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OPINION | Pandemics as Disasters: Reflections on Southeast Asia and the Philippines

Pandemics as Disasters: Reflections on Southeast Asia and the Philippines
Ruchie Mark D. Pototanon

“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language” (Karl Marx, 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte)1
The thought of a “glorious past” has always made me cringe. For more than a decade teaching history at the university, I have looked at the past with great cynicism. Rather than as epics of “great men”, I have looked at the historical events as cautionary tales. History that does not nothing but glorify and romanticize are products of poor (or even dubious) scholarship. Looking at the  fine print and digging into the archives always reveal the grim details of the human experience. Such is the mood especially if things like pandemics are discussed, where death and suffering are those that punctuate human experience.
The summer school at Universitas Gadjah Mada has offered me an opportunity to cast a wider net and looked at the role of diseases in history at a wider scale. I am quite familiar with history of epidemics in the Philippines. Something close to home is the 1886-87 Cholera Epidemic in my home province of Capiz. As I was doing a paper on 19th century conditions of the area, I was able to access pertinent documents to this calamitous event. More than 9000 people died in Capiz,  roughly a tenth of the province’s  population at that time . The following years were also disastrous, as the failed harvests and storms caused innumerable hardships to the people. Perhaps these events precipitated the early growth of the insurrection in the area. Capiz became the setting for the first two separate revolutionary movements outside the main island of Luzon.

The case of Capiz mirrors the other cases in Southeast Asia during the colonial times. Natives being subjects of Western colonizers have been the most vulnerable to dying with epidemics. Meanwhile another recurring theme is the relation between disease outbreaks and the colonial structure. The peoples of Southeast Asia have been further integrated into the global trade networks by the Western Imperialism, which exposed them to different forms of contagion from different parts of the worlds. Consequently, the extractive economies of colonialism have forced the natives off their lands and obliging them to grow crops for export, many are plants which the natives cannot eat. Lastly, the colonists have also restructured the environment and the dwelling of their subjects. Native settlements were restructured to conform with the view of order from their foreign eyes. As cities and towns were built, forests were cleared and waters were reclaimed, exposing the inhabitants to new or heightened hazards. The colonizers are also confident of their racial superiority and distinguished themselves from the people they conquer. The latter being relegated into cramped and less salubrious villages with no proper utilities while the masters live with the best comforts of their times.
These unjust conditions have spawned the worst of diseases, to which the poor natives were most likely to succumb. The colonial governments tried to treat the diseases which the inequities of colonialism caused with western medicine. Truly, these efforts would lead to reduction of morbidity, but it also further reiterated the notions of white supremacy. Although these diseases were controlled with the help of innumerable native hands, most of them will be forgotten and relegated into the background as mere caregivers or hospital hands. The latter’s indigenous methods and activities were usually unrecorded if not being blamed for the spread of the disease.  It was the “white” doctors that were usually honored  for saving the people.
After the Second World War, one by one countries in Southeast Asia gained their independence but the old networks set by centuries of colonialism remain and the inequities with their populations remain. Disease outbreaks also continue to happen from time to time like Nipah Virus (1998-1999) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (2002-2004). These occurrences however are to be dwarfed by the COVID 19 pandemic which has put the whole world to a standstill.

