Too early to prepare for 2022 elections?

>> Friday, April 30, 2021


It is not the right time and too early to talk about political plans for the 2022 national and local elections, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told a virtual presser last week saying politics should be set aside first since the country is still grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic. 
Roque issued the statement following the launching of “1Sambayan,” a coalition of former government officials eyeing a single slate of national candidates for the May 2022 elections to challenge President Rodrigo Duterte’s preferred successor and his other bets.
The coalition, led by retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio, said the newly-formed coalition already had initial talks with its potential presidential and vice presidential candidates, including Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, and Senators Grace Poe and Nancy Binay.
Roque said instead of engaging in premature campaigning, the current administration is more focused on addressing the Covid-19 pandemic.
On March 12, Roque denied that Duterte is using his position to engage in premature campaign activities by supposedly endorsing his preferred candidates for the 2022 national and local elections even as his daughter Sara is reportedly being set up to run for President next year.
So, should preparations for the 2022 elections not start considering it is only a year away?  
The Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and People’s Participation (Cerpp), had been deliberating Senate Bill (SB) 7 since it was introduced by Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd earlier.
The bill is an “Act providing for the conduct of the hybrid national, local and ARMM elections, through manual voting and counting at the precinct level, and automated transmission and canvassing, and for other purposes.”
The Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), through its AES Watch, had submitted its recommendations on how to go over the implementation of a hybrid election system (HES) in 2022.
To date, the agreed upon principle of manual voting and counting system at the precinct level should be performed in public; that is, the voter still manually enters his/her votes on ballot paper and that counting be publicly seen by the Board of Election inspectors (BEIs) and watchers represented by different groups in the precinct.
The manner of counting is still being deliberated, whether it be computer-aided or pure manual. After the counting, the election return (ER) would be computer-generated before it is electronically transmitted for consolidation and canvassing at the municipal level.
This is still similar to our past four elections (from 2010 to 2019) except that the “secret” counting by the vote counting machines is eliminated. It was secret as nobody had seen how the machines really counted — transparency was lost!
CenPEG fully supports SB 7. It recommended two phases in proceeding with HES in 2022: Phase 1 — understand how the Commission on Elections (Comelec) “mismanaged” the automated election system (AES) in the past elections; and Phase 2 — implement action plan to correct Comelec’s “mismanagement” 
In going through Phase 1, CenPEG’s first agenda is to determine how Comelec used its Data Center (DC) in processing election results.
The DC is the heart of any organizational computational power in processing its information needs. Before the 2010 elections, an independent systems audit from 2007 to 2008 was conducted by representatives of the Philippine Computer Society at the Comelec’s DC at Palacio del Gobernador, Intramuros and its Backup Data Center (BDC) at Insular Life Building, Alabang. These data centers house the databases of registered voters and other data hacked during the ComeLeak incident prior to the 2016 elections. Questions were raised: has there been any independent system audit of DC and BDC done after 2008? If none, why? If there has been, can Cerpp request for such system audit/s?
The next interesting questions raised were all related to the DC operations on the use of AES from 2010 to 2019 to understand how the telecommunications companies (telcos) operated viz the DC processing of ERs and certificates of canvass (COCs), to wit:
– Was the DC connected with the telcos directly to receive and process the ERs and COCs? If so, did the BEIs and Board of Canvassers (BOCs) use digital signatures? If not, why?
– Was the BDC receiving directly the processed ERs/COCs from DC for backing up? If yes, was the backing up done immediately after DC’s processing? If not, how?
– If the DC was not receiving directly the ERs/COCs, was it through a third-party service provider (SP), whose servers were located outside the DC premises? Is that legally binding viz Republic Act (RA) 9369 and Batas Pambansa (BP) 881?
If allowed by law, did the SP process the received ERs/COCs or just passed it on to the DC for processing? Did the SP receive the ERs/COCs directly from the BEIs/BOCs? If not, were there intermediaries or regional hubs (RHs)?
Was the digital signing of BEIs/BOCs observed? If yes, how? If not, why was there no digital signing? Did the Comelec people manage the operations of the SP? Did they see the detailed transmissions of the BOCs and the network management system activities in SP’s operations?
Did the Comelec or SP provide a disaster recovery site viz a business continuity plan in case the main server goes down in compliance with RA 9369, Section 13 regarding continuity plan? Were the stakeholders informed about the continuity plan? Was the SP test certified by the technical evaluation committee as per RA 9369, Section 11?
How were the telcos connected to the AES? Was the contract of electronic transmission signed between Comelec and telcos? If not, were the telcos made accountable to Comelec?
If yes, telcos should have stored the transmission logs and should be accessible when needed by Comelec, the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal, the Senate Electoral Tribunal and the Presidential Electoral Tribunal without court order. Were the telcos directly connected to the SP? RHs? business continuity center? If yes, were the telcos managed directly by the SP or by Comelec?
These probing questions will help the Cerpp guide how Comelec managed the DC operations in processing the ERs and COCs, how they complied with the AES law, figure out why were there so many unanswered mind-boggling questions to date about the secret counting, and how will Cerpp come up with a strategic plan to successfully implement HES.
And as initial heads-up to the Cerpp, CenPEG enumerated some of the following major recommendations:
– Promulgate immediately the implementing rules and regulation (IRR) once SB 7 is approved. Remember that Comelec did not promulgate the IRR of the AES Law (or RA 8436 of 1997, as amended by RA 9369 of 2007) in spite of having brilliant lawyers within its ranks since 1997 — 23 long years and counting.
Perhaps they need the help of Cerpp and stop the impasse.
– Audit the AES implementation from 2010 to 2019 — corrective actions vis audit findings should be presented to Cerpp.
– Use digital signatures for BEIs and BOCs through the public key infrastructure facilities of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).
– For the DICT to handle the HES project — the past four elections showed Comelec’s mismanagement of the AES implementation.
– For the DICT to prepare the DC operations of Comelec for the 2022 elections. This includes the DC operations at Comelec’s premises, the removal of intermediaries or RHs, and the direct connectivity of the telcos to the DC and BDC — that is, direct transmission of ERs/COCs to DC by BEIs/BOCs through digital signing. The “Meet Me Room” must be inside the Comelec’s DC.
– The DC and BDC operations must be manned by Comelec and DICT organic personnel, no vendors should be allowed.
– For the telcos to provide copies of the transmission logs to Comelec and DICT at the soonest possible time (e.g., three days after the elections). In the past, telcos just delete these logs without prior notice to election stakeholders. To avoid early transmissions as experienced in the past elections, telcos should only activate their facilities at the closing of the precincts on election day.
– For the Comelec to comply with RA 9369, Section 27: “The Commission shall post its digital files in its website for the public to view or download at any time of the day. The Commission shall maintain the files at least three years from the date of posting.” Commission on Audit (CoA) is recommended to check Comelec’s compliance.
– Replace “international certification entity” by CoA, supported by local auditing firm/s, as stipulated in RA 9369, Section 11: “The Committee shall certify, through an established international certification entity…categorically stating that the AES…is operating properly, securely and accurately.”
– Use the Consolidation Canvassing System co-developed by Comelec and the Department of Science and Technology.
– For the DICT to hold the source code review in public.
– For the technical working group of the Cerpp/Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) on AES to finally check project completion and compliance of the HES two  months before the elections
– For the Cerpp to remind the JCOC to comply with RA 9369, Section 33, as the latter failed to conduct a comprehensive assessment and evaluation of the performance of the AES technologies implemented in the last four automated elections. JCOC have not reported any appropriate recommendations to Congress in session assembled.


