These officials flouted lockdown rules in Myanmar, Malaysia, and the Philippines

Arrest a community volunteer, then throw yourself a party

By Mong Palatino/Global Voices

Lockdown restrictions were enforced by many countries across the world to contain the spread of COVID-19, and Southeast Asia has hosted some of the harshest.

Most quarantine protocols require residents to stay at home, while mass gatherings are typically prohibited.

In Malaysia and the Philippines a particularly strict enforcement of these measures saw thousands of arrests and heavy penalties for violations from March onwards.

But a number of government officials were caught violating the very quarantine protocols they were supposed to oversee.

Global Voices looked into some of these cases, and their outcomes, which highlight how rules apply to ordinary citizens more than to powerful politicians.

We also considered a case in Myanmar that showed how religious discrimination can have a bearing on the application of the law.

Malaysia: ‘Disparity in sentencing’

Malaysia has arrested almost 30,000 people for violating its Movement Control Order (MCO). Harsh implementation was cited by authorities as necessary to prevent a surge in COVID-19 cases.

But the public noticed that several politicians flouted the guidelines. The Centre For Independent Journalism compiled documented many of these instances. In one case, Deputy Health Minister Noor Azmi Ghazali posted a now-deleted Facebook photograph of him and another elected representative sharing a meal with about 30 students. Deputy Rural Development Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Mohamad meanwhile enjoyed an impromptu birthday party. Datuk Abdul Rahman Mohamad claimed that the party was a surprise sprung on him by friends and said he was unable to send them away for reasons of courtesy.

In many cases politicians and their families who got charged for failing to practice social distancing measures were slapped with light fines. Ordinary citizens, in contrast got maximum penalty fines and even jail time.

This prompted the Malaysian Bar to issue a statement about the ‘disparity in sentencing’:

The Malaysian Bar is disturbed by accounts of excessive sentences and cases of disparity in sentencing between ordinary people and those with influence, in relation to persons who have violated the MCO.

We acknowledge that the range of sentences handed down may well be within the ambit of the law, but the power of the Court to hand down sentences must be exercised judiciously in order to avoid any travesty of justice.

Philippines: ‘Mañanita’, not a birthday party’

The Philippines is cited by the U.N. Human Rights Office as another country that relied on a “highly militarized response” to deal with the pandemic. More than 120,000 people have been arrested for curfew and quarantine transgressions. Checkpoint security measures have led to numerous human rights violations.

But the government’s credibility in enforcing the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) guidelines suffered a tremendous blow after it was reported that Major General Debold Sinas, the director of the National Capital Region Police Office, benefited from a birthday bash organized by subordinates.

Sinas insisted that there was no birthday party but only a ‘Mañanita’ — a police tradition that features an early morning serenade for the chief. But the public backlash forced him to issue an apology.

Critics pointed out that Sinas and his team have enthusiastically arrested activists and community workers organizing relief activities during the lockdown. They blasted the general for holding festivities at a time when millions have lost jobs and income due to anti-pandemic measures.

Sinas was later charged for violating ECQ rules but has so far managed to retain his position. His case is still pending in the court.

A retired military officer, Ramon Farolan, advised Sinas to step down:

Your apology would take on greater meaning if you step down from your position. Accept that you made a poor judgment call, showing insensitivity to the plight of our less fortunate. Don’t wait for higher authorities to decide your case.

Myanmar: Religious event or pagoda renovation?

In Myanmar, Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein and Naing Ngan Lin, chairman of the COVID-19 Control and Emergency Response Committee, are both accused of breaking the law by attending a Botataung Pagoda festival while the country is observing a ban on religious gatherings.

Photos uploaded on the chief minister’s Facebook page showed dozens of individuals congregating at a riverside site to observe a Buddhist rite.

Social media reactions focused on the clear breach of government guidelines, which include a prohibition on gatherings of four or more people.

Phyo Min Thein denied that the activity was a ceremony, insisting instead that it was a pagoda renovation and that the other people in the photographs were mere onlookers.

Many commented that while the government has been consistent in jailing Muslims and Christians for holding religious activities during lockdown restrictions, it has been less decisive in probing activities connected to Buddhism — the country’s most widely observed religion.

