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FREE TUITION IN STATE SCHOOLS NEXT YEAR
[ALSO: Philippines to experience longest night on Wednesday]


DECEMBER 17 -Students in state universities and colleges (SUCs) do not have to pay tuition starting next year, following the realignment of P8.3 billion in the 2017 budget of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). STAR, file
Students in state universities and colleges (SUCs) do not have to pay tuition starting next year, following the realignment of P8.3 billion in the 2017 budget of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). The Senate realigned the P8.3-billion allocation to cover tuition of students in SUCs during the Senate deliberations on the 2017 budget. It reportedly came from the infrastructure budget for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which was questioned by Sen. Panfilo Lacson and dubbed as a form of pork barrel. “That’s purely for tuition, that’s purely to remove tuition from the student expenses,” CHED chair Patricia Licuanan said in a television interview yesterday. “We cannot spend that P8 billion on anything else except to compensate the schools for the fact that they can no longer charge tuition,” she added. READ MORE...ALSO, Philippines to experience longest night on Wednesday...

ALSO: China provides hybrid rice to typhoon-hit farmers
[ALSO: 1.74M kids to get free meals next year]


DECEMBER 18 -The Chinese Embassy committed to provide P100 million to the DSWD for poverty relief and disaster response DSWD Chief Taguiwalo said no conditions were attached to the assistance. THE Chinese government has donated 10 metric tons of hybrid rice seeds to about 600 farmers in Aurora province, the Chinese Embassy in Manila said. Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua said the donation was Beijing’s way of sympathizing with Filipino farmers hit by typhoons. “Please stay assured, in such difficult times, a helping hand is all that the Chinese government and people have to render,” the diplomat said during the turnover ceremony. READ MORE...ALSO, 1.74M kids to get free meals next year...

ALSO:
Hospitalization will be free next year for poor Pinoys —DOH
[RELATED: Pre-Xmas gift - LTO starts printing 3-year driver’s license cards]


DECEMBER 18 -SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao— In 2017, poor Filipinos need not worry about their hospital and medicine bills –these will be free, Health Department chief said Saturday. “There’s no need to hold any card of PhilHealth, just prove to us you are a Filipino, you are entitled to be covered by health benefits, the PhilHealth will take care of the hospital billings and other concerns,” Health secretary Paulyn Jean Rossel-Ubial said Saturday during her visit to the Integrated Provincial Hospital Office (IPHO) in Maguindanao. She said this after an increase of the funds being given by the Budget department to cover the hospital needs of the poor and needy Filipinos. The Health Department, according to her, is now in good financial standing after the Budget Department paid last November the arrears of 32 Billion from the 42 Billion deficits of PhilHealth. READ MORE...RELATED, Pre-Xmas gift - LTO starts printing 3-year driver’s license cards...

ALSO: OFWs returning home for Christmas break
[RELATED: The OFW Christmas list ]


DECEMBER 16 -Overseas Filipino workers and balikbayans arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport yesterday for the Christmas and New Year celebrations. RUDY SANTOS
MANILA, Philippines – Thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Canada, the Middle East and the United States have started arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) for the Christmas holidays, officials said yesterday. More personnel of the Manila International Airport Authority and Bureau of Customs (BOC) were assigned at the NAIA to assist the arriving passengers. On Friday, Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon went to the NAIA Terminal 1 to ensure that strict security measures were in place. Faeldon said the BOC would install closed-circuit television cameras at the airport’s four terminals next year. FULL REPORT, RELATED, The OFW Christmas list...


ALSO: Pope Francis turns 80, hopes 'old age is thirst for knowledge'[ALSO Rody on his health: 'Just fooling media']


DECEMBER 18 -Pope Francis celebrates his 80th birthday sharing a breakfast with homeless people. Photograph: Osservatore Romano/AP
Pope Francis celebrated an active if low-key 80th birthday on Saturday, sharing breakfast with eight homeless people before celebrating mass with cardinals as greetings poured in from around the world. The pontiff received more than 70,000 email messages wishing him a happy birthday, as well as telephone calls and telegrams from world leaders and religious figures. His predecessor, 89-year-old Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, sent a “very affectionate” written greeting the Vatican said was “particularly appreciated,” followed by a personal call in the afternoon and three small gifts that bore “very personal and significant meaning for both”. The Vatican did not otherwise divulge the nature of the gifts. READ MORE...ALSO, Rody on health: Just fooling media...