Community Panties

Alfred P. Dizon

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – Credit it to the healthy imagination of our perennially drunk neighborhood philosopher who said the community pantries which sprouted nationwide should be called “community panties.”
    Why, he asks with the wink of an eye when I saw him during one of talks on the road beside the house. Well, because you see a lot of people going to such places wearing panties, although these are covered.
Corny and pilit  I told him. But he was not about to stop. It’s like this, he explains. Panties signify humanity. When panties go down, people multiply. It is the same with these pantries. When these are set up, people multiply. Ahh, I nodded, then off I went.
In our barangay of Betag here, our neighbor Mia Magdalena Fokno Longid organized the first pantry in this capital town.
The donors, it seems, exceeded those who partook of the goods. As she related in her Facebook account, people of all walks of life came to donate goods and funds.
When a couple came out of the Inglay Restaurant their family owns along km 6 and saw what they were doing in front of the establishment, they gave P1,000 without hesitation.
A group of kids riding bicycles also came from the nearby Strawberry Fields and donated vegetables. So on and on it went. Mia said she used the money to buy more goods from the nearby Kenwayne Mart.
A working student came and took something for her dinner. Beneficiaries also got only what they needed at the moment. Nobody got more than enough so others would partake of the goods. 
We would like to congratulate Mia for a job well done. Mia, by the way, is the daughter of lawyer Inglay Capuyan Fokno of Sagada.
I hope nobody among the police would red-tag Mia, as they are doing with other pantry organizers nationwide. But I doubt if anybody among the police would do that like the former regional PNP chief who even wanted to “tokhang” the media, religious and cause-oriented groups.
It seems, the policy of new Cordillera police director Brig. Gen. Oliver Lee is to foster good relationships with the public basing from press releases they send to this paper, so I guess, Mia can sleep well at night.    
Some pantries were reportedly set up in nearby Baguio City. But it seems, these were politicized, basing from reports, so let us leave it at that.
The "community pantry" of essential goods first emerged along a street in Quezon City and has spread in other areas of the country.
The young lady organizer however had to stop the pantry when some cops went to the area asking intrusive personal questions and asking for her phone number.
This, after Southern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade and Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy said some groups, like those who set up community pantries were acting as legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA).
Critics have retorted, is this the way taxpayers’ money is being spent? Government officials, instead of helping people uplift their lives instead go to the extent of derailing humanitarian activities like pantries by red-tagging organizers.   
Many praise the effort as a form of community spirit, where strangers help strangers during the Covid-19 pandemic. But at the same time, they see it as a critique of the government's response to the coronavirus, which they feel is not reaching the people who need help the most.
Senators Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima, Frank Drilon, Sherwin Gatchalian, Risa Hontiveros, Kiko Pangilinan, Grace Poe, and Ralph Recto have urged the law enforcement leadership to investigate the profiling and red-tagging of community pantries’ organizers in various parts of the country, and instead hold a dialogue with them.
The senators also condemned the posts of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) on social media.
"The profiling of organizers must stop. It puts people’s lives in danger, knowing how notorious some police, military officers, and personnel are in red-tagging progressives and now civic-minded citizens who only want to do good for their fellow men and women," they said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson had praised the community pantries on April 18. He said these show that people are now acting on their own, more than a year into the pandemic.
"It is good that through the community pantries, we see mutual aid by neighbors and barangay residents. But this is also a sign of desperation, that people can no longer rely on government to help them," said Lacson in an interview with DZBB.
"When you realize you cannot rely solely on government, you band together to find ways to survive," he added.
Former vice president Jejomar Binay also tweeted, "The message behind the rise of community pantries is simple: when government is absent, we can look after each other."
In these community pantries, anyone can leave food and other essential goods in a marked communal area, then anyone who needs these goods can freely take it.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara was also encouraged by the "bayanihan" spirit exhibited in these community pantries.
"Come to think of it, it may be a small thing for a person, family, or to give free vegetables, fruits, rice, water, or noodles to those who are suffering in these times, those who lost their livelihood.
He urged national and local governments as well as private businesses to pitch in. Angara said these sectors can "replicate and even scale up these community pantries to cater to even more people."
He said food manufacturers, for instance, can "share their production through their own pantries or just bring them over to the existing operations in their respective areas."
I could already see our neighborhood philosopher with his trademark smirk saying, let us have more of these community panties.


