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June 24, 2024

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Bill pushes 24/7 online service desk in gov’t agencies
Weather can increase heart disease risk – expert
Darren Espanto expresses heartfelt gratitude to Vice Ganda
Helping workers through upskilling and entrepreneurship
Stigmatizing vaccines causes serious consequences – Sinovac

June 24 ------ STIGMATIZING vaccines can lead to extremely serious consequences like causing mistrust between science and public health, among others, China's leading vaccine supplier Sinovac told the Global Times in an exclusive response over the weekend after Reuters revealed that the Pentagon had conducted a secret anti-vaccine campaign to undermine China during the coronavirus pandemic. The clandestine operation had not been previously reported. It aimed to sow doubt about the safety and efficacy of vaccines and other life-saving aid that was being supplied by China, the Reuters investigation found. Through phony internet accounts meant to impersonate Filipinos, the military's propaganda efforts morphed into an anti-vaccine campaign. Social media posts decried the quality of face masks, test kits, and the first vaccine that would become available in the Philippines: China's Sinovac inoculation.


Reuters identified at least 300 accounts on X, formerly Twitter, that matched descriptions shared by former US military officials familiar with the Philippine operation. Almost all were created in the summer of 2020 and centered on the slogan #Chinaangvirus — Tagalog for "China is the virus." Additionally, the US military's anti-vaccine effort expanded beyond Southeast Asia before it was terminated in mid-2021, including in Central Asia and the Middle East.


Sinovac's spokesman Yuan Youwei told the Global Times that the company noticed the report and appreciated the fact that Reuters revealed the US military scheme to the public. Sinovac is a professional company with the goal of providing vaccines to eliminate diseases for humanity and to make a significant contribution to human health, said Yuan. "Although we have overcome the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is still not peaceful. Sinovac hopes to continue safeguarding human health and well-being through disease prevention and control. We believe that every industry should focus on doing their own part, which is the right attitude." "In history, there have also been people who have wrongly attacked vaccines, which have caused huge disasters. Stigmatizing vaccines can lead to a series of extremely serious consequences, such as lowering vaccination rates, disease outbreaks and epidemics, social panic and unrest, and crises of trust in science and public health," Sinovac told the Global Times.


Public reports indicate that Sinovac's vaccines were among the first available for Filipino people during the Covid-19 pandemic. In February 2021, China donated the first 600,000 doses of Sinovac's Covid-19 vaccines to Manila. Former president Duterte Rodrigo personally led Cabinet members to greet this shipment, marking the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines received by the Philippines since the outbreak. Duterte said that this vaccine aid from China demonstrated the friendship and solidarity between the two countries. Citing three former US military officials, the Reuters report mentioned that the operation was pushed by then-Special Operations Command Pacific Gen. Jonathan Braga, who was reportedly a longtime advocate of increasing the use of propaganda operations in global competition. The operation aimed to encourage local populations to question the safety and efficacy of vaccines and other aid provided by China. "We didn't do a good job-sharing vaccines with partners," a senior US military officer directly involved in the campaign in Southeast Asia told Reuters. "So what was left to us was to throw shade on China's." The report also believes that China's growing influence fueled efforts by US military leaders to launch the secret propaganda operation.


Some Filipino healthcare professionals and former officials contacted by Reuters were shocked by the US anti-vaccine effort, which they say exploited an already vulnerable citizenry. "Why did you do it when people were dying? We were desperate," said Dr. Nina Castillo-Carandang, a former adviser to the World Health Organization and Philippines government during the pandemic. "We don't have our own vaccine capacity," she added, and the US propaganda effort "contributed even more salt into the wound." To implement the anti-vaccine campaign, the US Defense Department overrode strong objections from top US diplomats in Southeast Asia at the time, Reuters found. Sources involved in its planning and execution say the Pentagon, which ran the program through the military's psychological operations center in Tampa, Florida, disregarded the collateral impact that such propaganda may have had on innocent Filipinos. "We weren't looking at this from a public health perspective," said a senior military officer involved in the program, per the Reuters report. "We were looking at how we could drag China through the mud."





Bird flu shows world not ready for future pandemics – report


PARIS, June 24 ------ Surging cases of bird flu among mammals, including cattle in the United States, offer a stark warning that the world is not ready to fend off future pandemics, a report said urging leaders to act quickly. More than four years since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, politicians are "gambling through neglect" by not putting enough money or effort into avoiding a repeat of the disaster, the report said. The H5N1 avian influenza has been increasingly jumping over to mammals, including cattle in farms across the US, as well as a few humans, prompting fears the virus could spark a future pandemic. 


"If H5N1 began to spread from person to person, the world would likely again be overwhelmed," New Zealand's former prime minister Helen Clark, a co-author of the report, told a press conference. It could even be "more disastrous, potentially, than Covid," she said. "We just aren't equipped enough to stop outbreaks before they spread further," she said, also pointing to a deadlier strain of mpox particularly affecting children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While wealthy countries have vaccines that could fight this mpox outbreak, they have not been made available to the central African country, she said. Now two people have died from the mpox strain in South Africa, illustrating how neglect can lead to such pathogens spreading, she added.


The report was led by Clark and Liberian ex-president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who previously served as co-chairmen of an independent panel advising the World Health Organization (WHO) on pandemic preparedness. Despite the advice from the panel in 2021, "the funds now available pale in comparison to the needs, and high-income countries are holding on too tightly to traditional charity-based approaches to equity," Clark said. The report pointed out that WHO members have still not sealed a much-discussed pandemic agreement, mainly due to differences between well-off nations and those who felt cut adrift during the Covid-19 crisis. The report called for governments and international organizations to agree to a new pandemic accord by December, as well as funding more efforts to boost vaccine production, bolstering the WHO's power and boosting national efforts to fight off viruses. To emphasize the potential threat, the report pointed to modelling research suggesting there is a one-in-two chance the world will suffer a pandemic of a similar size to Covid in the next 25 years. 





