More firms putting up employee retirement plans

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made both employers and workers more aware of the need for an employee retirement plan as part of the new normal.

            Security Bank’s Trust and Asset Management Group thus sees employee retirement programs growing in 2021 as most companies recover from the economic effects of the pandemic.

           In a recently held webinar for clients, the investment group invited RB Zalamea, Chief Operating Officer of E.M. Zalamea Actuarial Services, Inc. and one of the group’s consultants, to talk about the importance of having a retirement plan for both employers and employees. 

           Zalamea shared that more companies have started offering employee retirement plans specifically the Defined Contribution type which follows the retirement plans of other economies such as the United States and Europe. 

          “In the last five years, 40 percent of companies that have started their retirement plans set up a Defined Contribution (DC) type of fund as it engages employees more and encourages employee retention. The fixed monthly contribution allows employees to see their fund growing inside the company. In the new normal, we can expect these numbers to continuously grow as companies further realize the need for such funds,” said Zalamea. 

          The new trend of companies availing of DC plans stems from the changing retirement mindset of millennials who prefer fixed monthly contributions with higher returns versus the defined benefit plan that most companies offer employees. 

          “Despite the move of newer companies to offer DC programs to employees, the appointment of a Trustee is still very important as they will be the ones to help guide and grow the funds of would-be retirees,” added Zalamea. 

          Security Bank’s Trust and Asset Management Group has been managing the investments of Filipinos since 1951. 

          Echoing Zalamea’s statement, Carmela Lim, Sales and Account Acquisition Head at Security Bank Trust and Asset Management Group said, “It is important to have a retirement fund in place, especially during uncertain times, like the COVID-19 pandemic we are currently experiencing. The changing investment landscape is a good time to assess and review options for a company’s retirement fund.

Here in Security Bank, there are many investment options available that would allow companies to grow their fund and receive good investment returns. We are happy to be of service to clients who need expert advice in this area.”

‘Rolly’ likely to make 1st landfall over Catanduanes, 2nd landfall over Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur

Typhoon “Rolly” (international name “Goni”) will likely make its first landfall over Catanduanes then on to its second landfall over Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur this morning, according to a weather specialist of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).

PAGASA’s Benison Estareja said Rolly will likely maintain its maximum sustained winds of 215 kilometers per hour (kph) and gustiness of up to 265 kph when it makes landfall over Catanduanes between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., and over Camarines Norte-Camarines Sur between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m.

From morning until noon, Rolly may traverse Camarines Norte and Camarines Norte and southern Quezon. 

It will approach CALABARZON region (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) and may affect Romblon, Marinduque, Oriental Mindoro, and Occidental Mindoro until afternoon.

By 8 p.m., Estareja said Rolly will likely be in the vicinity of Tanauan City, Batangas. This is also the time of its closest approach to Metro Manila, and parts of Rizal, Bulacan, and Pampanga.

It will move between Cavite and Bataan on its way to the West Philippine Sea by early Monday morning, he said.

Heavy to intense rain over Metro Manila, Bicol Region, many parts of Luzon on Sunday with anticipated landfall of ‘Rolly’

Brace for heavy to intense with at times torrential rains over Metro Manila, Bicol region, and some parts of Cagayan Valley and Central and Southern Luzon throughout Sunday with the anticipated landfall of typhoon “Rolly” (international name “Goni”).

Based on the available data, as well as those from PAGASA’s Virac and Daet doppler weather radars, Rolly was already near the shore of Catanduanes or about 185 kilometers east of Virac around 10 p.m.

Throughout the day, Rolly has maintained its maximum sustained winds of 215 kilometers per hour (kph) near the center and gustiness of up to 265 kph.

It has also stayed on course towards Bicol since afternoon while moving west-southwest at 25 kph.

The center of the eye of typhoon Rolly is still seen to make landfall at or near its current peak intensity over Catanduanes early Sunday morning.

Afterwards, the center of Rolly will traverse Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte and will proceed towards mainland Quezon province by afternoon. 

It will further move inland over Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, and Rizal late afternoon until evening. This will be the closest approach of Rolly to Metro Manila.

By early Monday morning, Rolly may have already left the mainland Luzon landmass and have re-emerged over the West Philippine Sea. 

While traversing Luzon, Rolly may weaken considerably and emerge as a severe tropical storm or minimal typhoon over the West Philippine Sea.

With the impending landfall of Rolly, tropical cyclone wind signal No. 4 was hoisted over Catanduanes, eastern portion of Camarines Sur (Buhi, Iriga City, Baao, Pili, Naga City, Bombon, Calabanga, Ocampo, Sagnay, Tigaon, Goa, Tinambac, Siruma, Lagonoy, Garchitorena, San Jose, Presentacion, Caramoan), and northern portion of Albay (Tiwi, Polangui, Malinao, Tabaco City, Malilipot, Bacacay, Rapu-Rapu).

Signal No. 3 was raised over Camarines Norte, the rest of Camarines Sur, the rest of Albay, Burias and Ticao Islands, Sorsogon, Quezon, Laguna, Rizal, eastern portion of Batangas (Tanauan City, Santo Tomas, Malvar, Balete, Mataas Na Kahoy, Lipa City, Cuenca, Talisay, San Nicolas, Santa Teresita, Alitagtag, San Pascual, Batangas City, San Jose, Ibaan, Taysan, Lobo, Padre Garcia, Rosario, San Juan), Marinduque, northern portion of Oriental Mindoro (Puerto Galera, San Teodoro, Baco, Calapan City, Naujan, Victoria, Pola, Socorro, Pinamalayan), northern portion of Romblon (Concepcion, Banton, Corcuera), and Northern Samar.

Areas under Signal No. 2 were the rest of Masbate, the rest of Romblon, the rest of Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro including Lubang Island, the rest of Batangas, Cavite, Metro Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga, Bataan, Zambales, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, central and southern portion of Aurora (Dipaculao, Maria Aurora, Baler, San Luis, Dingalan), southern portion of Quirino (Nagtipunan), southern portion of Nueva Vizcaya (Alfonso Castaneda, Dupax Del Norte, Dupax Del Sur), Pangasinan, northern portion of Samar (Catbalogan City, Jiabong, Motiong, Paranas, Hinabangan, San Sebastian, Tarangnan, Pagsanghan, San Jorge, San Jose de Buan, Matuguinao, Gandara, Santa Margarita, Calbayog City, Santo Nino, Almagro, Tagapul-An), the northern portion of Eastern Samar (San Julian, Sulat, Taft, Can-Avid, Dolores, Maslog, Oras, San Policarpo, Arteche, Jipapad), extreme northern portion of Antique (Pandan, Libertad, Caluya), and northwestern portion of Aklan (Buruanga, Malay, Nabas, Ibajay).

While traversing Luzon, typhoon Rolly will bring heavy to intense with at times torrential rains over Bicol region, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon, Metro Manila, Marinduque, northern portions of Oriental Mindoro and Occidental Mindoro, Bataan, Bulacan, Aurora, and eastern portions of mainland Cagayan and Isabela. 

Moderate to heavy rains with at times intense rains will also prevail over Cordillera Administrative Region, and the rest of mainland Cagayan Valley and Central Luzon. 

PAGASA warned that flooding, rain-induced landslides, and sediment-laden streamflows or lahar may occur during heavy or prolonged rainfall especially in areas that are highly susceptible to these hazards. 

Very destructive typhoon-force winds will be experienced in areas under Signal No. 4.

