Philippines Capital Reopens Despite Rise In COVID-19 Cases

Passengers board a train, usually packed during rush hour, with plastic sheets spacing out seats to ensure social distancing, in Manila on June 1, 2020. – Hordes of cars and workers poured into the Philippine capital on June 1 after its strict virus lockdown was eased despite a spike in new cases, but as the nation must revive its bruised economy. Ted ALJIBE / AFP.

 

Manila emerged on Monday from one of the world’s longest coronavirus lockdowns as the Philippines seeks to repair its badly damaged economy even as the number of new infections surges.

Streets in the capital were choked with traffic and limited public transport resumed as commuters flooded back to work in the city of 12 million after nearly three months of strict home quarantine.

Most businesses have been allowed to reopen in the city, but schools, bars, dine-in restaurants all remain shuttered.

“The virus is frightening but it’s either you die from the virus or you die from hunger,” salesman Himmler Gaston, 59, told AFP as he entered the train station where commuters had their temperatures checked.

The Philippines has so far reported 18,638 cases and 960 deaths, but experts fear limited testing means the true figures are likely much higher.

There has been a roughly 30 percent jump in new cases in the past week, which health officials said was mainly due to efforts to clear backlogs from laboratories as they boost testing.

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While public trains and buses resumed operations Monday, the country’s popular jeepney mini-buses have been ordered to stay off the road because of their cramped seating.

Normally packed train carriages had plastic sheets covering some seats and markers on the floor to ensure passengers kept their distance from each other.

Despite the risk of being exposed to the virus on his way to work, 27-year-old barista Paul Escala said the train was still safer than riding his bicycle.

“It’s safer here. If I’m taking the bike, I have two opponents: the virus and unruly motorists,” he said.

Quarantine measures to contain the virus vary across the Philippines, but the strictest and longest lockdown has been in Manila, the centre of the country’s outbreak.

It shut down in mid-March at about the same time hard-hit France and Spain issued their stay at home orders.

While those countries have steadily loosened their restrictions in recent weeks, Manila only started allowing outdoor exercise two weeks ago.

Even now children and the elderly have to stay home unless they are out getting essentials or headed to work.

The tough measures have hurt millions of workers in Manila, which accounts for more than a third of the country’s economic output.

Its reopening comes after figures showed the Philippines’ economy shrank 0.2 percent in the first three months of the year — the first contraction in more than 20 years.

The country’s economic pain will likely intensify as officials estimate hundreds of thousands of Filipino migrant workers will lose their jobs due to virus shutdowns around the world.

Their remittances account for a tenth of the Philippines’ gross domestic product, and have long served as an economic lifeline for a country where millions live in deep poverty.

AFP

Philippines Christmas Typhoon Death Toll Climbs To 41

 

The number of deaths from a powerful storm that hit the Philippines on Christmas has climbed to 41, authorities said Sunday, with tens of thousands still in evacuation centres.

Typhoon Phanfone left the Philippines on Saturday after devastating several islands in the central Visayas, including popular tourist destinations, but the extent of the damage continued to grow as assessments came in.

The death toll of 41 — up from 28 on Friday — included three boat crew who died after their vessel capsized due to strong winds, a policeman electrocuted by a toppled post, and a man struck by a felled tree.

“We’re hoping that there will be no more fatalities,” national disaster agency spokesman Mark Timbal told AFP, with authorities still searching for 12 people missing.

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The latest agency report showed over 1.6 million people were affected by the typhoon, which damaged over 260,000 houses and forced almost a hundred thousand people to flee to emergency shelters.

Many of the affected residents in the predominantly Catholic nation celebrated Christmas in evacuation centres, where they may have to stay until the New Year given the scale of destruction.

The government estimated that the storm has caused damage to agriculture and infrastructure worth $21 million.

Power lines and internet connections remain down in some areas after Phanfone’s powerful wind gusts of up to 200 kilometres (124 miles) per hour toppled electric posts and trees.

Typhoon Phanfone, locally called Ursula, is the 21st cyclone to hit the storm-prone Philippines, which is the first major landmass facing the Pacific typhoon belt.

Many of the storms are deadly, and they typically wipe out harvests, homes and infrastructure, keeping millions of people perennially poor.

Eight Die In Philippines After Drinking Coconut Wine

In this photo taken early December 23, 2019, residents who fell ill after drinking a coconut wine called “lambanog” sit as they wait for treatment at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila.Ted ALJIBE / AFP

 

 

Eight people died and hundreds were taken to hospitals in the Philippines after drinking coconut wine believed to contain high levels of methanol, authorities said Monday.

The victims all attended gatherings over the weekend in the town of Rizal, southeast of Manila, and complained of stomach pains after drinking the wine, known locally as “lambanog”.

Nine victims are in a critical condition, Jose Jonas Del Rosario, spokesman for the capital’s Philippine General Hospital, told AFP.