ALSO: ‘Simbang Gabi’ novena won’t grant wishes; it's commemorating preparation for Christ birth  – Bishop
[ALSO: Shop, eat and pray at malls in PH]


DECEMBER 19 -Completing nine-day simbang gabi or dawn masses leading to Christmas Day is not like a genie in a bottle that will grant wishes, a Catholic bishop said yesterday. ERNIE PEÑAREDONDO
Completing nine-day simbang gabi or dawn masses leading to Christmas Day is not like a genie in a bottle that will grant wishes, a Catholic bishop said yesterday. Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo reminded the faithful that the purpose of the novena is to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ and spiritually prepare Catholics for celebration of Christmas Day. He called on priests to also remind their parishioners that going to dawn masses is not meant or designed for their wishes to be granted by the Lord, which he described as a misconception. “Completing the nine days of simbang gabi is not for their wishes to be granted. That is a wrong belief. That is not what going to the simbang gabi is for,” Pabillo said in an interview. “These should be explained in the masses in order to correct the people’s thinking.”  READ MORE...ALSO,
Shop, eat and pray at malls in PH...


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Free tuition in state schools next year


Students in state universities and colleges (SUCs) do not have to pay tuition starting next year, following the realignment of P8.3 billion in the 2017 budget of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). STAR, file

MANILA, DECEMBER 19, 2016 (PHILSTAR) By Janvic Mateo pdated December 17, 2016 - Students in state universities and colleges (SUCs) do not have to pay tuition starting next year, following the realignment of P8.3 billion in the 2017 budget of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

The Senate realigned the P8.3-billion allocation to cover tuition of students in SUCs during the Senate deliberations on the 2017 budget. It reportedly came from the infrastructure budget for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which was questioned by Sen. Panfilo Lacson and dubbed as a form of pork barrel.

“That’s purely for tuition, that’s purely to remove tuition from the student expenses,” CHED chair Patricia Licuanan said in a television interview yesterday.

“We cannot spend that P8 billion on anything else except to compensate the schools for the fact that they can no longer charge tuition,” she added.

READ MORE...

Licuanan said the CHED is working with other government agencies for the implementing guidelines on how to utilize the budget, which will be part of the 2017 General Appropriations Act now awaiting the signature of President Duterte.

“Logistically, it will be difficult. How do you share, how do you divide up P8 billion with 113 SUCs (and the University of the Philippines)? What formula do you use?” she asked.

“The implementation will be a bit of a challenge, but that’s the intention of the P8 billion,” she added.

CHED deputy executive director Napoleon Imperial said the commission would coordinate with the Department of Budget and Management to address issues regarding fund utilization.

“CHED wants to ensure that the implementation/guidelines are defined properly to be able to manage the huge amount of funds accordingly,” he added.

LAUDED

Kabataan party-list Rep. Sarah Elago lauded the allocation of the budget and called it a step in the right direction for SUCs.

“This is a victory for the youth movement which has long fought for the right to education. This is great news for the nation’s youth and their families, especially the poor and marginalized,” she said.

“I also call on student councils and student governments, as well as the regents and trustees, to conduct student consultation summits to help shape and monitor the implementation of the tuition-free policy. We must do everything in our power to have it implemented quickly and with a positive effect on students and the SUC community.

“We don’t expect this to be easy. We are fighting a decades-old problem that infected SUCs with the wrong notion on tuition. Some SUCs may insist on violating the spirit of the Congress decision, but we will patiently and unequivocally fight them,” she added.

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ALSO FROM THE MANILA BULLETIN

Philippines to experience longest night on Wednesday 2 SHARES Share it! Published December 19, 2016, 12:08 AM by Philippine News Agency

The Northern Hemisphere, which includes the Philippines, will experience on Wednesday, December 21, its longest night and shortest day this year.

“That is when the 2016 winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere will happen,” said Dario dela Cruz, astronomy chief of the state weather bureau, PAGASA.

He noted that on that day, the sun, at 6:44 p.m., will be at its southernmost position as seen from Earth so the forthcoming longest night’s duration will vary among Northern Hemisphere areas.

Such duration will span more time in areas that are farther from the equator, he said.

“In the Philippines’ case, that means the duration of the longest night will be most lengthy in extreme Northern Luzon and shortest in Mindanao,” he noted.

Extreme Northern Luzon and Mindanao are the country’s farthest and closest areas to the equator, respectively.

Solstice is the astronomical event during which the sun is at its greatest northerly or southernly distance from the equator, the imaginary line dividing Earth into the northern and southern hemispheres.

Parallel to the equator are imaginary lines of latitude circling Earth and running towards this planet’s north and south ends.

Among those lines are special navigational references called the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere and Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere.

Experts said every year, the sun shines over the Tropic of Cancer during the solstice occurring around June 21 and over the Tropic of Capricorn during the solstice happening around December 21.

The annual June astronomical event is known as the Northern Hemisphere’s summer solstice when night there is shortest and day is longest.