Destructive typhoon-force winds may be felt in areas under Signal No. 3, damaging gale- to storm-force winds in areas under Signal No. 2, and strong breeze to near gale conditions in areas under Signal No. 1. 

Elsewhere, strong breeze to near gale conditions due to the northeasterlies will be experienced over Batanes, Babuyan Islands, Ilocos Norte, Apayao, and the coastal and mountainous areas of Cagayan and Isabela that are not under Signal No. 1.

In the next 24 hours, there is a high risk of storm surge of more than 3.0 meters (m) over the northern coastal areas of Quezon including Polillo Islands, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, and Catanduanes; up to 3.0 m over the coastal areas of Metro Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Bataan, the southeastern coastal area of Batangas (facing Tayabas Bay), and most of the southern coastal areas of Quezon; and up to 2.0 m over the coastal areas of Marinduque, Lubang Island, and Burias Island and the remaining coastal areas of Quezon, Camarines Sur, and Batangas.

This storm surge, which may be accompanied by swells and breaking waves reaching the coast can cause life-threatening and damaging coastal inundation.

Rough to “phenomenal” seas (2.5 to 16.0 m) will be experienced over the seaboard of areas where tropical cyclone warning signal is in effect and rough to very rough seas (2.5 to 5.0 m) over the remaining seaboards of Northern Luzon and the eastern seaboards of Eastern Visayas (that are not under tropical cyclone warning signals) and Caraga. 

Sea travel is risky for all types of sea vessels over these waters, especially those under storm warning signals.

Meanwhile, moderate to rough seas (1.2 to 2.5m) will be experienced over the remaining seaboards of the country. 

Mariners of small sea vessels were advised to take precautionary measures when venturing out to sea, while inexperienced mariners should avoid navigating in these conditions.

The tropical depression being monitored by PAGASA with international name “Atsani” could still enter the Philippine area of responsibility (PAR) on Sunday afternoon. It will be assigned its local name “Siony” once inside the PAR. 

It was estimated at 1,405 km east of Southern Luzon around 10 p.m. Saturday.

“Atsani” has maximum sustained winds of 55 kph near the center and gustiness of up to 70 kph, while moving northwest at 25 kph. It is likely to re-intensify into a tropical storm in the next 12 to 24 hours.

It remains less likely to affect any portion of the country over the next three days, but PAGASA advised the public to continue monitoring developments regarding this cyclone. 

A different Undas celebration this year

It is All Saints Day today,  November 1.

 It is a Christian solemnity celebrated in  honor  of all saints. It is shared by  all Christian churches – the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches,  Lutheran Churches, the Anglican Communion, the Methodist Church, the Philippine Independent Church  and other Protestant  Churches  around the world.

 Together with All Souls Day tomorrow,  November 2, it is  celebrated  in the Philippines as Undas. On this  and succeeding days,  Filipinos  visit the graves of their departed loved ones, offer flowers,  light candles,  and  pray.  It is one  of two days of the year – the other being Good Friday — when Filipinos in the cities traditionally return  enmasse  to their provinces to honor their  ancestors  in the old cemeteries.

 In Metro Manila,  all the cemeteries  are full of  residents  during  Undas  making their annual  visit to family graves. But not  this year.  This year, because of the COVID-19  pandemic, all cemeteries in Metro Manila have been closed by the local governments to avoid the usual massing of people. It  is such mass gatherings which have caused the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Since March, Metro Manila and other the whole of Luzon, and  other parts  of the country have been  locked down under various  levels of restriction.  Today,  seven and a half months later, Metro Manila and six other areas of the country have remained under  General  Community  Quarantine.  It has just been extended  to the end of November. It  may  yet  be extended again to December.

All over  the world, the pandemic continues to spread  today, with most countries  of Europe  and in the United States  now  suffering in a second wave. We have not suffered as much as  many  other  nations, largely because we imposed restrictions on mass gatherings  early   and we have been  more  compliant with personal restrictions  than most other people.

And  so  the nation observes  Undas  today without  the traditional mass visits to cemeteries.  We will observe it in our homes and in our hearts this year.

Manila, QC, Valenzuela LGU start evacuation of residents

The City of Manila, Quezon City and Valenzuela City local government units (LGUs) have started the evacuation of residents living in flood-prone areas Saturday evening, ahead of the anticipated heavy to intense rains that Typhoon Rolly is expected to bring over the National Capital Region on Sunday, after it makes its first landfall likely over Catanduanes.

As the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) raised Signal No. 2 over NCR at around 7 p.m., the LGUs of Manila, Quezon City and Valenzuela had already  brought many of their constituents to evacuation centers, particularly those living in low-lying or flood-prone areas.

Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian, in a Twitter post, said that an elderly man living “in a private property… five meters away from Tullahan River” had asked city officials to take him to the Valenzuela National High School in Barangay Marulas.

“Lolo asked to be moved to the evacuation center ahead of time,” he said, adding that several residents had already started arriving at there.

In Manila, street dwellers were brought to Rasac Shelter in Sta. Cruz, one of the rescue shelters of the city, to ensure their safety.

“Makakaasa po kayong pananatilihin natin ang kaligtasan ng mga kababayan nating homeless at street dwellers ngayong panahon ng kalamidad (Expect that we will ensure the safety of the homeless and the street dwellers during this time of calamity),” Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso said.

Meanwhile, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte on Saturday night visited the evacuation centers where residents of Apolonio Samson, Bagong Silangan, Doña Imelda, Mariblo, Roxas, Tatalon City had already been settled down for the night.

“Each evacuation area has its own child-friendly space, lactating area and first aid station,” a staff of the Quezon City LGU said.

(photos courtesy of: Mayor Rex Gatchalian, Mayor Isko Moreno and Quezon City LGU)

Movies for Halloween that won’t make you turn the lights off (we swear!)

Not in the mood for spine-tingling thrillers after all the real-world happenings? Check out these Halloween favorites that strike a balance between spooky and heartfelt, and learn a thing or two about family, friendship, and love. 

1. Monster House (2006)

You may freak out at the thought of seeing a living, breathing furious house a few blocks from your door, but three kids set out to enter and destroy the mysterious Nebercracker residence before Halloween strikes and harm trick-or-treaters. In the end, they uncovered the sad fate and hidden truth behind its monster walls.

You can watch this on Netflix.

2. Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Jack Skellington is the Halloweentown’s Grinch who plots to dethrone Santa Claus and take over Christmastown after getting fed up with his annual routine of scaring the real world and discovering the festive spirit. His plan, however, backfires as it creates confusion among his townspeople, causing major disaster that leads to his harm.  

The Tim Burton classic tells us to stay true to ourselves, because we all have our own purpose to serve. 

3. Coraline (2009)

Coraline Jones is just like every one of us—rebellious, adventurous, and can come off a bit feisty especially when our parents say no to our constant pleading. She gets more than what she bargained for as she discovers a parallel universe much like her own, with button-eyed Other Parents that are too good to be true. Soon, she finds out that everything is not what it seems. 

This masterpiece may be on the creepier side but it teaches the importance of valuing your parents (and the nags), or else…

Still from the movie Caroline (courtesy of Focus Features)

4. Spirited Away

This Studio Ghibli masterpiece revolves around a young girl named Chihiro who stumbled upon an abandoned amusement park with her parents, which later on transformed into pigs after finding out that the place is an alternate spirit world. Lost and alone, she made friends with a spirit called Haku, a dragon disguising as a human, and together set out on an adventure to free her parents.

This movie with colorful set of characters digs deep into the wonders of childhood and imagination.

