ADB grants $400-M loan to PH, critics are wary

ADB grants $400-M loan to PH, critics are wary | Juan Manila

 

Hoping the funds will not be used for the 2022 polls, some critics can only cross their fingers as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) recently approved a $400-million (₱20 billion) loan to the Philippines to help improve local governments’ capacity to deliver public services and generate revenue.


 

MANILA — In a statement, the ADB said the funding will support the second phase of the Local Governance Reform program for local government units (LGUs) to modernize their public financial management.

“Much is expected from LGUs, especially now, as they are at the forefront of public service delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says ADB public finance economist for Southeast Asia Aekapol Chongvilaivan.

The program was implemented in anticipation of the devolution of functions to LGUs from the National Government in response to the Supreme Court’s Mandanas ruling, which increased the share of LGUs of national taxes starting 2022.

LGUs are set to receive ₱1.116 trillion from the national budget next year and implement programs and projects that were devolved to them by the National Government.

The ADB further said that the scope of financing for local development has also been expanded to include public–private partnership projects.

“The reform program will help ensure local governments have the capacity and adequate resources to quickly respond to the basic needs of local communities at critical times like this,” Chongvilaivan said.

But critics think otherwise, saying that the funds could only be used to prop up the images of the incumbent administration, especially those who are running for the 2022 local and national elections.

The ADB issued a $26.5-million loan last year to support the reform of the real property tax system for LGUs, and a $300-million loan in 2019 to help the Government create a legal and institutional framework for LGU revenue. (JD/JuanManila)

‘Bakuna bubbles’ need proper study before adoption—MMDA

'Bakuna bubbles' need proper study before adoption—MMDA | Juan Manila

 

Although supportive of the private sector’s proposal to establish ‘vaccine bubbles’, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and Metro Manila Council (MMC) chairman Benjamin Abalos Jr cautioned that before implementing such a scheme, more study and a vaccination target for the country’s population should first be initiated.


 

MAKATI CITY — Amidst the intensified vaccine rollout and vaccination program for Metro Manila, the private sector had proposed the so-called ‘bakuna bubbles’ to protect the vaccinated and unvaccinated while encouraging the unvaccinated to have themselves administered with the available Covid-19 vaccine jabs.

However, this was opposed by no less than justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who tagged the establishment of such “is discriminatory and violative of the Constitution’s equal protection clause.”

“Imposing the proposal to segregate those fully vaccinated against Covic-19 from the unvaccinated might face a legal challenge for discriminatory treatment,” the justice secretary pointed out.

“If the proposal is implemented at this time, it can be challenged legally for being discriminatory,” he warned while adding that the proposal is untimely because the vaccines are not yet available in some areas.

The private sector had also suggested the ‘bakuna bubbles’ to help boost the economy which had been adversely affected by the quarantine restrictions brought about by government’s efforts to stem the surge of increasing infections and transmissions of Covid-19, especially in the presence of several variants of concern.

In assessing the current situation, many areas do not have access to vaccines, the justice chief argued that it is not their fault if there are still unvaccinated people so it would be unfair for the unvaccinated if they will be discriminated upon because of it.

“Vaccination is not mandatory yet, but authorities are imposing minimum health protocols, including wearing masks, social distancing, face shields, etc.,” he noted.

“Right now, we are still vaccinating A4. This means only up to economic frontliners. The general population, based on the order of priority, is not yet included in the current rollout,” he also said.

Added to this, some people have valid medical reasons that prevent them from getting vaccinated, such as allergies and contraindications.

In implementing the vaccination program, the Government is following the order of priorities in its vaccination program and this puts healthcare workers first (A1), senior citizens second (A2), and persons with co-morbidities third (A3).

Justice secretary Guevarra said that when the country reached the stage when vaccines are available to everyone will there be no reason to refuse the medicine except for medical reasons and then the segregation proposal could be revisited. (TRC/JuanManila)

Neda reports about 10M impoverished amid pandemic

Neda reports about 10M impoverished amid pandemic | Juan Manila

 

Millions of Filipinos have lost their jobs, plunging them further into poverty during this COVID-19 pandemic as, according to economic and labor experts, unemployment has reached record levels.


 

MANILA — As much as ten million became impoverished last year as the country’s economy began to stagnate and then contract, says a study conducted by the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

The study shows almost two million lost their jobs in the second quarter of last year alone as countrywide lockdown measures and a near-complete absence of foreign tourism began to batter Philippine economy.

