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Separated by Covid: Inmates struggle to save relationships, mental health amid ban on visits

The ban on in-person visits was imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19. No one thought the set up would last so long, however.

by Aie Balagtas See/Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, inmate Mark* of Manila City Jail approached officer Elmar Jacobe to confide about a problem that boys don’t usually talk about.

Mark was broken-hearted. He lost his wife, not to Covid-19, but to another insidious disease. Cheating.

Tumambling ’yung asawa…. She fell in love with another man,” Jacobe, the jail officer, narrated to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) in a phone interview. Tumbling is the jail’s term for cheating, a common misfortune among inmates separated from their partners.

Mark is incarcerated while undergoing trial for a drug case. When the ban on in-person visits was imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19, he and his wife kept in touch through video calls.

Technology could not keep the flame alive, however. Mark was devastated to learn that his wife had “tumbled” toward another man.

When Mark approached jail officer Jacobe, he desperately wanted to know how one could deal with a family that had just fallen apart.

Breaking families apart

The ban on in-person visits was imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19. No one thought the set up would last so long, however.

“They thought the policy would only last for a week,” Jacobe said, referring to the persons deprived of liberty (PDLs).

It has been more than a year since the ban took effect on March 14, 2020 or days before Metro Manila was placed under a total lockdown. It was seen as one of the most controversial steps taken to insulate the inmates from the rampage of the virus.

The PDLs were forced to rely on phone and video calls to keep the emotional bond with their families. Some were able to hold it together. Others, like Mark’s, fell apart.

Jacobe said he had seen at least 10 men cry during video calls because their partners broke up with them.

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) has been trying to help the inmates cope with isolation and has been “doing its best to address the situation,” said Tessie Gomez, executive director of Prisoners’ Enhancement and Support Organization Inc. or PRESO.

But the pandemic has exacerbated cases of depression and loneliness.

“I know of an inmate who got so depressed that he went on a hunger strike… He just died,” said Gomez.

“Nothing could replace human touch…. I could imagine how desperate the elderly and the sick are right now,” she said.

The pandemic did not only stop family visits. It also prevented advocates, church groups, schools, and nongovernment organizations from visiting the inmates.

These visits, which provided educational and entertainment value to the PDLs, were stolen away by the pandemic, too.

Shared sacrifice

Before the pandemic, it was unthinkable to cancel visits, especially in-person family visits. It is a right held dearest by the PDLs.

“Family visits are a priority for the persons deprived of liberty [PDLs]. They can stomach unsavory food in jails as long as they can look forward to these visits,” Gomez told the PCIJ.

Jacobe said cancelling visitation was considered the gravest punishment meted only to inmates who had committed extreme violations. Any attempt to suspend it for the whole jail would only lead to riots and noise barrages.

What allowed inmates to accept the current situation was the awareness that jails and prisons are highly vulnerable to the spread of disease, said Raymund Narag, an associate professor at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. A former detainee himself, he is a staunch advocate of reforms in Philippine jails and prisons.

The PDLs also saw how jail officers shared the sacrifice, Narag said. He was referring to the decision of BJMP to assign jail officers, like Jacobe, to stay inside the compounds until the pandemic is over.

Jacobe had been “locked up” inside Manila City Jail since March 20, 2020. Like the inmates he has been guarding, Jacobe’s only means to get in touch with his relatives in the provinces are through phone and video calls.

Narag said this policy was “unique to the Filipinos.” Jail guards from other countries have yet to embrace such a radical initiative in order to slow the spread of virus within their walls and save lives, he said.

The “shared sacrifice” allowed inmates to feel closer to jail officers, said Jacobe. This makes opening up about depression easier because jail officers have become somehow relatable.

Still, Covid-19 penetrated the country’s detention centers. Many suspicious deaths were reported in city jails, the New Bilibid Prison and the Correctional Institute for Women.

Strict measures helped contain the coronavirus, said Gomez. The ban on in-person visits, in particular, prevented the virus from taking over prisons and jails, she said.

Early warnings and close collaboration between jail official and advocates prevented a major human catastrophe, said Narag.

“During meetings, people used the words time bomb to raise awareness about our jail situation. The [PCIJ] story served as a warning to them,” said Narag, referring to PCIJ’s coverage of the situation of jails in 2020 as the pandemic hit the country. (READ: Philippine jails are a Covid-19 time bomb https://pcij.org/article/3979/philippine-jails-are-a-covid-19-time-bomb)

Jacobe said the PDLs understood the situation. “They, too, do not want to die. And choosing to give up visitation rights was a sacrifice on their part not only for the fellow inmates but also for their families,” Jacobe said.

Some of them, like Mark, didn’t realize what it would cost them, however.

