Making changes in the IATF

>> Thursday, May 6, 2021


Some senators lasts week suggested that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management Emerging Infectious Diseases, or simply IATF, be abolished or comprehensively overhauled due to their inefficiency but Palace and IATF spokesman Harry Roque said this was not a good move to address the raging Covid-19 pandemic.
    Even some top officials said there may be great deal of merit in it and that comprehensive changes to the IATF and the government’s overall approach to the pandemic should be carefully considered.
    The “abolish the IATF” suggestion was first raised by Sen. Maria Imelda Josefa “Imee” Marcos, who said the effort against Covid-19 should be led instead by public health experts following a “true science-based approach.”
    Indeed this should be the case. The IATF should be composed of medical experts, not aging military and police generals whose orientation is to fight crime, not diseases.
    Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd and Sen. Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros agreed with Marcos’ view. Sotto accused the current leadership of the Dept. of Health of “gross incompetence” in handling the pandemic, which as of Tuesday has resulted in 677,653 total cases of Covid-19 infection and 12,992 deaths in the Philippines.
    But Roque defended the IATF’s handling of the pandemic, citing the country’s 86-percent recovery rate and lower number of deaths compared to other countries are “proof” of the IATF’s effectiveness. Roque also detailed a number of positive actions directed by the IATF in response to the current surge in cases, such as increasing quarantine and testing capacity as     if these were the only top solutions to stop spread of the pandemic
    On a comparative basis, as of Tuesday the Philippines ranked 129th out of 221 countries or territories in total cases per 1 million people, 30th in terms of cumulative positive cases, 32nd in total number of deaths, 118th in deaths per million people and 141st in Covid-19 tests per million people.
    These figures are according to the well-known Worldometer Coronavirus Tracker, which compiles the data daily from official government sources.
    The comparisons with other countries are a poor evidence of the IATF’s effectiveness or lack thereof. The coronavirus pandemic is a global crisis, not a competition.
    The main reason why a change in the structure of the government’s pandemic management should be seriously considered is that the IATF has since the onset of the pandemic been placed in a role it was never intended to fill and, for all intents and purposes, usurps that of an existing government organization.
    The IATF was conceived as an ad hoc planning and advisory body on emerging infectious diseases (emphasis intended), hence its name. Actual implementation and oversight of the plan would then be the responsibility of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) since the proposed Cabinet-level Dept. of Disaster Resiliency has not yet been created.
    Even though many of the officials who make up the IATF are also part of the NDRRMC, shifting authority, responsibilities and resources to another body has undoubtedly led to delays and inefficiencies in the government’s pandemic response.
    Another critical shortcoming of the IATF when compared with the existing NDRRMC is that the latter includes a substantial amount of representation and input from local government units, which, as we have seen time and again with every calamity the Philippines suffers, are absolutely vital to a successful response.
    Making fundamental changes in relation to the IATF, whether that would involve abolishing it entirely or something less than that, is needed now as Covid-19 cases are drastically going up.
    Observers point out changes should be implemented immediately in the IATF but these should be carefully assessed and applied. Let medical authorities and experts head the IATF, not former generals
    After all, this is all about fighting a pandemic -- not a war against crime or insurgency.


