Philippines Suspends Stock Market Trade Over Coronavirus Fears

Vehicles pile up at the boundary of Manila and the North Luzon Expressway Mindanao Avenue exit during rush hour in Manila on March 16, 2020, with temperature and identification checkpoints as part of measures to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. – The virus has upended society around the planet, with governments imposing restrictions rarely seen outside war-time, including the closing of borders, home quarantine orders and the scrapping of public events. Maria TAN / AFP.

 

The Philippines suspended trade on its local stock exchange Tuesday, becoming the first country to close its financial market over coronavirus fears.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday ordered most of the 55 million people on the main island of Luzon, which includes the capital Manila, to stay at home for the next month after social distancing measures failed to keep people away from one another.

Philippine Stock Exchange President Ramon Monzon told traders in a memo that trading is suspended starting Tuesday “until further notice” to move in step with Duterte’s order.

Monzon said the suspension was also “to ensure the safety of employees and traders in light of the escalating cases of the coronavirus disease”.

Confirmed cases in the Philippines have jumped to 142, with 12 deaths and the government has unveiled a 27.1 billion peso($526.6 million) package to fund hospitals fighting the virus and provide reprieve amid a slowdown in economic activity.

READ ALSO: Euro 2020 Fate To Be Decided As Coronavirus Threat Looms

The benchmark PSE index plunged 7.9 percent during shortened trading on Monday as investors reeled from the virus’ economic impact.

The suspension order came as stock markets and oil prices went into freefall after central banks’ fresh stimulus measures failed to dampen fears of the global pandemic.

Shares in Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index dropped by as much as 3.66 percent at Tuesday’s open before recovering about 70 minutes after the opening bell.

Overnight, Wall Street indices fell in their worst day since 1987, with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq dropping about 12 percent and the Dow sinking nearly 13 percent.

AFP

One Shot, 30 Taken Hostage In Philippine Mall Attack

Policemen subdue hostage-taker Archir Paray (obscured) after he surrendered outside a mall in Manila on March 2, 2020.  Ted ALJIBE / AFP

 

A sacked security guard who shot one person and took about 30 others hostage at a Manila shopping mall on Monday surrendered to authorities, ending a day-long standoff that terrified shoppers and drew a massive police response.

The guard walked out of the V-Mall, where he was allowed to speak briefly to the press before heavily armed officers tackled and arrested him.

He complained about being mistreated by his employers.

Hostages were also led out of the building, but police did not say whether any of them had been hurt nor the exact number caught up in the violence.

The drama started when the suspect shot a security guard, who was rushed to hospital in stable condition, said Francis Zamora, mayor of the San Juan City, which includes the mall.

Zamora told reporters the hostage-taker was upset after losing his job.

Authorities worked for hours to convince him to surrender, and later in the day held a press conference where company officers apologised for upsetting the suspect.

“I deeply regret my shortcomings,” one supervisor said.

“Because of this, I will resign from my post… to give way to a solution to our current problem.”

Police were in contact with the suspect for hours via a walkie talkie.

Philippine malls are centres of life that include everything from restaurants and shops, to churches and medical facilities. The building was full when the violence began.

Zamora said authorities believed there were “around 30” people held.

 Negotiations 

Witness John Paul Buenavista told AFP he saw a wounded person — believed to be a guard at the mall — being put into a wheelchair and whisked away.

“We heard three gunshots. Then we saw people running, saying they saw someone getting shot,” he said.

Manila was the site of a high-profile 2010 hostage-taking that ended with the deaths of eight Hong Kong tourists.

That day-long ordeal started when an ex-police officer, armed with an M-16 assault rifle, hijacked a bus near a popular tourist destination just a few blocks from police headquarters in a desperate bid to get his job back.

Negotiations broke down after nightfall and the ex-officer began shooting passengers, prompting commandos to storm the bus.

