Philippine taxes on sugary drinks could avert thousands of deaths, WHO study says

MANILA (REUTERS) – The Philippines could avert 24,000 premature deaths linked to diseases such as diabetes, stroke and heart failure in the next two decades after it adopted taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday (Dec 5).

The taxes levied this year could cut consumption and avoid nearly 6,000 deaths related to diabetes, 8,000 from stroke and more than 10,000 from heart diseases over 20 years, a WHO research study showed.

“The new sugar-sweetened beverage tax may help reduce obesity-related premature deaths and improve financial well-being in the Philippines,” the researchers said.

The taxes, part of a series of reforms aimed at helping to fund infrastructure, could yield healthcare savings of about US$627 million (S$859 million) and annual revenue of US$813 million, they added.

The high consumption of colas was the main driver of obesity, swelling the burden of non-communicable diseases, the WHO said.

Retail prices of sugar-sweetened beverages have risen as much as 13 per cent after the Philippines imposed the taxes in January, joining 27 countries with similar levies.

The WHO has backed taxation as a way of curbing rising obesity if retail prices rise 10 per cent to 20 per cent to cut consumption.

In 2013, 31 per cent of the total Philippine adult population of 56.3 million was overweight, the agency said, with the proportion of overweight youth nearly doubling to 8.3 per cent from close to 5 per cent within just a decade.

Countries from Britain to Belgium, France, Hungary and Mexico have adopted, or are about to adopt, similar taxes, although Scandinavian nations have used them for years.

A study published last year on the impact of Mexico’s tax on sugary drinks showed it cut purchases by more than 5 per cent in the first year, and nearly 10 per cent in 2015, the second year.

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Philippine court jails three police officers for drugs war murder

MANILA (REUTERS) – A Philippine lower court found three police officers guilty of murder on Thursday (Nov 29) for the 2017 killing of a 17-year-old high school student, the first conviction in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

The three police officers were sentenced to up to 40 years in prison by a Caloocan regional trial court, in what is the first guilty verdict in an extrajudicial killing in the 29-month anti-narcotics campaign, according to human rights advocates.

They will not be eligible for parole, the court said.

The death of Mr Kian Loyd delos Santos in August 2017 had stirred unprecedented public attention on what activists say are executions and systematic abuses by police backed steadfastly by Mr Duterte.

“The conviction of the three police officers for murdering Kian delos Santos is a victory for justice, but it is not enough. The killings must stop,” said Mr Jose Manuel Diokno, chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group.

The group has questioned the legality of the drugs war before the Philippine Supreme Court.

Close to 5,000 people have died in the anti-drugs police operations and more than 2,500 others have been killed by unknown vigilante groups in what police said were drug-related incidents.

Human rights advocates said most of the victims who police said had resisted arrest were actually executed because there was a pattern on how they were killed. Police denied the allegations, saying they acted in self-defence.

Mr Duterte’s government has repeatedly said there was no declared policy to kill drug users and pushers.

Mr delos Santos was found dead in an alley with a gun in his left hand. Police said they killed him in self defence, but his family dismissed that as a lie.

Security cameras showed the officers aggressively escorting a man matching Mr delos Santos’ description in the direction of the spot where he was killed.

Two months after the delos Santos killing, Mr Duterte ordered the police to stop its anti-drugs operations, as the school boy’s murder sparked public outrage, but he reinstated police’s role in the drugs war in early December last year, saying the drug situation has worsened.

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High school grad at 90: WWII stalled his studies, not his dreams

NUEVA VALENCIA, GUIMARAS (THE INQUIRER/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – It was in March 1941 when he graduated from A. Marisol Elementary School in Mandurriao, Iloilo City.

He was all set for continued studies – until the flames of World War II spread to the Asia-Pacific region in December that year.

His academics sidelined for 77 years, Jose Gaitan Gandecela finally got to finish junior high school on Nov 17, earning a certificate he can frame and proudly hang on his wall.

The Department of Education (DepEd) has confirmed that “Tatay Jose”, 90, was the oldest passer of the accreditation and equivalency (A&E) test under the Alternative Learning System (ALS), the DepEd program that provides an option for those who could not obtain formal education through regular attendance in schools.

