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April 10, 2023

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CDC to warn travelers for Marburg virus symptoms as it investigates outbreaks 

April 10 ------ The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sending personnel to Africa to help stop outbreaks of Marburg virus disease and is urging travelers to certain countries to take precautions. The CDC is also taking steps to keep infections from spreading to the United States. 


Equatorial Guinea and Tanzania are facing their first known outbreaks of Marburg virus, a viral fever with uncontrolled bleeding that’s a close cousin to Ebola. This week, the CDC urged travelers to both countries to avoid contact with sick people and to watch for symptoms for three weeks after leaving the area. Travelers to Equatorial Guinea should take enhanced precautions and avoid nonessential travel to the provinces where the outbreak is ongoing, the agency said. 


In the United States, the agency will post notices in international airports where most travelers arrive, warning them to watch for symptoms of the virus for 21 days and to seek care immediately if they become ill. They will also get a text reminder to watch for symptoms. The CDC is standing up a “center-led” emergency response; it’s not as all-encompassing as when the CDC stands up its Emergency Operations Center, such as for Covid-19 and mpox. But it will refocus the efforts and attention of the staff of its National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases to respond to the outbreaks, which are in two countries on opposite sides of Africa, indicating that the deadly hemorrhagic fever is spreading. 


Equatorial Guinea, on the coast in West Africa, declared an outbreak of Marburg virus disease in mid-February with cases spread across multiple provinces. As of March 22, Equatorial Guinea had 13 confirmed cases, including nine people who have died and one who has recovered, according to the World Health Organization. Nine CDC staffers are on the ground there. They have established a field laboratory and are assisting with testing, case identification and contact tracing. 


Tanzania, on the coast in East Africa, declared an outbreak of Marburg virus disease on March 21, with cases reported in two villages in the Kagera region, according to the CDC. As of March 22, Tanzania has had eight confirmed cases, including five deaths. The CDC has a permanent office in Tanzania that is assisting with the outbreak. It is sending additional staff to support those efforts. Marburg virus is a rare and deadly virus that causes fever, chills, muscle pain, rash, sore throat, diarrhea, weakness or unexplained bleeding or bruising. It is spread through contact with body fluids and contaminated surfaces. People can also catch it from infected animals. It is fatal in about half of cases who get it. Other countries in Africa have had to quell outbreaks before. 


In its early stages, the infection is difficult to distinguish from other illnesses, so a history of travel to either of those countries will be essential to helping clinicians spot it. 




Malaysians tighten belts during Ramadan as food prices continue to rise

KUALA LUMPUR, April 10 ------ For decades, Azmir Ikmal and his family would break their fast with a Ramadan buffet at a hotel. But as inflation creeps up, they have replaced the spread with ala carte picks from the menu to be more prudent. 


“This tradition has been with us since I was a child, so we’re trying to keep it alive for as long as we can, especially after my father’s death,” he told The Straits Times. “But things are getting expensive – the Ramadan buffet at our favorite hotel went up by 25 percent to RM208 (S$62) a person. “We don’t think it’s a good idea to spend that much, so we restrategize without having to stop going to our favorite place.” 


Like him, pharmacist Aliya Hashim is tightening her budget by preparing her own Ramadan meals and Hari Raya cookies, after bakers raised prices. “I did some calculations. I can save more by doing this,” she said, joining Malaysians who are now more conscious of their spending due to rising food prices. Consumer price inflation remained elevated at 3.7 per cent in February, according to Department of Statistics Malaysia data, with food and beverage items remaining high at 7 per cent. 


Chief statistician Mohd Uzir Mahidin said continuous heavy rain in several states, from the end of December 2022 to February 2023, has also led to increases in food prices, especially for vegetables. “As a result of the transition of the monsoon, the inflation for the vegetable sub-group has recorded a significant increase of 5.8 per cent as compared with 1 per cent in January,” he said. With high prices squeezing people’s purchasing power, economic experts say consumers tend to be more cautious in spending, especially when there is no corresponding rise in income. 


Sunway University economics professor Yeah Kim Leng told ST: “To reduce living expenses, consumers could be having meals prepared at home and reducing purchases at bazaars. Another possible factor could be the increase in the number of stalls and vendors, offering consumers more choices. Vendors, on the other hand, experience lower business volume due to greater competition. “The economy is slowing down, as reflected in the latest economic indicators. Consumers tend to tighten their wallets when faced with increased uncertainties over the economy. They could also have less to spend due to the expiry of the various Covid-19 stimulus packages.” 


During the pandemic, Malaysia’s gross domestic product shrank by 5.6 per cent in 2020, the biggest contraction since the 1998 Asian financial crisis. Home-based baker Mimi Zainal is feeling the pinch, saying the price of butter has risen by 30 per cent in the last few months, forcing her to increase prices. “A block of 250g butter that I use is now RM24.70 – that’s RM5.70 more. I can no longer sell my cookies for RM35 per bottle, but after repricing them at RM3 more, sales are not really coming in,” she said. “I easily got orders for 100 bottles in the first week of Ramadan last year, but I can barely get 45 now, and we’re already entering the second week of fasting. I’m behind my sales target for this year.” 


