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Massive fraud observed in Philippine elections

Press Release
June 28, 2022

QUEZON CITY – The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) has completed its independent monitoring and assessment of the Philippine elections that took place on May 9, 2022. The main finding is that the election was not free, honest, or fair by international standards. It was a classic ‘guns, goons, and gold’ contest and marked by a successful massive social media campaign to rebrand the kleptocratic Marcos family’s brutal dictatorship as the golden age of Philippine politics. The return of the disgraced Marcos family to center stage in the Philippines is consistent with the feudal dynastic system that is the centerpiece of political life in the country.

Evidence gathered by the International Observers Mission

The Philippine Election 2022 International Observer Mission (IOM) was established as a response to Investigate PH’s independent international investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines. The IOM has had over 60 observers from 11 countries on the ground since April 1, who have meticulously documented the campaign, the vote, and the aftermath in various areas including Central Luzon, National Capital Region, Southern Tagalog, Southern Luzon, Central Visayas, Western Visayas, Eastern Visayas, and Mindanao. IOM observers included members of national parliaments, lawyers, trade unionists, church people, youth and students, educators, scientists, and human rights advocates. At various times, the IOM observers themselves were subjected to harassment and red-tagging by the police and military.

“The observers reported that the May elections showed a higher level of failure of the electronic voting system than ever before, along with a higher level of blatant vote-buying, a disturbing level of red-tagging of candidates and parties, as well as a number of incidents of deadly violence. A large number of voters did not get to cast their vote, and many had to trust that election officials would later put their marked ballot paper through a Vote Counting Machine, thus undermining the secrecy of the vote,” said Lee Rhiannon, former Australian Senator and Commissioner of the IOM.

Massive fraud and failure of the democratic process

The main conclusion of the IOM is that the recent Philippine national elections were a failure of the democratic process. The elections took place in the most repressive context seen since the time of dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Military and state officials openly campaigned against the opposition by red-tagging the Leni Robredo campaign, as well as other candidates for Senate and partylist groups. “Throughout the election campaign, the Duterte government continued its orchestrated campaign of state terror. As part of its war on dissent, the government marshalled the entire machinery of government, including the judiciary, the military and police; and government departments of education, social services, and local governments,” said Danilo Arao of the anti-election fraud organization Kontra Daya. The IOM observed soldiers in Eastern Visayas up to the election day intimidating people not to vote for Bayan Muna and other progressive party lists.

The May 9 election did not meet the standard of “free, honest, and fair” because of these prevailing conditions. It robbed voters of access to reliable information, access to voting places without intimidation, and a credible vote counting system. The IOM has reported election-related violations of human rights since early March in the form of political killings, shootings, abductions, death threats, political arrests, harassment and surveillance of candidates and supporters, large-scale red tagging, widespread vote-buying, media manipulation and repression, fake news, and harassment of journalists by the Marcos campaign. IOM researchers identified that the 2022 election results were the first time in five presidential elections in the Philippines that the number of votes garnered by an Automated Electronic System (AES) president is higher than the number one AES elected senator, suggesting massive fraud.

Rule of political dynasties

“The tendency towards a one-party state evident under the Duterte regime was omnipresent in the results of the May vote. In essence it was an exercise in para-military democracy fused with a system of feudal dynastic rule,” said Chris Ferguson, IOM Commissioner and former General Secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches. While there remain many political parties, most pay fealty to the Marcos-Duterte bloc. The opposition was all but wiped out in the Senate, with only one of the 12 candidates elected not allied with the Marcos-Duterte bloc in one way or another, and 3 political dynasties now controlling a quarter of the Senate seats. Similarly, the partylist system has been corrupted by dynastic politics to the point where only a shrinking sliver of the successful groups represent disadvantaged or marginalized sectors in Philippine society. “The partylist system should return to its intended purpose because now it is yet another failed attempt to democratize the Philippine political process,” continued Ferguson.

Democratic reforms needed within the Philippine political system

The results of the May election are the latest in a series of chronic failures of the Philippine political system to offer the economic and social reforms required to advance social rights and speaks to the need for major reform. These political reforms required to democratize the Philippine polity include removing the feudal family dynasties from politics, reviewing the efficacy of the AES and renewing the partylist system to give a greater voice to the marginalized and dispossessed sectors.

“For the international community and proponents of human rights, the results of the election represent a worst-case scenario. ICHRP’s concern is that the new Marcos-Duterte government will continue to provide legal and legislative cover for past and future human rights violations and crimes against humanity,” said Rev. Michael Yoshii, Commissioner of the IOM and member of the ICHRP Global Council.

Yoshii continued, “the return of a Marcos to the presidency and the virtual elimination of legislative opposition represents a huge challenge for the international community. There must be a renewed effort to strengthen civil society and the organizations representing the popular sectors. A renewal of the democratic foundations of Philippine society will be essential to combating the pervasive authoritarian tendencies in Philippine society.” This ultimately means elimination of oppressive institutions such as the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and reducing the role of the military in public affairs, both of which played such a strong anti-democratic role in the electoral process.

Monitoring and reporting of the international community

“Looking forward, there needs to be an intensified international focus on the new Marcos-Duterte government and their ongoing human rights record. The international community needs to strengthen the capacity of internal and external human rights organizations to monitor and report on the situation in the Philippines,” said Peter Murphy, Chairperson of the ICHRP Global Council.

“At the same time, the international community should continue to hold the outgoing Duterte team accountable for its abysmal human rights record. This work is underway at the International Criminal Court, and in the United Nations Human Rights Council processes, and can be pursued in national jurisdictions with Magnitsky-style laws. There should be no hint of a green light for continued human rights violations under the incoming Marcos-Duterte administration,” Murphy concluded.





A new leg and renewed hope for a single father in Mindanao

Ricardo Tapican at the DJF office
Ricardo arrived at the DJF office. He learned about the foundation through the ICRC's social media page. (Photo: M. Lucero/ICRC)

June 6, 2022

MAKATI CITY – “My heart is crushed each time my children ask for something that I cannot provide because of my disability,” says Ricardo Tapican.

In July 2019, Ricardo Tapican lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident. “I was riding home with my cousin and nephew after a long day at work when the brakes of my motorcycle failed,” he recalls.

Although his relatives, who were riding pillion, emerged unscathed from the accident, Ricardo suffered severe injuries in his right leg. “I thought I was going to die. On regaining consciousness, my first thoughts were of my children. I told my nephew to take care of them if anything were to happen to me,” says the 34-year-old single father of three.

The doctors told Ricardo that the severity of his injuries had left them no choice but to amputate his leg. To this day, Ricardo cannot believe what happened to him. “It’s been three years since the accident and I still cannot fully accept what happened. My disability has made life very difficult for me as a single father. I feel that the accident took a big part of me. I can no longer provide for my children,” says Ricardo, who is from Agusan del Sur in Mindanao.

The loss of his right leg made it difficult for him to land a stable, well-paying job. And the money he earned from odd jobs wasn’t enough to support his children, forcing him to send them to live with their mother and other relatives. It was a heart-breaking decision and not one that he wanted for his kids.

“My children are only 13, 12 and 9 years old. I could not take care of them on my own, especially with no stable income. I tried, but no one would hire me after knowing about my disability,” says Ricardo.

He tried to go back to his old job as a rubber tapper, but the once enjoyable job became an intensely challenging task with only one leg. “The uneven and sometimes muddy terrain made it difficult to move around with crutches. Several times I lost my balance and fell to the ground,” says Ricardo.

Finding solutions

But Ricardo is not giving up. He wants his children to finish school because he knows that an education will open many doors for them in the future.

“I had made a promise to myself not to neglect or let my children suffer just because their mother and I separated. When I was still a student, I didn’t take my education seriously; I want my children to finish school and not end up like me,” says Ricardo.

Determined to get his life back on track, Ricardo realized he needed an artificial leg. Three years after his motorcycle accident and following months of research, Ricardo came across the Facebook pages of the non-profit foundation Davao Jubilee Foundation (DJF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which supports the DJF. He learned about DJF’s rehabilitation work with disabled people in Mindanao.

Ricardo travelled from his hometown, San Francisco in Agusan del Sur, to DJF’s Davao City office where, after an evaluation by the DJF staff, he was declared eligible to receive a prosthesis. Ricardo felt that God had finally answered his prayers.

“As a father and padre de pamilya [head of the family], I don’t want to depend on others to provide for my family. I can’t wait to complete my physical rehabilitation programme here at DJF and look for a decent job,” he says.

Ricardo’s physical rehabilitation journey started on 29 March 2022. The DJF provided him with a physical rehabilitation programme, including a custom-made prosthesis. He also received unconditional cash grants from the ICRC to meet his family’s basic needs.

“I was in disbelief when I first heard that I’d be given a new leg. It felt like a dream. But after arriving at DJF, the reality of what is happening started to sink in, that my dream of walking on two legs again is about to come true,” says Ricardo.

About Davao Jubilee Foundation

DJF is a non-governmental organization located in Davao City, Philippines, that provides a variety of physical rehabilitation services to disabled people and people in need of supportive braces, wheelchairs, artificial limbs or other mobility support devices. The DJF helps all disabled Filipinos, wherever they may be.

DJF’s physical rehabilitation services include physical therapy, custom manufacturing of artificial limbs, providing orthosis wheelchairs and mental health and psychosocial (MHPSS) counselling for disabled people. The ICRC’s close partnership with DJF has improved disabled people’s access to comprehensive and high-quality physical rehabilitation services, mitigating the challenging circumstances they face in the Philippines. The ICRC also supports the socio-economic needs of vulnerable DJF beneficiaries.

For more details, please contact Davao Jubilee Foundation at 0975-781-7514 or message them directly on their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/DavaoJubileeFoundation).





Weaving towards success

Buli weaver Mary Ann Parado
From livelihood to hobby. Twelve years ago, Mary Ann Parado starting weaving buli bags as a source of income. Now, even when her life has significantly improved, she continues to weave bags to bring happiness to other people.

April 6, 2022

SAN PABLO CITY – For the longest time, creating handicrafts has been one of the major businesses in the Philippines. Handicrafts promotes the Filipino heritage and culture. In the Quezon Province, one of the most popular raw products is buli or the buri tree.

Buli is a common palm found in the Philippines and can live up to more than 30 years.

Being widely found and due to its life span of more than 30 years, the palm tree became a popular resource in the province. In fact, it became the inspiration for the Bulihan Festival every April in Sampaloc, Quezon Province. During this time, local producers and investors display their buri products.

Mary Ann Parado is a local Buli weaver and microentrepreneur who used to join this festival. She started making buli products in 2010, allowing her to sustain the needs of her family of five members. Her income from this business also supported the educational needs of her children.

However, Mary Ann’s road to success was not always smooth. There was a time when she almost lost hope. She received an order from three buyers who refused to make payments. This almost drained her capital.

This is also the time when she met CARD Bank, a microfinance-oriented rural bank. The bank does not only provide financial assistance but also access to microinsurance, business development service, marketing support and educational support to its clients. She later on became enticed with the benefits that CARD Bank offers. With the low interest and flexible payments, she decided to become a client.

Her first loan amounted to PhP5,000. Because she managed her fund well, she can now avail a higher loan that she can use in her other businesses aside from buri making. Her handicrafts like hats, bags and wallets are now distributed to various parts of the country. She has also started to customize her products to be used as gifts and souvenirs for birthdays and weddings.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, she also found ways to adapt to the new normal. She started online selling of her products, expanding her network nationally and internationally.

“If my life would be compared to a thing, it's definitely the buli. Producing a buli handicraft involves twisting, criss-crossing and entwining. But after the complicated process, it turns into a beautiful and useful product. Same goes with my life, there might be unpredictable twists in my fate, criss-crossing with my decision-making, and sometimes I might get entwined with problems, but still I know, everything will fall in their places,” Mary Jane shared.

Mary Jane has been a client of CARD Bank for twelve years, while her husband has also been a CARD client for four years. Through CARD financial assistance, the couple managed to sustain their business which is locally known as Prado Handicrafts. They have also availed educational loans for their children to support school maintenance. For them, the help they received from CARD is enough to keep their business alive despite the many challenges.





More dreams, zero dropouts

January 20, 2022

SAN PABLO CITY - The number of young people, who were left with no choice but to drop out of school, reached more than five million for the academic year 2021-2022.

Ma. Angela Habana with her mother Nanay Maria
Ma. Angela Habana stands tall and proud with her mother, Nanay Maria, as one of the Zero Dropout Program beneficiaries of CARD MRI.

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has gravely affected the education of the Filipino youth today. The lack of tools such as mobile phones and load to access learning materials can be seen as one of the major setbacks experienced by children today. Now, parents search far and wide for means to let their children continue reaching their dreams. Nanay Maria Lina R. Habana is one of them.

Nanay Maria is a mother to five children, one of whom is Ma. Angela, who is in Grade 7 and is studying in Bula National High School in Camarines Sur. According to Nanay Maria, one thing that will make her happy is to witness Ma. Angela achieve her own dream of becoming a teacher.

Fortunately, with Ma. Angela’s perseverance and knack for learning, she became a consistent honor student from the time she stepped Grade 1 to Grade 6. Ma. Angela’s potential became Nanay Maria and her husband’s inspiration to work hard for their children, not only to fill their basic needs, but to support their individual dreams.

The Habanas are known to be hardworking. Nanay Maria buys and sells vegetables and other goods, while her husband works in a vulcanizing shop in Manila to get by with their daily expenses. However, education is a different matter altogether. With huge educational expenses left and right, financial assistance is needed to support their family altogether.

CARD Bank, a microfinance-oriented rural bank that supports marginalized communities with access to financial products, services, and other social development programs, became Nanay Maria’s partner in their journey to reach their goals in life. In her 12 years of being a CARD Bank client, she has availed the Zero Dropout Program of CARD several times to support the education of Ma. Angela.

The Zero Dropout Program is an educational loan product of CARD MRI that supports students’ education in elementary, high school, and senior high school. Offered exclusively to CARD MRI clients with children or relatives who want to continue studying, this loan has a maximum amount of PhP 10,000 for junior and senior high school. This is applicable to students like Ma. Angela who is currently in junior high school.

The financial aid that the Habanas received for Ma. Angela’s schooling eliminated the anxiety Nanay Maria had towards the education of her children, especially during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the Philippines’ educational system.

Now, Ma. Angela is in Grade 7. Even with schools closed and a threat of dropping out of school looming over the students’ heads, this does not weaken Nanay Maria’s faith in pursuing her and Ma. Angela’s dreams. For Nanay Maria and millions of other CARD clients, here is to more dreams and zero dropouts.

Ma. Angela is just one of the 1,235,768 beneficiaries of the Zero Dropout Program of CARD MRI as of December 2021. To know more about CARD’s educational loan, message CARD MRI at @CARDMRIOfficial or visit any CARD, Inc. (A Microfinance NGO), CARD Bank, CARD SME Bank, or CARD MRI RIZAL BANK branches or unit offices near you!





Taste of Home: Grace Dalisay’s car trunk surprise in Lemery, Batangas

November 26, 2021

SAN PABLO CITY – Sending good wishes to friends and loved ones has always been accompanied with big celebrations. May it be a beach party, a vacation abroad, or a get together with close pals at home, the Filipinos make time for special occasions and often celebrate it with a big feast.

Grace Dalisay
Grace Dalisay smiles in front of her car trunk surprise for a seven-year-old birthday celebrator in Lemery, Batangas.

Alas, the COVID-19 pandemic left families bereft of grand celebrations. Birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries were celebrated with small, immediate families, more often than not, at home.

The pandemic should have crippled businesses related to food, events, and party services, but one family in Lemery, Batangas, took the pandemic as a challenge and came up with a way to celebrate in a practical, fun, and safe manner.

Gracelda “Grace” Dalisay and her family were dining together, when a portion of cooked food and camote with cheese were left untouched. From here, they tried to sell the excess to neighbors who were more than enthusiastic to try Grace’s cooking. As days passed, the Dalisay family was urged to hold a small surprise for a few close friends who were celebrating their birthday, but due to the pandemic, this was no small feat. However, with the new seven-seater minivan they loaned from CARD SME Bank, the Dalisay family explored the idea of using the vehicle to hold what is now popularly known as a car trunk surprise.

These were the beginnings of Taste of Home, the Dalisay’s food delivery service that holds car trunk surprises for those celebrating their birthday, anniversary, and other special events in the comforts of their home.

A Taste of Success

The family business started in February 2020, ironically, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to cater to families who want to celebrate special occasions without breaking the government’s protocol, which is set to immobilize the spread of the virus.

Together with her husband and her sister, Grace cooks an assortment of food including pasta, noodle dishes like pansit, various Filipino delicacies including maja and puto, sandwiches, spring rolls, and many more.

With a car trunk surprise, not only is food delivered to the doorsteps of a family, but it also prevents families from stepping out of their homes and risk compromising their health. It also brings incredible joy to families in the midst of a health crisis that affects the rest of the world.

Through word of mouth, Grace’s car surprise has reached different parts of Batangas, Cavite, and Laguna. According to Grace, their minivan became a big part of their lives as it brought them a steady source of income during the pandemic.

“The car we loaned is a blessing to us. We are grateful to CARD SME Bank for giving us a chance to own a car that we have never dreamt of using for our business. With the grace of God, we have never lacked anything because of this. I am really grateful,” Grace said.

Through her son, Grace and her family availed the Drive Ur Wheels car loan amounting to P1,000,000 from CARD SME Bank, a full-fledged thrift bank that provides financial assistance, microinsurance, and other community development programs to microentrepreneurs and their family.

The Journey with CARD

Grace has been a client of CARD since 2007. From CARD, Inc., she was then transitioned later to CARD SME Bank. Therefore, CARD has been a witness to her journey from being an overseas Filipino worker to a cook in a small restaurant in Mahayahay in Lemery, Batangas, to finally being a businesswoman of her own car trunk surprise service.

CARD was also present in her children’s life, particularly with her second youngest son, Victor Manuel, who was a recipient of the educational loan during his time at Batangas Science High School.

Aside from these milestones, Grace is also now an authorized konek2CARD Agent in their community since May 2021. A konek2CARD Agent is a trusted partner of CARD in bringing konek2CARD, its mobile banking service, closer to clients in the community. Through agents like Grace, clients of CARD SME Bank can withdraw, deposit, pay their bills, and settle their weekly dues without going to the bank.

Grace is currently holding 14 centers with a total of P250,000 collected payments weekly and P1,000,000 monthly. Through konek2CARD, Grace earns an extra income that she uses for leisure activities to bond with her husband and their children.

If there is one thing the Dalisays are good at, it is celebrating small wins in life and sharing their family’s love and joy with other people. With Taste of Home, Grace and her family believe that people can still celebrate and create memories with their loved ones even in the midst of adversities.





Braving storms; One Paborita at a time

Fadullo’s Bakery

August 27, 2021

SAN PABLO CITY – The outpouring rain brought by Typhoon Glenda may have torn through the Philippines in 2014, but it has also watered the beginnings of Fadullo’s Bakery and their paborita business. Specializing in soft bread, Irene Fadullo and her husband have been in the baking business in Lipa City, Batangas since 2008. Four years later, the couple ventured into baking paborita crackers, but it did not become popular in the market instantly. They lacked the necessary permits to continue the production of the paborita.

However, opportunity stormed through the Fadullos as they weathered Typhoon Glenda with fresh will and perseverance. As a great demand for paborita dominated the market, the Fadullos worked day and night through the power cut in Lipa, Batangas to produce their biscuits. At first, they had to leave one bundle (100 pcs.) of paborita in the market and wait for a call to retrieve their unsold crackers back to their bakery. One day, an unexpected call came asking for more paborita to be delivered to them.

From then on, the Fadullos started delivering 30 bundles to the market every week. As their production grew, their need for extra capital also intensified. They sought the help of CARD SME Bank in growing their business, starting with a P2,000 loan which helped them to purchase flour. To increase their production, they decided to loan P10,000 to buy a secondhand oven. This helped them in constantly supplying their growing market for paborita.

Now, the Fadullos have increased their capacity by employing their relatives as well as students with their parents’ consent. This allows them to provide a source of living to their community and train the youth to prepare them for their future.

The Fadullos are also now using 31 ovens to help them with their production. Now, they create 432 bundles of paborita every day.

Walking with CARD has also led the Fadullos to cross paths with CARD-Business Development Service Foundation, Inc. (CARD-BDSFI) which helped them improve their facility and secure their accreditation with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Aside from this, the Fadullos were also introduced to Mga Likha Ni Inay (MLNI) which supports underprivileged communities through the promotion of their local products. With the Fadullo’s excellent performance and contribution to their community, the couple became an awardee in Pagkilala sa mga Likha ni Inay as the “Gawad Maunlad” in 2017, which won them P50,000 and a computer package.

Because of the relationship they have built, the Fadullos also supplied paborita to MLNI that continually promotes and sells their products to its market. Hijos Tours also integrated the Fadullos paborita to their travel boxes, proof that CARD has absorbed the paborita as one of its staple products.

Irene also appreciates the programs offered by CARD to its clients. “CARD has various programs that will help every individual grow. Aside from absorbing our products, they also provide trainings on financial management which helped us greatly,” Irene shared.

However, the pandemic became one more storm they had to overcome to succeed. The COVID-19 pandemic birthed not only health-related problems but also competitors who do not have permits but sell paborita at a cheaper price. Because of this, the Fadullo’s customers have set their sights on different paborita suppliers. To counter this problem, Irene set up their own Facebook page where customers may order paborita when not available in the market.

“As an entrepreneur, you need to know the kind of business you are dealing with,” Irene said. She continued, “More importantly, you should trust the product you are selling. You should not give up easily,” Irene concluded.

With the Fadullo’s dedication and their unceasing mission to grow their business, the Lipa-based bakery is sure to conquer storms one paborita at a time.





For two mothers, justice harder to reach amid pandemic

Marites Asis and Barbara Ruth Angeles

Two mothers share how it feels to be prisoners of misery. On top of the uncertainties brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, Marites Asis agonizes over how the justice system has treated her daughter and her late granddaughter, baby River, while Barbara Ruth Angeles has to endure the loss of a daughter to sickness while seeking justice for her son, who’s been in jail for months.

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
December 2, 2020

The wheels of justice are grinding exceedingly slow for Marites Asis and Barbara Ruth Angeles.

Marites is the mother of Reina Mae “Ina” Nasino, an urban poor leader who was arrested in Manila in November 2019. Ina learned she was pregnant weeks before her transfer to Manila City Jail and gave birth to baby River on July 1, only to be separated from her newborn after a month.

Marites became worried not only over Ina’s freedom and safety, but also over baby River’s health. River, who was dependent on formula milk and donations from the milk bank, was confined at the Philippine General Hospital after contracting pneumonia in September. Baby River’s death sparked public outrage as Ina was not allowed to visit the hospital and was given only six hours to say goodbye to her baby.

Painter Barbara Ruth Angeles has a similar story. It’s been months since she last saw her son Inno, who was arrested on what she said were trumped-up drug charges in Quezon City in 2018. To add to her misery, Inno’s older and only sister died of bladder problems in August.

Inno was not able to say goodbye.