Defunding the military and police


March L. Fianza

Like the unseen and unstoppable coronavirus, the news to defund the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) resonated after lawmakers in the House and Senate were called “stupid” by the task force’s spokesman Lt. General Antonio Parlade Jr.
    People of course, describe the senators and congressmen with many unacceptable labels and the lawmakers know that, but police and military officials should not be antagonizing them if their operational budget is ready to be defunded.  
    Although the senators have yet to discuss what to do with the P19.2 billion budget of NTF-ELCAC, there was information that 15 senators already signed a resolution denouncing Parlade’s actions and unpleasant comment.
    The spokesman’s unsavory remark came as a result of a strong suggestion by members of both chambers in congress to realign the agency’s budget after community pantry organizers posted raw information on social media that they were being red-tagged and profiled by unidentified persons.
    It is hard to grasp the act of profiling and red tagging organizers of community pantries when people are striving to have food for their families amid the pandemic.
    What matters is that people in the spirit of “bayanihan” want to provide food for the needy. On the other hand, the NTF-ELCAC with their huge “intel funds” certainly have acceptable means to profile suspects, that is, if they really have intelligence.
    Surely a few thousand pesos spent on goodies donated to a chosen community pantry would not hurt the NTF-ELCAC and would certainly make the initiative work better.
    But instead of encouraging the good deed, our police and military men forgot to analyze and process the situation which are things that they usually do with “intel info,” before making pointless actions that made them lose the hearts and minds of the public.
The final decision by the jury of a court that convicted the former police officer who was charged for murdering an African-American in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May last year grabbed the headlines, diverting the attention of the world from COVID-19 news two weeks ago.
    Former police officer Derek Chauvin was not the one on trial in the recently concluded court case drama over the killing of African-American George Floyd but the police system. Now after the guilty verdict, it needs to reform and the debate continues.
    A few weeks after African-American died under the knee of the white police officer, a majority of the city council vowed to defund the police. This was in response to protest calls to dismantle the city’s police department and create a public safety system.
    However, the prosecution team led by the Attorney General of Minnesota would not call the guilty verdict as justice, saying that justice implies true restoration which is characterized by accountability, the first step towards justice.
    He said, it is the criminal justice system that is on trial as well, saying further that the guilty verdict marks a point beyond policing which should have consequences for all police actions all over, not only in the U.S.A.
    There is accountability in police work such that the excessive use of force is anti-police and in the long run harms policing as an occupation. How many times have we seen excessive use of force by the police in the Philippines?
    Take the case of Kian who was allegedly killed by cops in 2017, and the victims in the implementation of the “tokhang” on drugs. These cases call for a serious study about who are recruited into the police organization.
    Police reform has to make sure that trigger-happy, short-tempered, nervous and rigid personalities are disqualified from entry. By the way, I heard that Benguet Prosecutor Andres Gondayao who was teaching Criminology subjects in one of the schools asked his students why they like to become cops instead of nurses.
     Yes, the police who killed the African-American under his knee should not have been a cop in the first place. Through his records, the prosecution learned that he had 17 disciplinary cases that should have led to his exit from the police force.
    The police who was guilty for murder is not the system but became a murderer because of the system. The system that turns cops into murderers will still be there. It has to reform before another bad cop emerges.


Beneco on the way to recovery

By Delmar O. Carino

BAGUIO CITY -- The financial engineering of electric cooperatives is not the typical debit and credit memo considering the complexity of the power industry that imposes regulatory compliances.
    Thus, if the question is that “has Beneco recovered from the pandemic?” the answer is such recovery is still not that close to its desired level, said Melchor Licoben, BENECO OIC general manager.
    Lockdown restrictions may have eased during the first quarter of the year but the conditions of limited business operating hours and customers to be served still continues to adversely impact on the revenues of the electric cooperative.
    The pandemic struck hardest on the electric cooperative last year especially during the lockdown periods that saw a lot of business and commercial firms stopping their operations.
    Licoben would often keep tab of the electric cooperative’s monthly revenue if the cash flow would suffice to pay the power bill it purchases from Team Phil., for distribution to member consumers.
    Team is the generation company Beneco has contracted for a 20 year power supply agreement which will end in 2024.
    In 2020, Beneco paid Team an average of P170 million every month for power supply alone which is almost 80 per cent of the electric cooperative’s average monthly sales in the amount of P212. 07 million for the same year.
    Licoben said balancing the monthly books is indeed tough since the cash on hand must prioritize the payment of the power bill or the generator company might exercise its option to stop supplying Beneco’s power requirements.
    “The recovery for an electric cooperative happens when the electric cooperative is assured that its monthly collection will be able to pay its power bill without compromising its other capital and operating expenses,” he said.
    As of Dec., 2020, Beneco has 209,242 consumer accounts which are broken down as follows – 194,338 are residential consumers and 5,909 are commercial accounts.  
    Admittedly, the electric cooperative during the pandemic gained a marked increase in the bills paid by residential consumers but it likewise suffered a significant dent in the electricity consumed by its residential consumers.
    Rocky Pallogan, non-network and revenue services department manager, said the bid of the electric cooperative to shore up its monthly collection has to give way to regulatory advisories issued by the Department of Energy (Doe) and the Energy Regulatory Commission (Erc).
    “We had to implement the government’s directive not to impose disconnection on customers who fail to pay their bills on time and defer the collection of arrears and surcharges. We were also required to allow the consumers to pay their bills in installments or provide them a longer grace period to pay, “he said.
    Under normal times, bills must be paid within ten days from receipt thereof and disconnection is effected after a month, Pallogan said.
    “These periods including the imposition of arrears and surcharges would often force or encourage consumers to pay on time, thus ensuring Beneco a steady flow of revenue,” he said.  
    Licoben said Beneco is not against efforts of the government to help ease the burden on electricity consumers.
    “But one needs to know how the electric cooperative runs it operations vis-√†-vis its mandatory expenses in order to avert any disaster though the conditions at the moment are still from far full recovery,“ he said.    