Is Data the Key to Efficiency Technology Adoption?

June 24 ------ Efficiency technologies range from rigid wing sails to air lubrication systems, each offering unique opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and operational costs. Despite their rapid evolution and the wealth of options available to shipowners, precise evaluation is essential to build a strong investment case and maximize impact. Iebum Shin, Data Analytics Lead at Houlder, discusses the challenges in adopting efficiency technologies and highlights how data is key to making progress.


In the complex and dynamic maritime industry, achieving decarbonization requires more than just ambition; it calls for robust data and informed decision-making. Sherlock Holmes once said, "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data," a statement that resonates strongly in today's industry landscape, defined by evolving efficiency technologies and stringent regulations.


Overcoming data deficits

Houlder's recent qualitative decarbonization survey revealed a critical barrier: a lack of high-quality, relevant operating data remains a barrier to the adoption of maritime efficiency technologies. This data deficit not only restricts investment decisions but also complicates the evaluation and integration of transformative solutions.


Progress toward decarbonization requires a proactive and collaborative approach. Shipowners must leverage real-world performance data, assess various technologies, and identify fleet-wide trends. Shifting from 'quick wins' to holistic efficiency technology adoption is crucial for driving meaningful industry-wide change.


Accurate performance data will be fundamental in fostering trust and collaboration between technology providers and shipowners. It creates a win-win scenario: technology providers build credibility through successful case studies, while shipowners demand technologies that align with their operational needs and sustainability goals. Importantly, shipowners need to see that the technology delivers the promised results. Clean technology providers may sometimes be hesitant to share their performance data. In such cases, an independent expert intermediary can bridge the gap between technology providers' projections and the assurances shipowners need for final investment decisions.


Analyzing ship performance

Effective analysis of efficiency technologies starts with understanding the ship's unique operating performance and duty profile, rather than focusing solely on the technology itself. Emissions performance varies significantly based on factors such as ship type, route, cargo, vessel speed, sea state, vessel loading condition, and fuel type. With sufficient data and advanced analysis tools, broader insights can be accessed across various ships to identify fleet-wide trends. Key considerations include ensuring that performance data covers the entire operational range of the vessel and reflects actual voyages.


Charting the course

Efficiency technologies are continually evolving, offering significant potential for fuel savings and emissions reductions. Low or zero-carbon propulsion technologies, including fuel cells and batteries, alongside propulsion assists like Flettner rotors, promise to achieve zero-emission shipping. Energy efficiency innovations, such as waste heat recovery systems, can also significantly improve vessel efficiency.


The economic landscape is rapidly evolving, with incentives and regulatory frameworks increasingly favoring efficiency and decarbonization. The European Union's Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) imposes increasing costs on carbon emissions, strengthening the business case for energy efficiency technologies. Additionally, FuelEU Maritime promotes the installation of certain abatement methods and the use of low-carbon fuels by setting progressively stringent GHG emission targets based on the 2020 MRV fleet baseline. Similarly, the International Maritime Organization's Carbon Intensity Indicator (IMO CII) is set to have a significant commercial impact on shipowners, emphasizing the importance of efficiency technologies for achieving superior ratings and favorable charter party agreements. These technical and economic factors must also be incorporated into any sustainability analysis and strategy.


While the debate on alternative fuels continues, one thing is clear: efficiency technologies are essential for driving sustainability. However, their integration must be underpinned by rigorous analysis and a commitment to transparency. By embracing innovative solutions and prioritizing data collection, verification and transparency, we can accelerate progress toward a cleaner, more sustainable maritime sector today.





EU okays €570 million funding for Italian shore power scheme

June 24 ------ The European Commission (EC) has approved, under European Union (EU) state aid rules, a €570 million Italian scheme to incentivize ships to use shore-side electricity when they are at berth in maritime ports. Italy notified the EU Commission of its plans to adopt a €570 million scheme to incentivize ship operators to connect to shore-side electricity infrastructure when at berth in maritime ports in order to power onboard services, systems, and equipment. Under the scheme, the aid takes the form of a reduction of up to 100% of the so-called ‘general system charges’. Those charges are included in the electricity price and aimed at financing certain public policy objectives, including renewable energy.


According to the officials, the reduction will result in a lower electricity price for ship operators when purchasing shore-side electricity and will bring the cost of electricity to a competitive level with the cost of producing electricity on-board through fossil-fueled engines. Italy hopes that, by lowering the cost of shore-side electricity for ships, the measure will incentivize ship operators to opt for a more environmentally friendly electricity supply, thereby avoiding significant greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutants, and noise emissions. Initially, the reduction will cover 100% of the general system charges.


Italy committed to setting up an annual monitoring mechanism to verify the difference between the actual costs of purchasing shore-side electricity and the actual costs of self-generating electricity using fossil fuels onboard. The country plans to adjust the level of aid accordingly. The scheme will run until December 31, 2033.


This €570 million Italian scheme will incentivize ship operators to use shore-side electricity rather than electricity produced on-board from fossil fuels. With this measure, Italy will contribute to the ambitious EU target of reducing transport emissions by at least 90% by 2050 while ensuring competition is not distorted,” Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President in charge of competition policy. The measure is expected to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and noise in line with the objectives of the European Green Deal.


With the European Green Deal Communication in 2019, the Commission set an objective of net zero emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 that is enshrined in the European Climate Law. In force since July 2021, the law also introduced the intermediate target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030. Through the adoption of the ‘Fit for 55′ legislative proposals, the EU has in place legally binding climate targets covering all key sectors of the economy.