All lectures in the UGM Summer School relate to the present conditions by the current pandemic. However as different lectures were given each day, several points have been made clear to me. First, disease outbreaks are pivotal events in history and they are bound to happen from time to time, as the contagion, being part of nature evolves with us. Second, this continuous string of disease outbreaks (and eventually pandemics) usually exposes the different conditions in countries in which they spread. These conditions preclude whether the countries will have success in dealing with the consequences of the pandemic.
The latter point is the most relevant for me, as the weaknesses and problems of many Southeast Asian nations have been further exposed by the problems brought by COVID 19. Vietnam and Thailand were tagged as early successes in containing the diseases. However, Vietnam is now experiencing an upsurge and like other Southeast Asian nations is having problems with securing its vaccine supply.2 This inequity exists as majority of the vaccine supply is monopolized by Western countries. These countries include two of Vietnam’s former invaders/colonizers: France and the United States of America. France has already proceeded with giving its citizens a third, booster shot while the US has disputed the World Health Organization’s call for booster shot moratorium.3 Meanwhile majority of their former colonies in Southeast Asia are very much behind their vaccination schedule and are suffering the worst upsurges of COVID morbidity so far.
Thailand on the other hand has had a series of coups in the recent years and the pandemic has allowed the government to undermine pro-democracy movements.4 The use of pandemic response as an excuse to suppress human rights and civil liberties is not unique to Thailand. The Philippines has been the hotbed of extrajudicial killings since Rodrigo Duterte came into power in 2016. His infamous “War on Drugs” has led to the deaths of several thousands (more than 6000 are confirmed killed by the police)  of alleged drug suspects. This death toll has already got the attention of the International Criminal Court who saw basis for a probable “crimes against humanity” case.5 Consequently, activists and community organizers are also being killed, some while being served arrest warrants that are later declared invalid.6 These killings continued well into the pandemic.
One of those killed early in the lockdown was familiar face to me: the community organizer and activist Jose Reynaldo “Jory” Porquia.  We would usually meet at the local protests in Iloilo City  and when the lockdowns were declared he was one of those who organized community kitchens to feed the people. On April 30, 2020, he was shot in his home by unidentified assailants but prior to his death, he has been trailed by members of the police. Forty-two of his fellow activists (including his daughter) were also arrested when they tried to stage a caravan to demand justice for him7. On March 3, 2021, a former classmate and now human rights lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen was also stabbed with a screwdriver in the face by an unknown attacker. Atty Guillen has been one of the petitioners of against the Anti-Terror Law and has served as the legal counsel for activists and members of the Tumandok indigenous people  who have been arrested by the police.8
All these attacks are perched on the practice of red tagging, in which civilians are labelled by the state as “affiliated to communist insurgents”. This attempts to vilify these persons and justify threats and attacks on them. This propaganda is regularly spewed by government agencies such as the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC). Among the NTF ELCAC’s victims were the Ms. Patricia Non, the first organizer of community pantries which sprouted in April 2021. This setup operates on the concept “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan” (Give according to one’s capacity, take based on one’s needs) where shelves are displayed in a public place and people can put food and essential items for others to take for free. This was well received by the public as the country is having the longest lockdown in history and aid from the government is scarce. However, posts accusing the community pantry as “communist propaganda” circulated in social media with official pages of the police sharing them. Furthermore, NTF ELCAC spokesperson Gen. Antonio Parlade likened Patricia Non’s community pantry to “Satan’s temptation of Eve” and Asst. Secretary Lorraine Badoy accused her of being a “communist”. Ms. Non has since feared for her safety because of these threats.9
All these antics are just the tip of the iceberg of the kind of “disaster” that the pandemic response in Philippines has been. Early in the Summer School, I categorically asked Dr. Luthfi Adam, if the past epidemics in Dutch Indies can be considered as “colonial disasters”? Such inquiry comes from the fact that high morbidity among the natives was a result of the oppressive systems imposed by the Dutch colonizers. The answer is yes and perhaps the same thing is true with how the COVID 19 pandemic is handled throughout Southeast Asia. Global inequities still abound as early successes have been rendered useless by the lack of access to vaccines. Within individual nations are disasters of their own, in which the poor populace is at the mercy of the rich and powerful. The latter who gained disproportionate influence with the rise of authoritarian and populist leaderships in the past few years. This eerily foreshadows the end of the pandemic, where millions of lives will be sacrificed for the interests of a few. These interests being guised under the pretense of “order” and the “economy”. The quote above by Marx seems right, then.
Now, where do I go from here?  The pandemic has delayed one of possibly the greatest milestones in my life: getting a PhD. I was supposed to begin this May 2020 but the pandemic happened and I have to indefinitely postpone my commencement. While attending this Summer School, I did continue my research for my PhD thesis on the history of urban flooding, thus it has become often that I saw things at the framework of disaster studies, with “disaster” being human made. I saw this pandemic as a disaster, one that is due to wrong decisions or policies. Therefore, as a student of history I feel obliged to take note of current events and transform them into something that can be transmitted to the future generations, so that may learn from past mistakes. I have also learned to accept that change takes time, so whatever suggestions we might have now will not transform into policy immediately, sometimes we must fight long battles for it. One lesson I learned from Meaghan Morris from another summer school years ago is that activism involves persistent optimism: it doesn’t matter how many times we lose but at least we win. I see the past and present as things to contend with, neither as fantasies nor as nightmares but as realities that will allow us to shape our futures. I am yet again drawn into an oft quoted phrase from Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach , “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it”.
-o-
The Author, Ruchie Mark Pototanon is Assistant Professor of  History at the University of the Philippines Visayas and an incoming PhD student at Murdoch University. This paper is submitted as a requirement for the Universitas Gadjah Mada History Summer School entitled, “ Resilience and Control: Transmissible Disease and the Rise of Modern Society”.
-o-
1Marx, Karl, and Saul Padover (trans.) . 1869. “The Eighteenth Brumaire.” marxists.org. Accessed August 17, 2021.
2Reuters . 2021. “Vietnam concerned over vaccine supply as COVID-19 cases near record.” August 12.
3The Guardian . 2021. “US Disputes WHO Call to Delay COVID Booster Shots to Help Poorer nations .” August 5.
4Strangio, Sebastian. 2020. “Thailand Imposes ‘Severe’ State of Emergency to Quash Pro-Democracy Protests.” The Diplomat , October 15.
5CNN Philippines . 2020. “ICC finds basis for crimes against humanity in Duterte drug war.” 12 15.
6Dumalag, Gabryelle. 2021. “Dismissed cases: A look at the invalid search warrants vs red-tagged activists.” Bulalat, July 16.
7Burgos, Nestor P. 2020. “Daughter of slain Iloilo activist, 41 others nabbed for quarantine violations.” Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 1.
8CNN Philippines. 2021. “Human rights lawyer in one of Anti-Terrorism Act petitions stabbed in Iloilo City.” March 4.
9GMA News Online . 2021. “Patricia Non hoping Duterte will order stop to ‘red-tagging’ of community pantry organizers.” April 22.

