Author Archives: John Michael Cancio

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2014 could be 'warmest year' on record

Tuesday, 28 October 2014 | Written by
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The year 2014 could be the warmest year in the past century, climate experts said in a comprehensive report.

The United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in its State of the Climate report released this October the average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for September 2014 was 0.72 degree Celsius above the 20th century average of 15 degrees Celsius.

NOAA also said the global land surface temperature was 0.89 degree Celsius above the 20th century average of 12 degrees Celsius.

This is the sixth highest for September on record, it said.

NOAA, which cited records dating back to 1880, also noted that except for February, “every month to date in 2014 has been among its four warmest on record, with May, June, August, and September all record warm.”

For the ocean, NOAA said the September global sea surface temperature was 0.66 degree Celsius above the 20th century average of 16.2 degrees Celsius.

This made it the highest on record for September and the highest on record for any month,” NOAA said.

Also, NOAA said the combined global land and ocean average surface temperature from January to September 2014 was 0.68 degree Celsius above the 20th century average of 14.1 degrees Celsius.

This matched 1998 as the warmest such period on record, it added.

“If 2014 maintains this temperature departure from average for the remainder of the year, it will be the warmest calendar year on record,” it said.

The study used publicly available data from: 6,300 meteorological stations around the world; ship-based and satellite observations of sea surface temperature; and Antarctic research station measurements.

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Data explained

Meanwhile, an by the Earth Observatory of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) explained the figures and the references used for the study.

Another branch of NASA, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) conducted a similar study with the objective of “providing an estimate of temperature change that could be compared with predictions of global climate change in response to atmospheric carbon dioxide, aerosols, and changes in solar activity.”

This  dubbed the years 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2009 as the warmest years.

The post said: “The global temperature record represents an average over the entire surface of the planet. The temperatures we experience locally and in short periods can fluctuate significantly due to predictable cyclical events (night and day, summer and winter) and hard-to-predict wind and precipitation patterns. But the global temperature mainly depends on how much energy the planet receives from the Sun and how much it radiates back into space—quantities that change very little. The amount of energy radiated by the Earth depends significantly on the chemical composition of the atmosphere, particularly the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.”

It also stressed that even a one-degree change in the global temperature “is significant because it takes a vast amount of heat to warm all the oceans, atmosphere, and land by that much.” It explained that some 20,000 years ago a one- or two-degree drop in the temperature in North America “was enough” to bury parts of the continent under “a towering mass of ice.”

NASA added that 1880 was used as starting point of reference for the study “because observations did not have sufficient global coverage prior to that time,” and because the years that followed saw the onset of the Industrial Revolution, which led to rapid economic and industrial growth.

See NASA’s Global Climate Change Time series here.

Warm seas and typhoons

Weather Philippines, an independent weather agency, explains that warm sea surface temperatures in the Pacifc Ocean contribute to the formation of tropical cyclones. “Warm Sea Surface Temperature (SST) of at least 26.5°C with a depth of 150 feet & high moisture/ humidity present in the atmosphere. The heat from the sea is therefore the main energy source for Tropical Cyclones.”

So far, this year saw the formation of five typhoons which brought powerful wind gusts ranging from 165 to 215 kilometers per hour (Km/h): Typhoons Florita with 185 Km/hGlenda with 165 Km/hJose with 195 Km/hNeneng with 175 Km/h; and Ompong with 215 Km/h. Three of them were classified as Category 4 super-typhoons by the US Joint Typhoon Warning Center (Florita, Glenda, Neneng), while two others were Category 5(Jose and Ompong). Only one, Glenda, made landfall in the Philippines and caused massive damage, particularly in Luzon.

Images from Flickr.com. Some rights reserved.

Church, gov’t prepare for Pope’s 2015 visit

Wednesday, 22 October 2014 | Written by

Various individuals and groups from government and the private sector continue their preparations 84 days before Pope Francis, the 266th head of the Catholic Church known for his spontaneity, arrives in the Philippines.

The Pope is expected to be in the country from January 15 to 19 next year, and had previously expressed his wish to visit the survivors of  ‘super-typhoon’ Yolanda (Haiyan) and the Bohol earthquake. However, the Pope’s itinerary in the country would be announced before the end of the year, according to Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.

In a pastoral letter released on July 7, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), announced the theme of the upcoming visit to be that of “mercy and compassion”.

“When the Pope comes, he will bring with him the message of the mercy and compassion of God. When he meets us, may he see in us a people touched by the mercy of God, living out the compassion of God, a people truly rich in mercy and compassion and grateful to those who have shown mercy to us especially after various calamities hit our country,” Villegas said.

Official logo, song

Hence, the official logo and song for the Papal visit complied with the said theme, and were both approved by the Vatican.

The logo depicts three circles, with two outer circular lines bearing hands on one end of each line and embracing the inner circles. The yellow circle symbolized the Philippine being the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, while the Cross in the middle symbolizes Catholicism in the heart of the Philippines. The red circular line embracing the yellow circle means “mercy, as it is the color of blood and recalls the sacrifice of our Lord on the cross for our salvation, a holy sacrifice that manifests and exemplifies Divine Mercy for sinful humanity.” Meanwhile, the blue circular line embracing the red line symbolizes “compassion, as it is the color of divine presence – it is the color of the sky and the sea that surround our life, much like God’s presence, that is, God’s compassionate love that permeates and sustains human existence.”