Gandecela went to an ALS class from January to October 2017 and took the A&E test on March 11 this year. With a passing rate of 81.60 per cent – well above the overall passing percentage score of 60 per cent – he received a Certificate of Rating from the DepEd’s Bureau of Education Assessment.

The certificate states that he has met the basic requirements for Grade 10 and is now qualified for senior high school “subject to the admission policies of the accepting institution”. The document serves as the equivalent of a report card under the formal school system.

Local celebrity

The announcement of Tatay Jose’s test results in the last week of September turned him into a celebrity of sorts in this part of Guimaras. Word quickly spread about the feat accomplished by this father of seven (now all professionals) and whose extended family includes 17 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

“After the war, I married Eca (Francisca Angeles). Going back to school was out of the question (because of our growing family),” he recalled in an Inquirer interview.

The fisherman’s son earned a living by transporting cargo to Iloilo City, Negros Island and Roxas City in Capiz with six “batil” (wooden motorboats) that he owned. Later, he served as a “teniente del barrio,” or village chief.

Dedicated to Eca

Last year, he was able to find an ALS schedule that allowed him to attend class only on Fridays at Dr. Catalino G. Nava Memorial High School in San Lorenzo town.

However, on March 3, a week before his crucial A&E test, Eca died after an eight-year battle with colon cancer.

His life upended and thrown into grief, the widower doubted if he could overcome the emotional stress enough to hurdle the exam.

But then he told himself: “[ECA] was the one who encouraged me to enroll in ALS.”

“I dedicate my achievement to her. If she were still alive, she would be so proud of me … so proud of me,” Gandecela said, still swelling with affection at the mere mention of Eca’s name. The couple would have celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary on Nov 18.

“She took good care of me. I am very sad, but I tell myself that she just went away for a while and will come back. You realize someone’s true value when that person is gone. She would have enjoyed entertaining the people interviewing me [for my achievement]. She was that friendly. She would have been so proud of me,” he said.

Public servant

While he and Eca were busy raising their children, Gandecela served as chief of Barangay Dolores for 29 years without salary.

He was first appointed teniente del barrio during the administration of President Diosdado Macapagal.

In 1959, after Congress passed a law that paved the way for the selection of village chiefs through the ballot, Tatay Jose won the polls hands down and became the first elected village chief of his community.

“At first, you just get appointed to that position by the mayor. By virtue of Republic Act No. 2370, an election was held. Then after about 10 years, Congress passed Republic Act No. 3590, changing the title of barrio lieutenant to barangay captain. You know, I memorized all that when I was still a barangay captain,” he recalled with a smile.

Still sharp

Gandecela decided to retire from public service in 1989-only to be requested by his constituents to take the position vacated by a barangay councilor. This gave him a second government stint that lasted from 1992 to 2002.

Henrietta Dulay, Gandecela’s eldest child, spoke reverently of the patriarch.

“Tatay was so strict when we were growing up, always reminding us of the importance of education. Today he remains as sharp as he was 50 years ago. He asks me and my siblings to buy a newspaper for him whenever we go to the city so he can answer the crossword puzzle in English. He would leave the Filipino crossword for me.”

The newly minted ALS finisher wondered why there were still so many out-of-school youths (OSYs) in his community, considering the opportunity offered by the DepEd program.

“Today, we have five high schools in Nueva Valencia, but I still see many of them (OSYs). The youth should understand that they have it easy today. I wanted to study [when I was young], but there were no high schools here in Guimaras back then. I hope I can inspire them to go back to school,” he adds.

For the Guimaras Schools Division superintendent, Ma. Luz delos Reyes, Tatay Jose is more than qualified for that role.

“May this serve as an inspiration for the youth to never lose hope, to keep chasing their dreams. The experience of Tatay Jose is an example of perseverance, of not giving up. He may be the oldest among the ALS passers in the country, but his message is this: Given the best opportunities, access and support, anything is possible,” Delos Reyes said.

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China's Xi visits Philippines as Duterte pressed to take tougher line

MANILA (Reuters) – Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited the Philippines on Tuesday to further strategic gains made under President Rodrigo Duterte, who hailed a “new impetus” behind a relationship that his massive infrastructure ambitions could depend on.