Barbara Ruth has yet to properly mourn the sudden passing of her eldest child as she is busy earning a living while finding ways to free Inno. Barbara Ruth is also busy taking care of her 12-year-old granddaughter, who is now an orphan.

Marites and Barbara Ruth are free but mired in misery that could only be cured by the delivery of justice.

Here are their stories, in their own words.


Marites Asis

Justice is heavy handed for Reina Mae Nasino and baby River

By Marites Asis (as told to Aie Balagtas See)

I found out that my daughter Ina was pregnant the same time Covid-19 struck. I felt the weight of heaven crash down on me.

I couldn’t give an interview without crying. At night, I even cry myself to sleep. You’d think I was crazy.

I learned about my daughter’s pregnancy in February, a few weeks before the police were set to transfer her to Manila City Jail.

That’s why when lockdowns were imposed, I was anxious. You need social distancing, but they’re cramped in a dormitory that houses 111 people.

It seemed risky for my daughter to be pregnant and at the same time detained in jail, where she could catch the virus.

I was asleep when Ina was arrested [on Nov. 5, 2019]. Someone went to my house at about 5 a.m. and told me about Ina’s arrest. The person said she was taken to the CIDG (Criminal Investigation and Detection Group) office in Manila Police District (MPD). In short, I rushed to MPD around 5 a.m.

I was hysterical.

I went to Ate Vicky, my older sister, the woman who raised all of us, including Ina. We consider her our mother.

Ate Vicky said we should go to MPD. At MPD headquarters, however, they did not allow us to see Ina immediately.

Investigators were asking them if they really owned those guns.

I was furious.

The police planted evidence against Ina. I know my daughter. They planted guns and grenades. During the arrest, the cops covered their faces with pillows. Who in his right mind would do that to our youth?

It hurts so much to see your child in jail.

You couldn’t even go out because of coronavirus. You’re stuck at home. Anxious and worried.

Before coronavirus hit, I would visit her in jail every day. I never missed a visit until visitation rights were cancelled last March.

With the lockdown in place, I felt helpless.

I always wonder how my daughter is doing. Is she eating well? Can she take a shower in private or do they take showers in groups?

I pity my daughter.

Because of the virus, we could not see each other, especially when she was still pregnant. Covid-19 exacerbated my pain.

She said maybe I could see her again in October.

It’s difficult. It’s really, really difficult. I couldn’t sleep at night. I would always think of her. She would talk to us through video calls, and we were happy to see her tummy grow.

But I felt so guilty. I couldn’t take care of my own daughter.

Ina was supposed to give birth on July 10 but she gave birth nine days early, on July 1.

I didn't even see her at the hospital.

I was asleep. A jail personnel called me at midnight. She instructed me to go to Fabella Hospital as Ina was about to give birth.

I rushed to Ate Vicky once again. Together we went to Fabella, hoping we could be by my daughter’s side on that important day.

When we got there, the hospital administration said visitors were not allowed because of their Covid-19 protocols.

Anyway, the hospital said Ina had given birth.

Ate Vicky and I went back to Fabella on July 3 to bring diapers and water for the baby.

The security guards said my daughter was still there. They didn’t allow us to see her, so we asked if they could hand the package over to Ina.

On our way home, about noontime, Ate Vicky’s phone rang. It was Ina. She said the baby was crying because she could not produce milk. The baby was hungry.

It baffled us because we thought she was still in the hospital. Ina said they returned to jail on July 2.

No one told us. We just found out. That gave us another bout of sharp pain.

The security guards played us for fools!

We attended to Ina first. When we reached the city jail, we were told the baby was already given formula milk.

Then we stormed Fabella Hospital to confront the guards. We demanded that they return the diapers and water. Those belong to us.

They didn’t even want to return the water and diapers, so I complained at the hospital’s information center.

I last saw Ina when she handed the baby to us on [Aug. 13].

We barely met her. We were not supposed to see Ina. I just asked the warden if I could have a glimpse of my daughter.

How do I feel? I’m filled with pain. I can witness the suffering of my child.

I felt that Ina and my granddaughter did not want to be separated from each other.

How I feel about Ina is the same with how she feels about my granddaughter.

I don’t know why they treated her that way. As a mother, I felt hurt. I don’t know how to explain it. She is not convicted yet.

It was painful to watch them [policemen and jail guards] surround my daughter. It’s okay if they made her wear PPE (personal protective equipment) because she needed to go back to jail. But to handcuff her? As if it’s not a wake.

I have yet to move on.

I skip social media posts that remind me of what happened because they bring back memories of when she was handcuffed at the wake. She was looking at her child. She was not able to come close to her infant’s coffin.

Then there’s the memory of men with high-powered guns barging in to inspect the room and the toilet because they were afraid of getting outfoxed.

You see? They did not give us the chance to bond.

That day, I ran out of tears to cry. All I could do was call them out.

I didn’t have any tears left to cry after seeing my daughter’s situation.

It was difficult to cry because I was enraged. I asked them to leave the room because we didn’t need guns there.

They didn’t have to guard the burial. There were so many of them that they outnumbered the mourners.

I tried to appeal to their hearts. I told them we knew it was an order and we couldn’t do anything. Just the same I hoped they realized it was a burial and a mother would be separated from her child.

I only wish they had thought of that.

During our last conversation at the cemetery, Ina told me: “Ma, it’s okay to put the baby inside the niche.”

Ina held my hand twice: during the wake and during the burial.

She told me: “Ma, give me your hand.” She held it tight.

She was trying to tell me that I needed to be strong. I told her: “Be strong, we will fight back.”


I’m okay. But it’s not easy to forget because the trauma is still there. I can go to work now.

Ina said it’s not yet the end of everything.

I filed a legal complaint over what they did during the baby's wake and burial. How will I attain justice if I don’t complain? This should serve them a lesson because they must not treat other people the way they treated us.

Baby River died of pneumonia on Oct. 9. The court gave Reina Mae a couple of three-hour furloughs to bid her child goodbye. The first was to visit the wake, the second was to bury her child.

Not even an inch of her skin was able to touch River’s coffin. She was made to wear a full hazmat suit during the visits because of the threat of Covid-19. She was in handcuffs most of the time and was surrounded by heavily armed government forces.

Their family was never given a chance to grieve.


Barbara Ruth Angeles

Legal shortcuts in the drug war: From ‘palit-ulo’ to ‘amin-laya’

By Barbara Ruth Angeles (as told to Aie Balagtas See)

My son Inno will enter into a plea-bargain agreement. I don’t have any choice left. I have to take him out of jail.

My son does not want it, but I have no choice. How else are we going to set him free? That was why we opted for “amin-laya” (plea bargain).

The advice came from lawyers and BJMP (Bureau of Jail Management and Penology) personnel. They said it’s his first offense anyway.

I’m worried for my son, of course, as entering into a plea bargain means having a permanent criminal record. It’s similar to being convicted already, although he is innocent.

But my son’s case has been pending in court for two years. Within that period we only had about four hearings even if the court had released a monthly schedule.

Reset. Reset. Reset.

Since my son couldn’t prove his innocence in court, I told him that once he’s free, it’s up to him to prove to himself that he’s not what the government had accused him of.

Besides, the cops offered this solution to us before, and they promised us they wouldn’t oppose it.

I can take better care of my son if he’s with me. I can tell him, “Don’t go out, don’t go with these people.”

I just want this problem to end. We’re all suffering because of it.

Then, there’s the pandemic. The BJMP does not tell us the exact number of inmates infected with Covid-19. It’s difficult because it’s congested there.

Actually, I had to take risks and buy my son a P15,000 kubol (hut) so he could have his own space, and that’s just plywood about a quarter of a meter in size.

It is very expensive inside city jails. You’re aware of this: If you are poor, you will starve to death inside our jails.

Since visitation rights are suspended, my son and I communicate with each other through phone calls. Imagine this: to get in touch with me, he needs to buy call cards worth P100 for P300. The BJMP asks you to buy the call cards from them.

I won’t tell you the exact amount that I spend on my son but his budget for a week is my budget for two weeks.

I don’t know what else could happen. That’s why I said, “Son, just plead guilty.”

My son was arrested on May 3 (2018). Arrests of drug suspects spiked during that period because of the drug war “quota”. I learned about that so-called quota from the BJMP personnel. They blamed it for their population boom.

Go back to the day Galas police station was raided over an extortion case. That’s how we learned Inno was there.

At first, we had no idea that Inno had been arrested. We looked for him in barangay halls and police stations. We reported him as missing because we couldn’t reach his phone.

I kept crying.

My daughter and I searched everywhere. I thought he was killed because deaths related to bike theft were rampant those days, so we scoured hospitals and funeral parlors.

I posted about our search for Inno on Facebook. One of my school batchmates advised me to report it to 8888. I reported it to the Duterte hotline 8888 but it was not able to help us.

On May 4, Galas Police Station was raided over an extortion case involving its anti-narcotics team.
A police investigator called me and said: “Go to Galas Police Station immediately. Your son is here. Bring food and clothes.”

I was shocked. How did he end up there?

No one entertained me at the police station until I lost my cool.

Someone from GMA News told me to get a good lawyer.

At that time, hiring a private lawyer cost P300,000. Our case got delayed because we couldn’t find one. Some were too old. His grandmother found someone but I think he’s from Aklan.

We couldn’t grasp what was happening. We were desperate to find a lawyer. It was mental torture. We weren’t used to this. It was the first time someone in the family got involved in a court case.

The most enraging part was my son didn’t violate any law.

You know, initially, the police didn’t even have a record of his arrest.

I talked to detainees and some policemen at Galas. I learned that the SAID (Station Anti-Illegal Drugs Division) cops were supposed to kill Inno as a replacement for big fish that they’re extorting money from.

The policemen in Galas said my son was intended for “palit-ulo.” (Palit-ulo, which literally means head-swapping, is a scheme in which a drug suspect gets freedom in exchange for ratting out on his or her suppliers.)

They said it was for a “zero-zero.” You know zero-zero?

That meant they would kill him.

The policemen tortured my son.

I have evidence, including the medico-legal report, and X-ray and CT scan results.

At the hospital, the doctor said he had fractured ribs. They also saw a “metallic forensic” in his left leg.

The doctor did not want him to leave, but Galas police did not allow him to be operated on. Despite his fractures and injuries, Galas turned him over to the city jail.

We lost the chance to have him treated. His wounds eventually healed in jail.

You asked how I’m doing?

It’s the first time someone asked me that question.

Well, I’m not… I’m not okay. I try to do my normal routine but emotionally, no, I’m not okay. My daughter died in August while my son is in jail. She’s my eldest and the only one I could rely on to deal with this problem.

We were able to get hold of the CCTV [showing Inno’s illegal arrest] because of her.

I still couldn’t accept that my daughter had passed away.

Inno was not able to say goodbye. They had not seen each other for two years.

She was sick but was not confined. Her resistance was down and I was afraid that she might catch the virus in the hospital.

My daughter left behind three children. The eldest child, an 11-year-old girl, does not have a father. I’m taking care of her.

My granddaughter is already worried that her life will fall apart if something happens to me. I told her, nothing’s going to happen to me because I still have a purpose in life.

I have faith in the Lord.

I never questioned God for everything that I’m going through. I know he will not give me these trials if I cannot overcome them.

I’m trying to be strong for my son and for my granddaughter. If I falter, who would be strong for them.

But it’s difficult.


I think my daughter is guiding me. I feel better now. I started painting again 40 days after her death.

I used to paint with dark colors, colors that you can associate with death. This time, I’m using positive and vibrant colors. My artwork seems alive.

Do I have peace of mind?

No. I can only have peace of mind when my son is finally with me. -- PCIJ, December 2020

Aie Balagtas See is a freelance journalist working on human rights issues. Follow her on Twitter (@AieBalagtasSee) or email her at aie.bsee@gmail.com for comments.