E-Dalaw

The BJMP, which is tasked to oversee the city jails, and the Bureau of Corrections, which handles state prisons, maximized the e-Dalaw system to keep PDLs connected to the outside world.

It’s a system that has been in place for years but demand for it intensified because of the pandemic. Prison advocates like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) donated gadgets to city jails.

Allison Lopez, Philippine spokesperson of the ICRC, said at least 31 jails have benefited from ICRC’s program, which distributed tablets with internet load. The gadgets did not only connect PDLs with their loved ones. The BJMP also used them for court hearings, medical consultations, and drug dependency evaluations.

E-Dalaw helped PDLs at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City connect with relatives in Mindanao, according to warden Jayrex Bustanera of Metro Manila Jail District.

Bustanera said some detainees, had failed to communicate with their families for years because distance and lack of money. With e-Dalaw, family ties strengthened because of frequent online chats, he said.

“Now, they are in constant communication with each other,” Bustanera said.

Inmates who did not receive any in-person visitors in the past have since reconnected with their relatives because online calls have become more convenient.

Fighting buryong

At Manila City Jail, various programs were also organized to help the PDLs fight depression and loneliness.

The lack of connection to the outside world induces boredom or buryong, Jacobe said.

To prevent inmates from having idle minds, the city jail intensified online appointments with psychologists and ensured that jail officers checked on the mental state of PDLs regularly.

“The PDLs are also very cooperative with our programs now. You can see that they are avoiding the ‘buryong’ trap,” Jacobe said.

PDLs also encourage each other to dance Zumba with Jacobe him every afternoon.

If anything, the policy became an “equalizer” for all inmates. “They now think pantay-pantay sila (they were all equal). Because now, all of them cannot receive visitors at all,” Gomez said.

The idea of pantay-pantay, however, only applies to physical visits. The class divide is still very much alive in terms of the length and frequency of video calls.

10-second call

Lyn Mangrobang, 49, and her incarcerated husband are trying hard to make their relationship work. She wanted to call him every day, but the cost of phone calls was too steep.

When she is able to call her husband, their conversation is short.  “It’s just hi-hello and how are you,” Mangrobang said.

Their longest call lasted for 15 minutes. The shortest was 10 seconds. They speak to each other twice a month. That’s how their relationship survived the pandemic.

Her husband has been in jail for two decades, currently locked up at NBPs medium security compound. Before the pandemic, family visits were frequent.

Mangrobang finds herself crying most nights these days. Her husband cries during their phone calls, too.

None of the prison advocates nor jail officers interviewed for this story see Philippine jails or prisons opening up soon. Jacobe and Bustanera said the ban on in-person visits might continue for another year.

Narag said the government should recognize PDLs and jail guards as a high-risk sector.

“We should start vaccination in jails soon,” he said.

The supply of shots is low and the  Philippines has one of the worst vaccination rates in the region, however.  #

FIRST PERSON: Kung magka-COVID at sa pampublikong ospital nagpapagamot

Ni Mona Nieva

Ang may akda ay naging pasyente ng COVID sa isang pampublikong ospital sa bandang hilaga ng Kalakhang Maynila. Mahigit isang linggo rin siyang nanatili roon hanggang payagang makauwi para ituloy ang pagpapagaling.

Kung magka COVID ka at malala at sa public hospital magpapagamot, ito ang payo ko sa iyo base sa aking karanasan noong Abril:

1. Masks – magdala at everyday magpalit ka. Sa ward, iba-iba ang makakasama mo, iba iba rin ang level ng COVID. Bukod sa iyo at sa ibang pasyente, para rin ito sa kapakanan ng mga health worker na gagamot sa iyo.

2. Loperamide – kasi baka magka-diarrhea ka at hindi ka na mabalikan ng nurse, lalo kapag full capacity ang ospital. May oras lang ang pagbisita nila at sa dami ng pasyente may chance na makalimutan nila. Hind iyon sadya.

3. Vitamin C – para maka-double dose kahit nasa ospital. Tulungan mo rin sarili ang mo.

4. Biscuit/crackers – pero individually-wrapped. Huwag iyong maramihan, kasi isang bukas lang ay contaminated na lahat iyon. Sana iyong may palaman na rin. In case late ang rasyon ng pagkain. Pwede mo pa i-share sa ibang pasyente.

5. Table napkin o kitchen towel – huwag tissue kasi napakanipis nito. Madali masira ang tisyu. Pero kung kitchen towel or table napkin, sapo ang lahat ng ubo, dahak at more ubo. Maayos pang maitatapon. Mahihikayat din ang iba na hindi na dumahak at dumura sa basurahan kasi kawawa iyong maglilimas nito.