Mayor on bout with Covid: Hard so don’t get infected


Aileen P. Refuerzo

BAGUIO CITY -- Mayor Benjamin Magalong had a difficult bout with Covid-19 and wants people to learn from his experience.
     “It was a struggle for me.  So the lesson to learn here is to not get infected.  Do your best to protect yourselves and your families to avoid a similar experience,” the mayor said as he reported back to full time work last April 19. 
    A lot of patients who were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms may not have encountered severe symptoms or complications while fighting the virus but not everyone was as lucky, as in the mayor’s case.
     “It was very different from all the other illnesses that I had experienced,” the mayor recounted. 
    He said he had a mild infection that did not progress to pneumonia or any lung infection but the virus aggravated his rhinitis that triggered extreme pains.
     The secondary bacterial infection affected his speech and caused migraines and required massive medication of antibiotics, anti-allergy, decongestants and pain relievers.
    The mayor said he also lost his senses of taste and smell and his appetite, had a bloated feeling and difficulty sleeping and was easily tired.
    Throughout his ordeal, he remained on home care.
     “Kulang ang hospital beds at marami nangangailangan e ako naman e mild (case) lang ako,” he said.
    He reminded people to double efforts to guard against the virus especially with the presence of more transmissible ones.
    “With the rate our infection is increasing, I suspect that the UK variant is now widespread in the city so please don’t let your guard down,” he said.
    Health authorities said the minimum public health standards remain as the best weapon against contracting the disease:     Wear your masks, wash hands, disinfect, avoid crowding, open your windows and stay home if you can help it.
This, as Mayor Benjamin Magalong said the city’s Covid-19  infection control and case management systems have held up and so far been able to prevent the situation from getting out of hand.
    “We continue to intensify our testing capacity and contact tracing efficiency which remains high to this date.  Our quarantine and isolation, treatment and prevention programs are also being beefed up to address the demand,” the mayor said.
     “On our vaccination program, we still far from our target but we are on track and we have high vaccine utilization rate meaning vaccines delivered had been administered with speed,” he added.
    As of April 19, the city has conducted a total of 156,968 and tested 104,832 individuals or 27.9 percent of the population and the average daily testing done in the past two weeks was 662.
    Aggressive Community Testing (ACT) activities will be done continually to determine where the infections are coming from for the city to act accordingly.
    He said the recent ACT program tested a total of 3,140 individuals in the high risk sectors and out of the total, 167 tested positive for a 5.3 percent positivity rate.
    He said this was far from the city’s projection of a 10-12 percent positivity rate.
    Contact tracing efficiency ratio remained high and at present, efforts are underway to rev up the program nationwide.
    “This is what’s important.  We can capture the true situation.  Mataas ang kaso natin pero alam natin ang totoong sitwasyon kaya natutugunan natin kesa naman mababa nga pero magugulat ka na lang kapag biglang pumutok,” the mayor said.
    “Kaya maganda sa atin dahil alam natin ang nangyayari halos real-time ang updates natin,” he added.
    To address the critical status of the city’s critical care utilization, the city is working on putting up a modular temporary treatment and monitoring facility at the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center with 30-40 isolation beds while around 50 beds at the Baguio City Community Isolation Unit at the former Sto. Nino de Jesus Medical Center have been converted as step down facilities for recovering patients to declog hospitals.
    Eurotel has also been commissioned to serve as isolation area for mild patients and as billeting place for health workers.
    The city officials urged the public to strictly adhere to the minimum public health standards to protect themselves especially with the presence of the new variants.
    They said that the minimum public health standards remain to be the best weapon against the virus and its variants.
    "At home, wash your hands and change your clothes before you spend time with your family, disinfect your door knobs and other frequently touched surfaces in the home, and monitor each other for flu-like symptoms.  When outside, always wear your masks and shields properly, observe physical distancing, wash hands and disinfect regularly and avoid crowded and enclosed spaces and close conversations,” it was advised.