“We asked many of our doctors on holiday leave to report to work just to attend to the patients,” he said, adding that the need to treat large numbers who arrived with symptoms of alcohol poisoning meant other people were turned away.

In total, 300 victims were taken to hospitals. All drank the same brand of wine that had been bought in the area, police said.

The local government has imposed an immediate ban on the sale of the beverage, which is in high demand over the Christmas holidays.

Much of the coconut wine on the market is manufactured by locals in backyard operations. The government had previously warned against selling unregistered alcoholic beverages.

Del Rosario, a doctor, said one of the byproducts of coconut wine fermentation is methanol, which can cause blindness and death. Some manufacturers keep the methanol in because it means greater volume and more profit, he added.

Last year, more than 10 people died from drinking coconut wine, samples of which were found by the government regulator to have high methanol content.

Typhoon Kammuri Death Toll Hits 13 In Philippines

 

 

The number of people killed by Typhoon Kammuri’s pounding of the Philippines this week has hit 13, officials said Thursday, as authorities confirmed reports of storm-related deaths.

Kammuri’s fierce winds toppled trees and flattened flimsy homes across a swathe of the nation’s north on Tuesday, and forced a rare 12-hour shutdown of Manila’s international airport.

Authorities said on Wednesday one person had drowned while three died after being hit by trees and flying objects.

Disaster officials did not offer details on how the other victims died, but local police reports indicated some may have drowned or been crushed by trees.

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Mark Timbal, a spokesman for the national disaster agency, said no new bodies have been found but the death toll could rise as reports on the ground are verified.

“There is the possibility of an increase in the number, but we are hoping against it,” Timbal told AFP.

Hundreds of thousands of people living in exposed or low-lying areas were evacuated from their homes before Kammuri made landfall late Monday, which authorities said had saved lives.

Still the storm-damaged 135 schools and destroyed nearly 1,200 homes, with crop damage in the hardest-hit areas estimated to reach nearly $16 million.

The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, killing hundreds and putting people in disaster-prone areas in a state of constant poverty.

President Rodrigo Duterte is scheduled to visit on Thursday the Bicol region, a peninsula south of Manila which was hit hard by the typhoon.

Ninoy Aquino International Airport was closed half of Tuesday as a precaution, affecting over 500 flights, while roughly half the day’s programme at the Southeast Asian Games, hosted by Manila and nearby cities, had to be postponed.

Huge Saltwater Croc Kills Fisherman In Latest Attack On Philippine Island

This undated handout photo received on October 10, 2019 from the Mimaropa regional police shows Philippine police inspecting a 4.9-metre (16-foot) saltwater crocodile after it was killed.

 

A huge saltwater crocodile killed a Philippines fisherman after snatching him from his boat, local authorities said Thursday, the latest in a series of attacks terrorising a remote southern island.

The 20-year-old was taken by a 4.9-metre (16-foot) croc late Tuesday as he and a colleague sailed back to the island of Balabac after a day of fishing, regional police spokesman Socrates Faltado told AFP.

The next day residents found his body, still in the croc’s jaws, Faltado said.

They then used dynamite to kill it.

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A crocodile also killed a 10-year-old boy in the same area less than two months ago, according to Jovic Fabello, spokesman for a government council that oversees conservation efforts in Palawan, where Balabac is located.

And earlier this year a croc killed a 15-year old boy and a fisherman off the island of about 35,000 people.

Last year crocodiles killed two people around Balabac.

“We have to address the root cause of the incident, which is partly due to habitat destruction. The crocodiles have almost nowhere left to hide, and there is not enough food in their habitat,” Fabello said.

“It’s a competition for space because people don’t want to give in,” he added.

The local crocodile population might also have increased, he said.

The Palawan island group is known for its diversity of flora and fauna, but authorities are increasingly wary of its unchecked development.

Philippines Arrests 270 Chinese Citizens In Fraud Raid

 

 

Philippine police have arrested more than 270 Chinese nationals in a raid on a gang wanted over a vast investment fraud that cost victims in China millions of dollars, authorities said Friday.

Agents swooped on an office building in the capital Manila on Wednesday to take four suspects into custody in connection with the 100 million yuan ($14 million) scam, but stumbled upon many more.

“The operation then yielded the incidental arrest of 273 other Chinese nationals who were caught in the act of conducting illegal online operations,” immigration authorities said, without elaborating.

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Further checking revealed those suspects, who did not have proper papers to be in the Philippines, were also wanted by Chinese authorities over a large-scale investment scam.

A total of 277 people were taken into custody in the operation that Philippine officials carried out in conjunction with Chinese authorities.

The Philippines has seen a spike in the arrival of Chinese tourists and workers since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in mid-2016 and immediately set about warming relations with Beijing.

The influx has had a mixed impact in the Philippines, with authorities suspecting many of the arrivals are working illegally in the online gambling industry.