However, that estimate may be a far too conservative a figure as the World Bank estimated earlier in the year the number of Filipinos who have fallen into poverty in 2020 was around three million. The WB report meant that 17.6 million were impoverished, up from less than 12 million a year before.

Researchers say, vulnerable groups of people, including women, children, the elderly, the disabled, the homeless, and migrant workers were particularly impacted by the economic downturn aggravated by the ongoing health crisis.

Slightly over 13 percent of Filipinos lived below the official poverty line in 2019, before the pandemic, but the number has since grown significantly, reaching 16.6 percent to date.

The spread of the Covid-19 Delta variant and the increasing number of infections at the start of August seem to have further exacerbated the poverty situation as millions more Filipinos are likely to have fallen on hard times financially this year.

The outbreak has led to stricter quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila and other urban centers and elsewhere in a failed bid by the government to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

As of last count, Covid-19 has sickened more than 1.95 million Filipinos and killed over 33,109 in a country of more than 110 million. As with the rest of the world, there is no end in sight to new infections and fatalities.

“The recent surge of Covid-19 cases at the start of August looks to have further exacerbated the poverty situation. The worst affected are workers aged 40 years and older with little education who are also technology illiterate,” a separate Neda report says.

“They are the least able to adjust to the demands and changing conditions of employment as the crisis has reshaped the way businesses and companies operate. The crisis has accelerated the pace of disruptive technology with companies adopting new-normal practices that rely heavily on communication tools and technology evident in the work-from-home arrangement,” it adds.

Furthermore, millions of low-income earners have languished without steady incomes for months, while numerous Filipinos in the middle-income bracket have also been affected by steadily rising household debt, which is at an all-time high. (TRC/JuanManila)

North Korea tinkers with nuclear reactor

North Korea tinkers with nuclear reactor | Juan Manila

 

The United Nations atomic watchdog said in an annual report that North Korea seems to have restarted a nuclear reactor widely believed to have produced plutonium for nuclear weapons.


 

GENEVA — North Korea has expelled its inspectors in 2009, leaving the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with no access to the country.

The country then resumed nuclear testing and pressed with its nuclear weapons programme. Its last nuclear test was in 2017.

IAEA now only monitors North Korea from afar through satellite imagery.

“There were no indications of reactor operation from early December 2018 to the beginning of July 2021,” says the IAEA report of the 5-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon, a nuclear complex at the heart of North Korea’s nuclear programme.

“However, since early July 2021, there have been indications, including the discharge of cooling water, consistent with the operation of the reactor.”

The IAEA sees a possibility of Yongbyon reprocessing work to separate plutonium from spent reactor fuel. This could be used in nuclear weapons.

“The new indications of the operation of the 5MW(e) reactor and the Radiochemical (reprocessing) Laboratory are deeply troubling,” it said.

However, it added these indications may be of mining and concretion activities at a uranium mine and plant at Pyongsan. (HMP/JuanManila)

Japan looks into mixing and matching COVID vaccines

Japan looks into mixing and matching COVID vaccines | Juan Manila

 

Using mostly COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc for its vaccination rollout, the Japan health ministry is looking into mixing and matching either, as the country speeds up its inoculation program.


 

TOKYO — According to official figures, 43.5 percent of the country’s population have been fully vaccinated as of Thursday, 27 August.

“We can expect an acceleration in vaccinations if we gain approval for the mixed dose approach fromt the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, said Taro Kono in a television program.

Also, a third dose is being considered as population protection is targeted and as a response to reduced efficacy and breakthrough infection cases among those who are fully vaccinated.

According to health minister Kono, administering third shot can be started for health workers in October at the earliest and for senior citizens aged 65 and older early next year as soon as authorized.

“We have already secured the necessary quantities” for a booster shot rollout, said Kono. (RA/JuanManila)

Indonesia to give boosters early next year

Indonesia to give boosters early next year | Juan Manila

 

A Cabinet minister has announced that Indonesia will start providing boosters shots of COVID-19 by early next year.


 

JAKARTA — Targeting 208 million of its 270 million population, about 33 million have been fully vaccinated.

“If all of (the targeted population) have been fully vaccinated by January, the booster for the general public can start immediately after that,” health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said in a hearing with parliamentarians aired on social media.