Second Cold War looms!

By Perry Diaz

Nobody expected that the first US-China high-level meeting in Anchorage, Alaska would lead to an open adversarial situation.  
Facing each other, the two groups seemed to suggest that the two superpowers were locked in a new Cold War in a tumultuous start sans the usual diplomatic courtesies that happen when diplomats meet for the first time.  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and their counterparts Wang Yi and Yang Jiechi took uncompromising positions for the whole world to see. After both sides displayed a belligerent and uncompromising stance, they seemed to have reached some minor concessions without any radical change in China’s political system or foreign policy.
The basic problem with US-China relations has always been China’s totalitarian society against America’s democratic foundation.  It’s the same problem that the US had during the First Cold War when the US was trying to stop Soviet expansionism.  Now, the US is trying to contain China’s expansionist moves around the world.  It’s the same playbook with different adversaries.
First Cold War
During the First Cold War, which began in 1947 with the implementation of the Truman Doctrine -- America’s foreign policy goal of containing Soviet geopolitical expansion – and ended in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
This led to the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949 among the US, United Kingdom, France, and 11 other European countries.  They agreed that an armed attack against any of them would be considered an attack against them all.  Later on, Greece and Turkey joined NATO.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 10 former Warsaw Pact members joined NATO in 1997. Eventually the alliance expanded to 30 members, the largest military alliance in the history of the world.
It must be remembered that back in 1960, the late Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev told the United Nations General Assembly, “Socialism is replacing capitalism.” Sixty years later, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, “The East is rising, while the West is in decline.”  Evidently, Xi believes in it, which gives him a false sense of security that could lead to US-China military confrontation knowing that China would take advantage of any demonstration of weakness on the part of the US.
Cuban missile crisis
This reminds me of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 when war between the US and the Soviet Union almost broke out when the Soviet Union attempted to bring Soviet nuclear missiles to Cuba.  When President Kennedy found out about it, he directed a blockade of the Russian ships.  For 13 days, the world watched the standoff in the Caribbean Sea. 
Finally, Khrushchev backed down and ordered the ships withdrawn.  In 1964, the Kremlin stripped him from power for his recklessness that led to the Soviets’ embarrassment during the Cuban missile crisis.
The ascendancy of Biden to the presidency changed the dynamics in US-China relations, which has reached a boiling point with China’s increasingly aggressive posture against Taiwan, which she claims as a province of China.  She warned the US to stay away from Taiwan or face the consequences.  But the US has made it clear that she won’t sit by and abandon a nation that she has formally committed to support and protect. 
In the waning days of the Trump administration, an arms deal was sent to Congress for approval.  Beijing claimed that the weapons are offensive, which could be used to attack the Chinese forces’ assembly area on the mainland coast before departure or their vessels while crossing the Taiwan Strait in the event China decides to invade Taiwan.  China is angered by the deal saying it “seriously damages China’s sovereignty and security” and threatened to retaliate. The US is obligated by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the means for defense, hence the series of weapons deal that the two countries had inked in the past that included 66 F-16 fighter jets worth $8 billion, the largest weapons sale in recent history.
Chinese Dream
But the Taiwan question is just the tip of the iceberg.  China has always been jealous of American superiority.  When Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, he envisioned the “Chinese Dream” as the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation."  It is described as achieving the material goal of China becoming a “moderately well-off society” by 2021, and the modernization goal of China becoming fully developed nation by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. So far China is on track.
The rapid deterioration in US-China relations has taken many by surprise.  US-China rivalry has always been moderated by the need to work together on economic, financial, and geopolitical issues.  But their relationship has gone awry due to recriminations over the coronavirus pandemic, which has exposed the depth of their mutual mistrust.
China thinks the US is bent on containing China to prolong the declining power of the US while denying China her rightful place in the sun.  Meanwhile, the US has increasingly believed that China is threatening US security interests; thus, undermining her prosperity, interfering in her democracy, and challenging her values.  Didn’t we go through this same exercise during the US-Soviet Union rivalry?
World dominion
But world dominion, which has always been communist China’s global ambition, is hampered by the existence of the US, which China is trying to replace as the sole superpower.  But the US is hard to replace.  Its democratic foundation is solidly unshakable, whereas, China’s ruling body has to impose a communist and totalitarian rule over her 1.3 billion people.  Simply put, democratization of the Chinese society is hard – if not impossible – to accomplish because of the corrupt and godless ruling class.  Eventually, China would find herself in the same situation as the Soviet Union, which has brought her own downfall by incessant internal power struggle. 
Another factor that has detrimental effect on Chinese military power is that China’s navy – although far more warships than the US – is inferior to the US simply because the US has more experience in actual naval warfare than China.  Besides, American naval weaponry is far better in technology.   
A few years ago, Rear Admiral Luo Yuan, a supporter of communist orthodoxy and rabidly nationalist, anti-American, and anti-Western, said that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is the weakest link in the Chinese armed forces.  But what surprised – and shocked -- his audience was his statement, “Although my country’s military strength has improved significantly in recent years, there is still a clear gap between China and the United States and Russia. Although our country is recognized by all countries in the world in terms of the army, our country is far inferior to the United States and Russia in terms of the navy.”  
US-China naval confrontation
Last April 9, the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group and the USS Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit – ready for action -- sailed to the South China Sea to lend support to the beleaguered Philippine Navy, which was sent by the Philippine government to monitor the 220 Chinese vessels that were parked off the Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
By the time the combined US Navy and Marine Corps team reached the vicinity of Julian Felipe Reef, only 10 of the Chinese vessels remained.  Apparently, the Chinese militia force ran off to avoid confrontation with the Americans. 
Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo, commander of Carrier Strike Group Nine, said in a statement, “The combined Navy and Marine Corps team has been a stabilizing force in this region for more than a century and will continue to support all who share in the collective vision of peace, stability, and freedom of the seas.”  Touché!
Late last month, Secretary of State Blinken affirmed the U.S. commitment to defending the Philippines if she was attacked.  He issued a statement, saying, “The United States stands with our ally, the Philippines, in the face of the [People’s Republic of China]’s maritime militia amassing at [Whitsun Reef].  We will always stand by our allies and stand up for the rules-based international order.”
Many geopolitical experts believe that the South China Sea is where the next global conflict is going to be.  For as long as China claims the South China Sea as her territory, there would always be territorial disputes among the six claimants – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and China.  And with the US affirming her commitment to defend the Philippines if attacked, the region could spark a shooting war.
Are we seeing the start of a Biden Doctrine, which is:  To contain Chinese geopolitical expansion?  With that, it would seem that a Second Cold War looms ahead. (