Another death /NEA late in endorsing Beneco manager/ Covid vaccine myths, facts


Alfred P. Dizon

BAGUIO CITY – First our condolences to the family of Isabelo “Billy” Pomar Jr., my uncle of Bayan Park, Aurora Hill here. Billy succumbed to sickness. His siblings were a family of musicians. His father, the late Isabelo Pomar was then a dentist at the Dimalanta Building along Magsaysay road. I spent a lot of time at their house during my younger days jamming with the late Rudy, Billy’s younger brother and Benjie Fontanilla, husband of Pacita their sister. Anyway, Godspeed Billy to the Heavens.
 What is it with the national Electrification Agency? It has been more than a year since they should have endorsed a general manager to the Benguet Electric Cooperative but, until now, its top officials are dragging themselves in the case.
    Observers here are now asking if they are trying to justify the entry of a Malacanang official to sit as Beneco manager. They are saying if NEA officials are really intent in doing their mandate to look after welfare of electric cooperatives and the power industry, then they should have endorsed a general manager to head the Beneco considering the pandemic.
It boggles the mind, they are saying, why NEA bigshots are still studying kuno credentials of two applicants to the position.
    One applicant is Anna Marie Rafael Bana-ag, lawyer and Assistant Secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office.
    The other is engineer Melchor S. Licoben, incumbent officer in charge (OIC) general manager of Beneco.
Beneco officials, managers and employees have disputed credentials of Bana-ag to sit as Beneco general manager.       
    They urged the NEA board of administrators in a letter to endorse instead engineer Licoben citing his credentials and experience with Beneco.  Even the Beneco board of directors earlier approved Licoben’s designation as general manager of the power company.
    The letter to the NEA was signed by lawyer Esteban A. Somngi, board of directors president and department managers lawyer Delmar O. Carino, Brenda Carling,  Artemio M. Bacoco, Ricardo Pallogan, Ramel Rifani including Jason Wayet, Beneco Supervisors Association (BSA)  president and Jefferd C. Monang, BELU (Beneco Employees Labor Union) president.
(Details are in the banner story in page 1 of the Northern Philippine Times.
    Basing from the letter, Licoben had accomplished all requirements set by the NEA including the experience, being with Beneco for more than 20 years to become general manager.
    Why did the NEA still not endorse Licoben considering top local government officials of Baguio and Benguet have endorsed him to assume the post as Beneco general manager?      
    The NEA had set criteria and rules on qualifications of general managers of electric companies nationwide. If the NEA would change its rules and requirements of general managers at this time, for reasons they are not saying but the observing public knows, it could invite derision and condemnation from electric cooperatives, government officials and power consumers.
(We would like to share this article, “Keep your guard against vaccine pseudoscience” by Dr. Edsel Salvana):
    Social media has been a double-edged sword during this pandemic. On one hand, it helps with getting up-to-the-minute information, engaging the community in finding solutions to urgent problems, and bringing people together from all over the world in fruitful discourse. On the other, it enables the spread of disinformation, the use of potentially dangerous unproven treatments, and the dissemination of anti-vaxxer propaganda.  
    One such harmful post going around asserts that getting vaccinated lowers your immunity to COVID-19 temporarily.     This is categorically untrue. However, the post mixes in some real concerns about vaccine breakthrough to draw people in and push its baseless assumptions. This mix of real science and pseudoscience has fooled many smart and educated people. One red flag for any post like this is that it is not attributed to anyone. In this article, we dissect the mostly false facts from the notorious viral post, while affirming which practices can help protect people.
    Myth 1: The vaccine starts to form antibodies immediately after entering the body.
    This is FALSE. It takes the body about three weeks to form antibodies. When a COVID-19 vaccine is injected, the antigens (substances that elicit an immune response against the virus) are produced in different ways. For mRNA vaccines, the vaccine uses the body’s machinery to produce many copies of the spike protein. This is then recognized by the body as foreign. For inactivated vaccines, the dead pieces of the virus are picked up by scavenger cells called macrophages, which then alert the immune system to produce antibodies and other immune cells. Other vaccines work in similar ways, but the bottom line is that it takes time for the body to recognize antigens, respond, and produce antibodies. From the time of the first dose, it takes approximately three weeks to start producing enough antibodies to begin to have clinically significant protection.