Kyaw Phyo Tha, news editor of the English edition of The Irrawaddy, criticized the chief minister’s actions:

Whatever the case, the chief minister’s actions were unacceptable. They have put the Union government in an awkward position, as its orders have been undermined by a senior official. Due to U Phyo Min Thein’s shortsightedness, Myanmar will have to pay the price internationally by being accused of religious discrimination.

Phyo Min Thein may yet pay for his lockdown scandal — a growing number of Yangon regional legislators are seeking to file an impeachment case against him for breaking the rules. #

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

KODAO ASKS: Kung walang mass testing, mapipigilan kaya ang COVID-19 sa Pilipinas?

Sa mahigit dalawang buwan na pagpapatupad ng lockdown sa buong bansa dahil sa Covid 19, wala pa ring malawakang testing upang malaman talaga kung gaano kalala ang paglawak ng sakit sa mamamayan. Maraming grupo ang nanawagan na ipatupad ang mass testing na anila’y siyang tunay lulutas sa nasabing pandemya.

Sa kabilang banda, mabibigyang-solusyon ba ang pandemya na ito kung walang mass testing? (Bidyo ni Joseph Cuevas Background Music: Bumper Tag by John Deley)

Promote Forests for Health

By Leon Dulce

The COVID-19 pandemic, like many catastrophic infectious disease spreads the world has faced, could have been avoided if we treated our forests differently.

Indeed, various studies have demonstrated that 60 to 70 percent of recognized emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) are zoonotic, or originating from animals, mostly wildlife. A United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization study showed that 15 percent of these EIDs are associated with forests.

COVID-19 itself has been genetically traced back to bats, which are nocturnal forest and cave denizens. Bats are seen as the “ultimate incubator” for COVID-19 because of its robust immune system encouraging viral strains they host to adapt and evolve into dangerous and highly infectious pathogens.

Epidemiologists are scrambling to determine how exactly COVID-19 ‘spilled over’ from bats to humans, though initial scientific explanations point to the virus jumping from bats to other mammals to humans in the live animal markets of ground zero Wuhan, China.

What is clear is that the coronavirus would have remained dormant if its carrier species remained isolated away in intact forest ecosystems they inhabit.

Web of life, web of consequence

Forest biodiversity plays a huge role in disease control by promoting good microbiota that compete with the disease-causing pathogens, and flora and fauna that compete with or predate on virus-carrying species to keep their populations in check.

Forests also provide various ecosystem services such as food, water, climate regulation, and pollution control, all helping human populations improve their health and wellbeing.

This complex web of life is continuously unraveling as we continue to lose our forests. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) itself estimates that our forest cover is down to just 7 million hectares or just 23.3 percent of the Philippines’ total land area. What can be considered intact forests are actually a mere 7 percent of our original pre-colonial forest cover.

The consequent biodiversity loss is catastrophic. In 2011, the rate of biodiversity extinction in the Philippines was already 1,000 times faster than the natural rate. Global average extinction rates at present are now up to 10,000 times faster.

The country’s latest climate change assessment report roots the biodiversity problem in key drivers such as land conversion, deforestation due to logging and conversion to agricultural land, mining, introduction of exotic species, and pollution.

The Philippine Forest Code has failed to arrest deforestation and these multiple challenges to the use of forest lands. It has served only to promote export-oriented timber plantations instead of sustainable forest management practices. Other extractive and destructive policies such as the Mining Act of 1995 also provide convenient trojan horses into forest protection policies.

This web of consequence extends to the global level through the Philippines serving as a waypoint for the global wildlife trade. We are not only a hotspot for poaching but also a porous entry and exit point of wildlife trafficking that reaches as far as Africa and Europe. Weak wildlife protection law enforcement clocking in at just 26% conviction and 13% penalization rates are failing to stop this continuing plunder of our biodiversity.

Rainforesting, rewilding

We the public deserve a ‘Green New Normal’ beyond the COVID-19 crisis. Promoting forests for health, from rainforestation to urban rewilding, is a crucial solution to the coronavirus emergency, recovery, and post-pandemic new normal that we urgently need.

We must address the perennial lack of public funds for forest protection. Latest available data indicate that there is an 80% financing gap between the actual average budget for biodiversity protection of P4.9 billion, and the recommended level of spending from 2008 to 2013. Government must double its current annual budget for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation up to P25 billion per year to address these financing gaps.

Government forest rangers and personnel are just 10% of what we need to sufficiently cover our entire forest areas with adequate enforcement. We must increase the number of employed forest rangers and personnel, and improve their job security by increasing their wages and protection needs.