On the other hand, the song “We Are All God’s Children”, written by singer Jaime Rivera and composed by Noel Espenida, portrayed the invitation to show love and mercy to the “week and the needy”, the “poor and the lame”, particularly street-children.

Merchandise, standees available

Also, Caritas Manila – a Catholic non-profit group – has started selling merchandise that depicts the upcoming Papal visit. The group already sells T-shirts, pins and other memorabilia which bear the Papal visit’s official logo. Proceeds would go to helping the poor, and would also shoulder some of the expenses for the preparations for the visit.

Radio Veritas – the communications arm of the Philippine Catholic Church – has also distributed so-called ‘standees’ or life-size cardboard cutouts showing the whole-body portrait of Pope Francis in various parishes and schools. Veritas aims to install about 100 standees in selected areas nationwide, including those the Pope would visit. However, Veritas president Fr. Anton Pascual reminded the public to respect the standees like it would be the Pope himself, as some concerned people worried about some posing with the Pope standee like they were about to “punch or kiss” it.

Gov’t efforts

Meanwhile, the government, through Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., directed the creation of a multi-agency organizing committee for the upcoming Papa visit.

Memorandum Circular 72, series of 2014 said the Papal Visit-National Organizing Committee (PV-NOC) would encourage several government agencies – including the Cabinet, Presidential Communication Operations Office (PCOO), military, police, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Presidential Security Group (PSG), the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), government media, concerned local government units, and private sector including the CBCP – to “to participate and coordinate all efforts to make sure that the visit of His Holiness in our country next year will be well organized and peaceful.”

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Gov’t to train health workers on Ebola response

Wednesday, 22 October 2014 | Written by
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I14739204679_a9c04682c9_zIn response to calls from local medical groups, the Philippine government will soon begin training government health workers to prepare them on how to respond and handle cases of the dreaded Ebola virus, which continues to plague countries in Western Africa and even in America and Europe.

The Department of Health (DOH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Philippines announced its plan to conduct specialized training programs for health workers from both public and private hospitals.

The weekly training, which will begin October 28, will help prepare Filipino health workers on how to detect and treat cases of Ebola, and how to prevent a possible spread in the country. Doctors, nurses, medical technologies and other health workers will be taught, for instance, how to properly wear and remove personal protective gear.

“We want to primarily increase the capacity of our health workers nationwide in responding to [Ebola], like what we did when SARS and H1N1 threatened the country a few years ago,” Health Secretary Enrique Ona said in the statement.

Expert trainers in infectious diseases and Ebola will train infection control specialists, doctors, nurses, and medical technologists from all DOH-referral hospitals, private hospitals, and local government hospitals.

Meanwhile, WHO country representative Julie Hall said health experts and the ICRC are arriving in Manila to conduct a three-day training on Ebola infection prevention starting on Oct. 28.

“These experts will provide training to help Filipino doctors and other health workers easily identify Ebola cases and what to do to prevent the infection from spreading,” Hall said as quoted by a newspaper story.

DOH spokesman Lyndon Lee Suy said the government, with assistance from the WHO, is initiating the specialized training program on Ebola disease prevention.

“The training will be in three batches, the first composed of doctors from government-run hospitals, followed by those from private hospitals and the last batch will be for health workers from medical facilities under the different local government units nationwide,” Lee Suy said.

Health workers from Armed Forces of the Philippines hospitals will also participate in the training since their facilities will be used to quarantine Filipino peacekeepers coming home from Ebola-plagued Liberia, Lee Suy added.

Despite the said preparations, the Philippines has not reported even a single Ebola case in or out of the country.

‘Strengthen our own front’

The measures were proposed after the  before even agreeing to send health workers to Ebola-hit countries.

“We should not send health workers to Ebola-hit countries. We should first strengthen our own front,” said PMA president Dr. Minerva Calimag.

“We should protect our country first from the entry of Ebola virus, especially those coming from West African countries. This should be the focus of our efforts in the light of the looming global epidemic on the dreaded virus,” said PCP president Dr. Anthony Leachon.

Private hospitals also ready

Aside from government, private hospitals are bracing for the possible entry of the Ebola virus in the country, according to another story.

Hospitals that are members of the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines Inc. (PHAPI) are preparing isolation rooms where patients suspected of contracting the Ebola virus could be admitted, PHAPI president Dr. Rustico Jimenez said yesterday.

He said hospital personnel are being trained “on how to handle patients properly to prevent spreading the virus to hospital workers.”

Jimenez also assured the public that private hospitals have their own infectious disease specialists but handling an Ebola outbreak would be beyond their capacity.

“Private hospitals can handle Ebola cases on a limited scale. In epidemic proportion, private hospitals cannot absorb only Ebola cases. There are other patients that we have to take care of,” he said.

PHAPI is coordinating with the DOH on the procedures of collecting and testing specimens taken from suspected Ebola patients.

Also, Leachon said the 10,000-strong PCP has formed a task force to help the government educate the public about the deadly disease. The group is adopting the Ebola module of the Philadelphia-based American College of Physicians. He added they are also targeting doctors, especially those in the provinces, whose knowledge about Ebola might be limited.

