Is China deploying vaccine diplomacy?

Vaccine diplomacy?

Senator Risa Hontiveros earlier noted fears, held both in the Philippines and abroad, that China is deploying vaccine diplomacy—or using access to its vaccines—to force other countries to bend to its will.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque announces in a virtual meeting that China’s donation of 600,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines from Sinovac Biotech, although not yet approved by local regulators for emergency use, would arrive on 23 February. Of these, 100,000 would be allocated for the Department of National Defense at the direction of China. 

Asked if this might affect the Philippines’ position on the West Philippine Sea, Roque says, “No, there’s no relation, this pandemic is governed by the laws of humanity and the dictates of public conscience.” 

Vaccine Czar Carlito Galvez Jr, in a similar manner, told senators that the “differences” between China and the Philippines should be “set aside” during the global effort to combat the CoViD-19 pandemic, even as he promised that he would not compromise the country’s rights to the West Philippine Sea during vaccine negotiations.


Will our West Philippine Sea position be compromised?

Despite the ‘no legal basis’ ruling from The Hague of its nine-dash line claim, China continues to hold on to the resource-rich West Philippine Sea. It is the part of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Recently, it passed a new law allowing the Chinese coast guard to open fire at foreign vessels and demolish structures built on contested islands. Said development raised bilateral tensions that caused the Department of Foreign Affairs to file a diplomatic protest and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to increase its naval presence in the West Philippine Sea.

Asked if this might affect the Philippines’ position on the West Philippine Sea, Roque says, “No, there’s no relation, this pandemic is governed by the laws of humanity and the dictates of public conscience.” 


More than vaccines

President Rodrigo Duterte has been unabashed in his pursuit of close ties with China and has expressed his preference for the Chinese vaccines, something which Roque reiterated. Apart from the 600,000 doses that China will donate, the national government is set to purchase 25 million Sinovac jabs pending emergency use approval from local regulators. 

Roque announces that the Food and Drug Administration granted the Presidential Security Group (PSG) “a compassionate use license for 10,000 dosages of Sinopharm.” This comes months after the PSG inoculated themselves with smuggled Sinopharm jabs manufactured by a Chinese state-run pharmaceutical firm.

However, Roque says he still does not know where the previous jabs came from despite the fresh license and the months that have passed. Duterte blocked attempts to probe the PSG’s unauthorized inoculation effort, threatening a “crisis” and barred his security detail from cooperating with a Senate inquiry on the government’s national vaccination program.

Moreover, Roque says he does not know if the license applies retroactively, covering PSG’s unauthorized inoculation effort, and where the new batch of Sinopharm vaccines will come from. The FDA said the license is not retroactive and is valid for one importation.

Both Sinopharm and Sinovac have no published Phase 3 trial data in peer-reviewed journals yet. Sinopharm has reportedly been used to inoculate millions in China while Sinovac only recently received regulatory approval in its home country.

Lawyers claim Anti-Terror Act is worse than Martial Law

Lawyers claim Anti-Terror Act is worse than Martial Law | A student rally

MANILA — Although the Duterte administration claims it as solely intended for neutralizing terrorism in the country, lawyers for groups opposing the Anti-Terrorism Act tag the recently approved measure as more repressive than the old anti-subversion law that was implemented during martial law days under the late former president Ferdinand Marcos. 

The Supreme Court should declare the entire anti-terrorism law or parts of it as unconstitutional because based on its provisions anyone could be unjustly victimized by its implementation, according to said groups.


Too early to challenge  RA 11479

However, early into the first day of oral arguments on the 37 petitions against said law, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen asked the lawyers whether it wasn’t too early to challenge Republic Act No. 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which President Rodrigo Duterte signed in July last year.

Still, the lawyers argue that the anti-terror law, which the government claims is solely intended against terrorists, is the worst edict that Congress has passed since the 1987 Constitution was ratified a year after democracy was restored in the country.


Law professor says anti-terror act is more dangerous

Alfredo Molo III, a constitutional law professor from the University of the Philippines who represented a group that included former Supreme Court associate justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio Morales, said the law is more dangerous than the Cold War-era Anti-Subversion Act.

That law was grossly abused by dictator Ferdinand Marcos to quell political dissent and was repealed in 1992, Molo claimed.

“Since 1987, there has been no law that has breached so many constitutional rights and … threatened to diminish the judiciary by directly taking away its powers and giving it to the executive,” the lawyer pointed out.