It is also the Southern Hemisphere’s winter solstice when night there is longest and day is shortest.

In contrast, the annual December astronomical event is the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice when night there is longest and day is shortest.

That event is likewise the Southern Hemisphere’s summer solstice when night there is shortest and day is longest.

Dela Cruz said during this month’s solstice, night will be about 13 hours and five minutes long in Basco municipality, capital of extreme Northern Luzon’s Batanes province.

Night then in Metro Manila will last about 12 hours and 46 minutes, he said.


MANILA TIMES

China provides hybrid rice to typhoon-hit farmers BY THE MANILA TIMES ON DECEMBER 17, 2016 THE LATEST NEWS, TODAY'S BREAKING NEWS


The Chinese Embassy committed to provide P100 million to the DSWD for poverty relief and disaster response DSWD Chief Taguiwalo said no conditions were attached to the assistance.

THE Chinese government has donated 10 metric tons of hybrid rice seeds to about 600 farmers in Aurora province, the Chinese Embassy in Manila said.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua said the donation was Beijing’s way of sympathizing with Filipino farmers hit by typhoons.

“Please stay assured, in such difficult times, a helping hand is all that the Chinese government and people have to render,” the diplomat said during the turnover ceremony.

READ MORE...

Aurora province, located in the eastern-most part of Central Luzon, was hit hard by typhoons “Karen” and “Lawin” with about 220,000 people affected. Damage in infrastructure and agriculture was pegged at P800 million.

“We sincerely hope that this humble share of assistance would contribute to the farmers’ endeavor to recover from their losses,” Zhao said.

Aurora Governor Gerardo Noveras said the donation arrived just in time since it is the season for sowing and planting.

“It is really unexpected that the response from the Chinese Embassy to our request for seed donation was so rapid. I had the thought that it might take a year before we receive any assistance,” he said.

The Chinese Embassy also provided technical assistance to the farmers.

“If the production is ideal, the government of Aurora province will purchase more Longping hybrid rice seeds for our farmers to expand the plantation,” the governor said.

After the ceremony, the rice experts from the Philippine-Sino Center for Agricultural Technology (PhilSCAT) conducted a training course on LP205 and LP331 hybrid rice planting for the local farmers.

The Chinese Embassy made a similar donation on Wednesday to 650 farmers in Ilocos Norte. This is the fourth time that the Chinese government donated rice seeds to Philippine farmers since 2014.

P100M for livelihood programs

Also on Friday, Zhao signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo on cooperation programs related to livelihood projects in the Philippines.

The Chinese Embassy committed to provide P100 million to the DSWD for poverty relief and disaster response to improve the living standard of Filipinos in poverty-stricken areas, especially Davao region.

Taguiwalo said no conditions were attached to the assistance.

“This stands testimony to the earnest amity of the Chinese government and people to the Philippine people, and the great friendship between China and the Philippines,” the Chinese Embassy said in a news release. MICHAEL JOE T. DELIZO

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RELATED FROM THE MANILA TIMES

1.74M kids to get free meals next year BY JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA, TMT ON DECEMBER 19, 2016 NATION


RECTO

The P1 billion additional budget for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will allow the agency to serve one hot meal a day to 1.74 million children aged two to four for 120 days next year, Senate minority leader Ralph Recto said Sunday.

While the P1 billion increase is just a “speck” compared to the estimated P328 billion annual economic losses caused by childhood malnutrition, it is a good start in helping malnourished children, Recto said.

Recto and Sen. Grace Poe were among those who questioned the small allocation for nutrition services and child feeding during the deliberation of the 2017 national budget. The former lamented that the P13 cost of meal served in schools and daycares was lower than the meal budget for prisoners.

“Preso (prisoner) value meals are in fact slightly costlier than school lunches,” Recto said. “Anyone who can whip up a nutritious meal on P13 should win the Magsaysay Award in kitchenomics.”

Recto’s complaint prompted lawmakers to increase the meal budget to P20.

The government’s feeding program for children runs on two parallel tracks: the SWD takes care of “severely wasted and underweight” children aged two to four while the Department of Education (DepEd) is in charge of enrolled children aged 5 to 11 or those in Kindergarten to Grade 6.

The DSWD and DepEd admitted that funding levels for feeding programs are not enough to reverse the ravages of malnutrition.

Recto urged the two agencies to spend the money in full and on time.

The funding, he said, should be contingent on the two agencies’ prompt use of feeding funds “because of the bad way it was utilized last year, which bordered on criminal neglect.”

Citing official audit and fund utilization reports, Recto said DepEd delayed the release of P1.4 billion of last year’s P2.4 billion school feeding funds, transferring it to the regions only on Nov. 13, or when 2015 was about to end.


