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Emergency Committee on COVID-19 advises on variants, vaccines

January 16, 2021

THE COVID-19 pandemic continues to constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), according to the WHO Emergency Committee (EC) on COVID-19. The EC met virtually yesterday (14 January) at the request of WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to review the emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and to consider the potential use of vaccination and testing certificates for international travel. On variants, the EC called for a global expansion of genomic sequencing and sharing of data, along with greater scientific collaboration to address critical unknowns. The committee urged WHO to develop a standardized system for naming new variants that avoids geographical markers, an area WHO has already begun work on. On vaccines, the committee underlined the need for equitable access through the COVAX Facility as well as technology transfer to increase global production capacities. The committee strongly encouraged vaccine manufacturers to rapidly provide safety and efficacy data to WHO for emergency use listing. The lack of such data is a barrier to ensuring the timely and equitable supply of vaccines at the global level.  Given that the impact of vaccines in reducing transmission is yet unknown, and the current availability of vaccines is too limited, the committee recommended that countries do not require proof of vaccination from incoming travellers. The committee advised countries to implement coordinated, evidence-based measures for safe travel and to share with WHO experiences and best practices learned. This was the sixth meeting of the Emergency Committee on COVID-19. Since the declaration of a PHEIC on 30 January 2020, the Director-General has been reconvening the committee at three-month intervals to review progress.  The full statement of the Committee can be accessed here.

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SEC warns public vs investing in Masa mart

January 15, 2021

THE Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has cautioned the public about Masa Mart Business Center, which has been posing as a multi-level marketing program to entice the public into its unauthorized investment schemes.           In an advisory dated January 12, the Commission urged the public to avoid or stop engaging in the investment-taking activities of Masa Mart and its related entities or representatives, as they have yet to file the requisite registration statement nor secure the approval of the corresponding permit to sell for such activities.           Masa Mart was found to be offering a Subscription and Gains Program, under which a member may invest at least P1,250 to P500 million, in exchange for returns of P2,746 to about P11.65 billion, depending on the lock-in period. This entails an interest of up to 30% per month or up to 2,561.81% per year.           The group also offers The MMBC P5,888 Combo Package, where members could invest P5,888 for promised gains of P20,000 after six months; and the Do It Yourself Subscription of 24 months, Roll-over Program, where members could generate an income of P100,000 to P12 million after two years.           Other offers include the United Masa Coin (UMC) or the XUM Coin, which is purportedly a cryptocurrency promoted through a software-controlled app called UmcUSDTBot, as well as a referral program, among others.           The SEC noted that Masa Mart offers similar investment programs as TBCMMP Masa Mart Inc., which was earlier issued with an advisory on April 14, 2020. Records show that TBCMMP and Masa Mart share the same president, Jessie R. Royo.           Masa Mart is registered with the Commission as a One Person Corporation under the Revised Corporation Code, and with the Department of Trade and Industry. However, such registrations only grant the company juridical personality and does not authorize it to issue, sell or offer for sale securities to the public nor engage in business activities requiring a secondary license from the SEC.           Additionally, Masa Mart does not appear among the registered banks, exchanges, or companies engaged in digital assets with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. Neither UMC nor XUM are also included among the list of generally accepted virtual currencies posted on the World Coin Index and Coin Market Cap websites.           Those who act as salesmen, brokers, dealers or agents of fraudulent investment schemes may be held criminally liable and penalized with a maximum fine of P5 million or imprisonment of 21 years or both under the Securities Regulation Code.           Republic Act No. 11469, or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, further penalizes those participating in cyber incidents that make use or take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to prey on the public through scams, phishing, fraudulent emails, or other similar acts with two-month imprisonment or a maximum fine of P1 million or both.           Reports of unauthorized investment solicitation activities may be emailed to the SEC Enforcement and Investor Protection Department at epd@sec.gov.ph.

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Rebels slain, another captured in fresh encounter with govt troops