In September 2023, the European Parliament and the Council adopted the FuelEU Maritime Regulation setting up a common EU regulatory framework to increase the share of renewable and low-carbon fuels in the fuel mix of international maritime transport. Moreover, the Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Regulation was set up to ensure the availability of a dense and widespread network of alternative fuel infrastructure across the European Union, including onshore power supply infrastructure at EU ports.





India Approves Plan to Invest $9B to Build Mega Port Near Mumbai

June 24 ------ The Indian government today approved plans to create a new port on the west coast north of Mumbai that they contend when completed will become one of the world’s top 10 ports. The Vadhavan Port is designed to increase capacity and be part of a vital trade corridor between India, the Middle East, and Europe. The location which is less than 100 miles north of Mumbai is critical as the region only has two ports currently. The Mumbai port is constricted in growth capacity by the city and has a lower natural draft, while the Jawaharlal Nehru Port primarily handles containers. Vadhavan has a natural draft of up to 20 meters (65 feet) so that it can handle the largest ships in the world. It will be an all-cargo port with zones for containers, dry and wet bulk.


An Australian company first proposed a port for the region in 1997, but the project did not proceed. The Indian government began the effort to design Vadhavan in 2015.  Today, the cabinet approved spending more than $9.1 billion for the construction of the port which will be jointly owned by the port authority and Maharashtra Maritime Board. The port will include nine container terminals, each over 3,200 feet long, four multipurpose berths, including the coastal berth, four liquid cargo berths, a Ro-Ro berth, and a Coast Guard berth.


The government will reclaim 1,448 hectares of sea area and construct over six miles of offshore breakwater and container or cargo storage areas. The port will have a total annual capacity to handle nearly 300 million tons of cargo. By 2035, they expect the port will handle 15 million TEU annually and grow to 23 million TEU by 2040. It is one of the most ambitious projects proposed by the government of recently re-elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is part of a vision to make India into an industrial powerhouse and first-world trading partner. 




SSS begins notifying members of late payments

June 24 ------ Members of the Social Security System (SSS) will start receiving text messages about their late payments or past due on their short-term member loans to renew their loans after paying them off. SSS Senior Vice President for Lending and Asset Management Group Pedro T. Baoy said that they will regularly issue these messages to its loan borrowers to ensure “they are promptly reminded whenever they miss their loan payments or have loans that have remained unsettled after its maturity."


However, Baoy clarified that SSS member-borrowers who consistently update their monthly loan amortizations will not receive these payment notices. “We send loan billing statements to our member-borrowers through their registered email address. However, unlike reading text messages, most members do not open their email inboxes. Most of them carry their mobile phones wherever they go, so we saw text alerts as a great way to remind them,” Baoy said. These payment notices will aid member-borrowers avoid getting penalties for late payments and regain their good standing with the SSS so they can reapply for loans.


The SSS charges a one percent monthly penalty on unpaid principal and interest for loan payments until fully paid; and if it remains unsettled for over five years, incurred penalties will exceed the outstanding principal amount and interest. “We do not want that to happen to our member-borrowers, so we are helping them avoid reaching that situation,” Baoy said. Members are advised to be vigilant and regularly check their SSS loan records by accessing their My.SSS account. “If they do not have a My.SSS account, we suggest seeking assistance from our e-centers located in our branch offices,” Baoy added.


SSS members transferring to a new employer are reminded to inform them about their existing loan obligations and allow them to deduct loan payments from their salary, including any interest or penalty incurred due to late remittance. Baoy encouraged SSS members with unpaid short-term member loans to utilize the consolidation of past due short-term member loans with condonation of penalty (Conso Loan), which allows them to consolidate their loan obligations, easily manage their payments, and avoid penalties.


This will combine the principal and interest of a member’s past-due short-term member loans into one consolidated loan. "At the same time, all unpaid penalties shall be consolidated and condoned or waived upon full payment of the consolidated loan,” he said. Members with outstanding loan obligations in their salary, calamity, emergency, and restructured loans, including the Salary Loan Early Renewal Program (SLERP), may submit their application through their My.SSS account.


Under the loan program, he explained that they can pay their consolidated obligations loan through a one-time payment or an installment plan. “For the installment scheme, they must pay a down payment equivalent to at least 10 percent of the consolidated loan and pay the remaining balance for up to 60 months, wherein the length of the installment term depends on the amount of the unpaid loan,” he said.





China has no right to damage PH assets within EEZ

Manila, Philippines, August ------ Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Romeo Brawner Jr. scored China for its latest act of "reckless and aggressive" harassment that targeted a rotation and resupply (RORE) mission for Filipino troops manning the BRP Sierra Madre (LS-57) in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).


In a statement Tuesday evening, Brawner said the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) has "no right or legal authority to interfere with our legitimate operations or damage our assets within our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)." "This reckless and aggressive behavior has caused bodily harm and constitutes a blatant violation of international maritime law, Philippine sovereignty, and sovereign rights," he said.


Earlier, the AFP said the intentional ramming by the CCG on the Philippine ship involved in the RORE mission severely injured one Navy personnel. However, the military did not give more specific details on the injuries and damage caused to the vessel. "The AFP strongly denounces these actions, which not only infringe upon our maritime rights but also pose significant risks to regional stability," Brawner said.


Earlier reports, citing unnamed sources, said that at least eight Navy personnel were hurt, with one losing a finger, when Chinese maritime forces boarded and punctured their rigid-hulled inflatable boats, damaging the craft, aside from confiscating several items onboard. The AFP has yet to comment and confirm this allegation as of posting. Department of National Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. earlier said China’s dangerous and reckless behavior in the WPS "shall be resisted by the AFP."



China's escalatory actions in Ayungin Shoal were meant to provoke the Philippines and its ally, the United States, into actions that would justify its claims that Washington is trying to go to war with Beijing, National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) spokesperson Philippine Coast Guard Commodore Jay Tarriela said. “They clearly hope that the US will also be agitated to justify their false narrative that Washington really wants to go to war against Beijing,” Tarriela said over X. He said China is intentionally failing to admit that its actions in the WPS are “a big gamble that would impact not just the region but the entire global trade.”