He added, “The booster has been clinically proven effective to give better protection from COVID-19.”

The country has been giving booster shots to medical workers, as they have been most exposed to the coronavirus. Although medical workers had their first and second doses of the CoronaVac by Chinese pharmaceutical Sinovac Biotech Ltd., the third jabs administered since July had been the Moderna vaccine. As of 26 August, 34 percent of 1.47 million medical workers given the jabs.

According to health minister Sadikin, boosters for low-income recipients of government health insurance will be covered. Costing around $7 to $8, others will have to pay for theirs.

Earlier, the World Health Organization has called for halting the use of coronavirus booster shots until the end of September. The move is to help ensure that developing countries will have access to vaccines, as some have not secured doses for their medical workers yet.

Meanwhile, Indonesia has exceeded 4 million coronavirus infections with fatalities almost 130,000 as of Wednesday. (RA/JuanManila)

Rise in fuel prices to take place this week

Rise in fuel prices to take place this week | Juan Manila

 

Local oil players with raise oil prices this week after a three-week price cut.


 

MANILA — Unioil Philippines announced they will increase diesel by ₱0.60 to ₱0.70 per liter, and gasoline will increase by ₱0.20 to ₱0.30 per liter.

Year-to-date adjustments were at a net increase of ₱12.45 per liter for gasoline, ₱9.35 for diesel, and ₱7.40 per liter for kerosene.

Reuters reports global oil prices have gained in the first three sessions from the past trading week. This was fueled by the weaker dollar and strong US fuel demand.

Global oil prices snapped a three-day climb as the increase of Covid-19 infections renewed concerns over demand. Mexico was also able to restore some output after a fire disrupted supply. (HMP/JuanManila)

USAID channels help through faith-based orgs worldwide

USAID channels help through faith-based orgs worldwide | Juan Manila

 

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has committed to listen to faith-based organizations worldwide in efforts to help people overcome poverty, illness, and inadequate education brought about by the global health crisis.


 

WASHINGTON D.C. — According to USAID’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships director Adam Phillips, the pandemic has posed greater challenges to the world, including a rising income gap that has pushed more people into extreme poverty.

An estimated 119 million to 124 million people now earn less than US$2 (about ₱112) a day. Phillips said USAID is working to reduce overall poverty to 7 percent of the global population by 2030.

Pointing to efforts that are underway to improve child protection and strengthen families after about 1.5 million children worldwide have lost a parent or caregiver to Covid-19, he said they expect that “(the situation) will affect families for years to come.”

In response, however, the USAID disclosed it is crafting an interfaith engagement policy, the first of its kind for the agency, that will ensure that it works with individuals and local organizations to create long-term solutions.

Meanwhile, leaders from the world’s 20 largest economies are facing stiff decisions that could boost health care, reduce poverty, and address the impact of climate change in developing nations when they meet in October in Italy.

In a statement, Eric LeCompte, executive director of Washington-based Jubilee USA, revealed that the questions facing the Group of 20 nations, or G-20, range from charting a path to ease the debt burden of poor countries to ensuring more equitable distribution of vaccines in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

At the webinar ‘Poverty and Covid-19: Challenges and Solutions’, sponsored by Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, LeCompte explained that the key to recovery from the pandemic will be ensuring that decision-makers are accountable to follow through on what they say they are going to do.

Kirsten Laursen Muth, chief executive officer of Washington-based Joint Learning Initiative on Faith & Local Communities who also participated in the webinar, called for a greater voice for local organizations and community groups within the decision-making process of the complex global financial system.

Muth acknowledged that the pandemic has led to setbacks on gains in reducing global poverty, in part because local needs are not being heard or addressed.

“We’re behind in all of those commitments. As we build back better, there really needs to be an intentional focus in not just the specific sectoral needs, the health, nutrition, agriculture…but also real investment in accountability mechanisms that really show how power is being shifted, how leadership is being shifted,” she said. (TRC/JuanManila)

PCA 2016 ruling vs 9-dash line stands—Del Rosario

PCA 2016 ruling vs 9-dash line stands—Del Rosario | Juan Manila

 

In a statement, former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said, China is bent on undermining the 2016 arbitral ruling that disfavored its South China Sea claims under its self-proclaimed nin-dash line policy by messing with the regional code of conduct.