This movie is also available on Netflix.

A life well-lived

THE VIEW FROM RIZAL

Dr. Jun Ynares
Dr. Jun Ynares

“In a span of seven and a half months, a good number of people close to us passed away.”

This is the gist of some of the saddest text and private messages we received over the past few months following the start of the quarantine season in March of this year.

Some of them died due to COVID-19. A good number of them were health workers – doctors, nurses, medical technologists and hospital staff. Others were prominent citizens and ordinary folks who, despite caution, were infected by the deadly virus.

There are those who passed away during the past eight months simply due to old age. It was as if they found the relative peace and quiet of the quarantine season a perfect time to bid this usually chaotic world a final good-bye.

The passing away of people we know and those who were close to us lead us to ask the question, “Have I been living my life well?”

Has my life been meaningful?

What is a meaningful life? What gives life “meaning”?

As we mark All Saints Day in the solace of our homes, we invite our readers to ponder these questions. To help them do that, we offer the example of the life of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, as a sterling Filipino model of the well-lived life.

Here are some of the highlights of Dr. Rizal’s life which made it a stand-out.

First, it was a life marked by continuous learning and the search for excellence.

Second, it was a life spent in the service of others.

Third, it was a life offered as a sacrifice for the fulfillment of the nation’s highest aspirations.

It will be recalled that Dr. Rizal was a scholar, an artist and a sportsman. The early part of his youth was spent on the search for knowledge and specialization in various fields – anthropology, ophthalmology, literature, journalism, agriculture, urban planning and development, languages, among others.

He was also a painter, a writer, a sculptor, a novelist, an essayist, and a playwright.

In the field of sports, much has been written about him as a having dabbled in martial arts, fencing, and marksmanship.

It appears his search for excellence had much to do with his effort to inspire his nation to rise above the mire of ignorance. He did not intend to be brilliant for the sake of being labeled a genius. In striving for intellectual, physical, and mental development, he was showing others that they, too, can be better and create for themselves a better life.

No doubt, Dr. Rizal belonged to a privileged class. He probably did not have to worry about sustenance. His family had enough resources which allowed him to pursue his passion and goals. He did not waste that privilege. He dedicated himself to the pursuit of a mission that benefited others.

His death added fuel to the raging desire of a nation to be free. When he died, he left behind a legacy emulated by several generations of Filipinos.

He lived a rather short life – three decades and three years. He must have achieved more than what others who died after living twice his lifetime had done in life.

Following the lesson of his life, it can be said that a life well-lived is a life lived for others, not just for one’s self.

Perhaps, that is the very lesson which the lives of Saints show us.

The way we now understand it, “saints” are ordinary human beings who strived to attain extraordinary holiness – not by their own strength but by learning to rely on the Grace of God.

They are “conquerors” – not that they conquered lands and built empires, but that they conquered the most common weakness of the human nature – selfishness.

Some of them did this by living the lives of a monastic or a contemplative – people who left the worldly life and went into a life of prayer and sacrifice in the confines of a convent or monastery.

Others achieved this by placing themselves at the service of the poor, the underprivileged and the oppressed.

We may not all be recognized as saints in this way.

There is, however, an opportunity for each of us to live similar lives – lives spent in the service of others.

That service need not be of the same historical significance as what Dr. Rizal or Mother Teresa did.

We can be saints serving in the everyday grind of our ordinary lives.

Having lives well-lived is not a privilege given to a few. It is an opportunity given to all of us.

May we have a truly meaningful celebration of this Day of Saints.

*For feedback, please email it to antipolocitygov@gmail.com or send it to #4 Horse Shoe Drive, Beverly Hills Subdivision, Bgy. Beverly Hills, Antipolo City, Rizal.

The only tragedy: not to be a saint

WORD ALIVE

FR. BEL SAN LUIS, SVD

Somebody quipped, “At his funeral, an atheist (non-believer in God) is all dressed up but with with nowhere to go.”

Part of the feast of the Commemoration of the Saints and of Souls is to remind us Christians where to go after death.

* * *

For us believers and Christ’s followers, our ultimate goal is to become a saint. When you tell that to somebody, chances are he or she will look at you oddly and say, “To be a saint? That’s not for me. I’m too worldly for that.”

* * *

But the truth is that our ultimate goal on earth is – and should be – to become a saint; in short, to be with God in heaven. If you don’t aspire for that goal, where will you go in the next life?

Someone said, “There are only two places in the next life – the smoking (Hell) and non-smoking (Heaven) area. Will you spend your eternity in the smoking or non-smoking area?”

* * *

Did you ever pause and ponder on that? And are you doing every means to achieve that goal?

The French novelist Leon Bloy very well put it: “The only tragedy in life is not to be a saint.”

* * *

          Becoming a saint does not mean imitating the extraordinary feats of the martyrs like St. Lorenzo Ruiz who bore torments, persecutions, and died for their faith. If you can do it, that would be a supreme act of faith.

But becoming a saint in our modern times means more of imitating people who stumbled and kept rising again morally and spiritually.

* * *

For instance, they may have committed mistakes in their marriage or religious life, but kept rising, learning from their mistakes, faithfully following God’s will again. Remember such saints like Matthew, the dishonest tax collector, sinful Mary Magdalene, the once depraved  Augustine, converted Francis of Assisi, former soldier Ignatius of Loyola, and countless others.

* * *

If such people had anything extraordinary about them, it is that they never stopped trying to be faithful to the Lord and his teachings in spite of their weaknesses and failures. They were ordinary people who lived extraordinary faith.

* * *

We can be saved and become saints if we repent, reform, and make reparation for our wrongdoings. As the saying goes: “If you’re headed in the wrong direction, God allows  U-turns.”

* * *

QUIPS TO PONDER. If you think you are indispensable, take a walk around the local cemetery or columbarium. Rich or poor, famous or infamous, all life leads to the grave.

* * *

You may party in Hell, but you will be the barbeque!

Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to MEET Him soonest.

* * *

Try Jesus.  If you don’t like Him, the devil will always take you back.

* * *

SEND AHEAD YOUR TREASURES. “Lay up treasures in Heaven where neither rust nor moth can consume,” Jesus says.

One way of doing this is helping our needy seminarians under our Adopt-A-Seminary scholarship program and sick indigents: Jhosel Cabcaban aged seven who needs brain treatment after a tricycle accident  and six-year-old leukemia patient Alison Genesis L.

* * *

For inquiry, e-mail me at: belsvd@gmail.com.

* * *

POPE’S FINANCIAL AID TO VICTIMS OF SHIPWRECK. Fr. Paulo H. Prigol, CS, chaplain/director of the Apostleship of the Sea, writes:

* * *

“Pope Francis, through the Dicastery for the Integral Human Development, has sent an economic contribution to all the families of the crew members of the ship M/V Gulf Livestock 1 (39 Filipinos, 2 Australians, and 2 New Zealanders), which sank in the Sea of Japan near the island of Amami Ōshima last 2 September, after experiencing a main engine failure while typhoon Maysak was raging. The boat was sailing from the port of Napier (New Zealand) to the port of Jingtang, Tangshan (China).

* * *

        “The financial aid, in cooperation with the Apostolic Nunciatures, and the Stella Maris of the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand, will be personally handed over to the families of the missing and the two survivors, together with a personal gift from Pope Francis.

* * *

        “This contribution is accompanied, from the very first days of the disaster, by spiritual, psychological, and personalized support offered to Filipino families.”

