PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE: Since 1997 © Copyright (PHNO) http://newsflash.org


EDITORIALS & OPINIONS OF THE WEEK:
(Mini Reads followed by Full news commentary)


FROM THE INQUIRER

EDITORIAL  - Always endangered


FEBRUARY 7 -BOHOL TARSIERS A new study published on Wednesday says tarsiers communicate with one another using ultrasound frequencies inaudible to man and many species of predators. EDWIN BACASMAS
-We wonder: What has happened to the poor tarsiers, owls and other endangered animals discovered at the airport stashed under plants in boxes labeled for export? After the discovery, no further development has been reported on the smuggling attempt, by a person, apparently a government employee, known to have done this nefarious deed before. The smuggling attempt was cleverly planned. The 11 tarsiers, tiny creatures so delicate that they are known to simply keel over and die when stressed, were hidden in juice boxes covered with plants that were then put in styrofoam boxes. Three eagle owls, three scops owls, eight Philippine lizards, 11 monitor lizards and five rat snakes were given the same treatment. The boxes were officially sealed and certified by the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry, and then identified as plant exports—specifically Amazon Sword and Elephant Ear Taro—destined for Japan. Clearly a multiagency operation. The endangered and protected animals—a total of 47—were ultimately intended to be sold as “exotic pets” in Japan. The man behind this smuggling scheme has been identified as Gerald Bravo, an employee of the Office of Transportation Security (OTS) under the Department of Transportation and Communications. The scheme is made possible by the fact that, as a security screener for OTS, he has the access and the authority to pull it off.
According to Theresa Mundita Lim, director of the Biodiversity Management Division of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the DENR was tipped off early in January on what Bravo was planning to do. Together with the Bureau of Customs, National Bureau of Investigation and Aviation Security Group, the DENR conducted surveillance and was able to intercept the cargo before it left the Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s international cargo terminal. READ MORE...

ALSO: EDITORIAL- Political risks to growth


FEBRUARY 1 -ELECTIONS 2016
HERE HAS been much talk about the risks to the economy associated with the national elections in May. But except perhaps if there would be massive cheating that would lead to wholesale unrest, the risks arising from the coming polls appear manageable.Last week, an economist from the Dutch financial giant ING cited escalating jitters over the prospect of a new president with a mere plurality of votes, the perceived risk of reversals in governance reforms, and the presidential candidates’ promises of populist but revenue-eroding measures. Citing the latest survey results, the economist said the Philippines would likely have a new president with only a minority mandate from the electorate. (The results of the December 2015 survey of Pulse Asia showed Vice President Jejomar Binay back in the lead with a 33-percent share, trailed by Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte with 23 percent and Sen. Grace Poe with 21 percent.)It was noted that a minority president would have difficulty getting priority legislation through Congress, and that even before this president assumes office, there would be risks of the results being subjected to protest, leading to a “less stable” political environment. But then, the Philippines is hardly a stranger to electoral protests lodged by losing candidates. And having a minority president is nothing new to this country.In 2010, Benigno Aquino III was elected president by 42.08 percent of the voters. Other notable candidates in 2010 were Joseph Estrada, who got 26.25 percent; Manuel Villar, 15.42 percent; Gilbert Teodoro, 11.33 percent, and Eddie Villanueva, 3.12 percent. In the hotly contested 2004 election, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo got 39.99 percent and the actor Fernando Poe Jr. 36.51 percent. The other contenders were Panfilo Lacson, who got 10.88 percent; Raul Roco, 6.45 percent, and Villanueva, 6.16 percent.READ MORE...


ALSO: EDITORIAL - Trumped


FEBRUARY 5 -The first stages of the world’s longest presidential contest may have been dominated by a brash celebrity billionaire with an oversized persona both on Twitter and off it, but the results of the first American primary, the caucuses in the state of Iowa, tell us that Donald Trump was resoundingly trumped. Leading for months in the Republican primary, and topping the last Iowa survey conducted before the caucuses, Trump instead came in second to the senator from Texas, Ted Cruz. (And right behind Trump was the senator from Florida, Marco Rubio.)Are there lessons to be learned from this surprise outcome, at least for Filipino politicians and voters? We can think of at least three. In a tight race, the ground game can prove the difference. To use the metaphors that advertising agencies are fond of, Trump’s campaign was waged largely through an air war—that is, conducted through the airwaves, through television appearances and some advertising. While he could easily afford to purchase air time for political advertisements, he chose a nontraditional approach: free airtime. For the most part, American media organizations were happy to play along. Each new outrage from the reality TV star, each scandalous remark, fed a news cycle where Trump appeared on TV or figured in cable television newscasts or rode the headlines. The many debates where he appeared benefited from his participation—at least in terms of ratings. On debate night after debate night, he was the most-searched candidate on Google. His rants on Twitter were not only amplified by other social media networks but also fed directly into the news cycle. In other words, Trump made strategic use of his popularity.READ MORE...