Xi’s visit comes two years after the maverick Duterte declared he was reorienting his foreign policy away from longtime ally the United States and toward China, despite decades of mistrust and bitter maritime disputes with Beijing.

Duterte is facing criticism from opponents for making too many political concessions to China in return for billions of dollars of pledged Chinese loans and investments that have yet to materialize, or be committed to formally.

The two leaders on Tuesday oversaw 29 agreements of sorts, many of them broad or vague, from cooperating in education, culture and industrial park development to jointly promoting infrastructure, agriculture cooperatives and establishing sanitation protocols for shipping coconuts.

Duterte said there was “a deepening trust and confidence” between them and he and Xi had discussed increasing trade and investment, and China’s involvement in his signature $180 billion “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program.

“With mutual respect, sincerity and adherence to sovereign equality, I will continue to work closely with President Xi,” he said.

However, of the 38 Philippine projects earmarked for Chinese involvement two years ago, only four were among the commitments made on Tuesday.

One was approval for a Chinese loan for building a $232.5 million dam, another a hiring of a consultancy for a rail plan. The other two were to start feasibility studies on an inter-island bridge, and a highway in Duterte’s home province.

Xi said he and Duterte would elevate their relationship to one of “comprehensive strategic cooperation”, adding that they had many common interests in the South China Sea, and would continue to “manage contentious issues”.

SUBMISSIVE STRATEGY

Duterte’s management of those issues has frustrated nationalists, who say he has been submissive in refusing to criticize China’s military buildup, or asking for its compliance with a 2016 arbitration award that invalidated its claim to almost the entire waterway.

Though public opinion is largely supportive of Duterte’s presidency, surveys consistently show reservations about his China policy and his personal dislike of the United States.

A Social Weather Stations poll of 1,200 Filipinos released on the eve of Xi’s visit showed 84 percent felt it was wrong not to oppose China’s militarization of its manmade islands in the South China Sea.

It also showed trust in the United States remained “very good”, but China was considered “poor”.

Asked about that survey, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte’s strategy was to avoid a conflict while reaping the rewards of improved business.

“They are not aware of the real geopolitics in the region. The president is a very cautious diplomat,” Panelo told news channel ANC.

“Rather than provoke, he’d rather talk with them and get some trade relations that will benefit this country.”

In comments prior to the two leaders’ meeting, Panelo accepted the slow pace of China delivering on its investment pledges, but said he expected Duterte to be brave enough “to exert pressure” on Xi.

“Knowing the man, he’ll do that, he’s that kind of person,” Panelo said.

Duterte has heaped praise on Xi for his economic support, but some analysts say he is being exploited.

Other Philippine experts say delays in securing Chinese credit could be a blessing given the potential debt burden, echoing a warning delivered by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

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After 'nap-gate' at Asean summit, Duterte skips Apec summit dinner

PORT MORESBY (AFP) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte passed on a gala dinner at a regional summit in Papua New Guinea, days after skipping key meetings in another gathering of world leaders for a “power nap”.

Duterte, who has a well-known disdain for stiff diplomatic gatherings, was a no-show on Saturday (Nov 17) night, sending his trade minister instead to pose with heads of state donning bright yellow and red Papua New Guinean shirts.

His office had initially announced that the mercurial leader was cutting short his trip to Port Moresby even before the main meetings began but on Sunday he did show up at the convention centre.

“This after I loudly and naggingly insisted he stay just one day. ONE DAY, I stressed,” Philippine foreign minister Teodoro Locsin tweeted on Sunday.

The absence of the 73-year-old Duterte at diplomatic gatherings has sparked criticism and speculation of ill health, which his spokesman denied, saying the president merely lacked sleep.

Duterte has said previously that he suffers from daily migraines and ailments including Buerger’s disease, an illness that affects the veins and the arteries of the limbs, and is usually due to smoking.

On Wednesday, the Philippine leader missed four of the 11 meetings he was slated to attend and a gala dinner in Singapore, which hosted a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders.

Observers have compared him unfavourably with Malaysia’s 93-year-old Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has consistently attended summit meetings saying it was his “duty” to do so.