* * *

FAMILY TV MASS – is aired on TV5 Sports Channel 59,  Free TV Ch. 41 at 6-7 a.m.  Sunday and anytime at “MCFI SVD Media” Account on YouTube and Facebook Page. Priest presider: FR. BEL SAN LUIS, SVD.

The FAMILY that prays together stays together.

 

The Beatitudes

MATTHEW 5:1-12a

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up the mountain, and after He had sat down, His disciples came to Him. He began to teach them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you/ and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

Beatitudes: Our Christian identity card

Today, the Solemnity of All Saints, we proclaim the Beatitudes. Pope Francis gave us a lengthy commentary on the Beatitudes in his 2018 apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad). By imitating the saints we become saints ourselves; this is, in fact, the goal of our Christian life. For Pope Francis, “nothing is more enlightening than turning to Jesus’ words… The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card… In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives” (GE, 63).

Let us draw helpful insights from Francis’ reflection on the first four Beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. “Wealth ensures nothing. Indeed, once we think we are rich, we can become so self-satisfied that we leave no room for God’s Word, for the love of our brothers and sisters… That is why Jesus calls blessed those who are poor in spirit, those who have a poor heart, for there the Lord can enter… Being poor of heart: that is holiness” (GE, 68, 70).

Blessed are the meek. Pope Francis asks us to follow St. Thérèse of Lisieux who asserts that “perfect charity consists in putting up with others’ mistakes, and not being scandalized by their faults… Reacting with meekness and humility: that is holiness” (GE, 72, 74).

Blessed are those who mourn. “The world tells us exactly the opposite: entertainment, pleasure, diversion and escape make for the good life… But the cross can never be absent… Knowing how to mourn with others: that is holiness” (GE 75, 76).

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. “True justice comes about in people’s lives when they themselves are just… Hungering and thirsting for righteousness: that is holiness”

SOURCE: “366 Days with the Lord 2020,” ST. PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 632-895-9701; Fax 632-895-7328; E-mail: publishing@stpauls.ph; Website: http://www.stpauls.ph.

Can you measure happiness?

THROUGH UNTRUE

Fr. Rolando V. dela Rosa, O.P.

Last March, the World Happiness Report of 2020 ranked 156 countries according to how happy their citizens are. For three years now, Finland has been consistently at the top of the list because of its high GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita, sustainable economic development, ecological balance, strong social security, excellent healthcare system, free education, press freedom, gender equality, and trustworthiness of social, cultural, and political institutions.

Surprisingly, Finland is also among the countries with the highest suicide rate. Many of its citizens struggle with depression, anxiety, and alcoholism. Perhaps, the set of criteria used in the World Happiness Report does not accurately measure happiness.

Several years ago, Bhutan was considered as the happiest country in the world. But instead of measuring the happiness of its citizens solely in terms of health, education, culture, good governance, ecology, living standards, and GDP, Bhutan focused on determining its GNH (Gross National Happiness) by asking its citizens in a nationwide survey: Do you meditate? How frequently do you pray?How much time to you devote to your family and community? How many hours do you spend working? How often to you quarrel with your family members? How long do you stay away from them? Do you trust your neighbors? The people of Bhutan believe that happiness depends more on spiritual and relational values that transcend material prosperity and security.

Following the example of Bhutan, the government of Delhi, India, had decided to include a “Happiness curriculum” in basic education for children from grades one to eight. Since July, 2018, their curriculum has focused on helping students develop simplicity, mindfulness, love for prayer, generosity, kindness and benevolence, as well as virtues that enhance a good relationship with the self, the family, society, nature, and a transcendent being or God.These are considered the most important factors to attain happiness.

Yale University has also introduced a course on happiness, emphasizing similar elements, and when they offered it online, around 600,000 people signed up.

            A reality check though. Just as we cannot prolong happiness, we are also incapable of measuring happiness. Nobody has yet invented a happy mometer that can accurately determine the extent, depth, intensity, breadth, and duration of someone’s happiness. The people of an industrialized country may act as though they have no financial and health problems, and people in poor countries may always be smiling and laughing — but are these sure indications of happiness? Appearances are deceptive.

Maybe what we need to measure is not happiness, but how prepared we are for it. The important question is not “How happy are we?” but rather “Are we disposing ourselves for happiness?”

Happiness has become quite elusive today because we think of it as an end-product, a result of what we do. Happiness, in short, is something that we desire from afar. And because we think of it as something forthcoming, we become unresponsive to it the moment it is at hand. We work hard to be happy, only to discover that we have lost our capacity to enjoy it when it is there.

Many people in Finland, considered as the happiest country in the world, remain unhappy even if they have what it takes to be happy. Meanwhile, the people of Bhutan, a country ranked this year as only 95th in the list because of its low GDP, consider themselves happy despite their lack of material wealth.

Perhaps, without their knowing it, the people of Bhutan practice the lesson taught in today’s gospel reading about the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). They dispose themselves to a blissful existence by discarding the idea that life is a road stretching towards a shining goal called perfect bliss. They believe that happiness is not something that will happen to them in the future. They make it happen NOW by deciding to be happy no matter what the circumstances of their life are.

Mixed emotions for injured Bolick, CBC outside the bubble

Northport’s Robert Bolick drives past Columbian’s CJ Perez during the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at Smart Araneta Coliseum, July 3, 2019 (MB File Photo)

NorthPort’s Robert Bolick and Blackwater’s Carl Bryan Cruz admitted feeling mixed emotions with their absence in the PBA bubble.

Bolick (ACL) and Cruz (torn meniscus) have spent their quarantine days recovering from injuries they suffered during the 2019 season.

Both players heeded the advice of their respective orthopedic surgeons to opt out of the postponed Philippine Cup.

Speaking to One Sports’ Sports Page aired Wednesday, Bolick said he wasn’t in top condition to grind it out with his fellow professional basketball players.

“I’m fit to play. I can play. Kasi [halos] mag-one year na rin ako[ng] [injured],” said Bolick, who also missed the latter parts of the 2019 season.

“[But] I have to play against — ‘di naman ‘to college o high school — these guys are pro players.”

Feeling helpless — physically — Bolick and Cruz are on a mission to cheer for their teammates at all times. But behind that support comes a jealous feeling due to the longingness for the love of the game.

Carl Bryan Cruz (PBA Images)

“Of course, number one nakakainggit talaga e,” said Cruz, who continues to undergo therapy due to knee surgery to repair his torn meniscus.

“Syempre gusto mo rin talaga makasama doon. Gusto mong makapag-perform. Number two, gusto mo talaga matulungan sila.”

Bolick, who was also sidelined from the bubble, echoed Cruz’s sentiments.

“Sa isip-isip ko medyo badtrip,” said the 25-year-old Bolick. “Sabi nga ni Carl, kayang kaya tulungan ‘yung team in such a way, kahit ano man.”

“This happens for a reason so accept lang namin. For sure, by next year we’re completely healed.”

After the bubble season, Bolick and Cruz are eyeing a solid comeback with most injured players expected to return as well.

Aside from Bolick and Cruz, San Miguel center June Mar Fajardo (shin) and guard Terrence Romeo (shoulder) were also out of the bubble.

The UN at 75; remembering the UN secretaries general

PEACE-MAKER

Jose de Venecia Jr.
Former Speaker of the House

The United Nations celebrates its 75th founding anniversary this year in the midst of the raging coronavirus plague, which has infected more than 40 million people and claimed more than one million human lives worldwide, devastated the global economy, and rendered more than 200 million individuals jobless throughout the world.