To help cushion the burden, the Malaysian government launched the Rahmah Ramadan bazaar, consisting of food trucks offering affordable meals below RM5 in 38 locations nationwide. “We sell rice with fried turmeric chicken and long beans for RM5 a portion. It’s a hit and a win-win for both sides,” said food truck hawker Ahmad Jalil Jailani. 




For Indo-Pac Islands, Sea Level Matters More Than US-China Rivalry 

April 10 ------ With an ever-increasing focus on the Indo-Pacific, new dimensions of geopolitical unity and rivalry continue to emerge. The trilateral security partnership between Australia, the U.K and the U.S. (AUKUS submarine deal) is a case in point. The goal of the partnership is to act as a deterrent against China’s surging aggression in the region. But in the midst of this great power competition, are small island nations within the Indo-Pacific involved in setting the agenda for the region? Indeed, these island nations have critical interests that must be respected for stability and inclusive development of the Indo-Pacific’s littoral countries. 


This is the thrust of a new discussion by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace fellows Darshana Baruah and Nitya Labh. “The United States, China, India, and others have crafted maritime strategies toward the Indian and Pacific Oceans. But island nations in these oceans - from Sri Lanka to Solomon Islands - are often ignored. They are not at the fore-front of the Indo-Pacific agenda, despite it being very much about and influenced by them,” argue Baruah and Nitya. 


Last year, during the second annual Indo-Pacific Islands Dialogue in New York, Maldives Foreign Affairs Minister Abdulla Shahid gave a powerful speech on the agency of island nations in key decisions concerning the Indo-Pacific. “It is not the size that matters or determines the scale of contribution to the international community. Island states can stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the global community, and have equal rights and say to their peer nations,” said Shahid. 


The key concern is that the agency of the island nations is being drowned out by the intense great power competition and strategic rivalry in the Indo-Pacific. There is already asymmetry in the interests of island nations and the other global powers jockeying for influence in the Indo-Pacific. As for island nations, most of which are considered ‘big ocean states’, they view climate action as the single most important priority for the Indo-Pacific. On the other hand, the U.S and its regional partners - Australia, France, Japan and India - are concerned with China’s rising naval presence in the Indo-Pacific, a likely threat to security interests in the region. 


However, the UN resolution this week asking the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to deliver an opinion judgement on the obligation of States with respect to climate change, could introduce a new shift in multilateral relations within the Indo-Pacific. The resolution is a culmination of a four-year push led by Vanuatu and other Pacific nations. It could make it possible to hold accountable the high carbon emitting nations for climate emergencies happening around the world. 


The vote came in a day after the Biden administration approved the auction of over 73 million acres of Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling. In early March, the U.S. government also approved another multi-decade long oil and gas drilling program in Alaska. These decisions have drawn widespread condemnation from environmental groups, with some arguing they create the largest “carbon bombs” in the United States. 


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s newly released Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) highlights phasing out fossil fuels as one of the most critical climate actions. While the ICJ’s opinion will be non-binding, it is a significant milestone in trying to establish climate action obligations under international law. Countries such as Vanuatu argue that their geography is increasingly becoming a disadvantage in the face of the mounting climate crisis. The slow-paced global deliberations on climate action also offer no help in mitigating the risk. 


In this regard, Pacific Island nations treat climate change as a matter of national security. Thus, regional cooperation in the Indo-Pacific should first recognize the magnitude of climate emergencies to the sovereignty of the island nations. As Fiji’s Former Ambassador and Permanent Representative to UN Satyendra Prasad has argued, great power competition means less to anyone whose community is slipping beneath the rising sea. “The greatest threat we face isn’t geopolitics, it is climate change,” Prasad emphasized. 




Disney Will Base Its Largest Cruise Ship in Singapore Starting in 2025 

April 10 ------ Disney Cruise Line and the Singapore Tourism Board have entered into an agreement for the cruise line to deploy one of the largest cruise ships in the world to Singapore starting in 2025. Disney confirmed the previous rumors that the company plans to deploy the Global Dream cruise ship acquired in the bankruptcy of MV Werften to Asia marking the first time that one of the ultra-large cruise ships has homeported in the region. 


News of the agreement with Singapore comes as work is beginning at the shipyard in Wismar, Germany more than a year after the bankruptcy of the yard which was controlled by Genting Hong Kong. Disney announced in November 2022 that it was acquiring the incomplete cruise ship and would work with Meyer Werft to redesign and finish the ship for its cruise operations. Under the terms of the agreement with the Singapore Tourism Board, the as yet unnamed cruise ship will be homeported exclusively in Singapore for at least five years. The chief executive of the board, Keith Tan, called it an important milestone for Singapore highlighting that they expect the cruise ship will become “an attraction itself, and is expected to boost the tourism sector in Singapore for many years to come.” 


During a press event in Singapore today officials said the addition of a Disney Cruise Line ship in Singapore has the potential to add millions of local and foreign cruise passengers across the five-year period, including fly-cruise passengers who arrive in Singapore by air. It is also expected to bring about significant spillover benefits for the wider economy. These include greater demand for port and ship-related services, as well as on-ground spending in Singapore for the lifestyle and hospitality sectors. 


