By end of 2016, the country’s population will reach 104 million, as 1.5 million babies will be born.

Such population growth should not worry the next administration and government planners, as it may also present many economic opportunities to help the Philippines get ahead of other economies, according to Parañaque City Rep. Gus Tambunting.

“Our young and booming population is actually an edge we have over other countries as it provides us with a strong labor force,” he said.

The Philippines would also continue to attract foreign investments as seen in the country’s high economic growth rate versus other Asian countries, said Tambunting.

He cited the economic and social problems China, Japan and Singapore are now facing after their previous policies of limiting their populations.

China is now implementing a two-child policy, and Lee Kwan Yew had expressed regret in limiting Singapore’s population, he added.

Some countries with ageing populations have reached a point that it is almost impossible to rejuvenate their demographics, Tambunting said.

He also called for the government to take advantage of the rising population, and invest in human capital and development.

Latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that the country’s unemployment rate fell to 5.7% in October 2015, the lowest in years, and beating market forecasts of 6.5%. The figure excludes the Leyte-Samar region.

The PSA said last year there were 2.37 million unemployed persons, 63.4% are males. Of the unemployed, about one-half (48%) are 15 to 24 years old, and one-third (32%) are 25 to 34 years old.

By educational attainment, less than one-half (43.6%) of the unemployed are high school graduates, about one-fifth (22.6%) are college graduates, and 13.3% are college undergraduates.

Although the unemployment figures are discouraging, Tambunting said he is still hopeful that the situation could be vastly improved if government would improve the delivery of education, social and medical services, and subsequently make young Filipinos and the labor more fit to find jobs and livelihood.

“What we need to do is focus on improving our education and health services to make sure our people are fit for the jobs coming their way,” he said.

To further enhance the country’s education and health services, the national government has earmarked for 2016 a budget of almost P437 billion from P367.1 billion last year to the Department of Education (DepEd), which received the largest share of the government’s total P3-trillion budget. The Department of Health (DOH) will receive P128.5 billion, from P87.7 billion last year. (With reports from The Philippine Star / Opinyon, Rosemarie Señora)

The Province of Cavite has new city: General Trias.

It was proclaimed as the 7th city, on December 12, 2015, after the affirmative votes won during a plebiscite conducted by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Fondly called “GenTri,” it is also the country’s 145th city. Cavite’s other cities are Cavite City, Tagaytay, Trece Martires, Dasmariñas, Bacoor and provincial capital Imus.

The declaration was made by Lawyer Juanito V. Ravanzo Jr., Cavite Provincial Comelec supervisor; Comelec Region IV-A Director Juanito O. Icaro and Deputy Executive Director for Operations Bartolome J. Sinocruz — in the presence of Mayor Antonio “Ony” Ferrer, his younger brother Sixth District Rep. Luis “Jonjon” Ferrer, Vice Mayor Maurito “Morit” Centeno Sison, councilors and other constituents.

The Ferrer brothers, who are the proponents of the city measure, are elated by the proclamation.

They said that the event was an inspiration for them to strive further for the city and the citizens to move on in terms of developments and progress.

According to Provincial Comelec Chief Ravanzo, out of the 132, 121 registered voters in the municipality’s 33 barangays, only 11 percent of the voting population had cast their votes in 24 polling centers.

Comelec canvass report showed that the total plebiscite “yes” votes was 15,037 and the “no” only 490.

This was due to the fact that many voters were in workplaces of schools during the referendum day.

“Malaki pong factor na hindi holiday ang ating plebisito (It is a big factor that the plebiscite day was not a holiday),” Municipal Executive Assistant Romel D. Olimpo said.

Chief Inspector Virgilio V. Rubio, General Trias police officer-in-charge, said that the voting last December 12, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., went on peacefully and orderly.

In his message, Rep. Ferrer, also the previous mayor, thanked colleagues and supporters of the cityhood bid. He said that one of his priorities is street concerns, citing that the constructions of three by-pass roads are now ongoing.

He likewise allayed fears of higher taxes under a city, citing remedial plans and the city’s Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA).

Last August, President Benigno Aquino III signed Republic Act 10675, the law converting the municipality into a city. The law clarifies that the city would remain under the jurisdiction of the 6th legislative district, headed by Representative Luis Ferrer IV, the main author of the bill in the House of Representatives.

The conversion of General Trias into a city was approved, as it has met the requirements set by the Local Government Code, which includes a locally generated income of at least P100 million for the last two consecutive years (as certified by the Department of Finance) and a population of 150,000 or more (as certified by the National Statistics Office) or a contiguous territory of 100 square kilometers (as certified by the Land Management Bureau).