Amnesty Urges UN Probe Of ‘Systematic’ Philippine Drug War Killings

Butch Olano (L), Amnesty International section representative speaks during a press conference in Manila on July 8, 2019. Ted ALJIBE / AFP

 

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s narcotics crackdown has become a “systematic” campaign of abuses, Amnesty International alleged on Monday, urging the United Nations to launch a probe into thousands of killings.

The drug war is Duterte’s signature initiative and is heavily supported by many Filipinos, however the nightly killings by police have provoked international condemnation.

In its second report on the crackdown since 2016, Amnesty said targets, mostly poor people, are largely drawn from “drug watch lists”.

Those names are supplied by local officials who are “under immense pressure” from police to provide a steady stream of suspects, the London-based monitor said.

“Worse still, individuals on watch lists appear to be placed on them indefinitely, with no means of getting delisted, even after they have gone through drug treatment or stopped using drugs,” said the report.

Amnesty said it was impossible to determine how many people have been killed in the campaign, accusing Manila of “deliberate obfuscation and misinformation” that has left victims’ kin feeling helpless.

The government’s official toll is just over 5,300 suspects killed by police, but watchdogs say the true number is quadruple that.

“What we believe is most important, in assessing the current situation, is the systematic nature of the violations,” Amnesty’s East Asia director Nicholas Bequelin told AFP.

Amnesty said the press has lost interest in the killings while the government fails to investigate or provide adequate treatment programmes for drug users.

“It has had the effect of creating a climate of total impunity in the country, in which police and others are free to kill without consequence,” it said.

“There is sufficient evidence to conclude that crimes committed may constitute crimes against humanity,” the group added.

‘Failure of international community’

Amnesty said it investigated the deaths of 27 people over the past year in Bulacan, a province near Manila that has become “the country’s bloodiest killing field”.

Police broke down doors before shooting drug suspects inside and abducted others to be killed elsewhere, it alleged.

Police also tampered with crime scenes and fabricated their reports, planted evidence and stole from victims, it added.

“The failure of the international community to meaningfully address the serious human rights violations committed… has emboldened the government to carry out a wider crackdown on independent media, human rights defenders, and political activists,” the report said.

Amnesty called on the UN Human Rights Council to open an independent inquiry to “put an end to these crimes, and to provide justice and reparations for countless families and victims”.

The group’s appeal echoed a draft resolution proposed by Iceland at the UN rights council and backed mainly by Western nations.

With the council expected to vote on the document before ending its sessions on July 12, the Philippine government on Friday reiterated Duterte’s warning to back off.

“Any attempt… by any foreign country to interfere with how this government maintains its peace and order, not only is an affront to their intellect but an interference with the country’s sovereignty as well,” Duterte spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

AFP

Gunmen Attack Manila Hotel

Gun shots and explosions rang out from an entertainment resort in the Philippine capital Manila early on Friday and local media reported armed men were inside the complex.

Resorts World Manila said on social media it was in lockdown and the local fire department said a blaze was burning on the second floor of the building.

Military spokesman Restituto Padilla said the police were in control of the situation and the army was monitoring closely.

Witnesses who spoke to radio stations said several gunmen were seen in the complex. News channel ANC said there were two gunmen, wearing masks and black clothes.

The information could not be immediately verified.

A source at one of the resorts told Reuters that employees were being evacuated and declined to give more details.
No group has claimed responsibility.

Anti-APEC Protests Take Place In Manila

anti-apec-protest

A huge crowd of protesters have taken to the streets of the Manila, the Philippine capital, where leaders are attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) regional trade summit.

Hundreds of people from indigenous, student and labour groups clashed with Police, who deployed water cannon.

The anti-globalisation protesters are calling for APEC to be dismantled, accusing the trade bloc of taking advantage of poorer countries.

The summit has been overshadowed by territorial disputes over China’s activities in the South China Sea.

Leaders have also called for greater global anti-terror cooperation, following the Paris attacks.

South Korea Declares ‘De Facto End’ To MERS

MERSThe South Korean Government has declared a “de facto end” to the outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Prime Minister, Hwang Kyo-Ahn, on Tuesday, said that “there has been no new infections for 23 days”. Therefore, the public “can now be free from worry”.

The Prime Minister also apologised for the government’s much-criticised response to the virus, which had killed 36 people in the country.

“I ask the public to shake off all concerns over MERS and to resume normal daily activities, including economic, cultural, leisure and school activities”.

But the World Health Organization (WHO), said it is not yet declaring MERS officially over.

A spokeswoman in Manila, said the WHO requires 28 days without a new infection to make the announcement; twice the incubation period of the virus.

The outbreak also had a disastrous effect on the economy, with a 40 per cent drop in the number of foreign visitors to South Korea. At least 130,000 foreign tourists cancelled their travel plan to South Korea in June over MERS fear, according to government officials.

MERS was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

The disease is part of the corona virus family, which includes the common cold and SARS. It could cause such symptoms as fever, breathing problems, pneumonia and kidney failure.