bound to succeed.

Still, I worried a bit. I did all sorts of things to keep myself from thinking about the result. I watched movies on my gadgets. I cleaned house. I prayed.

After 24 hours, I received the awaited SMS that told me I was NEGATIVE of the dreaded virus. Relief and gratitude were my immediate reactions, followed by messages to family and friends who also waited for the outcome.

I told a friend that this is an instance when you hope for something negative rather than something positive. I also realized this pandemic is making the entire world hope for a negative as humanity’s new positive.

To test or not to test?

I think everyone must be COVID-19 screened as a matter of right. This becomes more urgent in my situation as an expatriate in a country where many nationalities mix and co-exist. Abu Dhabi, as an employer of workers from all over the world, is also an air-travel hub between Europe, Africa and the rest of Asia. It also becomes an absolute necessity as the world is emerging from imposed lockdowns and trying to restart the global economy.

This virus is new and it appears it can infect and affect anyone. Everyone must be tested at least once every wave this virus has. I also think testing must be free for the poor.

This thought brings me grief as I read reports that virus testing in the Philippines is severely limited. While some powerful people, such as politicians, have already been tested several times, the throng of workers told to report back to work on Monday, June 1, seem to have very little hope of being tested.

Sana ALL. #

Krisis sa COVID-19, lalong tumitindi, ayon sa Makabayan

Ni Joseph Cuevas

Tumindi ang krisis ng pandemyang Covid-19 dahil sa simula pa lamang ay minaliit na ni Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte ang epekto nito sa bansa na naging militarista naman ang naging pagtugon ng gobyerno noong nanalasa na ito kalaunan.

Ito ang sumada ng mga kinawatan sa blokeng Makabayan sa isang online forum noong Sabado, May 23, na pinamagatang “Hatol Makabayan”

Inihayag ni Makabayan Chairman Atty. Neri Colmenares sa kanyang pambungad na pananalita na tumindi ang krisis ng pandemyang Covid-19 sa Pilipinas dahil sa simula ay minaliit na ito ni Pangulong Duterte at hindi kaagad gumawa ng karampatang aksyon.

Sinabi naman ni Rep. Sarah Elago ng Kabataan Party na hindi solusyong medikal ang unang naging hakbang ni Pangulong Duterte, bagkus ay isang militaristang Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) o lockdown.

Imbes anila na mass testing, isolation, tracing at treatment sa mga posibleng maysakit ay tinapatan ang unang pagdami ng kaso ng coronavirus ay nagpatupad ito ng malupit na lockdown, bagay na ikinabahala ng United Nations Human Rights Council.

Para naman kay ACT-Teachers Rep. France Castro, nakakabahala ang sitwasyon ng mga frontliner dahil sila ang sumusuong sa panganib ng pandemya.

Kulang na kulang ang mga doktor, nars, medical staff pati na din sa mga itinatayong testing centers at kagamitan tulad ng Personal Protective Equipments, dagdag ni Castro.

Kalunos-lunos din ang kalagayan ng mga pampublikong ospital at isolation center para sa mga Overseas Filipino Workers na umuwi sa bansa.

Sa ngayon nasa 13,577 ang kaso ng Covid-19 kung saan mahigit 863 na ang nasawi at mayroong backlog na halos 6,000 na mga pinaghihinalaang kaso ng sakit.

Ang Pilipinas ang may pinakamahigpit at pinakamahabang lockdown sa buong mundo na umabot na sa mahigit 70 araw.

Ang online forum ay pinangunahan ng mga mambabatas mula sa Bayan Muna, ACT-Teachers, Gabriela Women’s Party at Kabataan party.

Pasismo sa pandemya

Ayon kay Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas ang militaristang tugon ng gobyerno para labanan ang Covid-19 ay nagdulot ng 177, 540 na pag-arestosa panahon ng lockdown na umaabot ng average na 2,900 kada araw at higit 52,000 na ikinulong.

Ilan sa mga ito ang ginawang pag-aresto at pagkulong sa mga relief worker ng Tulong Anakpawis sa Bulacan noong Abril 26 at Lingap Gabriela sa Marikina at Tulong Kabataan sa Quezon City noong Mayo 1.

Dagdag pa ni Brosas, dahas din ang naging tugon katulad nang pagpaslang kay Jory Porquia ng Bayan Muna sa Iloilo at pagpatay sa isang dating sundalo na lumabag umano sa quarantine sa Quezon City. Hindi rin nito pinaglagpas ang ilang netizen sa Online Tokhang tulad ng ginawa sa isang guro sa Zambales.

Wala ring tugon ang gobyerno sa planong magpalaya ng mga bilanggo na kumakalat na ang sakit sa mga kulungan. Hanggang ngayon, wala pa ring tugon ang petisyon na inihain ng mga kaanak ng political prisoner sa Korte Suprema sa halip ay tinutulan pa ito ng Office of the Solicitor General, pahayag pa ni Brosas.