Finally, we need to overhaul our forest, biodiversity, and natural resource laws. We have to be strict with the tradeoffs, making sure not a single project that threatens massive biodiversity loss will be allowed in our remaining forest corridors. #

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Leon Dulce is the national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), a grassroots-led national environmental campaign center established in 1997. Kalikasan PNE is a convening organization of the Citizens’ Urgent Response to End COVID-19 (CURE COVID), a national people’s initiative of various communities and sectors in response to the pandemic crisis and its impacts on their health and livelihood. 

Filipinos deserve more than the minimum under MECQ – doctor

By Sanafe Marcelo

A community medicine expert warned that so-called minimum health standards the government is implementing under the new modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) strategy will not solve the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the Philippines.

University of the Philippines College of Medicine professor Gene Nisperos told an online forum the government seemingly wants the people to accept so-called minimum standards and capacities as the best that can be offered to combat the virus.

“Filipinos deserve more in terms of health, and given our problems during this time of COVID-19, it’s hard to say that this is the minimum standard and when we reach this, we are good,” Nisperos said.

In an online forum by Second Opinion (An Alternative Voice on COVID-19 and Health PH), Nisperos was reacting to the government’s decision to place the majority of the country under MECQ after placing the entire Luzon Island and some other parts of the country under lockdown for two months without mass testing.

Department of Health report as of May 17, 2020.

In its Administrative Order No. 2020-0016, Nisperos said the Department of Health ordered the development of “minimum public health standards” on detecting, isolating and treating coronavirus cases as the main strategy for the country’s Minimum Health System Capacity Standards for COVID-19 Preparedness and Response.

The medical doctor however said the government’s so-called minimum is inadequate as the guideline targets one ambulance per province for medical transport.

“What if there are 10 cases in a province? How will this be enough? This is injustice,” Nisperos said.

“We must insist that we should not only be given what is minimum [in fighting COVID]. Thus, we must demand that not just the minimum that they [government] can provide, but what is right and just based on how we value life and health of every Filipino,” Nisperos added. #

Paano aalagaan ang mental health ngayong COVID lockdown?

Sa panahon ngayon, importante ang social connection at psycho-social support sa bawat isa. Ok tayo sa pisikal na distancing pero tuloy dapat ang social connection. Sa social connection papasok ang pagtutulungan ng bawat miyembro ng pamilya para matagalan ang ECQ. Ito ang panahon ng family bonding.

Ni Dr. Reggie Pamugas/Panayam ni Raymund B. Villanueva

Sinasabi ng mga eksperto sa mundo na nagiging pandemya na rin sa mental health ang krisis na dulot ng coronavirus na pinalalala ng kwarantina at mga lockdown na nag-uutos sa mga tao na manatili na lamang muna sa loob ng bahay. Dahil mahigit nang dalawang buwan ang lockdown sa mga bansa katulad ng sa Pilipinas, marami na marahil ang nakakaranas ng psychological stress dulot ng pagkakakulong, kawalan ng interaksyon sa mga dating nakakasalamuha at kawalan ng kasiguruhan sa hanapbuhay at ikabubuhay.

Kinapanayam ng Kodao ang isa sa pinaka-aktibong sikolohista na nagbibigay-tulong sa mga pamayanang nakararanas ng matinding psychological stress. Siya marahil ang pinaka-aktibong tumulong sa mga pamayanan sa Silangang Bisayas matapos ang super-bagyong Yolanda. Siya rin ang nagbibigay-tulong sa mga taong may psychological stress dahil sa kanilang trabaho, tulad ng mga mamamahayag.

Yuris Alhumaydy

1. Ano ang mental health?

Ang kalusugang pangkaisipan o mental health, ayon sa World Health Organization ay isang kalagayan ng kagalingan kung saan ang isang tao ay maalam sa kanyang abilidad, kayang umagapay sa pangkaraniwang stress ng buhay, nakakapag-trabaho ng maayos, at nakakapag-ambag sa kanyang pamayanan.

Ang sakit sa pag-iisip o mental illnesses naman ay isang kondisyong pangkalusugan na nakakakitaan ng pagbabago-bago sa emosyon, pag-iisip o pag-uugali o kumbinasyon ng mga ito. Dulot ito ng distress o mga suliraning nagmumula sa sosyal, trabaho, o relasyon at aktibidad sa pamilya. Ito naman ay ayon sa American Psychiatric Association.