TIGADLUMAN | Binalaybay ni Tomas Talledo

Tigadluman

ni: Tomas Talledo


“Ang mga saka malahalon indi makit-an sang aton mga mata.”
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I.
Alipalok sang COVID-19 Virus
kag luha sang mga frontliners
naga agay sa panangis sa minatay

Kahangawa sang naga palangga
kakapoy sang panglakaton pauli
pas-an ang kabug-at sang kakulba

Malapnagon nga gutom sang imol
dili halos mabatian ang ila t’yabaw
nga unod sang ila lubot nga dughan

Sa lapnagon nga COVID-19 Virus
ara ang pagbuklad sang kaalwan
kaupod sang bantiling nga paglaum

Ang kapawa nga makalampuwas
sa kadulom sang COVID-19 Virus
magabutwa kita sa lawod nga tawo.

II.
Dapat bastante ang pagpalangga
kag wala’y untat tubod nga hutik
sa dulunggan kag sa kasingkasing

Tayuyon ipa-ilig agud ugat mabuhi
kay gaburambud ang kahangawa
kag ang pag ginhawa dapat isalauli

Iwahig ang kagutok sang dughan
Wala sa ginsang-an nga mga dalan
Wala sa kahipos sang mga lulubngan

Kinamatarung nga mangin matawhay,
kinamatarung nga mahilway hikuton
kabuganaan sang mga paalabuton

Makit-an bala ang kaluwasan? Indi
Makit-an bala ang kadalag-an? Indi
Mga tigadluman nga mabatyagan.

-o-

Dibuho ni: John Alvin Dolar

OPINION | GOVERNMENT STILL IN DENIAL, UNREPENTANT OF ITS FAILED PANDEMIC APPROACH


GOVERNMENT STILL IN DENIAL, UNREPENTANT OF ITS FAILED PANDEMIC APPROACH
OPINION | SIEGFRED D. DEDURO

On August 30, 2021 the Philippines registered a record high of 22,366 new COVID-19 cases.  Cumulative figure of total positive cases is 1,976,202, of which 1,485,945 are active; 1,794,278 have recovered; and 33,330 died.

This is a slap on the face of President Duterte and his militarized Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID).  Instead of being self-critical and scientific, the government insists on a narrative that its Covid 19 response is the best under our circumstances and blames the people who are suffering.

The government’s response revolves around militarized lockdowns, observance of health protocol (face mask and shield, social distancing) and vaccination.  After almost two years of generalized lockdown (euphemistically named as ECQ, GCQ, etcetera), millions of Filipinos are jobless, while food prices rise and government debt balloons.

The pandemic plunged the Philippine economy to its worst contraction since World War II, with gross domestic product (GDP) falling by 9.5% in 2020. It is the sharpest dip on record since available data dating back to 1947, and also the first GDP decline since 1998 (-0.5%).

Two Indian veteran infectious diseases experts — Jayaprakash Muliyal and T Jacob John, who were at the forefront of the leprosy eradication and pulse polio immunisation programmes, respectively — feel it’s time to end the lockdown, with one of them describing a long-term shutdown as akin to ‘burning the house to kill a rat’.

Indeed lockdowns should be granular, targeted at identified hot spots of infection.  A glaring deficiency of government’s pandemic response is the proactive mass testing and contact tracing.

According to Emily Martin, Associate Professor on Epidemiology University of Michigan: “The purpose of surveillance tests is to monitor the current state of the epidemic. It doesn’t mean that everybody gets tested. Instead, surveillance means that we test the right samples of the population in a way that allows us to make inferences as efficiently as possible. It doesn’t mean that we test everybody because it’s important that we strike this balance between getting the information we need and saving enough tests for clinical care.”

Free mass testing to determine the extent of the epidemic is crucial in the fight against the unseen Covid19 virus.  Detection, containment and treatment of Covid19 cases should be surgical, in order to lessen the economic impact of the pandemic.  At present, the government has privatized the conduct of tests, which benefits private laboratory firms as the cost of RT-PCR test ranges from Php 2,500 – 5,000, way beyond the reach of ordinary Filipinos.

Related to this problem is the limited capacity in contact tracing.  Contact tracing is integral in any epidemic response.  However, the current capacity is only 1:3, way below the DOH target of 1:37.  No wonder the current surge of infection of the Covid19 Delta variant has not been anticipated nor contained by the government.

There is a glaring lack of capacity in identifying Covid19 variants in the country. At present there is only one genome sequencing laboratory capable of identifying Covid19 variants, the Philippine Genome Center.  It lags behind the need to promptly monitor these variants.  There should be at least one laboratory per region to aid in the epidemiological surveillance.

The country’s health care infrastructure is overwhelmed by the continuing spread of the pandemic.  Before the pandemic, our health care system is fundamentally flawed and inadequate.  According to the WHO the recommended ratio of medical doctors to population is 1:1,000. World Bank data in 2017 reveals that we only have 0.6 physicians:1,000 population.  From the same source, our nurses to population ratio is 4.6:1,000 while the WHO recommended ratio is 4:1,000.

It is obvious that we lack doctors, but why do we lack nurses in the hospitals if we have a surplus of them in the country? The logical explanation is that they go abroad for greener pastures because they don’t receive decent salaries and benefits compared to Duterte’s favorites – the soldiers and policemen.