Mayor suspects UK variant many in Baguio with 17 cases

Aileen P. Refuerzo

BAGUIO CITY -- Mayor Benjamin Magalong believes the B.1.1.7 or UK variant of Covid-19 is now widely circulating in the city as the number of known cases rose to 17 as of April 19.
He said with the current situation of clustering of cases in households and work places, it cannot be discounted that there are more cases of the more transmissible UK and possibly the other variants than what are actually being reported by the Philippine Genome Center.
“We cannot capture the actual cases because of the time needed for the PGC to process the specimens that we are submitting but it appears that we are now dealing with the new variants at the rate our infection is increasing.  So mag-ingat po tayong lahat,” the mayor said. 
He urged anew the public to strictly adhere to the minimum public health standards to protect themselves as he assured that the city’s infection control and case management systems remain sound to prevent the situation from getting out of hand.
“We continue to intensify our testing capability and contact tracing efficiency which remains high to this date.  Our quarantine and isolation, treatment and prevention are also being beefed up to address the current demand,” the mayor said.  
City Health Officer Dr. Rowena Galpo in her report during the Management Committee meeting April 20 said six additional UK variant cases were identified in the PGC Surveillance Report.
This is in addition to the nine cases reported as of April 12 and the two initial ones reported last March.
The six new cases were four males aged 85, 63, 57 and 24 and two females aged 71 and 32.
One was a close contact of two confirmed cases, one came from abroad, two had links to office and household clusters while two had no link to any cluster.
Of the nine cases reported as of April 12, seven were females aged 22 (two of them), 24, 26, 30, 51 and 64 and two males aged 19 and 23.
Most of them were part of the clusters being monitored by the city including the business process outsourcing, English as a second language (ESL), health workers and a household cluster.
The city’s first UK variant case was a 30-year-old female reported while the second was a two-year toddler also a female.  Both were reported last March.
Galpo said that while all of the cases had already recovered from the disease,  the city is exerting efforts to break the transmission by back tracking on the patients’ contacts from F1 to F3, retesting and conduct of data and link analyses to trace the movement of the patients, the places they went to identify the people they interacted with at the time she was infectious for monitoring and reassessment for possible infection. 