GMA NEWS NETWORK

Hospitalization will be free next year for poor Pinoys —DOH chief Published December 18, 2016 9:04am By FERDINANDH CABRERA

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao— In 2017, poor Filipinos need not worry about their hospital and medicine bills –these will be free, Health Department chief said Saturday.

“There’s no need to hold any card of PhilHealth, just prove to us you are a Filipino, you are entitled to be covered by health benefits, the PhilHealth will take care of the hospital billings and other concerns,” Health secretary Paulyn Jean Rossel-Ubial said Saturday during her visit to the Integrated Provincial Hospital Office (IPHO) in Maguindanao.

She said this after an increase of the funds being given by the Budget department to cover the hospital needs of the poor and needy Filipinos.

The Health Department, according to her, is now in good financial standing after the Budget Department paid last November the arrears of 32 Billion from the 42 Billion deficits of PhilHealth.

READ MORE...

“This the is first time in [DOH] history ... President Duterte has exerted all efforts and expect changes in the next days ... poor patients will leave hospitals with no billings balance,” Ubial added.

Also she mentioned additional subsidies for free medicines from government agencies, including the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).

Moreover, she said that next year there will be no more buying of medicines in government pharmacies because every poor family can get it free from the government health program.

Ubial said she got assurance from President Rodrigo Duterte who she quoted as telling her, “Just take care of the poor, I'll take care where to find the money.”

The Health chief visited Maguindanao on Saturday to grace the inauguration of the first ever CT Scan machine for the Integrated Provincial Health Office (IPHO)-Maguindanao. —LBG, GMA News

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RELATED FROM PHILSTAR

LTO to start printing 3-year driver’s license cards By Romina Cabrera (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 18, 2016 - 12:00am 2 140 googleplus0 0


LTO executive director Romeo Vera Cruz said the awarding of the contract was done through the alternative mode of procurement last November as a way to solve the current backlog of about three million cards. File photo

MANILA, Philippines – As an early Christmas gift to drivers in Metro Manila, the Land Transportation Office (LTO) will start the printing and distribution of three-year plastic license cards tomorrow.

Motorists who have pending applications can claim their plastic license cards in the 36 LTO licensing offices in the National Capital Region (NCR) starting Monday, with nationwide implementation expected soon.

This comes after the LTO signed a P186-million three-month deal with its last provider, Allcard Plastics Philippines Inc., to supply three million plastic cards until February.

READ MORE...

LTO executive director Romeo Vera Cruz said the awarding of the contract was done through the alternative mode of procurement last November as a way to solve the current backlog of about three million cards.

AllCards, he added, was tapped as it is the exclusive distributor of consumables which are compatible with current printing machines.

The company delivered 36 printing machines to 24 LTO district offices and 12 driver’s license renewal offices in the NCR. Each machine has a capacity to produce about 800 cards daily. At least 10 printers are also provided as back-up machines should any of the 36 conk out.

Cruz said drivers should present their official receipts when claiming their plastic license cards at the office where they filed the applications.

“I would like to caution all the claimants that they need not pay a single centavo to claim their driver’s license since they already paid for it, all they have to do is show to our personnel at the claims counter their official receipt,” LTO chief Edgar Galvante said in a statement.

The LTO, under a regular competitive bidding, has started the pre-bidding for a new contract to supply plastic cards for the five-year licenses. It is expected to award the contract by February 2017.

Records show a backlog of one million for the five-year licenses.


PHILSTAR

OFWs returning home for Christmas break By Rudy Santos (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 19, 2016 - 12:00am 0 0 googleplus0 0


Overseas Filipino workers and balikbayans arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport yesterday for the Christmas and New Year celebrations. RUDY SANTOS

MANILA, Philippines – Thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Canada, the Middle East and the United States have started arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) for the Christmas holidays, officials said yesterday.

More personnel of the Manila International Airport Authority and Bureau of Customs (BOC) were assigned at the NAIA to assist the arriving passengers.

On Friday, Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon went to the NAIA Terminal 1 to ensure that strict security measures were in place.

Faeldon said the BOC would install closed-circuit television cameras at the airport’s four terminals next year.

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RELATED FROM RAPPLER.COM

The OFW Christmas list Shakira Sison @shakirasisonPublished 7:00 AM, December 17, 2015 Updated 10:03 AM, December 17, 2015

'Instead of resenting them for being away, OFWs hope their families realize their lack of choice'


CHRISTMAS WISH. For many overseas Filipino workers, knowing their sacrifice is worth it and their families appreciate their efforts is enough to make them happy for Christmas. Image courtesy of Ernest Fiestan

A technician in Dubai wishes he could go home instead of just sending presents to his loved ones. A nurse in the US wishes that when she does go home, her job will still be waiting for her when she gets back.