Tarriela’s statement was in response to a video by China-backed media outfit Global Times that it is the Philippines that tried to provoke trouble during the incident in Ayungin Shoal on Monday that resulted in personnel injury and damage to the vessel.





PAGASA: Transition to weak La Niña in August

MANILA, Philippines, June 24 ------ Transition to a weak La Niña is expected between August and October, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA). The Philippines is currently in the El Niño-Southern Oscillation neutral phase, which means neither El Niño nor La Niña. La Niña cannot be declared yet as the ENSO alert and warning system has not reached a certain threshold, said PAGASA Climatology and Agrometeorology Division weather services chief Thelma Cinco.


Under La Niña, surface temperatures in the central equatorial Pacific are colder or lower than negative 0.5 degrees Celsius. Rains are expected toward the end of the year, Cinco said. Meanwhile, PAGASA yesterday launched new services that would help disseminate weather information to the public.


The PAGASA National Hydro-met Observing Network is a “one-stop shop” that provides real-time data through an interactive map. This map would show the progression of rains in the past 24 hours, which could be used by Disaster Risk Reduction Management personnel. “Through this weather tool, PAGASA and the general public can make plans and coordinate the impact of observed rains in localities,” said PAGASA senior weather specialist Raymond Ordinario.





Palay harvest likely fell by 8 percent in Q2

MANILA, Philippines, June 24 ------ The country’s palay production in the second quarter likely tumbled by 8.4 percent to 3.9 million metric tons (MT) as farms reeled from the ill effects of the dryer weather conditions. In its latest production forecast, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said that palay or unmilled rice harvest from April to June likely declined to 3.89 million MT, 360,000 MT lower than the actual 4.25 million MT output in the same period last year. Furthermore, the PSA’s new estimate for the second quarter was lower than its earlier forecast of 3.91 million MT palay output. 


The national statistics agency’s latest production outlook is based on the standing crops nationwide as of May 1. The PSA noted that the estimated palay harvest area during the reference period contracted by 7.12 percent year-on-year to 892,400 hectares from 960,870 hectares. More so, the PSA said there is an expected drop in the average yield of palay to about 4.39 MT per hectare in the second quarter from 4.42 MT per hectare a year ago. “As of May 1, 2024, about 568,030 hectares or 63.7 percent of the 892,400 hectares updated harvest area of standing crop have been harvested. This translates to palay output of 2.54 million metric tons,” the PSA said. “Of the total area of 324,370 hectares of standing palay yet to be harvested as of May 1, 2024, 38.6 percent were at the reproductive stage and 61.4 percent were at the maturing stage,” it added.


Industry groups attributed the projected decline in palay production to the impact of the El Niño phenomenon on farms, especially since the dryer than usual weather conditions peaked in the second quarter. “We don’t have water irrigation from our dams. We were told Pantabangan Dam will not be operational this season due to lack of water,” said Danilo Fausto, president of the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. “It’s difficult to rely on rain water for rice planting. Others who can afford it were forced to spend on irrigation pumps. Others will not be planting,” Fausto said.


Raul Montemayor of the Federation of Free Farmers said some farmers opted to plant early in anticipation of the dry spell. As a result, more farmers harvested in the first quarter, contributing to the decline in the second quarter output. In a related development, the country’s total rice stocks as of May 1 expanded by 10 percent year-on-year to 2.075 million MT on the back of bigger commercial inventory driven by higher imports. Latest PSA report showed that the nationwide rice inventory was 193,000 MT higher than the 1.882 million MT recorded stocks in the same month of last year. On a monthly basis, total rice stocks grew by almost 12 percent from 1.856 million MT recorded in April. “This month’s rice stocks inventories registered an annual increase from the commercial sector by 45.0 percent,” the PSA said. “On the other hand, annual decreases were noted from the NFA (National Food Authority) depositories by 30.7 percent and from the households by 13.1 percent,” the PSA added.


Rice stocks in commercial entities during the reference period reached 1.142 million MT versus the 787,970 MT recorded inventory last year. Commercial rice stocks accounted for more than half of the nationwide inventory of the staple. Meanwhile, rice inventory in households and NFA warehouses reached 863,770 MT and 69,350 MT, respectively.





DTI boosts drive vs illegal vape products after first PH vaping-related death

MANILA, Philippines, June 24 ------ The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) announced that it was intensifying its efforts to prevent the sale of illegal vape products, particularly to minors, after a 22-year-old male died due to his prolonged use of vapor products. In an interview on “Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon,” Trade Assistant Secretary Amanda Marie Nograles said the DTI supports the findings of the Department of Health (DOH) that e-cigarettes and vaping increase the risk of lung and heart diseases. “We at DTI continue to wage an intensified enforcement of the law on vapes, which includes the apprehension of physical and online stores, while continuing to conduct online monitoring for the sale of vapes,” she said.


Nograles issued the statement after the country reported its first case of vape-associated death—that of a 22-year-old male who had no prior health issues but died of a heart attack in 2023 after sustaining severe lung injury linked to vaping. The report was published in April by Dr. Margarita Isabel Fernandez and other doctors of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila in the Respirology Case Reports journal of the Asian Pacific Society of Respirology. According to Nograles, the DTI monitors the volume of illegal vape products based on studies, surveys, and seizures. She said their intensified efforts were focused on online sales, where most of the illegal vaping products were being sold, by working closely with online platforms. “The intensified crackdown is in the sense of how we can permanently remove these posts offering vapes on online selling platforms because, while we [can keep taking them down], they will later be put back up. So we are still trying to find a solution to this problem,” she added. “So aside from our crackdown on the marketing and sale of vape to minors, starting September, we will also be going after vape products being sold that did not go through DTI registration,” Nograles noted. 