Inspired by The Marshall Project's Life Inside, Marites' and Barbara's stories are part of PCIJ’s series on the criminal justice system, which includes first-person accounts from current and former detainees and their family members.






A Dumagat woman breastfeeds her six-month-old baby
A Dumagat woman breastfeeds her six-month-old baby while waiting for their sitio’s turn to line up for relief goods.

Promotion, protection of breastfeeding practices reap rewards

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
October 21, 2020

Exclusive breastfeeding among infants 0 to 5.9 months has nearly doubled, from 30 percent in 2003 to 58 percent in 2019.

Women should still breastfeed despite the pandemic, even those found to be positive for Covid-19, according to a Department of Health (DOH) memorandum. This shows how the government has been relentless in promoting breastfeeding in the face of a formidable opponent – milk manufacturing giants who have made their way into the consciousness of Filipino mothers through massive advertising.

Despite the passage of the Milk Code 33 years ago, myths and unfounded beliefs persist amid aggressive promotions by milk manufacturers that claim to give a child advantage in terms of health and IQ points.

Only 35.1 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed until 5 months of age, according to the 2019 Expanded National Nutrition Survey of the Department of Science and Technology – Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI), although exclusive breastfeeding percentages have been increasing since 2003, but took a dip in 2015.

Nathalie Verceles, director of the University of the Philippines Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, said the Milk Code was meant to protect the interest of mothers and babies from aggressive marketing strategies of formula milk companies. (See related story: Milk and the pandemic: Milk Code confusion cripples LGUs response for infants)

Mothers need support, according to Save the Children Philippines health and nutrition adviser Dr. Amado Parawan. A mother’s decision to breastfeed, he said, predates the birth of the child and will depend on what she believes – or is made to believe. This decision can also be affected by the support she gets – or doesn’t get – from home, work and community.

milk bottle feeder
Maryjoy Mota shows the bottle used to feed baby Pia, when her family was able to scrape a few hundred pesos to buy formula milk.

Here’s a timeline of breastfeeding policies and how they have influenced breastfeeding rates.

May 1981 – The International Code on Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes is adopted by the World Health Assembly. The aim is to protect and promote breastfeeding by ensuring appropriate marketing and distribution of breastmilk substitutes.

20 October 1986 – President Corazon Aquino signs Executive Order 51 or the Milk Code with its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR). The Code regulates advertising of breastmilk substitutes, including infant formula, other milk products, foods and beverages, feeding bottles and teats.

1990 – Guided by the World Health Assembly resolutions, which state that “follow-on or follow-up formulas are unnecessary because after six months the baby starts to take complementary foods together with sustained breastfeeding,” improvements were introduced on the IRR, such as the ban on follow-on formulas. This was prompted by the 1987 Wyeth's invention of follow-on milk for children aged six months and above that undermined the importance of breastfeeding. When the Milk Code was being drafted, follow-on milk was not yet invented. “Complementary food” includes food that is part of the local culture.

2 June 1992 – The Rooming-In and Breast-Feeding Act, Republic Act (RA) 7600, is passed, provides legal basis for rooming-in as a national policy to encourage, protect and support breastfeeding.

2003 – The exclusive breastfeeding percentage among infants 0-5.9 months stands at 29.7 percent.

2004 – The Task Force Milk Code begins discussion and debate on the first draft of the revised IRR of the Milk Code. Among those consulted was Swiss multinational Nestlé, who represented formula milk companies.

23 May 2005 – DOH Administrative Order (AO) 2006-0014 or the National Policies on Infant and Young Children is issued. It states that in times of crisis, breastfeeding is the first and best feeding option for infants and young children. It requires mothers and babies to remain together after delivery. Support must be given for mothers to breastfeed even in crisis or emergencies.

2006 – The Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) seeks a temporary restraining order on the revised IRR’s implementation. After initially denying PHAP’s petition, the court overturns its decision and issues a TRO on the revised IRR.

28 May 2007 – DOH AO 2007-0017 or the “Guidelines on the Acceptance and Processing of Foreign and Local Donations during Emergency and Disaster Situations,” states that “Infant formula, breastmilk substitutes, feeding bottles, artificial nipples and teats shall not be items for donation. No acceptance of donation shall be issued for any of the enumerated items.”

09 October 2007 – The revised IRR of the Milk Code takes effect after the Supreme Court partially upholds its validity. It strikes down certain provisions, such as the prohibition on advertising and promotion of breastmilk substitutes and introduces sanctions not found in the law.

01 April 2008 – The Department of the Interior and Local Government releases AO 2008-0055, or the “Guidelines on the acceptance and processing of foreign and local donations during emergency and disaster situations.” It endorses DOH AO 2007-0017 to all local government units.

2008 – The exclusive breastfeeding percentage among infants 0-5.9 months rises to 35.9 percent.

16 March 2009 – RA 10028 or the Expanded Breastfeeding Act, which amends RA 7600, is signed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. It establishes standards for workplaces, health facilities (with the establishment of milk banks) and public places, and calls for breastfeeding breaks and designated facilities in the workplace.

Milk banks location

2011 – The exclusive breastfeeding percentage among infants 0-5.9 months rises anew, to 48.9 percent.

21 December 2012 – RA 10354 or The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 is signed by President Benigno Aquino III. It includes breastfeeding as an element of reproductive health care and provides a basis for breastfeeding promotion and education.

2013 – More than half, or 52.3 percent, of infants 0-5.9 months are exclusively breastfed.

2015 – The exclusive breastfeeding percentage among infants 0-5.9 months dips for the first time to 48.8 percent.

29 November 2018 – RA 11148 or the “Kalusugan at Nutrisyon ng Mag-Nanay Act” is signed by President Rodrigo Duterte. The law seeks to address the malnutrition of infants and young and lactating women.

2018 – The exclusive breastfeeding percentage among infants 0-5.9 months recovers slightly to 54.9 percent.

17 April 2019 – RA 11311 or “An Act to Improve Land Transportation Terminals, Stations, Stops, Rest Areas and Roll-On/Roll-Off Terminals, Appropriating Funds Therefor and for Other Purposes,” establishes lactation stations in transport terminals, stations, stops and rest areas.

2019 – Exclusive breastfeeding improves to 57.9 percent.

exclusive breastfeeding survey

11 May 2020 – DOH Memorandum No. 2020-0237 or the “Interim Guidelines for the Delivery of Nutrition Services in the Context of COVID-19 Pandemic” states that mothers who are asymptomatic, or those with close contacts, suspect, probable, or confirmed case of COVID-19 who do not have severe illness and/or who are not in respiratory distress, can continue breastfeeding, provided that they observe strict infection control measures.

15 May 2020 – DOH Memorandum No. 2020-0231 or the “Guidelines on the Standardized Regulation of Donations, Related to EO 51,” provides guidelines on how LGUs can help provide nutrition for non-breastfeeding children under 3 years old. While donations are banned as stipulated in various laws and orders, LGUs can procure formula milk and give them to identified families. The memorandum still upholds the promotion and protection of breastfeeding for infants and young children.

Food and Nutrition Research Institute for breastfeeding data
Babymilkaction.org for Milk Code RIRR timeline





Milk Code confusion
Hazel breastfeeds her child, two-month old Pia, not their real names, inside their house in Barangay Inarawan, Antipolo City. Hazel's mother, Maryjoy Mota, posted several comments on social media asking for help in buying formula milk for her infant grandchild after the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was enforced in March. The family's breadwinner, Ricky, lost his job as a construction worker when the ECQ began. Hazel and her boyfriend are teenage students with no jobs. With little money to buy formula milk for Pia, Maryjoy encouraged Hazel to breastfeed her infant daughter.

Milk and the pandemic: Milk Code confusion cripples LGUs response for infants

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
October 8, 2020

The indiscriminate distribution and use of breastmilk substitutes, especially during emergencies, can change feeding practices and put babies at greater risk of illness.

What you need to know about this story:

- Experts are calling for measures to ensure the health and safety of infant and young children, which can easily be undermined by the milk industry’s aggressive marketing initiatives.

- The Milk Code does not ban formula milk procurement and distribution by local government units, provided they follow guidelines set by the Department of Health (DOH).

- Marketing and advertising of products within the scope of the Milk Code, however, are prohibited. Donations of formula milk and breastfeeding substitutes from manufacturers and distributors of these products are banned.

- Local government units are clueless to the finer details of breastfeeding and infant and young child nutrition laws, to the detriment of mothers, infants and young children in need especially during the current Covid-19 crisis.

- Milk companies use disasters and crises to market their products, and DOH data show a rise in Milk Code violations during the enhanced community quarantine period.

Here’s one unintended consequence of the Covid-19 health emergency: Parents and guardians are desperately finding ways to feed their babies, with some even begging on the streets or on social media. With lockdowns making it harder to provide proper and adequate food for the family, their health and nutrition -- especially of babies -- are at risk.

Local governments attempted to solve the problem by distributing formula milk to mothers, only to find out that donations are not allowed by the Milk Code, a 1986 law regulating the marketing and distribution of breastmilk substitutes.

Worse, formula milk makers seem to be taking advantage of the situation to undermine strict government regulations, experts observed.

During the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in March, Maryjoy Mota, a 37-year-old resident of Antipolo, posted on the Antipolo City Facebook group that her two-month-old granddaughter needed diapers and formula milk.

Maryjoy’s daughter, 17-year-old Hazel, had just given birth to Pia (not their real names), two weeks before the ECQ was enforced throughout Luzon in mid-March. Maryjoy’s post drew a hundred other comments from mothers and guardians in the same situation.

With Hazel giving birth to Pia two weeks ahead of her due date, the doctor immediately prescribed a formula milk brand, PreNan, developed for premature newborns. Weighing just 1.7 kilograms, the baby had to be placed in an incubator.

“We were not given any other options or brands, nor given any instructions or assistance to start breastfeeding,” Maryjoy said.

Even when Hazel went for check-ups at the barangay and the district health centers before she gave birth, there were no instructions on breastfeeding, which could have helped them save some money instead of spending it on formula milk, she said.

Maryjoy’s comment on Antipolo City’s Facebook page, asking for milk and diapers for her grandchild.

Sought for comment, an official of the Rizal Provincial Hospital System - Antipolo Annex 1, who asked not to be named, insisted that the hospital followed breastfeeding protocols. But Pia weighed below the 2.5-kilogram birth weight threshold and showed signs of sepsis, the official said.

The formula milk prescribed to Pia met the baby’s caloric requirements, which might not be sustained by breastfeeding, the official said.

But with no income, it was impossible to buy the 400-gram can of milk, which costs P641. Maryjoy’s common-law husband, Ricky, lost his construction job because of the pandemic, while Pia’s parents were unemployed teenagers.

While some local leaders were aware of the plight of new mothers like Hazel, the Milk Code posed an obstacle. Sangguniang Kabataan Chairman Arky Manning of Barangay San Isidro in Taytay, Rizal learned this the hard way.

The Department of Health (DOH) gave Manning a memo for violating Executive Order (EO) 51, or the Milk Code of 1986, by “accepting and distributing milk formula donations” given to mothers with infants in Taytay in April and May 2020.

Manning explained that it was part of the “Tulong Kay Baby” (help for baby) project, a donation drive that he had organized with his friends. They bought milk and diapers using funds given by private individuals. No mass distribution or random donation of milk happened, he claimed.

Manning was one of the 291 violators flagged by the DOH from March 1 to July 24, largely covering the ECQ period in Luzon. Reports of violations came from the general public, submitted through http://mbfp.doh.gov.ph. MBFP, which stands for DOH’s Mother and Baby-Friendly Philippines, is the reporting platform for violations of the Milk Code and the Expanded Breastfeeding Act of 2009 (Republic Act 10028).