Disney said details, including the name of the ship, its itineraries, and onboard experiences would be announced at a later date. The cruise line previously said it anticipates lowering the capacity from Genting Hong Kong’s plans for a passenger capacity of up to 9,500 people with 2,500 cabins to approximately 6,000 passengers and 2,300 crew. The cruise ship, which will be approximately 208,000 gross tons and 1,122 feet in length, was being called the world’s largest based on its passenger capacity. In addition to being the first time Disney Cruise Line has homeported in Asia, it will be the first cruise ship over 200,000 gross tons to homeport in Asia. Royal Caribbean International had planned before the pandemic to homeport its Wonder of the Seas (235,600 gross tons) in China, but so far, the Oasis class has operated in Europe and the Caribbean. MSC Cruises put its MSC World Europa (215,863 GT) in Dubai this winter and now the ship is repositioning to the Mediterranean. 


Dream Cruises, which had planned to operate the ship, announced plans for a large amusement park, water slides, shopping mall, Asian spa, and Cineplex, as well as a range of restaurants, bars, and a large casino. A spokesperson for Meyer Werft recently reported that negotiations were underway with Disney to finalize the exact scope of the conversion work. Two weeks ago in Germany, bankruptcy administrator Christoph Morgen said the proceeding had been a success and was now winding down. They reported that 70 percent of the former employees of MV Werften have either received new jobs or were currently in training programs to transition to new jobs. Approximately 125 people had already returned to the shipyard mostly working for Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), which acquired the facility, as well as the first people for the work on the cruise ship under the supervision of Meyer Werft. By early April they were expected 300 people to be hired and by May 500 people as part of a workforce of approximately 650 people that will be undertaking the conversion of the former Global Dream. 


Speaking previously Meyer said one of the most challenging elements was to meet Disney’s plan to convert the engine plant to operate on methanol as its primary fuel. The engines require conversion and in addition they said new tanks would be required as well as piping and control systems. The original timeline had called for the cruise ship to leave the building hall by the end of 2023. TKMS has leased the facility for the completion of the ship, but recent reports said TKMS is delaying its projected start for work in Wismar from 2024 to 2025. As such, it is expected that the cruise ship project will have an additional time cushion before it has to leave the drydock.  


Reports in the German media said that Disney Corp. was making a payment of less than €100 million to the insolvency company in March and expects to invest several hundred million euros in the completion of the ship. Disney is financing the project privately with no further assistance from the German government.  




Wärtsilä Prepares Newbuilds to be Ready in Future for CCS Scrubbers 

April 10 ------ Wärtsilä received its first order for a carbon capture and storage-ready scrubber system even while they are continuing to develop and test the technology. According to their technology group, these efforts will make the ship futureproof protecting the shipowner’s investment in a newbuild and mark a milestone in the efforts to propel maritime decarbonization. 


Testing is still ongoing for Wärtsilä’s CCS system which they first profiled just a year ago. Working with Solvang they reported developing a system that combined traditional exhaust scrubbers with the ability to capture carbon emissions. They reported encouraging results from initial tests on a carbon capture system designed to separate CO2 gas from a ship’s exhaust and said that testing was proceeding. Wärtsilä reports that it has been able to achieve a 70 percent capture rate and that a pilot installation will take place within the next twelve months. 


While the testing process is still underway, the company however received its first order in November 2022 with delivery expected to take place in 2023. Four 8,200 TEU container vessels, being built at an undisclosed Asian-based yard, will be fitted with Wärtsilä’s CCS-Ready 35MW scrubber in an open loop configuration. “By investing in a CCS-Ready scrubber, ship owners will futureproof their assets and enable a smooth transition to CCS adoption once the technology is mature in the very near future,” said Scott Oh, Director at Wärtsilä’s Exhaust Treatment Asia. “CCS is one of the key solutions to enable maritime decarbonization in a short timeframe, and we look forward to progressing our technology further.” 


The scrubbers are termed CCS-Ready because, as part of their installation, Wärtsilä will perform additional design and engineering work to ensure that future retrofits for a full CCS system on the vessels have already been accounted for during the newbuilding construction stage. Among the steps they are taking are measures to ensure adequate space for the future installation of the CCS system, incorporate considerations for minimizing idle load, and optimizing utilities. They are preparing the control and automation system for the CCS system and the scrubbers will also be designed for integration with a Particulate Matter filter. 


By installing scrubbers that have been designed with the space and capabilities to have a CCS unit added, Wärtsilä says it is enabling ship owners to futureproof their existing assets while remaining competitive and compliant. Wärtsilä is one of several companies pushing forward with designs and testing for capture systems. Initial testing is proceeding showing that what was once thought unlikely to be a solution for in-service ships is now a possible alternative to achieve the goals to reduce CO2 emissions. Developing an effective technology for CO2 capture is critical for the in-service fleet which is facing mounting deadlines to cut their emissions or be retired.  




Paper-based departure cards gone by May

MANILA, April 10 ----- The Bureau of Immigration (BI) will do away with paper-based departure cards starting May 1  


Instead, passengers will fill out the departure cards using the online portal eTravel not earlier than 72 hours to not later than three hours from the scheduled time of the flight. The platform, initially launched in December, harmonizes and consolidates data collection processes at ports of arrival. 


“This is a major step in streamlining documents presented by departing travelers, allowing for faster and more efficient immigration processing,” BI Commissioner Norman Tansingco said in a statement over the weekend, adding the platform can also be used by arriving passengers soon. 