6. Disposable na pangkain – May pagkain sa ospital at maayos at masarap naman ito. May plastic na kubyertos na kasama. Pero kung may nagpadala ng pagkain, mainam ito para hindi masira ang pagkain. Itapon sa basurahan pagkatapos, lahat ng ginamit. Kahit generous ka, no sharing, para sa kapakanan ng lahat.

Rasyon na pagkain sa pampublikong ospital. (Larawang kuha ni M. Nieva)

7. Extra bottled water – may bottled water sa ospital pero minsan mauubos mo kaagad or late darating ang rasyon.

8. Toiletries – sabon para sa iyong hand washing at kung ano-ano pa. Posible naman ang maligo pero mabilisan kasi nakakahiya sa ibang pasyente.

9. Alcohol spray at alcohol pang refill – bring your own alcohol. Importante ito lalo’t marami kayo sa kwarto, iisa lang ng banyo at mixed ang ward. Maaari din itong hiramin ng mga med tech kapag i-xray ka.

10. Charger – because

11. Electric fan – kasi mainit. Kung may extra fan doon, huwag mahiyang manghiram. If magdadala ka, iyong maganda na. Iwan mo na rin doon para sa mga susunod na pasyente.

12. Kumot – walang kumot o unan sa public hospital.

13. Damit – yung presko at madaling isuot, kasi mainit sa ospital. Ang pamalit ay dapat pang-dalawang linggo, lalo ang underwear. Hindi kasi makakapaglaba dahil sa swero o IV. Wala ring pagsasampayan.

Do’s and don’ts

Magpahinga at magpalakas. Mahirap matulog sa ospital pero possible. Gawin iyong lung exercises para lumakas agad ang baga.

Huwag magpanic. Sa loob ng iyong ward, maaari kang makakita ng mga pasyenteng mai-intubate o mamamatay, lalo kung walang separator na tela ang mga hospital bed o mixed ang kaso sa ward. Meron ding tatalon sa bintana.  Anuman ang dahilan nila, kalmahin mo ang sarili mo at isipin mong gagaling ka.

Selfie ng may-aksa sa loob ng ospital.

Makipag kapwa-tao. Makipagkumustahan. Hindi ka man sanay, makakabuti ito sa mental health mo at ng kapwa pasyente.

Unawain ang mga health worker. Kulang kulang pa rin mga PPE nila. Iyong iba, sisinghap-singhap na habang kinukuhaan ka ng BP. Yung iba naman, basang basa na ng pawis to a point na tutulo na parang bukas na gripo yung pawis nila kapag tumungo lang sila. Pero tuloy lang ang pag asikaso sa may sakit.

Huwag mong tiisin ang hindi dapat. Sakaling may mamatay sa iyong ward, paalalahanan ang mga health worker na takpan kung hindi agad makukuha ang labi ng isang pasyente. Kung lumipas na ang isang oras at wala pa rin takip o hindi pa rin kinukuha, ipaalala muli. Huwag mong sundin iyong kasabihan na “Pagtiisan mo na lang dahil naka public hospital ka.” Deserved ng buhay ang respeto, ganoon din ang mga patay.

Magpasalamat ka. Hind mo man nakikita yung doktor mo, ipaabot mo ang iyong pasasalamat. Pasalamatan mo rin ang lahat ng health worker na makakasalubong mo sa iyong paglabas.

Cheers to life! #

Pharma execs cash in on expensive Covid vaccines while billions wait inoculation

MANILA, Philippines—Nine new billionaires were created by excessive profits in the manufacture of coronavirus vaccines, a global alliance revealed.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance (PVA) said its analysis of recent Forbes Rich List data showed massive wealth is being generated from the Covid pandemic and executives of corporations manufacturing vaccines are cashing in.

“Between them, the nine new billionaires have a combined net wealth of $19.3 billion, enough to fully vaccinate all people in low-income countries 1.3 times,” the PVA– whose members include Global Justice Now, Oxfam and The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)—revealed Thursday ahead of this year’s G20 leaders Global Health Summit in Rome, Italy.

“Meanwhile, these countries have received only 0.2 per cent of the global supply of vaccines, because of the massive shortfall in available doses, despite being home to 10 per cent of the world’s population,” the alliance added.

Among the new billionaires are executives of successful Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers Moderna, Pfizer’s BioNTech and CanSino Biologics.