On the other hand, health secretary Enrique Ona said saying the agency started enforcing the screening procedure for Filipinos based in Ebola-hit countries who would decide to return to the Philippines.

“Everything is being done to make sure that [there is no] chance a patient infected with Ebola [will come to the Philippines],” Ona said at the sidelines of the 65th Session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for the Western Pacific.

Ona said they have already arranged for overseas Filipino workers in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to acquire a medical clearance first before being allowed to fly to the Philippines. The clearance meant that the OFW had already been interviewed about whether they were exposed to someone with the virus.

At the same time, they will be asked to wait for 21 days to make sure that they do not have the symptoms, unless there is an emergency.

Those who are cleared can return home but must still be in close contact with DOH.

Ona added the person will be asked to stay inside his house for another 21 days for assurance.

He also revealed that DOH has a list of the 1,755 Filipinos staying in the three West African countries and have monitored around 40 who successfully returned to the Philippines.

‘Is PH really ready?’

Despite all the preparations, the Council for Health and Development (CHD) questioned the actual readiness of the country against the potential entry of Ebola in the country.

According to another online news article, the group said the mere fact that there continues to be outbreaks of measles and dengue only shows the poor state of the country’s public health system.

“CHD cannot help but worry given the state of the country’s public health system. The country’s public health care system is failing particularly in disease prevention and control as outbreaks of diseases such as measles and dengue are concrete indicators,” said CHD deputy executive director Rosalinda Tablang.

She noted the recent outbreak of measles in the country during the earlier part of the year, particularly in the cities of Manila, Caloocan, Las Piñas, Malabon, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Parañaque, Taguig and Valenzuela.

She also noted how clustering of dengue cases continues to be present in some communities.

According to WHO, Ebola spreads through human-to-human transmission via direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids. The incubation period, that is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms is 2 to 21 days. Humans are not infectious until they develop symptoms. First symptoms are the sudden onset of fever fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding (e.g. oozing from the gums, blood in the stools). Laboratory findings include low white blood cell and platelet counts and elevated liver enzymes.

Image from Flickr.com. Some rights reserved.

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Catholic Church more ‘open’ to troubled families, but not yet on homosexuals

Monday, 20 October 2014 | Written by
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vatican catholic churchThe Catholic Church may have opened wider its doors for people having troubles with relationships with their families, but not yet for homosexuals, especially same-sex couples.

The final report which marked the end of the two-week assembly of the bishops of the Catholic Church last week suggested “patient dialogue and accompaniment” for separated, divorced or remarried couples, and single-parent families. However, though the Church expressed support for homosexuals, a lot of questions still surround the sanctity of same-sex marriages.

The document, entitled “Relatio Synodi of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops” with the theme “The pastoral challenges on the family in the context of evangelization” (the original text is in Italian), was released on October 18 and would be reviewed for a year until the next Synod, or the summit of the world’s Catholic bishops, in 2015.

The Vatican released two versions of the document and were voted by the bishops, but both did not achieve the consensus, that was two-thirds of the assembly. Veteran Vatican writer John Allen added in his story both documents however “generated significant ‘no’ votes,” with the first draft garnering 118 yes and 62 no votes, and the other 104-74.

Evangelization by, for the family

The Relatio stressed the “urgent need” to strengthen the preaching of the Gospel for the family and by the family.

The document said that evangelization must not be “purely theoretical and uncoupled from the real problems of the people.” “It should never be forgotten that crisis of faith can lead to a crisis of marriage and the family, and as a result, the transmission of the same faith from parents to children is interrupted.”

The document also stressed that “Christian marriage is a vocation that welcomes one with adequate preparation in a journey of faith, with a mature discernment.”

Hence, the Church said that the process of Christian marriage must involve: formations especially for new couples by Church people, fellow couples and families in their respective communities; and upholding the significance of receiving the Sacraments (especially Baptism, the Eucharist, Matrimony and Penance) in maintaining strong family relationships.

The document also suggested the need for “radical renewal of the pastoral practice in the light of the Gospel of the family.” It means more frequent renewal in the formation of priests, deacons, catechists and other pastoral workers through greater involvement of families in their respective parishes.

‘Pastoral discernment’

The Relatio also suggested that further “pastoral discernment” on the situation of couples who are married through civil rites or in cohabitation (live-in partners in the Filipino context) must be exercised “in a constructive manner.”

“It is important to enter into dialogue with these people in order to highlight the elements of their lives that can lead to a greater openness to the Gospel of marriage in its fullness. Pastors need to identify elements that can promote evangelization and the human and spiritual growth. A new awareness of the pastoral care today is to grasp the positive elements present in civil marriages and, in due differences in institutional households.”

The same approach is also proposed for so-called “wounded families”, or those whose couples got either: separated; divorced and not remarried; divorced and remarried; and single-parent families. Hence, the bishops advised that family formation programs must be strengthened, and must look into different factors, whether personal, cultural or socio-political.

The Relatio however stressed the need for Church people to listen, and to be respectful and compassionate with families facing these situations, thus avoiding discrimination. It noted in particular children who would be affected by these instances would be the “innocent victims”.