ALSO: EDITORIAL - Coping with Zika


FEBRUARY 4 -With the World Health Organization declaring the Zika virus a global threat, the Department of Health’s assurance that the Philippines remains Zika-free merits a second look. Meant to assuage fears and prevent panic, the DOH’s seeming downplaying of the pandemic that has so far affected 28 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean should give way to more realistic risk-assessment and concrete guidelines on prevention, as a vaccine or treatment for the disease has yet to be developed. What makes Zika a threat to the Philippines, as the physician Gideon Lasco, a regular contributor to Inquirer Opinion, has warned, is that its vector, the mosquito Aedes aegypti known to cause dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever, is endemic in the country, with El Niño’s warmer temperatures further raising our vulnerability to mosquito-borne diseases. Even more alarming is the fact that people afflicted with Zika often exhibit mild symptoms that can very well be mistaken for mere flu: mild fever, sore throat, muscle pains, skin rash and red eyes that are self-limiting and can easily be relieved by rest and plenty of fluids—which was also how a 10-year-old boy in Cebu believed infected with the virus in 2012 recovered. First isolated in Uganda in 1947 and named after the Zika forest found there, the virus had sporadically turned up in isolated cases since then, only to explode suddenly in Latin America. The WHO has warned that some four million people may be infected this year. While the virus is not fatal, it can be devastating to pregnant women, as Zika has been linked to cases of microcephaly, a condition in infants marked by abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains. Already, there has been a surge in microcephaly cases in Brazil, with 4,000 reported since October. The virus has also been associated with the Guillain-Barre syndrome, a poorly understood condition that sometimes results in paralysis. READ MORE...

ALSO: EDITORIAL - Mindanao calling
[War, warlordism, poverty, strife, and now famine and extreme weather brought about by climate change—Mindanao badly needs a break, and a helping hand.]


FEBRUARY 6 -Mindanao, no stranger to crisis and instability, is enduring yet another series of unfortunate events these days.It has just lost the opportunity to turn a corner in its bloodied history with the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law having been left twisting in the wind by Congress. Judicious consideration of the proposed law, however imperfect it was in form, would have sent the signal to Muslim Mindanao that the government in faraway Manila is serious about addressing the historic ills and issues at the root of the conflict that has rended parts of the region for decades now. Instead, Congress’ unseemly inaction on it—despite the Aquino administration enjoying a healthy majority in the “Lower House”—once again dashed the hopes, and reinforced the cynicism, of many Muslim Filipinos who must feel they can never get a fair deal, let alone a fair hearing, from the status quo.And the BBL debacle comes at a time when rolling blackouts due to a lopsided power generation system and to a series of bombings targeting transmission towers have become a normal occurrence in Mindanao, disrupting the local economy and the ordinary lives of citizens. Another burden has become acute in the last year or so—the El Niño phenomenon, which the United Nations had earlier warned could be the strongest and most intense in the last 50 years. The severe heat has depleted water sources in vast swaths of Mindanao, ravaging farms and affecting the food supply. Of the 32 provinces identified by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) as most likely to be most impacted by the dry spell, nine are in Mindanao—Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Southern Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, Basilan, Maguindanao and Sulu. The dire effects of El Niño on such provinces is magnified by the fact that they are also among the poorest provinces in the country, and thus more vulnerable to disaster and famine. READ MORE...


READ FULL MEDIA REPORTS HERE:

EDITORIAL Always endangered


BOHOL TARSIERS A new study published on Wednesday says tarsiers communicate with one another using ultrasound frequencies inaudible to man and many species of predators. EDWIN BACASMAS

MANILA, FEBRUARY 8, 2016 (INQUIRER) @inquirerdotnet February 7th, 2016 -We wonder: What has happened to the poor tarsiers, owls and other endangered animals discovered at the airport stashed under plants in boxes labeled for export? After the discovery, no further development has been reported on the smuggling attempt, by a person, apparently a government employee, known to have done this nefarious deed before.