2.  Ano ang dulot ng lockdown na ito sa mental health ng karaniwang mamamayan, partikular sa tila walang malinaw na plano hinggil sa kabuhayan, pagkain, transportasyon ng mga kailangan pa ring lumabas bilang frontliners o manggagawa o arawan lamang ang kita?

Malaki ang epekto ng lockdown sa mental health ng tao. Ang tao ay social beings, kaya nung pinatupad ung social distancing na kasama sa ECQ, medyo nahirapan ung mga tao. Karamihan ay nakaramdam ngstress, nerbyos, pag-alala, kahirapan sa pagtulog, at iba pa dahil sa isip na walang kasiguraduhan at ang pagbabago ng situation (pandemic na). At dahil first time itong naranasan ng karamihan ng Pilipino, marami talaga ang kinakabahan at na-apektuhan ang kanila at ating mental health. Ang nakadagdag pa sa problema ay hindi malinaw na guidelines o plano mula sa ating gobyerno o pa-iba-iba ang sinasabi ng gobyerno at kulang ng information dissemination sa mga tao at komunidad.

3. Paano nakaka-apekto ang lockdown na ito sa mental health ng karaniwang mamamayan sa pagmamalabis sa implementasyon nito ng mga taong-gubyerno, tulad ng pagbibilad sa mga violators daw sa quarantine, pananakit sa iba, pamamahiya, at iba pang banta sa kanila?

Sa mga taong may otoridad (pulis at military o barangay tanod) lalong dumarami ang pang-aabuso sa  kapangyarihan. Dahil ang training nila ay security response at hindi medikal o matinding pag-unawa sa kapwa. Kaya, madalas, labis na implentasyon o paglabag sa karapatang pantao ang ginagawa nila. Iba ang perspective ng nagpapatupad/ LGU/ national government kumpara sa mamamayan. May covid19 pandemic man o wala, basta may paglabag sa karapantang pantao, itoy nakaka-apekto sa isipan ng tao. Isa itong traumatic experience sa kanya na hindi nya makakalimutan at pwedeng magdulot sa sakit sa isipan. Nakakalungkot lang isipin na kahit sa panahon ng covid19 ay may pangyayaring pang-aabuso pa rin sa kapwa Pilipino sa halip ng compassion, pag-unawa at pagpapasensya.

4. Ano ang dulot ng lockdown na ito sa mental health ng karaniwang mamamayan matapos nilang malaman na ang mga taong may pribilehiyo tulad nina Senador Koko Pimental ay nakakaikot pa sa mga lugar at may mga wala namang sintomas at hindi  frontliner ay nauuna sa Covid-19 testing?

Minsan nahahati ang reaksyon ng mga tao dahil sa pag-iisip na opisyal sila ng gobyerno kaya may pribilehiyo sila. Pero karamihan ng mga tao ay nagagalit sa mga pag-aabuso ng mga gobyernong opisyal. Sa panahon ng covid19, dapat may role model o responsableng tao/opisyal na sinosunod ang mamamayan para may kaayusan. Pero hindi ito nangyayari. Kapag hindi matino ang isang leader o gobyernong opisyal, magulo ang resulta. Korapsyon at pang-aabuso sa kapangyarihan ang nangyayari.

5. Ano ang dulot ng lockdown na ito sa mental health ng mamayan kung bawas ang impormasyong natatanggap nila dahil sa limitasyong imposed sa mga alagad ng media?

Kapag kulang ang impormasyon na nakukuha ang mamamayan dahil sa limitasyon ng media ay lalong nagdudulot ito ng pangamba, takot, nerbyos sa mga tao. Ang dagdag problema pa ay dumadami ang mga fake news na lalong nakakalito sa mamamayan.

Photo by Jinky Mendoza/Kodao

6. Ano ang dulot ng lockdown na ito sa mental health ng mamamayan kung naglipana ang fake news, pati na rin ang galing mismo sa pamahalaan?

Hindi nakakatulong yung paglaganap ng fake news sa ating bansa. Ang mga tao sa panahon ng krisis ay umaasa sa tulong ng ating gobyerno. Kapag nalilito ang tao dahil sa fake news lalo sa panahon ng krisis, lalo silang matatakot at magpa-panic. Pwede rin itong magdulot ng away sa kapwa tao.