The PVA said the nine new vaccine billionaires, in order of their net worth are:

  1. Stéphane Bancel –  Moderna’s CEO (worth $4.3 billion) 
  2. Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech (worth $4 billion) 
  3. Timothy Springer  – an immunologist and founding investor of Moderna (worth $2.2bn)
  4. Noubar Afeyan – Moderna’s Chairman (worth $1.9 billion) 
  5. Juan Lopez-Belmonte– Chairman of ROVI, a company with a deal to manufacture and package the Moderna vaccine (worth $1.8 billion) 
  6. Robert Langer – a scientist and founding investor in Moderna (worth $1.6 billion) 
  7. Zhu Tao co-founder and chief scientific officer at CanSino Biologics (worth $1.3 billion) 
  8. Qiu Dongxu, co-founder and senior vice president at CanSino Biologics (worth $1.2) 
  9. Mao Huinhoa, also co-founder and senior vice president at CanSino Biologics (worth $1 billion) 

The Philippines imports vaccines from both Moderna and BioNTech. The Department of Health told the Senate that two doses of Moderna cost PHP3,904 while BioNTech cost PHP2,379.

In addition, eight existing billionaires– who have extensive portfolios in the Covid vaccine pharmaceutical corporations – have seen their combined wealth increase by $32.2 billion, the PVA said.

The added wealth created through the manufacture of the vaccines are enough to fully vaccinate everyone in India, a country most affected by the pandemic, the alliance added.

PVA said the eight vaccine billionaires who saw their wealth increase are:

NameRole/description$ billions 2021 $ billions 2020 
Jiang Rensheng & familyChair, Zhifei Biological products $  24.40  $ 7.60 
Cyrus PoonawallaFounder, Serum Institute of India $  12.70  $ 8.20 
Tse PingSinopharm $  8.90  $ 7.30 
Wu GuanjiangCo-founder, Zhifei Biological products $  5.10  $ 1.80 
Thomas Struengmann & familyportfolio includes Germany’s BioNTech and Uruguay’s Mega Pharma$ 11.00  $ 9.60 
Andreas Struengmann & familyportfolio includes Germany’s BioNTech and Uruguay’s Mega Pharma $  11.00  $ 9.60 
Pankaj Patel controls listed company Cadila Healthcare. The company now manufactures drugs to treat Covid-19 such as Remdesivir from Gilead. Its Covid-19 vaccine, ZyCoV-D, is undergoing clinical trials. $  5.00  $ 2.90 
Patrick Soon-ShiongImmunityBio – selected for the US federal government’s “Operation Warp Speed” to help quickly develop a Covid-19 vaccine. $   7.50  $ 6.40 

PVA said expectation of huge profits from the Covid vaccines created the billionaires as stocks in pharmaceutical firms are rising rapidly.

The alliance warned that the monopolies allow pharmaceutical corporations total control over the supply and price of vaccines, pushing up their profits while making it harder for poor countries such as the Philippines to secure the stocks they need.  

The PVA said that Covid vaccines should be manufactured rapidly and at scale, as global common goods, free of intellectual property protections and made available to all people, in all countries, free of charge.

Philippine vaccine procurement chief Carlito Galvez has lamented the difficulties the Philippines faces in procuring vaccines amid limited global supply.

At an online meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Council last April, Galvez said: “The Philippines remains resolute in championing a policy of ensuring universal, fair, equitable, and timely access to Covid-19 vaccines.”

A vial of the Moderna Covid vaccine. (Photo by Ian Hutchinson/Unsplash)

The faces of vaccine profits

In a statement, international humanitarian and development organization Oxfam said the billionaires are the faces of the huge profits created by the “monopolous” pharmaceutical corporations.

“What a testament to our collective failure to control this cruel disease that we quickly create new vaccine billionaires but totally fail to vaccinate the billions who desperately need to feel safe,” Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager Anna Marriott said.

Marriot said the development of the vaccines were funded by public money and should be first and foremost a global public good, not a private profit opportunity.

The campaigner urged the end of the “monopoly” to allow for greater vaccine production, the lowering of their prices and faster inoculation of the world’s population.

Earlier this month the US backed proposals by South Africa and India at the World Trade Organization to temporarily break up the so-called monopolies and lift the patents on COVID-19 vaccines.

This move has the support of over 100 developing countries, and, in recent days, countries like Spain have also declared their support, as has Pope Francis and over 100 world leaders and Nobel laureates, the PVA said.

Rich countries as enablers of huge profits

The call for the faster manufacture of cheaper Covid vaccines are falling on deaf ears, however, with at least two of the richest countries blocking the proposal, the PVA revealed.

The group added that Italy, host of the G20 Global Health Summit today, continues to sit on the fence on the issue, as are Canada and France. 

“As thousands of people die each day in India, it is utterly repugnant that the UK, Germany and others want to put the interests of the billionaire owners of Big Pharma ahead of the desperate needs of millions,”  Global Justice Now senior policy and campaigns manager Heidi Chow said.

UNAIDS executive director Winnie Byanyima for her part said: “While the companies making massive profits from COVID vaccines are refusing to share their science and technology with others in order to increase the global vaccine supply, the world continues to face the very real risk of mutations that could render the vaccines we have ineffective and put everyone at risk all over again.”

