Filipino parents, teachers urge U-turn over government’s back-to-school plans

Filipino parents, teachers urge U-turn over government’s back-to-school plans
Teachers wearing face masks and shields against COVID-19 teleconference with students, helping them in their school lessons through online distance learning. (File/AFP)
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Updated 22 September 2021

Filipino parents, teachers urge U-turn over government’s back-to-school plans

Filipino parents, teachers urge U-turn over government’s back-to-school plans
  • Classroom return ‘experiment’ in low-risk COVID-19 areas draws mixed reactions

MANILA: Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s thumbs-up for a limited return to classrooms for students in areas with low numbers of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases has been criticized by worried parents and teachers.

The leader’s approval for the resumption of in-person classes in “low risk” parts of the Philippines on Tuesday drew mixed reactions with some objectors urging the government to reconsider its decision.

The government said on Monday that for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak it would reopen nearly 120 schools as part of a “pilot” project.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque pointed out that the move was necessary because otherwise, “we might lose a generation if we don’t have face-to-face (classes).”

According to a report by the UN children’s agency UNICEF, the Philippines was among 17 countries globally where schools had remained completely shut throughout the pandemic, highlighting what it described as “18 months of lost learning.”

Benjo Basas, national chairperson of the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition, an umbrella organization of public-school teachers’ associations, told Arab News that the Philippines’ decision was “untimely and dangerous” given the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country, and would only put further pressure on an overwhelmed healthcare system.

He said: “Our government has yet to fix its COVID-19 response, and the more than 20,000 new cases posted almost every day over the past week can attest to that. If in-person classes will push through, it’s like putting people at risk, especially the children.”

On Tuesday, Filipino health authorities reported 16,361 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 2,401,916. Of those, 2,193,700 (91.3 percent) people had recovered, while 37,074 (1.54 percent) had died.

Basas pointed out that any resumption of face-to-face classes should be carefully planned, and the Department of Education must guarantee the safety of all participants before questioning who would be held accountable if someone gets infected at school.

“While we agree that there is no better alternative to face-to-face learning, the current pandemic situation does not allow for this. Education can be delayed. What is more important at the moment, is the lives and health of everyone,” he added.

During a press conference, Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the pilot scheme would cover 100 public schools and 20 private institutions, limiting class sizes to 12 learners in kindergarten, 16 in grades one to three, and 20 at senior high school level.

Meanwhile, the classes would be limited to three- to four-hour sessions based on “consent from parents and guardians. If there are changes in the risk assessment, then we will stop it,” she added.

As per guidelines released on Monday, public schools would need to pass a “readiness assessment” before reopening while private schools would be subject to a joint validation by the departments of education and health.

The guidance said: “We reiterate our demand for a science-based and evidence-based risk assessment for all participating schools. These shall help determine their present condition and urgent needs for the safe conduct of in-classroom learning, which the government shall immediately address.”

Some parents, however, have said they would refuse to allow their children to become part of an “experiment.”

Lee Reyes, 36, who has three children in grade school, told Arab News she would never risk the health and safety of her sons and daughter.

“For what reason? (To protect them from) COVID-19? If some adults, despite being vaccinated, still get infected, what about unvaccinated children? Also, kids are kids. Grown-ups tend to forget social distancing, and some even take off their masks. So, no. I would rather spend time helping my children learn their lessons from home,” she said.

Another mother, Lei, 50, also voiced concerns over the safety of her children, one at college and vaccinated, and the other in junior high school and unjabbed.

She said: “If my eldest child has to commute every day, there is a risk. Or even if I let her stay at the dorm. Although I know I need to teach her to be independent, now is not the best time during a pandemic and the flu season.”

In a Facebook post, parent Bella Mel, said: “Better safe than sorry. Because if our children get sick, it will only be them who will suffer. And there’s no Department of Education to help shoulder the hospital bills. So why push for it? Let’s just accept this is the new normal.”


Belgium warns Poland ‘not to play with fire’ over EU dispute

Belgium warns Poland ‘not to play with fire’ over EU dispute
Updated 42 min 56 sec ago

Belgium warns Poland ‘not to play with fire’ over EU dispute

Belgium warns Poland ‘not to play with fire’ over EU dispute
  • The comments follow years of disputes over changes Poland’s government has made to the country’s courts
  • The nationalist ruling party in Poland, Law and Justice, has been in conflict with Brussels since winning power in 2015 over a number of matters

