3 dead, 77,000 flee as storm pounds Philippines

Villagers wade through a flooded street in Brgy Calingatngan, Philippine, on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 16 December 2017
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3 dead, 77,000 flee as storm pounds Philippines

TACLOBAN: At least three people were killed and tens of thousands were driven from their homes by floods as Tropical Storm Kai-Tak pounded the eastern Philippines on Saturday, cutting off power and triggering landslides, officials said.
Kai-Tak, packing gusts of up to 110 km/per hour, hit the country’s third-largest island Samar in the afternoon and tore through a region devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan four years ago, the state weather service said.
Local officials reported three deaths on neighboring Leyte island — a two-year-old boy who drowned in the town of Mahaplag, a woman buried by a landslide and another person who fell into a flooded manhole in Ormoc city.
Samar and Leyte, with a combined population of about 4.5 million, had borne the brunt of Haiyan in 2013, which left more than 7,350 people dead or missing.
Bus driver Felix Villaseran, his wife and four children hunkered down in their two-story house in the Leyte city of Tacloban along with 11 relatives whose homes were flooded from incessant rain.
“We have yet to shake off our phobia. I hope we don’t have a repeat of that,” Villaseran, who lost 39 cousins in the Haiyan onslaught, told AFP.
“My missus stockpiled on groceries before the storm hit, but since we also have to feed these three other families we’re now running low on food,” he added.
Military trucks drove through rising floodwaters on Samar and Leyte to rescue trapped residents, with more than 77,000 people now in evacuation centers, local officials said.
Strong winds toppled trees and power pylons, knocking out power throughout the region while floods, small landslides and rock falls blocked roads and buried some homes, local officials and witnesses said.
Farmland in the mainly rural region was also under water, while seven people were injured by landslides and flying objects, the regional civil defense office said in a report.
A spokeswoman for the national government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council told AFP it was trying to confirm reports of two other deaths from landslides and floods on the islands of Biliran and Dinagat.
“It was like a flashback again for residents of Tacloban city,” its Vice Mayor Sambo Yaokasin told Manila TV ABS-CBN, referring to the Haiyan disaster.
The station broadcast images of flooded streets and corrugated iron roofing sheets flying off homes.
“Nearly half the villages here are flooded,” Marcelo Picardal, vice governor of Eastern Samar province told ABS-CBN in an interview.
Three other people were missing in Ormoc after being swept away by floods on Saturday, city Mayor Richard Gomez told CNN Philippines TV in an interview.
“We need a lot of water and a lot of blankets,” Gomez added, citing widespread flooding that may have contaminated the tap water system of the city of 200,000 people.
The state weather service said more heavy rain was expected in the eastern Philippines in the coming hours with Kai-Tak forecast to slice across the rest of the central Philippines over the weekend.
Ferry services on the storm’s path were suspended due to rough seas, the civil defense office in the area said.
About 20 typhoons or weaker storms either make landfall in the Philippines or reach its waters each year, bringing annual misery and death and consigning millions of survivors to perennial poverty.


Lebanese cabinet approves draft state budget

Updated 1 min 10 sec ago
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Lebanese cabinet approves draft state budget

  • Budget is seen as a critical test of the government's determination to make changes
  • Could help unlock some $11 billion in financing

BEIRUT: The heavily indebted Lebanese government approved a draft budget to cut its large deficit on Friday, aiming to ward off a financial crisis which top leaders have warned is bearing down on the country unless it carries out reforms.
The draft 2019 budget, which will cut the deficit to 7.5% of GDP from 11.5% in 2018, is seen as a critical test of the government's will to launch reforms that have been put off for years by a state riddled with corruption and waste.
Lebanon's bloated public sector is its biggest expense, followed by the cost of servicing a public debt equal to some 150% of GDP, one of the world's heaviest debt burdens.
The budget could help unlock some $11 billion in financing pledged at a Paris donors' conference last year for infrastructure investment, if it wins the approval of donor countries and institutions.
"Now, praise God, we are done. The budget is complete," Information Minister Jamal Jarrah said after a cabinet session.
One more meeting to seal the process will be held at the presidential palace before the draft is referred to parliament for approval. Ministers did not say when the next session would take place.
Fears the budget would lead to cuts to state salaries, pensions or benefits triggered weeks of strikes and protests by public sector workers and military veterans.
Measures to rein in the public sector wage bill include a three-year freeze in all types of state hiring and a cap on extra-salary bonuses. State pension will also be taxed.
However a temporary public sector salary cut mooted by some early in the process was not included.
A big chunk of the deficit cut stems from tax increases including a 2% import tax and a hike in tax on interest payments. The government also plans to cut some $660 million from the debt servicing bill by issuing treasury bonds at 1% interest rate to the Lebanese banking sector.
The final cabinet approval had been obstructed by a dispute over whether more needed to be done to bring the deficit lower.
But Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, speaking to local media, said "all the clauses and articles" had been agreed. Nobody had raised any objections when Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said "we are done" at the end of the session, he added.
There was no immediate comment from Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who had been demanding further debate.
Deputy Prime Minister Ghassan Hasbani, speaking to Reuters on Thursday, said the draft budget would stabilise the financial situation and avoid "catastrophe" but it fell short of the major structural reforms Lebanon needs.
Economists in Lebanon say it will give a "positive shock" to market confidence against a backdrop of years of low economic growth, concern over a slowdown in the growth of bank deposits and falling central bank net foreign assets.
Aberdeen Standard Investments emerging markets fund manager Kevin Daly said: "We are still sceptical because they still have very little room in the budget." Wages and subsidies made up a large proportion of the deficit, he noted.
"I think the market will come back after the weekend and take a closer look ... the jury is still out on these guys".
Nassib Ghobril, chief economist at Lebanon's Byblos Bank, said the draft budget had stopped increases in government spending but had not reduced them.
"They might reduce the deficit to an acceptable level. But it is not a reform budget or an austerity budget, it is a budget based heavily on taxes," he said.
"This is the easy way out for the government to reduce the deficit. If we believe the figure, it is a significant reduction in the deficit, but it is not the way to do it in a stagnating economy, in an economy in need of liquidity."
Jason Tuvey, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, said: "Markets might react positively initially in as far as they've actually managed to agree on a budget after several weeks of deliberations.
"But over longer horizon, we still think that markets in Lebanon will come under pressure again."