“The pandemic has come at a terrible human cost, so it is obscene that profits continue to come before saving lives” Byanyima added.

 The PVA said that Covid vaccines should be manufactured rapidly and at scale, as global common goods, free of intellectual property protections and made available to all people, in all countries, free of charge.  # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Lawyer, CHR score Duterte’s order vs non-mask wearers

President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to have those who do not wear masks or wear them improperly arrested undermines the rule of law and may be prone to excessive discretion and abuse by government authorities, a lawyers’ group and the Commission on Human Rights said.

Reacting to Duterte’s verbal order issued Wednesday night, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia said the arrest directive is another authoritarian edict by the President.

“[T]he legal justification is not only inapplicable but erroneous because there appears to be no clearly defined crime or offense covered by any specific law or lawful ordinance for a valid instance of warrantless arrest to operate,” Olalia said.

The human rights lawyers said the order is a “cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment disproportionate to the evil sought to be supposedly addressed.”

He said its implementation may again be discriminatory as shown by the arrest, detention and death of mostly poor people arising from various coronavirus lockdown orders implemented by the government since the pandemic hit the Philippines in March 2020.

“This is what we get when we have knee-jerk draconian ideas rather than commonsensical solutions… Imagine the time, effort, resources – even brain neurons – to be spent legislating, enforcing, arresting, detaining, prosecuting and convicting for such a petty misdemeanor,” Olalia said.

He added that Duterte’s “serial mailed fist cures” would just worsen the coronavirus problem and lock the people up in the “slippery slope of inane coercive measures.”

The lawyer suggested providing facemasks for free to those who cannot afford them and launching massive popular information drives to prevent further congestion of the government’s jail facilities.

‘Detain them!’

In a meeting with pandemic task force officials Wednesday night, Duterte admitted he is at a loss on how to stem the rising number of coronavirus cases in the country.

“My orders to the police are, those who are not wearing their mask properly, in order to protect the public… to arrest them,” the President said.

“Detain them, investigate them why they’re doing it,” he said.

The chief executive said the police may detain those arrested to up to nine hours.

“If I don’t do this strictly, nothing will happen,” he said in Filipino.

‘Abusive’

The Commission on Human Rights however agreed with Olalia and said in a statement Thursday it is concerned that in the absence of clear guidelines, Duterte’s directive may be prone to excessive discretion and abuse.

“[W]ith the noted rise of human rights violations arising from violations of health protocols, we have stressed the need for reasonable and humane disciplinary measures for violators,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said.

De Guia noted that several local government units have passed ordinances penalizing those not wearing masks in public but said the measures only often reprimand, fine or order violators to perform community service.

She agreed with Olalia that the country’s overcrowded jails may not be a sound strategy to prevent the further spread of the virus in the communities.

“In the end, it is through intensive education and information campaigns, not fear, that would best result in better compliance with healthy and safety protocols during the pandemic. ..We may be in quarantine due to the pandemic, but rights should not be on lockdown,” de Guia said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Ayuda urgent: Jobs crisis still worse than before pandemic — IBON

Government claims of the employment situation improving in February 2021 compared to pre-pandemic January 2020 are unfounded, research group IBON said.

The so-called increase in employment is just Filipinos desperate to make a living in any way they can. This makes the need for substantial cash aid even more urgent, the group said.

The economic managers repeatedly claim that “we have surpassed our pre-pandemic employment level of 42.6 million in January 2020,” such as when the February 2021 labor force survey (LFS) results were released.

IBON said the LFS figures, however, clearly show that the jobs crisis existing even before the pandemic has only gotten worse upon the longest and harshest lockdowns in Southeast Asia.

Reported employment increased by 610,000, from 42.5 million in January 2020 to 43.2 million in February 2021. But this was far from enough for the labor force which grew by 2.4 million over that same period to 47.3 million, said the group, resulting in even greater unemployment.

IBON also noted that there are 12 million combined unemployed (4.2 million) and underemployed (7.9 million) Filipinos as of February 2021, which is much more than the 8.7 million in January 2020 (i.e. 2.4 million unemployed and 6.3 million underemployed).

The 1.8 million increase in unemployment in itself already indicates collapsing household incomes for millions of Filipino families, said the group.

Photo by R. Villanueva/Kodao

The marginal increase in employment should not be seen as a sign of any improvement because it masks a serious deterioration in the quality of work in the country, IBON said. Even less than before, so-called employment is not enough to give Filipino families the regular and secure incomes they need to survive.

By class of workers, the number of wage and salary workers fell by over 1 million and of employers in family farms and businesses by 72,000 from widespread lockdown-driven business closures and retrenchments. These are down to 26.7 million and 930,000, respectively.