He said the Anti-Terrorism Law allows authorities to detain for up to 24 days without warrant individuals for alleged membership in an organization arbitrarily designated as a terror group by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC). He pointed out that under the old law against subversion, authorities were required to prove that a person “knowingly and intentionally” joined the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and other similar underground organizations and had committed ‘overt acts’.

“These are not present under Section 10 of the anti-terrorism law,” Molo said in response to a question from Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang even as he warned about the dangers of the ambiguity and ‘overbreadth’ of the law that restricted the exercise of free speech.

He particularly cited Section 25, which allowed the ATC to declare groups and individuals as terrorists, may actually be used to designate Carpio and Morales as terrorists for “stoking conflict with China” for merely speaking out against Chinese intrusion in Philippine waters in the disputed South China Sea.


Wait for an “actual case”

But the associate justice asked Molo whether the court should “wait for an actual case.”

“Maybe the Aetas is the actual case,” Leonen said, referring to the two Aeta men who were arrested in August last year and the first to be charged with terrorism under the law after the military claimed they were New People’s Army rebels.

Leonen said the court had already ruled in the past that “there must be a clear actual case” before it could intervene.

“Yes we have fears of any law, yes we have fears of any government. It’s understandable. But to ask the Supreme Court to move in and use its powers, without that standard, would invite us to insert our political perspective into how a law should be,” he said.

“Isn’t it the role of the judiciary to give a chance to the political department to be able to address the harm they wish to address before we come out immediately on a theoretical point, to annul that provision?” Leonen further said.

 “Should we not wait until there is a clear case, perhaps, there can be a petition filed on those that are Red-tagged, and, perhaps, the facts should be very clear? Go to a regional trial court first so that the regional trial court can weigh in” he added.

Molo responded, saying: “My humble submission is that deference, judicial restraint, ends where the Bill of Rights begins.”


Petitioners’ legal standing questioned

Meanwhile, Carandang questioned the legal standing of the petitioners, asking whether any of them had been charged or prosecuted under the law.

In response, former Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz cited threats from Southern Luzon Command chief Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade against the petitioners, which were brought to the attention of the court by Carpio and Morales last week. Parlade is also spokesperson for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

The SoLCom chief had warned the petitioners on his Facebook page that the “Day of Judgment is upon you, and the Filipino people, who have suffered enough from the malignant hands of the (CPP), which you are a part of, sit in judgment.”

In this, Cadiz said Parlade had made “an actual threat” against those opposed to the Anti-Terrorism Law.

“We cannot sit idly by while Parlade actualizes this threat,” he said.

Cadiz said the law is “constitutionally infirm” as it would only do “more harm to our civil liberties than provide security against the evils it seeks to curtail,” he concluded.

Featured image: Activist groups troop to the University of the Philippines in Diliman to oppose the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 in this file photo.

Just Juana Say: The celebration of International Human Rights Day and its irony in the Philippines

While the whole world commemorated the celebration of International Human Rights Day on December 10, here in the Philippines, it’s just another day of a string of operations by the authorities leading to a number of arrests, mostly involving dissenters.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) arrested a journalist and six trade unionists at the same day over illegal possession of firearms and explosives, the usual charges the authorities file against activists.

These include journalist Lady Ann Salem and union members Dennise Velasco, Mark Ryan Cruz, Romina Raiselle Astudillo, Jaymie Gregorio, Joel Demate, and Rodrigo Esparago.

They were arrested under the operations led by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), the police unit which handles high-profile and special cases.

Salem is a known progressive journalist working as an editor on Manila Today, an online news site which was previously red-tagged by the controversial National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

This is a clear “mockery” of the celebration of Human Rights Day, said rights group Karapatan, adding that with the arrests staged on the very same day the world is reiterating the importance of valuing the respect for human rights, President Rodrigo Duterte’s “fascist regime” will not stop imposing power plays against activists, human rights defenders, trade unionists, journalists, and critics as it bolsters even more its crackdown on dissent.

The Duterte administration has been tainted with the reputation of its questionable efforts to promote human rights both in the local and international setting.

Even with the Palace repeatedly releasing polished statements about how the president values human rights, the current situation in the country — which mirrors a hostile environment for dissent, countless extrajudicial killings related on drug war, and with the feared Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 already in place — tells otherwise. As an old saying goes, there are things easier said than done.

In a statement released by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), it called for “greater state accountability for all human rights violations in the Philippines and to end impunity that further aggravates the suffering of our people.”

“Now, more than ever, we must come together as a nation and build the broadest coalition of human rights defenders for freedom and dignity of all, and continue to push back as we reaffirm our commitment to fight for people’s rights and against all forms of attacks against the Filipino people,” the Commission said.