The smuggling attempt was cleverly planned. The 11 tarsiers, tiny creatures so delicate that they are known to simply keel over and die when stressed, were hidden in juice boxes covered with plants that were then put in styrofoam boxes.

Three eagle owls, three scops owls, eight Philippine lizards, 11 monitor lizards and five rat snakes were given the same treatment. The boxes were officially sealed and certified by the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry, and then identified as plant exports—specifically Amazon Sword and Elephant Ear Taro—destined for Japan. Clearly a multiagency operation.

The endangered and protected animals—a total of 47—were ultimately intended to be sold as “exotic pets” in Japan. The man behind this smuggling scheme has been identified as Gerald Bravo, an employee of the Office of Transportation Security (OTS) under the Department of Transportation and Communications. The scheme is made possible by the fact that, as a security screener for OTS, he has the access and the authority to pull it off.

According to Theresa Mundita Lim, director of the Biodiversity Management Division of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the DENR was tipped off early in January on what Bravo was planning to do. Together with the Bureau of Customs, National Bureau of Investigation and Aviation Security Group, the DENR conducted surveillance and was able to intercept the cargo before it left the Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s international cargo terminal.

READ MORE...

Bravo, who has been with the OTS since 2007, was apprehended as well and has been charged with violation of the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act. A touch of irony: Only last September, he was lauded for his honesty when he returned a bag containing $5,500 to a Cebu-bound passenger at a security checkpoint in Terminal 4.

As we wait for developments on the case against this security man for his audacious smuggling attempt, it is important to note that Philippine wildlife has been smuggled out of the country with impunity.

In an interview two years ago, Lim noted the continuing high demand for rare animals though “they have little chance to survive in captivity.” She made the observation after the DENR found two juvenile hornbills, a hawk eagle, three juvenile raptors and an owl in two boxes on a Manila-bound bus from Camarines Norte.

In October 2014, businesswoman Olivia Lim Li was arrested in Zamboanga City after years of hiding. Li had been named as the owner of P35 million worth of marine species seized at the Eva Macapagal Port in 2011. In 2012, alleged wildlife trafficker Zhang Wen Wei was caught transporting rare Philippine reptiles to his native Hong Kong and was barred from ever entering the Philippines again. Last December, the DENR seized at least 100 endangered animals from a house in Olongapo City. The owner of the house, call center agent D’ar Corpuz, was said to be selling the animals online for P1 million.

Bravo’s smuggling attempt and subsequent arrest again train the spotlight on the prickly issue of crime and punishment. Olivia Lim Li was released after she posted a P4,000 bail bond. That tiny amount was all that was required under Philippine law, no matter the value of the prohibited cargo seized. “I guess it’s an area for law reform, but right now, there’s nothing we can do,” conceded Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources national director Asis Perez.

We would like to know what has happened in Bravo’s case, which once more underscores the gap between law enforcement and the general state of affairs in the country. It is not uncommon to find persons of authority flouting the law. Bravo appears to have taken advantage of his position at the Office of Transportation Security to smuggle rare animals to parties overseas who will pay huge sums for them. Thus are Philippine fauna endangered by the very people tasked to look out for them.


EDITORIAL Political risks to growth SHARES: 2258 VIEW COMMENTS @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:13 AM February 1st, 2016


ELECTIONS 2016

HERE HAS been much talk about the risks to the economy associated with the national elections in May. But except perhaps if there would be massive cheating that would lead to wholesale unrest, the risks arising from the coming polls appear manageable.

Last week, an economist from the Dutch financial giant ING cited escalating jitters over the prospect of a new president with a mere plurality of votes, the perceived risk of reversals in governance reforms, and the presidential candidates’ promises of populist but revenue-eroding measures. Citing the latest survey results, the economist said the Philippines would likely have a new president with only a minority mandate from the electorate. (The results of the December 2015 survey of Pulse Asia showed Vice President Jejomar Binay back in the lead with a 33-percent share, trailed by Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte with 23 percent and Sen. Grace Poe with 21 percent.)

It was noted that a minority president would have difficulty getting priority legislation through Congress, and that even before this president assumes office, there would be risks of the results being subjected to protest, leading to a “less stable” political environment. But then, the Philippines is hardly a stranger to electoral protests lodged by losing candidates. And having a minority president is nothing new to this country.