According to the Relatio, “Hence the need for a ministry of reconciliation and mediation through specialized counseling centers to be established in the diocese.”

The report also said that most bishops “stressed the need to make it more affordable and agile, possibly totally free, the procedures for the recognition of annulment cases.” Some bishops even proposed that as soon as the Church would declare annulment of a couple because their union did not meet some criteria for its validity, either of the couple would be given a second chance for a church marriage.

It also said that issues surrounding mixed marriages (intercultural or interfaith) and the access to the Sacraments of people confronted with the said situations would be reviewed further.

Church on homosexuality

On the other hand, the Relatio defended the Church’s stand that compared to marriage between man and woman, same-sex marriage has “no foundation whatsoever” to establish it. However, it stressed that “men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect and sensitivity,” “should be avoided every sign of unjust discrimination.”

The document also said, “it is totally unacceptable that the Pastors of the Church suffer the pressures in this matter and that international bodies to condition financial aid to poor countries, the introduction of laws that establish the ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex.”

This watered-down version of the Relatio on homosexuality was perceived to be different from the first draft, which was released on October 13. According to another Vatican writer John Thavis, the first version had a “strikingly more open language,” which just asked if the Church could accept and appreciate the gay sexual orientation, and spoke of “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice” in some gay relationships.

The first draft also noted that special attention must be given by the Church to children of same-sex couples.

Adoption, family planning

Also, the Relatio addressed the need to support adoption of children and to promote natural family planning as part of the evangelization efforts. The Church’s firm stand on natural family planning is anchored on Pope Paul VI’sencyclical Humanae Vitae which “stresses the need to respect the dignity of the person in the moral evaluation of the methods of birth regulation.” Also, adoption of children was described in the Relatio as a “specific form of family apostolate,” saying further “it is an opportunity to be witness to the faith and to restore dignity.”

‘Truth and mercy’

The two versions of the Relatio were created through debates and group discussions among Cardinals who gathered in Rome for the Synod. Some of the discussions were done inside and were documented, while others were held outside the halls, or through interviews.

According to a report, Italian layman Francesco Miano, one of the synod participants, described the main fault line as running between truth and mercy — with one camp insisting on clarity about Church teaching, and another outreach to constituencies that don’t fully live it, including gays, the divorced, and people living together outside of marriage.

For instance, as for same-sex couples, the recommendations in general suggest a merciful and welcoming approach while maintaining a clear distinction between a gay union and a marriage.

A group led by Italian Cardinal Fernando Filioni, who heads the Vatican’s powerful missionary department, concluded that “same sex unions can’t be equated to those between a man and a woman.”

A French-speaking group lead by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said that while discrimination against gays and lesbians should be denounced, “that doesn’t mean the church should legitimize homosexual practices and, even less, recognize so-called homosexual ‘marriage.’”

A second French group, led by Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, made a similar point, saying that to “pastorally accompany a person doesn’t mean to validate either a form of sexuality or a style of life.”

However, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Germany somehow opposed the ideas and said, “Take the case of two homosexuals who have been living together for 35 years and taking care of each other, even in the last phases of their lives… How can I say that this has no value?”

‘A journey’

Despite such heated exchange of ideas, Pope Francis in his speech at the end of the Synod on October 18, thanked the bishops for their “active and fruitful participation”, adding that the assembly became a “journey of consolations and of desolations, tensions and temptations.”

He described such temptations as: “to transform stones into bread, and transform bread into stone to cast it against sinners, the weak, and the sick”; “to come down from the Cross, please the people and not stay there in order to fulfill the will of God”; and “to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing!”

“I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage,” Pope Francis said.

“Now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families,” he added, reminding the bishops.

 

House approves new tax exemption ceiling on bonuses

Monday, 29 September 2014 | Written by

The House of Representatives unanimously approved on final reading a bill that would raise the ceiling, or the highest limit, of tax exemption for monetary benefits of employees.

With a vote of 250-0, the House on September 26, passed House Bill 4970, which seeks to increase the tax exemption ceiling for monetary benefits like bonuses and 13th month pay from P30,000 to P70,000.

This bill amends current law, particularly Paragraph (B) (7) (e), Section 32, Chapter VI of Republic Act 8424, or the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997, that only cover tax exemptions for Christmas bonuses, 13th month pay and other benefits for up to P30,000. Any amount higher is subjected to tax.

The bill now awaits action at the Senate, where a similar bill has been filed by Senator Ralph Recto.

Middle-class families to benefit

Middle-class families are expected to take home P25,600 every Christmas and would gain most from an imminent legislation freeing employees’ 13th-month pay and bonuses up to P70,000 from income tax, House Deputy Majority Leader and Makati City Rep. Mar-Len Abigail Binay, one of the principal authors of the bill, told a newspaper.

Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte had agreed to push for the enactment of the bill when they met in February to identify high-priority measures, according to Binay.

Marikina City Rep. Miro Quimbo, House ways and means committee chairman, sees the bill getting approved by the end of the year.

Binay’s House Bill 2835 actually proposes a higher P75,000 tax exemption cap on bonuses, but the Quimbo version of the bill presented a lower limit of P70,000.

