Ryanair cabin crew agree to pay cuts to save jobs


The deal between Ryanair and United Kingdom-based cabin crew will see salary reductions of up to 10% spread over 4 years

Published 11:50 AM, July 09, 2020

Updated 11:50 AM, July 09, 2020

RYANAIR. A plane of budget carrier Ryanair. Photo from Ryanair website

RYANAIR. A plane of budget carrier Ryanair. Photo from Ryanair website

LONDON, United Kingdom – Budget airline Ryanair has agreed to retain the jobs of all United Kingdom-based cabin crew in return for pay cuts, it was announced by trade unions on Wednesday, July 8.

The deal, which will see salary reductions of up to 10% spread over 4 years, has been agreed by Ryanair members of the Unite union following a vote.

“Unite has been contending with an incredibly difficult set of circumstances in the aviation sector,” Diana Holland, the union’s assistant general secretary said in a statement.

“The agreement with Ryanair shows that the company has taken a more constructive and less damaging approach to dealing with the issues than many of its competitor airlines.”

The deal for cabin crew follows a similar agreement announced between the Dublin-based no-frills Irish carrier and a separate union, Balpa, in which pilots agreed to a 20% pay cut to save jobs, although there could still be some redundancies among flying staff.

And it comes after a Ryanair announcement in May that the airline was planning to cut 3,000 jobs because of the collapse of the aviation industry in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this month, Ryanair said its passenger numbers for June had fallen by 97%.

It carried 400,000 passengers in June 2020 compared to 14.2 million in the same month 12 months earlier.

The deal for Ryanair staff comes amid uncertainty for other airlines including British Airways which has announced the possibility of 12,000 job cuts. – Rappler.com





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‘Trapped’ illegal workers in Saudi look to virus for escape


MONARCHS. A foreign laborer walks past a banner with portraits of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulazziz (C), his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) and the founder of the Kingdom King Abdulazziz al-Saudm on October 18, 2018 in Riyadh. Photo by Fayez Nureldine/AFP

MONARCHS. A foreign laborer walks past a banner with portraits of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulazziz (C), his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) and the founder of the Kingdom King Abdulazziz al-Saudm on October 18, 2018 in Riyadh. Photo by Fayez Nureldine/AFP

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Jobless and broke, Sudanese electrician Hatem is stranded in limbo in Riyadh like countless other illegal workers, but he hopes the fast-spreading coronavirus will offer a chance for escape.

While coronavirus drives a huge exodus of expatriates, campaigners say potentially hundreds of thousands of illegal workers remain stranded in Saudi Arabia, complicating efforts to fight the disease.

The pandemic has laid bare what activists call systemic injustices roiling the lives of blue-collar foreign workers in Saudi Arabia – overcrowded housing, exploitative employers, and a lack of effective recourse. (READ: Over 200 Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia died of ‘natural causes’ – DFA)

Campaigners have called on Saudi Arabia to reform its long-criticized labor policy and offer an amnesty to poor debt-ridden workers trapped in the country, a predicament that risks fueling the pandemic.

The problem is rooted in the “kafala” sponsorship system, described by critics as a modern form of slavery that binds workers to their Saudi employers, whose permission is required to enter and exit the kingdom as well as to change jobs. (READ: Saudi Arabia abolishes flogging)

Employers also hold enough sway to render their status illegal, according to activists and interviews with 4 undocumented workers, including Hatem, a 45-year-old electrician living in hiding in Riyadh to avoid arrest.

“My 6 kids, my old mother, my sister in Sudan…are living in a difficult situation, but I live in much worse conditions,” Hatem told AFP in his squalid Riyadh apartment, which he shares with other workers.

“The sponsorship system is very unjust,” said Hatem, who arrived in 2016.

Calls for amnesty

Saudi Arabia, home to around 10 million expats, has expelled hundreds of thousands of illegal workers in recent years.

But many like Hatem who are stuck in a debt trap are not permitted to leave before settling their dues, even as kafala curbs prevent them from legally earning their way to freedom.

“The Saudi government should offer an amnesty for irregular migrants to regularise their status or return to their home countries,” Annas Shaker, a research fellow at the advocacy group Migrant Rights, told AFP.