Present-day riders

March L. Fianza

B AGUIO CITY -- My eyes and ears were glued to the TV screen last week as I watched the story of the former policeman who was found guilty by a jury. Then there was the news about community pantries.
    I found that watching TV was an effective way to stop me from risking myself into mixing with a crowd of people who could be innocent carriers of the transmissible coronavirus.
    Before that, let me express my deepest sympathies to the family of Sir Bial A. Palaez, 89; who was called by his Creator to a more equipped planning and development office beyond the horizon.
    A month after the 1990 killer earthquake when the panic, confusion and the dust wrought by the calamity settled down a little, Sir Bial and I shared coffee on a corner table at the employees’ canteen of the Benguet Capitol to update ourselves of the disaster.
    I knew him as one who led the provincial planning and development office without grievances, until the earthquake struck.     With tears welling in his eyes he said, the office has to redo all the plans and on-going provincial socio-infrastructure projects that were destroyed by the earthquake.
    As a news correspondent whose weekly beat was the Capitol, I became a regular rider on his new service pick-up that traversed the towns of Benguet as he and his men assessed their projects destroyed by the earthquake.
    Mr. Palaez was a member of the team that finalized the planning stages in the construction of the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Post in 1984. He was also appointed in 1988 to represent Benguet in the Cordillera Regional Consultative Commission that drafted the first regional autonomy bill.
    Sir Bial was also an elder member of the defunct Baguio Press Club and the Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club having published one or two newspapers in Benguet during their heydays.
    With those cups of coffee, spirits, ideas and conversations shared, I would be lying to myself if I will not say that I enjoyed his company. His memories remain. Rest in peace Sir Bial. 
    The demolition team of Baguio was reactivated last month to execute orders of Mayor Magalong in relation to the illegal improvements and expansions of residential houses put up inside the Busol Forest Reservation.
    The city side of Busol has been squatted on by hundreds of residential houses that were built over the years, even while management was placed under the Baguio Water District.
    The last time I talked to friends in the DENR, they said it would be difficult to free the forest from houses numbering to thousands. The best action therefore was to strike an agreement between the city and the occupants to maintain their improvements and stop expanding.
    This was violated, hence the demolition orders. Some houses were demolished while other structures were saved after securing court orders. The latest I heard was that the house owners formed an association for unity of action.
    That could be the right move but not all may benefit from it. While they illegally occupied parts of the forest reservation, many faked their connections to deceitfully become riders on ancestral land claims that are genuine.
    Community pantries have been with us, especially during calamities when places are isolated from the rest of the world. We have seen food and soup kitchens put up around Burnham Park days after the July 16, 1990 earthquake.
    In Benguet, the basketball court of the capitol and all front yards of municipal halls became common kitchens that fed all who came since all access roads were erased from the map.
    There were no means to transport food supplies so that everybody was donating and sharing what they have. Rice, even pigs and chickens were given voluntarily as there were no supplies of animal feeds after the earthquake.
    Last month, the Members, Church of God International (MCGI) simultaneously launched their Free Store in Baguio, Benguet and Mountain Province. Coordinator Grace Doctolero of UNTV said similar stores were also launched in other parts of the country.
    The MCGI Free Stores had no other purpose but to distribute rice, canned goods, eggs, cookies, noodles, sugar, soap, shampoo and essentials to PWDs, vulnerable members of the community during the pandemic. The group intends to continue their Free Store monthly in places where they are needed.        
    Putting up a community pantry in Quezon City by 26-year old private citizen Ana Patricia Non whose only goal was to help provide food and necessities to people extremely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic is admirable.
    Written on Manila paper and posted as the instruction for all was the line: “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan” (Give whatever you can, take only what you need).
    Ms. Non said in a TV interview, there were now more than 300 community pantries nationwide that were giving away rice, noodles, canned goods, fresh vegetables, fruits and other foods for anyone in need who drops by.
    Patring’s pure and honest project was launched with no strings attached, until other personalities replicated her bayanihan initiative. Somewhere in the duplications in other barangays, unnecessary things were done.
    In one community pantry, persons who may or may not be connected to the operations of the community were mixing with people waiting in line and were distributing leaflets criticizing the government’s slow distribution of amelioration money.
    Another food pantry in Tondo was reported to have written “Community Pantry of the Philippines – National Pantry Association (CPP-NPA)” above a table but was taken down when a bystander commented against it.
    Such acts reached suspicious police and military authorities who started asking questions. Though the reports were isolated, the community pantries were unnecessarily tainted and the organizers red-tagged.
    Patring said she had to shut down her food pantry, thinking that some personalities who were red-tagged ended up dead.
    Even while it was hard to prove if such acts were connected to the community pantry, those with veiled interests could only be the ones who can ride on the good intentions of the community pantry organizers.
    By the way, I suspect that some community pantries that were launched in the provinces, including the one in Baguio were organized for another purpose. Receiving donated food and goods then giving them away were only secondary.
    Unfortunately, the food pantry organizers and the police were both victims of a third party rider. 



Ilocos Norte sets training programs to boost work

By Blessing Angel V. Agliam

LAOAG CITY -- The provincial government of Ilocos Norte, through its Public Employment Service Office (PESO), is now working with agencies to provide skills development trainings to help residents find alternative livelihoods amidst the pandemic.
    PESO, in collaboration with the Dept. of Science and Technology (DOST), held a “Malunggay and squash product processing training” at the Divine Word College of Laoag on April 16 with nearly 40 participants.
    “Our goal is to increase employment opportunities to displaced workers and job seekers by providing skills development trainings,” PESO manager Lizette B. Atuan said.
    “In our recent program, malunggay and squash served as our resources because of the abundance and ease of care in our backyard. Our participants learned how to make malunggay and squash pastillas, banana-squash bread, and squash doughnuts. With these, they can make their own products and start a small business,” she said.
    Under its partnership with DOST and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, PESO is promoting livelihood skills training programs.
    Since the start of the pandemic, the office conducted five trainings: “Starter kit program” for micro, small, and medium businesses, which benefited vulcanizing, computer, tailoring, upholstery, and carwash shops; “IN na Negosyo sa Kariton” for displaced overseas Filipino workers to include trainings on baking, cooking and computer servicing.
    “We are just waiting for the schedule from the regional office,” Atuan added.
    Interested participants of PESO livelihood skills training may visit their office at the provincial capitol building or message the rovincial PESO Ilocos Norte Facebook Page.