Tinalakay naman ni Rep. Eufemia Cullamat ng Bayan Muna na bukod sa pasistang pananalakay sa mamamayan ay walang humpay din ang counter-insurgency na atake ng gobyerno.

Ilan na dito ang naitalang pambobomba at pagkakampo sa ilang komunidad ng mga katutubo sa CARAGA region, pag-aresto sa mga lider ng progresibong grupo at kaso ng red-tagging, maging pekeng pagpapasurender.

Kapos na ayuda at lumolobong badyet

Naging tampok din sa forum ang tugon ng gobyerno sa kabuhayan ng mamamayan. Inilarawan ni Rep. Ferdinand Gaite ng Bayan Muna ang programang Social Amelioration Program o SAP ng gobyerno na makupad dahil sa napakabagal at burukratikong proseso nang pamamahagi nito.

Ayon kay Gaite, nasa apat na milyong Pilipino pa ang hindi nakatanggap ng nasabing ayuda mula sa target nitong 18 milyon. Maging ang tulong para mga manggagawa ay napakabagal din.

Nasa tatlong milyong manggagawa lamang ang ayuda ng DOLE na Covid-19 Adjustment Measures Program o CAMP mula sa tinatayang 10 milyon na apektado sa buong bansa.

Pinuna naman ni Rep. Carlos Zarate ang napakalaking pondo na nakalaan para sa pandemya subalit hindi naramdaman ng taumbayan.

Kabilang na dito ang halos P275 bilyon na pondo ni Pangulong Duterte kahit pa umutang ito nang aabot sa $5 bilyon mula sa iba’t-ibang multi-lateral agency tulad ng World Bank at Asian Development Bank.

Itinutulak pa aniya ang mga bagong panukala sa Kongreso na “stimulus program” tulad ng Enhanced Build Build Build na magpapasidhi ng patakarang neoliberalisasyon sa ekonomiya, ani pa Zarate.

Nagbigay reaksyon naman ang iba’t-ibang grupo kabilang na dito ang mga mungkahi at panukala na:

– ng health care system sa bansa at paglalalan ng malaking pondo rito hindi lamang sa panahon ng Covid-19.

-Re-alignment ng pambansang badyet sa mga ahensya at mga target na pagkukunan kabilang na ang mataas na pagbubuwis sa mga mayayaman at malalaking korporasyon.

-Direktang ayuda sa mga manggagawa na apektado at pagbibigay trabaho sa mga natanggal kabilang na ang mga kontraktwal at job-order.

-Production subsidy at direct cash assistance na P10,000 sa mga magsasaka, mangingisda at maralita sa kanayunan.

-Pagbibigay ng SAP kahit sa panahon ng GCQ o General Community Quarantine at kabuhayan sa mga maralita.

-Paggiit  sa “No Mass Testing, No School Opening” para naman sa mga kabataan at guro sa pagbubukas ng klase sa darating na Agosto at

-Pagpapatigil sa mga dagdag bayarin at pagpapahirap sa mga estudyante tulad ng Online Classes.

Sa huli, binigyang-hatol ng Makabayan at batayang sekor na maraming kapalpakan, kasalanan at kamalian ang gobyerno ni Pangulong Duterte sa pagharap sa Covid-19.

Hinikayat nila ang mamamayan na kumilos at marapat na paigtingin ang panawagan para sa Kalusugan, Kabuhayan at Karapatan. #

Radio station condemns threats and attacks from LGU

A Central Luzon radio station is condemning threats of criminal charges by local government officials using the government’s coronavirus emergency law.

In a statement, Radyo Natin-Guimba (RNG) in Nueva Ecija said the Guimba Municipal Council’s recent resolution authorizing mayor Jose Dizon to file charges against the radio station for alleged violations to the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020 (Republic Act 11469) is a direct violation to press freedom.

The station added that the Council’s move is also tantamount to the suppression of the people’s right to demand assistance and relief amid massive loss of livelihood resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Ano ba ang masama at nalabag sa ginagawa ng Radyo Natin Guimba na isaboses ang tinig ng mamamayan, marinig ang kanilang apela, reklamo at daing habang sila ay nakakwarantina at hindi makapaghanapbuhay?” RNG asked. (What is wrong and what violation is committed by Radyo Natin Guimba when it only gives voice to the people in order for their appeals and complaints to be heard while they are under quarantine and are unable to work?)

RNG explained that because of the slow distribution of the national government’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP) by the LGU, many townsfolk went to their station to broadcast complaints.

Many of the complaints arose from reports that some SAP beneficiaries were rich farmers while many poor peasants have been left out, the station added.

“Ilang matanda, nagpapasusong ina , buntis, solo parent, at mahihirap na pamilya ang dumulog sa aming istasyon at kanilang inirereklamo ang mga Barangay Health Workers (BHWs), Day Care Workers, Kapitan at Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office (MSWDO) sa pagpili ng bibigyan ng SAP,” RNG said. (Some elderly, lactating mothers, pregnant women, solo parents and poor families asked help through our station and complained of discrimination by Barangay health workers, day care workers, Barangay Chairperson and the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office.)

