EU grants P133-M fund for PHL healthcare system improvement

THE European Union (EU) is giving the Philippines around P133 million to help strengthen the healthcare system for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. The aid is part of the EU’s three-year program to provide €20.5 million to the World Health Organization (WHO) to aid eight priority countries in Southeast Asia. About €2.3 million or P133 million will be allocated to the Philippines, the EU said in a statement on Monday. “The EU support will help strengthen the capacity of Philippine health institutions and workers to manage caseload while maintaining essential health services. The program will also support timely and transparent communication about the pandemic,” EU Ambassador to the Philippines said during the program’s launching event streamed online. “The health and socioeconomic impact of the pandemic has been huge. We now see a light at the end of the tunnel with the arrival of the vaccines but we are not out of the tunnel yet. It is important to not let our guard down,” he added. WHO Country Representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe said during the event that the fund will not be used for buying vaccines but to build system capacities and to facilitate the vaccine rollout. He also said that the grant will help improve diagnostic capacity, epidemiological surveillance, contact tracing and management, improving clinical management outcomes, and appropriate risk communications. “This support of the EU to the WHO will help ensure that the pandemic response is able to reach all those who are uniquely vulnerable, experiencing particular barriers to health due to their social as well as economic conditions,” Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III in the event. Mr. Duque noted that the EU has provided a total of €118-million or P7.2-billion financial support to the health sector from 2006 to 2018. Other countries that will receive funding are Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Justice chief says death of 9 activists to be investigated as potential extra-judicial killings

THE death of nine activists, alleged as armed communist rebels, in simultaneous police raids on Mar. 7 will be investigated as possible extra-judicial killings (EJKs), Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said on Monday. “Based on the information that we have gathered at least on the basis of mga reports na nakakarating sa amin (on the basis of reports that reached us), we felt… that this is a proper case for investigation by the A.O. 35 committee,” Mr. Guevarra said in a televised briefing. He was referring to Administrative Order 35 that created the Department of Justice-led task force on EJKs. Mr. Guevarra explained that the victims were not proven to be “members of certain cause-oriented groups like some environmental groups or Bagong Alyansang Makabayan… some were members of fishermen’s group(s) and so on and so forth.” He added that the killings involved state forces, which is “another element for it to fall under the A.O. 35 jurisdiction.” Special investigating teams to be led by prosecutors and supported by investigators from law enforcement agencies have been formed to handle the cases. “We have provided the necessary funding for the operation of these special investigating teams, and I am pretty sure they will be on their way to conduct the investigation on the incident in the Calabarzon (Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon) area,” he said.

Meanwhile, a group representing the families of political prisoners, has asked the Supreme Court to temporarily disallow Metro Manila courts from issuing specific search warrants, and to review those that were used in police operations that led to killings and arrests in the Calabarzon Region. “We, the relatives of activists arrested on search warrants that led to the planting of evidence by police forces to justify their arrests seek a dialogue with Supreme Court Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta before he retires to ask for a review of these search warrants and the accountability of the judges who issued them,” Fides Lim, spokesperson of the group Kapatid, said in a press release on Monday. The raids on Mar. 7, which has been dubbed as ‘bloody Sunday,’ were carried out based on 24 search warrants issued by Regional Trial Courts in Manila and Quezon City, both located in the capital region. Apart from the nine who were killed for allegedly resisting arrest and fighting back, 15 others have been taken into police custody. Supreme Court administrative circular No. 03-8-02-SC issued in 2004 gave Manila and Quezon City regional court judges, “authority to act on applications filed by the National Bureau of Investigation, the Philippine National Police, and the Anti-Crime Task Force for search warrants involving heinous crimes, illegal gambling, illegal possession of firearms and ammunitions as well as violations of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, the Intellectual Property Code, the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001, the Tariff and Customs Code.” — Bianca Angelica D. Añago  

Duterte spokesman positive for COVID-19

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte’s spokesman, Herminio L. Roque, Jr., on Monday announced he tested positive for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). “As of 11:29 this morning, nakuha ko po ang resulta na positibo (I got my result that was positive)” he said in a televised press briefing. Mr. Roque said the result “came as a shock” after previously undergoing more than 30 tests, which all came out negative, as part of protocol before meeting with the President. The Palace official, who is currently asymptomatic, said he will not pause from work. “I will work in isolation. I will continue with my press briefings, monitoring the President’s activities,” he said. Mr. Roque had been criticized several times for violating minimum health protocols and other restrictions in a number of occasions. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza