MV/PRC Amazing Grace off to Catanduanes

FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - November 26, 2020 - 12:00am

The MV/PRC Amazing Grace, the country’s first and only humanitarian vessel which the Philippine Red Cross commissioned as an ambulance and disaster response ship, was scheduled to deliver much needed relief and assistance to Catanduanes yesterday.

“The Philippine Red Cross has always been about alleviating human suffering, bringing them essentials and not only that – bringing them hope. As the MV/PRC Amazing Grace delivers essentials to Catanduanes, it demonstrates the message that there is deliverance from despair through the mercy of God and through the thousands of people who are with the survivors of Typhoon Rolly. We are in this together,” says PRC chairman and CEO Sen. Richard Gordon.

The 195-foot military prototype vessel has the capacity to carry 20 ambulances or six trucks loaded with cargo.

The ship can weather extremely choppy seas and operate as a cargo-loaded barge that can bring itself to the shore. The PRC has deployed teams to the Bicol Region in response to Typhoon Rolly (internationally known as Goni), the most powerful storm of 2020, which slammed into Catanduanes on Nov. 1, causing massive destruction.

MV/PRC Amazing Grace will deliver 1,000 kitchen sets, 1,000 jerry cans or water containers, 1,000 hygiene kits and 500 sets of non-food items. It will also bring to Catanduanes two additional vehicles for better delivery of service and assistance – a minivan and a Willy jeep. Alongside PRC’s Typhoon Rolly operations in Bicol, the PRC has just recently launched another typhoon response as Ulysses caused enormous floods in many areas of the country, submerging most parts of Isabela and Cagayan.

Based on its Typhoon Yolanda experience, the PRC’s team experienced difficulty in delivering goods by land and by air, leading the humanitarian organization to acquire a ship which could ferry goods, people, equipment and vehicles to the affected areas.

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Timed with the observance of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women yesterday, Nov. 25, the House of Representatives has started plenary debates on House Bill 7836, a bill overhauling and upgrading the country’s laws on rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse.

House Bill 7836 is authored by Rep. Lawrence “Law” Fortun of the 1st district of Agusan del Norte. He is a member of the House committee on revision of laws.

HB 7836 is “An Act Providing for Stronger Protection Against Rape and Acts of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.”

The deliberations take place as rape cases continue to make headlines nearly every day, including rapes of children by adults, by police officers and barangay tanods, as well as rapes of men on men and children against children, Fortun said in a media statement.

The bill provides for an increase in the age of determining the commission of statutory rape from 12 years old to below 16 years of age. “We included a graduated close-in-age exemption to protect minors in non-abusive and non-exploitative relationships from the harsh penalties of statutory rape,” Fortun said.

Among the salient features of the bill is the provision of a clearer and more responsive definition of rape that covers forms of perversions not contemplated in the Revised Penal Code or the Anti Rape Law of 1997, said Fortun. The bill shifts the burden of proof to the offender in the case of rape as it provides the presumption of the lack of consent on the part of the victim.

In order to expedite and ensure the prosecution of violators, the bill expands the list of persons who may file rape complaints and enforces mandatory reporting of rape cases within 48 hours. It also prohibits the submission of affidavits of desistance and amicable settlements. Judges, prosecutors and court officers are also directed to safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of rape proceedings and, as such, are mandated to hold close door proceedings.

The state of sexual violence in the Philippines, according to the legislator, is “nakapanlulumo (depressing).” The 2016 National Baseline Study on Violence against Children in the Philippines shows that 17.1 percent of children aged 13 to 18 have experienced sexual violence, while 3.2 percent of children have become victims of rape.

At present, the Philippines has one of the lowest age for determining statutory rape.

In Asia and Oceania, individuals aged below 20 in South Korea are not legally able to consent to sexual activity, and such activity may result in prosecution for statutory rape. In Japan the age of consent is low at 13.

In Africa, Nigeria has the lowest age of consent in the world, at 11.

Citing UNICEF, Fortun argued that “sexual violence significantly increases in emergency situations such as during armed conflicts and other humanitarian emergencies. This pandemic has made more children vulnerable to sexual violence and it has also made reporting the occurrence of the same more difficult against aggressors that are within their households and family.”

Fortun expressed hope that HB7836 will be passed as soon as possible.

*      *      *

I remember my sister-in-law, Cecile Suarez, as a small girl, very pretty and soft-spoken, the youngest of six children of Mauricio and Olivia Suarez of Pasig. Cecile migrated to the United States when she was in her early 20s; there she met and married Ernie Crisologo, a good-looking young man from Lucena, Quezon province. Just two weeks ago, I learned that Ernie had passed away. In her email to me, Cecile described her last moments with him.

“Ernie was a loving husband and father. He loved to cook, there was always food on the table. My children’s favorite is mechado; his family and friends loved his dinuguan; and he mastered the Suarez’s pamplina and callos.

“Since he worked the graveyard shift, he was able to drive the seniors – Mama, Tia Cora and other tias and tios – to the senior citizens’ center and their doctor’s appointments. Also, since he retired early in late 2008, he helped take care of Mama until she passed away in 2012.

“My last hour with him at home was so unforgettable. I knew he was in pain. I kept asking him what was painful or where it was painful. He answered with a shrug of his shoulders and a smile. And, just before the first responders arrived, he winked at me twice.”

Cecile had retired from work since May 2016 as an accountant/executive assistant at Westfied Corp., a developer and retail property management company that was originally started in Australia by Frank Lowy. It expanded in the USA and Europe but was sold three years ago to a European company.

Last year, Ernie and Cely sold their house in San Jose and moved to Las Vegas where they stayed with Bebot (Cecile’s older sister). Their eldest child, Sheryl, is a registered nurse and project manager for a global EHR software company in San Diego, California. Their eldest son Andrew is an executive team leader at Target in Phoenix, Arizona. Target is an American retail store, eighth largest in the US. The youngest, Robert, is an assistant manager at Wells Fargo Bank. He’s engaged to be married. Their wedding was set in June this year but was canceled due to the pandemic.”

To Cecile and kids, my family’s deepest sympathies on the passing of Ernie.

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Email: dominitorrevillas@gmail.com

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