Dennis Javier, eTravel technical working group chairperson, said travelers may register at the portal starting April 15. The system is an initiative of a sub-technical working group of the Inter-Agency Task Force, chaired by the BI. It is a joint project with the Department of Information and Communications Technology, Department of Tourism, Bureau of Quarantine, Bureau of Customs, Department of Health, Department of Transportation, Department of Justice, and National Privacy Commission. 




‘Summer activities can spread ASF’ 

MANILA, Philippines, April 10 ----- An official of the Department of Agriculture (DA) has expressed alarm that summer vacation and picnics could aggravate the spread of African swine fever (ASF) in the country. 


Agriculture Assistant Secretary and deputy spokesman Rex Estoperez said that ASF could be easily transmitted during the dry season. “ASF virus spreads easily during summer. While the virus can be eliminated in high temperatures, the transmission rate is high during the dry season and it can easily die during cold weather,” Estoperez said. The government is trying its best to implement the protocols of the World Organization for Animal Health to address the problem, he said. 


The DA said it has yet to verify reports that the provincial government of Cebu has issued a gag order on ASF outbreaks, noting there are now 12 areas including six cities and six towns that are infected with the virus. Estoperez gave assurance that the DA would continue to reach out to Cebu even as Gov. Gwen Garcia ordered the culling operation stopped and filed cases against officials of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) before the Office of the Ombudsman. He said he still does not see the need for the Department of the Interior and Local Government to intervene by mandating local government units (LGUs) to follow the protocols being implemented by the DA. 


We still do not need it as, just as I said, reaching out is the first step,” Estoperez said as he assured stakeholders that the DA is trying to fast-track the development of a vaccine against ASF. “We are trying to hasten the vaccine, but at present, trials are still ongoing,” he noted. 


Latest data from the BAI showed that the provinces of Aklan, Albay, Antique, Batanes, Biliran, Bohol, Bukidnon, Eastern Samar, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Misamis Occidental, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Oriental Mindoro, Palawan, Quirino and Romblon are still free from ASF. At least fifty-four provinces have logged ASF cases. 




US visa application in PH returning to normal—consul 

April 10 ----- The consul general of the United States (US) Embassy in the Philippines said that the visa application processing was “almost” back to normal levels after several months of backlogs created by the Covid-19 pandemic and other factors. 


Mark McGovern, consul general of the US Embassy in Manila, posted on Twitter about the visa operations and wait times in the embassy. “Thanks to the hard work of our kahanga-hangang consular team here at the US Embassy (Thanks to the hard work of our admirable consular team here at the US Embassy),” he said in a video message posted by US Embassy. 


McGovern reported that the embassy processed “more than twice as many non-immigrant visas in 2022 as in 2021.” This meant that those applying for business or tourist travels, they could get their appointments “within the next few months.”  


Processing for immigrant visas is also “now almost back to normal levels and for immigrant visas, we are now at pre-pandemic wait times for almost all categories. We are working hard to continue reducing wait times as quickly as possible,” the official said. 


Noting that traveling to the US is important for Filipinos and also for the United States, McGovern underscored how “travel for family, business, and tourism strenghtens the vital people to people relationships that connect our two countries. The good news is that our operations are on the way back to normal and it is wonderful to see the smiling faced and feel the energy of the more than 1,000 visa applicants we see everyday,” he said. "Seeing this is a great representation of the relationship between the US and the Philippines,” the consul general furthered. 


US consulates around the world had suffered from visa interview and processing backlogs because of the Covid-19 pandemic—restriction on traveling to the US, social distancing in consular offices that limited the number of applicants seen each day, and drop in revenues generated from visa application fees that disabled consulates from hiring for new positions. 




2M passengers expected in CAAP airports in April 

MANILA, April 10 ----- As travel surge is expected during the Holy Week, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) on Tuesday said over 2 million passengers are expected in all 42 commercial airports it operates this April. 


"CAAP's 42 commercial airports, including our personnel, are ready to provide service to our passengers during the holiday rush," CAAP spokesperson Eric Apolonio said in a public briefing. He said CAAP airports had 1,715,720 passengers in April 2022. The figure is expected to hit over 2 million this year and is projected to increase by 7 to 10 percent annually as travel restrictions continue to ease. 


Apolonio said personnel have been augmented and coordination with airlines were done to ask them to deploy more personnel at the check-in counters. Malasakit Help Desks will be placed at the CAAP airports to attend to the passengers' concerns and inquiries. According to CAAP, the airports it operates will be on heightened alert from April 2 to 10. Regular coordination is being conducted with the Office for Transportation Security and the Philippine National Police-Aviation Security Group so it could also augment its manpower. 


Meanwhile, Apolonio urged passengers to check in for their flights at least two to three hours ahead of schedule to avoid inconvenience. 




Private schools association opposes ‘no permit, no exam’ rule 

April 10 ----- An association of private schools expressed opposition to the no permit, no exam” policy because it will further aggravate the situation of the private education sector. 


Federation of Associations of Private School Administrators (FAPSA), in a statement, said that the bill banning the “no permit, no exam” policy did not consider the situation of administrators in private schools. “FAPSA vehemently opposes this ill-advised bill,” said Chairman Eleazardo S. Kasilag. “Lawmakers have to realize private schools operate on tuition fees and miscellaneous fees,” he added. 


