Opposition coalition aims to corner majority vote in 2022 elections

FORMER government officials and other civic leaders gathered at a sports club in Makati City on Thursday to launch an opposition coalition that aims to have a united slate and win national positions in the May 2022 presidential and local elections. Lead convenor and retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio led the launch of 1Sambayan, a coalition of so-called democratic forces seeking to challenge administration bets in next year’s polls and rally Filipinos to stand up against state abuses and demand more from the government. “We have discussed this, again and again, and this is the understanding of everybody: That unless we are united, we cannot win in 2022,” he said at the event. “We have the majority, but the majority will become a minority if they are divided. So we have to remain united, and that is the unifying force,” he added. The alliance is composed of political parties “from the Left and to the Right,” Mr. Carpio added, citing progressive Makabayan bloc, Liberal Party and its long-time ally Akbayan, and a political party of soldiers. In the 2019 midterm elections, opposition groups formed separate senatorial slates, few of whom won. The new bloc is convened by personalities spanning the Philippine political spectrum, including former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, former foreign affairs secretary Albert F. Del Rosario, former lawmaker Neri J. Colmenares, former education secretary Armin A. Luistro, former soldier Rommel Ong, among others. Mr. Carpio bared that the party is considering Vice President Maria Leonor G. Robredo, Manila Mayor Francisco M. Domagoso, former soldier and senator Antonio F. Trillanes, and Senators Maria Lourdes Nancy Binay and Grace Poe-Llamanzares among their candidates for national posts. The coalition will select its final slate based on a vetting process where they would be screened based on their track record, stand on key issues, platforms, and winnability. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

Trade chief catches COVID for 2nd time; Rep. Romualdez also positive

TRADE Secretary Ramon M. Lopez on Thursday said he tested positive for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) for the second time. In a Viber message, he told reporters that he received the test result Thursday morning and is experiencing no symptoms. He first tested positive for the contagious disease in December. Mr. Lopez said he was getting ready to join President Rodrigo R. Duterte in a trip to Tacloban City to distribute livelihood kits to former rebels. He will now conduct all his meetings online while he stays in isolation. Mr. Lopez has been advocating for allowing more business operations and relaxing age restrictions to spur economic recovery. He stood against a return to a stricter lockdown even as COVID-19 cases in the country started to resurge, saying there should instead be more health protocol compliance in communities and public market areas. Mr. Lopez, in the Viber message, said he had been wearing face mask and shield and was physically distancing “but still got hit.”

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Martin G. Romualdez on Wednesday said he also tested positive for COVID-19, and is experiencing symptoms. In-person sessions at the House of Representatives buildings have been canceled as the congressional complex was placed on a four-day lockdown starting Thursday. Two other representatives and almost 30 House employees have tested positive for the virus. “Let me assure those who are concerned with my physical well-being that I am coping well despite experiencing symptoms of the disease, and that I am in high spirits,” Mr. Romualdez said in a statement, noting that he will return to work once he has a clean bill of health from medical authorities. Both Mr. Lopez and Mr. Romualdez are taking additional tests to rule out a false positive result. — Jenina P. Ibañez

Over 390,000 Filipino workers repatriated as of Mar. 16

MORE than 390,000 Filipinos working overseas were repatriated due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a Senate hearing on Thursday. Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Lou Y. Arriola said 390,917 overseas workers have been brought home from more than 90 countries and 150 cruise ships and vessels as of Mar. 16. Of these, 282,252 were land-based and 103,665 were sea-based, she said. Administrator Hans Leo J. Cacdac of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration told the same hearing that it has recorded about 480,000 workers who have come home. “We have the data pertaining to those who have arrived, whether or not repatriated by DoLE (Department of Labor and Employment) or the DFA,” he said, noting that some workers arranged for their own travel through commercial flights. As of Mar. 17, a total of 15,928 confirmed coronavirus cases were reported among Filipinos abroad in 88 countries, Ms. Arriola said. Of these, 1,044 died and 9,645 recovered. “Many of our medical frontliners succumbed to COVID (coronavirus disease 2019). At the onset they had the same problems as we had, lack of PPEs (personal protective equipment), we also discovered that a lot of Filipino nurses are really put in the COVID wards on the frontline because we do not refuse the jobs and because they are afraid of losing their jobs,” she told the Senate labor committee hearing. “But now it’s better, they have more equipment and also they are aware of their rights,” she added. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Supreme Court signs deal with UnionBank for e-payment service

THE Supreme Court (SC) signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Union Bank of the Philippines (UnionBank) on Monday for setting up the Judiciary ePayment System that will allow online payment of court fees. The system “will involve an application designed to provide the courts the options to receive fees and payments digitally from litigants, their counsels, and representatives in a safe, secure, real-time, 24/7 basis from anywhere at their convenience,” the SC Public Information Office said on Thursday. “The Judiciary ePayment System will be rolled out nationwide to first and second-level courts with pilot courts,” it added. During the signing, Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta thanked UnionBank for its timely technical assistance “as the Philippine Judiciary is currently in the midst of its quest for digital transformation,” especially now that face-to-face transactions are discouraged due to the coronavirus threat. UnionBank Vice-Chair Justo A. Ortiz, for his part, said they are proud of the partnership and “value greatly this opportunity to be of service to the Filipino people.” The high court said it is also open to the proposal of other banks and electronic payment providers to integrate their services with the Judiciary ePayment System.

In another development, the Department of Justice (DoJ) announced Thursday that its main office is going on another lockdown from Friday to Tuesday after seven more of employees tested positive for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). “I’m constrained to order another suspension of on-site work at the DoJ…we’ll lock down again starting tomorrow (Friday) (until) Tuesday,” Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra told reporters. “Everyone will work from home, except a skeletal staff who will receive documents and attend to other frontline services,” he added. The DoJ has recorded a total of 34 COVID-19 infections, of which 17 are active cases. — Bianca Angelica D. Añago