Duterte a ‘hypocrite and a coward’ for disowning narco list — Human Right Watch

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) called President Rodrigo Duterte a hypocrite and a coward after distancing himself from the narco list that carry the names of alleged drug personalities in the Philippines.

Duterte used the notorious list to “shore up his popularity” even when he was still the mayor of Davao City up to his presidency and eventually used by law enforcers “to violate civil liberties and human rights,” said HRW Asia Deputy Director Phil Robertson.

“For Duterte to now claim that he had no hand in these lists is the height of hypocrisy,” Robertson stressed, adding that the president used the list as a political tool to intimidate people including opposing politicians.

The human rights advocate explained how then mayor Duterte “would read out on TV the names of people he accused of involvement in illegal drugs” then later killed by the Davao Death Squad (DDS).

“He cannot now deny involvement in the violence perpetrated against those on his lists when he has used such lists as a public, political prop for years to shore up his popularity and fuel his political rise to the presidency,” he added.

Duterte denied anew his involvement in the said narco list after the killing of Los Baños, Laguna Mayor Caesar Perez who was among the 46 “narco politicians” Duterte bared in 2019.

Previously denying the president’s allegation, Perez was shot dead by still unidentified suspects inside the municipal hall on December 3.

Laguna Governor Ramil Hernandez said that Perez asked for his help regarding his inclusion on Duterte’s narco list, noting that there is still no concrete evidence that would prove the connection of the slain mayor to illegal drugs.

NTF-ELCAC officers, Uson face charges for red-tagging

Rights group Karapatan filed a criminal complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman against high-ranking officials of the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Usec. Mocha Uson for their alleged deliberate red-tagging activities.

NTF-ELCAC respondents in the said complaint include National Security Adviser Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr. and Presidential Communications Operations Office Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, who also serves as the spokesperson for the NTF-ELCAC.

Uson, who’s also been known for red-tagging on social media, is also included in the complaint after yet another Facebook post which accuses Karapatan of being connected to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA).

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said that members of the human rights organization “have in this context experienced relentless attacks from the following Respondents in the form of malicious red/terrorist-tagging or red-baiting, which consists of baseless and dangerous imputations of being a front organization of the Communist PArty of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).”

Palabay emphasized that red-tagging is a violation of Republic Act No. 9851 or the “Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity.”

“This has to stop. Instead of denigrating and imperiling people for their lawful exercise of their constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of expression, the government should take note and address legitimate criticisms of its policies,” said Palabay.

The officials also face charges for violation of Republic Act No. 3019 or the “Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.”

Amanda Echanis’ case a ‘concern for all dissenters’ — advocacy groups

A few months after the death of Baby River, the three-month-old child of political prisoner Reina Mae Nasino, another activist, Amanda Echanis, is arrested by the police and detained with her one-month-old baby, Randall Emmanuel.

32-year-old Amanda, the daughter of recently-killed Anakpawis Chairman Randall Echanis, was arrested on December 2 for alleged possession of firearms and explosives. She’s currently in a detention facility in Camp Adduro, Tuguegarao, Cagayan.

Amanda’s lawyer, Sol Taule, said that authorities must ensure the safety of Amanda and her baby inside prison, especially since the infant needs to be breastfed.

“Dapat sundin ng mga otoridad ‘yung mga batas na may kinalaman sa pagpapasuso sa sanggol dahil hindi na po kapata-patawad na magkaroon pa ng isang Reina Mae Nasino,” said Taule.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay supported the statement, noting that “breastfeeding mothers have a right to be with their children, especially during this crucial time of their development.”

She added that Amanda and baby Randall should be released on humanitarian grounds especially with the risks of catching COVID-19 while inside crowded local jails.

Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Debold Sinas, meanwhile, argued that it was Amanda who insisted on taking her baby inside prison.

Peasant group Anakpawis feared that the crackdown on activists which recently happened in Negros where some of the dissenters were killed, may soon happen in other areas like Cagayan.

“If they can do that to known leaders, to a woman who had just given birth to a one-month old child, they can do it to anyone they want to target. This is not just a concern of progressive groups, but a concern for everybody who voices dissent,” said Anakpawis Leader Ariel Casilao.

Amanda was among the activists who were red-tagged at a recent Senate hearing. Red-tagging has been a common incident among President Rodrigo Duterte and his officials.

Si Juan na naman? | Barking at the wrong tree and not barking at all

Kumusta na mga besh? Kaya pa ba?