Under Republic Act 11900, vaporized nicotine and non-nicotine products, their devices, or novel tobacco products shall not be sold to persons below 18 years old. The law also transferred the regulation of vaping products from the Food and Drugs Administration under the DOH to the DTI, with critics saying this made vaping “a business and profit issue, instead of a public health concern.”





Bill pushes 24/7 online service desk in gov’t agencies

MANILA, Philippines, June 24 ------ A party list lawmaker wants government agencies to set up their respective 24/7 Front-line Service System to accept public online queries and extend their operating hours for in-person transactions. AGRI party list Rep. Wilbert Lee has filed House Bill No. 10426, or the 24/7 Front-line Government Services Act, which requires national and local government offices to provide a list of “zero contact services” they can deliver without physical interaction. These should be made available to all Filipinos with online access seven days a week, 24 hours a day.


Under the draft measure, government front-line services and response teams must also operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. between Mondays and Saturdays for in-person transactions. Among the government offices that should implement extended hours, according to HB 10426, are the Department of Foreign Affairs, National Bureau of Investigation, Land Transportation Office, Professional Regulation Commission, Social Security System, Philippine Health Insurance Corp., Home Development Mutual Fund, Government Service Insurance System, Philippine Postal Corp., Technical Education and Skills Development Authority and Philippine National Police.


According to Lee, his measure will “give people who are mostly working or studying [from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.] during weekdays a chance to avail [themselves] of government services without compromising their jobs or daily tasks.” “This way, the hassle of going to the [government office] is needed only when the document is ready to be released,” he added, pointing out that Filipinos will no longer need to go on leave from work or even wait for the agency concerned to open just to follow up or initiate the processing of documents.


HB 10426 also tasks government offices to ensure there are enough personnel to carry out the functions of the 24/7 response team and implement longer operating hours. Lee noted that continuous government operations and services would increase the productivity of the different agencies and help more Filipinos. “The Filipino people deserve better services so we should demand these,” he said.





Cebu Pacific to start Cebu-Palawan flights


MANILA, Philippines, June 24 ------ Low-cost carrier Cebu Pacific is introducing another connection to its local network in October, this time adding weekly flights between Cebu and San Vicente, Palawan. Cebu Pacific will connect Cebu and San Vicente four times a week starting Oct. 24, bringing in a new route to the domestic portfolio of the largest airline in the Philippines. Once the flight is launched, Cebu Pacific will fly between Cebu and San Vicente every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.


Cebu Pacific president and chief commercial officer Alexander Lao said the airline made the call to connect Cebu and San Vicente to promote tourism activities in Palawan. The province is home to some of the most popular destinations in the Philippines, particularly Coron and El Nido. San Vicente, for its part, remains unexplored by most tourists visiting Palawan, even as the town can hold its own against Coron and El Nido. San Vicente is surrounded by bodies of water, such as the Long Beach, the longest white sand beach in the Philippines and the second longest in Southeast Asia.


To promote the new route, Cebu Pacific is hosting a seat sale until June 26 for the Cebu-San Vicente flights, offering base fares of as low as P1 one way. Cebu Pacific is expanding its Cebu network to offer new connections from the province, building up its partnership with the operator of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport. The airline owned by the Gokongweis will mount Cebu flights to Don Mueang starting Oct. 2 and to Masbate beginning Oct. 25 as part of its expansion pipeline in the province.


Cebu Pacific flies to 35 domestic routes and 25 foreign cities, offering flights across Asia, Australia and the Middle East.





Weather can increase heart disease risk – expert

MANILA, Philippines, June 24 ------ The weather can adversely affect heart health, Philippine Heart Association president Dr. Rodney Jimenez said. He explained that if the weather is too cold, the blood vessels constrict. “If you have a heart ailment, a blocked vessel, and you take a bath with cold water, some people experience chest pain. This is one of the direct or indirect cause of heart problems,” he said during the Bagong Pilipinas public briefing yesterday.


Heat, on the other hand, “causes stress, brings on heat stroke, dehydration. All of these are stressful for the heat, if you have an existing heart ailment,” according to Jimenez. Heat and dehydration, Jimenez said, can cause stress to the heart even among those without cardiovascular illnesses.


Jimenez stressed that heat stroke is different from heart attack or brain stroke. He said heat stroke is temperature-driven and not directly related to the heart. He noted that cardiovascular diseases are among the leading causes of death among Filipinos. Jimenez advised the public to take the necessary precautions to avoid heart ailments by refraining from eating fatty and oily food. He said diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol are risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.





KDLex celebrates concert success, excited for future acting and music endeavors

June 24 ------ From gracing the Pinoy Big Brother house to a jam-packed Add to Heart KDLEX concert at the Music Museum, KD Estrada and Alexa Ilacad, collectively known as KDLex, proved their ability to captivate a crowd with their talent and proved that they are billed as the Hottest Musical Pair’. KDLex delivered a series of swoon-worthy performances that left their fans, the Sweethearts, flustered. They graced the concert stage with individual and duo performances, with KD showcasing his guitar prowess as he serenaded the crowd and Alexa’s stunning vocals leaving the audience in awe. “The adrenaline rush that it gives, malaking boost ‘yun sa performance namin. Nakaka-hype talaga if you see them. It’s priceless when you get to see their reactions,” Alexa shared, acknowledging how different the concert was in comparison to their first online concert in 2022.