Holding back such workers, many of whom are forced to go into hiding, risks fanning the pandemic, observers including Shaker warned.

Saudi Arabia has reported over 200,000 infections and nearly 2,000 deaths. Hospital sources say doctors and nurses are among those dying and intensive care units are stretched beyond capacity.

Saudi nationalists online have openly demanded the expulsion of expat communities, widely blamed for spreading the disease.

A Saudi newspaper columnist called for “cleansing” the oil-rich Gulf state of excess foreign workers.

Hatem, who scrapes by thanks to the kindness of strangers, has implored Sudan’s embassy in Riyadh to push authorities to grant him the exit visa he needs to leave.

Neither responded to AFP’s request for comment.

A South Asian official told AFP he had received similar pleas for exit visas from debt-saddled subcontinent workers stuck in the same predicament, many for years.

In an extraordinary announcement in March, Saudi Arabia offered free coronavirus treatment to illegal workers and promised no retribution if they come forward for treatment.

But after years of what workers call heavy-handed treatment by authorities, the gesture has been met with suspicion.

Three other undocumented workers who spoke to AFP – two from Egypt and another from Bangladesh – said they would be unwilling to come forward if they contracted the virus.

One of the Egyptians, a 36-year-old father-of-two, said he could not take the risk after he took on a huge loan to work in the kingdom as a private driver.

“There is no guarantee I will not be arrested,” he said.

‘Extortion’

Kafala persists even after Saudi media reported in February that the government would “soon” abolish the system.

Hatem’s nightmare began when his sponsor began demanding a big chunk of his earnings in exchange for renewing his residence permit every year.

Foreign workers say they are often vulnerable to such “extortion” from their sponsors in order to continue working legally after many arrive heavily indebted from their home countries.

Hatem, who also needed to support his large family, said the demand pushed him further into a debt trap as he borrowed heavily to pay his sponsor.

But still, he said, the employer reported him to authorities as “huroob,” Arabic for absconding, a status that effectively renders him a criminal at risk of being jailed and deported.

The expiry of his residence permit makes his presence illegal, making it impossible to access basic services or legally find work to repay his debt, which runs into thousands of riyals.

“For hundreds of thousands of migrants in Saudi, irregularity is not a choice,” said Shaker, adding that sponsors can declare workers huroob “with a touch of a button online” or choose to wilfully avoid renewing permits.

“They are pushed to irregularity due to inadequate labour and migration policies that give employers great sway over them.” – Rappler.com





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Foreign students fear deportation over Trump visa threat


HARVARD. Pedestrians walk past a Harvard University building on August 30, 2018 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images/AFP

HARVARD. Pedestrians walk past a Harvard University building on August 30, 2018 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images/AFP

NEW YORK, USA – Pakistani student Taimoor Ahmed is one of hundreds of thousands of foreigners enrolled in American universities now fearing for their future after Donald Trump’s administration threatened to revoke their visas.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced this week that foreign students whose entire courses have moved online because of the coronavirus pandemic must return to their home country. (READ: Coronavirus: Top U.S. universities move classes online)

“I might be affected if they don’t offer any sort of in-person class,” said Taimoor Ahmed, an information technology student at Cal State University in Los Angeles.

“I’m concerned. This can potentially change my future and plans,” the 25-year-old told AFP.

Harvard and MIT launched a lawsuit Wednesday, July 8, asking the court to revoke the order that Harvard President Lawrence Bacow said had thrown higher education in the US “into chaos.”

But the action has done little to alleviate the worries of foreign students, of which there were more than one million in the United States in 2019, a doubling in 20 years, according to the Institute of International Education (IEE).

“I’m kind of scared actually,” said an Indian graduate student at a major Texas university, who asked not to be named.

He planned to continue with online classes in the fall but is now obliged to return to the campus – in a state where COVID-19 cases are soaring – or face deportation.

“I’m talking to a lot of people that are really scared, (they are) alone in a different country.

“I don’t have anyone to take care of me if I get ill. The cost of the medical treatment in the US is far, far more than the country which I come from,” the 25-year-old added.