Nitong mga nakaraang araw, pikon na pikon ang Mayor sa may Pasig River kay Vice na tinatawag na _eni Lugaw ng kaniyang mga alipores. Tinanong daw kasi ni Vice _eni Lugaw kung nasan ang Mayor nung kasagsagan ng delubyo sa Bicolandia, Northern Luzon, NCR, Central Luzon at ibang pang panig ng bansa dahil sa Bagyong Ulysses.

Galit na galit si Mayor sa kaniyang monologue ng pang-iinsulto at pagbabanta kay Vice. Yung pala na-fake news siya. Nagkamali (o baka sinadya) ang mga alipores niya sa ibinulong sa kaniya na detalye. Nagsorry naman si Boy Tuko pero alam mo yung sorry na hindi sorry.

Tapos nitong weekend, full throttle ang Mansion sa may Pasig River sa pagbatikos at pagpaling ng sisi sa mga anak ni Vice. Nag Tweet daw ang mga ito laban sa Mayor kaya nagalit ang matanda. Pati mga fans ng Mayor todo sa pag-atake sa mag-iina.

Tanong ko lang bakit sila galit na galit kay Vice at mga anak nito? Ginagawa lang niya ang dapat gawin para sa mga kababayan natin na sinalanta ng bagyo. Yung mga anak naman nagtanong lang kung tulog pa at sumagot na Sabado kasi. Hindi naman sinabi kung sino ang tulog pa at higit sa lahat mga private citizen ang mga ito. Sabi nga kung sino unang pumiyok malamang guilty, tama ba?

Bakit hindi nagagalit si Mayor at mga alipores nito sa pambubully ng China sa West Philippine Sea? Bakt wala man lang tayong naririnig kung paano takutin, saktan at dahasin ang ating mga mangingisda sa West Philippine Sea at Scarborough Shoal?

Bakit hindi sila nagagalit sa pagpasok ng mga iligal na POGO woker dito sa Pinas at lalong hindi nagagalit kung hindi nagbabayad ng tax ang mga ito? (Nagbayad naman daw sila sa pastillas scam sa NAIA).

Bakit hindi sila nagagalit sa gobyerno na hanggang ngayon ang tanging tugon sa COVID-19 pandemic ay umasa sa vaccine kuno ng China at Russia na dumating?

Bakit hindi sila nagagalit na marami ang walang trabaho, walang makain at walang maasahang ayuda sa gobyerno?

Bakit hindi sila magalit mga corrupt na opisyal ng gobyerno? Sa mga quarantine violator na PNP chief o Senador?

Bakit hindi sila nagagalit na na hanggang ngayon walang big time na drug man lang ang nahuhuli o nakukulong? Di ba may pangako na in three to six months ay matatapos ang drug problem sa bansa. (Nangako na nga, tutuparin pa?!)

Bakit hindi sila nagagalit na hanggang ngayon wala pa rin ang pangakong pag-jetski sa West Philippine Sea?

Bakit sila hindi nagagalit na hanggang ngayon wala pang nakukulong sa mga opisyal ng PhilHealth na nagnakaw ng umano’y P15 bilyong piso mula sa kontribusyon ng maraming pobreng Pilipino?

Bakit hindi sila nagagalit sa mga illegal loggers na siyang dahilan ng pagkakalbo ng mga bundok na siya namang dahilan ng mga flashflood tuwing may bagyo?

Bakit sila hindi nagagalit sa kabagalan ng gobyerno na gumalaw para matulungan ang mga binagyo?

Marami pa mga dahilan kung bakit sila dapat magalit pero next time na yun.

Eto na lang, eh tayo kayang mga Pilipino kelan tayo magagalit?

Ako galit na galit na.

UN Watch includes PH in ‘shame list’ for refusing to condemn human rights issues

The Philippines is among the 32 countries included in the “list of shame” released by Geneva-based United Nations (UN) Watch after the country’s representative to the organization voted against a draft resolution seeking to condemn Iran government’s alleged human rights violations.

Other countries in the mentioned shame list include China, India, North Korea, and Vietnam, among others.

In a statement published earlier this week, the UN said that the draft resolution made by its Third Committee focusing on social, humanitarian, and cultural issues seeks to express “serious concern at the alarmingly high frequency of death penalty imposition, particularly against minors.”

“It would call on Iran to ensure that no one is subjected to torture — or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment — and to end the widespread and systematic use of arbitrary arrests and detention, including the practice of enforced disappearance,” the statement added.

The UN said that the Philippine representative disengaged from paragraphs related to the International Criminal Court as the country withdrew from the Rome Statute in March 17, 2019.

“As our courts are fully functioning, we do not accept the International Criminal Court as a substitute,” said Enrique Manalo, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the UN.