January 15, 2021

GIGAQUIT, Surigaodel Norte--Two rebels belonging to the New People's Army (NPA) was killed and another was captured when a firefight ensued between the 30th Infantry (Fight On) Battalion of the Philippine Army in the hinterlands of Barangay. Camam-onan, Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte in the afternoon of January 13. The fatalities were members of SYP16C2 of Guerilla Front16 and Banakon Squad of SDG16, NorthEastern Mindanao Regional Committee. They were identified by as Danilyn S Fabre @ Karen, 25, resident of Mainit and Jocelyn Hiningcagan @Kyla, 22, and a resident of Gigaquit both of the province of Surigao del Norte.  The encounter took place when troops of 30IB were responding to a report from the civilians about the presence of the armed NPAs who were extorting money from the Royalty Shares of the Indigenous Peoples (IP) Communities in the area. While the patrolling elements were on their way, they were fired upon by the NPAs who were encamped thereat that led to a firefight that lasted more or less thirty (30) fully armed CNTs surprised them. The situation led to a firefight as the government troopers return fire that lasted for about forty-five (45) minutes forcing the NPAs to scamper at different directions leaving behind the cadaver of @Karen and the helpless and wounded @Kyla who sustained gunshot wound at her thigh/leg.  Said female NPAs were discovered by the government forces out rightly abandoned by their comrades who only were interested to secure their respective own selves and no concern of their female comrades. The troops were able to overrun the enemy camp and seized two AK47 Rifles, one M16 Rifle, Assorted war materials, and Subversive documents. Lt Col Ryan Charles G Callanta, Commanding Officer of 30IB said; “We positively responded to the call for help by the IP Communities who were getting fed-up of the CNTs extortion and whose desires are to live peacefully in their communities free from the harassment, fear and intimidation, deceit and abuses by these terrorist NPAs. And our troops are always there and ready to provide security to our IP brothers and sisters in the area. But, I am personally saddened that another life was wasted  whose conviction was deceived by the lies, baseless and pointless struggle that for quite so long, these CNTs are sowing to lure innocent civilians particularly minors and youth. Our sincere condolences to the bereaved family.  Let me also commend my troops for their sacrifices made in taking good care of the dead body and the wounded female NPA with full respect bestowed. Transported them by trekking the rugged terrain despite lack of sleep and rest my troops endured a 10-hour hike just to ensure that the dead NPA will be given a respectful burial and the wounded be treated well in a hospital.”  "For the remaining NPA members, it is high time for them to choose to be with their families rather than to end up like what happened to their comrades by believing a Godless ideology and pointless struggle. The government assures full support to those who want to avail the reintegration program and ensure that those who will choose to go back to the folds of law will have their better lives for tomorrow.” He added. Furthermore, the cadaver of @Karen was already brought to the funeral service and was properly and respectfully turned over to her family. @Kyla who was seriously wounded was immediately brought by the soldiers of 30IB to the Forward Medical Support Team in Butuan City and was provided with necessary medical assistance, and eventually brought to Camp Evangelista Station Hospital for further and necessary medical treatment for her speed and guaranteed recovery. (PR)

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DILG says Oro tops in Bayanihan grant utilization

January 15, 2021

THE city of Cagayan de Oro topped among other areas in Northern Mindanao when it comes to the utilization of Bayanihan Grant to cities and municipalities in the region as response to the adverse effects of coronavirus disease (COVID)-19, a report from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) said yesterday. During the Normin COVID-19 Response Task Force press conference, January 15, DILG-10 Regional Director Arnel Agabe said Cagayan de Oro utilized 99.99%, followed by Lanao del Norte (99.86 percent), Camiguin (99.59 percent), Iligan (96.71 percent), Misamis Oriental (92.87 percent), Bukidnon (90.21 percent), and Misamis Occidental (87.34 percent). As per Department of Budget and Management (DBM)-10, local government units (LGUs) are given until June 1, 2021 to utilize the said fund.  “Local government units should abide by the policies and guidelines nga gipagawas DBM nga gihatag sa ila (released by DBM and provided to the LGUs) specifically allocated for COVID-19 response,” Agabe said. On COVID-19 vaccine procurement, rollout To ensure appropriate use, purchase or procurement, and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, Agabe said a tripartite agreement with the national government, through the National Task Force Against COVID-19, Department of Health (DOH), LGUs, and pharmaceutical companies must be signed for the advance purchase of vaccines.  “Ang mga local government units should already have the parameters kung kinsa ang priority guided by the DOH, and how they will identify kinsa’y unahon ug hatag sa vaccine,” the regional director said.  (The local government units should have the parameters on who to prioritize, guided by the DOH, and how they will identify on who should receive the vaccine first) Agabe said this is to ensure that the local leaders will be fair in giving the vaccines and will not prioritize their family members.  As of January 14, there is a total of 8,346 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Northern Mindanao, wherein 7,238 or 86.72 percent have recovered, 250 expired, and 858 are recovering. (RTP/PIA10) Photo release: During the Normin COVID-19 Response Task Force press conference, January 15, DILG-10 Regional Director Arnel Agabe bares 93.02 percent utilization of Bayanihan Grant to cities and municipalities in the region to respond to the adverse effects of coronavirus disease (COVID)-19. (PR/DILG 10)

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Global scientists double down on SARS-CoV-2 variants research at WHO-hosted forum