In 2010, Benigno Aquino III was elected president by 42.08 percent of the voters. Other notable candidates in 2010 were Joseph Estrada, who got 26.25 percent; Manuel Villar, 15.42 percent; Gilbert Teodoro, 11.33 percent, and Eddie Villanueva, 3.12 percent. In the hotly contested 2004 election, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo got 39.99 percent and the actor Fernando Poe Jr. 36.51 percent. The other contenders were Panfilo Lacson, who got 10.88 percent; Raul Roco, 6.45 percent, and Villanueva, 6.16 percent.

READ MORE...

In 1998, there were 10 candidates for president. Of the 26.9 million valid votes from 33.9 million registered voters, 39.9 percent voted for Estrada, who was extremely popular at that time. Among those who trailed him were Jose de Venecia with 15.9 percent; Roco, 13.8 percent; Emilio Osmeña, 12.4 percent; and Alfredo Lim, 8.7 percent.

The same was true in 1992 when Fidel V. Ramos won the presidential race. Of the 22.6 million valid votes, only 5.3 million or 23.6 percent were for Ramos. The rest were divided among Miriam Santiago, 19.7 percent; Danding Cojuangco, 18.2 percent; Ramon Mitra, 14.6 percent; Imelda Marcos, 11.3 percent; Jovito Salonga, 10.2 percent, and Salvador Laurel, 2.4 percent. Blame this bewildering array of candidates on the multiparty system fostered by the 1987 Constitution.

From our historical experience, minority presidents easily gained control of the legislature, with members of the House of Representatives changing parties as easily as changing clothes, and naturally veering in the direction of the party in power. (Recall the term “balimbing.”) It seems that the executive branch always found a way—or, more to the point, an incentive—to cajole legislators to its fold. It used to be the pork barrel, but since this has been outlawed by the Supreme Court, the next administration will have to find novel means to bring over the majority of legislators.

The ING economist’s anxiety over the propensity of presidential candidates to promise populist reforms seems to be exaggerated as well. Almost all politicians, past and present, promise pie-in-the-sky measures to draw attention—lower taxes for the working class, cheaper prices of basic goods, better public services, etc. But when they are elected… If all those campaign promises were fulfilled, the Philippines would have become a First World country by now, with minimal joblessness and poverty and first-class public service (think transportation and communication).

As it is, whoever succeeds President Aquino can look forward to respectable economic growth for the Philippines despite such global economic risks as the expected uptrend in US interest rates and cheap oil prices. Local and foreign economists agree: Despite the presidential election, economic growth is unlikely to lose momentum this year. The next president will just have to focus on governance and steer clear of business.


EDITORIAL Trumped SHARES: 1516 VIEW COMMENTS @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:30 AM February 5th, 2016

The first stages of the world’s longest presidential contest may have been dominated by a brash celebrity billionaire with an oversized persona both on Twitter and off it, but the results of the first American primary, the caucuses in the state of Iowa, tell us that Donald Trump was resoundingly trumped. Leading for months in the Republican primary, and topping the last Iowa survey conducted before the caucuses, Trump instead came in second to the senator from Texas, Ted Cruz. (And right behind Trump was the senator from Florida, Marco Rubio.)

Are there lessons to be learned from this surprise outcome, at least for Filipino politicians and voters? We can think of at least three.

In a tight race, the ground game can prove the difference. To use the metaphors that advertising agencies are fond of, Trump’s campaign was waged largely through an air war—that is, conducted through the airwaves, through television appearances and some advertising. While he could easily afford to purchase air time for political advertisements, he chose a nontraditional approach: free airtime.

For the most part, American media organizations were happy to play along. Each new outrage from the reality TV star, each scandalous remark, fed a news cycle where Trump appeared on TV or figured in cable television newscasts or rode the headlines.

The many debates where he appeared benefited from his participation—at least in terms of ratings. On debate night after debate night, he was the most-searched candidate on Google. His rants on Twitter were not only amplified by other social media networks but also fed directly into the news cycle. In other words, Trump made strategic use of his popularity.

READ MORE...

But he neglected the on-the-ground campaign in Iowa. A revealing New York Times article described his ground game as “amateurish and halting.” The story’s lead paragraph makes the reader wince. “One volunteer leader enlisted by Donald J. Trump to turn out Iowa voters has yet to knock on a single door or to make a phone call. Another is a ‘9/11 truther’ with a website claiming that the Sept. 11 attacks were a government conspiracy.

A third caucus precinct captain, who like the others attended a training session in West Des Moines last month, said the campaign’s goal of having them each enlist 25 supporters was unrealistic.”