In a 1990 study of the UP National Health Institute, 6 out of 10 Filipinos die without seeing a doctor.  Commercialization is rife in the health sector.  There are five private hospitals for every public tertiary hospital.  Half (50%) of the barangays in the country do not have a Barangay Health Station (BHS), even though the Local Governments Code mandate the establishment of BHS in every barangay.

Giving sufficient aid to those affected by militarized lockdowns is necessary. It is cruel for the government not to extend sufficient aid to those affected by restrictions.

The proliferation of “community pantries” nationwide attest to the lack of support of the government to affected communities by lockdowns.

Antigen and RT-PCR tests should be free and shouldered by the government in the national agencies and LGUs, and private enterprises at the factory or shop level.

The system of the House of Representatives (HOR) is a good example.  No one can enter without first undergoing free antigen test every week. If found positive, one has to take an RT-PCR test paid for by health insurance of employees. This could be done by other government offices, and private enterprises too to ensure a safe workplace for employees.  Moreover, this system may be put in place in schools for the gradual return to face-to-face classes, starting in areas with zero to negligible incidence of Covid19 infection. Tests in schools should be shouldered by the government. Education of our youth is a major victim of the government’s generalized lockdowns.

The majority of poor Filipinos  who rely on their daily earnings for subsistence are forced to be dishonest during contract tracing activities and shun away from testing because they are afraid to be quarantined lest they go hungry. Contact tracing and testing hesitancy is rife in poor communities.

Duterte boasts that the government can stop the pandemic with vaccines, touted as the silver bullet against the virus.  Indeed, vaccines are effective in the prevention and breaking the chain of contagion if herd immunity is achieved.  Though having been vaccinated is not a fail-safe guarantee from infection (breakthrough infection), data shows that almost all of the breakthrough infections incur mild illness.

Due to the incompetence of the so-called vaccine Czar and his cohorts, we lagged behind in the competition to secure sufficient vaccines from global suppliers.  The first vaccines that arrived in came from the WHO COVAX facility donation.  Limited supplies bought by the government is slowly arriving in trickles.  “Pasang awa” is the apt description of the government vaccine roll out.  With the slow pace of vaccine roll out, by the time 70% of Filipinos are vaccinated, the durability of the effect of the first ones vaccinated has already lapsed- resulting in a vicious cycle of unending vulnerability to the virus.

Vaccine hesitancy is a minor problem, the crucial problem is lack of vaccine supply because the incompetence of the government.

Does the government have sufficient funds for the aforementioned necessary pandemic interventions?

Yes!  If only the government “puts its money where its mouth is”.  From a budget allocation of 153.58B in 2020, DOH share in 2021 decreased by 14.2% to only 131.7B. In particular, the epidemiology and surveillance allocation also decreased, from 11.55B in 2020 to 11.26B only in 2021. On the contrary, the NTF-ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict) allocation increased severalfold, from only 1.08B in 2020 it increased to 19B in 2021.

In its remaining months in office, President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration asked Congress a P28.1 billion budget to fund its anti-insurgency machinery, the NTF-ELCAC in 2022.

Senators questioned Malacañang’s plan to allocate P28 billion to the NTF-ELCAC in 2022 even as it slashed the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine’s proposed laboratory services budget by P170 million.

The 2022 national budget should reflect the national priority of decisively breaking the chain of Covid19 in the coming year.  Control of the pandemic is crucial in the national recovery.#

OPINION | BIDA-GOCC AND CASINOS IN BORACAY DETRIMENTAL TO AKLANONS, FAVORS DUTERTE CRONIES

BIDA-GOCC AND CASINOS IN BORACAY DETRIMENTAL TO AKLANONS, FAVORS DUTERTE CRONIES
OPINION | SIEGFRED D. DEDURO

The bills pending at the House of Representatives (HOR) and the Senate, creating the Boracay Island Development Authority (BIDA) as a GOCC (Government Owned and Controlled Corporation) – is prejudicial to the interest of Aklanons.  House Bill 9826, in substitution of House Bill 6214 of Rep. Paolo Duterte and in consolidation with 9 other House Bills, has been approved in second reading, while Senate Bill No. 1914 counterpart bill of Sen. Cynthia Villar is still pending at the Senate.

The BIDA bills intend to create a GOCC that will control Boracay Island and Barangay Caticlan in mainland Malay where the seaport and new airport is located. The combined population of this area is 40,257 or 67% of the present population of 60,077 (2020) of the Municipality!  This will be a special tourism enclave akin to the authority of special economic zones.

BIDA-GOCC will strip the LGUs of the Province of Aklan and the Municipality of Malay of their regular functions (authority over local and foreign investments, licensing of gaming and tourist operations, control of the natural resources, tourism fees, among others) under the Local Government Code. The LGUs will be left with only their administrative supervision of the barangays under BIDA-GOCC.

Worst of all, the BIDA-GOCC will deprive the LGUs of much-needed locally sourced income that fund social services like provincial and district hospitals. In a meeting of the LGU Malay Stakeholders on July 2018, it was revealed that Boracay accounts for 20% (Php56billion) of the national tourism receipts; 25% of the P2,011,016,309 LGU Aklan Budget and 78.03% of the Php 508,470,083.23 locally sourced income of Malay.