In the face of the deadly virus which transcends national, regional, and even hemispheric boundaries, there is truly a greater need for dialogue, solidarity, and cooperation among countries, as no nation can solely face, and conquer, this global health emergency.

We have spent these last two decades bringing together Asia’s political groupings into the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP); and our national legislatures into the Asian Parliamentary Assembly (APA), both of which have grown rapidly into advanced organizations, worthy of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

We have discovered that the human impulse toward unity is so strong that, in both cases, we have succeeded beyond our expectations.

ICAPP has on its membership some 350 ruling, opposition, and independent political parties in 52 countries in Asia and has working cooperation with the political parties of Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe.

APA now has 40 member-parliaments. It was earlier called the Association of Asian Parliaments for Peace (AAPP), until we proposed in Islamabad in December, 2006 its conversion from AAPP to become the Asian Parliamentary Assembly (APA), in hopes it can be a forerunner of an eventual Asian Parliament like the European Parliament or African Parliament.

As speaker of the House of Representatives and in the course of our foray in parliamentary and political party diplomacy, we had the privilege of meeting several UN secretaries-general, namely U Thant, Javier Perez de Cuellar, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Kofi Anan, and Ban Ki-moon, all men of peace.

Much earlier, as a 29-year-old economic minister and press counsellor at the Philippine Embassy in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh) from 1966 to 1969, during the Vietnam War, we had chance of meeting then UN Secretary General U Thant of Burma (now Myanmar).

U Thant was credited with helping resolve the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 when the nuclear powers, the US and Soviet Union, were on the brink of a collision course, which placed the world under the threat of a nuclear inferno. He served as UN chief for ten years, from 1961 to 1971, following the death of his predecessor Dag Mammarskjold in a plane crash.

Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru, whom we met when we were acting chairman of the foreign relations committee of the House of Representatives in the Eighth Congress, was a skilful negotiator and peacemaker, whose two-term stint as UN secretary general, from 1982 to 1986 and from 1987 to 1991, coincided with some of the most tumultuous events in the second half of the 20th century, among them the Cold War. He played a crucial role in ending the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted eight years, from 1980 to 1988, as well as in the signing of the Cambodian peace accord, which ended the conflict and bloodshed in the country.

As speaker of the House of Representatives, we had the privilege of conferring with at the UN headquarters in New York with then UN Secretaries General Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, Kofi Annan of Ghana, and Ban Ki-moon of South Korea.

It was during the time of Kofi Anan, a 2001 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, when we in the Philippines succeeded in establishing an Interfaith Dialogue in the UN in 2005, as a way of helping resolve politico-religious conflicts, strengthening the religious moderates, and isolating those who advocate terrorism and violent extremism in the name of religion.

The Interfaith Dialogue was a major victory for the Philippines in international diplomacy and our country’s contribution in advancing the cause of global peace. Since then, not only the United Nations and individual governments, but also civil society groupings, have been holding these dialogues at local, national, regional and international levels.

We met with Ban Ki-moon when he was UN secretary general and, later, chairman of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), following his retirement from the UN. In our capacity as founding chairman of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) and co-chairman of the International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace (IAPP), we had the privilege of sharing the stage with him at various international conferences. As UN secretary general, he graciously accepted our invitation to speak several times at our ICAPP and IAPP conferences. On his invitation, we addressed the Global Green Growth Institute’s meeting in Seoul in October, 2018. Among Ban Ki-moon’s remarkable international initiatives was the historic 2015 Paris Agreement, which elevated the battle against climate change to the forefront of the global agenda.

Minding the orphan-age (aka an Undas reverie): Our new abnormal (XX)

HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRIPE-VINE

Philip Cu Unjieng

I’ve been an orphan since September 2013, the year my father passed away. My mother left us in July of 1996. My Dad was 83 when he succumbed to various old age ailments; but especially painful to this day, is that my Mom was only 62 when cancer struck her down. So you’ll have to cut me some slack when I see posts of friends celebrating the 90+ birthdays of any one of their parents. It’s never too soon to be an orphan, and I’ll always feel a twinge of envy and regret.

With the COVID Community Quarantine still in place, this year’s Undas will definitely be very different for most of us. So I guess today’s column is written as an homage (back-handed though it may be) to my parents, to help my three sons know a little bit more about them – and to commit to writing what’s often been relayed to them verbally, during our family dinners. Both my parents characters in their own right, ripe with individual idiosyncrasies and traits that you either loved or cringed at, but you never forgot them. It’s also a reflection on how they would have coped with this most unusual pandemic year.

Remembering my father and my mom this weekend; Ricardo & Helen Cu-Unjieng.

My mother Helen was a hoarder! She was the original “I buy in BULK,” and my exposure to this kind of behavior from an early age, made me believe it was very normal. After she passed away, up in the bodega, we found big cartons of Ivory, Irish Spring, Pears, and Aveeno-Bar soaps. She was one of those “ready for a rainy day” shopper, loving to haggle with supermarket managers for a wholesale price based on her bulk buys. She’d even get chest freezers for the house, as she had the same attitude when purchasing food provisions.

When my Mom would join my father and play a round of golf, she would tape up her whole face with white surgical tape, wear the biggest pair of sunglasses, and play with a wide-brim hat. She was a believer in protecting one’s skin, and scared to death of sun damage and freckles. We would call her The Mummy as she’d leave the house with golf clubs in tow. Even a day at the beach would find her staying under the shade until her “healthy sun” hour of 4:30 p.m.

When Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991, she was the first wearing a face mask, anticipating the ash fall that reached Metro Manila. So yes, strange as it may seem to say it, she was “wired” for this pandemic, and would have been in her element. The household would have been fully stocked, face mask and shields would have been her just thinking she was out to play golf, and given her propensity to self-medicate, she’d even have concocted some regimen of pills and homeopathic cures to keep the virus at bay.

My father Ricardo loved his golf, playing up to four times in week. But funny enough (and the people who played with him, will attest to this), he also loved playing like he didn’t want to be playing. It was like he was playing his own version of Speed Golf, even when in a foursome. He’d hit his ball and zoom off in his golf cart, more than ready to tee off from the next hole, while we would still be putting on the previous hole. Privately, I nicknamed him Road Runner, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if I heard a “Beep Beep,” as he’d leave the wind behind him. And if there was a slow foursome ahead of us, he’d fume and complain, and skip holes to the chagrin of whoever were playing with him. And it’s not like he had anything to rush home for.

After my Mom passed away, he would maintain a relationship with my sons by periodically inviting them out for dinner. But even they had to laugh and rue the days they’d say yes, as if he’d call to say dinner was say, 6:30 p.m. (he liked to eat early, and be home by 8); by 5:45, he’d be outside the gate, having the driver impatiently blow the car horn. I’d remember back to the days when my brother and sisters were still single, and we’d head to Sunday Mass, and if anyone was late when my father was ready, he’d just drive off, and my Mom and I would have to follow in a separate car. Looking back, we all agreed his restlessness, being incapable of waiting his turn, could have been a mild, undiagnosed case of AD/HD (Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder).

And then there was Ricardo’s unique Christmas season. First off, he would mail Christmas greeting cards to his friends abroad in July. I kid you not! I can’t begin to count how many of these friends would reminisce about him by saying how every year, without fail, he would always be the first greeting them a Merry Christmas. I don’t know if he had some deep mistrust of the global Postal Service, or would just get antsy sitting at home.