The students see themselves as collateral damage in Trump’s aggressive push to force universities and schools to reopen fully in September amid his reelection campaign.

An Indian graduate studying electrical engineering at one of the top universities in Arizona, where the virus is also surging, fears having to risk her health to continue her research and tutoring of younger students.

“The rule is really, really cruel,” she told AFP.

More than 4,000 foreign students attend California’s public universities, and another nearly 5,000 at Harvard in Massachusetts, establishments that plan to offer online-only education this fall. (READ: Trump says Harvard move to online courses due to virus ‘ridiculous’)

Some 84% of universities are planning to offer a hybrid system of in-person and online classes, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education website, which would save students from deportation.

‘Unfair’

Many students fear a resurgence of the pandemic later this year, though, which could see all classes moved online, forcing them to leave the country.

“I think it’s really hard to control the spread of the virus in such a densely populated campus,” said the Arizona student, who asked not to be named.

“It just seems really unfair to me that the virus getting bad would be something that international students, who didn’t necessarily have any part to play in spreading the virus, would have to suffer from,” she added.

She says she will live in a “permanent state of anxiety” until her work and thesis defense ends in November.

“If my visa gets invalidated, I have invested 3 years of my life of hard work to earn this degree, so it would be so bad.”

Students are not the only ones concerned: the universities themselves are worried that Trump’s immigration policies are making their institutions less attractive.

They fear losing foreign students to cheaper colleges in Europe.

“These decisions risk damaging one of the United States’ strongest assets, which is our top-rate, best-in-the-world international education system,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick of the American Immigration Council.

The policies appear already to be having an effect.

The Indian engineer in Arizona is no longer sure whether she will stay in America after she completes her Master’s degree.

“Given the trend of how the US administration deals with immigrants and people here on temporary visas, I’m still hesitant,” she said. – Rappler.com





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Japan rescuers battle to reach thousands trapped by floods


DESTROYED. A man sits outside the house of his aunt, who died from flooding of the Kuma river due to torrential rains, in Yatsushiro, Kumamoto Prefecture on July 8, 2020. Photo by STR/JIJI PRESS/AFP

DESTROYED. A man sits outside the house of his aunt, who died from flooding of the Kuma river due to torrential rains, in Yatsushiro, Kumamoto Prefecture on July 8, 2020. Photo by STR/JIJI PRESS/AFP

TAKAYAMA, Japan – Japanese emergency services and troops were scrambling on Thursday, July 9, to reach thousands of homes cut off by devastating flooding and landslides that have killed dozens and caused widespread damage.

Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency said Thursday more than 3,000 households were isolated, either by rising floodwater or roads destroyed by landslides, mostly in the hardest-hit southwestern region of Kumamoto where fresh downpours were forecast.

The rain front started in the southwest in the early hours of Saturday and has since cut a swathe of destruction across Japan, dumping record amounts of rain and causing swollen rivers to break their banks.

Japan’s Meteorological Agency (JMA) said “heavy rain will likely continue at least until July 12 in a wide area” of the country, calling for “extreme vigilance” on landslide risks and flooding in low-lying areas.

The JMA issued its second-highest evacuation order to more than 450,000 people. However, such orders are not compulsory and most residents are choosing not to go to shelters, possibly due to coronavirus fears.

An official in Kumamoto said 55 people from the region were confirmed to have perished with 4 others feared dead.

Two other deaths have been confirmed on Japan’s southwestern island of Kyushu and more than a dozen people are missing or unaccounted for, authorities said.

After 5 days blocked by floodwater and landslides, troops finally managed to rescue some 40 residents in the village of Ashikita in the Kumamoto region.

Kinuyo Nakamura, 68, burst into tears of relief as she finally made it to an evacuation center.

“Gosh, it was scary. My house, it’s such a mess, I cannot live there anymore,” she said as she came across someone she knew at the shelter.

“We have experienced flooding disasters in the past many times. But this one doesn’t compare. Rather than being afraid, I was just focused on escaping,” she told public broadcaster NHK.

Nakamura choked up as she explained that one of her neighbors had fallen victim to the floods.

“A truly, truly, fantastic person,” she said, covering her face to hide the tears. “That was the hardest thing.”