“The Senate version of the bill, introduced by Recto, also proposes a P75,000 ceiling, so we may still end up with the bigger cap,” Binay said.

Opposition

However, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima warned against passing such bill, pointing out that if the proposed measure is passed into law, the government would lose between P40 to P60 billion in revenues.

“That’s equivalent to our CCT (Conditional Cash Transfer) program. That’s why if, for example, they will reduce revenue from income tax, then they should give us more administrative capacity to broaden the tax base or adjust exemptions, such as those not covered by VAT (value added tax), to balance gain and loss,” he said.

Sec. Purisima earlier said that a “holistic review” of the country’s tax structure is needed to ensure that any deduction in the taxes of workers will not hamper the government’s ability to fund programs.

The goal, Purisima said, was to shore up the tax effort to 16 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of the Aquino Administration’s term in 2016, from the current 13.5%.

“It’s important not to touch the tax structure on a piece-meal approach. There should be a holistic review. That’s why we are working with Congress to make sure that our tax structure is one that is equitable and buoyant,” he said.

Also, Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) Commissioner Kim Henares said the BIR had no means of recovering the revenue it would lose if the tax-exemption ceiling on bonuses is increased.

“If the take-home pay of workers from bonuses is increased, they spend it on items we can’t tax, such as vacations or school tuition fees. Where then can we recover the taxes we’ll lose?” she asked as quoted by a GMA Network report.

Henares warned the Philippine economy might suffer from a credit downgrade if tax exemptions are increased.

While the BIR is ready to implement HB 4970 if it becomes a law, Henares said its effects on the economy should be clear for lawmakers and the public.

“We don’t have problems implementing the law as long as it’s clear what the consequences are. If the effects I mentioned [such as a drop in credit rating] happens, then they shouldn’t blame us. Walang sisihan,” she said.

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Metro Manila gov’t employees to adopt four-day workweek

Saturday, 27 September 2014 | Written by
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dswdncrNon-frontline government employees in Metro Manila may soon enjoy three days of no work.

The Civil Service Commission (CSC) has issued a resolution allowing government offices in the National Capital Region (NCR) to adopt a four-day work week.

The resolution was filed last September 8 in a bid to “contribute” in lessening the volume of traffic brought about by major infrastructure projects, according to an online news story.

The new scheme, which “may be implemented on a voluntary basis,” reminded government agencies in Metro Manila that their employees may hold office either from Tuesday to Friday or from Monday to Thursday, from 8am to 7pm – extended to 10 hours with an hour-long lunch break. This is to remain consistent with the required 40 work hours a week for employees, the resolution added.

The CSC, in the accompanying guidelines, said it also “encourages” the implementation of the new scheme to increase efficiency among employees and the organization, as well as to promote work-life balance and “enhance engagement, morale, and productivity.”

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), through its chairman Francis Tolentino supported the resolution “because it bolsters the collaborative efforts of the government and the private sector to exhaust all possible means to ease traffic congestion.”

Meanwhile, Malacañang said it is studying CSC’s resolution.

“It is now submitted to one of the deputy executive secretaries for study,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said as quoted in another online report.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) said a four-day workweek would allow workers to save on transport costs, reduce stress, and become more productive.

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Perks, perils of shorter workweeks

New Economics Foundation, a think tank based in the United Kingdom, has long called for shorter and more flexible hours of paid work.

According to the group, “any move towards a shorter working week would need to be implemented gradually, alongside efforts to strengthen wage levels across the economy.” But as long as that’s understood, there are clear benefits for the environment, economy and society, as enumerated in their blog post:

  1.  Smaller carbon footprint: Countries with shorter average working hours tend to have a smaller ecological footprint. Moving out of the fast lane would take us away from the convenience-led consumption that is damaging our environment, and leave time for living more sustainably.
  2.  A stronger economy: If managed properly, a move towards a shorter working week would improve social and economic equality, easing our dependence on debt-fuelled growth – key ingredients of a robust economy. It would be competitive, too: the Netherlands and Germany have shorter work weeks than Britain and the US, yet their economies are as strong or stronger.
  3.  Better employees: Those who work less tend to be more productive hour for hour than those regularly pushing themselves beyond the 40 hours per week point.  They are less prone to sickness and absenteeism and make up a more stable and committed workforce.
  4.  Lower unemployment: Average working hours may have spiralled, but they are not spread equally across our economy – just as some find themselves working all hours of the day and night, others struggle to find work at all. A shorter working week would help to redistribute paid and unpaid time more evenly across the population.
  5.  Improved well-being: Giving everybody more time to spend as they choose would greatly reduce stress levels and improve overall well-being, as well as mental and physical health. Working less would help us all move away from the current path of living to work, working to earn and earning to consume. It would help us all to reflect on and appreciate the things that we truly value in life.
  6.  More equality between men and women: Women currently spend more time than men doing unpaid work. Moving towards a shorter working week as the ‘norm’ would help change attitudes about gender roles,  promote more equal shares of paid and unpaid work, and help revalue jobs traditionally associated with women’s work.
  7.  Higher quality, affordable childcare: The high demand for childcare stems partly from a culture of long working hours which has spiraled out of control. A shorter working week would help mothers and fathers better balance their time, reducing the costs of full-time childcare. As well as bringing down the cost of childcare, working fewer hours would give parents more time to spend with their children. This opportunity for more activities, experiences and two-way teaching and learning would have benefits for mothers and fathers, as well as their children.
  8.  More time for families, friends and neighbors:  Spending less time in paid work would enable us to spend more time with and care for each other – our parents, children, friends and neighbors – and to value and strengthen all the relationships that make our lives worthwhile and help to build a stronger society.
  9.  Making more of later life: A shorter and more flexible working week could make the transition from employment to retirement much smoother, spread over a longer period of time.  People could reduce their hours gradually over a decade or more.  Shifting suddenly from long hours to no hours of paid work can be traumatic, often causing illness and early death.
  10.  A stronger democracy: We’d all have more time to participate in local activities, to find out what’s going on around us, to engage in politics, locally and nationally, to ask questions and to campaign for change.