Plus he couldn’t wait for the season of weekend community fairs and markets to commence – this was where he’d buy most of his Christmas gifts. And you can say “how cute,” and how he would have been supporting the ArteFino and MaArte’s of today. But if these weekend events would open at 10 a.m., he’d be there by 9:20 and insist on making his purchases, and leaving, by 9:50. Friends of mine who had booths would comment about how they appreciated my father buying their wares, but how he’d disturb their setting up, or insist on his change being handed to him before the event even officially opened. If he were still alive today, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d be the very first “Banned from ArteFino,” with his photo pasted by the gate so the security guards would know he wasn’t a vendor, and not to let him in before 10.

So this is my 7th year as an orphan; and in most orphanages, that could still be categorized as a “possible candidate for adoption.” On the long end of the stick, but not as bad as those orphan adolescents who linger beyond their shelf life, and end up in the orphanage “freezer.” I’ll even don a wig of red curls, respond to the name Annie, and belt out the lyrics of Tomorrow, if you’ll adopt me. Hmmm, that should have been my Halloween costume last night – and I’d have surely won any “Most Frightful and Inappropriate” competition.

Hope the above brought a little smile to your faces. Have a reflective and hopeful Undas.

Things you probably didn’t know about Sean Connery

Remembering cinema’s most iconic Scottish gentleman

After rumors about his demise spread in some corners of the internet earlier this week, it has now been confirmed that Sir Sean Connery has died at the age of 90. 

In honor of one of the most iconic actors to have ever graced the big screen, we list some facts about the late gentleman that most people probably never knew. 

He was the first actor to have ever brought James Bond to life on the big screen. Ok, this is probably something many people know about Connery, but it’s still worth mentioning. The Scottish actor appeared in seven of Ian Flemming’s spy thrillers from 1962 to 1971, and then again in 1983. 

One of his first major breaks in film was in a Disney movie. In 1959, Connery appeared in Darby O’Gill and the Little People, a story about an Irishman and his quest to beat leprechauns. Well, it was not exactly like the Disney movies of today, but it nevertheless was a Walt Disney Productions film. 

Connery as James Bond in the 1971 film Diamonds Are Forever

The last time he played James Bond was for a video game. A little over 20 years after he last appeared in a James Bond film, Connery reprised his most iconic role for an Electronic Arts adaptation of From Russia with Love. The 2005 video game James Bond 007: From Russia with Love featured Connery’s voice recorded by Terry Manning from his home in the Bahamas. 

He appeared in two Hitchcock films. It’s always amazing to realize how some of the best names in film have, in one way or another, have worked together. In the case of Connery, he had a chance to be in two of the legendary English director, screenwriter, and producer Alfred Hitchcock’s films: Marnie in 1964 and The Hill in 1965. 

Connery in Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964)

He was offered two very iconic roles, both of which he turned down. If you are an actor of his caliber, for sure it’s easy to refuse certain roles. But Connery’s reasons for turning down the role of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings series by Peter Jackson and the Architect in The Matrix seem simple enough. He supposedly refused the roles because he found it difficult to understand the script. 

He only has one Oscar. Don’t get us wrong, Connery received a number of awards throughout his long acting career, including a number of BAFTAs and Golden Globes and even an MTV Movie Award for his role in The Rock (1996). But his only Oscar was, surprisingly, for Best Supporting Actor for the film The Untouchables (1987). It was also the only Best Supporting Award he ever received. 

At the 1988 Academy Awards

He has a bronze bust in Estonia. That’s very far from Scotland or his retirement home in the Bahamas, sure. But in 2010, a bust sculpture of Connery made in bronze was put up in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, outside the Tallinn Scottish Club.

Armenia PM asks Putin to start talks on providing security amid Karabakh war

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Saturday asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to begin “urgent” consultations on providing security amid a conflict with Azerbaijan after fresh talks failed to agree a ceasefire.

In this file photo taken on November 10, 2018, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (R) and wife Anna Hakobyan (L) arrive at the official dinner on the eve of the international ceremony for the Centenary of the WWI Armistice of 11 November 1918 at the Orsay Museum, in Paris, France. (Photo by Ian LANGSDON / POOL / AFP)

Pasninyan sent the letter to Putin after Armenia and Azerbaijan failed to agree a fresh ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during talks in Geneva on Friday and as fighting continued overnight and Saturday morning.

The announcement, released by the Armenian foreign ministry, raised fears of an escalation in fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Some observers are concerned it risks sucking Yerevan’s ally Russia and Turkey, which backs Baku, into the conflict.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been engaged in fierce fighting for more than a month over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan controlled by Armenian separatists in the wake of the break-up of the Soviet Union.

The flare-up of the conflict has left more than a thousand dead, with world powers so far unable to persuade either side to stop fighting. 

Russia has a military base in Armenia and has a defence treaty with Yerevan.

“The prime minister of Armenia has asked the Russian president to begin urgent consultations with the aim of determining the kind and amount of aid which the Russian Federation can provide Armenia to ensure its security,” the foreign ministry in Yerevan said in a statement. 

Russia has previously said that its defence pact with Armenia does not extend to the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

But Pashinyan in his letter to Putin said that hostilities were getting closer to Armenia’s borders and reiterated that Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey was backing Baku, according to the statement.

He requested Moscow’s help, invoking the two countries’ close ties and a 1997 treaty on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance.

– ‘Closer to wider war?’ –

Armenian officials did not provide further details when reached by AFP.

“One step closer to a wider war?,” tweeted Carey Cavanaugh, a former US ambassador and co-chair of the OSCE Minsk group.

Armenian political analyst Hakob Badalyan told AFP that he did not rule out that Pashinyan’s plea for help was “for now a political step to stress Russia’s role in this region”.

Hikmet Hajiyev, an aide to the Azerbaijani president, told AFP Baku would not comment.

On Friday, mediators from France, Russia and the US said in a statement from Geneva that the warring sides had committed to “not deliberately target civilian populations or non-military objects in accordance with international humanitarian law”.

But the defence ministry of the Karabakh separatist leadership on Saturday accused Azerbaijan of violating the Geneva agreements and targeting the main city Stepanakert and the strategically important town of Shusha.

The ministry said there were “wounded among civilians” in Shusha. Baku denied targeting the Karabakh main city.

Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked in a bitter conflict over Karabakh since Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized control of the mountainous province in a 1990s war that left 30,000 people dead.

The current clashes broke out on September 27 and fighting has persisted despite the repeated international attempts to secure a ceasefire.

The warring sides have three times agreed to ceasefires during recent talks mediated by Russia, France and the United States but the truces have all quickly fallen apart.

More than 1,200 people from both sides have been reported dead since the fighting began, but the actual death toll is believed to be substantially higher.

Digital payments — stepping stones to the next normal

BETTER DAYS

Senator Sonny Angara

The Next Normal will no doubt require a radical rethinking of how we approach interactions services, including how we make and receive payments. Digital payment systems offer the best approach for streamlining financial transactions, and will make it easier for us to keep a safe distance from others.

In the World Bank’s 2020 Philippines Digital Economy Report, we ranked 36th out of 100 emerging startup ecosystems, thanks to our market reach, talent, experience, and vibrant financial tech and e-commerce sub sectors. As of July this year, we already had 103 payment system operators registered with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), and we are already using instruments such as credit transfers and card payments online.

However, we will have to institute some major changes for us to fully take advantage of the benefits of integrated online financial services. Even as we seem to be using digital payments more these days, it’s estimated that only 1% of 2.5 billion payment transactions a month are done online— and this is already considering that there has been a 27% to 30% overall growth in digital payments.