7. Ano ang dulot ng lockdown sa mental health ng mamamayan kung walang malinaw na impormasyon kung matagumpay ba o hindi ang ginagawa ng pamahalaan upang tugunan ang krisis, kung kailan ba matatapos ang lockdown, at kung ano ang plano matapos ang ilang buwang community quarantine?

Kung walang malinaw na impormasyon sa plano kung paano sugpuin ang covid19 o hanggang kalian ‘yung lockdown, lalong maging nerbyoso, magpa-panic o matatakot ang mag tao. Kaya ang iba ay hindi sumusunod sa ECQ/ quarantine, maliban pa sa rason na ekonomiko dahil hindi malinaw ang impormasyon tungkol sa covid19 o plano sa pagsugpo nito.

8. Bakit mahalaga na pangalagaan ang mental health ng mamamayang isinasailalalim sa community quarantine, lalo na yung mga nasa isolation, forced o voluntary?

Mahalagang mapangalagaan ang mental health sa panahon ng ECQ para hindi magkasakit sa isipan. Ang tao ay sociable creature by nature kaya nakakapanibago itong isolation or ECQ sa mga tao. Natatakot, kinakabahan o pwedeng magkaroon ng pagduda sa ibang tao kapag nagkaroon ng matagal na isolation.

Photo from Burbank

9. Paano pangangalagaan ang mental health ng mga nasa lockdown at quarantine? Paano magtutulungan ang mga miyembro ng pamilya upang matagalan itong community quarantine ng pamahalaan?

Mahalaga na mapangalagaan ang ating mental health sa panahon ng lockdown. Sa individual pwede niyang gawin ang ABC ng Mental Health Care.

Ung “A” ay awareness. Self-awareness at situational awareness. Dapat kilala mo sarili mo, ang inyong kalakasan at iyong pwede pang ayusin. Dapat well-informed ka din sa mga balita. Pero mag-ingat iyong mga vulnerable sa isip, yung mga madaling mag-alala.

Yung “B” ay balance. I-balanse ang ang buhay mo sa trabaho at sa pamilya mo. Dapat ay may regular sleep pa din, may hobbies, doing work (work from home), doing exercises. Pwedeng gumawa ng schedule for a day o daily routine ng isang linggo na pwede sundan.

Ung “C” ay connection. Sa panahon ngayon, importante ang social connection at psychosocial support sa bawat isa. Ok tayo sa pisikal na distancing pero tuloy dapat ang social connection. Sa social connection papasok ang pagtutulungan ng bawat miyembro ng pamilya para matagalan ang ECQ. Ito ang panahon ng family bonding. Family can do games, teamwork in household chores, at iba pa. Sa mga magulang, sana at dapat kalmado lang ang ipinapakita nila sa anak nila, dahil nakikita at naramdaman ng kanilang anak ang kanilang kilos at reaksyon sa sitwasyon. Ipaliwanag sa anak ang nangyayari sa lebel ng kaalaman nila. Huwag sanang takutin ang mga bata sa covid19. Sa mga anak/bata, gumawa ng mga nakakatuwa or interesadong aktibidad na makatulong pag-alis ng boredom.

10. Paano mabawasan ang takot at agam-agam ng mamamayan sa lumalala pa ring pandemic na ito?

Normal matakot sa panahon ng covid19 pandemic. Pero dahil sa kakulangan ng impormasyon sa mamamayan o walang malinaw na direksyon o guidelines galing sa LGU o national government ay lalong natatakot at naging nerbiyos ang mga tao. Para mabawasan ang anumang takot at agam-agam ng mamamayan ay kailangan nilang i-practice ang ABC ng mental health/ kalusugang pangkaisipan. Pwedeng palakasin ang community care/ bayanihan din sa bawat komunidad. Ito rin ang panahon ng social solidarity, pagtutulungan sa kapwa PiIipino. Sa mamamayan na miyembro ng organisasyon, ang  tiwala, tulong, at lakas galing sa mga kinabibilangang organisasyon ay makakatulong din sa kanila. (Organizational care)

Kuha ni Jola Diones-Mamangun/Kodao

11. Ano ang panukalang national mental health program sa mga panahong tulad nito at pagkatapos?

Kahit mayroong national mental health program ang ating gobyerno, ito ay hindi nakatuon sa panahon ng covid19 pandemic. Ang pagdating ng covid19 ay hindi inaasahan ng mga tao. Pero nakikita at na-obserbahan natin na may epekto ang covid19 sa mental health ng bawat Pilipino. Kaya dapat ay importanteng maipatupad ng ating gobyerno ang mental health program sa panahon ng covid19 pandemic at kahit pagkatapos nito.