The list of violators included health workers, non-profit organizations, and local executives such as Manning, and Mayors Andrea Henares of Antipolo City and Marcy Teodoro of Marikina City. Also on the list were celebrities such as Say Alonzo and Marian Rivera Dantes, who together with Nido, a brand that Dantes endorses, and the YesPinoy Foundation, were reported to have distributed follow-on formula. Dantes even posted it on Instagram to her 9.4 million followers.

EO 51 issued by former President Corazon C. Aquino, otherwise known as the Philippine Milk Code of 1986 or simply, the Milk Code, regulates the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, including milk formula, breastmilk supplements and other similar products by prohibiting the advertising and promotion, whether written, audio or visual, for such products. It adheres to the International Code on Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 1981. Breastfeeding advocates have hailed the Milk Code as one of the strongest breastfeeding protection laws in the world.

The Milk Code’s Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations (RIRR), released 30 years after the law was signed, prohibits the donation of infant formula and breastmilk. Administrative orders from the DOH and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) further disallow the donation of infant formula milk and breastmilk substitutes in times of disasters and calamities.

According to data from the Food and Nutrition Research Institute, exclusive breastfeeding rates have continuously gone up in the last 10 years, reaching 57.9 percent in 2019. The global exclusive breastfeeding rate stands at 41 percent. The United Nations targets to increase global breastfeeding rates to 50 percent by 2025.

Marketing is prohibited, the milk is not

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the law did not bar local government units (LGUs) from procuring formula milk.

“If local government units procure formula milk, the law does not cover it. EO 51 is a regulatory tool used by the Department of Health to regulate the advertisement of manufacturers that formula milk is more important than a mother’s milk. That’s our first objective -- we would like to know that breastmilk is still the best for babies,” she said.

DOH Memorandum No. 2020-0231, dated May 15, 2020, laid down the guidelines on the standardized regulation of donations covered by the Milk Code. Formula milk and breastmilk substitutes can still be provided to those in need, with the following conditions:

1. The local government unit buys it using its own budget (procurement);

2. Breastmilk should still be the first choice and the procured formula milk is given to identified mothers/infants, not distributed en masse;

3. Distribution, preparation and use of breastmilk substitute and formula milk must be done under the supervision of health and nutrition workers;

4. There should be no brand name, logo or identifiable marks of the manufacturer; and

5. No public relations, announcement or the likes may occur.

Dr. Mianne Silvestre, executive director of Kalusugan ng Mag-Ina (mother’s health) Foundation, echoed Vergeire’s explanation.

“The Milk Code is there to regulate the marketing and advertising of formula milk and breastfeeding substitutes, and not to penalize parents who give these products to their children,” Silvestre said. “Nobody goes to jail for feeding formula milk to their babies.”

Sharing a similar view, Dr. Paul Zambrano, a technical specialist at Alive and Thrive, a private initiative to reduce child undernutrition by improving infant and young child feeding practices, said: “Marketing (of formula milk and breastmilk substitutes) will undermine the practice of breastfeeding and complementary feeding with healthy food after six months. It’s meant to save lives. It is meant to prevent the top killers of children in that age group – diarrhea and pneumonia. ”

The problem, Silvestre said, was that formula milk was being marketed as the first option instead of breastfeeding. This goes against the hierarchy of infant feeding choices laid out in the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding published by the World Health Organization (WHO), which states that donated breast milk from a wet nurse or milk bank takes precedence over formula milk.

WHO hierarchy of indant feeding choices

Even for Covid-19 positive mothers, the WHO still recommends continued breastfeeding and rooming of babies with their mothers. Transmission of Covid-19 through breastmilk or breastfeeding has not been established.

No guidance for LGUs

What can and cannot be done under the code does not seem to be clear to local governments, even to the DILG. In an interview with PCIJ, Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, affirmed that the ban extends to selective distribution of milk to identified mothers and babies and referred to the National Nutrition Council website for guiding policies.

Taytay’s Manning said no guidance came from any government agency, particularly the DOH or DILG, on how they could respond to the needs of mothers and their babies.

During the quarantine, local officials, such as Quezon City Councilor Ariel Inton, repeatedly appealed to the DOH to lift the ban on milk donations.

In a Facebook livestream, Inton, a lawyer, gave practical advice to barangay officials planning to distribute formula milk to their constituents. “Tell them that you are handing it out as loans or ask for coins so they won’t say it’s a donation, so you can give the children something to eat,” Inton said.

For Ynares, while the Milk Code has an important purpose, it can also be a “bane during crisis.”

“It poses a huge challenge for families and the government to provide essential nutrition required for child growth and development particularly during extraordinary times,” the Antipolo City mayor said.

A National Nutrition Council advisory said that LGUs should consider that some recipients of pandemic relief goods have young children and pregnant and lactating mothers. Families are supposed to be monitored by Barangay Nutrition Scholars and Barangay Health Workers, who will provide them with low-cost, one dish-meal recipes as well as recipes utilizing their relief goods.

But Maryjoy said there were no vegetables and nutritious food in their relief packs. The lack of proper nutrition may have affected her daughter Hazel’s milk supply, she said.

“The first relief pack we received had three kilos of rice, two cans of sardines, and two Lucky Me noodles,” she said.

There was one instance, Maryjoy said, when her family received a few kilos of rice and 16 pieces of dried fish (tuyo). To increase Hazel’s milk, Maryjoy bought malunggay and cooked it with noodle soup.

While the DOH had specifically instructed that assistance should be provided to breastfeeding mothers, Maryjoy said no one from her barangay came to ask how her daughter and granddaughter were doing. “They only gave me a 150-gram pack of powdered Bear Brand milk, only for her to drink, but none for the baby,” Maryjoy recalled.

The usual relief pack distributed by LGUs during the quarantine period contained a few kilos of rice, canned goods and instant noodles. The nutrition council however urged LGUs to include dark green and yellow vegetables; root crops; legumes, beans and seeds; fruits; poultry and eggs; meat or fish; and pasteurized fresh milk.

Only a few cities and municipalities were able to distribute fresh produce.

powdered milk
Maryjoy shows the 150-gram pack of powdered milk she received after lining up at the barangay hall. She believes the lack of nutritious food affected Hazel's (not her real name) milk supply.

“We are in a crisis situation, and even the government’s hands are tied because of supply chain problems. The local government units have to procure thousands and thousands of produce to give to their constituents who need it not now, but yesterday. That is the limitation, and we understand when canned goods are distributed given the situation,” said DILG’s Malaya.

Malaya pointed out that on top of the relief packs given to households, a one-time cash assistance was given in the form of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP).

“The family can go to the market and buy what they think is nutritious food for lactating mothers. The government has already provided funds for them and they can make that choice if they wish to,” Malaya said.

But for Maryjoy, the SAP she received had to be divided among three households.

“The P6,500 is to be divided among three families, with each receiving P2,000, but I get to have the extra P500 because it was I who lined up for that money,” Maryjoy said. Most of what she got eventually went to repaying debt incurred when her husband lost his job.

Milking disasters

Breast or bottle? This question remains contentious. Since the Milk Code was enacted in 1986, the milk industry has taken advantage of every possible loophole to undermine the law. When the Milk Code took effect in 1987, international milk manufacturing company Wyeth invented the follow-on formula for babies six months old and beyond.

The Milk Code’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR) were revised to include a ban on advertising follow-on formula in 1990. A revised IRR was drafted in 2006, adding further safeguards 30 years after the Milk Code was signed, but this was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court.

A report released in May 2020 by WHO, United Nations Children’s Fund and the International Baby Food Action Network said that despite the pandemic, milk companies continued to skirt laws in many countries and continuously promoted their products.

“There is no guarantee that these donations will occur over the long term,” said Dr. Nathalie Africa-Verceles, director of the University of the Philippines Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. “The intention really is to introduce the product and to generate dependence with the belief and the hope that women will continue to patronize the products that they were provided for free initially.”

Studies have shown that mothers exposed to breastmilk substitutes were highly likely to abandon breastfeeding, and the indiscriminate distribution and use of formula milk put infants at greater risk of illness, which might be fatal.

A study in Indonesia in the aftermath of the May 2006 earthquake in Yogyakarta and Central Java found that the distribution and use of breastmilk substitutes resulted in changes in feeding practices. Uncontrolled distribution of infant formula exacerbated the risk of diarrhea among infants and young children during the emergency, the study found.

“(The Milk Code) is very relevant because let’s look at what the companies do during times of emergencies, they use it to try to market the product,” said Zambrano.

DOH data confirmed these observations. The health department noted that a rise in reports of Milk Code violations from the public began to occur in the week when the strict lockdowns began, peaking during the week of April 6 to 12 with 90 cases.

Milk code violations during the covid-19 quarantine

Apart from solicitations, there were product advertisements, such as Marian Rivera-Dantes’ Instagram post. Corporate and private donations also happened online, mostly through Facebook posts, according to the DOH data.

Zambrano pointed out that the relevance of the Code had always been questioned during emergencies. He recalled a situation in Cagayan de Oro after typhoon Sendong in 2011 when distribution of formula milk became rampant.

Silvestre downplayed the matter and said only a few mothers were unable to breastfeed their babies due to medical or physical reasons.

“These few cases are being hyped up to rationalize the lifting of the prohibition during emergencies. When in fact, it is during emergencies when we should intensify the protection of mothers to enable them to breastfeed their babies,” Silvestre said.

Formula milk manufacturers have been accused several times of unscrupulous means of advertising their products, targeting mostly low-income families or those who can least afford their product.

A 2018 report from Save the Children Philippines revealed that baby formula brands in the Philippines are using “aggressive, clandestine and often illegal methods” to get poor mothers to choose their product over breastfeeding.

Hospital staff also gave brand-specific recommendations to mothers who had just given birth, clearly a violation of the Milk Code. The report named Nestle, Abbott, Mead Johnson and Wyeth as the companies who are using these illegal tactics.

All four companies denied the allegations in separate statements sent to the Guardian in 2018.

Cheapest, but not the best

Hazel is helping her mother with their online selling business, earning a few extra pesos to help augment their family’s income. She expects breastfeeding to be temporary and will likely go back to feeding Pia formula milk.

Maryjoy said they had begun feeding Nestogen One to Pia, the cheapest in the market at P78 per box. It wasn’t prescribed by the doctor.

“But Pia doesn’t want it, she won’t swallow it,” Maryjoy said.

As Hazel handles deliveries and client meet-ups for their online selling business, Maryjoy has no choice but to give Pia formula milk.

“I need to go back to school,” Hazel said.

Asked where they will get the money to buy formula milk, Hazel shrugged. -- PCIJ, October 2020

Editor’s Note: The real names of Hazel and her baby, Pia, were not used because they are minors.





Yolanda aftermath in Tacloban
A piece of GI sheet is seen on top of an electrical post in Barangay Sagkahan, Tacloban City after Typhoon Yolanda made landfall and claimed more than 6,000 lives. (Photo by Bernard Testa)

Heavy cost of coronavirus response drains local governments’ disaster budgets

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
September 3, 2020

MANILA – The coastal towns of Dolores and Sulat in Eastern Samar constantly battle with the impact of extreme weather events such as storm surges, flash floods and typhoons.

Early this year, the leaders of the two towns were set to conduct training for emergency response teams, buy rescue equipment and early warning devices from their calamity funds, but the Covid-19 pandemic got in the way and wiped out their calamity funds to prevent the entry of the virus.

“The province was not ready to have a Covid-19 case,” said Manuel Catuday, head of Municipal Disaster Risk Resilience Management Office (MDRRMO) of Dolores. “We don’t have a government hospital, only a rural health center with one doctor.”

A community hospital in Dolores has been dilapidated since last year, and has not been repaired, he said. The next government hospital is in Tacloban City, which is at least a four-hour drive.