According to a top local official of Aklan, Duterte’s six months closure of Boracay for “rehabilitation” was a cover-up.  The hidden agenda was to eliminate the “eyesores” (poor communities) in the island, in order to reboot it as an elite gambling and tourist destination.  The activities undertaken by the government in closing Boracay for 6 months supports this view.  Hundreds of houses of poor families were demolished.  They were effectively ejected out of the island because the closure deprived them of their source of livelihood.

It was estimated that more than 32,000 workers lost their jobs in the closure of Boracay.  They did not receive enough government assistance and most of them were not able to return to their jobs, especially with the restrictions due to the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said on September 19, 2018 said that the holding capacity (environmentally sustainable population) of the island of Boracay is only 54,945 at any given time, with 19,215 of this figure are foreign and local tourists. Based on the 2018 data (LGU Malay Stake holders Meeting) workers in Boracay before its closure in 2018 was estimated at 50,728. With the current population of Boracay at 32,267 (2020), a huge majority of the local residents will be certainly be ejected.

During Boracay’s closure, most of the business establishments demolished were small and medium size.  Construction of tourist establishments owned by big foreign and local business continued during the closure and until now.

The Villars own Costa de la Vista, a residential condominium development with five high-rise towers. Costa la Vista continued clearing operations of a mountain despite the ban on construction during the closure of the island. In addition to Costa de la Vista, the Villars also own the Boracay Sands Hotel.

The most controversial project is that of giant casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group which plan to develop a casino resort in Boracay, a move which will see the company expanding outside Macau for the first time.

“Galaxy is excited about the possibility of teaming with Leisure and Resorts to develop a world class beach resort for our players in Boracay which was just rated the number one island in the world in 2017 by Conde Nast Traveler readers,” said Francis Lui Yiu Tung, vice chairman of Galaxy Entertainment. He has met with President Duterte on this project. PAGCOR Chairperson Andrea Domingo confirmed that Galaxy was awarded a preliminary license to operate in Boracay.

Galaxy and its partner, Philippines-based Leisure and Resorts World Corp, plan to open a $500m casino in Boracay. “Galaxy would like to play a role in the One Belt One Road initiative and we strongly believe the Philippines has great potential and offers attractive opportunities,” Lui said, referring to China’s economic and diplomatic program to increase trade with countries in the region.

Due to the strong opposition against casinos in Boracay, Duterte tried to hush-hush and defuse popular dissatisfaction over the planned mega-casino, and issued conflicting statements to obfuscate the issue.

During the island’s closure in 2018, DENR Secretary Cimatu, head of the Boracay Inter-agency Task Force in “rehabilitating” the island was barred by security guards from entering the construction site of the Galaxy casino in Barangay Manoc-manoc, Boracay.

The cat is now out of the bag. On August 28, President Rodrigo Duterte has allowed casinos to operate in Boracay Island as part of the government’s revenue-generating efforts to augment funds for its COVID-19 response.  He has given the go-signal for the plans of Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment Group and tycoon Andrew Tan to proceed with their plans to put up integrated casino-resort projects in Boracay Island, according to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR).

Tan, in an official statement, said, “We will proceed with our casino project in Boracay Newcoast. We already have several hotels there and we are still building more.  There is also a golf course, the only one in the entire Boracay Island.”

Casinos are used in large-scale money laundering or making “dirty money” (income from illegal sources) legitimate.  It also breeds immoral activities including organized crimes of trafficking, tax evasion, prostitution and bribery.

On August 30, House Minority Leader Bayan Muna Cong. Zarate said, “President Duterte’s announcement regarding casinos is step two in monopolizing the casinos in Boracay using the yet to be enacted BIDA, which would have the power to contract, lease, buy, sell, acquire, own…real property”.

Moreover, Zarate said that the opening of casinos in the island is mainly for fund generation for the 2022 elections, not as a gold mine for the COVID19 response.

Given Duterte’s penchant in raising money thru gaming operations, such as the POGOs (Philippine Overseas Gaming Operations) owned by Chinese gambling lords targeting mainly Chinese high rollers, it is highly probable that POGOs will be allowed to operate in Boracay.

As an elite gambling and tourism resort, ordinary Filipinos will be deprived access to the once pristine and affordable premier tourist destination in the country.

With the GOCC under Malacanang, control of Boracay and Caticlan  will pave the way for Duterte’s cronies’ complete dominance over the area.#

COVID-19, FIFTH MOST DEADLY DISEASE IN THE COUNTRY

ILOILO – Despite the rising COVID-19 cases being projected in the media by the government and the Inter Agency Task Force, it is only the fifth most deadly disease in the entire country from January until June of this year.

Based on the data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), there are 303,364 total deaths recorded in the entire country for the last 6 months. The top cause of death is ischemic heart disease with 57,757 deaths, which is 18.7% of the total deaths. This is followed by cerebrovascular disease with 30,796 deaths. Moreover, the third deadliest disease in the country is neoplasms or cancer with 27,343 number of deaths, followed by diabetes mellitus with 19,802 deaths, and the fifth deadliest disease is COVID-19 infected deaths with 17,156 or 5.7% of the total number of deaths.

