A dozen MRT tellers, cash assistant positive for COVID-19
THE management of Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 announced on Monday that 12 of its tellers and a cash assistant have tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). “Twelve tellers and a cash assistant tested positive for COVID-19. The 12 tellers who tested positive are assigned at the Santolan, Ortigas, and Cubao Stations,” MRT-3 said in a statement on March 30, the last day of its operations for the week in observance of the Lenten Season. “We will be suspending our operations for our scheduled Holy Week maintenance shutdown, which starts tomorrow (March 30),” it said. The management said close contacts of the positive personnel have been placed under quarantine while waiting for the results of their swab tests. “Since last year, MRT-3 has been implementing measures to minimize contact between station personnel, especially tellers and passengers,” it said. “All MRT-3 tellers and station personnel wear full personal protective equipment (face mask, face shield, gloves, and gowns) to avoid contact between themselves and passengers,” the management added.
Meanwhile, the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) said it will conduct intensified workplace inspections this week after the strictest quarantine level was imposed in Metro Manila and the four neighboring provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal. In a virtual briefing on Monday, Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III said he has ordered “an intensified and thorough business inspection nationwide.” Mr. Bello said 55,000 inspectors will be working overtime to check 60,000 establishments. “We will expect not later than Wednesday for the report of the inspectors,” he said. — Arjay L. Balinbin and Gillian M. Cortez
MWSS directs water concessionaires to suspend disconnections during lockdown
THE REGULATORY office of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) instructed the two Metro Manila water concessionaires to suspend all service disconnection activities while the capital region is under the strictest form of quarantine. MWSS Chief Regulator Patrick Lester N. Ty said in a statement on Monday that east zone concessionaire Manila Water Co., Inc. and west zone provider Maynilad Water Services, Inc. were directed to stop disconnections from March 29 to April 4. Mr. Ty, in a mobile message to BusinessWorld, said the suspension order will be carried on if the lockdown level is extended by the national government. “The suspension of service disconnection activities is valid during the entire ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) period and extension of any,” Mr. Ty said. At the same time, Mr. Ty called on local government units (LGUs) to allow the meter readers of both water concessionaires to continuously conduct meter reading and billing operations. “This request for local government unit cooperation and assistance will enable the concessionaires to bill their customers based on actual water consumption, and help minimize billing complaints that may abound if the customers were to be billed based on average consumption,” Mr. Ty said. Nestor Jeric T. Sevilla, Jr., Manila Water Corporate Strategic Affairs Group Head, told BusinessWorld in a mobile phone message that the company will comply with MWSS’ order, adding that Manila Water customers are urged to use online channels for bill inquiries and payments during the period. “We will continue with our meter reading activities as much as allowed by the LGUs,” Mr. Sevilla said. Maynilad Head of Corporate Communications Jennifer C. Rufo also confirmed that it will follow MWSS’ directive. Metro Pacific Investments Corp., which has a majority stake in Maynilad, is one of three Philippine units of Hong Kong-based First Pacific Co. Ltd., the others being Philex Mining Corp. and PLDT, Inc. Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has an interest in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave
Apo View Hotel temporarily stops operation
THE Apo View Hotel in Davao City, managed by Global Comfort Group Corp. that is behind the Eurotel and Icon hotel brands, is temporarily stopping operations starting March 31 due to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact. The management made the announcement through the hotel’s Facebook page, where it said, “As the risk of the pandemic is continuously rising, the management has decided to temporarily cease its operation effective March 31, 2021 until further notice as we continue to support the nation’s effort to combat the spread of COVID-19.” Hotel Manager Leah S. Adolfo, in a text message, said operations will resume when the crisis situation improves. Last year, Apo View Hotel kept its rooms open for frontline health workers. Global Comfort Group also maintained more than 400 rooms in other parts of the country to frontliners. — Maya M. Padillo
International Alert flags extremist threat to 2022 elections in Bangsamoro
AN extremist group that recently attacked communities in Maguindanao province could be positioning to disrupt the 2022 elections in the Bangsamoro region, peacebuilding organization International Alert Philippines warned. Members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) — a breakaway group from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that signed a peace deal with the government and has been at the forefront of the new region — have assaulted at least four towns in Maguindanao, displacing over 9,000 families composed of about 47,000 individuals. Government forces have launched air and ground offensives against the militants led by Kagi Karialan, but International Alert said both the military and the MILF “will need to show greater resolve in neutralizing the BIFF and other extremist groups before the elections.” “This may be an effort to demonstrate the Karialan group’s superiority over other extremist groups in the area and hence gain more recruits and support, or it can be part of a ‘slow burn’ or a gradual yet deliberate escalation of violence that leads to a major political battle before or during the 2022 elections,” International Alert Philippines Senior Peace and Conflict Adviser Francisco Lara, Jr. said in a statement on Monday. The non-government organization noted that the conflict is made more complex by familial ties among MILF and BIFF members. Among the affected towns is Datu Saudi Ampatuan, where a Joint Peace and Security Team composed of government forces and former MILF combatants is being set up. “We are exhausting all available assets to neutralize the terrorists who are responsible for the conduct of atrocities in central Mindanao,” said Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy, commander of the Joint Task Force Central, said in a statement on Sunday.