DOT opens Cordillera' Mangan taku' food fair

By Carlito C. Dar

BAGUIO CITY - - Cordillera cuisines and indigenous food are being featured in this summer capital once again as the Dept. of Tourism Cordillera regional office and its partners brought back the “Mangan Taku” food fair last week.
    CAR regional director Jovita Ganongan bared this saying this was in  celebration of Filipino Food Month this April.
    Mangan Taku, a Kankana-ey word meaning “let us eat” was launched by DOT Cordillera, in partnership with the city government of Baguio and the Dept. of Agriculture, in April 2019 featuring indigenous cuisines and food products from the Cordillera provinces of Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga and Mountain Province.
    After taking a break in 2020 due to the Covid-19pandemic, the food festival is back this year taking into account the needed health and safety protocols of doing such activities under new normal.
    The food fair opened with the Mangan Taku Chef’s competition wherein from April 21-23, amateur cooks and chefs in the Cordillera focused on creative dishes that are delicious blend of local and indigenous food knowledge and modern cooking techniques. 
    The top five competitors shall then join the Mangan Taku Food Crawl on April 29 to May 2, wherein the chefs and featured restaurants will serve their winning food entry to invited guests.
    Scheduled on April 27 is the Mangan Taku Food Conversations where selected guests will talk about Cordillera local food delicacies, experiences and the importance of food in tourism destination branding. The event which will also feature videos of heritage dishes cooking demonstration will   be live streamed on facebook by DOT– CAR.
    Another feature of the Mangan Taku this year is the Cordillera Chef’s Fair - Take Out Edition set at the SM City Baguio on April 28 to May 2. In partnership with Cordillera Chef Organization, food booths will be set up for the public to have a taste of Cordillera cuisines and indigenous food products. 
    Ganongan said the Mangan Taku Food Fair aims to provide an avenue for   stakeholders in the food and restaurant industry who are  also directly hit by the pandemic to promote and sell their products while providing the general public the opportunity to learn and explore local Cordillera cuisine and appreciate the region’s food landscape, both onsite and virtually.
    “Along with the consideration of the importance of this event to sustain tourism development and branding of Baguio and the Cordilleras, we also assure Mangan Taku will be conducted under strict and safety guidelines and  will also be utilizing the most appropriate platform that adopts to the new normal,” Ganongan said.


InLife offers free Covid- 19 insurance for workers

By Karen L. Plata

As Covid-19 virus infections escalate in the country, Insular Life (InLife) is offering free Covid-19 insurance to help essential workers cope with the disease.
    The free insurance cover is under a program called “Chain of Protection” (CHoP), to provide financial protection to 110,000 people who work in vital, non-medical industries.
    Launched in celebration of InLife’s 110th anniversary in 2020, the offer runs until November 24, 2021 or until the 110,000 free insurance shall have been taken, whichever comes first.
    “Since the start of the pandemic last year, most of our own employees are working from home until today. Unfortunately, many of our kababayans in other industries need to go out every day because their products and services are essential to the population and to the economy,” said InLife Chairperson Nina D. Aguas. “We want to give them peace of mind through the Chain of Protection program.”
    The free insurance provides coverage of P50,000 for deaths due to accidents or the Covid-19 disease. CHoP also covers an allowance of P500/day for a maximum of 10 days if the patient is admitted due to Covid-19 or if the hospitalization is due to an accident.
    The free life insurance and hospitalization allowance is limited to 45 days upon signing up.
    “We noticed that those with limited financial means suffer the most when they get infected by the corona virus.
    Through this program, we hope to be able to ease some of these financial burden,” Aguas added.
    For the complete list of industries and workers covered by the program, please visit to sign-up.
    Insular Life (InLife) is the first, largest, and only mutual Filipino life insurance company in the country with over 109 years of uninterrupted service.
    The company applices over a hundred years of experience in financial protection, risk management, savings, and investment to clients make confident decisions for you and your loved ones. 
    “As a mutual life insurance company, our accountability is to our policyholders, PhilAm said in a statement. “They can be assured of being protected by a company that has an asset base of over P143 billion and net worth of P43 billion. We have a nationwide presence in 54 branches all over the country, and an expanded digital footprint to serve our customers, wherever and whenever they want. Our success is anchored on the growth and security of our partners, policyholders and beneficiaries, because we exist to offer a lifetime for good for everyone.” 
    For more information, visit


Kalinga mourns 13 victims of car crash in ill-fated tour

>> Monday, April 26, 2021

BJMP driver assigned at Bontoc Provincial jail 

By Dionisio Dennis, Jr., Jesse Maguiya and Liza Agoot  

TABUK CITY, Kalinga – The provincial government here is grieving the loss of 13 lives in a vehicular accident night of April 18.
    In a statement posted on its official social media page, the provincial government said “the Kalinga officialdom grieves and asks the community for a minute of silence and prayer for the bereaved families and souls of those who passed away due to a tragic vehicular accident that happened.”
    Gov. Ferdinand Tubban has instructed the Provincial Social Work and Development Office to extend all possible assistance to the bereaved families.
    The local government also reminded the community of the strict observance of surgical lockdowns that were imposed on identified areas and the prohibition of non-essential activities. “Stay home, stay safe,” the post read.
    Based on the report of Col. Davy Limmong, Director of the Kalinga Provincial Police, it was around 6:15 p.m. that day when the black sports utility vehicle driven by Bureau of Jail Management and Penology’s Soy Lope Agtulao with 14 passengers, including eight children, fell into an irrigation canal at Barangay Bulo here.
    Agtulao was assigned at the provincial jail in Bontoc District Jail in Mountain Province.
    All 13 died from drowning despite the efforts of rescuers to revive them.
    They were declared dead on arrival at the Mejia Kim Medical Center in Agbannawag and the Kalinga Provincial Hospital in Bulanao.
    Residents who helped pluck the victims from the submerged vehicle told authorities some of the victims were still alive but nobody had cardiopulmonary resuscitation knowledge.
    Aside from Agtulao, 36, the other fatalities were Cydwin Lope, 6; Cyan Lope, 4; her brother Sony Lope, 22; and her father, Alfredo Lope, 59.
    The others who perished were Judilyn Talawec Dumayom, 31, and her children Seadarn, 5 and Jeslyn, 4; Remedios Longey Basilio, 56; Marlo Gel Perena, 6, the niece of the adult survivor; and Jessibell Paycao, 27, and her children Cedric, 4, and Scarlet, 3.
    Edith Perez was able to get out of the vehicle along the jail officer’s 10-year-old child, Cyril. Both survived.
Lt. Col. Radino Belly, chief of police of Tabuk City Police Station, said that based on Perez’s account, the group decided to go to Bulo Lake to take photos before the jail officer brings home her father to Barangay Tadian.
    Agtulao drove slowly, according to Perez, knowing that they were overloaded.
    “Perez said Soy (Agtulao) suddenly lost control of the vehicle and maneuvered the towards the irrigation canal,” Belly said.
    Another brother of Agtulao was on a motorcycle and trailing the ill-fated vehicle. However, he did not witness the accident.
Perez is still in shock and will be subjected to debriefing by a social worker, according to Belly. -- PNA