Particular to Western Visayas, there are a total of 28,943 deaths due to various diseases. There are 2,118 deaths in the province of Aklan, 2,242 in the province of Antique, 2,891 in the province of Capiz, 643 in the province of Guimaras, 7,269 in the province of Iloilo, 9,346 in the island of Negros Occidental, 2,580 in the city of Bacolod, and 1,854 in the city of Iloilo. Of which, the entire region has recorded only 661 total COVID-19 identified deaths.

Compared to the previous year, there is an increase of 25% in the total registered deaths for the year 2021. From 289,260, this increased to 361,480.

On the other hand, the healthcare system in the country is still backwards and not the main priority of the government, according to Alliance of Health Workers (AHW). The Department of Health needs not less than Php 171.5 billion funds but the proposed budget for this fiscal year is only Php 131.7 billion which is P39.8 billion less or -23.2%.

According to AHW the budget allocation is too insufficient, especially that we are still facing a public health crisis. According to the group, this only shows that the government has no plan on prioritizing the healthcare programs that are for the benefit of the people. The AHW also states that the funds allocated are not enough to sustain the needs of the people and the public health system.

The AHW also adds that each person has the right to affordable and accessible public health services. However, this remains unattainable due to the government’s privatization of said services instead of making them free.

The group also expresses frustration over the drama that DOH Secretary Duque is stirring after the report of the department’s misused and unused funds. According to the group, they have been told that there are insufficient funds for their hazard pay and benefits but in truth, Duterte, Duque, and their cohorts are the ones benefiting from the people’s taxes.

Because of this, health workers are demanding for Duque’s immediate resignation for his failure and incompetence to run the department.

The health care workers continue to demand, from the Duterte administration, bigger budget allocation to build public hospitals and hire additional health workers. The AHW also demands the immediate release of their hazard pay and the increase in salary of healthcare workers./PT

EX-ILOILO CITY TOP COP, MASTERMIND BEHIND MULLER MURDER, SAYS SUSPECT

ILOILO CITY – “Although this is not surprising, it is a scary thing to know.” This was the reaction of BAYAN Panay when former Iloilo assemblyman Salvador Britanico revealed former ICPO Director Police Colonel Martin Defensor’s involvement in the murder of Alain Muller last January 19, 2020.

Police Colonel Defensor is now serving as the chief directorial staff of the Police Regional Office 6 (PRO-6).

Britanico’s exposé of Defensor’s involvement was based on the sworn testimony made by Police Corporal Joseph Andrew Joven, one of the four suspects and the one who served as the driver of the car used in the murder.

According to Salvador Britanico, Joven also claimed that Defensor offered him between P5,000-P50,000 to stay silent on Defensor’s supposed involvement in the two cases. But the former assemblyman clarified that Defensor did not order the murder of his son, Delfin, who was killed minutes after the murder of Muller.

According to BAYAN Panay, this only proves the public’s speculations that there exist a kill, kill, kill policy within the police where they execute individuals who are allegedly involve in cases of illegal drugs.

BAYAN Panay also adds that it would not be farfetched to assume that the police also had a hand in the murder of Jory Porquia as he was under surveillance operations by Villa Police Station weeks before his death.

BAYAN Panay urges the swift investigation of these cases so as to give justice to the victims. The group further said that the police should not wonder why there is public distrust and disgust towards the them as they are the top human rights violators, which is in contrast to their mandate “to serve and protect.”

BAYAN Panay also demands that all murderers should be made accountable for their crimes, most especially the ultimate mastermind who is President Rodrigo Duterte. /PT

Iloilo City Urban Poor: Release the 10K “AYUDA”

PRESS RELEASE

The Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap or KADAMAY Panay chapter is calling for a Php 10,000 social relief from the national government. According to KADAMAY, the P10K “ayuda” is the minimum amount needed to augment the worsening conditions of urban poor communities.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the poverty threshold in Iloilo (including Iloilo City) is at P10,863. This means that a family of five would at least need the same amount to sustain their basic needs – food, utilities, transportation, rent (shelter), health, and miscellaneous expenses. In the same data released by the PSA, poverty incidence in Western Visayas is at 11.9%, which is equivalent to around 219,000 families. In Iloilo City, 13.51% of the overall 457,626 population are suffering from poverty. This is equivalent to 62,099 individuals.

Vivian Asong, spokesperson of KADAMAY Panay said that the imposition of community quarantines does not help the urban poor at all. “Gindugangan sang MECQ ang pag-antos sang mga pumuluyo, amo ang rason kung ngaa grabe ang kaakig namon sa DSWD. May ginhataga guid man sila nga ayuda pero indi ini makasustenir sa pang-adlaw-adlaw nga panginahanglanon namon. Amo na gakapilitan kami nga mangita ubra apisar sang kakugmat sa pandemya”

KADAMAY added that the quarantine protocols only worsen their conditions. “Kung seryoso ang gobyerno nga buligan kami nga mga imol sa syudad kag magsunod sa quarantine protocols, ihatag nila ang nagakaigo nga ayuda para sa amon. Datos na mismo sang gobyerno naghambal, diyes-mil ang kinahanglan para mabuhi kita nga may kaunon sa pang adlaw-adlaw nga kinahanglanon. Gapati kami nga may pondo ang gobyerno para diri, pero wala lang guid sila interes nga buligan kami nga mga imol” Asong added.