The concert also featured guest singers who performed alongside KDLex. KD delivered a memorable duet with Bugoy Drilon, while Alexa shined in her performance with her We Love OPM mentor, Yeng Constantino. “Si Kuya Bugoy was an inspiration since I was 16 when I started singing. Nakikita ko yung BuDaKhel, and ‘dun ako natuto mag-harmonize, mag-runs. In a way, I kind of adapted their singing style which is more of R&B and Pop. It’s a childhood dream of mine to work with one of them,” KD shared about his collaborations. Both KD Estrada and Alexa Ilacad have shown their versatility through singing, performing, and acting, or doing them all together. They starred in their first theater role by playing Julia and Tenyong in Walang Aray under PETA, a modern adaptation of Walang Sugat, for which Alexa scored a female-lead nomination in the Gawad Buhay Awards.  The two have also cited their theater experience as a contributor to their growth as artists. “It helped me open up my voice. I had to learn how to sing from the chest and project my voice so that the audience would hear me,” KD shared. With the success of their recent concert “Add to Heart: KDLex in Concert” and their successful acting projects, the duo shows no signs of slowing down as they embark and hope for more projects, both individually and as a pair. 


When asked about future projects, whether individually or as a loveteam, KD expressed uncertainty about the possibilities of a music release within the year but vows to continue on his craft. “I’ll continue working on my music. Kahit anong mangyari sa career ko, it is something I will always go back to,” KD said. While Alexa confirms that the music video of her unreleased song, “Kung Naging Tayo” is in the works, she shared being more hands-on with the creative process of its music video and realizing in the process her role as a creative. “Narealize ko that I am a good creative until I realized sobra akong mag-conceptualize. For the music video, I told them that I want it to be devastating. I want people to relate and cry. I really have a vision.” Alexa added. Following this massive feat for the pair and their fans, KD and Alexa promise that this is just the beginning of their journey and vow to continue working on their artistry as they mold their craft individually and as a pair.





Maricar Reyes turns to friend from med school for anti-aging care

MANILA, Philippines, June 24 ------ Maricar Reyes-Poon can stake a claim to having one of the most beautiful faces in the showbiz industry. But interestingly, the licensed medical doctor-turned-actress and businesswoman has said that she learned how to fully come to terms with the way she looks just recently. “You know what’s funny, recently lang ako parang yung talagang natanggap. This has been a crazy year na parang you really become comfortable in your positives and negatives. Kasi ‘di ba tayo mga Pinoy ‘pag sinasabihan ka ng compliment, you shut it down. ‘Uy, ang ganda mo!’ ‘Di naman.” “Ngayon ko lang talaga na fully learn — yes, in my 40s — that it’s okay to say thank you for the positives and that at the same time, when somebody tells you something negative, ‘Ah okay, ganun pala, mahina pala ako sa Math, ‘di pala ako ganito, I’m immature pala in this area,’ it's okay. So, ngayon ko lang parang natutunan yung balance,” the 42-year-old told The STAR in an exclusive chat.  


“Growing up, my mom was like that. Every time somebody says to my mom na uy maganda ka, ganyan, like tinuturuan siya ng lola ko na i-shut down mo yan, say no because either you'll just be judged on your looks or baka yumabang ka, may ganun, which is also valid. But yun lang, as a young woman, if you imbibe that too much, parang dina-downplay mo din naman yung binigay sayo na regalo ng Panginoon. Alam mo yung ganun? It’s also gift.” Maricar particularly developed this mindset around the time she released her eponymous autobiographical book, which is about her journey to healing, in late 2022. “It was a book about something very negative and how I came into terms with it. Pero nung nilabas ko siya parang, okay, there are other things that happened behind the scenes that it’s okay din pala to not be okay,” Maricar reflected. “And to also accept the positive. So equal lang sila. Just because there’s something negative about you doesn't mean that negative ka na buong buo. And just because there's something positive about you, huwag mo din namang ikakayabang yung ganun,” she added.


The STAR was able to interview Maricar at the recent first anniversary event of her skin clinic of choice, the Velasco Medical Aesthetics (VMA), at the Inoza Tower in Bonifacio Global City. Maricar was a special guest, along with other celebrities and influencers, at the celebration. But she also has a special connection to the owner of VMA, Dr. Erika Velasco. The latter revealed that they were schoolmates at the University of Sto. Tomas Faculty of Medicine and Surgery. “The reason why I wanted her (as endorser) is because… she’s a doctor also. Gandang-ganda kami sa kanya (even in college). So when I requested for someone who can like represent our clinic, she was No. 1 on the list. Apart from being a doctor, I like kasi yung mga women who have substance and marami siyang nai-inspire. We want someone, who represents us, can inspire a lot of women,” Dr. Erika said. Getting reconnected and working with her schoolmates, isn’t Maricar inspired or open to practice medicine again? “Pwede,” she mused. “Actually, even though na nag-showbiz ako, I was practicing behind the scenes lang but as family and friends (doctor), ganun… We’ll see.” For now, she’s entrusting her beauty, skincare and anti-aging concerns to VMA. “I regularly come here starting in February. What I liked about this place is it’s very straight to the point, they give you what you need. I mean I've been with other clinics before and they're good naman but what I like about dito sa VMA, it’s very realistic in educating you kung ano yung expectations dapat for your skin so it builds trust. And the culture here is low-key, simple,” Maricar said. “Even if you were born with certain characteristics, you still have to maintain them. If you don’t take care of it, babagsak din ‘yan overtime. Hindi rin naman tayo bagets, right? Kaya ang maganda rin dito that they focus on anti-aging, yun yung specialization,” the actress added.