RNG also said Guimba police also prevented them from taking photos and videos of people lining up to complain about being excluded from SAP.

Townsfolk crowd Guimba’s municipal hall during SAP distribution. (RNG photo)

Elderly complainants were holding up placards saying “Nasaan ang ayuda?” (Where is the assistance?) “Protektahan ang matatanda.” (Protect the elderly.) “Help us.” “Nagugutom na kami!” (We are already starving!) that the local police also threatened to file charges against, RNG said.

The police also took Ina Jo Colcol, a resident of Brangay Balingog East, and Dexter Eusebio of Barangay Sta. Veronica to the local police headquarters and ordered to delete their photos and videos last May 4, the station revealed.

A RNG field reporter was also prevented from taking photos and videos of the people who trooped to the municipal mayor’s office to appeal their SAP exclusion, the station revealed.

Townsfolk crowd Guimba’s municipal hall during SAP distribution. (RNG photo)

Other attacks on press freedom

Before the town council session last May 11, Municipal Councilor Bonbon Dizon, son of Mayor Dizon, confiscated RNG field reporter Lina Villaflor’s media identification cards issued by the Presidential Communications and Operations Office and the station and took photos of them, RNG reported.

The councilor passed the identification cards’ details to Nueva Ecija assessor OJ Manuel Cornejo via a phone call, RNG said.

It was at the May 11 session that the Council approved Sangguniang Bayan Resolution No. 52 s.2020 allowing the filing of criminal charges against RNG by the mayor.

In an emergency meeting of Guimba’s League of Barangay Chairpersons, Cornejo–reportedly a frequent presence at the mayor’s office while the head of a provincial government office–publicly declared the planned charges against RNG.

Last May 18, RNG’s reporter was told to leave the session room as the topic being discussed was “sensitive.”

Last May 19, local police again confronted a RNG reporter covering the distribution of rice seeds to farmers.

The police reportedly told the reporter to first seek a permit from Mayor Dizon.

“We will not agree to the harassment by the LGU. It is our duty to report truthfully and give the people accurate information as is their right. We do not agree that press freedom is a violation to the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” RNG said in its statement.

LGU denies harassment

In a phone interview with Kodao, however, Guimba municipal information officer Sherwin Guiuo denied RNG’s allegation of harassment by the mayor and the council.

“The LGU acted on reports from barangay officials that some whose photos were posted online reacted negatively to RNG’s uploads. In the first place, they are not hungry as the LGU was in fact distributing relief,” Guiuo said.

The officer said the resolution is not harassment but obedience to RA 11469’s Section 6 on penalties.

Section 6’s item F orders penalties on “individuals or groups creating or perpetrating, or spreading false information regarding the Covid-19 crisis on social media and other platforms.”

“The council is duty bound to give the mayor the authority to take such actions as provided by the law. The mayor in turn is duty-bound to implement the law,” Guiuo said.

‘Abusive’

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines chairperson Nonoy Espina however said the LGU’s actions and plans against RNG are abusive.

“The harassment of RNG and its staff by the Guimba LGU is a shameless trampling on freedom of the press and on the right of their own constituents to know what is happening in the municipality,” Espina said.

“This is clear abuse of authority that has no place in a democracy,” Espina added.

RNG is a member of both the Manila Broadcasting Company’s Radyo Natin project and People’s Alternative Media Network. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Harry Roque owes CNN-Philippines and reporter an apology, NUJP says

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said that Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque should apologize to CNN Philippines for berating its reporter in an online press briefing Tuesday, May 12.

In a statement, the media group said Roque owes the media company and reporter Triciah Terada an apology for “his boorish and, as it turned out, misbegotten tirade.”

Reacting to a CNN tweet on Monday, May 18, Roque denied he admitted that the government has no coronavirus mass testing program and would leave it to private businesses.

It was reported that the government has no plan or action, or that the expanded target testing is not a priority. This is very wrong,” Roque said in Filipino.

He said reporter Terada quoted him “out of context,” adding that CNN’s tweet insinuated that the government has passed on to the private sector the responsibility for expanded testing.

CNN said in a statement it is standing by its story, adding the report was not written by Terada.

“CNN Philippines assures the public that we reported the facts in the May 18 story,” it said.

Roque was in fact responding to the request of GMA’s Joseph Morong to confirm that government had no mass testing program, to which he replied, “[I]n terms of mass testing that Wuhan (China) did with all its 11 million residents, we have no such program and we leave that to the private sector.”

NUJP said that, ironically, even as he berated Terada, Roque unwittingly proved in effect the report right when he said, “It is not mass testing that we are doing, it is expanded targeted testing.”

Multiple news organizations also carried the same story that quoted Roque.

“Officials who earn public ire for their pronouncements should not blame journalists who are merely doing their jobs,” NUJP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)