Mr Del Rosario said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations should prevent Beijing at all costs from doing so.


MANILA — During the inaugural Ambassador Rodolfo Severino Jr Lecture hosted by the Ateneo de Manila University and the Carlos P Romulo Foundation for Peach and Development, Mr Del Rosario said, “China has seen the utility of the code of conduct together with its precursor, the 2002 Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, not only as a means to legitimize its illegal nine-dash line claim, but also to undermine the 2016 ruling.”

“This explains the sudden shift in China’s attitude with regard to the code of conduct as shown by its eagerness to conclude it,” he added.

He said recent statements made by China’s foreign minister Wang Yi indicated China’s strategy of coercion, intimidation, and deception.

Mr Del Rosario warned that China’s Four Respects policy was meant to advance China’s illegal claims through the fictitious nine-dash line, as well as its dubious claims of historic rights in the South China Sea.

He also warned against efforts to undermine the 2016 ruling of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) tribunal through the code of conduct under the false pretext that the ruling did not have China’s consent while the code of conduct had the consent of all parties.

Mr Yi had earlier called on all claimants and the ASEAN to adhere to what he called were ‘Four Respects’ on the South China Sea conflict.

Mr Del Rosario said this statement by Yi was “very telling in terms of China’s intention to preserve its illegal claim in the South China Sea within the framework of the code of conduct.”

Mr Yi, in his remarks at the 11th East Asia Summit of Foreign Ministers’ early this month, asserted that historical facts must be respected. He claimed China was first to have discovered, named, and explored the South China Sea.

The Chinese official also said that China has sovereignty over the South China Sea, and Chinese laws must be respected. He said the early conclusion of the code of conduct was a new goal set by China and ASEAN and consensus should be respected.

Mr Yi said China and ASEAN have made the situation in South China Sea stable and without problems on freedom of navigation and over flight, but there still was a need to respect the region’s countries as “some countries outside the region desired to stir up trouble” and openly sowed discord.

The Chinese foreign minister did not name the countries but he was apparently referring to the United States and some European nations. (TRC/JuanManila)

Former DBM personnel in deep waters as Congress grills

Former DBM personnel in deep waters as Congress grills | Juan Manila

 

A former Department of Budget and Management’s (DBM) procurement service officer was at a loss for words when asked why they bought face masks and shields at prices five times higher than those the Philippine Red Cross purchased.


MANILA — Then officer-in-charge of the DBM’s procurement service, Lloyd Christopher Lao, until he resigned in June 2020, admitted during a Senate hearing late last week the agency purchased face masks that cost from ₱16 to ₱27 a piece and face shields at ₱129 a piece during his time.

According to the Philippine Red Cross, during the same time, it bought face masks priced at ₱5 a piece and face shields that cost ₱20 a piece.

Senator Richard Gordon confirmed the price information of said face units during that time in a senate hearing on the ‘deficiencies’ flagged by the Commission on Audit regarding pandemic expenditures. Mr Gordon is both chair of the PRC and the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.

“I cannot explain that…maybe Red Cross has a very good network,” Mr Lao said during the hearing. “Red Cross has wider access during that time compared to us.”

It was the same explanation Mr Lao said when asked why his department then purchased testing kits two or three times higher than what the PRC purchased.

“It is also possible, Mr Lao, that you were negligent,” countered Senator Francis Pangilinan, who questioned the former DBM officer.

“I’m not saying you were but [there is a] possibility that you were negligent, that Red Cross was more circumspect and purchased [face masks] at ₱5 while Government, because, perhaps…of negligence, bought it at five times more expensive.”

“Maybe if there was a more diligent search, if there was a more diligent process, then we could have brought down the price of a ₱27 face mask and a ₱120 face shield,” he added.

According to Mr Lao, during the time his office shopped for face units, face masks ranged from ₱28 to ₱40, while face shields from ₱120 to ₱400.

“When you say that there might be negligence or we were not able to exhaustively look for the cheapest supplier, there might be a possibility given that we lacked time, lacked the resources, and the connections during that time,” Mr Lao said.

Before working at the procurement office of the DBM, Mr Lao served as undersecretary at the Office of the Special Presidential Assistant, the same office held by Lawrence Christopher Go, a long-time aid to President Duterte, until he won a seat in the Senate in 2018. (RA/JuanManila)