Paracelis P320-M LBP loan hit; projects start

By Roger Sacyaten

PARACELIS, Mountain Province – A P320 million controversial loan from Landbank for a water project among others in this remote town is still being assailed by town folks and netizens.
    But the mayor here insisted the fund will make life easier for residents and boost the economy.
    “We believe the Paracelis water system project, to be called Kakarefin Water,” will entice business investment, and tourism too, as we hopefully make Paracelis a first class municipality,”
    Mayor Marcos Ayangwa said this despite detractors who questioned the financial viability of the municipal government in paying the loan. 
    The water project was launched last April 20 at the source in Sitio Tollang, in Addang, Barangay Bunot, around 11 km to the center at Poblacion.
    The project cost of P80 million would be sufficient to bring potable water to Poblacion and Barangay Bantay, the initial beneficiaries, according to Ma. Evangeline Mellano, consultant hired by the local government unit to oversee implementation of the waterworks project.
    It was learned around 4,000 household connections in the two barangays will benefit from this project.
It will be metered to control water wastage and be an income generating venture managed by the local government.
    The expected output from the source is 800 liters per second, good enough to supply the two barangays that need only 40 liters per second.
    “So, this will be the water source for other barangays. We will share water to the other barangays in the future,” said Mellano.
    Reservoir water tanks will be installed in strategic areas along the route of the system that can be the connections to other barangays.
    The project fund used for the waterworks project is part of loan financed by Land Bank worth P320 Million.
    The Sangguniang Bayan granted authority to Ayangwa on March 2, 2020 to enter into loan agreement with Land Bank.
    Allocations for the P320 million follows: P80 million for the Kakarefin water project; P80 million for the multi-purpose building or the new municipal hall, P10 million for engineered sanitary landfill, P10 million for central terminal, P30 million for purchase of equipment for the sanitary landfill, P25 million for new health centers; and P85 million for counterparts to PRDP projects known as farm to market roads.
    SB resolution 2020-010 granted authority for the whole amount but  Ayangwa said the repayment scheme will be through progressive billing which means that interests would depend on the withdrawn amount and as the projects are implemented not at one time.
    “With the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) at roughly P240 million, we are capable to pay the loan in 15 years”, said Ayangwa.
    “We have conducted earlier consultations with stakeholders and there was no opposition. Perhaps the oppositors have to be zealous on monitoring the implementations. This project is the most basic of our projects as water is life. We ask for your support to this crucial project. By Christmas time we hope to deliver tap water to your faucets,” Ayangwa said.   


New Covid Cordi cases 3, 870; protocol breach hastening surge: DOH

By Liza Agoot 

BAGUIO CITY – The Dept. of Health Cordillera Administrative Region said the region continues to record a spike in Covid-19 cases due to breach in safety and health protocols.
    Dr. Amelita Pangilinan, DOH-CAR assistant regional director and the agency’s spokesperson, announced this in a press conference recently. “The spike in cases that we are experiencing is affected by the presence of the different variants but the primary cause of the surge in cases is because of the people’s breach in protocols and disregard of discipline,” she said.
    Based on the April 13 Covid-19 tracker of the Cordillera, 343 new Covid-19 cases were recorded that brought to 3,870 the total active cases in the region -- 99 in Abra, 95 in Apayao, 1,483 in Baguio City, 928 in Benguet, 579 in Ifugao, 324 in Kalinga, and 362 in Mountain Province.
    Of the 3,870 active cases, 776 are asymptomatic, 2,742 with mild symptoms, 279 moderate, 5 severe, 1 critical, and 67 are for verification.
    She said there were 21 municipal mayors, one city mayor and two governors in the Cordillera who have been infected with Covid-19 and already recovered. Among the deaths recorded was Kabayan Mayor Faustino Aquisan since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
    “Marami kasi sa ating mga kababayan ang nag-aalis ng (face) mask o kaya hindi nagsusuot ng (face) mask, hindi nagsusuot ng face shield at nag-ga-gather. Ang masama hindi pa sila naka (face) mask, kaya kung merong may sakit, nagkakahawahan na (there are many who remove their face mask or do not use face mask. There are those who don’t wear face shield and worse, they attend a gathering without wearing face mask, that is why when there is one infected with the virus, others get infected too),” Pangilinan said.
    Pangilinan said she also noticed people in malls, at the market, in public utility jeepneys with their face masks on their chin or face shield converted as headbands.
    The doctor also mentioned that most of the clustering of cases was seen to have come from mass gatherings such as in wakes and family gatherings.
    “Hindi naman masama (It is not bad) that we observe our cultural practices but we should be aware to always follow and observe the health and safety protocols,” Pangilinan said.
    Pangilinan said there were also 61 recorded infected with Covid-19 variants --58 with B.1.1.7 and three cases of the P.3 variant.
    She said the region has submitted 879 specimens to the Philippine Genome Center, with 338 awaiting results.
    As of April 13, the doctor said there were 1,560 individuals who have been identified as first to third-generation contacts of those who were found to be infected with Covid-19 variants.
    She urged the public to always keep in mind the safety protocols as such is the only protection pending the vaccination.
    Pangilinan also asked the public to have themselves vaccinated. -- PNA 