RCSP, USED TO RED-TAG ACTIVISTS

PRESS RELEASE

Gabriela Panay calls for the abolition of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG)’s implementation of the Retooled Community Support Program or RCSP. According to Gabriela, the RCSP is being used by the Regional Task Force to End Local Communist and Armed Conflict (RTF ELCAC) to intimidate and red-tag their local members in different communities in Iloilo and Capiz.

According to Lucy Francisco, chairperson of Gabriela Panay and Guimaras, the RCSP is a redundant government program only meant to harass and red-tag community activists. “Ang unod sang RCSP kapareho lang sa programa sang DSWD, DOH, DOLE, kag iban pa nga ahensya sang gobyerno nga dapat kung tani magahatag sang serbisyo sosyal sa mga komunidad. Pero nga-a kinahanglan military kag mga ang NTF ELCAC gid ang magpamuno sini?” Francisco said.

Gabriela has recorded several instances of harassment and red-tagging from the chapters in Leganes, Iloilo City, and Roxas City. According to Gabriela the harassment ranges from profiling, interrogation, tagging Gabriela as a communist front organization in different community fora. “Bal-an man namon ginatuyo sang RCSP. Wala malain magintra sa mga organisasyon pareho sang Gabriela. Napamatud-an na namon sa kasaysayan ang papel kag ang prestihiyo sang amon organisasyon sa pag amlig sa kinamtarong sang mga imol sa syudad kag mga kababaihan. Pero gusto kami pakalainon sang NTF-ELCAC. Indi kami magpasugot kag nagapati kami nga ginalapas sini ang amon kinamataron sa pag-organisa kag sa pagpamatok sa mga isyu nga naga-apekto sa pumuluyo” Francisco added.

Gabriela Panay added that the intensified military presence in communities only create a chilling effect to children and families. They added that social services can be provided without the M16 bearing military personnel of the AFP.

AFGHANISTAN: A CASE STUDY IN AMERICAN AGGRESSION [Part 10]

Foreign occupation and counterinsurgency campaigns may be defeated by a resilient people with the will to fight, and America’s aggression can, ultimately, be overcome. For the Afghans who shed blood and sacrificed so much these last twenty years, teaching the rest of the world this lesson may perhaps be a measure of justice in and of itself.

AFGHANISTAN: A CASE STUDY IN AMERICAN AGGRESSION
Part 10: A Measure of Justice
By: Angelo Karlo T. Guillen

For generations to come, Afghanistan will serve as a poignant reminder of the widespread destruction and the long-term impact American intervention can have on other countries.
The strategy of the United States, beginning in the late 1970s, of arming, training, and funding the mujahideen; recruiting and importing foreign fighters into Afghanistan to engage the Soviet army; and later obstructing the peace process in a failed bid to overthrow the Soviet-backed Najibullah regime – all these led to the rise of the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and other armed groups.
US military presence and intervention in Central Asia and the Middle East fueled resentment and defiance from the people of these regions, eventually creating the conditions that led to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This is the reality the US government conveniently ignores. It is also the reality which, unfortunately, is lost in the maelstrom of media stories focused on American military casualties and war expenses, the disorganized evacuation from Kabul, and the mudslinging and finger-pointing now rampant among American politicians.
Lest we forget, the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan bore the brunt of the conflict, with more than 70,000 civilians dead from the fighting and countless more from hunger and disease. Millions have been driven from their homes and made refugees abroad or in their own country. Their plight should always be a central part of the story.

Drowned out by the noise of western pundits – who seem engrossed in analyzing the damage the withdrawal caused to the United States – are cries for justice for the thousands of children killed and maimed by airstrikes; for the people abducted, tortured, and imprisoned for years without trial; and for the civilians executed by American commandos in night raids and special operations across Afghanistan.
The families of the innumerable victims of these war crimes never saw the perpetrators brought to trial. For them, the desolation caused by the US invasion goes beyond the recent chaos at Kabul airport. They have lost loved ones and are already scarred for life. Yet, the people responsible easily and expediently left the country in the safety of American gunships and C-130s.
The ruthlessness displayed by the United States in Afghanistan and other post-9/11 campaigns is matched only by its callousness when it came to issues concerning human rights. It chose to rely on brute strength and technological superiority to eradicate or brutalize perceived enemies, while ignoring the international community’s pleas for restraint and demands for accountability.

America’s blatant disregarded for humanitarian law and its refusal to have US officials and soldiers investigated and prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity have demystified the “war on terror” as nothing but a facade to justify military campaigns for political and economic ends.