Ang national mental health program ng gobyerno ay merong promotive, preventive, treatment and rehabilitative services component. Integrated sa ibat- ibang settings sa paggamot mula sa komunidad hanggang sa pasilidad, implemented from the national to the barangay level.

Ang mga program na kalakip nito ay:

1. Wellness of Daily Living sa eskwela, trabaho at iba pang programa

2. Extreme Life Experience- pagbibigay ng psychosocial support sa personal and community wide disasters

3. Mental Disorder

4. Neurologic Disorders

5. Substance Abuse and other Forms of Addiction

Dapat ay tuloy-tuloy pa rin ang pagbibigay serbisyong mental health at psychosocial support sa lahat ng mga Pilipino sa panahon ng covid19 pandemic. Sa panahon ng ECQ mas kawawa ang mga taong may sakit sa isipan at yung iba pang may kapansanan. Paano ang access nila sa mental health care provider at sa gamot kung sarado ang mga hospital na tumitingin sa kanila dahil naka-pokus lang tayo sa covid19. Sana holistic care pa rin. #

Coronavirus has claimed lives of 21 Filipinos in UAE, says envoy

Community urged to follow protocols set by the authorities

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Twenty one Filipinos in the UAE have died due to coronavirus (COVID-19), Philippine Ambassador to the Emirates Hjayceelyn Quintana said in a virtual interview with Philippine officials on Wednesday.

Speaking to Philippine Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) secretary Martin Andanar and PCOO undersecretary Rocky Ignacio in Manila, Quintana said the information was based on the notification of deaths the Philippine missions in the UAE have received from the authorities.

Quintana said 17 of the fatalities were from Dubai, while four were from Abu Dhabi.

According to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, a total of 1,867 Filipinos worldwide have contracted COVID-19 as of Tuesday. There were 214 deaths and 513 recoveries so far globally.

As of Wednesday, the UAE has registered a total of 15,192 COVID cases, including 3,153 who have recovered from the disease. The UAE has maintained a low fatality rate.

During the interview, Quintana reiterated her constant reminder to her kababayans (compatriots) to observe the protocols set by the UAE government to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“Let us be more cautious in following the precautionary measures and let us observe the guidelines so we will not get infected,” Quintana said in Filipino.

The Philippine ambassador also assured her countrymen of the Philippine government’s continued assistance.

She said the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Philippine Consulate in Dubai are continuing to process the repatriation of stranded nationals, despite the temporary suspension of flights to the Philippines.

“Once the travel ban is lifted, we will be ready to continue with the repatriation,” Quintana said. A total of 494 Filipinos have been repatriated since the start of COVID-19 outbreak.

Filipinos thankful to the UAE

In the same interview, Quintana also expressed the gratitude of Filipinos to the UAE, which she called as a “model of humanitarian giving.”

Earlier, the UAE government deployed seven metric tons of much-needed medical supplies to Manila.

Quintana said in a Facebook post: “This medical assistance in the time of COVID-19 is only the latest of numerous instances in which the UAE has come to the aid of the Filipino people.”

She recalled that in November 2013, the UAE donated US$10 million (Dh36.7 million) to victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. She added earlier this year, the UAE’s Emirates Red Crescent (ERC) launched a campaign with the Philippine Embassy to aid 200,000 displaced families affected by the Taal Volcano eruption.

Quintana said:“The Philippines has proven, time and again, that the UAE is a genuine friend at crucial times and therefore our leaders and the Filipino people will always remember UAE’s gesture of kindness, generosity and humanity, especially at this time when all countries have their own challenges to overcome.” #

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This report was first published by Gulf News.

WATCH: UAE-based Filipinos discuss effect of mandatory PhilHealth payment suspension

Online campaign to nix mandatory PhilHealth payment gained 200,000 signatures in UAE

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: After expressing a strong online protest, Filipinos in the UAE can now heave a sigh of relief after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has temporarily suspended the mandatory payment of premiums to PhilHealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corporation), presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced on Monday.