AFP

Philippine’s President Duterte Admits To Declining Health

This file photo taken on October 18, 2019 shows Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaking during a joint press conference with his Indian counterpart at the Malacanang Palace in Manila. Ted ALJIBE / AFP
This file photo taken on October 18, 2019 shows Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaking during a joint press conference with his Indian counterpart at the Malacanang Palace in Manila. Ted ALJIBE / AFP

 

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has admitted that life is taking its “toll on my health”, as speculation swirls over the 74-year-old’s prolonged absences from the public eye.

Duterte cut short a trip to Japan last month because he was suffering from “unbearable pain” in his spine after a recent motorcycle accident, and has not spoken publicly for two weeks.

The accident came just 10 days after he revealed in early October that he has myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease that causes muscle weakness and can result in drooping eyelids and blurred vision.

“If you ask me… ‘Are you in the best of health?’ Of course not,” Duterte told GMA News television in an interview on Friday.

“All of the ailments, I have them because I am already old… Life has begun to take its toll on my health,” said Duterte.

The recent incidents have intensified speculation about his capacity to lead, although his spokesman Salvador Panelo has repeatedly said there is no need to issue medical bulletins on the president’s health.

Duterte has opted to work from his hometown Davao City, on the southern island of Mindanao, over the past week to get some rest, his spokesman has said.

The oldest Philippine leader elected, Duterte last week passed on the running of his signature anti-narcotics crackdown that has claimed thousands of lives to Vice-President Leni Robredo, an arch-critic.

Duterte has not given public remarks since he attended a regional summit in Thailand that ended on November 4, shortly after he cut short his trip to Japan, having attended the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Naruhito with the aid of a cane.

Duterte had also previously said he suffers from migraines and Buerger’s disease, which is characterised by inflammation of blood vessels, usually due to smoking.

The Philippine constitution requires the handover of power to the vice president if the leader cannot perform his duties due to disability, resignation, or death.

 

AFP

Philippine Drug War Critic Vows End To ‘Senseless’ Killing

Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a speech. / AFP

 

The vocal critic that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has named to a lead role in his deadly drug war called on Friday for revamping the crackdown and ending its “senseless” killing.

Opposition leader Leni Robredo has regularly attacked Duterte’s internationally condemned initiative, prompting the president to appoint her this week to a post supervising it.

Critics have warned that the job to co-lead the committee overseeing the crackdown may be a trap to tarnish Robredo, but she has voiced hope that it is an opening for change.

“It’s time to think about a new campaign which is more effective, but no one is dying senselessly,” she said ahead of her first meeting with the body, that includes top law enforcement officials.

“I believe that in all police operations, anything can happen, but we oppose deliberate and planned killings of innocent people” added Robredo, who is vice president but was elected separately from Duterte.

Duterte rose to power in 2016 on a pledge to eliminate the nation’s drug problem by killing thousands of drug dealers and users.

Since then narcotics agents claim to have gunned down just over 5,500 suspects who fought back, though watchdogs claim the true number is at least four times higher.

The campaign has drawn fierce international criticism, especially from rights groups that allege the crackdown could amount to crimes against humanity.

‘Global pressure having effect’

International Criminal Court prosecutors have launched a preliminary probe and the UN’s top rights body has voted to conduct an in-depth review.

Robredo told a press conference after the meeting that she plans to dig into the details of the crackdown, and believes any misconduct should be confronted by the Philippines.

“I would rather that we take care of whatever we have to take care of,” she said. “There are a lot of things that happened that should not have happened.”

Duterte bristles at any criticism of his drug war, with public opinion polls saying he as the overwhelming backing of the Philippine people.

Robredo said she saw her appointment “as a signal that the president is open to listen to a fresh perspective about the entire campaign”.

“Drugs are the enemy here. We are not at war with our countrymen,” she added.

Amnesty International also took a supportive view of Robredo’s new post, calling it proof “global pressure is having an effect, and that the public mood in the Philippines is turning against the flawed approach of the so-called ‘war on drugs'”.

Duterte has previously vowed to continue the drug war until the end of his term in mid-2022, often deriding Robredo’s capability to potentially lead the country, which she would have to do if the president dies or cannot function.