‘Hesitating to offer help’

In many areas, landslides reduced houses to rubble and floodwater rushed into homes in low-lying areas, destroying the contents and rendering them uninhabitable.

Japan has deployed at least 80,000 rescue workers to save lives with the aid of another 10,000 troops.

The rains also lashed central Japan, with local official Ryoichi Miyamae telling AFP that nearly 4,000 people were cut off, mainly trapped in the cities of Gero and the tourist magnet of Takayama by the overflowing Hida River.

Complicating the rescue efforts has been the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed nearly 1,000 lives in Japan from more than 20,000 cases.

The need to maintain social distancing has reduced capacity at shelters and many have preferred to take refuge in their vehicles for fear of becoming infected.

One emergency worker said the coronavirus might be dissuading people from volunteering to help with the rescue efforts.

“A special characteristic of this disaster I felt was not people hesitating to evacuate, but people hesitating to offer help,” one doctor said, according to NHK. (READ: Japan lifts coronavirus emergency but urges caution)

“In past disasters, by the fourth day, we would normally see relief efforts like people preparing meals. This time, I am yet to see anything like that.”

Regional authorities have asked potential volunteers from outside Kumamoto not to travel to the region, for fear of spreading the virus.

Japan is in the middle of its annual rainy season and often sees damaging floods and landslides during this period that lasts several weeks.

However, experts say climate change is intensifying the phenomenon because a warmer atmosphere holds more water to dump in the form of rain. – Rappler.com





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Assunta de Rossi enters 5th month of pregnancy with ‘little miracle from heaven’


It will be the first baby for the actress and her husband Jules Ledesma

Published 12:51 PM, July 08, 2020

Updated 12:51 PM, July 08, 2020

PREGNANT. Actress Assunta de Rossi is expecting her first baby with husband Jules Ledesma. Screenshot from Instagram.com/assuntaledesma

PREGNANT. Actress Assunta de Rossi is expecting her first baby with husband Jules Ledesma. Screenshot from Instagram.com/assuntaledesma

MANILA, Philippines – Assunta de Rossi marked 5 months of pregnancy on Instagram by sharing an ultrasound photo of her “little miracle from heaven.”

In the post, shared on July 7, Assunta said that she still doesn’t know the sex of the baby, and is “feeling a bit emotional because the last time I had a scan, the baby was as small as a jellybean, if not smaller.”

“It’s the fear of not knowing,” she said. “But I survived my first and second trimester during a pandemic and lockdown without any complications! Cheers!”

She added the hashtags #5monthspregnant and #MiracleBaby at the end of her post.

In an earlier post, the 37-year-old actress wrote about the struggles of conceiving despite having both myoma (benign tumors that develop in and around the uterus) and endometriosis (a painful condition in which tissue similar to one’s uterine lining grows outside the uterus).

“On March 5, 2020, I paid a visit to my OB-GYN after not seeing him for 3 plus years. Why? I had missed my period. An ultrasound scan and blood test confirmed later that day that I was about 5 weeks pregnant. I know, shocking!” she shared.

“Getting pregnant the natural way with myoma and endometriosis (which I both have) is extremely difficult. Only medical intervention or a miracle can make it happen. This was a miracle!” she said.

Assunta and her husband Jules have been trying to have a baby after being married for 18 years. The couple married in civil rites in December 2002.

Jules, 59, has two adult children from his first marriage. – Rappler.com





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Children’s rights groups demand justice for 15-year-old killed in Ilocos Sur


MANILA, Philippines – Children’s rights advocates condemned the recent killing of a 15-year-old girl in Ilocos Sur after she filed a molestation complaint against a cop in a neighboring town.

The Child Rights Network (CRN) on Wednesday, July 8, demanded “swift and complete justice” for the victims over what they endured “in the hands of people who were supposed to protect them.”

Two cops earlier arrested the 15-year-old girl and her cousin for violating the curfew in San Juan, Ilocos Sur. One of the cops allegedly molested her, while the other cop allegedly raped her cousin. She was killed on July 2, after she filed a complaint against one of the cops from San Juan town, at a police station in her hometown, Cabigao.