January 15, 2021

Global scientists are intensifying research into COVID-19, as the World Health Organization (WHO) moves to expand its scientific collaboration and monitoring of emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. A day-long virtual meeting of scientists from around the globe, convened by WHO, brought together more than 1,750 experts from 124 countries to discuss critical knowledge gaps and research priorities for emerging variants of the virus. Welcoming them, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said: “Science and research have played a vital role in responding to the pandemic since day one and will continue to be the heartbeat of everything WHO does.” The consultation was structured around six thematic areas covering epidemiology and mathematical modelling, evolutionary biology, animal models, assays and diagnostics, clinical management and therapeutics and vaccines.  Scientists noted the importance of research to detect and understand early on the potential impact of emerging variants on diagnostics, treatments and vaccines. There was a consensus on the importance of integrating the new SARS-CoV-2 variants research into the global research and innovation agenda while enhancing coordination across disciplines. “Our collective goal is to get ahead of the game and have a global mechanism to quickly identify and study variants of concern and understand their implications for disease control efforts,” said Dr Ana Maria Henao Restrepo, Head of WHO’s R&D Blueprint. It is normal for viruses to mutate, but the more the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to change. High levels of transmission mean that we should expect more variants to emerge. Of the significant variants reported so far, some are associated with increases in transmissibility but not disease severity. Research is ongoing to address whether the changes impact public health tools and measures. Genomic sequencing has been critical in identifying and responding to new variants. “So far an astounding 350,000 sequences have been publicly shared, but most come from just a handful of countries. Improving the geographic coverage of sequencing is critical for the world to have eyes and ears on changes to the virus,” said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Technical Lead on COVID-19. Increasing sequencing capacity across the world is a priority research area for WHO. Better surveillance and laboratory capacity to monitor strains of concern needs to be accompanied by prompt sharing of virus and serum samples via globally agreed mechanisms so that critical research can be promptly initiated each time. Scientists highlighted the importance of national data platforms to document critical clinical, epidemiological and virus data that facilitates the detection and assessment of new SARS-CoV-2 variants. (PR)

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Police, military arrest NPA rebel

January 15, 2021

MARIHATAG,Surigao del Sur (SDS)--Armed with a search warrant, police and the military arrested today a suspected rebel at his residence in Purok Camansi, Barangay Bayan in this town at around 2:40 in the morning, a report reaching the Mindanao Daily News Online said. Arrested was a certain Felizardo A Valdez, alias, ADU/PADUK, secretary of the Sub-Regional Command (SRC) Southland of the New People's Army (NPA) and a member of depensa/Milisyang Bayan (MB), liaison officer of SRC Southland   and its Special Partisan Unit(SPARU) and the brother of Felizardo A. Valdez, alias, ADU/PADUK, Secretary of Communist NPA Terrorists’ Sub-Regional Command (SRC) Southland. The arrest was initiated by virtue of a search warrant NR: 2021-12 for violation R.A. 10591 for illegal possession of firearms issued by the 11th Judicial Region, RTC of Cantilan, SDS. The search was conducted at the residence of the subject personality at Purok Camansi, Brgy Bayan, Marihatag, SDS with the presence of his wife Rubelyn Felimon C Cuyno, barangay official and local media personnel. Confiscated items were one unit Pistol Cal .45 1911A with inserted magazine and six live ammo, one improvised marble gun and one short magazine for m16 rifle. The subject was duly informed of his constitutional rights during the arrest.  The arrested personality and seized items are now in the custody of Marihatag MPS for proper disposition and filing of appropriate charges. Lieutenant Colonel Joey B Baybayan INF GSC PA, Commanding Officer of the 3rd Special Forces Battalion said that the unit remains focused and steadfast on the campaign and mission to contribute in ending NPA terrorism in Surigao Del Sur and the effort was a counter-SPARU measure to preempt NPA–initiated violent activities. The Local Task Force on Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (LTF-ELCAC) Peace Law Enforcement Development Support (PLEDS) Cluster composed of AFP, PNP and other uniformed personnel intensified its monitoring and security operations following the threats of communist NPA terrorist leader and founder Jose Maria Sison to employ its NPA terrorist liquidation squads in the urban areas.  “We are warning all those who coddle NPA Terrorists. Regardless of their status in life---civilian, politicians, name it. If we find out that you go against the law by protecting NPA Terrorists we will hit you hard using all legal means as provided by law,” Brigadier General Allan D Hambala AFP, 401st Infantry Brigade Commander, said. “The IP leaders of Surigao Del Sur will be ready for the hunt of NPA terrorist liquidation squads. The death of our Indigenous Peoples’ Mandatory Representative (IPMR), Datu Jumar S Bucales did not scare us at all. It only made us angrier and determined to track down NPA terrorists with the help of the AFP, “Datu Alexander Bucales, Lianga IPMR, said. “We already accepted that our lives as IP leaders fighting the NPA terrorists are on the line. As IP leaders, we are ready to become heroes for our tribe even if it cost our lives. We are in for the fight. This is a stern warning that IPs under my watch are at war with NPA terrorists whom we declared persona-non grata. They better watch out,” Bucales added. (PR)

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