Ilocos tightens rules as Covid-19 cases up

By Raymund Catindig and Eva Visperas

DAGUPAN CITY — Police are implementing stricter quarantine protocols in Ilocos region amid increase in Covid-19 cases.
    Brig. Gen. Emmanuel Peralta, Region 1 police director, said visitors in Pangasinan must present proof of essential travel aside from identification cards at border checkpoints.
    In La Union, which was placed under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) from April 10 to 23, travelers, including those only passing through, are required to present a negative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test result, QR pass and ID.
    Travel for leisure is not allowed.
    Ilocos Sur remains under modified general community quarantine, but the towns of Cabugao, Bantay,  Sinait, Cervantes, Narvacan, Santa, Sta.Maria, San Esteban, Sta. Lucia, Suyo and Tagudin and cities of Candon and Vigan are under MECQ.
    Residents of Ilocos Norte traveling to other provinces must present a negative RT-PCR test result four days upon their return. A negative swab test is also required for those visiting the province.


Ibaloi heads UP Baguio as new chancellor

By J.L. Lazaga

BAGUIO CITY -- The University of the Philippines Baguio has transitioned into new leadership with the appointment of an Ibaloi -- Dr. Corazon L. Abansi as chancellor.
    The change of command of leadership was ushered by a ceremonial turn-over from Chancellor Raymundo D. Rovillos to Dr. Abansi on April 14.
    In ceremony held at UP Baguio Oblation grounds, Chancellor Abansi accepted the mace of UP Baguio first day of her official assumption of duty as chancellor.
    She will serve as the chief executive of the UP Baguio until 13 April 2024.
    Dr. Abansi’s appointment was approved by the Board of Regents of the University of the Philippines in their March 25, 2021  meeting following search that started January in which she and lawyer Ma. Georgina A. Alvarez were nominated for chancellorship.
    Alvarez, a UP Baguio Master of Management alumna, earlier expressed her gratitude in a message where she also wished     Abansi success in her stewardship of UP Baguio.
    Abansi is the third chancellor of UP Baguio, immediately succeeding Dr. Rovillos whose term ended April 13.
     Rovillos served three consecutive terms as chancellor of UP Baguio 2012-2021.
    A professor of economics, Abansi is immediate past vice chancellor for academic affairs of UP Baguio.
    She has a B.S. in agricultural economics, major in finance (1980), an M.S. in agricultural economics, major in marketing (1989), and Ph.D. in agricultural economics, major in natural resource economics (1997) all from UP Los Baños, and an M.A. in economics, major in environmental economics (1994) from UP Diliman.
In her summary of significant achievements and qualifications presented to the public as a nominee for the chancellorship,     Abansi said she sees herself "as a dynamic leader with significant managerial experience in higher education, a passionate teacher with sustained scholarship in multi-disciplinary research and a devoted servant of the community." This honing of her skills in coordination, negotiation and supervision come from over a decade of serving in leadership positions in mission-critical offices in UP Baguio including as the university's director of students affairs (AY 2012-2015),  director of UP Baguio's Institute of Management (AY 2011-2012), and as vice chancellor for Academic Affairs (2015-2021).
    Prior to joining UP Baguio, Abansi was with the De La Salle University Lipa as vice-chancellor for academics and research.
    A consummate scholar with multiple International Publication awards and consistent awardee of the One-UP Professorial Chair for two consecutive terms (2015-2017; 2018-2021), Abansi has also been conferred the title of University Scientist I (2018-2020).
    Her research and advocacy interests include protection of the environment and improvement of the quality of education.
Contributing to her work are publications the last 10 years spawned by multidisciplinary and collaborative research projects with her colleagues from other disciplines and other universities.
    All these constituting her extensive experience in institutional management and academic leadership would serve as her wellspring of knowledge in her journey with the University, along with her vision guided by the metaphor of the Ibaloy word “sebang” (pathway) connoting a path to construct a culturally rooted academic institution. Following through her vision, Abansi in her message during the turn-over ceremony said her administration “will rely heavily on the collective wisdom of the UP Baguio community in taking pathways that will provide agile response to the needs of our beloved University especially in this difficult time.”
    In the turnover ceremony, Abansi also announced new members of the executive staff, namely Dr. Rosemary M. Gutierrez and Dr. Santos Jose O. Dacanay III.
    Gutierrez will serve as vice chancellor for academic affairs while Dacanay will serve as vice chancellor for administration, replacing Prof. Jessica K. Cariño whose retirement coincided with the end of her appointment as vice chancellor on April 13.
Rovillos and Cariño were also recognized in the ceremony for their service to the University.
    Gutierrez and Dacanay will join incumbent members of the executive staff: College of Arts and Communication Dean Dr. Jimmy Fong, College of Science Dean Dr. Dymphna Javier, College of Social Sciences Dean Prof. Arellano Colongon Jr., University Registrar Prof. Jocelyn Rafanan, director of student affairs Dr. Charita Delos Reyes, director of the Cordillera Studies Center Dr. Ruth Tindaan and director of public affairs Prof. Junley Lazaga.
    This transition of UP Baguio coincides with the 60th anniversary of the school since its re-establishment in 1961 after World War II.
    The short and meaningful program was attended by members of the executive staff, heads of administrative offices, and university employees.


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