IBON noted that jobless Filipinos were apparently driven to “self-employment” which bloated by 1.4 million and to being “unpaid family workers” which rose by 356,000. These increased to 12.5 million and 3 million, respectively.

By hours worked, the number of full-time workers fell by 2.9 million to 25.9 million. Those working only part-time however increased by 3.2 million to 16.6 million, and those “with a job, not at work” by 325,000 to 657,000.

IBON stressed that tens of millions of Filipinos are going hungry, most of all from not having the money to buy food especially from the lack of work.

The Php10,000 emergency cash assistance being demanded is all the more urgent to immediately alleviate hunger. The inflation-adjusted official food threshold as of March 2021 for a family of five is Php2,133 per week in the National Capital Region (NCR) and Php1,905 per week on average for the Philippines.

The latest Php1,000 token cash aid is glaringly not even enough for food expenses, considering even that official food thresholds are ridiculously low to begin with, IBON said.

At the same time, a large fiscal stimulus is critical to arrest economic scarring, jump-start the economy, and genuinely improve employment on a wider scale, said the group. #

‘Ayudang sapat para sa Lahat,’ panawagan sa Mayo uno 2021

Hindi nangyari ang orihinal na planong paggunita ng Pandaigdigang Araw ng Paggawa sa Liwasang Bonifacio dahil sa panggigipit ng mga pulis, subalit naidaos naman ito sa Welcome Rotonda, Quezon City. Pangunahing panawagan ng mga manggagawa sa taong ito ang pagbibigay ng sapat at nakabubuhay na ayuda para sa lahat sa gitna ng pinaka-mahabang lockdown sa buong mundo dahil sa pandemya.

Ayon kay Elmer Labog, tagapangulo ng Kilusang Mayo Uno, bagaman ayuda ang kanilang pangunahing panawagan, patuloy pa ring ipinaglalaban ng uring manggagawa ang tunay na kalayaan at demokrasya ng bansa. Nanawagan sila ng pagbibitiw ni Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte sa pwesto dahil sa kapabayaan nitong tugunan ang pangangailangan ng lahat ng mga Pilipino sa panahon ng pandemya.

Palagian namang pinapaalalahanan ng mga organisador ng aktibidad ang social distancing sa naturang protesta dahil sa COVID-19. (Bidyo ni Jo Maline mula sa kuha nina Jek Alcaraz, Joseph Cuevas, at Jo Maline)

Ang Community Pantries at ang Alamat ng Sampalok

Ni Joi Barrios

Ang alamat ng sampalok

ay kuwentong tungkol sa pagdaramot.

May matandang babaeng ayaw

magbigay ng balat ng kahoy na panggamot

sa nangangailangang kapitbahay,

kung kaya, siya raw ay isinumpa.

At nang bumagyo, ang ilog ay umapaw

at tinangay ng baha ang puno,

na kung saan-saan tumubo.

Ang kuwento ng sampalok ay alamat

ng puno na naging panlahat.

Sa nayon, at kahit minsan sa kalunsuran

Hangga’t maaari ay hindi tayo bumibili

ng maliliit ang dahon na ipalulutang sa sinigang.

Hinihingi natin ito sa kapitbahay

tulad ng kayraming sagana ng iba:

aratiles, sineguelas, at makopa, na bihira sa pamilihan

dahil nakasanayan na ang pagbibigay

at ang pagtanggap ng biyaya.

Ganito rin ang tulungan sa ating mga pamayanan.

“Magbigay ayon sa makakayanan,

Kumuha batay sa pangangailangan.”

Ang sampalok na maasim

nabibigyan din ng alat at tamis.

Ang nagmamasama sa mabuting gawa,

Tiyak na may budhing anong itim, anong lupit.

Ika-20 ng Abril 2021

In another blow for Japan’s Summer Games, male chauvinist “Olympig” is forced to resign

Second high-level resignation over misogynistic remarks

By Nevin Thompson

On March 17, Tokyo Olympic creative director Sasaki Hiroshi was forced to quit after making misogynistic remarks, becoming the second high-ranking official to be pushed out of the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021 because of overt sexism. Sasaki’s resignation marks yet another setback for the 2020 Olympic Games, already postponed a year because of the pandemic, and plagued with gaffes, low public support and the ongoing problem of COVID-19.

Sasaki Hiroshi, who until March had been responsible for the opening and closing ceremonies of both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, had been seconded to the position from giant advertising and public relations firm Dentsu. Sasaki stated he proposed the idea a year ago that popular comedian and entertainer Watanabe Naomi, a woman, dress up as a pig as a play on words taking the last three letters of “Olympics.” Sasaki was forced to explain his comments after investigative news magazine Shukan Bunshun broke the story on March 17.

