Duterte pledges ‘better days’ as Filipinos prepare to celebrate Christmas

Duterte pledges ‘better days’ as Filipinos prepare to celebrate Christmas
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (AP)
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Updated 08 December 2021

Duterte pledges ‘better days’ as Filipinos prepare to celebrate Christmas

Duterte pledges ‘better days’ as Filipinos prepare to celebrate Christmas
  • Nikkei Asia’s COVID-19 Recovery Index showed that the Philippines jumped 46 spots to 57th in November from 103rd in October this year
  • Makati Medical Center, which has been dealing with hundreds of COVID-19 infections for nearly two years, reported zero in-patient cases on Monday

MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte said that better days are ahead for the country during a televised Cabinet meeting on Monday night as the downward trend in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases continues.

The Philippines on Tuesday reported only 356 new COVID-19 infections, the lowest single-day figure since July 2020. The new figure pushed the country’s total tally to 2,835,345,  of which 97.8 percent or 2,772,728 have recovered.

Nikkei Asia’s COVID-19 Recovery Index also showed that the Philippines jumped 46 spots to 57th in November from 103rd in October this year.

During his address, Duterte expressed optimism that the Philippines has a good chance of overcoming the pandemic with the government’s aggressive immunization campaign, saying that “better days” lay ahead.

He noted that since Dec. 1, the daily average case number has remained between 500 and 600, while the “number of active cases continues to go down.”

“Very impressive,” Duterte said, as he also pointed out that the positivity rate is “now only less than 2 percent,” which means that for every 100 persons tested for COVID-19, only a maximum of two turned out to be positive.

“It’s Christmas. I hope that everything will be for the good of everybody, and I am very happy that it is really going down. It’s on a nosedive,” he added.

Duterte further said this development is a “miracle,” noting how “other countries are still reeling from the pandemic,” especially with the emergence of the omicron variant.

“We are not hoping for the best, but we pray to God that it will not come to our shores. But if (it) ever arrives, we can cope with it just as we did (in the past),” Duterte said.

Independent group OCTA Research fellow Rev. Nicanor Austriaco, a Catholic priest and molecular biologist, said the Philippines has attained substantial population immunity from natural infections and vaccinations in the urban areas based on current data.

Austriaco, who virtually joined the Cabinet meeting, made a presentation where he noted that the country had the highest mobility levels in the past 20 months and experienced the lowest levels of cases and hospitalizations during the same period, even with the presence of the COVID-19 delta variant.

“It suggests that we have attained substantial population immunity from natural infections and vaccinations in the urban areas of the Philippines because the pandemic has raged and spread primarily in our cities and in our first-class municipalities,” he said, adding: “The fact that the virus is struggling to find new Filipinos to infect, suggests that we have attained substantial population immunity.”

Austriaco compared the Philippines with its neighbors in Southeast Asia, Thailand and Malaysia, which he said still have not seen a dip in cases despite having much earlier surges. The two nations are still experiencing 5,000 cases per day.

Vietnam, he said, also had a delta peak and is still experiencing significant numbers of COVID-19 infections at 15,000 or so every day.

“The difference is that the Philippines, unlike these three other countries, had substantial waves of previous variants, especially the alpha and beta, which struck the country in March and April of this year,” Austriaco said.

“Combining the vaccinations and the natural immunity, what you are seeing here is that many of our cities where the pandemic tends to focus are now stable enough to prevent transmission,” he added.

The expert also advised Filipinos not to panic amid the threat posed by the omicron variant and instead move with caution and prepare for Christmas.

“Let us celebrate Christmas. This is the best time in 20 months for the entire country,” Austriaco said, adding: “This is not the time to panic. It is time to be careful. We have to prepare.”

Austriaco suggested that the country prepare its hospital infrastructure and increase healthcare workers’ staffing capacity, considering during the alpha and delta surges, the country had nursing shortages, especially in Metro Manila. He also recommended that the government continue vaccinating and boosting the immunity of its population, especially senior citizens.

“It must also strengthen population immunity around international gateways,” he said, predicting that the omicron variant will likely enter the country through an airport. “We have to build a wall of vaccinated Filipinos around these airports.”

On Monday, the Makati Medical Center, which has been dealing with hundreds of COVID-19 infections for nearly two years, reported zero in-patient cases as confirmed by its Medical Director Dr. Saturnino Javier. The medical center is located in the financial district of Metro Manila, which had become the epicenter of COVID-19 infections during the past months.

Last Friday, the Philippine General Hospital, the country’s biggest COVID-19 referral facility, also reported it had zero COVID-19 patient admission for two consecutive days.