Dr. Erika is particularly proud of VMA’s facials, which are intentionally “more relaxing and elaborate.” One of Maricar’s favorite facials is the Lutronic Hollywood Spectra, a non-invasive skin rejuvenation treatment with minimal downtime. Another popular facial is Instaglow, which takes an hour and costs P2,000. They also have this 14-step Prime Facial, which lasts two hours, and is priced at P3,500. “We have facials, we have the anti-aging machines that are gonna help your skin (become) firm and tight. Like sinasabi ni Doc Maricar, habang you age may babagsak d’yan. So we want to continuously tighten and firm your skin habang bata ka pa. We also do injectables.” Meanwhile, this paper asked Maricar about her opinion on invasive or surgical enhancements. “I used to not believe in it, na parang the industry is like peperahan ka, there are machines that don’t work, I have seen machines that don’t work. And then there are of course, machines that are (working),” she said, also stressing, “So kailangan talaga is the doctor na kausap mo, trust mo ba? Then ‘pag nag pa-treat ka, tignan mo may nangyayari ba sa piso mo?” As for her thoughts on aging, Maricar believes that “it depends on the mindset on the person siguro lalo na ngayon syempre sa culture natin, we value young. Pero wala, it’s inevitable. I also don’t want to go back… Iniisip ko yung problema ko nung 20s, ayoko na din bumalik dun. Okay na ako.”





Darren Espanto expresses heartfelt gratitude to Vice Ganda

June 24 ------ Darren Espanto penned a short yet heartfelt message of gratitude to his fellow It's Showtime host Vice Ganda. In an Instagram post, the singer-host uploaded photos of him and the Unkabogable Star on stage during his 10th-anniversary concert, which was held at the Araneta Coliseum. Darren thanked Vice Ganda for her support since he started his journey in show business. “Thank you for being a part of #D10, Ate Vice, and for all the support you have given me since the start of my journey in showbiz. You deserve all the flowers! Labyu!” he wrote.  


In a separate post, Darren also penned a touching message for his parents and sister, Lynelle, who made a special appearance during his concert. “To the very first people who believed in me and fought for me; I love you, Mom, Dad, and Lynelle! Thank you for everything!” a part of his caption read.





Kai Sotto makes switch to Koshigaya Alphas in Japan B.League

CHICAGO, June 24 ------ Kai Sotto is moving on to the next chapter of his storied basketball career. As reported by, has confirmed through multiple sources that the 7-foot-3 center already has a deal in place to play for the Koshigaya Alphas of the Japan B.League.


Sotto's camp was mum on the terms of the deal, saying only that the team "will run it and give out the details to the press." Described by a former high-ranking B.League official as "the most popular Asian import," in Japan, Sotto commanded multiple offers that ranged between a low of $600,000 to a high of $880,000 a year.


Joining the Alphas checks so many boxes for the 22-year old wunderkind. Koshigaya's two bigs - 6-foot-10 Gary Hamilton and 6-foot-11 Justin Harper - are aged 34 and 39, respectively, allowing Kai to infuse young blood in the middle where he figures to log substantial playing time.


The Alphas earned promotion from Division 2 to the B.League top flight last season while being led by a dynamic 5-foot-9 point guard in Shun Matsuyama, who averaged 16 points and 4.5 assists per this past campaign. In his 34-game stint with the Yokohama B-Corsairs last season, Kai averaged 12.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocked shots per game while playing alongside point guard Yuki Kawamura who was honored among the Best Five players in the B.League top flight. The hope is that Sotto's performance will continue to prosper with Matsuyama as his point guard.


Kai's upcoming tenure at Koshigaya is believed to be in the two or three-year window and the expectation is that the former Ateneo high school star will have either an opt-out or a buyout-friendly deal. This strategic move allows Sotto to bank some money while still keeping the doors open to pursue his NBA dream. A second consecutive stint in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas appears increasingly unlikely now that Sotto's focus and priorities have pivoted towards Gilas Pilipinas' upcoming Olympic Qualifying Tournament games in Latvia on July 3 and 4. However, a dominant showing versus Latvia and Georgia could potentially earn Kai an invite to this year's 10-day Summer League which begins on July 12, allowing enough time for travel and some practice time with whichever team he may be rostered with.





PH appeals to Thailand over non-inclusion of weightlifting, wushu in SEA Games

MANILA, June 24 ------ The Philippines has appealed to Thailand over its non-inclusion of certain sports in the program for next year's 33rd Southeast Asian Games. According to the Philippine Olympic Committee, the country may miss out on eight potential gold medals after Thailand scrapped weightlifting, wushu, jiu-jitsu and karate from its 40-sport program. "We already appealed to the Thai hosts the inclusion of weightlifting, wushu, jiu-jitsu and karate," POC President Abraham "Bambol" Tolentino said, after a meeting of the SEA Games Federation in Bangkok. "It's not only the Philippines which appealed, but a majority of the games members," he added.


Thailand is hosting the SEA Games from December 9 to 20 in Bangkok, Chonburi and Songkhla. Jiu-jitsu athletes Kaila Napolis, Annie Ramirez and Marc Lim, wushu's Agatha Wong, karate's Jamie Lim and Sakura Alforte and weightlifting's Erleen Ando and Vanessa Sarno delivered gold medals for the Philippines in the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia last year. "We will lose a lot of gold medals if the appeal won't be granted," said Tolentino, adding the country will compete in all 40 medal sports but not in the demonstration sports tug of war and flying disc or frisbee.


Tolentino attended the meeting with POC secretary general Atty. Wharton Chan, deputy secretary-general Ali Sulit of judo, Don Caringal of volleyball, Karen Tanchangco-Caballero of sepak takraw and Carl Sambrano of skateboard. The POC has yet to pick a chef de mission to the Thailand games.





Harame Bro secures ticket to PUBG Mobile World Cup

MANILA, Philippines, June 24 ------ After four weeks of intense gaming, Philippine team Harame Bro emerged victorious over 19 other squads to secure the lone slot to the PUBG Mobile 2024 World Cup after winning the PUBG Mobile Challengers League-Southeast Asia (PMCL SEA) Summer Split.