In February, the president of the Japan Olympic Organizing Committee, Yoshiro Mori, had already been forced to resign after making and doubling down on misogynistic comments. Amid national protests, at least 1,000 Olympic volunteers quit before Mori was forced out.

Chelsea Szendi Schieder, historian and faculty member at Aoyama Gakuin University, remarked:

Proposing to cast Watanabe Naomi, the most charismatic talent working in Japan today, as the “Olympig” in the opening ceremonies is insulting, and sadly on-brand for Tokyo 2020.

Others noted that Sasaki’s proposal seemed to exemplify an out-of-touch gerontocracy that is in charge of both the Olympics and Japan itself, a country recently ranked 120th in the world for gender equity. Freelance journalist Thoton Akimoto said:

Who on earth could think dressing up Watanabe Naomi as a pig, and then making her say “I’m an Olympig” would ever be a good idea for the opening ceremony of the Olympics? It’s not only demeaning to Watanabe, but also to anyone self-conscious of their own appearance. The idea could also be perceived as being anti-women. It’s as though Sasaki confused the Olympics with a vulgar variety television show with a 60s or 70s sensibility.

In an official statement, Watanabe said there were no plans for her to participate in the opening ceremonies after the Olympics had been postponed last year, and that she was unaware of Sasaki’s remarks.

Watanabe also said:

As Naomi Watanabe, a person in the public eye, it is true that there are times when people have told me my physique is large, and I have been working with the understanding that there will be times when I will be taunted for it.

In reality, I am very happy with my figure. Therefore, I want to continue to express myself not only as someone who is large but as ‘Naomi Watanabe.’

However, as one human being, I truly hope from the bottom of my heart that the world can become a joyous place where each person’s individuality and ideas are respected and accepted by all.

Amid ongoing controversies, celebrities and other prominent people continue to pull out of the torch relay, which kicked off on March 25 in Fukushima prefecture. Most celebrities, such as beloved entertainer and television host Shofukutei Tsurube and gentleman crooner Itsuki Hiroshi cited “scheduling conflicts” when pulling out of the torch relay.

They are likely responding to public sentiments about the Games. A recent poll by news agency Kyodo found that 80 per cent of Japanese people think the Olympics should be either canceled, or postponed again due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The poll was conducted following Mori Yoshiro’s earlier misogynistic remarks in January and February, which also prompted the exodus of Olympic volunteers.

Despite the setbacks and seeming low public support for the Tokyo Olympics, organizers have insisted the Olympic torch relay will continue as planned  (a “men-only” stage was canceled after public outrage) even as COVID-19 cases continue to increase in cities along the route, including Osaka and Tokyo.

Meanwhile, Japan, with a population of 126 million people, has entered its “fourth wave” of COVID-19. More than 1 million COVID-19 cases have been identified in the country since the start of the pandemic in February 2020, and infection numbers in some parts of the country continue to increase week over week.

By the beginning of April this year, the seven-day average in Tokyo, with a population of 15 million people, identified 440 new cases of COVID-19 per day, compared to 376 and 303 on the previous two Fridays.

On April 1, Osaka prefecture, with a population of 8.8 million, logged its highest daily case count of COVID-19 since January 23, with 559 new cases. Japan’s central government, which retains overall control over regional COVID-19 management measures, has been forced to re-enact stronger measures to reduce infections.

Rising numbers of infections have alarmed not only the Japanese government but others as well. The U.S. military, which itself was implicated with the initial spread of COVID-19 throughout Japan, has identified “red zones” in the country:

Vaccines may not offer an easy exit from COVID-19. While speeding up, Japan’s vaccination program is off to a slow start, with less than one per cent of the population vaccinated so far. The government has signed deals with vaccine providers, and is focusing on healthcare workers and seniors first.

In the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Japanese government has decided to host an “athletes-only” Olympic Games. Theoretically, this would limit the number of overseas visitors to just 15,000. However, the rule would also allow families, coaches, media and sponsors—potentially 100,000 to 200,000 people—to enter Japan from overseas.

Japan’s decision to close its borders to anyone but its citizens has left some foreign residents of Japan stranded overseas. The situation is especially difficult for foreign students, many of whom have been unable to enter Japan for more than a year. While re-entry restrictions have been relaxed, it can still be difficult for students and some workers to receive permission to enter the country.

There are fears Japan will not admit foreigners, including students, visitors, and visa-holders until at least September 2021—after the Olympic Games have concluded.

The Japan Olympic Organizing Committee appears unwilling to acknowledge howregular gaffes, a pattern of outright misogyny among senior leadership and the sense the COVID-19 pandemic is being ignored have all resulted in low public support for the Games.