General Trias is only 81.46 square kilometers, but it has a population of 243,322 as of the 2010 Census.

GenTri is one of the fast progressing municipalities in the province with its vast agricultural, commercial, industrial and infrastructure developments in the area.

In 2013, the Commission on Audit (COA) reported that the municipality generated a total income of P759 million "from local taxes, permits and licenses, service and business income and internal revenue allotments".

Now that it is a city, General Trias would have a bigger share of the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) than when it was a municipality.

The number of councilors will increase from 8 to 10, starting in the May 2016 elections. (With reports from Manila Bulletin / Opinyon, Rosemarie Señora)

Investments amounting to P11.75 billion have been secured by the state-owned Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) for the Clark Green City that would provide a clean energy source for the country’s first disaster-resilient and green city.

“We are very mindful of the impact of climate change in the Philippines and there is no other recourse but to adopt renewables as the main source of energy to power Clark Green City,” Casanova said.

Last December 9, an agreement with Sunray Power Inc. (SPI) has been signed by BCDA for the lease of a 260-hectare area in Clark Green City to build a 100-megawatt (MW) solar power facility worth P11.75 billion.

"We look forward to the long-standing partnership with SPI to provide clean and renewable energy not only to Clark Green City but also to the neighboring areas in Central Luzon,” BCDA president and CEO Arnel Paciano Casanova said.

He said BCDA would receive annual lease payments and shares in the revenues of generated power from the project.

SPI has also committed to employ 1,000 workers during the construction period and at least 250 workers during operations of the solar project.

He further said that the use of renewable energy such as solar power to energize Clark Green City is part of BCDA’s commitment to address the effects of climate change and global warming.

SPI is a Philippine corporation formed to develop, construct and own utility-scale power generating facilities for the production, generation, sale and storage of electricity harnessed from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and waste-to-energy technology.

BCDA last July also signed signed a lease agreement with SSR C-Solar Power Inc. to establish a solar farm in Clark Green City capable of generating 20 MW of electricity.

BCDA said SSR C-Solar Power committed to invest about P1 billion for its solar energy project within the next two years.


Clark Green City

It was only last November 15 when BCDA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Sweden’s state-owned IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute (IVL), and two Swedish firms ElectriCITY and Xeric AB to develop and build the 9,450-hectare Clark Green City in Central Luzon.

IVL is the oldest research institute in Sweden established in 1966 involved in the development of solutions to environmental problems, at national and international level.

ElectriCITY, on the other hand, is a non-profit organization backed up by big Swedish firms while Xeric provides business consultancy services for small and medium enterprises.

Clark Green City, the first smart, disaster-resilient and green metropolis in the country, is seen to have potential collaborative opportunities in relation to sustainable city planning, energy, infrastructure and utilities, eco-governance, clean technology, information technology and smart development, products, and solutions, sustainable resource management, waste management and recycling, and training and education. (With reports from The Philippine Star / Opinyon, Rosemarie Señora)

Two barangays in Infanta, Pangasinan, are now enjoying cheaper and sufficient electricity through the ‘HEART and SOUL’ project of Team Energy Foundation.

HEART and SOUL — an acronym for Household Electrification Assistance through Renewable Technology and Social Preparation for the Upliftment of Lives — is now benefitting 267 households in Barangay Babuyan, an off-grid community with approximately 900 residents, and another off-grid Barangay Pita, a mountainous area with around 1,200 residents.

Team Energy, along with the Department of Energy (DOE) and Pangasinan Electric Cooperative, installed 30-watt peak photovoltaic solar home systems, which residents have tapped into since August 17, 2015, when the project was fully completed.

These solar systems are equipped to light four 5-watt light bulbs, charge cellular phones and are installed with digital AM-FM radios.

The HEART and SOUL project also installed two solar powered streetlights in each barangay-recipient that will keep community activities safe during evenings.

Solar home systems were also installed in their barangay halls and health centers.

According to Ricky de Castro, the executive director of the Team Energy Foundation, the project HEART and SOUL is only one of the Team Energy’s response to the call of the government in committing to achieve 90 percent household connections to electricity by 2017.

“Through HEART and SOUL, we are increasing the access of rural communities to adequate, affordable and sustainable sources of energy,” he added.

About 67 more households, 32 of them in Babuyan and 35 in Pita, will be connected to Solar Home Systems soon after the DOE gives TeaM Energy notice to proceed with the project.

