How overseas Filipinos in the GCC respond when disaster hits the Philippines

Rescuers pull a rubber boat carrying residents through a flooded street after Typhoon Vamco hit in Marikina City, suburban Manila on November 12, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
Rescuers pull a rubber boat carrying residents through a flooded street after Typhoon Vamco hit in Marikina City, suburban Manila on November 12, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 15 December 2020

How overseas Filipinos in the GCC respond when disaster hits the Philippines

Rescuers pull a rubber boat carrying residents through a flooded street after Typhoon Vamco hit in Marikina City, suburban Manila on November 12, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Community members have rallied to the assistance of their fellow citizens in the wake of Typhoon Vamco’s destruction
  • Remittances said to play vital role in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, especially for lower-income families

DUBAI: Weeks have passed since Typhoon Vamco tore through the Philippines, yet the human and material devastation left in its wake continues to be felt strongly by people who were in the storm’s path — and by far-flung overseas Filipino communities as well.

Vamco, known locally as Ulysses, killed at least 67 people after hitting the Philippines on Nov. 11. Dozens more were injured when heavy downpours caused flash flooding and mudslides. Storm surges left some areas submerged in Luzon, one of the country’s three main island groups.

“My family is still trying to get mud out of our house,” a Filipino migrant worker in Dubai told Arab News, recalling the horror that was visited on her relatives when heavy rains and winds of up to 213 km/h lashed the Pacific islands.

“It will take us months to fully recover from the typhoon’s impact. It’s difficult being away while they’re experiencing this.”

Local authorities estimate that about 3.8 million of the nation’s 100 million people were severely affected by the disaster and around 350,000 were evacuated from their homes.

At least 110 people have been killed in recent weeks as Typhoons Molave, Goni and Vamco cut through Manila, Bicol, the Cagayan Valley and other parts of Luzon.




Residents carrying food supplies return to their homes in Marikina City, suburban Manila, on November 13, 2020, a day after Typhoon Vamco hit the capital area bringing heavy rains and flooding. (AFP/File Photo)

While the Philippines takes stock of the human and material damage caused by Vamco, the roughly 2.3 million Filipino migrants living and working abroad — a large proportion of them in Saudi Arabia and the UAE — wait anxiously for news from home.

For, in addition to Vamco’s havoc, the country is grappling with the economic and social impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected around 448,300 people and killed at least 8,730 as of mid-December, according to Johns Hopkins University figures.

“The night of the typhoon, my family was messaging me constantly about how the rain wasn’t stopping, and that they were monitoring the water level,” Dara de Guzman, a Filipino who moved to Dubai in 2016, told Arab News.

De Guzman’s family lives in Marikina, about 13 kilometers northeast of the capital Manila. The city experiences periodic flooding owing to its low-lying topography, a problem that has been compounded in recent years by illegal logging and quarrying in the region.

“I was in constant communication with them throughout the night, and they were already sending messages asking to pray for them,” de Guzman said, recalling her mental state while being thousands of miles away from her dear ones.




Piles of debris and trash are seen along a muddy street in Marikina City, suburban Manila on November 13, 2020, a day after Typhoon Vamco hit the capital area bringing heavy rains and flooding. (AFP/File Photo)

“I really wanted to go home. I felt so helpless, and the best thing I could do was to make sure I knew what was happening.”

Gripped by similar emotions, many Filipinos in the UAE felt they must do something to help their distant countrymen — such as holding vigils and encouraging individual acts of charity.

One former Filipino community leader in Dubai, who did not wish to be identified, said he noticed several social media posts aimed at raising funds and seeking donations to support those affected by the typhoon.

It was only natural for overseas Filipinos to come together in a time of crises, he said, just as they did in January this year when the Taal volcano in Batangas province erupted, spewing ash across swathes of the country, grounding flights and forcing schools to close.