Instead, after news magazine Shukan Bunshun reported on the Sasaki Hiroshi’s “Olympig” comments that resulted in his resignation, Hashimoto Seiko, who replaced Mori Yoshiro on the new Organizing Committee, demanded the publication retract the story and pull all physical copies from circulation.

Shukan Bunshun bluntly refused, causing yet a new controversy for the Tokyo Olympics. Besides noting that it is in the public interest to report on a taxpayer-funded event, Shukan Bunshan concluded its response with this question:

Translation:

Who are the Tokyo Olympics for? It shouldn’t just be an “Olympics for some people,” such as the organizing committee, Dentsu, and politicians.

Original Quote:

東京オリンピックは、誰のためにあるのか。組織委員会や電通、政治家など利益を得る一部の人々のために、オリンピックがあるのではないか。

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Kodao publishes Global Voices articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

QC houses demolished amid strict Covid lockdown

[UPDATED, 7:00 AM, April 6, 2021] Amid an extended round of the latest Covid pandemic lockdown, several houses had been demolished today along Maginoo Street, Barangay Pinyahan in Quezon City.

Urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) reported that elderly residents who lived in the demolished houses have been forced out on the streets, raising fears they may later be arrested by the police for curfew and lock down violations.

Eleven families were affected and no relocation has yet been offered to them, Kadamay told Kodao.

Private claimant-couple Nicolo and Luzviminda Junsay led the demolition, Kadamay said.

The group claimed the demolition is illegal and that barangay officials had no prior knowledge of the incident.

Kadamay said that prior to today’s incident, the affected residents were being forced to sign certain documents but no court order and notice have been presented before the demolition team swooped down on the community.

Demolition along Maginoo Street, Brgy. Pinyahan, Quezon City. (Kadamay photos)

“While we are under the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), the demolition pushed through. No notice, no relief goods, no assistance had been given to those affected and straight out on the streets they went,” Kadamay said in an alert.

The group blamed both the National Housing Authority and President Rodrigo Duterte as promoters of demolitions.

“They order us to stay at home while new coronavirus cases are on the rise, but they continue to endanger people. Those affected have lost their houses and are likely to be arrested while they are out on the streets,” Kadamay said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Measly ECQ aid an afterthought — IBON

by IBON Foundation

Research group IBON said that the Duterte administration’s financial assistance to families affected by the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) is so little that it is plainly just an afterthought.

Giving assistance clearly only entered the government’s mind when it once again resorted to an ill-conceived ECQ to try and contain the uncontrollable spread of COVID-19, said the group.

The Duterte administration announced that it will distribute assistance to some 22.9 million low-income households affected by the renewed ECQ in the National Capital Region, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal and Bulacan (dubbed NCR+).

It promises Php1,000 per individual to be distributed by the local government units (LGUs) as cash or in kind.

The so-called supplementary Social Amelioration Program (SAP) is evidently hastily being put together just now, said IBON.

The group said that after a year, the government has noticeably forgotten about giving aid and has not even bothered to make any contingencies or guidelines for providing further emergency cash subsidies.

IBON also observed how the budget for this is not being determined by the needs of Filipino families being driven into deeper distress.

Instead, the allocation for aid is decided based merely on the amount of leftovers from COVID-19 response funds that should have already been spent.

The economic managers said financing would be sourced from Php23 billion in unspent Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) funds.

As a result, said IBON, only a measly Php1,000 is being allotted per individual including for those who have already suffered joblessness, loss of incomes and livelihoods, and depleted savings after over a year of lockdowns.

This is even less than two days of the NCR minimum wage of Php537, said the group.

IBON added that the assistance looks even more meager compared to its estimated family living wage (FLW) of Php1,064 as of February 2021. The FLW is the amount needed by a family of five members each day to meet their basic needs.

As it is, even the very few families getting the full amount of emergency cash aid under Bayanihan 1, Bayanihan 2 and this supplementary SAP would only have gotten around Php15,607 to help tide them over the 54 weeks of lockdowns since March 15, 2020.

This is the sum of average assistance received under the SAP 1st tranche (Php5,637) and SAP 2nd tranche (Php5,970), and assuming a family gets the maximum Php4,000 supplementary SAP today.

IBON said that poor and low-income families in NCR+ deserve not just Php1,000 but at least Php10,000 in emergency cash subsidies to be distributed immediately, or ten times more than being offered after a year of lockdowns.

This should even be given for at least three months and then to at least the poorest 18 million or even 22.5 million families, stressed the group.

Substantial emergency cash subsidies will provide immediate relief to tens of millions of Filipinos as well as significantly spur aggregate demand to help the economy recover faster, said IBON. #

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Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.