The Philippine champion finished second during the elimination weeks, a few points away from top contender Osja Esports of Cambodia. In the four-day grand finals, Harame Bro secured a chicken dinner and consistently finished in the top four to extend its lead by 20 points over Cambodia's Osja Esports after the first day. Though Harame Bros did not get anymore chicken dinners, they scored enough elimination points to keep their hold on first place even as Osja Esports closed the point gap between them, winning the Summer Split with 174 points over Osja Esport's 173 points.


Other Philippine teams showed that the country is getting more competitive in PUBG Mobile. Strangers Tribe Aeromacy (Stranger Esports in partnership with Tribe Aeromacy) secured the final chicken dinner of the grand finals, earning 161 points to finish in third place; while Exquisite Esports and 214xSIN (214 Esports in collaboration with SIN Esports) ended up in seventh to eighth place with both finishing the tournament at 118 points. PlayBook Esports managed to make it to the top ten with 117 points for a ninth-place finish; while Enigma MSI (Enigma in partnership with Misfit International) failed to secure a chicken dinner to end the tournament at 15th place.


With their win, Harame Bro will take part in the upcoming PUBG Mobile 2024 World Cup, which will happen as part of the Esports World Cup in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in July.





Helping workers through upskilling and entrepreneurship

Poverty is often tied to low wages. Every administration has had to grapple with the problem of labor and wages. It’s a tough balancing act. How do you expect lives to improve if people subsist hand-to-mouth? On the other hand, how can businesses, especially the SMEs, continue to operate when they are faced with higher costs of doing business? The conflict always threatens to lead to instability, something which the Philippines simply cannot afford if it is to reach its goal of becoming an upper-middle income country in the near future.


Is a mandated increase in wages the only way to unshackle people from poverty? Because if it is, it implies that the Filipino worker is powerless over his fate – that another person is in control of the situation. I would like to think that there are always alternative pathways. Among these are upskilling and entrepreneurship.


Workers can have a better chance at asking for higher wages if they upskill themselves. This is what the Jobs Group of the Private Sector Advisory Council is working on. When our workers are upskilled, they have a powerful bargaining chip with which to negotiate higher wages.


They can even parlay that new skill into another entirely different income stream. Janitors can learn how to drive even without ever owning a vehicle by enrolling in the free training offered by government organizations like TESDA. Busboys can learn to cook, gardeners can learn to landscape and waiters can learn to manage a restaurant through practical experience. I learned how to sell fire extinguishers and used clothes on my own initiative; over the years I learned how to navigate sales and marketing by observing and learning on the job and it has helped me immensely.


During our free public entrepreneurship mentoring events at our non-profit, Go Negosyo, we meet people who found success by developing other skills. Some discovered that they have a talent for online live selling, while some found that they can actually earn more by being content creators on topics that are close to their hearts. Some discovered that their practical skills – say in cooking meals or organizing events – could even be spun off into a business and turn them into entrepreneurs. Coupled with the correct entrepreneurial mindset, experienced workers can parlay their skills into a business.


Entrepreneurship, however, is not as simple as it sounds, but it is not impossible to succeed in it if one has the patience and discipline to approach it with purpose. In all our programs at Go Negosyo, we always emphasize that in order to succeed in entrepreneurship, one needs access to the three M’s, that is, money, mentorship and markets. Entrepreneurs need capital, a coach and a market for their goods or services. Without access to these three, it will be very difficult to succeed.


Fortunately, there are programs that make these three M’s accessible even to aspiring entrepreneurs. Our regular 3M on Wheels has been stepped up this year so we can reach more people in the provinces. With the help of the First Lady’s LAB for All initiative, we were able to expand 3M on Wheels’ reach so that our volunteer entrepreneurship mentors can reach smaller communities across the country. It was also the First Lady who approached us to help the displaced employees of Sofitel Philippine Plaza, which is to cease operations by the end of June. A lot of these employees are veterans in the tourism industry and I am sure they will have a lot to contribute when they start their own businesses, given their real-world experiences in hospitality.


MSME development and worker upskilling has to be a whole-of-government approach, and it becomes even greater than the sum of its parts when it is supplemented by the resources and vigor of the private sector. We try and mimic this by connecting the private sector to help with key growth areas such as agriculture, tourism, the youth, women, digital technology and our OFWs.


With agriculture, we integrate small farmers into the value chain of big agri companies so they can benefit from their mentorship by learning best practices and new technologies, access ready markets for their products and realize better income from economies of scale.


With our program with the Department of Education, we teach entrepreneurship and business fundamentals to senior high school students to introduce them to alternative pathways to income generation. It ties in with our advocacy in agriculture as it supports the Pampaaralang Taniman ng mga Agribida (PTA), and the inclusion of agripreneurship in the K-12 curriculum.


We teach financial literacy and self-sufficiency through micro-entrepreneurship to the beneficiaries of the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP). We do the same at the barangay level with our work with the Development Center for Future Leaders and the Department of the Interior and Local Government.


However, one of the most difficult M’s to access is money, or capital. Without it, MSMEs will find it hard to realize their full potential as the backbone of the economy. Recent data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas show that the overall compliance ratio of the banking sector to lend to MSMEs is at 4.41 percent – still below the 10 percent required by the Magna Carta for SMEs. With hope, increasing access to digital technology can help this by making loans more accessible to people who have been discouraged by the bureaucratic and physical limitations of borrowing from brick-and-mortar banks.


MSMEs comprise almost all of the enterprises in the country and account for more than half of the jobs that are being created. This is true even in the whole ASEAN region. In my work in the ASEAN Business Advisory Council – the ASEAN businessmen who provide guidance to the ASEAN on private sector concerns – I see time and again how critical the MSME sector is to each of the economies that make up the region. Without these millions of small and medium businesses, even the large companies will have a hard time.


I wish for a future where every worker will have it in his or her power to pull themselves up because they have upskilled or have become successful entrepreneurs. Our job now is to create the environment that can make this possible.


Source: Go Negosyo -


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