A FIRST-PERSON ACCOUNT

“Nakakatakot dito kuya (It’s scary here),” my sister wrote via Facebook Messenger when I pressed her for news about our family on the night Typhoon Vamco hit the Philippines. Heavy rains accompanied by high winds caused the roof of our house in Manila to make creaking noises as though it was about to be blown away any moment, she said. In the end, mercifully the house suffered no damage and there was no heavy flooding in my family’s neighborhood.

I could only imagine the terror felt by my family from the comfort of my home in Dubai — four hours behind and thousands of miles away from the Philippines. I moved to the UAE three years ago, but this was the first time I felt very far away from my family. “We are okay, don’t worry about us too much. We will make it through the night,” my mother assured me, as she always does.

Yet I struggled with anxiety all through the night, especially when my family members informed me that there was a power outage and that they were being evacuated. When communications went dead, I had no way of knowing what was going on at the other end. It is in moments like these that the distance between the two countries hits home, reminding me that my relatively comfortable life in the Gulf insulates me from the physical discomfort that natural disasters cause to my loved ones from time to time. — One Carlo Diaz 

The country is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters on account of its location along the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire, where about 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes occur.

At the same time, the country is buffeted by an average of 20 typhoons every year — a trend expected by climate scientists to accelerate with the effects of climate change.

President Rodrigo Duterte has responded to the disasters by renewing calls on wealthy nations to take action on the climate crisis affecting the developing world.




Coast guard personnel using a basin to evacuate a child from a flooded home in Cagayan province, north of Manila, days after Typhoon Vamco hit parts of the country bringing heavy rain and flooding. (AFP/File Photo)

“The problem, whether we accept it or not, is climate change,” he said while surveying the flood damage recently.

“Developed countries must lead in deep and drastic cuts in carbon emissions. They must act now, or it would be too late. Or if I may say, it is too late.”

In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan (or Yolanda as it was known locally) killed at least 6,300 people in the Philippines alone and remains among the most powerful tropical cyclone on record.

However, every time a major natural disaster causes death and suffering, Filipinos can count on waves of generosity, especially from members of a diaspora that is always eager to express solidarity with people back home.

This instinct is not unique to overseas Filipino, to be sure. Many expatriate communities maintain close familial, emotional and financial ties with their home countries, some of which are prone to political and social unrest, conflicts and natural disasters.




Submerged houses in Cagayan province, north of Manila, on November 14, 2020, days after Typhoon Vamco hit parts of the country bringing heavy rain and flooding. (AFP/File Photo)

Many Lebanese, for instance, have rallied behind their compatriots since the massive Beirut port blast of Aug. 4. There has been an outpouring of donations, gifts and remittances from the Lebanese diaspora in response to the overlapping crises back home.

“Filipinos have shown to be very sensitive to the demand for help when their country has been struck by similar disasters in the past,” said Roberto d’Ambrosio, a financial expert and CEO of brokerage firm Axiory Global.

“Remittances can play a vital role in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, especially for lower-income families whose income sources vanish abruptly under the circumstances, without any buffer to face an emergency or navigate short-term difficulties.”

This is especially true for the Philippines, which relies heavily on money sent by Filipinos working abroad to keep its foreign-currency reserves replenished.

“In general terms, remittances during crises constitute a very important form of help for the affected country, allowing the economy to keep ticking thanks to the inflow of funds from abroad,” d’Ambrosio said.




A motorist passes along a street amidst strong winds in Legazpi City, Albay province on November 11, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

According to a report published in August by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), remittances across the world could decline by $108.6 billion this year owing to job losses and trimmed payrolls in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Money sent to Asia, where about a third of migrant workers worldwide come from, could plunge by $54.3 billion, the Manila-based lender said in its report.

According to the ADB, remittances to Asia and the Pacific, which amounted to $315 billion in 2019, help fuel the consumption-led growth for some of the region’s developing economies, including the Philippines.

“I would do anything to have my presence felt back home, one way or another,” said de Guzman, from Marikina, “through the money I transfer or by constantly checking up on my family.”