During a virtual press conference from Malacañang Palace in Manila, Roque said President Duterte issued a directive to PhilHealth to make payment voluntary given the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic which has displaced many overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) worldwide.

Roque added OFWs leaving the country are not required to pay PhilHealth premiums for the issuance of their Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) before they can resume working abroad.
OFWs on their PhilHealth contributionIrish Belleza, Videographer, Angel Tesorero, Reporter

PhilHealth is a government-owned corporation attached to the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) that is mandated to implement the National Health Insurance Program to all Filipinos. It recently issued a circular increasing the premium payments equivalent to around 3% of an OFW’s monthly salary starting this year.

PhilHealth said this was declared in the Universal Health Care Law, which President Duterte signed into law in February last year.

When asked if the increase in payment to PhilHealth will be suspended permanently, Roque said insurance payments are based on actuarial science (based on calculating insurance risks and premiums).

Online furor

Filipinos in the UAE used social media over the weekend to join their kababayans (compatriots) worldwide in expressing strong opposition to the latest circular. They said it was not only a huge burden for them but the move was also insensitive to their plight in the time of COVID-19 pandemic.

One online petition on garnered close to 200,000 signatures, according to Gabriel John Rimando, founder and president of Dubai-based Filipino Institute, who launched the online campaign.

Arnel Fernandez

“OFWs help the Philippine economy afloat by sending billions of pesos as remittances. We sent a record high of $33.5 billion last year and they now they have given as an additional burden – this PhilHealth premium hike – while we’re struggling with the impact of the global health crisis,” Dubai resident Arnel Fernandez told Gulf News.

Sherill D Marcus

“This is very unfair to us. We are not using PhilHealth because we already have a UAE insurance. So why are we paying 3 per cent mandatory when we are not benefitting from it. We are so scared that we cannot go back on vacation if we don’t pay PhilHealth insurance. This is highly unjust and is so troubling,” added Sherill D Marcus, 40, a nanny in Dubai for 6 years.

Andre Rivera

“The implementation of such law does not make sense especially with the current circumstances faced by OFWs around the world. The fact that it ignores OFWs who are currently unemployed and still required them to pay the premium is an outrage,” reiterated Andre Rivera, who works as a communications manager for multinational PR company in Dubai.

A spokesperson for Gabriela-UAE, a group of Filipino expats in the UAE advocating for workers and women’s rights, added: “It is very unfortunate that they call OFWs modern heroes and yet they penalise us with such directives. We urge PhilHealth to reverse this directive as this is unfair and an abuse to our migrant workers.”

‘Stand up for our rights’

Barney Almazar, director at the corporate-commercial department of Gulf Law, said: “OFWs globally were up in arms against PhilHealth’s policy to deduct 3 per cent (and later on 5 per cent) from their monthly salaries. Moreover, according to the circular, OFWs will not be allowed to leave until all contribution and compounded interest are paid.”

Barney Almazar

“This was a clear violation of our constitutional right to travel. Taxes, which is the lifeblood of the nation, if not paid is not a ground to prevent a person from leaving the Philippines,” Almazar told Gulf News.

“We all want a dependable healthcare. We understand that the membership to such program is crucial. The implementation however, must not be oppressive. We are being held hostage by the very institution that should protect us,” he underlined.

Almazar continued: “With all the hardships OFWs are facing, threatening us of deprivation of our only source of livelihood is unjust. It is contrary to humanity especially during this covid crisis. Social justice dictates that this policy be amended.”

“I encourage my fellow OFWs to stand for their rights. Our voice must be heard loud and clear. We are contributing a lot to the Philippines and we cannot simply be ignored, much more our rights trampled. We don’t demand for any special treatments or recognition as modern day heroes. We only want to get the respect we rightfully deserve,” he underlined. #

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This report was first published by Gulf News.

Lola, nananawagan ng tulong

Habang nagko-cover ang Kodao ng pag-aresto ng 18 na aktibista sa Barangay Central, Quezon City noong Biyernes, Mayo 1, lumapit ang isang lola at nakiusap na i-bidyo ang kanyang paghingi ng tulong.

Nais ni Lola Marietta “Nene” Benig ng tulong upang makabili ng kanyang gamot, partikular sa Department of Social Welfare and Development at sa Office of the Senior Citizens Affairs ng Lungsod Quezon. “Nais ko pa pong mabuhay,” ani Lola Nene.