UN rights envoy defends controversial China visit

UN rights envoy defends controversial China visit
Updated 6 sec ago

UN rights envoy defends controversial China visit

UN rights envoy defends controversial China visit
BEIJING: The UN rights envoy on Saturday said her contentious visit to China was “not an investigation,” and insisted she had unsupervised access during meetings in Xinjiang, where Beijing is accused of widespread human rights abuses.
Michelle Bachelet’s long-planned trip this week has taken her to the far-western region, where Beijing is accused of the detention of over a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, forced sterilization of women and coerced labor.
The United States has labelled China’s actions in Xinjiang a “genocide” and “crimes against humanity,” allegations vehemently denied by Beijing which says its security crackdown was a necessary response to extremism.
Bachelet has come under fire from rights groups and Uyghurs overseas, who say she has stumbled into a six-day Communist Party propaganda tour, including a meeting with President Xi Jinping in which state media suggested she supported China’s vision of human rights.
Her office later clarified that her remarks did not contain a direct endorsement of China’s rights record.
Speaking at the end of her trip while still inside China, Bachelet framed her visit as a chance for her to speak with “candour” to Chinese authorities as well as civil society groups and academics.
“This visit was not an investigation,” she told reporters, later insisting she had “unsupervised” access to sources the UN had arranged to meet in Xinjiang.
It is the first trip to China by the UN’s top rights envoy in 17 years and comes after painstaking negotiations over the conditions of her visit, which the UN says is neither a fact-finding mission nor a probe.
Bachelet this week visited the Xinjiang cities of Urumqi and Kashgar, according to her office, but no photos or further details of her itinerary have dribbled out.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said earlier this week that Bachelet’s activities were “arranged according to her will and on the basis of thorough consultations of the two sides.”
She planned to meet “civil society organizations, business representatives, academics,” her office said, but state media has only covered meetings with Xi and foreign minister Wang Yi, during which he gave her a book of Xi quotes on human rights.
Her trip has taken place under a “closed loop,” ostensibly due to Covid-19 risks.
The United States has reiterated its view that Bachelet’s visit was a mistake after the release of thousands of leaked documents and photographs from inside the system of mass incarceration this week, while the UK and Germany have voiced their concerns at the visit.

Russian ex-president Medvedev calls for tougher ‘foreign agent’ law

Russian ex-president Medvedev calls for tougher ‘foreign agent’ law
Updated 28 May 2022

Russian ex-president Medvedev calls for tougher ‘foreign agent’ law

Russian ex-president Medvedev calls for tougher ‘foreign agent’ law
  • Russia has legislation that labels groups and individuals as foreign agents if they receive foreign funding to engage in political activity
  • Dozens of Kremlin critics have been listed as foreign agents

DUBAI: Former president Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday called for Russia to toughen its laws on “foreign agents” and prosecute individuals working for the interests of foreign states.
Russia has legislation that labels groups and individuals as foreign agents — a term that carries Soviet-era connotations of spying — if they receive foreign funding to engage in what the authorities say is political activity.
Dozens of Kremlin critics have been listed as foreign agents, including journalists and rights activists, and many have fled abroad.
Medvedev, who now serves as deputy head of Russia’s security council, said the enforcement of the “foreign agents” legislation needed to be stepped up as Moscow carries out its military intervention in Ukraine and finds itself under unprecedented sanctions from the West.
“If they (foreign agents) are carrying out activities aimed against our country — especially during this tough period — and receive money for it from our enemies, our response must be quick and harsh,” Medvedev wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
He added that the legislation should more precisely classify “foreign agents” and impose stricter consequences for their offenses.
At present, those listed are subject to stringent financial reporting requirements and have to preface anything they publish, including social media posts, with a disclaimer stating that they are foreign agents.
Lawmakers said last month they planned to submit amendments to the law to add more restrictions, including on investing in strategic industries and working with children.
Medvedev also said he supported legislative initiatives to criminally prosecute “people working in the interest of a foreign state.”
His post began and ended with a reference to a 1960s Soviet television series set during the Russian Civil War of the 1920s, in which Medvedev noted that the hero was shot as a spy.


Ukraine ex-president says blocked from leaving country

Ukraine ex-president says blocked from leaving country
Updated 28 May 2022

Ukraine ex-president says blocked from leaving country

Ukraine ex-president says blocked from leaving country
  • Petro Poroshenko, in power from 2014 to 2019, has made frequent public appearances since the war started

KYIV, Ukraine: The former president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, said Saturday he was barred from leaving the country, accusing the government of breaking a so-called political cease-fire in place since Russia invaded.
Poroshenko, in power from 2014 to 2019, has made frequent public appearances since the war started, appearing on international television to offer commentary.
His European Solidarity party is the second biggest party in Ukraine’s parliament after President Volodymyr Zelensky’s ruling party.
After Russia invaded, Ukraine’s parliament banned several pro-Russian parties, and allowed others to still operate under a so-called political cease-fire — a tacit understanding that all parties would put aside domestic political disagreements to unite against the war.
But on Saturday, Poroshenko’s office said he “was refused to cross the border of Ukraine,” accusing the government of violating the agreement.
“There is a risk that by this decision, the authorities have broken the ‘political cease-fire’ in place during the war... which one of the pillars of national unity in the face of to Russian aggression,” his office said.
Poroshenko was due to travel to a NATO parliamentary assembly meeting in Lithuania as part of the Ukrainian delegation, and had received official permission to travel.
He was due to meet in Vilnius with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda and a group of European parliamentarians.
He was then to travel to Rotterdam in the Netherlands for a summit bringing together European political parties.