The debates turned out to be crucial. The seemingly interminable series of debates, especially on the Republican side, with its two survey-determined tiers of candidates, were often reduced to snarky one-liners (here, Trump was in his element, capable of sidelining an establishment favorite like former Florida governor Jeb Bush with a quick comment about his “low energy”) or to preprogrammed responses and stump speeches (Rubio showed his newcomer’s colors with his often too-earnest recitations).

The Republican debates were exercises in negativity, with the candidates joining a race to describe the American national situation in the worst possible terms. By this measure, Trump was the most negative—issuing sweeping statements about Mexicans and what they allegedly brought across the border to the United States, or proposing a total ban on the entry of Muslims into the country because of the existential threat he said the United States faced.

But it was the one debate where he did not show up that may have cost him the decisive votes in Iowa. The day after his second-place finish, he acknowledged to reporters that skipping the last Republican debate may have been the determining factor in his loss. “That could’ve been with the debate,” he said. He had staged his own event, ostensibly to raise funds for US military veterans, but it was the way he rejected participation in the last debate—essentially, he balked at the composition of the panel of moderators—that may have hurt him.

Issues sell, but constituencies bring out the vote. Trump, despite his privileged start in life and his billions, seemed to tap into the anxiety of any number of Americans overwhelmed by the rapid pace of change. But his general message was—at least in Iowa—overshadowed by the constituency-based campaigning of Cruz, who appealed, for instance, to two blocs of Republican voters, two of the so-called Four Faces of the party: very conservative evangelicals and very conservative seculars. By reaching out to these highly motivated groups, Cruz was able to trump Donald Trump.


EDITORIAL - Coping with Zika SHARES: 41 VIEW COMMENTS @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:30 AM February 4th, 2016

With the World Health Organization declaring the Zika virus a global threat, the Department of Health’s assurance that the Philippines remains Zika-free merits a second look.

Meant to assuage fears and prevent panic, the DOH’s seeming downplaying of the pandemic that has so far affected 28 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean should give way to more realistic risk-assessment and concrete guidelines on prevention, as a vaccine or treatment for the disease has yet to be developed.

What makes Zika a threat to the Philippines, as the physician Gideon Lasco, a regular contributor to Inquirer Opinion, has warned, is that its vector, the mosquito Aedes aegypti known to cause dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever, is endemic in the country, with El Niño’s warmer temperatures further raising our vulnerability to mosquito-borne diseases.


Even more alarming is the fact that people afflicted with Zika often exhibit mild symptoms that can very well be mistaken for mere flu: mild fever, sore throat, muscle pains, skin rash and red eyes that are self-limiting and can easily be relieved by rest and plenty of fluids—which was also how a 10-year-old boy in Cebu believed infected with the virus in 2012 recovered.

First isolated in Uganda in 1947 and named after the Zika forest found there, the virus had sporadically turned up in isolated cases since then, only to explode suddenly in Latin America. The WHO has warned that some four million people may be infected this year.

While the virus is not fatal, it can be devastating to pregnant women, as Zika has been linked to cases of microcephaly, a condition in infants marked by abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains. Already, there has been a surge in microcephaly cases in Brazil, with 4,000 reported since October.

The virus has also been associated with the Guillain-Barre syndrome, a poorly understood condition that sometimes results in paralysis.

READ MORE...

Although there is no direct flight from Brazil to the Philippines, the risk of travelers bringing the virus into the country is a very real possibility. Local airport authorities must therefore be vigilant in monitoring through thermal scanners the temperature of incoming travelers.

But since detection in airports is limited because 75 percent of those infected by Zika do not manifest symptoms, officials must also launch an aggressive information campaign in airport premises to encourage travelers to accurately fill out the health cards that could trace carriers should Zika cases turn up in the country.

Travelers should also be advised to protect themselves from mosquito bites by wearing appropriate clothing, applying insect repellents, and using mosquito nets or wire-mesh screens.

The DOH must stress as well its “4S” campaign against the dengue mosquito as the pointers bear repeating: search and destroy (eliminate pockets of stagnant water where mosquitoes breed); self-protection (using insect repellents and long-sleeved clothing); seeking early consultation; and selective use of fogging or fumigation.

Just as necessary is the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine’s (RITM) plan to train health workers in the use of Zika testing kits in five other public hospitals nationwide: the Lung Center of the Philippines, Baguio General Hospital, San Lazaro Hospital, Southern Philippines Medical Center, and Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center.