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Twitter: @onecarlo_


Funding secured for Indonesia, UAE project to build southeast Asia’s largest floating solar plant


Funding secured for Indonesia, UAE project to build southeast Asia’s largest floating solar plant

Updated 06 August 2021

Funding secured for Indonesia, UAE project to build southeast Asia’s largest floating solar plant


Funding secured for Indonesia, UAE project to build southeast Asia’s largest floating solar plant


JAKARTA: A 145-megawatt floating solar power plant, the largest in Southeast Asia, being built by Indonesia and the UAE could start operating next year, officials announced on securing final funding approval for the project.

Made up of more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia aims to achieve 23 percent renewable energy use by 2025, and 30 percent by 2050. Currently, 13 percent of its energy comes from renewable sources.

The development, built atop the Cirata reservoir in West Java province, will be the country’s first photovoltaic power plant. It is 51 percent owned by PT PJBI, a subsidiary of Indonesia’s state power utility Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN), with UAE renewable energy company Masdar owning the other 49 percent.

Masdar and PJBI have secured $140 million from multinational lenders for the project’s financing.

During a press conference, PJBI chief executive officer, Gong Matua Hasibuan, said: “We passed the critical phase of reaching financial close on Aug. 2 when our lenders Standard Chartered bank, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., and Societe Generale confirmed that we have fulfilled all the requirements to get funding for this project.”

Addressing the same briefing, Indonesia’s state-owned enterprises deputy minister, Pahala Nugraha Mansury, said: “The Cirata floating power plant is expected as a venue for a transfer of technology in renewable energy development from UAE’s leading global renewable energy firm.”

He added that Indonesia hoped the link up would strengthen cooperation with the UAE.

The power plant is one of the projects under $22.9 billion investment agreements secured by Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Abu Dhabi last year.

Construction of the floating photovoltaic power plant has already started, and when completed it will cover around 3 percent, or 250 hectares, of the total area of the Cirata reservoir, where PJBI already operates a 1,008-megawatt hydropower plant.

PLN’s chief executive officer, Zulkifli Zaini, said: “We are optimistic that with all the stakeholders’ support, this environmentally friendly power plant project could start its operation on target by the end of 2022.”

He added that the floating power plant would be a “revolutionary development” for the country’s national renewable energy targets, generating enough electricity to power the equivalent of 50,000 homes, and offsetting 214,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

“The Cirata floating solar power plant will contribute about 0.2 percent to our renewable energy mix,” Zaini added.

PLN currently operates power plants that produce 63 gigawatts of energy, out of which 7.9 gigawatts come from renewable sources.

While the Cirata project will be Indonesia’s first plant of its kind, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources has estimated that the country could generate about 40 gigawatts from similar ones that could be developed in 375 locations on lakes and reservoirs.

According to a recent report by the Jakarta-based Institute for Essential Services Reform, it was feasible for Indonesia to use 100 percent of renewable energy in the power, heat, and transport sectors, but it would require at least $20 billion investment per year for the rest of this decade, increasing to $60 billion per year from 2030 to 2040.


Italy makes COVID-19 health pass mandatory for teachers

Italy makes COVID-19 health pass mandatory for teachers
Updated 05 August 2021

Italy makes COVID-19 health pass mandatory for teachers

Italy makes COVID-19 health pass mandatory for teachers
  • Green Pass is a certificate that shows if someone received at least one jab, tested negative or recently recovered coronavirus
  • Cabinet widened the Green Pass requirement to all teachers, university students and long-distance transport from Sept. 1