Manalo’s statement came despite the Rome Statute already noting that atrocity crimes and human rights abuses should be addressed first and foremost by the states.

The Philippines being included in the shame list mirrors the same issues of the alleged human rights violations committed under the Duterte administration.

This is also related to why the Philippines revoked its membership in the Rome Statute after the international body launched a probe against Duterte’s brutal war on drugs which has resulted in extrajudicial killings.

Recent police data shows that there are 8,000 deaths recorded under police operations related to Duterte’s illegal drug trade crackdown, however, human rights organizations say that the bloody war on drugs has killed more than 30,000 people in the Philippines.

The UN itself has also been a subject of Duterte’s tirade and rude comments. In one of his public speeches, the president called the UN as a “useless” body.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights previously published a report condemning the Duterte administration for widespread human rights violations hidden under the name of national security and the fight against illegal drugs.

The Philippines has also been included in another list by the UN of countries with “shameful practice” of intimidation and harsh retaliation against human rights activists and defenders.

Democrats might urge Biden administration to stop aid to PH security forces

Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez said that a bill was recently filed by a Democrat lawmaker in the US House of Representative seeking to stop military and police aid to the Philippines “on the issue of human rights” and this might be passed into legislation under the leadership of President-elect Joe Biden.

The proposed Philippine Human Rights Act filed in September by Democratic Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild targets to suspend the US military and police funding in the country due to the enactment of the anti-terrorism law and the alleged human rights abuses under the Duterte administration.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque had earlier expressed confidence that the “very wild” proposal will unlikely to pass the US Congress citing the “friendship” between Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and outgoing US President Donald Trump.

“We are confident that the State Department and the administration of President Trump is seeing the value of continued cooperation between the United States and the Philippines,” said Roque.

Romualdez added that the US can discuss issues on human rights violations with the Philippines and can even give advice “as friends and allies” but “they also have to respect our sovereignty and recognize that we are an independent nation.”

The ambassador noted that there are other important things to focus on to keep the US-PH alliance solid and stable.

From 2016 to 2019, the US provided more than $550 million in military assistance to the Philippines.

In terms of the West Philippine Sea issue, in which the US under the Trump administration has been manifesting support against China, Romualdez said that the Biden admin will likely continue the policy of his predecessor.

“In my conversations with some of foreign policy advisers of President-elect Biden, they indicated that they will most likely continue the current policy regarding China and the West Philippine Sea and the importance of the 2016 PCA [Permanent Court of Arbitration] decision in maintaining peace and balance in the region,” Romualdez shared.

First victims of anti-terror law? Soldiers file terrorism charges vs two Aetas in Zambales

Authorities arrested and charged two Aetas in Zambales with terrorism for allegedly shooting soldiers, making it the first publicly known case filed under the highly-contested Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) reported that Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos are still detained after their case was filed in Olongapo on September 14.

A manifestation containing the charge sheet was filed by the lawyers group before the Supreme Court on November 18.

Gurung and Ramos are charged for terrorism under Section 4 of the Republic Act No. 11479, a non-bailable offense. They are also separately charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, a non-bailable offense as well.

Section 4(a) of the RA 11479 dictates that a person must be punished and imprisoned if he or she “engages in acts intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person, or endangers a person’s life.”

The charge sheet mentioned that Gurung and Ramos allegedly committed prohibited acts under the ATA such as causing intimidation to the general public, spreading a message of fear, and seriously undermining public safety.

The two Aetas are accused of shooting members of the 73rd Infantry Division which caused the death of Sergeant Rudil Dilao on August 21.

The NUPL, however, argues that the soldiers planted guns and explosives on the two men who were just evacuating to flee from the intense military operations and bombings in their ancestral lands.

“They were accosted by elements of the 73rd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, firearms and explosives planted on them, and falsely accused of being members of the New People’s Army (NPA),” the NUPL said in its manifestation to the Supreme Court.

The manifestation added that “some of the victims were tortured, fed with human feces, and were later charged with violation of Section 4(a) of RA 11479, among other crimes.”

“The available facts and circumstances we received so far from our colleagues in NUPL-Central Luzon indicate that the charges were a way of reprisal against unarmed civilians (indigenous people) for the death of a soldier in an alleged encounter with the NPAs in the area,” NUPL President Edre Olalia said.

Olalia emphasized that the said incident is a proof of how “almost anything can be contorted to fit the broad and vague definition of terrorism under the Anti-Terror Act.”

During the course of its passage as a law, the ATA was feared for being taken advantage of by the government and state security forces for committing human rights violations, disguising it as a way to combat terrorism in the country.