But the RITM should also conduct intensive research on the virus and its vector, for widespread release to the public. With the WHO declaring a global emergency due to Zika’s “explosive spread,” countries vulnerable to the virus like the Philippines would hopefully get much-needed resources to conduct critical research on the cause of this pandemic.

The DOH should use all means available to mount an extensive information campaign on the virus—from media outlets to public health centers, to midwives and barangay health workers, to reach out to the grassroots and warn against this virus.

Alongside such preventive measures, the government must put in place permanent reforms in the health system: a proactive research agenda on tropical diseases and their vectors, sufficient training of health workers especially in rural areas, not to mention the budget to make this possible.

From Ebola to Zika, there’s no telling what future health threats lie out there. The perennial question that must be asked is:

How prepared are we to cope?


EDITORIAL Mindanao calling SHARES: 75 VIEW COMMENTS @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:26 AM February 6th, 2016

Mindanao, no stranger to crisis and instability, is enduring yet another series of unfortunate events these days.
It has just lost the opportunity to turn a corner in its bloodied history with the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law having been left twisting in the wind by Congress. Judicious consideration of the proposed law, however imperfect it was in form, would have sent the signal to Muslim Mindanao that the government in faraway Manila is serious about addressing the historic ills and issues at the root of the conflict that has rended parts of the region for decades now.

Instead, Congress’ unseemly inaction on it—despite the Aquino administration enjoying a healthy majority in the “Lower House”—once again dashed the hopes, and reinforced the cynicism, of many Muslim Filipinos who must feel they can never get a fair deal, let alone a fair hearing, from the status quo.

And the BBL debacle comes at a time when rolling blackouts due to a lopsided power generation system and to a series of bombings targeting transmission towers have become a normal occurrence in Mindanao, disrupting the local economy and the ordinary lives of citizens.

Another burden has become acute in the last year or so—the El Niño phenomenon, which the United Nations had earlier warned could be the strongest and most intense in the last 50 years. The severe heat has depleted water sources in vast swaths of Mindanao, ravaging farms and affecting the food supply.

Of the 32 provinces identified by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) as most likely to be most impacted by the dry spell, nine are in Mindanao—Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Southern Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, Basilan, Maguindanao and Sulu. The dire effects of El Niño on such provinces is magnified by the fact that they are also among the poorest provinces in the country, and thus more vulnerable to disaster and famine.

READ MORE...

Last month, the Maguindanao provincial board declared a state of calamity in the province as the ruinous effects of El Niño on local agriculture reportedly reached P150 million, with 30 towns out of 36 reporting particularly heavy losses.

Some 10,000 farmers have seen their lives and livelihoods ruined. And it’s not just the extreme heat; the prolonged dry season has also led to a rat infestation that has wreaked havoc on more than 800 hectares of corn and rice fields.

According to an online report by MindaNews, South Upi in Maguindanao is already facing famine; the indigenous people living in the uplands have been forced to scrounge for “kayos” (wild yam) to feed their families, despite the crop being poisonous.

Wells have dried up, and corn and palay fields have wilted to uselessness. Meanwhile, the same double blight of drought and rat pestilence has also hit North Cotabato; the local government placed the province under a state of calamity after its crop losses topped P240 million. Kidapawan City is in the same straits, reporting some P30-million damage to more than 266 hectares of farmland.

Cloud-seeding operations by the Department of Agriculture appear to have had minimal effect. While scattered rains have been reported in Sultan Kudarat, Koronadal City, North Cotabato and Sarangani, the induced rainfall has not been enough to blunt El Niño and bring relief to affected areas. Pagasa has said the extreme weather could last until May, by which time the conditions in the afflicted towns and provinces might already have tipped over into full-scale catastrophe.

This is the time for the government to compensate for its egregious failure to do right by Mindanao with the nonpassage of the BBL, and this it can do by harnessing all technical and humanitarian resources at its disposal to help the region cope with El Niño. In April last year, the agriculture department released about P250 million to fund projects intended to help thousands of affected farmers in Central Mindanao and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Have any of those projects taken off and lent some measure of alleviation and comfort to their intended beneficiaries? Have the DA, the social services department and the disaster agencies done any follow-up relief efforts to bring humanitarian assistance, at the very least, to the hungriest and most desperate of families, now that the drought has only gotten worse and appears to be not easing anytime soon?

War, warlordism, poverty, strife, and now famine and extreme weather brought about by climate change—Mindanao badly needs a break, and a helping hand.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

© Copyright, 2015 by PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE
All rights reserved


PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE [PHNO] WEBSITE