Covid-19 came at a time when the localities have not even completely recovered from the onslaught of Typhoons Yolanda and Ruby, which struck a year apart.

While the government was still on post-Yolanda operations, Ruby came in November 2014 and caused severe damage to homes, crops and farmlands that were still being rehabilitated. There was not enough public attention in the aftermath of Ruby as Yolanda was still fresh in the minds of government officials as well as the general public.

“Lahat ng hanapbuhay namin nawala (All our sources of livelihood were destroyed),” said Rio Caspe, 42, a fisherman from Barangay San Francisco in Sulat whose house was destroyed by Typhoon Ruby.

His three children and wife had to rely on the meager earnings of their small sari-sari store as massive flooding made fishing difficult.

Caspe said his neighbors were also cash-strapped because their crops such as banana, rice and copra were destroyed by the typhoon.

“We only relied on relief goods while staying in an evacuation center,” said Caspe.

Funds depleted

Dolores, a third-class municipality, earmarked P8 million in calamity funding for 2020 to prepare and protect its 42,000 people or 12,700 families from the impact of natural calamities.

However, the funds had to be realigned to buy personal protective equipment (PPE) for community volunteers as well as hygiene kits and food packs for residents during the lockdown, which was imposed to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The national government’s Bayanihan fund gave Dolores a P14-million subsidy to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are now sourcing from this (Bayanihan) fund for our response to Covid-19 pandemic,” said Catuday.

The town also has to spend for at least 900 LSIs or locally stranded individuals who arrived in Dolores from March to June.

Dolores, Sulat, and seven other towns in Samar were placed under state of calamity in May when Typhoon Ambo, the first typhoon to visit the country this year, pummeled the province. As usual, the storm destroyed crops and damaged houses, displacing more than 140,000 people.

Most houses in these towns are made of light materials.

“Matagal bago kami makabangon, hirap kasi ang pagpapagawa (It takes a long time to recover because we don’t have enough money to repair our houses),” said Catuday.

Charlie Rosaroso, head of the Sulat MDRRMO, said at least P1.5 million or 30 percent of the P5.1 million calamity fund for 2020 was spent to provide emergency assistance to families affected by Typhoon Ambo. The remaining funds were depleted by the Covid-19 response.

He said he was only able to spare P300,000 to continue the training for volunteers on emergency response.

Provinces and cities get 5 percent of the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA), the local governments’ share of national tax collections, for disaster risk resilience (DRR) under Republic Act 10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010.

Of the total calamity fund, 70 percent is allocated to prevention, mitigation and preparedness, and 30 percent is set aside as a Quick Response Fund (QRF).

“What is left of our calamity fund is now being used for our Covid-19 response,” said Rosaroso. These include relief goods, PPE for volunteers, hygiene kits, food packs for residents, as well as LSIs and ROFs (returning overseas Filipinos) undergoing quarantine.

Sulat has hosted close to 200 LSIs since March.

A fourth-class municipality with a population of close to 16,000, Sulat does not have a hospital, but there is one doctor in each of the rural health centers in 18 barangays, said Rosaroso.

As of Aug. 10, there were eight confirmed cases of Covid-19 infection in Eastern Samar and most of them came from Metro Manila. Both Catuday and Rosaroso said there were no confirmed cases in their towns, as they work even on Sundays to ensure health and hygiene protocols are properly implemented.

Mario Candelaria, chairman of Barangay San Francisco in Sulat, said: “An infection here is a nightmare because we don’t have a hospital.”

“Noon 'pag galing Maynila sinasalubong ng mga taga dito, ngayon nilalayuan na (Before, those who arrived from Manila got a welcome, now people avoid them,” said Candelaria.

He said the P110,000 calamity fund of San Francisco has also been used for food packs, hygiene kits, and for disinfecting public facilities.

Exposed and vulnerable

The Philippines ranked second in terms of exposure and vulnerability to climate-related risks in the Global Climate Change Risk Report for 2020 of Germanwatch, the environment think tank. Japan topped the list.

Red Constantino, executive director of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), said the report showed that "Those who are least responsible for the problem, are the ones who are suffering the most. This is unacceptable."

“The pandemic has largely revealed systemic weaknesses that would have just taken more time to uncover otherwise,” said Constantino.

The German report noted that strong tropical cyclones such as Bopha (“Pablo”) 2012, Haiyan (“Yolanda”) 2013 and Mangkhut (“Ompong”) 2018 have been recorded in the last 10 years, affecting mostly the poor and vulnerable population.

At least 74 percent of the country’s population is susceptible to multiple hazards, including coastal hazards such as typhoons, storm surges and rising sea levels, according to the 2018 World Risk Report. The report ranked the Philippines third among countries most vulnerable to disaster risks.

The catastrophic impact of Tropical Depression Ondoy in 2009 cost Marikina and Pasig cities P22.54 billion, of which Pasig accounted for 90 percent.

Rich city gets more money

This time around, Pasig City had to let go of critical spending for disaster risk resilience programs due to the pandemic response, said Bryant Wong, the city disaster risk reduction and management officer. These included reducing the number of fire engines and rescue vehicles to be purchased.

“We did not expect Covid-19 pandemic to affect us all, but we need to respond to it the best way we can,” Wong said.

Unlike Sulat and Dolores, however, Pasig City Hall has deeper pockets and generous donors.

Of the P600-million calamity fund for 2020, the city government has spent half for the Covid-19 pandemic response, Wong said.

It also managed to utilize an additional P200 million from the P300 million DRR savings in the last five years.

Other funding sources for Pasig City’s Covid-19 response included a P1.2-billion supplemental fund for the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) and another P1.2 billion for tablets to be used by students for online classes, from the Special Education Fund.

The city also received P136 million from the Bayanihan fund, equivalent to one month of its IRA.

Wong said private donations of beds, PPEs, hygiene kits and rapid testing kits worth P50 million boosted the city’s pandemic response.

The private sector also donated 100,000 food packs to Pasig.

In the case of Sulat and Dolores towns, there are no big corporate donors, which meant that the money for food packs distributed to locked-down residents came from their calamity funds.

Funding sources

Undersecretary Ricardo Jalad of the Office of Civil Defense, also the executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council Council (NDRRMC), told local government units (LGUs) in a webinar in July to learn “to adjust, transform and adapt strategies to manage response to Covid-19 pandemic and prepare for multiple hazards from natural calamities.”

During the webinar, John Aries Macaspac, a director of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), enumerated funding sources for the Covid-19 response, including the Special DRRM Trust Fund or the savings from DRR funds in the last five years, a month’s worth of IRA from the national government and realigned funds from the General Fund. LGUs may also use 20 percent of their development funds for the purchase of PPEs, rapid test kits, vitamins, medicines, accommodation and expenses of health workers, construction of rental quarantine facilities, mobile testing labs, tents, shelters for the homeless, and training for pandemic response, under guidelines issued by the DBM and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

The “Bayanihan to Heal as One” or Republic Act 11469 allocated P37 billion for the emergency Covid-19 response of LGUs. It allocated P12.4 billion to all cities; P18.39 billion to municipalities and P6.2 billion to provinces.

Constantino said responses to the Covid-19 pandemic and climate emergency should go hand in hand, as both require the expertise of scientists and policies and actions based on evidence.

Scientists, he noted, advised physical distancing to prevent the transmission Covid-19 while waiting for a vaccine to be developed. Scientists have also stressed the urgency of limiting the rise of global temperatures to below 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

“We do not have the luxury to choose whether we need protection from the deadly fevers induced by the novel coronavirus or from an increasingly feverish planet. Just as climate change is not an environmental problem but a development crisis, so is Covid-19 not merely a human health crisis but an ecological problem,” said Constantino.

About the Author: Estrella Torres is a journalist who has worked for major English dailies in the Philippines for 20 years. She is now the Head of Media and Communications of Save the Children Philippines. Save the Children implements a program on improving the quality of disaster response and preparedness in the typhoon-stricken municipalities of Sulat and Dolores in Eastern Samar.





Todo-Todoc’s increase amidst the crisis

Todoc’s Special Native Delicacies

By DTI-Regional Operations Group
July 15, 2020

MAKATI CITY – 2020, is it the best year yet? Well, not for the younger generation. The recent restrictions on travel and other leisure activities affected the tourism industry everywhere. Far from happiness, most of Region 8’s micro entrepreneurs who fall under the sector of tourism support were greatly affected. These are businesses who support the local tourism by offering a handful of sweet native delicacies.

Leah Hiangnan, a young traveler and entrepreneur/owner of Todoc’s Special Native Delicacies, is already experiencing success from her thriving business selling chocolate moron (chocolate sticky rice pudding). It is a well-known native delicacy usually introduced and loved by visiting tourists, and pasalubong from every kababayan in Eastern Visayas. Her brand- Todoc’s, is known to originate from Abuyog, Leyte, the true home of this delicacy.

Prior to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, her product was top-selling, she also has shipments to Manila, Cebu and Bohol.

For Leah, success is on her side, until recently she experienced unfortunate events in her life. Her father died this year, then comes the pandemic. Sadly, her orders for the Holy Week and Summer were cancelled due to low demand in tourism-support products and logistical concerns.

Everything seems to stop in her life. “Nahulop ko Maám, asa ko pamilngon an akon ibayad monthly sa akon loans para sa business operation,” says Leah who emotionally shared her struggle on how she can pay her loans used to expand her business when their operations stopped. She also shared how her family is financially affected by the hiatus, especially that she gave birth to her first born. Good thing the financial institutions imposed moratorium for loan payments.

She was also concerned of the employees who depend their livelihood on hers. Twenty (20) of her employees instantaneously lost their jobs, and she could not support them either.

For some time, she paused and started to think of ways how she can advance forward. She was determined to move on and learn to navigate the unknown paths of the “new normal”. With internet and a social media account, she started posting photos of her product online. It was a positive step, a few orders came.

Exactly May 1, 2020, she called out 7-10 employees and started the production of chocolate moron. They started to work twice a week. Though far from her daily production and 20 employees working for her, it was a good start. Soon enough, she will gain back her monthly income of P80,000-100,000.

Leah noticed that most orders are coming outside of the region. She searched further and found out that there is a high demand for native delicacies in Manila.

Now how would she deliver her products? Again, through online searching, Leah found a way. “Pasabay” services are the trend for micro entrepreneurs. Small logistics player in the region offer door to door delivery of products from small businesses to their linked businesses in Manila.

“Naghahanap ako Maám ng paraan para maka-kuha ng orders, mag-produce kami at maka-deliver,” says Leah who was determined to seize every opportunity of getting bulk orders outside the region and delivering them.

Talking about disaster resilience, she is coping with the crisis by establishing a broader network and strengthening business ties with her partners while finding ways “paraan/diskarte” to make sure her business goes running.

Usually she sends her products in Cebu, Bohol and Manila, now, a door opened for Dumaguete with an initial order of 60 packs of chocolate moron.

Despite the spiking prices of raw materials for the production and the limited supply of sugar and milk, Leah will be producing 12,000 pcs of chocolate moron this week and expects more to come in succeeding weeks.

Leah will also process the delicacy in the water retort facility at the Food Innovation Center by DTI and DOST to extend the shelf life of her product. She considered the possible delays in logistics, and so, she wanted to ensure the consistency of her product’s quality.

“I will always find ways to make sure that our business will always run by building new business linkages and stepping in for every opportunity I find,” says Leah Hiangnan with full determination to keep her business at the middle of a crisis.





Harl’s: Beyond hurdles

Handcrafted by Harl’s

An entrepreneur’s bounce back story amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

By DTI-Regional Operations Group
July 14, 2020

MAKATI CITY – The coronavirus disease or COVID-19 has greatly affected many lives and the country’s economy. As entrepreneurs struggle to adjust their business strategies, it has become a challenging situation for them, most especially the micro and small enterprises. Nonetheless, for Harley Dave Beltran, owner of Handcrafted by Harl’s, every cloud has a silver lining.