One major issue is that relatively few Filipinos own bank accounts. According to the BSP, about 37% of cities and municipalities in the country do not have banking offices, and that 81.3% of households in Metro Manila have not a single bank account among its family members. Without a home account, it will be difficult to use online financial tools and services.

Our lack of a National ID is another factor, as a unified ID system  will make it easier for banks to confirm and authenticate financial transactions and fulfill their KYC (“Know Your Customer”) requirements. Thankfully, registrations are now underway for the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys).

Membership of banks and our financial institutions in payment networks like InstaPay and PESONet should also be encouraged.  More people also have to be made aware of and know how to use digital payment systems. Payment instruments are also limited for now to batch payments and low-value credit transfers. Regulations and guidelines for privacy and security concerns should also be formulated, to minimize fraud and other crimes.

Finally, there is the large elephant in the room – our problems with connectivity, owing to our  inadequate IT and telecommunications infrastructure. For digital payments to really take off, we have to make sure that we can handle the bandwidth. Filipino consumers only experience about 16.76 Mbps download speeds, much lower than the global average of 32.01 Mbps. Regionally, 3G and 4G download speeds are at 13.26 Mbps, while the Philippines is only at 7.

These concerns are part of why I filed SB 1764, the Use of Digital Payments Act of 2020. The measure seeks to put into law the following: account-based digital disbursements for government offices, such as those for distribution of emergency funds and other similar payments to recipients; adoption of digital payment systems, like QR codes; guidelines for payment system providers, including accreditation and authorization based on RA 11127, the National Payments Act; interoperability among all digital payment systems and providers; and that local government units should incentivize the shift to digital payment systems, particularly local business entities. The expansion and improvement of the country’s telecommunication infrastructure is also addressed in the measure, by defining which departments have to work with each other to give Filipinos faster speeds and larger bandwidth.

The private sector can also help with improving digital payment systems. For instance, ING Bank and UNICEF have launched an initiative, “Fintech for Impact,” where they chose to invest in and provide mentorship to five businesses with digital solutions aiming to empower the youth and families. These include Agrabah, which connects farmers and fisherfolk directly with buyers and financial services; BeamAndGo, a remittance platform; Educ4All, which connects students to loan services, and will offer courses on financial management; Reach52, which is expanding their apps set to provide microinsurance, healthcare services, and livelihood opportunities for women; and Saphron, which will provide microinsurance agents with tools to collect accurate data with a new AI-enabled platform.

Digital payments systems are building blocks for upgrading the economy. They can maximize production and efficiency through cashless and integrated transactions. They will keep our country globally competitive in the era to come. Most urgently, they can keep us safe, making it easier to enforce COVID-19 health guidelines during quarantine.

E-mail: sensonnyangara@yahoo.com| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara

Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 16 years — 9 years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 7 as senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws.  He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.

Bicycle lanes in PH will now be mandatory

NIGHT OWL

Anna Mae Y. Lamentillo

In 2011, the Asian Development Bank examined walkability and pedestrian facilities in Asian cities. It showed that in Manila, like Hanoi, a sizeable number of the trips could be made by foot and bicycle because the average distance traveled per trip is low.  Data from the Metro Manila Urban Transport Integration Study showed that nearly 35% of destinations are within a 15-minute walk or bicycle trip, but the majority of short trips are made by paratransit (jeepneys and tricycles) and cars.

This was largely due to the fact that there was not much political support or policy or infrastructure that would address the needs of cyclists and pedestrians. It was almost impossible — and to a certain extent unsafe — to walk or cycle along national highways.

Fortunately, the vision for Philippine infrastructure is about to change.

With the issuance of DPWH Secretary Mark Villar of Department Order 88, all projects that involve new road and bridge construction shall include in its design the provision of bicycle facilities, if feasible.

This would mean that projects like the 6.94-km Laguna Lake Expressway, would now be the rule rather than the exemption. Three-meter-wide protected bicycle lanes will soon be a common site rather than a unique feature of the toll-free expressway connecting Bicutan to Taytay.

Since 2016, DPWH has been working on incorporating pedestrian infrastructure in public roads in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. But the issuance of this new policy hopes to institutionalize the creation of pedestrian infrastructure.

For instance, the Cagayan de Oro (CDO) Coastal Road, Davao City Coastal Road, Leyte Tide Embankment Project, Pasig Marikina Flood Control Project, Tagaytay Bypass Road, and Boracay Circumferential Road, are built with bicycle lanes.

This has been a trend for many progressive cities around the world. In fact, since 2007, Boston has built more than 144 kilometers of bicycle lanes. In Denmark, they constructed a “cycle superhighway” — a “coherent network of cycle highways” spanning over 20 cities and municipalities. In Amsterdam, museum enthusiasts can cycle through the Rijksmuseum, a 19th century museum famous for Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

Bicycle Facility Classifications

Under DO 88, bicycle facilities will be classified into three classes depending on the prevailing road and traffic conditions: Class I or the Shared Use Bike Path, Class 2 or the Separated Bike Lane, and Class 3 which is the Shared Roadway.

In Class I, a designated path, completely separated from the roadway, will be identified for the exclusive use of bicycles or shared with pedestrians. In Class 2, a portion of roadway which is designated for exclusive use will be distinguished by a paint strip, curb, or barrier. In Class 3, where limited carriageway width poses a problem, a part of the roadway that has been officially designated and marked as bicycle route may also be used by motor vehicles.

Soon, Philippines would be cycling country.

Villar: Register household staff of PH diplomats with POEA, OWWA

Sen. Cynthia Villar urged the Department of Foreign Affairs Saturday to register all the household staff members of Filipino diplomats with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) to ensure their protection.

Sen. Cynthia Villar (Senate of the Philippines / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Villar made the appeal after Philippine Ambassador to Brazil Marichu Mauro was caught maltreating a household staff in her diplomatic residence on various occasions.

She said her office checked with the POEA and OWWA and found out that neither of the two agencies have any record of the employment of Mauro’s domestic worker.

“Since our laws have clearly given the task of regulating overseas employment to the POEA and the care for the welfare of OFWs to OWWA, then this should also fairly apply to workers brought by ambassadors and other foreign service personnel to work in their residences abroad,” Villar said.

Villar believed there is no need for a law to institutionalize such a process since there are no private recruitment agencies involved and the employers and workers are both Filipinos.

“Under POEA rules, diplomats are allowed to directly hire domestic workers, but their contracts still need to be registered with the POEA. Why was this not followed in the case of Ambassador Mauro? Or is this being followed at all?”

“Perhaps, such acts of physical maltreatment and intimidation can be prevented with the participation of the POEA and OWWA in the hiring and deployment process to ensure a more transparent, professional, and welfare-driven approach in the treatment of domestic workers under the domicile of Philippine diplomats.”

Villar urged the DFA to meet the Department of Labor and Employment to discuss mechanisms to protect domestic workers brought by Philippine envoys abroad.

She said that household workers of ambassadors should also be entitled to the benefits enjoyed by other overseas domestic workers hired by foreign employers, such as scholarship benefits for their dependents; insurance and livelihood assistance, as well as the mandatory pre-departure orientation seminars to improve their knowledge about workers’ rights.

The DFA recalled Mauro after her maltreatment of her household staff was reported over Brazilian news outlet GloboNews last Sunday.

Last Thursday, President Duterte gave the go-signal to investigate Mauro.