Senate Bill 1359 or the proposed "No Permit, No Exam Prohibition Act" disallows private and public schools from barring students from taking examinations due to unpaid tuition. However, Kasilag pointed out that if these fees are not paid on time, private schools do not have funds to give salaries to teachers and school personnel and they also could not pay utility bills. 


Kasilag noted that SB 1359 claims that schools are encouraged to enforce other interventions such as withholding the release of diplomas or certificates, denying admission or enrolment in the succeeding school year or semester, refusing the issuance of applicable clearances, and pursuing the settlement of outstanding financial or property obligations through appropriate legal action. However, Kasilag said that this measure will only lead to “disruption of classes and render closure to private schools” due to unpaid utilities --- among others. 


“This is not much a problem in the public schools because the principal and teachers are paid by the state and all facilities are all funded by the government,” Kasilag said. “That is not enjoyed in the private schools,” he added. Kasilag pointed out that private schools are “still reeling from the Covid-19 torments, while classes are now face to face, the financial aspect is still very unstable.” 


He noted that “collectibles from our enrollees remain high and all logistics are still a big nightmare and instead of help, the government aggravates our condition.” FAPSA, a multi-sectoral organization comprising educators, administrators, and students of private schools, colleges, and universities bound together by similar interests, welfare, and concerns, also expressed concern about the long-term effects of the proposed policy. “It may help some students but it shall give some parents the license not to pay on time and consider their financial responsibility no longer a priority,” Kasilag said. 


Instead of banning the “no permit, no exam” rule, FAPSA said that the best alternative should be lawmakers “shouldering the unpaid fees of delinquent parents” noting that “they may be our enrollees but they are their voters.” 


“Are lawmakers aware that private schools have unpaid accounts by the millions from students who only had promissory notes, escaped responsibility and have already finished college?” Kasilag asked. “Surely, this bill is a ‘pied piper that shall create a fiesta among delinquent parents,” he added. 




PBBM sees closer ties with Chile, Qatar, Brunei, Malaysia 

MANILA, April 10 ----- President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, expressed hope for an enhanced cooperation with Chile and Qatar, particularly in the areas of disaster response, climate change adaptation, energy security and revenue mobilization. 


Marcos made the remark as he welcomed the two countries’ new ambassadors to the Philippines -- Chilean Ambassador Alvaro Domingo Jara Bucarey and Qatar Ambassador Ahmed Saad Nasser Abdullah Al-Hamidi -- at Malacañang Palace. Marcos, in welcoming the Chilean ambassador, said the Philippines needs partners as countries slowly redefine their economies for post-Covid and post-Ukraine scenarios. 


He noted that the Philippines is looking at new technologies and best practices around the world to transition from traditional fossil fuels to renewables. He particularly cited that while the Philippines is considered as one of the top producers of geothermal power, the country has to explore other areas as old geothermal sources start to run out. Bucarey told Marcos that the good thing with Chile is its potential for both solar and geothermal energy. “With solar energy we have been able to modify the energy production in Chile. And we would like to see the north of Chile… there is a lot of presence, tourism mostly but they have an immense potential for energy generation,” Bucarey said. 


Marcos expressed delight for the opportunity to explore with the Chilean ambassador some of the new ideas and technologies that are available to both countries. “So I look forward to that, Mr. Ambassador, and I’m very happy that you have come as the envoy from your country and I am sure – I hope that you will get to see some of my country,” Marcos said. 


Marcos said he remains hopeful that Brunei and Malaysia will continue supporting the development efforts in Mindanao to uplift the living condition of its people. “So again, I hope that Brunei continues to give our Muslim community in Southern Philippines whatever opportunities are available because that is the best way to assert that having peace is to give a good life to the people, a life that they would like to deserve,” Marcos said. 


The President and the Brunei ambassador also underscored the importance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in resolving regional concerns such as the South China Sea issue and the civil unrest in Myanmar. Marcos said ASEAN still remains the “most important mover for all of what we attempt diplomatically in terms of the conflicts that we are seeing". 


In welcoming the Malaysian ambassador, Marcos recognized Kuala Lumpur’s role in bringing peace to Southern Philippines, expecting it to continue participating in the development of the Bangsamoro region. “It’s going to be very, very important because as long as we can provide... One of the complaints over the many, many years from the Muslim community in the Philippines was that they are underrepresented and underdeveloped. And they were absolutely right. So we are trying to fix that. We are trying to return a balance,” Marcos said. 


The Malaysian ambassador said as the region gains stability, he believes that what Malaysia has done so far will sustain the progress of Mindanao. 




Marcos says studying how to use gov't lands for housing projects 

MANILA, April 10 ----- President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said his administration was still studying how idle government lands could be identified and used for housing projects.  


During his speech for the groundbreaking of the National Housing Authority’s (NHA) housing project in Valenzuela City, Marcos said he hoped that public and private sectors would work with them to achieve their goal of providing comfortable houses to Filipinos. “Patuloy natin pinag-aaralan kung papaano isasagawa ang pagtukoy at paggamit sa mga bakanteng lupa ng gobyerno na maaaring tayuan ng mga pabahay ayon sa ating mga batas at alitintunin,” Marcos said.  


The Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development said it aimed to build 1 million housing units annually until the end of Marcos’ term in 2028 to address the country’s housing backlog. To attain this, Marcos earlier said he would sign an order to allow the government to use all idle government lands for housing projects. Malacañang said in November that 16,000 hectares of idle land might be used for this purpose.  




DOH notes consequences of climate change on human health 

April 10 ----- Climate change not only affects the environment but it also has a negative impact on other sectors like human health, the Department of Health (DOH) said. 


Weather events such as El Nino, storms, floodings, among others may increase in frequency because of climate change, said DOH Undersecretary and Officer-in-Charge Maria Rosario Vergeire. “If our environment is affected by these changes in our climate, definitely, magkakaroon po tayo ng output ng mga (we will have an output of) illnesses,” she said 


During the dry season, it is likely that water supply problems will occur and this can have health consequences, said Vergeire. “Unang-una na diyan pag may krisis sa tubig walang makuhanan ng ligtas na inumin ang ating mga kababayan at diyan mag-uumpisa maari ang epidemya ng gastrointestinal problems, nandyan ang cholera, typhoid, food  and waterborne illnesses like bloody diarrhea, hepatitis (When there is a water crisis, our citizens will not have access to safe drinking water and that is where the epidemic of gastrointestinal problems will start like cholera, typhoid, food and waterborne illnesses like bloody diarrhea, and hepatitis),” she said. 


Cases of leptospirosis and dengue, meanwhile, may also rise during the rainy season, said Vergeire. Recently, the DOH convened the Inter-Agency Committee on Environmental Health (IACEH) “to discuss ways to strengthen measures to address emerging environmental issues affecting public health and safety.” 


“We have already convened them as early as last year dahil gusto natin pagtuunan ng pansin itong mga iba't-ibang sakit na kumakalat sa ating bansa (because we want to focus on these various diseases that are spreading in our country),” said Vergeire. “Not just because meron transmission ng sakit (there is disease transmission), not just because there are determinants of health: katulad ng (like) housing condition, income level, education, but most importantly because there are these changes in our climate which is causing ill health to our population,” she added. 


Vergeire vowed that the Health department will continue to provide assistance in addressing climate change. 




Jessy Mendiola reflects on challenges of motherhood 

April 10 ------ Three months after she welcomed her first child with Luis Manzano, Jessy Mendiola got candid about motherhood and shared a quote about overcoming the “change and challenges” that comes with it. 


The actress seemed to have pondered on the words of author Tiffany Moule, which Mendiola showed through her Instagram Stories. 


“There will be times when you want to give up, when the amount of change and challenges that comes with being a mom becomes too hard,” it read. “It’s okay to sit and cry. It’s okay to ask for help. You won’t get the thank you or appreciation that you desperately need now, but one day, they will be an adult and all of this hard work, sweat, tears and many breakdowns will be worth it,” the quote continued. 


The author also advised moms to check on themselves and do the things they want to do every once in a while. “But for now, take those deep breaths, order in and enjoy those long grocery tips when you need to. But I hope you never forget to take care of yourself along the way, you are so important,” the author said. 




How Kim Atienza landed his first TV gig thanks to his fit body 

April 10 ------ Kim Atienza is now a household name on Philippine television, but how exactly did he start his TV career? 


Kuya Kim told the story on an episode of "Fast Talk with Boy Abunda," saying that he was a fan of Tito Boy back in the 90s. "Gusto ko maging parang Boy Abunda rin," he said. "Ang kapal ng mukha ko to say, 'I want to be a TV star.' I wanted to be on TV ever since. Kahit ano, basta nasa TV," he added, whether that was as an actor or something else. 


However, the road towards a career in front of the camera was not an easy one. Kuya Kim shared that he went through a lot of rejections on his journey to become a TV star. He said he went on around 20 auditions for commercials in college, but he didn't land a single gig. And yet, there was one positive thing that came out of those failed auditions. "Ang sinabi sa kin, 'Ang ganda ng boses mo. Mag-audition ka para sa mga voice commercials,'" said Kuya Kim. 


He then became a voice talent for commercials. He even did voice work for the 1999 "Voltes V" film and other Japanese shows. What he really wanted, however, was to be on-screen rather than behind the scenes. Kuya Kim said that he got a break in 1988 when he landed on the aerobics TV show, "Muscles in Motion." "Wala ko alam sa aerobics ngunit maganda ang katawan ko, nag-audition ako. Nag-e-aerobics ng ilang oras. Sabi ko, 'Kaya ko 'yan," he said. "Maganda ang katawan ko kahit 'yung mukha ko sakto lang. Natanggap ako." 


He said that during that time, aerobics were simple and involved moves like jumping jacks and kicks. It then evolved into step aerobics. He also demonstrated and did some aerobics moves with Tito Boy. "Dun naumpisa ang TV career ko, so I thought. 'Yun pala, wala rin, hanggang dun lang," he said. Encouraged by his dad, then Manila vice mayor Lito Atienza, Kim went into politics for a while, starting with barangay chairman and then councilor. Lito told him he would still be on TV as a politician, and true enough, Kim kept getting invited as a guest in GMA Network's "Debate with Mare at Pare." 