But in a turnaround labelled by critics as a trap, Duterte said in a speech last week that the drug situation has “worsened” with the police on the “brink of surrendering”.

“It’s beyond my competence, but maybe she will do better,” Duterte told reporters last week.

Seven Killed In Philippine Aircraft Crash

Seven people were killed when a air-ambulance plane crashed into a resort area near the Philippine capital on Sunday, sparking a fierce blaze and sending terrified locals fleeing, authorities said.

Seven bodies have been found and it is believed all eight people aboard the light aircraft died in the crash in Calamba City, local emergency official Jeffrey Rodriguez told AFP.

READ ALSO: Bahamas Braces As Monster Hurricane Dorian Heads For US

Footage on social media showed the chaotic scene as an ambulance drove towards a building that was engulfed in flames and witnesses shouted for help in the street.

“No one will survive this crash. We assume that all confirmed passengers of this plane are dead,” said Rodriguez, confirming seven bodies had been discovered in the smoking ruins.

Police said two people were injured in the crash and rushed to hospital, but have not reported any fatalities from those who were in the resort area when the plane went down.

Philippine aviation authorities said six passengers and two pilots were aboard the craft when it disappeared from radar about 25 nautical miles from the capital Manila.

AFP

14 Farmers Killed In Philippine Police ‘Massacre’

The Philippines on the map

 

Rights groups on Sunday condemned what they called a “massacre” of 14 farmers by police in the central Philippines as authorities defended the incident as a legitimate operation against suspected communist rebels.

Police say the 14 men on Saturday shot at officers with search warrants for illegal firearms, prompting them to return fire. But rights groups insist the men were “farmers asserting their rights to land”, the latest victims caught up in a violent crackdown under President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte’s government has cancelled peace talks with communist rebels — who are waging a 50-year-old insurgency that has killed thousands — and has ordered his troops to “destroy” them.

READ ALSO: Workers Jump To Their Deaths As Dhaka Office Block Fire Kills 19

The latest violence occurred in three separate incidents in Negros island, the centre of the nation’s sugar industry and home to some of the country’s wealthiest landowners as well as some of its poorest farm workers.

Authorities say the operation was a response to communist rebel attacks in Negros, adding one policeman was wounded.

“They fought back against our operating units. We were forced to fire back. Some of (the 14 men) are farmers but we cannot confirm how many,” provincial police spokesman Edilberto Euraoba told AFP.

Police arrested another 12 men while they recovered various firearms from those killed, Euraoba added.

However rights and peasant groups said the 14 men killed on Saturday were farmers, some elderly, citing witness accounts contradicting the police’s statement.

“They were defenceless. It’s clear that it was a massacre. They are tagged as members and sympathisers (of communist rebels) but they are farmers asserting their rights to land,” Maria Sol Taule, legal counsel for rights group Karapatan, told AFP.

“President Duterte is attacking his critics including people fighting for their rights. It’s an all-out attack on all they suspect to be enemies, whether farmers or lawyers.”

Rows over land have become increasingly common as Manila faces criticism for its slow-moving programme to redistribute farmland to millions of sharecroppers — tenant farmers who give a part of each crop as rent — who remain mired in poverty.

The Federation of Agricultural Workers condemned the latest deaths, saying it highlighted growing rights violations on Negros island.

The nation’s rights body said it would investigate Saturday’s incident, expressing “grave concern” over what it called a rising number of killings in the country.

Taule added that the incident was the latest in a series of attacks on farmers, following the killing of nine farmers by gunmen also in Negros in October.

Farm workers account for about 20 million people, a fifth of the Philippine population, who live on less than two dollars a day, the government says.

Pope Francis Condemns Bombing Of Philippine Church

Pope Francis

 

Pope Francis strongly condemned Sunday’s bombing of a Catholic church that killed at least 18 people on the southern Philippine island of Jolo.

“I reiterate my strongest reprobation for this episode of violence who is once again plunging the Christian community into mourning,” Francis said during an Angelus message as he wound up World Youth Day celebrations in Panama.