“Using the quarantine rules to commit sexual violence and other crimes is unacceptable, utterly abusive, and frankly, reflects impunity among the deviants in our law enforcement,” CRN said.

“At a time when the citizenry have no choice but to strictly follow quarantine rules, having State implementers that take advantage of these situations to commit crimes not only put the government in a bad light but severely diminishes the public’s trust in our uniformed personnel,” it added.

The girl filed a molestation complaint against Staff Sergeant Marawi Torda, while Staff Sergeant Randy Ramos was accused of raping her cousin. Murder complaints had been filed against them for alleged involvement in the killing.

Let children be heard

Condemning the killing, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) said that “society should never be accustomed to such egregious attacks against children.”

“Every child has an inalienable right to live a life without violence and be treated by society with their best interest in mind,” Unicef said.

“When a child asserts her or his rights and reports wrongdoing against her or him, society should celebrate this act of courage by providing the child with access to justice and adequate support,” it added

Unicef urged the Philippines to improve the capacity of local officials to implement child-sensitive protocols, especially since the country is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Alberto Muyot of Save the Children Philippines also echoed this sentiment, highlighting that July 2020 marks the 30th years since the country ratified the human rights treaty protecting children.

Local officials, such as police officers and barangay leaders, should adhere to policies and guidelines issued by government agencies regarding the “humane and dignified” treatment of children who violate ordinances related to the pandemic.

“Violence against children, including those inflicted by law enforcement authorities who are duty-bound to protect them, is condemnable and must be put to an end,” Muyot said. – Rappler.com





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COVID-19 survivor Iza Calzado thanks her ‘amazing team of nurses’


The actress shares a photo of herself with her nurses on Instagram

Published 2:17 PM, July 08, 2020

Updated 2:17 PM, July 08, 2020

NURSES. Iza Calzado shares a photo with the team of nurses that cared for her while she was being treated for COVID-19. Screenshot from Instagram.com/missizacalzado

NURSES. Iza Calzado shares a photo with the team of nurses that cared for her while she was being treated for COVID-19. Screenshot from Instagram.com/missizacalzado

MANILA, Philippines – It’s been over three months since Iza Calzado was discharged from the hospital after recovering from COVID-19, but the actress continues to speak about her experience as a patient – this time, turning the spotlight on the nurses that cared for her throughout the ordeal.

On Instagram, Iza shared a photo of herself with the nurses from Asian Hospital, where she was treated for the disease after testing positive for coronavirus in March.

“Allow me to shine the spotlight on my amazing team of nurses (missing a few though!) from Asian Hospital who gave me the best love and care any patient could ever ask for,” Iza wrote.

“Together with my brilliant doctors, I really couldn’t have asked for a better team to help me fight and beat Covid 19. I am forever grateful,” she said.

Iza, who had been hospitalized in March for pneumonia, initially tested positive for the coronavirus. She was discharged on March 31, after being treated and testing negative. She has since donated her blood plasma for the treatment of coronavirus patients.

As of July 7, coronavirus cases in the Philippines rose to 47,873 as the Department of Health confirmed 1,540 new cases. – Rappler.com





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Due to lockdowns, we don’t know Duterte’s approval ratings during pandemic


ASSESSING DUTERTE. President Rodrigo Duterte addresses the public amid the coronavirus health crisis. Malacañang photo

ASSESSING DUTERTE. President Rodrigo Duterte addresses the public amid the coronavirus health crisis. Malacañang photo

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Around this time, citizens should be reading about President Rodrigo Duterte’s satisfaction and trust ratings in the first half of coronavirus-hit 2020.

But because of the pandemic, for the first time both Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia have not been able to conduct their regular quarterly surveys on the President.

It’s yet another pandemic loss as these surveys are highly-anticipated gauges of Duterte’s popularity and give people an idea of public sentiment towards the most powerful man in the country.

Even more crucially, these surveys would have measured public satisfaction with how the President handled the coronavirus outbreak, the biggest crisis to hit his administration. (READ: Pandemic unravels Duterte’s 2016 promise of decisive leadership)

Two surveys missed

Pulse Asia and SWS conduct polls on presidential approval and satisfaction ratings every March and June, which means if they were able to do them this year, they would have captured sentiment during the early months of the pandemic and lockdowns up to the easing of restrictions and reopening of the economy amid a steady rise in infections.