    Myth 2: When antibodies are forming in our body, our immunity decreases a lot.
    This is FALSE. Every day, we are exposed to different antigens and we are constantly producing antibodies against all sorts of pathogens. Our bodies constantly multitask, and the production of antibodies is a regular task of our immune system. There is no vaccine that decreases someone’s immunity. In fact, after three weeks from the first dose, we already start to see clinically significant protection from disease.  
    Myth 3: When we take the second dose of the vaccine after the 21/28 days, our immunity decreases even more.
    Completely UNTRUE. Protection from COVID-19 from the first vaccine dose continues and increases with the second dose. Full protection as seen in the clinical trials is attained by the second week after the second dose. Not all vaccines use the 21-day or 28-day time frame, so the post is clearly not considering the different and dynamic scheduling regimens of the different brands.
    Myth 4: 14 days after the second dose, when the antibodies are completely formed in our body, our immunity starts to grow rapidly.
    This is NOT ACCURATE. It isn’t as if the body, in the second week following the second dose, has a clock that rings and says, “Aha, I’m protected.” It is a spectrum of protection that begins three weeks from the first dose and continues rising past the second dose. The 14-day descriptor is based on clinical trial definitions when they started counting cases for comparison among the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated. In general, we assume complete protection in the second week after the second dose, but this does not mean the vaccine can’t give full protection earlier.
    The J&J vaccine is a one dose vaccine and so if the post was accurate that you only get protection two weeks from a second dose, no one would have gotten protection from it. J&J is approved in the US and now has an emergency use listing (EUL) from the World Health Organization (WHO). All the COVID-19 vaccines prevent disease and none of them increase risk of COVID-19. None of the vaccines can give you COVID-19.
    Myth 5: During this one and a half month, due to low immunity, the chances of the corona virus entering our body are very high. It is due to an exposure to the virus at this vulnerable time that a person gets infected which makes it very risky to get out of the house during this month and a half.
    Absolutely FALSE. Protection from severe COVID-19 already begins after about three weeks from the first dose. Full protection happens two weeks after the second dose but even with one dose, you already have some protection.     There is no physiologic basis for increased risk for COVID-19 with any kind of vaccination. Precautions do need to be always taken, however, because there are occasional breakthrough infections, especially before the second dose is given. But the risk of getting COVID-19 is not increased during any time after the vaccination, and the risk progressively goes lower three weeks after the first shot.
    FACT (with context): Even after taking two doses of the vaccine, you can become a victim of COVID.
    These are called breakthrough infections. These don’t happen often and are usually asymptomatic or mild. Most breakthrough infections occur before the second dose due to partial protection, but even after both doses are given, some people can get COVID-19. The risk of death from a breakthrough infection in a vaccinated person is miniscule compared to natural infection in an unvaccinated patient.
    Myth 6: After one and a half months, the immunity in the body rises by 100 to 200 times, after which you are safe.
    It isn’t clear what the author means by 100 to 200 times. Perhaps antibody titers? But we still do not know what antibody titers correlate with protection. Aside from antibodies, another arm of the immune system, called cell-mediated immunity, is intimately involved in killing viruses that are inside cells. In general, protection is complete after two weeks from the second dose. For the single dose J&J vaccine this is four weeks from the first dose.
    We do need to continue taking precautions even after being fully vaccinated, because our vaccines are not 100% transmission-blocking. Breakthrough infections (usually mild or asymptomatic) can still be passed on to unvaccinated people, but your own risk of dying from COVID-19 is quite small. Once everyone is vaccinated, we can think about getting rid of the masks. Until then, keep your guard up against COVID-19, and against harmful pseudoscience posts.