AFP

Philippine Storm Death Toll Rises To 22

The Philippines on the map

 

At least 22 people died from a storm that swept through the central Philippine islands at the weekend, authorities said Sunday, with rescue operations underway in flood-inundated communities. 

The death toll rose from four a day after the storm brought heavy rain to the Bicol and Eastern Visayas regions, causing massive flooding and landslides, the government’s office of civil defence said.

Many of the deaths were due to landslides and drowning, it added, saying floods had yet to recede even as the weather disturbance known locally as “Usman” weakened into a low-pressure area.

“Most of the (affected) areas are underwater. We are sending troops and rubber boats to rescue families. In some areas the floods have reached the roofs of homes,” Claudio Yucot, head of the Bicol region’s office of civil defence, told AFP.

At least 16 people died in Bicol while six others were killed in Eastern Visayas, civil defence officials said.

More than 22,000 people fled their homes ahead of the storm, which destroyed rice and corn crops and left some roads and bridges inaccessible, according to regional disaster officials.

Government forecasters said Sunday that heavy rain would continue over the next 24 hours in the northern Philippines.

An average of 20 typhoons and storms lash the Philippines each year, killing hundreds of people and leaving millions in near-perpetual poverty.

The most powerful was Super Typhoon Haiyan which left more than 7,360 people dead or missing across the central Philippines in 2013.

AFP

Philippine Arrests Senator Critical Of Duterte

Philippines Senator Antonio Trillanes (L) leaves a police station after being arrested in Manila on September 25, 2018. 
NOEL CELIS / AFP

 

A Philippine lawmaker fiercely critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war was arrested Tuesday on previously dismissed charges, a move condemned by watchdogs as persecution of the government’s opponents.

Senator Antonio Trillanes was taken into custody and then posted bail shortly after a court-issued warrant forced him from the Senate building, where he has holed up for weeks to avoid arrest.

Trillanes is the second senator critical of Duterte’s drug war to be detained. Leila de Lima has been behind bars since February 2017 on charges she says were concocted to silence her.

The order for Trillanes’ arrest stems from Duterte voiding earlier this month an amnesty granted eight years ago to the senator, an ex-navy officer, for his role in two coup attempts in the mid-2000s.

“They twisted the law so our democracy and institutions failed,” Trillanes told reporters. “This (case) has nothing to do with anything except for the vengeance of Duterte and his underlings.”

Duterte issued a decree earlier this month ordering Trillanes’ arrest on allegations he did not complete the requirements of filing an official application for amnesty and admitting guilt.

The case has prompted concern in the Philippines where critics have questioned whether presidents have the power to undo amnesties, a repeatedly used tool in a nation plagued by insurgencies and military rebellion.

Sociopath and hitman mindset

“The arrest… is part of the persecution of critics of the Duterte administration, the latest in the relentless campaign to silence those who dared to challenge the president’s murderous ‘drug war’,” said Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch Philippines.

Bigger legal trouble could still await Trillanes because he could be arrested on another charge, stemming from a separate coup attempt, that does not have the possibility of bail.

The Philippines’ creaking legal system is notoriously slow and defendants can remain behind bars for years before they get their day in court.

Along with De Lima, Trillanes is Duterte’s loudest critic telling AFP last year: “This man is a sociopath and he has the mindset of a hitman.”

Trillanes last year appealed to the International Criminal Court to investigate killings in Duterte’s war on drugs and had repeatedly accused the president of being a mass murderer and holding secret bank accounts.

Last year Trillanes also had the president’s eldest son Paolo brought before a Senate inquiry to face allegations he was involved in drug trafficking, which the younger Duterte denied.

Trillanes had faced rebellion and coup d’etat charges for being among military officers who rose up against then president Gloria Arroyo over alleged corruption and mismanagement.

He led scores of junior officers in taking over part of a main district of Manila in 2003 and seized a posh Manila hotel in 2007 along with several armed followers as they demanded Arroyo’s resignation.