ROME: The Italian government ruled on Thursday that teachers must have proof of immunity from COVID-19 before entering the classroom. The so-called Green Pass was also made mandatory for travelers on trains, planes, ships and inter-city coaches.
The Green Pass is a digital or paper certificate that shows if someone has received at least one jab, has tested negative or has recently recovered from the coronavirus.
Looking to speed up vaccinations to counter the highly contagious Delta variant, the government had already decreed that from Aug. 6 the pass would be required to eat indoors in restaurants and use an array of services and leisure activities.
On Thursday, despite misgivings in the ruling coalition and small street protests, Mario Draghi’s cabinet widened the Green Pass requirement to all teachers, university students and long-distance transport from Sept. 1.
“The choice of the government is to invest as much as possible in the Green Pass to avoid closures and to safeguard freedom,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza told reporters.
Teachers will not be able to work without the certificate and after five days of absence they will no longer be paid.
Italy is following in the footsteps of France, which was the first European country to say it was making proof of immunity mandatory to access a range of services and venues.
The move by President Emmanuel Macron triggered larger protests than those that have been seen in Italy. Opponents of the measures say they trample on freedoms, discriminate against the unvaccinated, and flout European Union rules.
On Thursday France’s top court ruled that the health pass did not contravene the constitution.
Italy reported 27 coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday against 21 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 7,230 from 6,596.
The country has registered 128,163 COVID deaths since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the eighth-highest in the world. It has seen 4.38 million cases to date.
In March, just a month after taking office, Draghi made it obligatory for health workers to be vaccinated.
A growing number of countries are seeking ways to convince reluctant sections of their populations to get COVID-19 jabs.
US President Joe Biden said last week it will be compulsory for federal workers to get vaccinated or face regular testing, mask mandates and travel restrictions.
While France saw a surge in vaccinations following Macron’s announcement of the health pass requirement, the picture in Italy has been less clear.
The pace of inoculations actually slowed in the two weeks following Draghi’s July 22 announcement of the first Green Pass restrictions, but this may be due to the time lag between booking a jab and actually getting one, and to summer holidays.
“The vaccination hesitation among the over 50s persists,” Nino Cartabellotta, head of Italian public health think-tank GIMBE, told Reuters.
As of Aug. 4 some 65 percent of Italians had received at least one shot against COVID-19, of whom 54 percent were fully vaccinated. The figures are broadly in line with those of most European countries.


Belarus runner used quick thinking to avoid being sent home

Belarus runner used quick thinking to avoid being sent home
Updated 05 August 2021

Belarus runner used quick thinking to avoid being sent home

Belarus runner used quick thinking to avoid being sent home
  • Krystsina Tsimanouskaya described Thursday a dramatic series of events at the Olympics that led her to decide not to return to Belarus
  • The sprinter said she was told to pack her bags and team officials told her to say she was injured and had to go home early