Its long history of military intervention, not just in Central Asia but also in other parts of the world, demonstrates the moral bankruptcy infused in US foreign policy. Not only has the United States repeatedly invaded sovereign nations to achieve its goals, it also created, trained, and financed vicious dictatorships and triggered anti-communist purges that led to some of the worst atrocities in modern times. At the very least, these events refute claims of altruism or beneficence as the motives that drive America’s wars.
After two decades of “reconstruction”, ruinous free-market policies, and a corrupt central government, the United States left Afghanistan battered and languishing in poverty.
On the other hand, the US withdrawal also highlights one fundamental fact: a foreign power cannot, by force of arms, subdue a nation determined to resist.
The Afghans, embattled and ill-equipped, were able to outlast and defeat the world’s foremost military force. America’s elite combat units, reinforced by tanks, aircrafts, heavy artillery, and high-technology weapons and surveillance systems, proved no match for guerillas supported by the local population.
Many foreign analysts make the mistake of concluding that the insurgents were hated by most Afghans. This is a misconception based on the US government’s own narrative of the conflict, and completely ignores established facts.

The Taliban did not simply re-emerge after a decade-long hiatus just in time for the US withdrawal. They regrouped, consolidated, and gradually expanded their areas of control over the course of several years. The steady drawdown of US forces after the 2011 troop surge and the Doha peace deal that came nine years later were the result of the insurgency gaining ground in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s rapid advance from the countryside to the cities during the last 3 months was merely the tail-end of a drawn-out war of attrition, which the United States clearly lost.
Moreover, it is illogical to insist that a resistance movement can be sustained and, in this case, grow without local support. One has to bear in mind that, unlike their opponents, the Taliban and other local militias and armed groups are Afghans themselves and form part of the communities fighting US occupation. In the end, the more the US military attacked these communities – the more people killed by drones or gunned down by American soldiers – the stronger the insurgency became. This experience is neither new nor unique to Afghanistan. It is a principle that has resonated in liberation movements and rebellions throughout history.
Will the outcome of its Afghan campaign deter the United States from attacking other countries in the future?
No.
The Vietnam experience, bitter as it was, did not dissuade them; and there is nothing to suggest that recent events would significantly alter US foreign policy already in place for more than a century. In fact, The United States would likely compensate for this setback by flexing its military muscle in other regions.

The fact of the matter is that American imperialism is premised on the subjugation of developing countries, the exploitation of their resources and cheap labor, the cultivation of subservient and corrupt puppet regimes that could champion neoliberal policies, and the violent suppression of local resistance.

In other words, the United States can maintain global dominance only by continuing to do what it has always done for the last hundred years – controlling and dictating the domestic affairs of other nations. This interventionist foreign policy is mandated by America’s political and economic interests, just as it was for Britain, France, Germany, Spain and the other empires in centuries past.
Already threatened by growing powerhouses like China and Russia, the United States will likely seek to assert its control or influence in contentious regions in Africa and the Asia-Pacific, areas still abundant in natural resources, while fortifying its position in the Middle East, where oil reserves vital to its economy are largely concentrated.

To be sure, the United States will do all it can to sustain its hegemony for as long as possible, and its military superiority remains the key factor in that endeavor.
Nevertheless, Afghanistan has exposed the inherent weakness in that formula. Foreign occupation and counterinsurgency campaigns may be defeated by a resilient people with the will to fight, and America’s aggression can, ultimately, be overcome. For the Afghans who shed blood and sacrificed so much these last twenty years, teaching the rest of the world this lesson may perhaps be a measure of justice in and of itself.
-o-
The author is a human rights lawyer, the Assistant Vice President for the Visayas of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, and the Secretary-General of NUPL’s Panay Chapter.

HEALTHCARE WORKERS, STRIKE TO DEMAND BENEFITS!

ILOILO – The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) Panay joins today’s protest action to demand the release of Special Risk Allowance for healthcare workers.

Earlier this day, healthcare workers held a protest action in front of the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center to condemn the health department’s failure to provide them with benefits they have been demanding since last year. The group also condemned the Duterte administration’s overall failure to respond to the health crisis. In the said action, healthcare workers symbolically jailed Health Secretary Francisco Duque and called for his ouster.

In Panay Island, healthcare workers wore a red armband as a symbol of support.

This day’s wave of protest actions comes as the deadline for the HCW to receive the benefits promised to them by the DOH had elapsed.

“Madamo pa nga mga Health workers sa Panay sa pampubliko kag pribado nga mga Healthcare facilities ang wala ukon kulang ang pagkahibalo nga dapat may pagabatunon sila nga mga benepisyo sa idalum sang Bayanihan 2, umpisa Sept 15, 2020 tubtob June 30, 2021,” said Ruth Alinsangao, spokesperson of AHW-Panay.

“Sa tunga sang pandemya, diin ka kita nga ang Department of Health mismo nga may control sang pondo para sa benepisyo sang mga doctor, nurses, kag iban pa ang wala ginhatagan prayoridad,” added Alinsangao. The AHW Panay is working with different worker’s associations and unions from different hospitals across the region to collaborate and organize efforts in demanding for better benefits.

According to AHW, healthcare workers are expected to receive 8 more benefits under the Bayanihan 2 Law, which includes (1) Special Risk Allowance or SRA, (2) Hazard Risk Allowance or the AHDP, (3) Transportation and Accommodation Allowances, (4) Compensation for both Public and Private HCW, (5) Meal allowances, (6) Mandatory benefits, (7) Free Hospitalization, and (8) provision for PPE’s.

Alinsangao added that Health workers must “unite and strongly demand” the immediate release of all the benefits intended for healthcare workers. /PT