They both wish a trip home didn't cost so much money or take so much time. It wouldn't be so difficult to rationalize a trip instead of again participating in the holidays via webcam.

They wish their flights won't be canceled or delayed. They've saved through the year to be able to pay for their trip. In their jobs as nannies, engineers, and factory workers, it's all they've been thinking about. After the balikbayan boxes these workers send through the years, they don't keep much of their wages for themselves other than putting away for airfare in case they do get the chance.

A mother wishes that when her children see her again, they'll recognize her. At the very least she'll hope that someone teaches them to fake it and run to her for a rehearsed hug. A father will want them to laugh and smile with him and tell him they love him, but even if they don't say thank you, their health and happiness will be enough.

Wishes for family

Even if he's arrived with presents for each one of them, what he really wishes for his family are good health and ease of life. He doesn't want his children to worry about their tuition, books, or having something nice to wear for a family reunion. He wants them to stand tall among their friends knowing that they are well-dressed and well-fed because they are loved.

Maybe if they are proud of themselves they will forget that in order to do that, he had to leave them behind.

She wishes her children are making the most of their education. She hopes they realize the edge they have over their peers in going to a better school and having access to better jobs when they're done. She hopes they don't waste their opportunities by starting families too early or deciding that school is not for them, when she would have done anything for that chance.

Regardless of how hard she works, she doesn't wish for much for herself other than that her sacrifices won't be for naught. Maybe with their level of education they won't have to leave their own families to feed them when it's their turn. For her, that will be enough.

A husband hopes the spouse he left has not strayed from him, although he's quite aware of the necessity of intimacy in married life. A wife hopes her husband has not started another family in her absence, though she knows very well what it's like to be lonely and long for a loving pair of arms.

He hopes his wife has put their hard-earned money to good use and saved some for emergencies. She longs to tell him she depends on him as much as he depends on her. He wants to tell her that despite the distance, he still considers her his home.

Lack of choice

Instead of resenting them for being away, OFWs hope their families realize their lack of choice. That as sad and difficult it is to leave them, it is necessary to earn a better wage to address the needs that a local job cannot.

That daughter in Rome hopes her family knows the bitterness in her chest when she is alone and away from them, the hardships she stomachs but never mentions, and the loneliness she constantly tries to fight. An auntie in Australia wishes her nieces and nephews would make the most of their lives while she sacrifices hers so they might have a better chance.

A longtime seaman hopes to get some rest from my work when he visits. He hopes that when his relatives come, they sincerely want to see him instead of asking for help to fix their houses. He's used to being approached to address health issues or to pay for schooling, but he's hoping for a break this time.

For once, a lifelong domestic helper in Hong Kong wishes nobody would need anything from her for just a few days. They all wish their families recognize that working abroad doesn't mean that money is in endless supply.

A housekeeper wishes she could let her family know of her struggles, but she doesn't want to burden them with her difficulties because they might feel guilty and think she resents supporting their lives.

As a mother, she hopes they instead appreciate the advice she gives from a distance – reminders to do well in school and stay away from vices – because more often than not it's the only thing she can do from afar.

As we send our gift requests and lists of holiday wants to our relatives abroad this year, have we ever wondered what would be on their own lists? What would they say if they're actually asked what they would want for Christmas?

Unlike requests for clothes, toys, gadgets, and cash, OFWs ask for nothing material. Aside from more health and strength to work some more for their family's survival, what do our beloved overseas workers really want for themselves this Christmas? Have we even asked them what they want in their own lives?

More importantly, what could we do to return the favor of our OFW relative's sacrifice? – Rappler.com


THE GUARDIAN ONLINE UK

Pope Francis turns 80 and hopes 'old age is the thirst for knowledge' Associated Press Sunday 18 December 2016 02.15 GMT

Pontiff shares breakfast with homeless people, takes phone calls from world leaders and gets 70,000 email messages


Pope Francis celebrates his 80th birthday sharing a breakfast with homeless people. Photograph: Osservatore Romano/AP

Pope Francis celebrated an active if low-key 80th birthday on Saturday, sharing breakfast with eight homeless people before celebrating mass with cardinals as greetings poured in from around the world.

The pontiff received more than 70,000 email messages wishing him a happy birthday, as well as telephone calls and telegrams from world leaders and religious figures.

His predecessor, 89-year-old Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, sent a “very affectionate” written greeting the Vatican said was “particularly appreciated,” followed by a personal call in the afternoon and three small gifts that bore “very personal and significant meaning for both”. The Vatican did not otherwise divulge the nature of the gifts.

READ MORE...