WARSAW, Poland: A Belarusian Olympic sprinter who feared reprisals back home after publicly criticizing her coaches at the Tokyo Games used quick thinking to get help.
She used her phone to translate a plea and show it to Japanese police as she tried to avoid being forced onto a plane.
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya described on Thursday a dramatic series of events at the Olympics that led her to decide not to return to Belarus, where an authoritarian government has relentlessly pursued its critics. She fled instead to Poland, arriving Wednesday.
After posting a message on social media that criticized the way her team was being managed, Tsimanouskaya said she was told to pack her bags. Team officials told her to say she was injured and had to go home early.
On her way to the airport, she spoke briefly to her grandmother, who explained that there was a massive backlash against her in the media in Belarus, including reports that she was mentally ill. Her grandmother, she said, advised her not to return. Her parents suggested she could go to Poland.
At the airport, she sought help from police, using Google translate to convey her plea in Japanese. At first, they didn’t understand, and a Belarusian official asked what was going on. She claimed she forgot something at the Olympic village and needed to return. Police eventually took her away from the Belarusian officials.
As the drama unfolded, European countries offered to help her, and the runner ended up at the Polish embassy, where she received a humanitarian visa. Many of Belarus’ activists have fled to Poland to avoid a brutal crackdown on dissent by President Alexander Lukashenko’s government.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, tweeted to say he was “Reassured to see that the athlete Krystsina #Tsimanouskaya arrived safe in Poland.” He deplored, however, that “One more proud Belarusian has however been forced to flee her own country due to the actions of the Lukashenko regime and Olympic truce been violated.”
At a news conference in Warsaw on Thursday, Tsimanouskaya thanked the people who supported her during the standoff.
“It was the whole world, and these people make me much stronger,” she said. She added that she feels safe now.
She also had a message for her fellow Belarusians.
“I want to tell all Belarusians not to be afraid and, if they’re under pressure, speak out,” said the runner, who spoke in both English and Russian at the news conference.
Still, she expressed concern for the safety of her family back home. Her husband, Arseni Zdanevich, fled Belarus this week shortly after his wife said she would not be returning. Poland has also granted him a visa.
The events have drawn more attention to Belarus’ uncompromising authoritarian government. When the country was rocked by months of protests following an election that handed Lukashenko a sixth term but that the opposition and the West saw as rigged, authorities responded with a sweeping crackdown. Some 35,000 people were arrested and thousands of demonstrators beaten. The government has also targeted independent media and opposition figures.
In a sign of the lengths authorities are willing to go to silence their critics, Belarus officials diverted a passenger jet to the capital of Minsk in May and arrested a dissident journalist who was on board.
While Tsimanouskaya’s criticism was aimed at team officials, her defiance may not sit well with political authorities. Lukashenko, who led the Belarus National Olympic Committee for almost a quarter-century before handing over the job to his son in February, has a keen interest in sports, seeing it as a key element of national prestige.
But Tsimanouskaya has insisted that she is no political activist, never intended to flee Belarus and only wanted to be allowed to run in her preferred event at the Olympics. The standoff began after she complained that she was scheduled to participate in a race she had never competed in.
Tsimanouskaya has called for an investigation into what happened, and the International Olympic Committee said it opened a disciplinary case “to establish the facts” in her case.
The main opposition challenger to Lukashenko in last August’s disputed election said Tsimanouskaya’s case showed the lengths his government would go to.
“The message now is that even if you are not involved into opposition movement, even if you have never participated in any demonstrations, but you show your disloyalty to the regime because you do not agree with actions, you are under attack,” Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told The Associated Press in an interview.
The 24-year-old runner said she hadn’t thought about seeking political asylum and hoped to return home one day, when it is safe. She also said she wanted to figure out soon how she might continue her career. She said she will speak with Polish officials on Friday about her next steps.
“I just wanted to run at the Olympics, it was my dream,” she said. “I still hope that these were not the last Olympics in my life.”


7 jailed for life in UK after murder of Lebanese law student 

7 jailed for life in UK after murder of Lebanese law student 
Updated 05 August 2021

7 jailed for life in UK after murder of Lebanese law student 

7 jailed for life in UK after murder of Lebanese law student 
  • Aya Hachem, 19, had just completed her second year of studies at Salford University when she was killed
  • The innocent student was not the intended target of the shooting, which was ordered by a businessman in an attempt to kill a rival tire firm boss

LONDON: Seven British men have been jailed for life for murdering a Lebanese-born law student who was mistakenly shot dead during a drive-by attack last year. 

Aya Hachem, 19, had just completed her second year of studies at Salford University when she was killed. Her family had settled in Blackburn in the north of England after her father rescued them from violence in Lebanon.

She was shot on May 17 last year while collecting groceries ahead of an iftar meal with her family.

Hachem died in hospital after a bullet entered her left shoulder, passed through her body and lodged into a pole behind her. 

The innocent student was not the intended target of the shooting, which was ordered by a businessman in an attempt to kill a rival tire firm boss. 

Pachah Khan, 31, owner of Quickshine Car Wash, angered Feroz Suleman, boss of neighbouring RI Tyres, when Quickshine began to sell tires and became direct competition.

Suleman, 40, who ordered the attack, was sentenced to a minimum of 34 years before he can be considered for parole.

The gunman, Zamir Raja, 33, who missed his first shot before striking Hachem with the second, was jailed for a minimum of 34 years. His driver, Anthony Ennis, 31, must serve 33 years. Ennis accelerated the vehicle before Hachem was shot, and drove around the tire firm three times before the attack occurred on the fourth drive-past. 