BRUSSELS: European Union founding member Belgium warned Poland on Wednesday not to treat the EU like “a cash machine” to boost its economic fortunes while disregarding its democratic and rule of law principles at will.
“You cannot pocket all the money but refuse the values,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo at the opening of the College of Bruges, an academic well of European thinkers.
De Croo targeted Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki who accused the EU of threatening “World War III” for insisting that Poland should respect the independence of the judiciary and the primacy of EU law. The Belgian prime minister said his Polish counterpart was “playing with fire when waging war with your European colleagues for internal political reasons.”
The comments follow years of disputes over changes Poland’s government has made to the country’s courts. The EU believes the changes erode democratic checks and balances, and the European Commission is holding up billions of euros to Poland earmarked in a pandemic recovery plan.
The war of words also comes on the heels of an EU summit, where Polish arguments that fundamental judicial changes the country made would not undermine the EU failed to convince key bloc leaders.
Among them was French President Emmanuel Macron, who will meet his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda later Wednesday.
Morawiecki’s recalcitrance crystalized in an interview with the Financial Times over the weekend. When asked if Poland could use its veto power to block legislation in retaliation, for instance on climate issues, Morawiecki said: “If they start the third world war, we are going to defend our rights with any weapons which are at our disposal.”
The interview did not go down well with Morawiecki’s EU colleagues. “You are playing a dangerous game,” De Croo said.
“This is about the overwhelming majority of member states – from the Baltics to Portugal — who agree our Union is a union of values, not a cash machine,” De Croo said, alluding to the fact that Poland has long been a major net recipient of EU funds.
The nationalist ruling party in Poland, Law and Justice, has been in conflict with Brussels since winning power in 2015 over a number of matters, including migration and LGBT rights. The longest running dispute, however, has centered on the Polish government’s attempts to take political control of the judiciary.
The matter came to a head earlier this month when the constitutional court ruled that some key parts of EU law are not compatible with the nation’s constitution. The ruling by a court stacked with ruling party loyalists was made after Morawiecki asked it to decide on whether EU or national law has primacy.


Former Nissan executive and aide to Carlos Ghosn seeks acquittal in Tokyo trial

Former Nissan executive and aide to Carlos Ghosn seeks acquittal in Tokyo trial
Updated 27 October 2021

Former Nissan executive and aide to Carlos Ghosn seeks acquittal in Tokyo trial

Former Nissan executive and aide to Carlos Ghosn seeks acquittal in Tokyo trial
  • Japanese prosecutors are seeking a two-year prison sentence for Greg Kelly
  • The only person to stand trial over claims Nissan tried to hide planned payments to Ghosn

TOKYO: Former Nissan executive Greg Kelly said Wednesday he was “not guilty of any crime” as the defense wrapped up its case in Tokyo, where he faces jail over financial misconduct allegations.
Japanese prosecutors are seeking a two-year prison sentence for Kelly, a US citizen and former aide to ex-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn.
Kelly, 65, is the only person to stand trial over claims Nissan tried to hide planned payments to auto tycoon Ghosn, who jumped bail and fled Japan hidden in an audio equipment box in December 2019.
“I was not involved in a criminal conspiracy, and I am not guilty of any crime,” Kelly said in his closing remarks at the Tokyo District Court.
The actions taken “to find a lawful way to retain Mr.Carlos Ghosn after he retired were in the best interests of Nissan,” he added.
His defense lawyers said prosecutors had failed to prove Kelly was behind an alleged plot to under-report Ghosn’s compensation over several years.
The charges against Kelly involve around 9.1 billion yen ($80 million at current rates) that prosecutors say was promised to his former boss upon retirement.
“It is clear that the prosecution’s portrayal of Kelly is unfairly distorted,” Kelly’s lawyer Yoichi Kitamura told the court.
“There’s no indication that Kelly had any personal interest in considering the payment for Ghosn ... the only possible conclusion in this case is acquittal.”
Kelly and Ghosn — a fugitive in Lebanon — were arrested in Tokyo in 2018, sending shock waves through the business world.
They have both maintained their innocence, saying no final agreement was made on any post-retirement pay, and therefore no disclosure was legally required.
“There was no crime,” Kelly said outside court after the hearing. “Carlos Ghosn never was paid anything. And there was no enforceable agreement.”
“Three and a half years, is that being given the right to a speedy trial?” he said, adding he had liked working for Ghosn, but “wasn’t his friend.”
Nissan, standing trial as a company alongside Kelly, has pleaded guilty and on Wednesday asked the judge for leniency ahead of the verdict on March 3.
Prosecutors have demanded Nissan be fined 200 million yen, but the firm’s lawyers said the alleged misconduct “was carried out to benefit Ghosn” and not the company.
It comes after Rahm Emanuel, nominated as the next US ambassador to Japan, said last week he would prioritize Kelly’s case.
“The number one responsibility of an embassy ambassador is to ensure the safety of a US citizen on foreign soil,” Emanuel told the Senate.
“I’m going to be approaching this subject as a former US congressman who knows what it means when you have a constituent at heart.”


Afghan failure a political not military issue: UK defense secretary 

Afghan failure a political not military issue: UK defense secretary 
Updated 27 October 2021

Afghan failure a political not military issue: UK defense secretary 

Afghan failure a political not military issue: UK defense secretary 
  • ‘Our resolve was found wanting,’ Ben Wallace tells parliamentary committee
  • ‘NATO were there to enable a political campaign, and I think that’s what failed’  

LONDON: NATO’s political campaign in Afghanistan was a failure but Western troops were not defeated in battle by the Taliban, the UK’s defense secretary has said.