“We haven’t been able to conduct a survey so far this year,” Pulse Asia’s Ana Tabunda told Rappler on Wednesday, July 8.

She explained that Pulse Asia’s surveys on the President involve face-to-face interviews which are not possible given the coronavirus travel restrictions.

Pulse Asia researchers and staff usually travel across Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao in order to be able to interview a representative sample of the population. They typically interview around 1,500 to 2,000 people across different economic classes.

It’s the same story for SWS.

In a media release, they said their March 2020 face-to-face interviews were cancelled “because the lockdown and lack of public transportation prevented the deployment of field staff.”

“This was the first time for SWS to ever miss a quarterly survey since the first quarter of 1992,” said the poll body.

While SWS was able to conduct a mobile phone survey in early May, their questions focused on aspects of Filipinos’ lives affected by the health crisis – quality of life and hunger, for instance.

Their survey didn’t tackle Duterte satisfaction ratings.

SWS had to limit what questions they could ask from respondents, picked randomly from their database of mobile phone numbers of persons who agreed to be surveyed by phone in the future.

“Compared to a typical face-to-face interview which takes approximately 90 minutes to complete, a phone interview has a maximum limit of 20 minutes due to respondent phone-fatigue,” said SWS.

With the recent lifting of travel restrictions, it remains to be seen when SWS and Pulse Asia can get back on the field to ask Filipinos for their assessment of Duterte.

Tabunda says Pulse Asia is considering doing a mobile phone survey for Metro Manila.

Full picture of Duterte popularity

Duterte’s last satisfaction and approval ratings were sky-high. The last SWS survey on him, conducted in December last year, showed Filipinos gifting him his highest-ever satisfaction rating, 82%.


The President also got stellar scores from Pulse Asia’s survey around the same time – 87% of respondents said they approved of him then.

Days after these winning scores, the coronavirus crisis arrived in the Philippines. But without the March and June surveys of Pulse Asia and SWS, it’s difficult to get a full picture of how Duterte’s popularity has been affected by the pandemic and his administration’s lackluster response.

In these crucial months, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos lost jobs, the economy shrunk, and thousands of commuters were left stranded by confusing government transportation policies.

Filipinos endured strict stay-at-home orders for weeks, only to end up having to return to work despite a surge in cases and increased risk of infection.

It was also during this time when ABS-CBN had to shut down most of its operations due to a National Telecommunications Commission order. Not long after, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa was convicted of cyberlibel and Duterte certified as urgent the controversial anti-terrorism bill which he eventually signed into law. – Rappler.com





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Russia tells U.S. to ‘mind own business’ over media freedom


ARRESTED. Ivan Safronov, a former journalist and aide to the head of Russia's space agency Roscosmos, detained on charges of treason for divulging state military secrets, stands inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Moscow on July 7, 2020. Photo by Vasily Maximov/AFP

ARRESTED. Ivan Safronov, a former journalist and aide to the head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, detained on charges of treason for divulging state military secrets, stands inside a defendants’ cage during a court hearing in Moscow on July 7, 2020. Photo by Vasily Maximov/AFP

MOSCOW, Russia – Moscow has angrily told the US embassy to “mind your own business” after Washington’s diplomatic mission raised concern about curbs on media freedom in Russia.

Rebecca Ross, the spokeswoman for the US embassy, on Tuesday, July 7, expressed concern about a clampdown on journalists in Russia.

“Watching arrest after arrest of Russian journalists – it’s starting to look like a concerted campaign against #MediaFreedom,” she tweeted.

“Mind your own business,” the Russian foreign ministry tweeted late Tuesday.

Earlier that day the FSB security agency, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB, arrested a respected former journalist, Ivan Safronov, 30, on suspicion of state treason.

His detention sparked an uproar among supporters and journalists who say his arrest is punishment for his coverage of Russia’s defense sector.

A member of Safronov’s defense team, Yevgeny Smirnov, has said the former journalist, who used to work for Kommersant and Vedomosti newspapers, is suspected of cooperating with Czech intelligence since 2012.

