5.4 quake hits northern Mindoro, other parts of Luzon

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A 5.4 magnitude quake struck 19 kilometers northeast of Looc on Lubang Island in Occidental Mindoro at 9:50 p.m. on October 19 and was felt in a large area of Luzon, including in seven cities of Metro Manila.

There were no immediate reports of damage or injury from the offshore quake that occurred at a depth of 100 kilometers.

It was felt at Intensity V in the neighboring city of Batangas, Intensity IV in Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro, Tagaytay City, and in the Metro Manila cities of Mandaluyong, Makati, Pasay, Parañaque and Muntinlupa.

Intensity III hit Clark in Pampanga, General Trias and Bacoor in Cavite, Malolos and Obando in Bulacan, Agoncillo and Talisay in Batangas, Quezon City and Taguig City.

Intensity II was felt in Pateros in Manila, Antipolo City and in Lucban, Quezon

The Philippines sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where continental plates collide causing frequent seismic and volcanic activity.

Lando weakens

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Slow-moving Typhoon Lando has further weakened as it exited the landmass of Ilocos Norte, the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration.

As of 10 p.m. on October 19, Lando was located 45 kilometers west-northwest of Laoag City, Ilocos Norte. It has maximum sustained winds of 95 kilometers per hour near the center and gusts of up to 120 kph.

It was moving north northeast at six kph.

Signal No. 2 was raised in Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra, Apayao and Northern Cagayan including Calayan and Babuyan group of Islands.

Signal No. 1 was raised in La Union, Pangasinan, Ifugao, Benguet, Batanes, Isabela, Rest of Cagayan, Nueva Vizcaya, Mt, Province and Kalinga.

The estimated rainfall amount is from heavy to intense within the 600 km diameter of the severe tropical storm.

Fisherfolk are advised not to venture out over the seaboards of Luzon and Visayas.
Storm surge may reach to a maximum of up to two meters in the provinces affected by the severe tropical storm.

Forecast positions

• 24 hour (tomorrow evening): 115 km West of Calayan, Cagayan
• 48 hour (Wednesday evening): 90 km Southwest of Itbayat, Batanes
• 72 hour (Thursday evening): 80 km North Northwest of Itbayat, Batanes
• 96 hour (Friday evening): 225 km North of Itbayat, Batanes
• 120 hour (Saturday evening): 390 km North of Itbayat, Batanes

PH wants Asean position on China naval drills

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MANILA–The Philippines wants Southeast Asian nations to discuss China’s proposal of holding naval drills with the Association of Southeast Asian Nation countries in the South China Sea.

“The Philippine position will be discussed in Asean. Hintayin na lang po natin ‘yung magiging discussion na ito,” Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said when asked to comment on China’s proposal.

China’s defense minister said on Friday he was willing to hold joint drills in the disputed South China Sea with Southeast Asian countries to prevent accidental encounters and for the effective conduct of search and rescue operations.

China’s relations with several Southeast Asian countries, especially the Philippines and Vietnam, have soured in recent years because of the Asian giant’s assertive posture in the region.

China has overlapping claims with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea, which is a major sea lane for trade.

As to the meeting of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin with the representative of China and the improving relations between the two countries, Valte reiterated the multifaceted relations of China and the Philippines despite their differences in the South China Sea issue.

“We have always maintained that our relationship with China is multifaceted—meaning, maraming level, maraming pinag-uusapan,” Valte said.

“At naniniwala naman tayo na kahit mayroong sigalot involving our neighbor, we will always endeavor to do well and to deepen the other facets of our relationship,” she added.

“Our lines of communication have always been open when it comes to discussing the other facets of our relationship,” Valte said.

Valte also commented on the plan of the US to fly surveillance planes in the South China Sea to insist freedom of navigation saying it’s up to the US to carryout such military activities.

The Philippines has no right to dictate on what another country wishes to do on a particular situation, she said.

Valte emphasized however that freedom of navigation and regional stability must be maintained in the area because a good bulk of world trade passes through that region.

“It is important that parties are free to pass through without any intimidation or harassment, and everyone follows international law,” she said.

29 provinces under storm warning signals

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Public storm warning signals have been raised in 29 provinces in Luzon  as Typhoon Lando continued to move west-northwest at five kilometers per hour, the Philippines Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration.

At 10 a.m. today, October 18, Lando was located in the vicinity of Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija carrying maximum sustained winds of 150 kph and gusts of up to 185 kph.