Sa mga nais tumulong, siya ay nakatira sa No. 4, Maparaan Street, Barangay Central, Quezon City. Ang kanyang numero ay nasa dulo ng bidyo. (Bidyo ni Joseph Cuevas)

Health group demands mandatory mass testing for all health workers

By Joseph Cuevas

The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) demanded from the Duterte administration and the Department of Health (DOH) the implementation of free mandatory Coronavirus mass testing for all health workers in public and private hospitals and health facilities.

In a statement, AHW president Robert Mendoza said they disagree with the statement issued by the DOH last Tuesday that only patients and healthcare workers who exhibit mild, severe and critical symptoms would be prioritized in the expanded mass testing.

Mendoza said that as front liners health workers should be checked regularly and must be coronavirus free since they are the ones taking care of patients.

“We are very much worried and alarmed about the health condition of our fellow heath workers. Mostly, those health workers who died were infected due to lack of personal protective equipment, aggravated by 12 hours duty a day for 7 to 8 days,” Mendoza said.

AHW photo

“The government must immediately distribute PPE to ensure and protect health workers, hire and train more additional permanent health workers, and increase the public hospital budget,” he added.

Mendoza also urges DOH to immediately issue directives to conduct free mandatory mass testing among hospital workers in public and private hospitals and health facilities to help contain the spread of the virus as well as immediately implement medical interventions.

AHW also asked the government to implement mass testing at the barangay level and provide proper orientation and protective gear to all barangay health workers (BHW) accompanied by a nurse to do the house to house inspection to ensure that all COVID-19 patients will be traced and treated.

DOH reported that there are 766 health workers who tested positive, 339 of whom are doctors while 342 are nurses.

Twenty two health workers have succumbed to the disease.

The Philippines has recorded 5878 cases of the coronavirus disease, 387 of which resulted in deaths, giving the country the worst record in Southeast Asia and the highest percentage of health worker fatalities in the world. #

CPP extends truce order despite complaints of GRP ceasefire violations

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) extended its unilateral ceasefire until the end of the month to concentrate on its efforts to help contain the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement Thursday, April 16, the CPP said its Central Committee has ordered the extension for 15 more days starting April 15 “prioritize the fight against the pandemic and ensure the safety, health and well-being of everyone.”

The extended ceasefire order is effective until 11:59 p.m. of April 30

“The CPP ordered the units of the NPA (New People’s Army) and the people’s militias to continue to desist and cease from carrying out offensive military actions against the armed units and personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP) and other paramilitary and armed groups attached to the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP),” its information office said in a statement.

The group said the aim of the ceasefire extension is to ensure quick and unimpeded support to all people requiring urgent medical, health and socioeconomic assistance in the face of the public emergency over the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Party said all its revolutionary forces are ever ready to cooperate with all other forces and elements to achieve this objective.

Meanwhile, the CPP leadership commended all units of the NPA and people’s militias for their discipline in observing the ceasefire order and shifting priority to the anti-Covid-19 campaign.

It said that the Party’s ceasefire order has been observed “despite the difficulties and dangers brought about by the continuing occupation of AFP combat troops of guerrilla zones and base areas, the widespread and intense intelligence and psywar (psychological warfare) operations, and the attacks mounted by the AFP’s strike forces against detected NPA units.”

The CPP Central Committee reminded all NPA units to “maintain strictest secrecy” and not allow themselves to be exposed to AFP attacks.

The recent armed encounters which the AFP misreport as NPA ceasefire violations are all a result of the offensive actions of the AFP, it alleged.

The ceasefire extension order came after the National Democratic Front of the Philippines wrote to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres complaining of violations by the Rodrigo Duterte administration of the government’s own unilateral ceasefire declaration of March 19 to April 15.

The AFP conducted military operations in 196 villages and 96 towns throughout the Philippines, the NDFP said quoting CPP reports.

In its statement, the CPP also reiterated the call for the “urgent release” and for declaring a general amnesty for all political prisoners.

It also expressed desire for the resumption of the NDFP-GRP peace negotiations.

“During the ceasefire period, all NPA units must strictly limit themselves to active defense operations which shall be carried out only in the face of imminent danger and actual armed attacks by the enemy forces,” the CPP reiterated.

The GRP has yet to comment on whether it would extend its own ceasefire declaration which has expired before midnight Wednesday, April 15. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)