READ MORE HERE

At breakfast, Francis chatted individually with each of the homeless guests; four Italians, two Romanians, a Moldovan and a Peruvian at the Vatican hotel where he resides, and shared Argentinian cakes with them. The guests offered the pope a bouquet of sunflowers.

They were invited from among those staying around Saint Peter’s Square and at nearby showers for the homeless established by the pope’s almsgiver. The pope also sent enough birthday cakes for 1,500 people to kitchens serving the poor and homeless in Rome.

Speaking to the cardinals, Francis contemplated the aging process. “For some days now, I have had in mind a word that seems ugly: Old age, a thought that frightens,” he said. But then he recalled his own words during his first papal greeting in 2013, when he said: “Old age is the thirst for knowledge.” He added: “I hope it will be the same for me.”

Saturday is a working day at the Vatican and Francis kept up his usual pace. He met with Malta’s president and held an audience with members of the Nomadelfia community, a secular group whose lifestyle emulates early Christians, who sang “Happy Birthday” to the pontiff.

The pope experienced the day “with great joy. He was particularly happy by the presence of many children and youths at the audience with the Nomadelfia community,” the Vatican said.

Greetings arrived from all corners of the globe, both personal messages and succinct tweets with the hashtag #Pontifex80.


READ MORE HERE

US President Barack Obama said Francis “has inspired people around the world with his message of compassion, hope and peace,” while Italian President Sergio Mattarella recalled the pope has called on Europeans to show solidarity with the less fortunate, in particular “migrants and all those who live at society’s margins”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent Francis a telegram and followed it up with a phone call in which he “remarked on the big contribution he has personally made to strengthen ties between Russia and the Vatican, which moved to a significantly new level in the recent years,” the Kremlin said.

The Kremlin said Putin and the pope “exchanged opinions” on the plight of Christians caught in armed conflicts around the world and the importance of an interfaith dialogue.

Earlier this year, Francis met with Russian Patriarch Kirill in the first meeting of the head of the Roman Catholic church and the leader of the world’s largest Orthodox Christian flock. The patriarch’s office said on Saturday that Kirill had sent a congratulatory message to Francis and lauded him for improving ties between the Russian church and the Vatican.

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RELATED FROM PHILSTAR

Rody on health: Just fooling media (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 19, 2016 - 12:00am 0 0 googleplus0 0


During the birthday celebration of Sen. Manny Pacquiao in General Santos City on Saturday, Duterte became defensive about his health while he was talking about how he hates long travels. (Philboxing.com)

MANILA, Philippines – He was just fooling around – and the press swallowed it.

Amid calls for the release of his medical records, President Duterte said that he was just fooling the media.

During the birthday celebration of Sen. Manny Pacquiao in General Santos City on Saturday, Duterte became defensive about his health while he was talking about how he hates long travels.

“I don’t like going places. I’m contented staying inside my house. After that, go to After Dark bar, but I can’t drink,” Duterte said, referring to his favorite hangout in Davao City.

“After that, there will be intrigues. I say I am sick and it will become a headline: ‘Duterte will die.’ Gago. Fools, I just made up that story and you believed it,” he remarked.

The 71-year-old Duterte, who has had a love-hate relationship with journalists, said “buwang” or crazy reporters write everything he says.

“I toy with these crazies because they pick up whatever I say. That’s true,” he said.

Last week, Duterte admitted suffering from daily migraine and spinal pain. He said his doctor had advised him to undergo an operation but his partner, Honeylet Avanceña warned him that many surgeries on the spine have gone awry.

FENTANYL

Duterte on Monday revealed that he used to take fentanyl, often prescribed for cancer pain and other chronic ailments, because of a spinal injury from previous motorcycle accidents.

Fentanyl is a highly potent and addictive painkiller, which is estimated to be up to 100 times stronger than morphine.

Fentanyl became controversial after pop legend Prince died of an accidental overdose of the drug in April.

Duterte however said his doctor made him stop using it on learning he was “abusing the drug” by using more than the prescribed patches.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella has said that there is nothing serious about Duterte’s health issues.

Duterte has also belied rumors that he has cancer but has admitted having Buerger’s disease, a cardiovascular illness characterized by inflammation of blood vessels usually due to smoking.

Duterte cited ill health as the reason for skipping events during summits abroad. In Cambodia last week, he said he might not even finish his six-year term.

A national concern Lawmakers said Duterte’s remarks revived speculation about his health, including rumors during the election campaign that he suffered from cancer – a claim Duterte repeatedly denied.

RELEASE MEDICAL RECORDS

Sen. Panfilo Lacson has asked Duterte to release his medical records, calling the President’s state of health “a national concern.”