Kim eventually faced a crossroads and had to choose between his political career and his TV dreams. When the time came for him to follow his dad as Manila mayor after his nine-year term, Kim found a way to get himself on TV for exposure. He refused payment and even said he would find a sponsor for a segment.  Kuya Kim said he did it to raise his profile because at the time, he planned to run for mayor in two years. His boss at the time, Maria Ressa, eventually called him out on it and made him choose between politics and TV. 


Kim took three weeks to think about it because his family was depending on him to follow his dad's footsteps. During that time, broadcaster and trivia man Ernie Baron died of a heart attack on January 23, 2006, a day before Kuya Kim's birthday. On Kuya Kim's birthday, he even reported on Ernie's wake. Kim, who also does knowledge and trivia segments, saw it as a clear sign of the path he needed to take. He then prayed to God for courage to tell his dad that he would be following Ernie Baron's footsteps instead of his.  


Kuya Kim said, "Ang sabi ng tatay ko, 'You don't have to talk. When I watch you on TV, I see how happy you are. Sa City Hall when I see you, para kang inaantok palagi, mabigat ang paa mo. Hindi mo na kailangan sabihin. I give you my blessing.'" 




Christian Vasquez unleashes his comic side 

MANILA, Philippines, April 10 ------ Not known to many, actor Christian Vasquez is also a comedian. 


Christian’s fondness for the comedy genre can be traced back to when he was growing up, with his mom frequently watching comedy-themed movies such as Elvis & James and Starzan. 


He also idolized the British comedian-actor Sacha Baron Cohen, who played Borat Sagdiyev and Bruno in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, and created the parody character Ali G. The former Pinoy Big Brother (PBB) housemate and ramp and commercial model has a popular TikTok account with 4.3 million likes, where he entertains followers by pretending to be “ander de saya” to his wife. Christian has also been able to make use of his comic side in portraying the character of Orcus Silverio, a member of the mafia Tatsulok in the ABS-CBN action-packed series The Iron Heart starring Richard Gutierrez, Albert Martinez, Jake Cuenca, Dimples Romana, Sue Ramirez, among others. 


Directed by Lester Pimentel Ong and Richard Ibasco Arellano, the show airs weeknights at 8:45 on A2Z, Kapamilya Channel, TV5, Kapamilya Online Live on Facebook and YouTube, Jeepney TV, and TFC IPTV. One of the reasons why Christian was excited to play his greed-driven antagonist character Orcus was because he would be able to display his humorous side, which is “very close” to his real-life persona. “Not so many people know na komedyante akong tao,” he told The STAR in an interview during a recent visit to Cebu City. This paper, along with select press members, were invited to the filming location of the show. “In the series, in a way, I was able to show na lahat ng nangyayari sa buhay parang nako-convert ko siya into something na nakakatawa kahit papano. Like for example, we have a scene, I would think of like, ‘Ano kaya ang nakakatawa rito?’ So, yung ang pinapasok ko sa scene. Or sometimes, like earlier, we had a chest bump scene, I didn’t plan it but along the way, I just thought of it and pasok naman sa character na ginawa ko,” he continued. 


Christian also loved the creative freedom given to him by the directors and the production team to tweak the portrayal of his character. “That’s what’s so nice about the team. You will not be afraid to experiment because the directors, production team and fellow actors, they are OK with me doing experiments on my role. So, it feels so good because I am able to do what I want to do.” “You’re not always on the safe side,” he asserted. “Like, ‘This is your character so ito lang ‘to kasi ito lang ang interpretation ko sa character.’ In the series, you can experiment… ‘Pag sabihin na, ‘O bawas ng kunti ha,’ OK lang naman.” But the “best part,” Christian said, was him injecting his personal interpretation of his character. “That’s why they discovered that my character can also be comical.” 


According to him, this is what makes Orcus, who is one of the “soldiers” of the main villain Engr. Priam dela Torre (played by Albert), unique. “Orcus’ funny personality stemmed from his overconfidence. He has this feeling that he is the favorite of Engr., type siya ng mga babae, feeling niya sobrang galing niya,” he added. It was also the first time for Christian to portray a member of a syndicate group, a bad guy, that is entertaining at the same time. “Sobrang saya. I always study the script… Medyo mahirap kasi kailangan yung timing ko sakto. “Yung script, kailangan mahahanapan ko siya ng butas kung saan ko pwedeng ipasok yung binibitawan kong lines na nakakatawa,” he added. 


As for his TikTok content, Christian said, “I actually realized na pwede naman. People have accepted my comic side. It’s like I can actually do it. May napapatawa naman ako so I carried it out in the series. The people who know me personally see my kenkoy side… Sa TikTok personality, yes, that’s very me except lang sa ‘ander de saya.’” 


“I already did something before na nilalagyan ko rin ng comedy but it was not on mainstream so not so many people have seen it. I’m very comfortable with making people laugh. But it’s a big thing that I’m on TikTok (to amuse my followers),” he added. 