Known as the only micro social enterprise in the country, Handcrafted by Harl’s in San Pedro, Laguna started its business in 2014. This homegrown brand is known in their innovative and unique genuine leather products such as bags, coin purses, cellphone cases, gadget organizers, clocks, stools, bow ties, belts, sandals, slippers, key chains, tags, wallets, and other customized items.

With the aim to promote local artistry, Harl’s produces crafts valuable to the community, coinciding with its social responsibility to provide employment to people with disability and underprivileged craftsmen. They train aspiring artisans to produce products that would qualify in the international market.

While some companies use machines in certain phases of the manufacturing process, Harl’s takes pride with their products that are purely and skillfully handmade. What sets them apart from other leather brands is how they use waste materials and genuine “rugged” type full grain leather to create upcycled products. Their products have visible natural leather markings on them such as a few scratches, discoloration, or burn marks to give more character and uniqueness to the products. They do not use linings and make only one of each product, especially with their bags. Every batch produced has different sets of leather choices and, these same items are not produced again. All these are crafted proudly and dexterously by differently-abled workers who are either mute, deaf, or cripple.

For the past years, Harl’s handcrafted items are staple products at the regional and national trade fairs and bazaars of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). In 2018 at the DTI’s Sikat Pinoy National Trade Fair and National Arts and Crafts Fair, differently-abled workers from Harl’s conducted a leathercrafts workshop where guests can create their own wallet, coin purse, and other leather goods.

But like any other businesses, Harl’s was caught off guard when the pandemic happened.

“I had to unload the ship for it to sail further. To put it simply, I needed to let go one of my stores. I needed to prioritize what’s best for the company and for my employees,” said Harley.

“We were not prepared for the pandemic, but what can we do about it? Instead of constantly thinking of problems and feeling dejected, I use my time during this quarantine period to become more productive by thinking of new ways for my business to survive and to sustain the needs of my employees,” added Harley.

With these in mind, Harl’s started crafting face masks made from leather and ticog mat, and they call it maska. Ticog is harvested by an Abre Linea weaving community in San Miguel, Leyte.

According to Harley, maska doesn’t just provide safety but also comfort and durability because of the materials used. One purchase of maska will not only feed one PWD family but will also support San Miguel’s weaving community.

Moreover, through the donations of customers and friends, Harley conducted the “Harl’s COVID-19 Response” by distributing relief packages to several underprivileged and PWD families in their area.

“Harl’s bounce back story is very remarkable. We hope that his experience will help our MSMEs to be inspired to move forward and start the process of putting their businesses back on track. We, in the DTI, and with our programs and activities for our MSMEs want them to be ready to embrace the new normal,” said DTI CALABARZON Director Marilou Q. Toledo.

DTI, through the Regional Operations Group headed by Undersecretary Blesila Lantayona, has been responsive to help MSMEs across the regions cope with the pandemic through provision of various programs that will gear them up as they face the new normal.

“Harl’s is here not to have business; we’re here to inspire and survive. We continue to serve our purpose by helping others,” said Harley.

Harley believes that your action matters, so act now.





Quarantine curbs access to information

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
June 5, 2020

IS FREEDOM of information one of the casualties of Covid-19?

Since April, the staff of the Digital News Exchange (DNX), a community-based news site in Bacolod City, has had zero success in getting a response to its requests for information on Covid-19-related procurement and cash aid.

They’re not the only ones. Journalists around the country say both national and local government agencies have either delayed or denied their information requests. Officials, they said, were particularly reluctant to release information that would hold them accountable for their spending.

So far, only one in 10 of the Covid-19 requests filed in the government’s eFOI portal between March 13 and May 27, 2020 has been granted. Most of these requests were for information on Covid-19 spending and financial assistance, according to data from the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), the manager of the eFOI platform where information requests from national government agencies in the executive branch are filed.

The PCOO has so far received 1,332 requests from journalists and the public for Covid-19-related information. More than half of those requests are still being processed while about a third have been denied supposedly because they were lodged in the wrong agency, the requester did not provide his/her complete details, or the information is already available online. (See Charts 1 and 2.)

Most of the denials were requests for Covid-19 spending or Social Amelioration Program (SAP) data from the Departments of Social Welfare and Development, Labor and Employment, Interior and Local Government, and Budget and Management. The PCOO refused to entertain these requests; instead it advised requestors to ask their local government unit or call a DSWD hotline number. (See Table 1 below.)

Like many journalists around the country, DNX was particularly interested in how funds allocated for Covid-19 relief have been spent. It is working on a project called Money Watch to monitor how money from Bacolod City’s P100-million calamity fund was allocated.

It’s been eight weeks since the DNX staff sent the city government and its Department of Social Services and Development a request for data on pandemic-related spending. But up to now, they have not heard back.

City officials were not always so stingy with information. In mid-March, as the lockdown started, they responded promptly when DNX reporters asked about Covid-19 preparations. This positive response prompted DNX reporters to forego filing formal information requests for the time being. They also feared that formal requests would be processed only when the quarantine was already over. But in April, when DNX asked for spending details, city officials were no longer as open as before. “Finding sources is as difficult as catching a greased pig let loose,” said Julius Mariveles, DNX’s executive editor.

Like city officials, barangay officials, who are responsible for releasing cash subsidies, delivering relief goods, and keeping the peace in their communities, were also unwilling to give information. Mariveles says being “out on the field” has become a common excuse for these officials’ inability to provide data.

DNX has so far released just one Money Watch story. It revealed discrepancies in the number of targeted and actual beneficiaries of the city’s Covid-19 financial assistance, as well as the lack of reports from several barangays.

The national government has allocated at least P500 billion to address the impact of the pandemic that has killed nearly a thousand Filipinos and placed millions out of work because of the lockdown. This amount does not include emergency funds that local governments can tap in addition to any revenue and savings that they may also decide to use for Covid-19-related expenses.

DNX’s small team of four reporters tried their best to report on how Bacolod apportioned public funds for coronavirus projects. But they were at their wit’s end: With limited access to data and sources plus pandemic-related constraints on field reporting, there was only so much they could do.

In Metro Manila, Cebu, and other parts of the country, journalists who shared their experiences with PCIJ encountered varying levels of difficulty, depending on the type of information they were requesting. While information about the national government’s plan and budget to fight the virus are readily available online, getting more detailed information on how the plans are being implemented and the money spent is another story.

Obtaining details about Covid-19 spending at the local level has been especially difficult. Unlike frontline agencies at the national level, local governments do not proactively publish data on their websites. Moreover, with press briefings now online, officials and their PR staff often screen questions from the media, making it harder for reporters to demand answers.

Since March, when government offices were wholly or partly closed, most routine requests for information have not been processed. The Philippines is among many governments in the world that had to suspend the processing of freedom-of-information or FOI requests because of the pandemic.

The PCOO has so far issued four advisories notifying offices in the executive branch of the suspension of FOI processing. The advisories apply only to agencies covered by Executive Order 2, s. 2016, which laid out the Duterte administration’s FOI guidelines.

On June 1, PCOO lifted the suspension of FOI processing, except in areas under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). But it said agencies with sufficient capacity can go ahead and process FOI requests despite quarantine regulations.

The other branches of government – Congress, the judiciary and local governments – were not covered by the suspension, but their responses to information requests were understandably slowed down because offices have not been in full operation for at least 10 weeks. Although the ECQ in Metro Manila was lifted on June 1, government offices still follow alternative work arrangements, which means shortened hours or suspension of certain services.

These measures have exacerbated delays in the release of information crucial for holding government accountable. For example, for over a year now, PCIJ’s longstanding request for the statements of assets of national government officials has been pending because the Office of the Ombudsman has yet to issue guidelines for releasing such documents.

To be sure, a number of national agencies, particularly those at the frontlines of Covid-19 response, have published records proactively, without the need for a formal information request. Some departments, despite operating on a skeleton staff, continue to accept and respond to requests by email.

But things were better last year. From October 2018 to September 2019, the PCOO received 18,036 eFOI requests or an average of 347 requests per week. Nearly half of these requests were granted. During the ongoing quarantine until May 27, an average of 318 requests were lodged in the eFOI portal every week but the success rate was just 17 percent.

According to Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, public-records requests must be addressed within 15 working days. Executive Order 2, s. 2016 gave executive agencies more time -- not longer than 20 business days -- to respond to such requests.

With the lockdown, however, government agencies could not meet these deadlines. PCOO Assistant Secretary Kristian R. Ablan says PCOO suspended the required processing time because of the “justifiable concerns” of FOI officers that they may be held liable if they fail to address requests within the prescribed period.

FOI officers working from home said they lacked internet connection, office equipment such as laptop computers and scanners and digital copies of files. They also found it difficult to coordinate remotely with record custodians.

The health and safety of the FOI officers were also factored in. “We didn’t want to put their health at risk during ECQ,” he says.

Jenina Joy Chavez, co-convener of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition (R2KRN), acknowledged these difficulties. Speaking at an online forum on May 27, she said suspending FOI operations may be necessary, but she also asked whether the government has done anything to help agencies respond to information requests even during a lockdown.

“Whether or not we’re in quarantine, the importance of the right to information remains the same,” said Chavez. During the quarantine, citizens yielded or entrusted power and resources to government, she said. Transparency measures are needed so the public is able to seek accountability and protection.

On March 29, R2KRN asked the inter-agency task force and departments implementing the government’s Covid-19 action plan for a copy of the plans and structure of the task force as well as for specific sets of documents and data held by the departments of health, social welfare, agriculture, labor, and budget, and the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System.

The status of this request is being published online and updated weekly by the coalition members, including PCIJ. Most of the information requested has been partially fulfilled, but most of the releases are in PDFs, not in open-data or spreadsheet format that make the numbers easier to analyze.

R2KRN publishes weekly reports on the quality of information being provided by frontline agencies. Its May 5 report said that the health department is perhaps the only government agency that collects, processes, posts, and updates information on a regular basis.

The coalition also raised questions about the completeness of the data. For instance, the daily Covid-19 case counts do not give a full picture of how the virus is spreading. Moreover, only 1,782 of more than 23,000 registered health facilities have submitted details on health capacity and needs. “With incomplete information, it is not clear how capable the health system really is to deal with the Covid-19 emergency,” R2KRN said.

In its May 12 report, R2KRN noted the sparse data released by the DSWD’s Disaster Response Operations Monitoring and Information Center (DROMIC), where updates on Covid-19 assistance are posted.

The DROMIC provides data broken down by province and city, but does not say how many families have received assistance. It also does not disaggregate new from cumulative data, which would have been helpful in determining the rate of response by government and private entities.

The attempt to publish the list of SAP beneficiaries was commendable, said R2KRN.

However, most of the links are down. The list is also partial and only includes areas that have reports from the DSWD’s field offices. Information can be downloaded but only as PDFs.

Ryan Macasero, Rappler’s Cebu Bureau reporter, says he has been able to obtain Covid-19-related information but the process has become more laborious. Getting answers from officials, who may only be reached through virtual press briefings or call and chat, has taken more time and effort.

“It makes their lives easier, but our jobs more difficult,” he says.

What seems to work, Macasero says, is when many reporters ask the same question.

“We back each other up in the agencies’/office’s official media group chats and say we have the same question to try to emphasize that it’s important they answer us regarding these questions, because it’s information the public needs to know.” (With additional research by Arjay Guarino, PCIJ, June 2020)





Before Covid-19, Philippine jails already a death trap

Human rights advocates believe that numbers will still increase and the full force of Covid-19 is yet to be felt. They also call for transparency in releasing death and infection rates to help craft policies and mitigate the spread of false information.