AFP

Sacked Philippine Chief Justice To Appeal Decision

Ousted Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno (C) delivers a speech before her supporters in front of the supreme court building in Manila on May 11, 2018. TED ALJIBE / AFP

 

The ousted top judge of the Philippines will appeal against the decision to sack her, after she battled with President Rodrigo Duterte over his deadly drug war, her spokesman said Saturday.

Maria Lourdes Sereno’s colleagues voted on Friday to remove her as Supreme Court chief justice in an unprecedented decision that has sparked a legal firestorm.

“She will file MR (motion of reconsideration),” her spokesman Carlo Cruz said in a message to AFP without elaborating.

Duterte had openly called for Sereno’s removal from the court, calling her an “enemy” after they clashed over his bloody war on drugs and alleged abuse of power.

Sereno’s expulsion came due to a petition by the chief government lawyer — a Duterte appointee — who argued that she was not qualified for her position and accused her of not filing statements of assets and liabilities in previous years — accusations she categorically denied.

Legal experts, including other Supreme Court judges, have argued that Sereno’s sacking is a violation of the constitution, which says a justice can only be removed through impeachment in Congress.

In opinions released Saturday, dissenting judge Marvic Leonen called the move “a legal abomination” while fellow justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa said, “this case marks the time when the Court commits seppuku (ritual suicide) – without honour”.

Pacifico Agabin, an expert in constitutional law at the University of the Philippines College of Law, told AFP Sereno’s appeal was unlikely to succeed, saying: “I don’t think any one of the justices will have a change of mind”.

Sereno, who has urged her supporters to “fight for justice and demand accountability”, is the latest high-profile critic of Duterte to be targeted after speaking out against the president.

Other Duterte critics have also been ousted, punished or threatened, including Senator Leila de Lima who has been jailed, the Commission on Human Rights and an anti-corruption prosecutor who investigated allegations that Duterte has hidden wealth.

Duterte has faced global criticism for human rights abuses particularly related to his bloody campaign against illegal drugs which police say has claimed the lives of around 4,200 suspects in nearly two years. Rights groups allege the actual number is three times higher.

AFP

Ten Killed As Philippine Plane Crashes Into House

Rescue workers look at the crash site in Plaridel, Bulacan, north of Manila on March 17, 2018.  STRINGER / AFP

Ten people were killed when a small plane crashed into a house just outside the Philippine capital on Saturday, police and aviation officials said.

The twin-engine aircraft crashed shortly after taking off in Plaridel town, killing all five aboard as well as three children, a mother and a grandmother from the family in the house, said Superintendent Julio Lizardo.

“We had to dig through the rubble to find the bodies,” he said, explaining why the toll rose from an initial figure of seven dead.

Officials declined to say what may have caused the crash of the Piper PA-23 Apache, operated by a local charter company.

First Transgender Officer Joins Philippine Army

This handout photo taken on February 14, 2018 and released by the Department of National Defense (DND) shows Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (R) donning an epaulet to reserve lieutenant colonel and congresswoman, 
Handout / DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENSE / AFP

 

The Philippine military has welcomed its first transgender officer, the defence department said Thursday, swearing in a prominent member of Congress as a reservist.

Geraldine Roman, 50, who became the Catholic-majority nation’s first transgender person elected to Congress in 2016, took her oath on Wednesday.

“That indeed makes her the first transgender officer in the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” defence department spokesman Arsenio Andolong said in a statement.

“Her being part of the (military) underscores the fact that gender is not an issue when it comes to serving the country,” he added.

The Philippine military frequently inducts prominent figures like legislators and cabinet members as reserve officers.

Roman was appointed as a lieutenant colonel in the army reserves, alongside two fellow House of Representatives members, the statement added.

“War and disaster do not recognise gender, it affects everybody, and everyone must defend and serve our communities, and our country,” the statement quoted her saying during the ceremony.

Born to a politically prominent family based near Manila, Roman changed her gender in the 1990s.

Her political success has been hailed by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) campaigners in a conservative society where divorce and same-sex marriage are both banned.

The Philippine military last year announced it would accept LGBT applicants “as long as they act and move with dignity”.

AFP