Sen. Leila de Lima agreed and said Malacañang is required to reveal Duterte’s true state of health as mandated by the Constitution.

She said Malacañang must make a clear statement on the issue as Duterte is known to have skipped certain public events and duties.

“They can argue that the events he missed were not critical, but it remains a fact that he has been rendered unable to work before,” De Lima said.

“When the Constitution says ‘serious illness’ it doesn’t have to be a terminal one – if it impacts negatively on the President’s ability to discharge his duties, it is obviously a matter of national concern, and the public should be kept informed about his state of health,” she added.

De Lima said Duterte’s use of fentanyl is a cause of worry as the drug is known to have side effects that may affect his lucidity and ability to make decisions with a clear mind.

“To end this speculation, it would be better if his physician explains how the President manages the pain that he suffers,” Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate added.

Zarate said a medical bulletin would clarify the state of Duterte’s health.

DUTERTE QUALIFIED AS DRUG ADDICT?

Sen. Antonio Trillanes said Duterte’s admission that he took more than the prescribed fentanyl dosage showed he “qualified as a drug addict.”

However Duterte on Saturday denied any addiction.

“When there’s regularity, my friend, when you take it and when there’s a monkey on your back, that’s addiction,” Duterte told a BBC reporter.

Doctors said fentanyl is a highly regulated drug with physicians needing a license from the drug agency to prescribe it.

“The ones using (fentanyl) are usually people with harrowing pain or terminal diseases. Doctor monitoring manages risks of addiction,” said Leo Olarte, former president of the Philippine Medical Association.

“A (presidential) medical bulletin is good so the public won’t be rattled,” Olarte said. – Alexis Romero, Paolo Romero


PHILSTAR

‘Simbang Gabi’ won’t grant wishes – Bishop By Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 19, 2016 - 12:00am 0 0 googleplus0 0


Completing nine-day simbang gabi or dawn masses leading to Christmas Day is not like a genie in a bottle that will grant wishes, a Catholic bishop said yesterday. ERNIE PEÑAREDONDO

MANILA, Philippines – Completing nine-day simbang gabi or dawn masses leading to Christmas Day is not like a genie in a bottle that will grant wishes, a Catholic bishop said yesterday.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo reminded the faithful that the purpose of the novena is to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ and spiritually prepare Catholics for celebration of Christmas Day.

He called on priests to also remind their parishioners that going to dawn masses is not meant or designed for their wishes to be granted by the Lord, which he described as a misconception.

“Completing the nine days of simbang gabi is not for their wishes to be granted. That is a wrong belief. That is not what going to the simbang gabi is for,” Pabillo said in an interview. “These should be explained in the masses in order to correct the people’s thinking.”

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“The nine days of praying is part of the preparation for the big feast of Christmas. For the formation of the faith and thanking God for His generosity,” he explained.

The prelate added that the novena was designed to represent the faithful’s devotion to God.

“The nine days is a manifestation of the people’s persistence. Imagine you will wake up early for nine straight mornings... It is a sign of your love of God,” he explained.

The dawn masses started last Friday, Dec.16, and will end with the Misa de Gallo on Dec. 24, eve of Christmas Day.

Meanwhile, another bishop reminded the faithful that the Christmas season is a perfect time to make sacrifices for others.

Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco has urged the faithful to reach out to the poor and victims of violence as a sign of love to fellow people.

He also appealed that acts of compassion, generosity and love should not be limited to Dec. 25 but should be done every day.

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ALSO FROM THE INQUIRER

Shop, eat and pray at malls in PH By: Bernadette D. Nicolas - @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer / 12:25 AM December 19, 2016


MASS AT MALL Fr. Rufino Sescon Jr., chaplain of Greenbelt Chapel and priest in charge of the Ministry of Malls and Business Establishments in the Archdiocese of Manila, celebrates Mass at Greenbelt Chapel. —JILSON SECKLER TIU

Malls are being built in almost all of the country’s main urban centers, providing Filipinos modern and convenient settings for family bonding.

It was a matter of time before these giant one-stop shops provided a place for worship to complete the shopping experience of their countless patrons.

Brigette Tan Villarin, operations director at Megamobile, says her family regularly attends Sunday Mass at the chapel of Makati City’s upscale Power Plant Mall.

In the beginning, her husband, Aristotle, didn’t like praying in malls because Masses were held in open areas without the same solemn atmosphere of churches.

Masses at Power Plant Mall Chapel are held in an enclosed area and, he says, it has, over the years, provided his family an alternative to increasingly crowded churches. “At least it’s near us and we preferred the homilies,” he says.

Mass distractions

Vincent Villarosa, who sometimes attends Mass at Greenbelt Chapel, says he still prefers worshipping in a church because of fewer distractions.