Fellow accomplices Ayaz Hussain, 36, Abubakr Satia, 32, Uthman Satia, 29, and Kashif Manzoor, 26, were sentenced to minimum jail times of 32 years, 28 years, 28 years, and 27 years, respectively.

Manchester-based hitman Raja and his driver Ennis were given the job of killing Khan after Hussein was tasked with hiring a killer.

Abubabkr Satia acquired the vehicle used in the attack, which was paid for by his associate Suleman.

Judy Chapman, 26, drove her boyfriend — Uthman Satia — and Raja and Ennis from Bolton to Blackburn. She collect them after the attack. Chapman was convicted of manslaughter and will be sentenced in October. 

Manzoor was involved in the murder by preparing the car, using jump-start cables and leaving the engine running.

The judge, Mr Justice Turner, told Suleman: “You were the driving force behind the whole deadly enterprise from beginning to end, and followed through this plan with obsessive determination.

“When you were in prison you commented to Abubakr Satia you were the captain of the ship and if you were to go down then everyone would down with you. How right you were.”


Kashmir marks ‘black day’ anniversary with shutdown, tightened security

Kashmir marks ‘black day’ anniversary with shutdown, tightened security
Updated 05 August 2021

Kashmir marks ‘black day’ anniversary with shutdown, tightened security

Kashmir marks ‘black day’ anniversary with shutdown, tightened security
  • On Aug. 5, 2019, New Delhi abrogated special autonomous status of Kashmir
  • Anticipating anti-India protests, government forces barricaded roads and set up checkpoints

SRINAGAR: Troops and paramilitary forces were deployed to the streets of Srinagar on Thursday to anticipate protests as shops and businesses in the main city of Indian-controlled Kashmir shut down to mark a "black day" — the second anniversary of New Delhi's annexation of the disputed region.

On Aug. 5, 2019, India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) scrapped Articles 370 and 35A of the country's constitution that granted special autonomous status to the region, and divided the state into two federally administered units.

The move was followed by a crackdown on political activity, arrests of hundreds of political leaders and a series of administrative measures allowing more outsiders to settle in Kashmir and raising concerns over attempts at engineering a demographic change in the Muslim-majority region.

Anticipating anti-India protests, police barricaded roads and set up checkpoints. They have also reportedly forced some of the shops and businesses to reopen.

Kashmir's last chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who spent nearly a year in detention following the 2019 crackdown, tried to march with her supporters to Lal Chowk in Srinagar's center, but they were stopped by security forces.

"The BJP is celebrating the day as victory day, but this is a black day for Kashmiris," Mufti said, as police stopped her group.

BJP national general secretary Tarun Chugh responded to the protest attempts by saying that leaders such as Mufti are "trying to disrupt the positive narrative in Kashmir."

He said in a statement issued in Srinagar that after Aug. 5, 2019, "an atmosphere of development and progress has built in the region giving people new hope."

But hope is hardly seen on the streets of Kashmir.

"The Indian government claimed to give us a new Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 but the situation in Kashmir is worse today," Srinagar-based shopkeeper Umar Habeeb told Arab News.

"Atrocities have increased in Kashmir and more and more people are being arrested without any reason," he said as he kept his shop closed on Thursday despite pressure from the local administration.

"Police forced some of them to open the shops. Despite that many shops remained closed this shows what is the will of the people," Habeeb said.

Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Association president Bashir Ahmad Rather confirmed the administration had instructed businesses to remain open.

"We did not receive any written order but yes some instructions were given to traders bodies to keep our shops open on August 5," Rather said, but added his organization could not force people to open their shops.

"It's their will," he said.

"Kashmir is sad, angry, helpless, dispossessed and disempowered than before," Srinagar-based journalist and political analyst Gowhar Geelani told Arab News.

"Civil liberties continue to remain suspended, media gagged, and unemployment at an all-time high, but the propagandist attempts continue to contain the Kashmir story with the aim to paint deceptive calm as permanent normalcy," he said. "There is despair."