China signs deal with Samoa as Australia vows Pacific Islands plan

China signs deal with Samoa as Australia vows Pacific Islands plan
Updated 28 May 2022

China signs deal with Samoa as Australia vows Pacific Islands plan

China signs deal with Samoa as Australia vows Pacific Islands plan
  • China is building on a security pact it recently signed with Solomon Islands

SYDNEY: China’s foreign minister signed a deal with Samoa on Saturday to strengthen diplomatic relations, while Australia’s new leader said he had a “comprehensive plan” for the Pacific, as Beijing and Canberra continued rival campaigns to woo the region.
China is building on a security pact it recently signed with Solomon Islands, which has alarmed the United States and its allies such as Australia as they fear a stepped-up military presence by Beijing. Australia’s new center-left government has made the Pacific Islands an early diplomatic priority.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, sworn in on Monday, said on Saturday his Labor government’s plan includes a defense training school, support for maritime security, a boost in aid and re-engaging the region on climate change.
“We will be proactive in the region, we want to engage,” he told reporters.
China’s Wang Yi, on a tour of the Pacific seeking a 10-nation deal on security and trade, finished a visit to Samoa, where he met Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa and signed documents including an “economic and technical cooperation agreement,” Samoa said in a statement.
“Samoa and the People’s Republic of China will continue to pursue greater collaboration that will deliver on joint interests and commitments,” it said.
Also Saturday, Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said he had a “wonderful meeting” with Australia’s Penny Wong, who had visited days after taking office to show the new government’s attention to the Pacific Islands.
“Fiji is not anyone’s backyard — we are a part of a Pacific family,” Bainimarama wrote on Twitter, posting a picture of himself and Penny Wong shaking hands.
Bainimarama appeared to be taking a veiled swipe at Scott Morrison, the conservative prime minister ousted in an election last weekend, who once referred to the Pacific as Australia’s “backyard”.
Climate change, which Pacific Island nations consider an existential threat, had been a key issue in the election.
Australia’s Wong has said that Canberra will be a partner that does not come with strings attached, while China’s Wang expressed hope that Beijing’s ties with the Solomon Islands could be a regional model.
Wang was headed to Fiji, where he is expected to push for the regional deal in a meeting he is to host on Monday.


Ukraine: Russian advances could force retreat in part of east

Ukraine: Russian advances could force retreat in part of east
Updated 28 May 2022

Ukraine: Russian advances could force retreat in part of east

Ukraine: Russian advances could force retreat in part of east
  • A withdrawal could bring Russian President Vladimir Putin closer to his goal of capturing eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions in full

KYIV/POPASNA, Ukraine: Ukrainian forces may have to retreat from their last pocket in the Luhansk region to avoid being captured, a Ukrainian official said, as Russian troops press an advance in the east that has shifted the momentum of the three-month-old war.
A withdrawal could bring Russian President Vladimir Putin closer to his goal of capturing eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions in full. His troops have gained ground in the two areas collectively known as the Donbas while blasting some towns to wastelands.
Luhansk’s governor, Serhiy Gaidai, said Russian troops had entered Sievierodonetsk, the largest Donbas city still held by Ukraine, after trying to trap Ukrainian forces there for days. Gaidai said 90 percent of buildings in the town were damaged.
“The Russians will not be able to capture Luhansk region in the coming days as analysts have predicted,” Gaidai said on Telegram, referring to the area including Sievierodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk, across the Siverskiy Donets River.
“We will have enough strength and resources to defend ourselves. However, it is possible that in order not to be surrounded we will have to retreat.”
Russia’s separatist proxies said they controlled Lyman, a railway hub west of Sievierodonetsk. Ukraine said Russia had captured most of Lyman but that its forces were blocking an advance to Sloviansk, to the southwest.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine was protecting its land “as much as our current defense resources allow.” Ukraine’s military said it had repelled eight attacks in Donetsk and Luhansk on Friday, destroying tanks and armored vehicles.
“If the occupiers think that Lyman and Sievierodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. Donbas will be Ukrainian,” Zelensky said in an address.
Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said while Russian forces had begun direct assaults on built-up areas of Sievierodonetsk, they would likely struggle to take ground in the city itself.
“Russian forces have performed poorly in operations in built-up urban terrain throughout the war,” they said.
Russian troops advanced after piercing Ukrainian lines last week in the city of Popasna, south of Sievierodonetsk. Russian ground forces have captured several villages northwest of Popasna, Britain’s defense ministry said.
Russian forces shelled parts of Kharkiv on Thursday for the first time in days. Authorities said nine people were killed. The Kremlin denies targeting civilians in what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
In the south, where Moscow has seized a swath of territory since the Feb. 24 invasion, including the port of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials say Russia aims to impose permanent rule.
In the Kherson region in the south, Russian forces were fortifying defenses and shelling Ukraine-controlled areas, the region’s Ukrainian governor, Hennadiy Laguta, told media.
He said the humanitarian situation was critical in some areas and people were finding it very difficult to leave.
Police said 31 people had been evacuated on Friday from the Luhansk region, including 13 children.