“When I go to Mass in mall chapels, I sometimes feel disturbed, especially during times when I am just standing outside when there are no more vacant seats,” he says.

For shopper Katrina Marisse de Dios, it doesn’t matter where she prays as long as she can give thanks to God.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has allowed Masses inside malls to encourage more Filipinos to attend Sunday services, says Fr. Rufino Sescon Jr., chaplain of Greenbelt Chapel and priest in charge of the Ministry of Malls and Business Establishments in the Archdiocese of Manila.

“Where the people are, we must go there also,” Sescon says, likening the church to Jesus Christ who preached to ordinary folks, orphans and sinners in the marketplace.

Greenbelt Chapel, which opened in 1983, was inspired by St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, which provides religious services and spiritual retreat in the heart of the city that never sleeps.

Starting with just one Mass a day, Greenbelt Chapel now has four Masses daily and eight on Sundays. The chapel, which seats 500, overflows on Sundays. It started the nine-day Christmas dawn Mass, or “misa de gallo,” and the evening anticipated Mass on Dec. 15.

“The mall chapels emerged because like Greenbelt it is not really for mall goers only but for the office people here in Makati,” who leave home very early in the morning and have no time to pray in their parish churches, Sescon says.

Tess Baniqued attended what might have been the first Mass held in a mall in 1977 at Manila’s Harrison Plaza, one of the oldest malls in the country, where she runs a clothes shop. The 69-year-old now also serves as the mall’s chapel coordinator.

Easing church congestion

Mall chapels can hold only basic religious services like Masses and confessions, not baptisms and weddings. Still, they complement churches because they help ease congestion in the parishes, according to Sescon.

“I think there is no competition (between mall chapels and churches) because the pie is so big. We don’t have to fight over it because even if all these chapels and churches provide all these services, we still need more space for our people,” he says.

Sescon says foreigners are surprised when they see a chapel in a mall.

Spanish tourist Juan Mira says it is “unusual” and “very interesting” to find chapels inside malls because he hasn’t seen one back home.

“It is completely motivating,” he says. “I think you still believe in things that sadly we don’t believe in Europe. Just continue that way.”

People who pray in malls are no less religious than those who attend services in churches, according to Fr. Larry Tan, another priest who says Mass at Greenbelt. Tan is the marketing head of Word and Life Publications of the Salesians of Don Bosco.

“The very fact that they attend means they are religious. It is hard to weigh or gauge the religiosity of those who go to church and those who go outside church,” Tan says.

Tan believes Masses at malls benefit both mall owners and the Church.

Benefits to Church, malls

“I think the reason why mall owners invite and open the malls for Eucharistic celebrations is because it is a crowd drawer,” he says. “The advantage for the Church is it also helps people to comply with their religious obligations on Sundays.”

John Ong, chief finance officer of SM Prime, the country’s largest mall operator, says as a modern “marketplace and the center for gathering and entertainment,” a mall should provide for most of a shopper’s needs.

“This includes providing space for worship,” Ong says. “We recognize the fact that worship is part of people’s lives. They drop by the chapels any time of day. It is there for everyone—shoppers, employees, service providers, tenants and their employees, among others.”

Muslim prayer area

With its large number of traders and shop owners who are Muslims, Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan City didn’t take too long before it opened a prayer room for them, in addition to a chapel for Catholics.

Carim Panumpang, board chair of Greenhills Muslim Traders Association Inc. (GMTA), says “tiangge” shop owners used to pray inside their own stalls.

In 1992, the group’s request for a place for worship was granted. It was given a prayer room less than 100 square meters adjacent to the chapel.

About 12 years later, a 400-square-meter area that could accommodate 2,000 worshippers was provided for the group following a controversy sparked by fears that a mosque that was planned for Greenhills would be a magnet for extremists.

GMTA president Kennedy Basmala acknowledges that the prayer area is an expression of goodwill on the part of Ortigas and Company, owner of the shopping complex.

“Giving us the prayer area for free is maybe their way of giving back to us because they know that we can help them maintain peace and order in the area,” Basmala says.

GMTA general secretary Macacupa Macaradi says there are many malls in Metro Manila with Muslim prayer areas, but these are not as big as the one in Greenhills.

While it may be the biggest and the only air-conditioned Muslim prayer area in a mall, it is still not big enough to accommodate all the Muslims in the area. It is also beside a smelly sewer, prompting the traders to request a transfer, according to GMTA executive vice president Datu Acas Bayabao.

“It would be better if there are prayer rooms in all malls and major establishments so that wherever you are, when the time comes, you can pray easily,” Bayabao says. —WITH A REPORT FROM DORIS DUMLAO-ABADILLA


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