By AIE BALAGTAS SEE, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
May 5, 2020

AN AVERAGE of 50 to 60 prisoners have died in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) every month for the past six months but only one death in April has been attributed to Covid-19.

For the Bureau of Corrections (Bucor) the death toll in February, March, and April was still within the range of monthly deaths in the last quarter of 2019 to early 2020. The pandemic has ravaged the country since March, with local transmission of the coronavirus taking place as early as February. Humanitarian groups have since warned of its catastrophic effect on the country’s prison system.

“It still falls under our average death rate for the past six months,” Bucor spokesperson Gabriel Chaclag said in a phone interview.

The high death rate, Chaclag said, was proportional to Bilibid’s huge population, currently at 28,000. The population could create from 11 to 14 barangays. Chaclag claimed that if they have lower population, then they will have fewer deaths.

Bilibid is one of Bucor’s seven facilities for convicts. It had recorded one to three deaths daily from October 2019 to April 2020, noted Chaclag. Most came from the maximum-security compound, which was designed for 6,000 but currently holds 19,000 men. Chaclag said that the cause of these deaths varied, citing illnesses such as cancer and heart failure as major ones.

“Loneliness, nightmares, and accidents” were also seen as reasons for these deaths according to Chaclag.

Prisoners in extremely congested jail facilities live in deplorable conditions, lacking proper health care, hygiene, and nutrition. Human rights advocates have called for the early release of elderly and sickly detainees. They have also pushed for making available information on death and infection rates.

With Covid-19 breaching Bilibid walls, the deaths are sowing panic and paranoia among disgruntled detainees who, according to an insider, fear that the virus has already exploded within prison compounds.

deaths in prisonThe lone Covid-related death from NBP was reported on April 23. There have been no confirmed Covid-19 cases in Bilibid since, but at least 44 inmates have been in quarantine, Chaclag confirmed. Four of them were tested for the virus, with results yet to be released.

Health undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, in a phone interview, said that only one NBP inmate had tested positive for coronavirus as of May 4.

A prison insider said bodies were piling up in NBP’s old isolation ward called Dorm 1D. In late April, at least “20 bodies emitting foul odor” were stacked there. On May 1, the insider added, three men died after the NBP hospital ran out of oxygen.

“The inmates plan to hold a noise barrage but Bucor guards threatened to shoot them,” the insider said.

Chaclag denied this, saying those “who have agenda” should stop weaving stories that sow paranoia, which could lead to a riot in NBP. Bodies were not piling up, he said. There were days when the funeral parlor could not retrieve them because the cause of death was unknown. “We had to wait for the crematorium personnel to pick them up,” he explained.

Guidelines issued by the Health department stated that deaths with unknown causes shall be treated as Covid cases and the corpse cremated within 12 hours.

Six to five NBP inmates who died in their dormitories were cremated last month. This is not a known practice in NBP. Bodies without cause of death were usually autopsied and kept by funeral parlors until someone claimed them.

Chaclag said that unclaimed bodies in the past were either buried in the NBP cemetery or were taken advantage of by funeral parlors who sold them to operators of “sakla,” a form of illegal gambling carried out during wakes to help families raise funds for burial expenses. In the case of unclaimed inmates, the earnings simply went to the pockets of the syndicates.

Old conditions and new virus, a lethal mix

Inmate deaths is a decades-old problem at the New Bilibid Prison. The global pandemic merely reopened the old Pandora’s box.

The national penitentiary was already in the spotlight last year because of the alarming number of deaths there. Henry Fabro, the Bilibid hospital chief, said one prisoner there dies each day.

Humanitarian groups have long blamed overpopulation, poor hygiene, lack of proper food, and limited access to health care for the lamentable condition. The calls to depopulate jails have only grown louder with the coronavirus now part of the equation.

Rights advocates have called for the release of vulnerable inmates, saying infections in detention areas might risk jail staff and visitors, and can potentially lead to the reinfection of the general public.

One of these advocates, Raymund Narag, an associate professor at Southern Illinois University and expert in Philippine jails, told PCIJ that there should be transparency in dealing with these problems.

“It is their moral and legal obligation to be transparent. It is the only way to mitigate the spread of false information. It is also helpful in crafting policies if information are timely and accurately provided,” Narag said.

Death and infection rates in detention facilities have always been difficult to obtain. Like Narag, Human Rights Watch has called for transparency after learning that one detainee dies every week in Quezon City Jail since the coronavirus hit the facility last March.

Paul Borlongan, chief doctor of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), which supervises city jails, also claims that BJMP’s death statistics is still “acceptable.”

In recent years, from 300 to 800 detainees have died in BJMP annually. “So far, I can say that our death statistics is still acceptable,” Borlongan said, adding that, “we expect 20 to 40 per week and sometimes 60 to 80 per month.”

Clash of statistics

Transparency is not the only problem. A clash of statistics among government agencies, and between the local and national governments, is adding to the confusion.

According to Usec. Vergeire, there were 249 Covid-positive inmates in jails and prisons as of May 3. Of these, 187 were in Cebu City Jail, 49 in the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong, 12 in Quezon City Jail, and one in Bilibid.

The facilities that appear to be the hardest hit are the most congested. Cebu City Jail is overpopulated by 1,000 percent and has the highest number of inmates at 6,237. Quezon City Jail is the third most crowded with 3,821 inmates as of March 2020.

covid-19 infections in prison

As far as BJMP is concerned, only nine inmates – not 12 – from Quezon City Jail are considered Covid-positive patients. Borlongan surmised that the three other inmates in DOH’s list were those whose deaths were considered “possible Covid” cases because they had flu-like symptoms or pulmonary problems.

As of April 27, BJMP has recorded a total of 195 inmates and 34 jail staff who tested positive for Covid-19. Five jail personnel had recovered while none of the inmates have yet to be cleared of the illness. BJMP also documented cases in Mandaue City Jail, Marikina City Jail, Pasay City Jail, and Mandaluyong City Jail. These jails are not in the DOH list.

The City Reformatory Center in Zamboanga City was also reported to have Covid-positive cases. BJMP’s Borlongan said he has not received the official report about these cases.

Infections were also reported in the Cebu Provincial Jail, which is managed by the local government.

covid-19 infections in jails

A Bucor official, who requested anonymity, also complained of slow and unreliable test results from the Health department. “We have to repeat the test each time they release results to us. It’s a waste of resources. Once, our staff tested positive but when the Philippine Red Cross rechecked it, the results were negative.”

The World Health Organization, International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Health department are working alongside Bucor and BJMP in setting up quarantine facilities for infected detainees.

DOH Undersecretary Vergeire said they also plan to “conduct targeted testing, provide treatment and management of cases, and ensure that infection control measures are in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in penal and correctional facilities.”

Prisoner release and other urgent calls

From March 17 to April 29, almost 10,000 inmates have been released as bid to curb the spread of coronavirus in jails. The Supreme Court has also allowed the release of pre-trial detainees in jail for crimes punishable with six-month incarceration and below. A reduction of bail has been recommended for non-convicts facing charges punishable with jail time of six months to 20 years.

Petitions seeking temporary freedom for the sick and elderly are still pending approval.

Last March, Interior secretary Eduardo Año rejected calls to release vulnerable inmates, saying jails were the “safest” place for them. The growing number of Covid-19 cases now appear to disprove this claim.

“If many people – prisoners, guards, their families, the people i[n] neighborhoods around jails – die because of Covid-19, the massacre is squarely the responsibility of government,” Human rights advocate and Ateneo de Manila University professor Antonio La Viña said.

Narag and La Viña believe the numbers will still increase and the full force of Covid-19 is yet to be felt. “I believe that there will be multiple bombs that will explode. Many PDLs [persons deprived of liberty] had been dying from many jails… only that it is not reported as such. But once the news report will catch up, I will not be shocked,” Narag said.

Warnings about the coronavirus being a bomb that could explode in jails and prisons were made in early March. These fell on deaf ears until infections began to manifest, with jails and prisons fast becoming the next epicenters of the virus. “Our prisons will be ground zero unless we decongest now,” said La Viña.

Narag and La Viña are urging the government to take swift actions, stressing that the disease’s spread is a public issue and not only the problem of the corrections and prison system. “We are already faced by a problem that can kill us all,” Narag said. –PCIJ, May 2020

Aie Balagtas See is a freelance journalist working on human rights issues. Follow her on Twitter (@AieBalagtasSee) or email her at aie.bsee@gmail.com for comments.





340 skilled, informal sector workers in Sogod get P4.3M livelihood aid

informal sector workers

By Norma Rae Costimiano, DOLE-8
July 17, 2019

TACLOBAN CITY – The Department of Labor and Employment Regional Office VIII through its Southern Leyte Field Office has successfully awarded livelihood assistance to some three hundred forty skilled and informal sector workers from six barangays of Sogod last 27 June 2019 at Sogod Gymnasium, Sogod, Southern Leyte.

The amount of livelihood projects awarded during the turnover ceremony totaled to P4,357,135.00 charged under the DOLE Integrated Livelihood Program (DILP) funds of the regional office.

The approved livelihood projects under the said funding include the following: Rice Production Tractor with Machine Thresher and Blower amounting to P200,000; Abante San Jose Para sa Kauswagan amounting to P967,430; Micro Livelihood Project for Skilled Workers of Barangay Pandan amounting to 782,585; Dugang Negosyong Panginabuhian para sa Concepcion I amounting to P284,970; Starter Kits para sa Proyektong Panginabuhian sa Barangay San Roque amounting to 1,065,050; Sustainable Livelihood Development Project of Barangay Milagroso amounting to 447,905; and Micro Livelihood Project of Barangay Rizal amounting to P609,195.

Different tools, equipment and materials were released to the beneficiaries for the implementation of the micro livelihood and diversified projects which include Dressmaking, Vulcanizing, Welding, Mini Carenderia, Haircutting & Cosmetology, Barber Shop, Dried Fish Vending, Fruits & Vegetables Vending, Painting Services and Rice Production, among others.

Present to grace the significant occasion were Atty. Cecilio I. Baleña, DOLE RO VIII OIC-Assistant Regional Director, Ms. Marites Z. Viñas, DOLE-SLFO Head, Honorable Jose Ramil Golo, Vice-Mayor of Sogod and Ms. Velma O. Duguil, Sogod PESO Manager.

Also in attendance to witness the simple ceremony were the chairpersons of the recipient barangays, namely: Jeffrex R. Gan of Brgy. San Jose, Reynaldo A. Paloguer of Brgy. Pandan, Lyn T. Guias of Brgy. Concepcion I, Adelina P. Tadtad of Brgy. San Roque, Antonio S. Tagoon of Brgy. Milagroso and Corneila M. Telin of Brgy. Rizal.

Atty. Baleña in his message happily congratulated all the beneficiaries for their starter kits. He likewise thanked the local government unit of Sogod for being an active partner of DOLE RO VIII in delivering its employment and livelihood programs in the municipality.

“Allow me to congratulate all our beneficiaries for their new sources of income. I hope you will do your best to be successful in your respective businesses. And of course to our officials of LGU-Sogod, thank you for always being supportive to our programs especially our livelihood program”, said Atty. Baleña.

Vice-Mayor Golo in response thanked DOLE RO VIII for all the help it extends to the municipality.

“We are so blessed to have DOLE as our strong partner in uplifting the lives of our constituents here in Sogod. These livelihood assistance that our workers received is a proof of how serious our government is in serving the people especially those in need”, Hon. Golo said.

All the beneficiaries present were happy and elated after receiving the livelihood aid. The smiles on their faces were beaming, a sign of new hope and determination to live better lives.

The six recipient barangays were all first timers in availing livelihood assistance from DOLE RO VIII.

Last updated: 11/10/2022