International Alert said the BIFF “will continue to be a threat, despite the unceasing military campaign against it and reports of surrenders among its members, as it continues to receive funding from other armed groups, including ISIS. The group also receives protection money from local politicians, businessmen, and violent entrepreneurs involved in deadly shadow economies.” “Many politicians are interested in seizing control of the BTA (Bangsamoro Transition Authority) and the BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) if elections are held as scheduled in 2022. Others are aware that the MILF is also planning to field candidates against them in their local bailiwicks,” Mr. Lara said. The BARMM, as provided under the Bangsamoro Organic Law, is scheduled to hold local and national elections along with the rest of the country in May 2022. There are pending bills in Congress calling for an extension of the BTA, currently composed of multi-sector appointees who serve as members of the region’s parliament. — MSJ
Masbate fishing boats heading to Visayas now required to have ASF inspection clearance
ALL LOCAL fishing boats coming from the island province of Masbate heading to Visayas are now required to have an African Swine Fever (ASF) inspection clearance as part of the government’s initiative to curb the spread of the virus. Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar signed a memorandum order on March 25 that mandates all fishing boats from Masbate to undergo checks and obtain clearance for prohibited commodities such as live swine or pork products. “The current ASF infected zones in the towns of Aroroy and Milagros in Masbate pose a significant threat to the disease free areas in the Visayas regions and provinces due to its geographical proximity as well as the frequent fishing and trading practices between to and from these areas,” Mr. Dar said in the memorandum. Mr. Dar said the ASF inspection clearance will be presented by the boats at the port of transit in Visayas. “The Bureau of Animal Industry – Veterinary Quarantine Station Region 5 in coordination with BFAR, PCG, Department of Agriculture (DA) regional field office, and local government office will facilitate the inspection and issuance of ASF inspection clearance,” he said. Further, Mr. Dar said the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the Philippine Coast Guard have been instructed to issue a certificate of clearance and local transport permit only to fishing boats that have obtained the ASF inspection clearance. DA data show that as of March 19, ASF is present in 12 regions across the country and has resulted in the culling of 450,019 hogs since its detection in Aug. 2019. As a result, the DA projected earlier in the year that the country faces a pork supply deficit of 400,000 metric tons. Meanwhile, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that the country’s hog inventory as of Jan. 1 fell 24.1% year on year to 9.72 million heads. Prices of pork sold in Metro Manila earlier this year reached more than P400 per kilogram, prompting government to impose price caps. ASF is a severe and highly contagious hemorrhagic viral disease in pigs. However, it poses no health risks to humans. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave
Justice dep’t looks into Laguna labor leader’s killing as possible EJK
THE Department of Justice (DoJ) will conduct an initial assessment on whether the killing of union leader and labor rights activist Dandy Miguel on Sunday night in Laguna is a potential case of extra-judicial killing (EJK). “Like what we did in the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) deaths, we’ll do a preliminary assessment first. If there’s any indication that Miguel’s death had something to do with his being a labor leader, the AO 35 (Administrative Order 35) committee will include his case for investigation,” Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra told reporters on Monday. DoJ’s AO 35 committee is designated to investigate potential cases of extra-judicial killings. Mr. Guevarra said the preliminary probe will push through this week despite the strict quarantine rules imposed in Metro Manila and four nearby provinces, including Laguna. Several labor groups have expressed disappointment with the conduct of a preliminary assessment and said they do not have the “luxury of time” given the rampant killings of activists. According to the Calamba City Police, Mr. Miguel was found dead on the spot in Barangay Canlubang, Laguna around 8:45 p.m. on Sunday after being gunned down by a still unidentified man on board a motorcycle. The victim was the vice chairperson of Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan, president of Lakas ng Nagkakaisang Manggagawa ng Fuji Electric-OLALIA-KMU, and a national council member of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). His death came three weeks after the Calabarzon raids that left nine activists dead. — Bianca Angelica D. Añago