Below were the areas placed under storm signals:

Signal No. 3
Aurora,
Quirino
Nueva Vizcaya
Nueva Ecija
Benguet
Ifugao
Mountain Province
Kalinga
La Union
Pangasinan

Signal No. 2
Cagayan, including Calayan and Babuyan Group of Islands
Isabela
Abra
Apayao
Ilocos Norte
Ilocos Sur
Zambales
Bataan
Tarlac
Pampanga
Bulacan
Rizal
Northern Quezon, including Polilo islands
Metro Manila

Signal No. 1
Batanes
Cavite
Laguna
Batangas
Rest of Quezon

Aquino declares holidays for 2016

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President Benigno Aquino declared 21 special and regular holidays for 2016.

Through Proclamation No. 1105, Aquino declared the following as holidays:

Regular Holidays

  • New Year’s Day 1 January (Friday)
  • Maundy Thursday 24 March
  • Good Friday 25 March
  • Araw ng Kagitingan 9 April (Saturday)
  • Labor Day 1 May (Sunday)
  • Independence Day 12 June (Sunday)
  • National Heroes Day 29 August (Last Monday of August)
  • Bonifacio Day 30 November (Wednesday)
  • Christmas Day 25 December (Sunday)
  • Rizal Day 30 December (Friday)

Special (Non-Working) Days

  • Chinese New Year 8 February (Monday)
  • EDSA People Power Revolution 25 February
  • Black Saturday 26 March
  • Ninoy Aquino Day 21 August (Sunday)
  • All Saints Day 1 November (Tuesday)

Additional special (non-working) days

  • 2 January (Saturday)
  • 31 October (Monday)
  • 24 December (Saturday)
  • 31 December (Saturday)

The declaration of Eid’l Fitr and Eidul Adha as national holidays will be issued “after the approximate dates of the Islamic holidays have been determined in accordance with the Islamic calendar (Hijra) or the lunar calendar, or upon Islamic astronomical calculations, whichever is possible or convenient,” the proclamation said.

Aquino appoints new DILG chief

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President Benigno Aquino has appointed Western Samar Representative Mel Senen Sarmiento as the new secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

Sarmiento replaced  Mar Roxas, who resigned last July after being announced by the ruling Liberal Party as its standard bearer.

In his farewell speech last September 11, Roxas expressed his appreciation for Sarmiento, who was responsible for transforming Calbayog City, where the Western Samar representative earlier served as mayor for three terms, into one of the most progressive cities in the country.

“He was the secretary general of the League of Cities. He was a three-term city mayor, transforming Calbayog into a very progressive city in Western Samar,” Roxas said about his successor.

“His integrity, nearly 20 years of public service, ni minsan, hindi nadapuan ng kahit anong mantsa, kahit anong anomalya ang kanyang pangalan. So may integrity, may competence, and of course, may experience,” Roxas continued.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, meanwhile, described Sarmiento as a quiet leader who is not hungry for publicity, a trait which he shares with Roxas. Both Belmonte and Sarmiento emphasized teamwork and unity, especially in working with local government officials, noting that nation building and inclusive goals cannot be achieved if not united.

“However good we are, without teamwork na nag-iisa tayo, ‘di natin nagagamit ang lakas ng lahat,” said Belmonte.

For his part, Sarmiento praised the reforms that Roxas initiated during his term, particularly the anti-poverty initiatives such as Bottom Up Budgeting (BUB).

“Talagang napakasuwerte ng mga local government unit. Parang ibinalik ni Secretary Mar ang original na pangalan ng departamentong ito, which used to be Local Government and Community Development. Through the BUB, naibalik ‘yung ‘community development,’” he said about his predecessor.

Sarmiento also expressed his gratitude to Aquino, who handpicked him for the post.

“I thank President Aquino for giving me this opportunity to continue the reforms being implemented now… many of which were among those that we usually talked about with the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo when we were still city mayors,” Sarmiento said, referring to the beloved Naga City leader who passed away in 2012.

Sarmiento plans to focus on the existing projects of DILG to make sure that the reforms set by Roxas can be sustained. He also promised that his new position will not affect the integrity of the upcoming 2016 elections.

‘Super bridge’ that will link Mindoro, Batangas on government’s list of priority projects

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A 15-kilometer proposed “super bridge” project that will connect Mindoro Island to mainland Luzon is now on the list of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) priority projects.

The project, estimated to cost about P18 billion, was based on a proposal submitted to the Department of Public Works and Highways by Oriental Mindoro Governor Alfonso Umali Jr.

The bridge is deemed to “maximize the current position of Mindoro Island as ‘Luzon’s Gateway to the South’ to the Island Provinces of Visayas and Mindanao Region through opening roads to faster and efficient transport of goods and people along the existing Nautical Highway,” the DPWH said in a project description.

Construction is expected to last for five years.

Umali, who is the president of the League of Provinces of the Philippines, said that San Miguel Corporation has expressed interest in building the bridge under the public-private partnership venture.

The bridge will cover the 8.5-kilometer distance from Mindoro Island to Verde Island and 6.5-kilometer distance from Verde Island to Batangas, over a 10m – 300m water depth.