Speaking in front of a parliamentary defense committee examining the events in Afghanistan leading up to and since the NATO withdrawal, Ben Wallace told MPs that the alliance’s forces could have stayed in the country but lacked the “resolve” to do so.

He also said it would have been “reasonable” to expect Afghan government forces to hold out against Taliban advances for longer than they did.

Asked by MPs whether NATO forces had been defeated in the country, Wallace said: “I don’t think we were defeated ... Our resolve was found wanting is what I’d say, rather than defeated ... We always had a military advantage until we started reducing (troop numbers).”

He added that the rapid collapse of Afghan resistance against the Taliban was partly the result of NATO’s failure to effectively overhaul the country’s political system.

“NATO were there to enable a political campaign, and I think that’s what failed. The military were there to put in place the security environment in order to try and deliver that,” he said.

“When that’s withdrawn, that’s when you find out whether your political campaign has worked. What we discovered is it didn’t work … There are a lot of searching questions there for all of us.”

Despite the later failures, Wallace said the initial goal of the invasion — to dismantle Al-Qaeda and end Taliban rule of Afghanistan — was a success.

“We bought counterterrorism success for 20 years. Al-Qaeda didn’t mount … a terrorist attack on the United Kingdom or her allies from Afghanistan. For many soldiers, that’s very important,” he added.

“I think it’s highly likely that we’ll see a return of Al-Qaeda and an increasing threat coming from Afghanistan.”

The two-decade-long war cost the lives of over 240,000 Afghans, 2,300 US troops, more than 400 British soldiers and hundreds more from other NATO countries.


Philippines to receive 300,000 courses of Merck’s COVID-19 pill

Philippines to receive 300,000 courses of Merck’s COVID-19 pill
Updated 27 October 2021

Philippines to receive 300,000 courses of Merck’s COVID-19 pill

Philippines to receive 300,000 courses of Merck’s COVID-19 pill
  • Asian nations race to get early access to the experimental pill amid large demand
  • Each pill is estimated to cost between $1.97 and $2.96

MANILA: The Philippines will receive 300,000 courses of Merck & Co’s COVID-19 antiviral drug next month, licensed importers and distributors said on Wednesday, as Asian nations race to get early access to the experimental pill amid large demand.
Singapore and Malaysia have signed deals to buy the drug, Molnupiravir, while Indonesia is finalizing a purchase agreement, among a slew of orders after data from interim clinical trials showed the pills could halve the likelihood of hospitalization or death for patients at risk of severe COVID-19.
“Molnupiravir can now be accessed by our countrymen upon being prescribed for such use by their respective physicians,” Monaliza Salian, president of MedEthix, a Philippine health care products importer, told a news conference.
MedEthix will import 300,000 courses of Molnupiravir for COVID-19 patients in four hospitals, she added. The shipment will be the first batch of the drug to arrive in the Philippines.
Each pill is estimated to cost 100 to 150 pesos ($1.97 to $2.96), said Meneleo Hernandez, president of pharmaceutical firm JackPharma, which will distribute the drug locally.
The Philippines has approved the “compassionate use” of Molnupiravir for 31 hospitals, Food and Drug Administration Chief Rolando Enrique Domingo said on Wednesday.
Molnupiravir would be the world’s first oral antiviral medication for COVID-19 if it gets regulatory approval.
The Philippines’ health ministry on Wednesday reported 3,218 new COVID-19 cases, the lowest single-day tally in more than five months. It has so far fully inoculated roughly 26 million of its 110 million population.
With nearly 2.77 million cases and more than 42,300 deaths, the Philippines has the second highest number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in Southeast Asia, after Indonesia.


Gunmen kill 4 Pakistani police near border with Afghanistan

Gunmen kill 4 Pakistani police near border with Afghanistan
Updated 27 October 2021

Gunmen kill 4 Pakistani police near border with Afghanistan

Gunmen kill 4 Pakistani police near border with Afghanistan
  • Pakistan has witnessed scores of such terrorist attacks in recent years

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Unidentified gunmen attacked a police patrol overnight in northwest Pakistan, killing four before fleeing the scene, a police official said Wednesday.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack in Lakki Marwat, a town in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan. Police official Umar Khan said a search operation for the culprits was still underway.
Khan provided no further details and only said the funeral of slain officers was held Wednesday morning.
Pakistan has witnessed scores of such terrorist attacks in recent years, most of which have been claimed by the Pakistani Taliban and the Daesh group. Both organizations have been emboldened by Taliban resurgence in neighboring Afghanistan, where Pakistani militants are still believed to be hiding.
Before the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan often accused each other of turning a blind eye to militants operating along their porous border.