America First Caucus’ WASP agenda

Perry Diaz

 The term “America First” has been bandied about in the US for so long that nobody knows what it really stands for today.  After Trump was kicked out of presidential politics last November, remnants of the Trump political family have been struggling to create a new identity for themselves.  But none of the top Republicans that include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House of Representatives Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have the charisma or following to lead the Republican Party back to power.  Former president Donald Trump still commands the loyalty of Republicans out of fear of being primaried in the 2022 midterm elections. 
    Meanwhile, there are Republicans whose political credentials border on extremist ideas that are gaining support among the various Republican factions.  Among them are Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, Matt Gaetz, and Louie Gohmert.  All four House Republicans have been identified in the past as catering to Trump’s brand of nativist politics.  
    Nativism is the policy of protecting the interests of native-born or established inhabitants against those of immigrants.  Nativism began as an anti-catholic and anti-immigrant movement in the 1840s.  In 1854, they formed the “American Party.”
    It is dedicated to the proposition that the United States was founded to serve only White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs), a term that is redundant since all Anglo-Saxons are whites.
    WASPS are not the majority in the U.Sbut the numbers vary depending on how you define WASP.  According to Quora, “historically, WASP referred to people of the wealthy upper class elite who were of Anglo-Saxon origin. WASP was more a matter of social class than ethnicity. As such, WASPS were not the majority, but they had a great deal of influence in society and politics. They were the people who belonged to the exclusive country clubs and attended the best colleges and universities
    They were once the ruling class. This generally would be people of British ancestry though some might define it to include those with ancestors from other parts of northwestern Europe such as Scandinavia and Germany. British Americans are the narrowest group of Anglo-Saxons.  They make up 13% -23.3% of the population.”
    With the influx of non-WASP Europeans and people of color into the US, the term WASP hasn’t been used for over 50 years.  Indeed, WASP has diminished in size in the American melting pot.  And that’s probably what Greene and company had in mind when they formed America First Caucus: the revival of WASP to its former glory days.  But those are bygone days.  The term WASP is now a bit anachronistic.  It’s pass√©.
Anglo-Saxon platform launched
 When the formation of the America First Caucus was announced, it identified Representatives Greene and Gosar as behind the new caucus.  According to a document that was released, the America First Caucus would champion “Anglo-Saxon political traditions.”  
    But as soon as the America First Caucus’ manifesto was published, Greene and her small group of hard-line rightwing politicians got themselves in hot water.  Very few politicians were buying it or would identify with its formation.
    The manifesto that was circulated on April 16, said that the caucus would battle to promote “uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions and infrastructure, engineering, and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture.”
    The document warned that “mass immigration” poses a threat to “the long-term existential future of America as a unique country with a unique culture and a unique identity.”  Country is unique due to the fact that it is now multi-cultural and has multi-racial identity.
    It’s interesting to note that the phrase “America First” was a credo of the Ku Klux Klan, which was frequently included in Trump’s speeches when he was president.
    The manifesto, which was initially reported by the congressional newsletter “Punchbowl News,” drew immediate attacks by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.  GOP Leader McCarthy called it a “nativist dog whistle” while Rep. Ken Buck of the hard right Republican “Freedom Caucus” bashed its position as “hatefulness.”  Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger said that any caucus members should be stripped of committee appointments just like what happened to Greene.
    But Greene said that the controversial document was a “staff-level draft proposal” from an unidentified “outside group” that she hadn’t read yet.  She also claimed that it was it was “taken out of context” by “the scum and liars in the media.”  She accused the media of creating “false narratives,” and focusing on race to “divide the American people with hate through identity politics.”  The truth is that the media reports only as it happens in the community.  It doesn’t fabricate the news.
WASP resurgence
On a personal note, I believe that Greene launched the America First Caucus to promote the nativist notion that the US was founded to serve only White Anglo-Saxon Protestants or WASPs.  To them, there is no place for Catholics and immigrants in their white-only country and non-whites are deemed second-class citizens. 
    The WASPs belonged to an ethnic group of British upper-middle-class white protestants that dominated the economic and cultural aspects of the US.  All of the US presidents up to George W. Bush – with the exception of John F. Kennedy who was of Irish descent – were WASPs.  
    Barack Obama who succeeded George W. Bush was the only president who was not of white Anglo descent.  Obama’s election as president broke the American tradition of electing white Anglo-Saxons.  It was a major milestone in American presidential politics. 
    In the November 2020 election, Joe Biden, another Irish-American was elected president.  His vice-presidential running mate was Kamala Harris, a woman of African and East Indian descent.  And should she succeed Biden to the presidency, she’d be the first woman and first African-East Indian president of the US. 
    The political games being played today don’t bode well with the election of traditional white Anglo-Saxon protestants who have dominated presidential politics since the time of George Washington.  White Americans, although still the majority ethnic group has been dwindling in numbers.
Racial diversity
According to census numbers, racial minorities are gaining in numbers.  William H. Frey’s latest book, “Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics are Remaking America,” projected that racial minorities are the primary demographic engines of the nation’s future growth, countering an aging, slow-growing and soon to be declining white population. The new statistics project that the nation will become “minority white” by 2045. During that year, whites will comprise 49.7 percent of the population in contrast to 24.6 percent for Hispanics, 13.1 percent for blacks, 7.9 percent for Asians, and 3.8 percent for multiracial populations.  
    That’s only one generation from today!  Among the minority populations, the greatest growth is projected for multiracial populations, Asians and Hispanics with 2018–2060 growth rates of 176, 93, and 86 percent, respectively.
    It’s no wonder then that Greene is hell-bent in trying to promote Anglo-Saxon political traditions in the House of Representatives.  Not that she would succeed, but that it would continue to propagate white Anglo-Saxon preeminence in the lawmaking body. In other words, she’ll use the America First Caucus to dominate the future direction of Congress to turn the other way around.
    But with non-white Americans gaining in numbers, the trend is irreversible.  America will stay as the melting pot of all the races in the world.  However, recent anti-Asian sentiments could cause it to crack.  In my column, “Is the melting pot cracking?” (April 16, 2021), I said, “When Trump called the coronavirus Covid-19 ‘China virus’ and ‘Kung Flu,’ it created an angry backlash against Asian-Americans.  Anti-Asian violence erupted in various cities across the U.S.  Many Asian-Americans across the country were killed or harmed as a result of Trump’s characterization of the coronavirus. 
    “The American melting pot, which has withstood the test of time for more than 100 years, is suddenly under stress as the Asian-American community is being blamed for the Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 500,000 lives so far.”
What Greene and her America First Caucus cohorts are doing is to disrupt the multi-racial and multi-cultural harmony by promoting the “Anglo-Saxon political traditions” in the US Congress. 
    But little did she know that the whole country is way past the era of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.   The United States of America is now in the age of multiculturalism, never again to resuscitate the prejudicial racist past of the US.  
     America has indeed come a long way but it still has a way to go to become an egalitarian society, when Americans will just refer to themselves as “Americans,” not the multitude of hyphenated Americans that is currently dividing the citizenry into various American ethnic sub-groups.  It’s time to repudiate the America First Caucus’ WASP agenda.