It will have two or four lanes and can withstand strong and high speed winds.

The provincial government believes the “super bridge” will cater to the increasing demand for expansion and optimization of basic industries or utilities like water, power, oil, and telecommunication.

It is also expected to boost agriculture and ecotourism.

Amid quit calls, Customs, MMDA chiefs still enjoy Aquino’s trust, says Palace

President Benigno S. Aquino III delivers his speech during the project briefing on the major infrastructure projects in the Province of Cebu at the Equipment Management Division of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Region VII in Sergio Osmena Boulevard corner V. Sotto, Cebu City on Monday (August 24, 2015). (Photo by Marcelino Pascua / Malacañang Photo Bureau / PCOO)

President Benigno Aquino III. (Marcelino Pascua / Malacañang Photo Bureau)

Malacañang on Wednesday, August 26, said President Benigno Aquino trusts Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino.

Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said that despite calls for Lina and Tolentino to resign, these two officials enjoy the President’s trust.

Lina’s decision on the random inspection of balikbayan boxes drew the ire of the public, especially overseas Filipino workers, while the MMDA head is being criticized for the horrendous traffic in the metropolis.

“Sa aking pagkabatid, patuloy na nagtitiwala ang Pangulo sa kakayahan nilang dalawa,” Secretary Coloma said.

“Sina Commissioner Lina at Chairman Tolentino ay mayroong mabibigat na responsibilidad na sinisikap nilang gampanan sa pinakamahusay na paraan,” he further said.

“Sa pagganap ng tungkulin, hindi lahat ng kanilang pinapahayag ay sinasang-ayunan ng mga naaapektuhan o maaaring maapektuhan ng kanilang mga desisyon o aksyon. Hindi naman makatuwiran na tuwing may hindi pagsangayon, hihilingin kaagad ang pagbibitiw ng mga opisyal na tulad nila.”

Tolentino is believed to be running for a senatorial post under the administration ticket in next year’s elections.

Palace open to proposed reduction in income tax rate

President Benigno S. Aquino III is received by PMS Head Julia Andrea Abad upon arrival for the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) 45th Anniversary at the Reception Hall of the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City on Thursday (August 20, 2015). With theme: “Sustaining the Tradition of Excellence in Public Service.” also in photo are DND Sec. Voltairte Gazmin and PCOO Sec. Herminio Sonny Coloma. (Photo by Benhur Arcayan/ Malacañang Photo Bureau)

President Benigno Aquino is with Presidential Management staff head Julia Andrea Abad, DND Sec. Voltairte Gazmin and PCOO Sec. Herminio Sonny Coloma. (Photo by Benhur Arcayan/ Malacañang Photo Bureau)

Malacañang on Wednesday, August 26, said it is open to proposals to reduce the country’s personal income tax rate, said to be the highest in Southeast Asia.

“Government is open to consider proposals on changing the income tax rates and continues to work with Congress on this matter. The Department of Finance (DOF) is advocating a comprehensive review of the existing taxation system, so that needed reforms may be instituted,” Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. told reporters during the daily press briefing.

“It is also important to identify new and additional sources of tax revenues that will offset any reduction in collection of income taxes,” Coloma added.

He noted that the finance department will make an extensive review of the existing tax policy.

“According to (Finance) Secretary (Cesar) Purisima, and I quote, ‘The DOF prefers a holistic review of the tax structure so as not to put our fiscal gains and fiscal health at risk,’” said Coloma.

Senator Francis Escudero earlier made an appeal to the President to certify as urgent a bill lowering individual income tax, saying this is his opportunity to bring down one of the highest income tax in the region.

According to reports, the Philippines’ personal income tax rate stands at 32 percent, compared to Thailand’s 10 percent, Singapore’s 2 percent, Vietnam’s 20 percent, Malaysia’s 11 percent, Cambodia’s 20 percent, and Laos’ 12 percent.

Long journey to Mapun and creepy stories of aswang

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Fluid Conversation
By Roy Dimayuga

When I got an invitation from Dr. Sukarnu Asri, provincial health officer of Tawi-Tawi, to travel with him to Mapun, I immediately said yes. He was organizing an annual medical mission and he wanted me to join as a development worker of the United Nations.

Mapun is the farthest municipality of Tawi-Tawi province in the southern Philippines and is nearer to Sandakan of Malaysia than to Bongao, the capital town of Tawi-Tawi. No UN staff has ever reached the island then. We have relied heavily on reports of local partners.

As I was preparing for the trip, I got tips from friends and acquaintances on what to expect in Mapun. And that include creepy stories surrounding Mapun. One of my friends warned that witchcraft is widely practiced in the area. Another tagged Mapun as the witchcraft capital of Mindanao where “aswang” or the Philippine version of ghosts abound. To avoid being victimized by witchcraft, they prodded me to bring garlic and alum. The garlic, they said, can ward off witches. I forgot to ask what the alum could do for me.