Brownlee confident Gilas will reclaim SEAG gold 

MANILA, Philippines, April 10 ------ While anchoring Barangay Ginebra’s title defense in the PBA Governors’ Cup finals against TNT, Justin Brownlee is also locking in on Gilas Pilipinas’ Southeast Asian Games redemption drive. Brownlee is set to make his debut in the May 5-17 SEAG in Cambodia, where the aptly called Gilas “Redeem Team” goes all out to reclaim the gold medal it shockingly lost to Indonesia in the 2022 Vietnam edition. 


“I definitely felt for the team when they fell a little short last year so I’m looking forward to helping get the gold back,” said Brownlee, who came on board as Gilas’ naturalized player last February. “I understand the Philippines’ history as the perennial gold medalist. Hopefully, everything works out in Cambodia. We’ll all play hard, work hard together and regain the gold,” he added. Brownlee leads the 28-player SEAG pool named by coach Chot Reyes, who conducted the first of their initial once-a-week practices last Monday night. The second practice session is scheduled tonight. 


The resident Gin Kings import was among those who attended the opening session, heading to the Gilas gym just hours after the press conference for the PBA Governors’ Cup finals between Ginebra and TNT. “Hopefully everything works out smoothly for us in the finals and with Gilas,” said the three-time Best Import. Brownlee expressed willingness to do whatever it takes to bring Gilas back to Promised Land. 




Inspired by Manny Pacquiao, Hidilyn Diaz seeks Olympic glory at heavier weight class 

MANILA, Philippines, April 10 ------ Hidilyn Diaz does not need to look far for inspiration as she eyes another shot at Olympic glory, only this time at a heavier weight class. The weightlifting star looks to replicate what Manny Pacquiao accomplished throughout his legendary boxing career after being forced to move up to 59 kilograms for the 2024 Paris Olympics. 


Pacquiao is the only boxer to capture world championships in eight different weight divisions, winning his first title as a lightweight (51kg) and his last as a welterweight (67kg). “It is a huge inspiration to hear that even when people doubted him when he moved up in weight, he still went on to be successful,” said Diaz in Filipino during an event by Alaxan, where she appeared together with Pacquiao. “He gave me inspiration.” 


Diaz clinched the Philippines its first-ever Olympic gold medal when she ruled the women’s 55kg class of the Tokyo Olympics over a year ago. It was also in the same weight division where the Zamboangueña bagged her maiden world title, completing a golden sweep in the IWF World Weightlifting Championships in Bogota, Colombia last December. 


Diaz, though, will not be able to defend her Olympic crown as organizers for the Paris Games removed the 55kg category, including only the 49kg, 59kg, 71kg, 81kg, and +81kg for the women’s competition. “It is hard to move up in weight because 55kg is my comfort zone, that is where I’m good at, that is where I won gold,” said Diaz. “At 59, I need to watch what I eat, I need to increase my muscle mass, I need to be stronger because the opponents are tougher.” 


Determined to defy the odds, Diaz will begin her campaign to qualify for her fifth straight Olympics as she competes in the Asian Championships in Jinju, Korea in May. She will also see action in the World Championships in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in September. “It takes time to build, I just have to trust the process,” Diaz said. “We’ll see the results in Paris 2024.”  




Almadro sees bright outlook for Petro Gazz: ‘We will be champions soon’ 

April 10 ------ Oliver Almadro remains proud of what Petro Gazz has achieved in the 2023 Premier Volleyball League-All Filipino Conference, despite losing the elusive title to Creamline in the finals. 


The Angels drew first blood in the finale and secured their first win against the Cool Smashers since 2019 in Game One before pushing the Rebisco-backed team to their limits in Game Two, where Creamline eventually tied the series. However, Petro Gazz failed to close out the Cool Smashers in Game Three, suffering a 25-20, 20-25, 18-25, 15-25 loss. 


Still, Almadro was pretty satisfied with what he saw from the Angels, considering they were just 15 points away from securing their first-ever All-Filipino championship against a mighty Creamline side in the second game of the series. “I’m still happy. I’m happy we had this run. Sabi ko nga sa sarili ko, sabi ko sa team, we are one set away from the championship,” said Almadro after the loss. “’Di ba sa second game nag-five sets? We are one set away, 15 points away from the championship, and that’s how Creamline outworked us sa 15 points,” he added. 


The former Choco Mucho head coach also expressed how proud he was of his team for stepping up to the challenge after the departure of Myla Pablo, Bang Pineda, former head coach Rald Ricafort, and ex-assistant coach Arnold Laniog, who all played key roles in the team’s Reinforced Conference championship run just last December. “Kanina nga we’re talking sinasabi nila na maraming umalis, nagulat sila na umalis na pala, they’re left with what they have. So sinasabi ko naman noong dumating ako sa kanila, we will find a way [and] make a way of what we have, and indeed those players na feeling nila kulang sila dati pero ngayon na-feel nila na they are worth it,” said the two-division UAAP and Spikers’ Turf Grand Slam champion coach. “Kumbaga meron pa pala silang ibubuga. They proved themselves they are really players na aabot pa rin ng finals, and they are really a team to beat pa rin kahit nakulangan sila ng players, but sometimes it’s not about the skills, most of the time it’s about the character,” he added. 


Almadro said that the Angels will continue to work hard as they look to finally end their All-Filipino Conference drought next year. “So God works in mysterious ways, and I know that soon I will not be a champion today, I will not be a champion tomorrow or next month, but I’m really sure that we will be champions soon.” 




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