Fr. Roy Cimagala

SORRY if I have to bring up this topic. But we cannot deny that nowadays this addiction to pornography is getting widespread.
    It’s now all over the place, even affecting little children. We have to do something drastic about this problem that is eating away the strength of the people, and weakening the spiritual and moral fabric of our society.
    We have to know more about the bad effects of this addiction if only to be more wary about it and be more ready to protect ourselves from it. Pornography, like drugs and alcohol, creates a certain state of euphoria which the addict longs for, yet which never completely satisfies him.
    There are studies that show that pornography strongly affects the brain, such that the addict gets an irresistible attachment to pornographic images. It somehow modifies the workings of the neurons that can even lead to the diminution of the grey matter of our brain that can impair our decision-making.
    Over time, a compulsion can develop when the addict needs more of it, and even more hardcore versions. What may start as a way to achieve pleasure can become later on as an irresistible urge to pacify whatever anxiety or negative mood the addict can have. The urge can be so strong that the addict would still resort to it even if no pleasure can be derived from it anymore.
    This addiction will obviously affect the addict’s understanding of sex, love and relationships. It can even dramatically affect the addict’s sexual preferences. He loses his sense of autonomy and his ability to relate to others properly. He can tend to see others merely as objects of pleasure. From here, other forms of perversions can emerge.
    The addict would likely be dominated by whatever sexual inclination he happens to have—heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, etc. And this will start the move to legalize certain practices that normally are considered sinful and immoral.
    In this addiction, unlike some other addictions, there is no such thing as a moderate or temperate use. The usual experience is that it leads the addict toward a downward spiral, as the normal stimuli of sex becomes substituted by exaggerated ones that can lead to violence.
     This addiction can affect even the so-called holy and pious people who are not sincere in their interior struggles during their confessions and spiritual direction, or worse, who refrain from seeking help. Things would be much worse for them since their double life and hypocrisy can become almost invincible.
    And yet, in spite of all these bad effects of this addiction to pornography, not everything is lost. There is always hope. That’s because the same process which shaped the brain’s addiction can also form the mind in healthier ways.
    Just as wayward cravings grow stronger over time when acted upon, such desires also become weaker if they are not acted on. A repetition of virtuous acts can create a positive ‘virtuous cycle’ that can lead the person toward higher ideals.
    For this to happen, we may launch a campaign of building positive atmospheres, fostering positive freedom in the face of instincts and opening new horizons. The bottom line here is not so much just a matter of leaving this addiction behind as re-centering the focus of our life on God, of faith and piety. Email:
(Fr. Roy Cimagala is a chaplain and with the Center for Industrial Technology and Enterprise (CITE) based in Talamban, Cebu City)