“This paves the way for an immediate, impartial investigation into the matter. I hope that the DFA will be very thorough in its investigation and even consider sending a team to Brazil to gather all the necessary evidence and testimonies needed to resolve this case,” Villar said.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said he spoke with the kin of the Filipina worker. He was told that household worker used to work for Mauro’s mother before she was brought by the ambassador to Brazil.

Zubiri said the housemaid was “very willing” to execute an affidavit to authorities about the abuses she allegedly suffered while working for Mauro.

Separation of powers not applicable when corruption is involved – Go

The principle of separation of powers between the Executive branch and the Legislature is not applicable when corruption is involved, Sen. Christopher ‘’Bong’’ Go stressed during a DWIZ radio interview on the current probe by a Malacanang-created Mega Task Force on those involved in graft cases in government.

Sen. Bong Go
(Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

‘’Karapatan ng mamamayan malaman sino ang corrupt. Kawawa ang taumbayan kung di matapos ang korapsyon. Kung meron pong katotoohanan dapat malaman ng taumbayan kung sino po ang mga lawmakers na involved,’’ Go said.

(It is the right of the people to know who is corrupt. The people will be at the losing end when corruption is not eradicated. It is the people’s right to know if there are lawmakers involved)

 The issue of corruption cropped up in recent congressional investigations such as the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.  (PHilHealth) and Bureau of Immigration (BI).

The alleged involvement of lawmakers at DPWH followed a description by Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson, an anti-pork barrel advocate, of some lawmakers who are on the take.

Lacson said contractors label as ‘’gentlemen’’ lawmakers who are content in receiving 10 percent from public works projects that form part of lawmakers’ pork barrel allocations.  But those who demand more, sometimes reaching 30 percent, the description is ‘’unprintable.’’

 About P400 billion worth of lump sum  appropriations are embedded in the P666-billion budget of the DPWH for 2021.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon and Lacson had pointed out that lump sum appropriations are unconstitutional. Lump sum appropriations are deemed ‘’pork barrel.’’

But House of Representatives Speaker Lord Allan Velasco assured the Senate that the House-approved version of the proposed 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB or national budget) is pork barrel-free.

Go, chairman of the Senate health and demography committee, said it was he who strongly suggested to President Duterte to form a Mega Task Force that would undertake a government-wide probe on corruption following the alleged multi-billion-peso loss at PhilHealth because of alleged corruption.

‘’Dapat po talagang ikulong at totohanin sabi ng Pangulo yayariin namin kayo talagang yayariin kayo, marami na pong nasuspinde sa PhilHealth,’’ he said.

 (The President is serious in putting behind bars those found liable of graft cases. Many have already been suspended at PhilHealth).

“Nagresign pero you are not yet off the hook, di kami papayag na ni piso may mawawala sa kaban ng bayan, itong mga remittances ng OFW hirap na nga magbayad pinagpawisan nila ito tapos mababalitaan nila mananakaw di kataggap tanggap ‘yan, yayariin namin kayo,’’ he added.

(Resignation does not mean you are off the hook. We won’t allow you to go scot-free even if the loss of a taxpayer’s money involves only P1. Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) sent their PhilHealth contributions from their hard earned money and they would learn that their contributions are being stolen through corrupt practices. That is not acceptable. We will hunt you)  

Go said that the President was hurting upon learning that billions of pesos had changed hands at the Immigration bureau were foreigners, mostly Chinese, were allowed to come into the country through illegal means. 

The government-wide investigation is not selective, Go said.

 ‘’Wala po walang sasantuhin kaya nung nabalitaan ni Pangulo na meron din sa DA, Customs, sa DPWH, talagang exasperated na ang Pangulo kaya sabi ko bakit di natin gawin mega task force. Ngayon pinirmahan na niya po until June 30, 2022 until the last day of his term,’’ he added.

(No one will be spared. The President was exasperated upon learning that there are also cases of corruption at the Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Customs, and Department of Public Works and Highways. That was why I suggested that he create the Mega Task Force. The President signed the order. Investigations will be done until the last day of his term)

‘’Tuloy tuloy po ito, walang pipiliin, walang sasantuhin, kasuhan ang dapat kasuhan, putulin ang dapat putulin, patayin ang lahat ng kalokohan, We will not hesitate in our pursuit po to eradicate corruption,’’ he said.

(The probe will go on. No one will be spared. Those liable must face the music. This madness must be stopped)

In the face of crises, leaders provide ways forward —Robredo

Vice President Leni Robredo underscored the need for a leadership that is able to “pull everyone together towards a single direction” in addressing a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vice President Leni Robredo (FEDERICO CRUZ / MANILA BULLETIN)
Vice President Leni Robredo (FEDERICO CRUZ / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

Robredo, during the webinar launch by the University of the Philippines (UP) National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG) on Oct. 30, spoke about the kind of leadership that is needed especially during emergencies, and about what will it take to provide a more “harmonious” response with the help of other sectors.

“A crisis of this magnitude calls for a massive, strategic response, and this can only be achieved by leadership that is able to pull everyone together toward a single direction,” Robredo said.

Robredo noted that if stakeholders—such as those coming from government, the private sector, and the general public who serve as the “first line of defense” in preventing the spread of the disease—are given a concrete horizon that they can work toward, “then it will be much easier for everyone to buy in.”  

Policies, Robredo said, can be implemented and actively supported by the public, thus keeping social anxiety at bay. “In other words, we need goals, and a plan to achieve those goals,” she explained. “It is unfortunate that such goals, such plans, have been in short supply, even with very good and reliable people spearheading the efforts,” she added. 

Robredo lamented despite months of response, “there are times that we get the feeling that there is no central coordinated approach with a clear set of priorities.” For instance, she noted that there were “missed chances” for preventive measures.

At a time when all hands needed to be on deck, Robredo noted that “national priorities went elsewhere” and “unfortunately, the government has responded with hostility or further distractions to criticisms and suggestions.” 

Robredo noted that the the COVID-29 pandemic “should not be approached as a public relations exercise, but a once-in-a-century problem that needs to be urgently solved.” But, sadly, the national approach “has been centered on debates that fail to take bigger goals into account; worse, it has fallen back on an either-or mindset that misappreciated the interconnectedness of things.” 

During the past months, Robredo said that the people were presented with binaries—lockdown or no lockdown; economy or health; public safety or human rights. She believes, however, that all of these are components of what should be an ultimate goal of a safer, “more compassionate and a better normal” for all.  

Robredo also underscored the importance of response based on data. “During times of crisis, having a clear and informed direction takes on life-or-death importance, and such a direction can only begin with data,” she said.

While the data, at this point, might still have noticeable gaps, Robredo believes that these can already be used to make informed decisions. “What needs to be done is to make sense of the data available from a policy lens, come up with clear and strategic action points, and implement them,” she added.

When the response is data-driven, Robredo said that the orientation “ultimately signals a relentless bias towards the truth” which, in turn, builds trust.

Robredo also noted that if data guides decisions and trust allows widens the circles of action, then “empathy and compassion drive and sustain us.” 

With the critical role of leadership highlighted in crisis situations like this pandemic, Robredo shared the importance of having leaders who do “not shy away from doing the hard work” and those who are ready to make urgent decisions based on actual situations.

“Ultimately, and especially in the face of crises, leaders provide ways forward: A clear direction emanating from the best available data; strong, transparent partnerships built on trust that pull everyone together towards a solution; and above all, empathy and compassion, driven by the principle that the vulnerability of the least among us redounds to the vulnerability of all,” Robredo ended.