On the other hand, Richard Eisenberg, a contributor for Forbes.com argued, “No matter how you structure a four-day workweek, though, your job needs to get done – either by you or by you and someone working the fifth day.”

However, Jessica DeGroot, founder of the Third Path Institute based in the United States, said she does not “believe the majority of workplaces are supportive of four-day workweeks.”

She cited two reasons:

1. Strong organizational norms on who gets ahead at work. DeGroot says managers tend to promote staffers who “put work first,” which typically means showing up every weekday.

2. Four-day workweeks add complexity to managers’ jobs. “It’s much easier to say to everyone, ‘Come in at the same time every day and work long hours,’” she says.

Images from dswd.gov.ph. Some rights reserved.

 

Month-long free anti-measles vaccination for children ongoing

Wednesday, 10 September 2014 | Written by

Parents nationwide are encouraged to bring their newborn babies and children age one to five years old, regardless of vaccination history, to local health centers to avail of the free vaccination against measles, rubella and polio for the whole month of September.

The Department of Health (DOH), through its Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), aims to “ensure that infants/children and mothers have access to routinely recommended infanthood/child vaccines.” To realize this, the program seeks to “reduce the morbidity and mortality among children against the most common vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Specifically, EPI aims to achieve the following:

1.   To immunize all infants/children against the most common vaccine-preventable diseases.

2.   To sustain the polio-free status of the Philippines.

3.   To eliminate measles infection (find out what is measles and how one can avoid it here.

4.   To eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus

5.   To control diphtheria, pertussis, hepatitis b and German measles.

6.   To prevent extra pulmonary tuberculosis among children.

Compared to other vaccine-preventable diseases, measles and rubella continue to be a threat to Filipino children. The DOH-National Epidemiology Center reported that a total of 44,666 suspect measles cases have been reported nationwide from Jan. 1 to July 5 this year. Of these, 16,214 (36 percent) were confirmed. Unfortunately, 91 percent of those with confirmed measles have already died.

Last January, DOH declared an ‘outbreak’ of measles in Metro Manila since the number of cases shot up when compared to similar cases in 2012, triggering emergency vaccination drives in outbreak areas. Health officials even expressed frustration over the low vaccination coverage in some areas during the imposition of the outbreak.

EPI, which happens every three years, ensures that all children would be vaccinated by mobilizing health workers in all local health centers in the country to administer the free vaccination, be it routine or supplemental. The country must achieve at least 95 percent of all their babies and children being immunized to be considered a success.

To strengthen the program, Republic Act 10152, or a law which authorizes mandatory immunization activities for all Filipino babies and children, was enacted.

This year, about 11,000 nurses had been added to help present health workers in conducting the month-long immunization program, which would target about 13 million Filipino babies and children, according to report. EPI is also called locally as “Iligtas sa Tigdas ang ‘Pinas” (Save the Philippines from Measles).

“These nurses—who are trained vaccinators—are now deployed all over the country to help inform parents and guardians that no child and infant should die of a vaccine-preventable disease,” said DOH Undersecretary Janette Garin in a press conference last week. “Together with our partners in the barangays (communities), we will try to compel all parents and guardians to proceed to the nearest health center to avail the free vaccination.”

The campaign, which will run for the whole month of September, aims to protect about 13 million Filipino newborns to below 5 years old against measles and rubella (German measles), and 11 million against polio.

DOH Assistant Secretary Dr. Eric Tayag said in a gathering last year that the budget for EPI would be worth P3.4 billion.

Meanwhile, an  said debunking myths about measles and improving vaccine coverage are key objectives of DOH for this year’s month-long vaccination, according to a DOH official.

Dulce Elfa, national nurse coordinator for the Expanded Immunization Program, said that part of the improved coverage will involve the assessment of puroks (villages) once vaccinations are finished at local health centers.

More than 20 households in high-risk areas, including slums, areas with outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, and disaster-hit areas, will determine the need for house-to-house campaigns, the story added.

“In that RCA [rapid coverage assessment], dun po makikita kung may missed child… lahat po ng batang nabakunahan lalagyan ng indelible ink. Once they find a missed child, that’s the time health workers will conduct the mop-up,” explained Elfa in the story, noting that parents still need to bring their children to health centers for the drive.