Fortunate and unfortunate deaths


Gina Dizon

SAGADA, Mountain Province -- ‘Nagasat si ______tay natey ay egay kacovid’ (____is lucky as she/he died with no Covid infection) is often a remark here referring to those who died with no Covid infection. 
Their wakes which lasted for two to three days and nights were attended by relatives and friends who delivered chants, songs and said their respects.  
     Aside from birth, death is a most momentous event on the life of a human being. So the necessary cultural rituals that go with these in this culture-rich town of Sagada, death rituals are done with butchering of pigs and chickens, chants by the amam-a  (elder men)  and songs and eulogies by relatives and the community as they let the soul of the dead join those who went earlier to the other world.
This recent few days saw successive non-Covid - infected deaths here.
Carmen Soliba, 84 a teacher- aunt on my mother’s side died from pancreatic complications following a gall bladder operation. With no Covid infection, her wake drew relatives and friends in Baguio for two days and another two days and nights in Sagada before the community led her to her resting place at the cemetery.
The last time  I saw her was sometime August or September last year when I dropped by having come from mushroom hunting at the hill above and beyond their house at Ambasing.
She looked strong then and carried on a lively conversation.  Must have been that age took on with some health concerns.   
And too with the vigil of my older brother’s mother-in-law, Lourdes Tudlong Antonio whose wake for two days and nights was attended by relatives especially from Tukukan, Bontoc where she traced her roots.
You can hear the lively chants from Bontoc women done in an upbeat and lively manner especially so when the one who died is in his/her elder years.   
Auntie Lourdes, 93 died of some gall bladder complications and with no Covid infection.  I remember her as one who has a strong interest in politics and community matters whenever I drop by for a visit at Sum-at, Bontoc where she stayed and cared some of her children and grandchildren. A former barangay chairman, politics and community affairs were a favorite conversation whenever I dropped by for a visit.
And so with a dear friend Carol Tambiac Lumbag, 55 who died from cardiac arrest with no Covid complication. Her long four - day wake was much attended by relatives and friends who sang praise songs and shared the good deeds of Carol when she was alive.
With the period of time we’ve been together as partners in weavers’ and farmers’ causes, Carol  proved to be a loyal friend, a cheerful giver  and quick to give comments constructively whom I give credence to being a weaver and farmer in deed.
I am forever grateful to her consistent support when Sagada Inabe, an organization of weavers was in its starting stage. Carol consistently contributed her effort, time and whatever material for the weavers’ group to pursue its dreams to reality. I am forever grateful to Carol for urging inspiration (and so with the other members) that the cause can still be realized. Amidst challenges including this pandemic. Women farmers also elected her to lead the Sagada Women Farmers Association in pursuance to organic farming.  
Also, Mary Inso, 79 a sweet and gentle soul who died due to cardiac arrest and Covid-negative was visited by a number of relatives and the community during her two day wake.
I am reminded of her loving care to her grandchildren while she attended to the workings of the bakery at sitio Ato whenever I dropped by to buy some bread. Inso’s Bakery established in the ‘60s remains strong and continuing till now.
The latest death this recent days  is Pio Sibayan who died from hypertensive stroke. Like the other departed who were Covid-free, Pio Sibayan’s wake was attended by relatives and friends for two days and two nights.
And so during this Covid pandemic where social distancing and wearing masks is a much reminded practice to do, those who attend wakes practice these protocols with one reminding the other to use her or his mask properly when the mask went down the nose bridge.
 Those who died with Covid infection were directly buried with no community wakes. I grieve for them where their remains were not allowed to be in vigil with their family, relatives and the community before they were buried.
I grieve to think such must be a lonely and unfortunate circumstance for the family cannot do anything except to see their loved ones directly buried in the cemetery with no wakes nor rituals to do before saying goodbye to this earthly world.
Nonetheless, the most we can do is to pray for the departed Covid-infected that their souls lead to the loving arms of the Most High where there is no more pain nor grief.
Nonagenarian Martha Sadagan also left for the Great Beyond.
Auntie Martha  who was hospitalized due to some respiratory complications and found to be infected with the Covid virus was buried straight at the cemetery not having been brought to her home for rituals in her home done before being buried. .
 Auntie Martha at 97 is my Auntie Maria Likigan’s close friend. Both were teachers by profession, love their profession and both were single.
There were times I went to her house at Ambasing with my auntie Maria (she passed away some years back).Sometimes Auntie Martha visited Auntie Maria in her house where I stayed when I was in high school. They will talk about anything under the sun in endless chatter especially on social issues with their expressive tones and strong views.
Less the aged look, Auntie Martha at 97 when I visited her last year in her house at Ambasing still talked with the same emphasis she did many years back.
With her stories, I came to know she with Auntie Maria, my grandma’s younger sister were classmates in their elementary years in the 1930s at the St Mary’s mission school then.
During weekends they will drop by at the house of my grandparents at Dagdag and do some housecleaning and weeding. Auntie Martha was known to many to always lead the novena during wakes.  
To all who died during this Covid pandemic –rest in peace and let light perpetual shine upon you as your good examples serve as inspiration to the rest of the living.       



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