PH Defense chief says China trespassing in Ayungin Shoal

Robie de Guzman   •   November 25, 2021   •   331

MANILA, Philippines – Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday reiterated that the Philippines has sovereign rights over Ayungin Shoal (also called Second Thomas Shoal) following China’s call for the country to remove its grounded vessel in the area.

“Ayungin lies inside our EEZ (exclusive economic zone) which we have sovereign rights. Our EEZ was awarded to us by the 1982 UNCLOS, which China ratified,“ Lorenzana told reporters.

“China should abide by its international obligations that it is part of,” he added.

The Defense chief issued the statement in response to the remark of China’s Foreign Ministry, through its spokesperson Zhao Lijian, demanding the Philippines to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from the shoal.

BRP Sierra Madre is an old Philippine Navy ship that was ran aground there to assert Manila’s claim over the area. It has been serving as the outpost of a small Philippine military contingent since 1999.

In a press conference in Beijing, Zhao claimed anew that Ayungin Shoal (known in China as Ren’ai Jiao) is part of Nansha Qundao, which is the Chinese name for the Spratly Islands also being claimed in part by the Philippines.

But Lorenzana maintained that Ayungin Shoal is within the Philippines EEZ as it is located about 105 nautical miles west of Palawan.

Aside from UNCLOS, the Defense chief also noted that the Permanent Court of Arbitration, in its 2016 ruling on a case lodged by the Philippines, stated that China’s territorial claim over the West Philippine Sea has neither historic nor legal basis.

“Ergo, we can do whatever we want there and it is they who are actually trespassing,” he said.

“Meron tayong dalawang documento na nagpapatunay na meron tayong sovereign rights sa ating EEZ habang sila ay wala at yung claim nila walang basehan, “ he added.

Lorenzana also said that as far as he knows, there is no commitment made by Philippine authorities to remove BRP Sierra Madre from the Ayungin Shoal.

“As far as I know there is no such commitment. That ship has been there since 1999. If there was commitment it would have been removed long time ago,” he said.

China’s demand for the removal of BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal came after Philippine military boats completed their resupply mission on Thursday.

The boats were deployed there a week after Chinese coast guard vessels blocked and harassed the first Filipino mission that were sent to the area.

The incident prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to call out China’s action at the contested waters during the ASEAN-China special summit on November 22. (with details from Correspondent Lea Ylagan)

DOH: Philippines now classified at minimal risk for COVID-19

Robie de Guzman   •   December 6, 2021

MANILA, Philippines ­– The whole of the Philippines is now classified at minimal risk for novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the Department of Health (DOH) said on Monday.

DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said most of the regions in the country have showed decreased average daily attack rate compared with previous weeks.

“Nationally, we remain at minimal risk case classification with a negative two-week growth rate at negative 57% and a low risk average daily attack rate at point 67 cases for every 100,000 individuals,” Vergeire said in a press briefing.

“The National health systems capacity is at low risk. All regions showed decrease in average daily attack rates compared to the previous 3-4 weeks and remained at minimal to low risk case classification,” she added.

Vergeire noted that from the more than 900 average daily cases from November 22 to 29, it declined to an average of 544 per day nationwide.

She said this is lower than the figure recorded in August 2020 and April 2021 when the Philippines reached the peak of cases.

The National Capital Region also remains at low-risk classification with 112 average daily cases recorded from November 29 to December 5.

Death cases also decreased to three during the period of December 1 to 5.

Vergeire said infection rates in most of the regions have been steadily declining compared with previous weeks.

But she urged the public not to be complacent especially during this time when some people gather to celebrate the holiday season.

Vergeire said the public should continue adhering to health protocols as the threat of COVID-19 remains. (with details from Correspondent Aiko Miguel)

PH gov’t tracing 253 passengers from Africa amid looming threat of Omicron

Robie de Guzman   •   December 3, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government is tracing and monitoring more than 200 travelers who arrived in the country from African nations in the last two weeks amid the threat of new COVID-19 variant called Omicron, the Department of Health (DOH) said Friday.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said they have traced a total of 253 passengers from South Africa who arrived in the Philippines from November 15 to 29.

“BOQ has started to locate these passengers,” Vergeire said in a virtual press forum.

Of the 253 passengers, 249 were returning overseas Filipinos and four were foreigners. Authorities have traced 71 of these individuals.

The number includes three foreigners still in quarantine in Western Visayas after yielding negative test results.

Vergeire said three of these passengers initially tested positive for COVID-19. One passenger came from South Africa, another from Burkina Faso, and the other from Egypt.

She said samples of these travelers may undergo genome sequencing for variant identification.

“We are still processing the batch that we are going to subject to whole genome sequencing for this week. Results might be tonight or maybe tomorrow,” she said.

“Meron pong dumating na 253 from South Africa noong Nov. 15 to 29, may tatlo galing Burkina Faso; and mayroon 541 galing Egypt. Each of these countries nagkaroon ng isang traveler who tested positive for COVID-19,” she added.

The Philippine government banned the entry of travelers – except for Filipino repatriates – from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy until December 15 as a precautionary measure against the Omicron variant.

The DOH said the heavily mutated variant and potentially more infectious than other coronavirus variants have now been detected in 35 countries.

The variant was first discovered in South Africa.

It has been designated as a variant of concern but the World Health Organization said further studies are needed to better understand the variant’s effect on vaccines, treatment, and the virus’ transmissibility.

Over 90 million COVID-19 vaccine jabs administered in PH – Palace

Robie de Guzman   •   December 3, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines has administered over 90 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines since the government rolled out the immunization drive in March, Malacañang said Friday.

Citing the December 2 data from the National COVID-19 Vaccination dashboard, acting Presidential Spokesperson Karlo Nograles said a total of 90,259,621 doses have been administered nationwide.

Of said figure, 48.42 percent or 37.3 million individuals have been fully vaccinated, he added.

The total included some 52.4 million first doses and 432,301 booster doses.

The government aims to vaccinate 54 million by the end of 2021 and up to 70 million by March 2022 to attain population protection against COVID-19.

In a bid to scale up the country’s vaccination rate, the government launched a three-day mass vaccination campaign, which initially aimed to vaccinate 9 million.

The campaign covered at least 8 million individuals in three days. The Department of Health earlier said this figure is expected to go up as reports continue to come in.

Meanwhile, the government also announced that the expanded rollout of the administration of booster shots for all fully vaccinated individuals aged 18 and above has started on Friday.

This program includes the Phase 2 rollout of the booster and additional doses for priority group A3 (persons with comorbidities), Nograles said.

Tandaan natin na importanteng magpabakuna sa gitna ng banta ng Omicron variant,” he said.

“Sa milyun-milyong nabakunahan na mga Pilipino, 99%+++ ay walang naramdaman na adverse reaction, o kung mayroon man, mild lamang po ito. Wala pong namatay na direktang may kaugnayan sa COVID-19 vaccine jab,” he added.

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