Prior to the solar electrification in Infanta which is phase 3 of the said project, a total of 5,551 households in the Polilio Group of Islands in Quezon province have already been energized by the phases 1 and 2 of the solar energy project.

TeaM Energy Foundation Inc. is the social development arm of TeaM Energy Corp., the operator of two coal-fired thermal power plants in Pagbilao, Quezon and Sual, Pangasinan. (With reports from The Philippine Star / Opinyon, Rosemarie Señora)

“We are one of the nine countries with increasing trend of HIV cases. Currently, we have more than 29,000 cases of HIV here in the country,” Dr. Jojo Feliciano, OIC Director of the Philippine National Aids Council said.

“Such grave situation threatens our blood supply," said Philippine Red Cross (PRC) chairman Richard Gordon, expressing concern over the rising cases of human immunodeficiency virus-acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) in the country.

He said the AIDS epidemic could compromise the quality of blood supply and urged the government to act strongly to reverse the trend.

“Anyone with contaminated blood in his veins will be a threat. When push comes to shove, one has to be extremely careful with testing the blood, as not all centers in the country are as careful as the Red Cross is in testing blood,” he said in an interview.

From January to October this year, there are now 6,552 people diagnosed with HIV, according to the Department of Health (DOH).

This is 37 times higher than the 174 new HIV cases documented in the entire year of 2001, Gordon said.

In 2000, one HIV case is diagnosed every three days, while this year, one case is detected every hour.

There is currently no cure or effective HIV vaccine. Treatment consists of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) which slows progression of the disease. Treatment also includes preventive and active treatment of opportunistic infections.

The DOH has predicted that by 2022, some 133,000 Filipinos will acquire HIV if left untreated and will in turn cost the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. some P4 billion a year for outpatient package alone.

Next year, the DOH targets a zero campaign to lessen cases of HIV.


More young Filipinos infected with the virus

As of 2014, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), 220,100 young people in the Asia-Pacific region with ages 15-19 years old are positive with the virus.

In Philippines alone, 1,210 young people were diagnosed with 800 cases just for the year 2010.

This is due to the fascination of many to different dating websites, lack of information and practice of unprotected sex.

Bureau of Local Health Development (BLHD) Director Eric Tayag said that 92 percent of HIV infections in the country were caused by unprotected sex with multiple sexual partners.

He added that HIV infections continue to be recorded more among men having sex with men, which account for 68 percent of the HIV cases.

The DOH official further said that online social networking sites contributed to the increase in the number of HIV cases in the Philippines. He cited a DOH study in 2011 which revealed that 67 percent of men having sex with men find dates and sexual partners using sexual networking sites.


Blood donations with HIV

The PRC has also observed an increase in donated blood infected with HIV.

From January to August 2015, a total of 116 donations or .05 percent of the 223,474 units tested yielded the virus.

In 2014, a total of 158 donations or .04 percent of the 355,000 units tested was infected.

Records showed in 2013, of the 314,000 blood units tested by PRC, .02 percent or 85 donations were found infected with the virus.

Rest assured, however, that these blood donations were not transfused.

Transfusion of blood and blood products, which helps save millions of lives every year, needs to be clean and free from a wide variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses, prions, and parasites that further cause diseases such as Hepatitis A,B and C, Dengue Fever and HIV/AIDS.

In this light, Gordon assured the public that the PRC has been strict in testing and in screening blood donors not only for HIV/AIDS, but for other blood-borne diseases like malaria and hepatitis.

However, the PRC chair expressed concern over the 19-day window period or the period between the infection and the appearance of the virus that can be detected during HIV testing

“You will not see the virus during that 19 days so I am advocating that we use the nucleic acid test (in screening a person for HIV). But even with that, you will only have four days for the virus to hide but at least its not 19 days,” said.

Not only PRC should adopt nucleic acid test but also the DOH.

The PRC supplies 25%-30% of national blood requirements while the DOH-Philippine Blood Center supplies most of the blood needs of Level 1 and Level 2 hospitals and non-hospital-based facilities like renal dialysis centers and birthing homes in Metro Manila. It has accredited selected Level 3 hospitals to collect, test, and process blood.

Aside from the Philippines, the eight other countries with rising cases of HIV infections based on the UNAIDS report are Bangladesh, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Krygyzstan, Republic of Moldova and Sri Lanka.

(With reports from The Philippine Star / Opinyon, Rosemarie Señora)

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