On the other hand, Floro Orato, DOH-Region 2 health education and promotion officer, said needle vaccinations may scare off misinformed citizens due to prior experiences.

“Because of the advancement of technology, hindi na dapat gawing panakot sa bata yung injection. ‘Yun ang kinakatanda ng mga nanay, mga magulang, kaya takot silang matusukan ang kanilang anak,” he said.

Education is also critical in informing anti-vaccine groups, as well as indigenous people, who are part of the DOH’s high-risk groups, the same report added.

‘Shortage’ of HIV drugs a “life and death situation” – group

Monday, 8 September 2014 | Written by

Filipinos positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) seem to be in limbo after news broke out about additional supplies of drugs that help slow the progress of the disease being held up by the national customs agency.

 sent by a group named The Project Red Ribbon Care Management Foundation, Inc. to Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Enrique Ona last September 2 said that HIV-positive patients would npt be able to avail of of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) if the shipment containing about 1,000 boxes of ARV drugs would be released by September 5. The group even described the problem as a “life and death situation and a social concern”.

The group explained “the delay in the shipment has caused [the AIDS Research Group of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM-ARG)] to provide their clients only half a bottle of the ARV cocktails every two weeks, instead of the normal three bottles of ARV cocktails every quarter.” The group in its letter added RITM-ARG had to lend their ARV stocks to HIV treatment centers in Metro Manila and some provinces for the last two weeks prior to the letter due to the shortage.

As of this writing, no update has been published regarding the issue.

For its part, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) said the drug shipment had no formal import entry and the tax and duties were not paid, that was why the antiretroviral medicines have been in storage since August at the Paircargo warehouse in Parañaque City.

“How can [the drug shipment] be put on hold by Customs if the import entry was only filed [on Sept. 3]?” Charo Logarta-Lagamon, BOC spokesperson, said in an interview.

She said the BOC was still waiting for the payment of the taxes from the Department of Health (DOH) for its importation of antiretroviral drugs.

Importation taxes of the drugs, which came from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) office in Denmark and delivered to the country in two batches on August 2 and 14, would cost about P5 million.

As soon as DOH is able to submit required document and pay duties and taxes, it could have the drugs after only “several hours,” Logarta said.

She added that there is no exemption to paying taxes on the imported products even if the transaction was made through two government agencies.

“We will make sure [the drugs] will be cleared. This is a normal thing. We don’t want to give special treatment because it is a government agency [that is a party to the transaction],” Logarta said, referring to the DOH.

BOC Commissioner John Philip Sevilla explained that the general rule states that the drugs will not be released unless importers filed the necessary documents and paid the necessary taxes.

Meanwhile, a newspaper story said at 1 p.m. on September 3, the DOH filed the documents with the BOC so that the anti-retroviral drugs for HIV victims will be released.

Ona, in a statement on September 3, said the drugs will be released by batch.

“These drugs will be available to patients under the DOH HIV treatment program,” Ona said. “Currently, enough supplies are available for these patients even as DOH awaits the release of those drugs now at BOC.”

“Let me underscore that the Department of Health looks into the welfare of the people living with HIV (PLHIV), together with other HIV advocates and supporters,” Ona added, saying further the move is “clearly part of our pursuit to attain the MDGs in health and Kalusugan Pangkalahatan.”

The issue surfaced amid the continuous rise in the number of HIV-infected Filipinos. Based on DOH data, 585 more Filipinos had become HIV-positive in July, making the running total of HIV-infected Filipinos this year to 3,399.

‘Cartel’ caused “shocking” spike in garlic prices – gov't report

Friday, 5 September 2014 | Written by

Instead of the perceived shortage of supply, a ‘cartel’ or certain individuals or groups connived with some government officials to control the importation of garlic and manipulate prices, thus causing the “shocking” spike in the prices of garlic in Metro Manila.

A 32-page report drafted by the Office for Competition (OFC) of the Department of Justice (DOJ) found out that there was no shortage of garlic supply and that the National Garlic Action Team under the Department of Agriculture (DA) should be abolished for being “unnecessary, unhelpful” and for allegedly contributing to the problem.

The DOJ recommended instead the creation of a “fair and transparent system that will allow competition in the garlic industry consistent with the dictates of economic justice,” an online news story added.

“The price of imported garlic, considering all incidental costs in its shipment, should not reach as high as P350 per kilo, even factoring in the increase in trucking charges and related costs,” said the DOJ-OFC report.

DOJ found that majority of the import permits for garlic were granted only to one preferred group of four individuals and allied interests through a web or series of dummy entities duly accredited by the Bureau of Plant Industry.

The DOJ said that a certain Lilia M. Cruz alias Leah Cruz cornered at least 75 percent of the total garlic importation in the country by virtue of such BPI import permits.

“Due to a cornering of supply, this group can dictate the high prices,” DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters.

The demand for garlic is largely supplied by imports—73 percent imports and 27 percent local produce. The importation process requires an import permit from the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI).

Another online news report quoted De Lima saying OFC has recommended, among others, the prosecution of the private individuals and public officials cited in the report, pending further investigation and evidence-gathering by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

“As directed by the President and after a comprehensive evaluation, the main finding can be summarized into 3 major points: 1) there was no shortage of supply and, in fact, there were more adequate stocks of garlic; 2) majority of the ‘import permits’ issued was granted only to one preferred group; and 3) due to a cornering of supply, this group can dictate the high prices,” De Lima said.