Another colleague reminded me to bring along a good number of bottled water and to avoid drinking water from the island or any other beverages being offered by the locals. A mere touch of the bottom of a drink, even if sealed, could poison me, he added.

Stories of aswang became more elaborate when we arrived in Mapun, especially at nighttime when we had nothing to do before going to bed. A local resident revealed she had seen one. Slightly taller than an average human, all black, and with flaming red eyes were her description of the aswang. Confirming its existence was another local who said that a week before we came, a man riding on board a motorcycle figured in a road mishap on seeing an aswang.

The next day, I visited Barangay Tanduan where we have equipped a Barangay Health Station with birthing equipment. Over lunch, our conversation with BHWs and midwives drifted again to aswang. They told us that the aswang’s main target are pregnant women and those giving birth. A person suspected of being victimized by aswang is usually brought to the Jama Pangunguli (quack doctor) for the tawal-tawal (curing ritual). When left untreated, a person could die.

Reflecting on these stories of aswang with a reproductive health perspective in mind, I thought that the folk belief on aswang can somehow explain why many pregnant women and women giving birth die. Mapun is one of the municipalities in Tawi-Tawi with very high incidence of maternal mortality.

Maternal deaths are unpredictable and usually do not have symptoms before they occur, especially if a pregnant woman has not been attending pre-natal check ups. Convulsions that accompany the ecclampsia cases could be mistaken for a person being attacked by an aswang. Severe bleeding and obstructed placenta could also be seen as the workings of an aswang. With no access to emergency obstetric and newborn care (EmONC) facility, death is inevitable.

On a deeper analysis, the aswang stories also give us an idea that common people do recognize how vulnerable women are; be it during pregnancy or birthing. The fact that women are the preferred preys of the aswang speaks of their especial vulnerability.

Ordinary people, therefore, have inherent consciousness that pregnancy and delivery are extremely dangerous. And they do not take that sitting down. Sans health facilities that can handle emergency obstetric care complications, they have devised indigenous prevention and treatment to cheat deaths, which includes among others, arming themselves with garlic and other amulets, avoiding sacred areas at sacred times where the aswang is believed to be present, or consulting their Jama Pangunguli for indigenous remedies.

To my view, there is no need to dispel the aswang stories as a hoax. Instead, this belief system can be used as an entry point to explaining reproductive health, much in the same way that Senator Juan Flavier used papaya and other vegetables in educating couples on family planning during his early days as a doctor to the barrios.

Common people are aware that the power of amulets or Jama Pangunguli is not always enough to prevent pregnant women and those giving birth from dying. Reproductive health, like indigenous beliefs and practices, does affirm the inherent danger of pregnancy and delivery, necessitating adequate attention and care.

Reproductive health information and services offer to expand the options available for women. Regular pre-natal visits and vitamin supplementation during pregnancy work like a talisman but in a more intense manner. Skilled birth attendants are armed with modern knowledge and capability to prevent untimely deaths and can complement the works of Jama Pangunguli on pre- and post-natal rituals. In many ways, RH complements the works towards thwarting the ill motive of aswang to slaughter pregnant women and their babies.

Wild ideas these may be, but there is a real need to integrate reproductive health with the traditional view and belief systems of the people, like those in Mapun. Bringing reproductive health discourse to the common folks’ level of understanding is the key towards real RH and culture integration. To achieve that, we need to spend quality time and efforts to fully grasp the belief systems and indigenous practices of Filipinos. This is the area where ethnographic researches can play a pivotal role in furthering reproductive health. Unless we have real understanding of people’s culture  in our reproductive health programs, we cannot pursue real integration.

On our last night in Mapun, we heard dogs howling in chorus. The Mapun folks say dogs can sense and see the aswang. Others say canines can hear the wailing of the dead in hell, and when this happens it’s better to stay indoor.

At about 9:30 p.m., Dr. Sukarno Asri and Dr. Sangkula Laja were awakened by loud and successive tappings on the floor. The women  physicians staying in an adjacent room also heard the noise but simply ignored it. They just thought: How could someone be so insensitive to do carpentry works in the middle of the night!

They noticed though that the noise seemed to be coming underneath. Note: the district hospital we were staying was a single storey building. After the successive patters, they saw that the tiled floor suddenly cracked and water oozed through the fractures leaving the mattresses they laid on the floor drenched.

The following morning while we were having breakfast, they shared the bizarre story to us. Curious, some of us went to see their room. The floor tiles were noticeably pushed upward by some strong force from the ground. The cracks had even climbed the wall.

One local medical personnel concluded, “That’s undeniably a handiwork of aswang!”