The FSB investigators believe that the Czech intelligence acts under the guidance of the United States, Smirnov told AFP.

The FSB says that Safronov has collected confidential data about the Russian military, defense, and security and handed it over to the intelligence of a NATO member country.

On Monday, a reporter from the northwestern city of Pskov was fined nearly $7,000 for “justifying terrorism”, in a case that sparked an outcry.

Prosecutors had requested that Svetlana Prokopyeva be sentenced to 6 years in prison for a commentary about a bomb attack.

All major TV stations are under state control in Russia.

Journalists working for print and online outlets have recently complained about increasing curbs on press freedoms and pressure from the Kremlin. – Rappler.com





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ABS-CBN shutdown not cause of investor jitters, says Dominguez


DEMONSTRATION. Employees of media giant ABS-CBN call for the network's franchise renewal. Photo by Pino Arcenas/Rappler

DEMONSTRATION. Employees of media giant ABS-CBN call for the network’s franchise renewal. Photo by Pino Arcenas/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III downplayed the impact of the ABS-CBN shutdown on investor sentiment, saying that the matter is “strictly” up to Congress.

“We have not seen any direct result of a slowdown in investment because of the ABS-CBN issue,” Dominguez said in a virtual press briefing on Wednesday, July 8.

His statement counters findings of Fitch Solutions Country Risk & Industry Research, which said that the cease and desist orders against the Lopez-run media giant were tantamount to “politicization of telecoms services in the Philippines,” which in turn made potential foreign investors stay away.

“The forceful termination of ABS-CBN and Sky’s broadcasts are highly politicized, and clearly linked to President Rodrigo Duterte’s opposition toward ABS-CBN,” the Fitch Solutions report said.

“The regulator’s apparent ability to be influenced by the government continues to be a key impediment to foreign investor sentiment, and has also made the telecoms landscape difficult for both new entrants and existing players.” (READ: Scenarios: What happens to ABS-CBN franchise after House panel vote?)

Dominguez said, however, that the slowdown in investments can be attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Most companies around the world, here and abroad, are keeping their money…in case they experience slump in demand or any other problems with their own companies,” he said.

Dominguez went on to point out that the Philippines was able to raise $2.35 billion in a bond sale, around the same time when Congress was deliberating on ABS-CBN’s fate.

“That is an investment in the Philippines, and that happened during this issue with ABS-CBN. I think our bondholders…are very confident in the Philippine economy,” he said.

The Makati Business Club earlier urged Congress to renew the network’s franchise, adding that “equal treatment of all companies – especially by regulators, prosecutors, and lawmakers – will signal that rule of law prevailed, encouraging foreign and local investors at a time when we most need their help to create new jobs.”

Numbers

Foreign direct investments (FDI) saw a contraction in the 1st quarter of 2020, down by 14.2% to $1.7 billion from the $1.9 billion in net inflows in the same period last year.

Data from the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) also painted a disappointing picture. From January to May, PEZA investments plunged by almost 32% due to the virus crisis, from P43.2 billion to just P29.5 billion. (READ: PEZA to investors: Please don’t leave Philippines)

Meanwhile, “hot money” or foreign portfolio investments have yielded net outflows of $3.1 billion year-to-date.

ABS-CBN and the economy

While Dominguez brushed off the impact of the ABS-CBN franchise issue on investments, its shutdown would definitely not help lift the economy.

The country’s gross domestic product contracted 0.2% in the 1st quarter due to the coronavirus pandemic, while unemployment soared to its highest at 17.7% in April, which is equivalent to around 7.3 million people with no jobs.

Should ABS-CBN permanently close, it would directly affect around 11,000 workers, as well as dependent industries like advertising and production houses.

It would likewise aggravate the country’s widening budget deficit. The national government is expecting a sharp fall in revenue collections, with thousands of business closures, amid rising costs in funding the pandemic fight.

ABS-CBN, among the top taxpayers in the Philippines, paid P71.5 billion in taxes in the past 17 years.

Dominguez said the expected revenue shortfall would be covered by loans, but noted that government borrowing remains “very conservative.” – Rappler.com





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