De Lima added: “The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI)…will gather further evidence to prosecute the personalities in the Report, as well as the BPI officials who may have been in collusion with them, with the end in view of filing the appropriate charges.”

According to the same news report, the OFC report presents the following findings, to be endorsed to the President and other concerned agencies for consideration:

1.       BPI’s primary mandate is to restrict or control the importation into the Philippines of plant products, which could be the source of plant pests and, for the purpose, to issue Plant Quarantine Clearance. The BPI has no authority to utilize the Plant Quarantine Clearance as effectively an import permit and allocate the volume of garlic to be imported;

2.       The lack of clear-cut guidelines and established procedures in determining the allocation of import permits has made the BPI system prone to partiality, manipulation and collusion. The flawed permit system abetted the establishment of a garlic cartel, possibly with the collusion of some BPI and DA officials;

3.       Importation of garlic in the country is controlled mainly by at least 4 known individuals and allied interests through a web or series of dummy entities duly accredited by the BPI. In particular, a person named Lilia M. Cruz aka Leah Cruz, cornered at least 75% of the total garlic importation in the country by virtue of such import permits; and

4.       The price of imported garlic, considering all incidental costs in its shipment, should not reach as high as P350/kilo, even factoring in the increase in trucking charges and related costs.

scared consumers in Metro Manila in June. Garlic prices shoot up to as high as . Prices eventually went down to at least P120 by the last week of July.

Previously, the Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture chaired by Sen. Cynthia Villar in its hearing in early July speculated such manipulation in garlic prices, and slammed DA and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for their failure to provide consumer protection.

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2nd Filipino infected with MERS-CoV in Saudi

Thursday, 4 September 2014 | Written by
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mers cov WHOAnother Filipino health worker infected with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) arrived in the Philippines last week.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona said in a press briefing on September 3 that two female nurses from Dammam, Saudi Arabia, arrived in the Philippines via Saudia Airlines flight SV870 on August 29. Health authorities from Saudi Arabia conducted a health check on the two nurses on August 25, and one of the nurses tested positive for MERS.

It would be the second case since last April, when a 45-year old Filipino health worker also got infected with the virus after attending to a MERS-infected patient who eventually died. He was later found negative of the virus.

“Both of them [are] working in the same hospital,” an online news story quoted Ona.Tinesting sila kasi nga sa hospital where they work, mayroong nagkaroon ng MERS Coronavirus.”

The nurses’ supervisor based in Saudi Arabia relayed the news to one of the nurses, who in turn informed the Department of Health (DOH) early morning Tuesday, September 2.

Later identified as “AP”, the nurse who tested positive, a 37-year-old Filipina from General Santos City and was previously attending to MERS-infected patients in a provincial hospital in Saudi Arabia, was located Tuesday in South Cotabato and was already admitted at the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC). Her specimen was sent to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) for further testing and confirmation. Before going back to the province, she first stayed with the other nurse’s family from August 29 to August 30.

The other nurse – a 49-year-old Filipina from Bulacan named “CB” – upon learning the medical results of her co-worker “AP”, sought medical assistance at the Lung Center of the Philippines along with her family. They were immediately tested, and results that came out Wednesday morning were all negative.

The MERS or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus is a highly fatal, influenza-like illness characterized by fever, cough, and often with diarrhea. (See related article)

As of July 23, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 837 laboratory-confirmed cases of infections, 291 of which resulted in death, worldwide.

Meanwhile, DOH spokesman DR. Lyndon Lee Suy said “AP” was still asymptomatic when she was admitted to the hospital.

Ona said “AP” is presently confined at SPMC along with her family, which was placed under close observation.

“Dinala na sila kahapon sa [SPMC] at pinadala na for testing ang throat swab and we should know result mamayang gabi [evening of September 4],” said Ona in another online news story. He added DOH is making confirmatory test on her since she was tested MERS-positive in Saudi Arabia, and has asked her family to be isolated in the meantime.

If tested positive, the patients will have to remain in the hospital until they are tested negative of the virus.

DOH officials also said it had started tracing and contacting the passengers who were on the same flights with “AP”.

“If they are one of those who boarded that plane, they should submit a laboratory check up for MERS-CoV,” Bureau of Quarantine director Dr. Emmanuel Labella said in a television report.

After her flight on board Saudia Airlines flight SV870 to Manila on August 29, she then flew to General Santos City via Cebu Pacific flight J997 on September 2.

Meanwhile, an official of DOH in the Zamboanga region said it is “not letting its guards down” amid the possible entry of MERS-CoV and Ebola viruses in the country.

Dr. Venus Fortuna, DOH-Region 9 infectious disease unit chief, told a newspaper DOH has “been conducting workshops to public hospitals in the region to make them prepare for the infection control through personal protection and equipment.”

Fortuna said the preparation of against MERS-CoV is being done with the expected return of more than 2,000 Filipino-Muslims pilgrims who will join the hajj or pilgrimage this month in Mecca.

She said the international airport in Manila will be monitored upon the return of the pilgrims.

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