Commenting on his absence, Duterte said on Thursday: “What’s wrong with my nap?” Asked about the Papua New Guinea dinner, a Philippine official told AFP Duterte “feels constrained by formalities and finds them unproductive and a slight waste of time”.

After hosting a regional meeting in the Philippines last year, an exhausted Duterte joked about cancelling another Manila summit saying, “It’s true. It’s all the same. Nothing changes”.

In Port Moresby, Duterte met with Filipinos on Friday night where he sought to explain his absence from summit meetings.

He cited an invitation from Australia to have an “informal breakfast” in Singapore.

“I told my soldiers why would I attend when first of all, I do not eat breakfast. Second, it was informal,” Duterte said.

“What will they feed us there, kangaroo?”

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Duterte says China 'already in possession' of South China Sea, tells US to end military drills

SINGAPORE – President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday (Nov 15) China was “already in possession” of the South China Sea, and that military drills by the United States and its allies were creating “frictions” that were derailing efforts to settle rows over these waters between Beijing and its neighbours.

“China is already in possession (of the South China Sea). It’s now in their hands. So why do you have to create frictions… that will prompt a response from China?” Mr Duterte told reporters on the sidelines of the Asean Summit in Singapore.

“China is there,” he added. “That’s a reality, and America and everybody should realise that they are there.”

He said should war erupt in the South China Sea, “my country will be the first to suffer”. He pointed out that the Philippines has a mutual defence treaty with the US.

China claims most of the South China Sea, where US$3 trillion (S$4.1 trillion) in sea-borne traffic pass every year.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have conflicting claims with China in parts of the South China Sea.

Mr Duterte said conflicts over the South China Sea could best be settled through talks between China and Asean, without the US and its allies turning up the heat through displays of force as “freedom of navigation exercises”.

“Everything’s been excellent between China and the rest of Asean, except for the fact that there’s friction between Western nations and China,” he told reporters.

He cited, in particular, a long, drawn-out process to negotiate a “code of conduct” that Asean and China hope to conclude in three years.

The code was “needed at all cost”, he said.

The Philippines is this year’s coordinator between Asean and China.

Far from dialing down, however, the US is preparing to build up its forces in the region and increase patrols in the South China Sea, said National Security Adviser John Bolton.

“Countries of South-east Asia don’t want to be dominated by any external actor, and we support that,” he told reporters.

Coinciding with US Vice-President Mike Pence’s presence at the Asean Summit, two US aircraft carriers with around 150 fighter jets were conducting “complex” warfare drills in the Philippine Sea, in a show of force in waters south of China.

The two carriers, the Japan-based USS Ronald Reagan and the USS John C Stennis deployed from the US West coast, were carrying out air, surface and anti-submarine warfare operations, the US Seventh Fleet said in a news statement.

The USS Reagan also took part in the biggest war games ever staged in and around Japan this month, involving dozens of US and Japanese ships, hundreds of aircraft and thousands of military personnel.

Mr Duterte has pivoted towards China and away from the US, the Philippines’ long-time ally, since he took office in 2016, as he courted investments from Beijing to push Philippine growth through an ambitious, US$169-billion infrastructure-building programme.

His relations with the US have been strained by criticisms from the US State Department of his brutal war on drugs, which had left at least 4,000 suspects dead in its wake.

Mr Duterte has barred the Philippine navy from joining US patrols across the South China Sea, saying he did not want to provoke China.

He has also ordered the Philippine military to scale down its joint exercises with US forces and to avoid holding these near waters China is claiming, again in deference to Beijing’s position.

But he allowed Philippine forces to join a “tabletop” simulated exercise between China and all 10 members of Asean in August.

China’s leader Xi Jinping is set to visit the Philippines next week for a one-day visit that, among others, is meant to push forward talks to explore billions of dollars’ worth of oil and gas reserves beneath contested waters in the South China Sea.

Philippine and Chinese officials are also working to close at least two deals while Mr Xi is in the Philippines: a 175.3 billion-peso, 640km railway from Manila to the tip of the main island of Luzon; and a 12.2 billion-peso dam.

In all, the Philippines is lining up 18 projects it seeks to fund with some 750 billion pesos worth of Chinese loans and grants.

Go to our Asean microsite for more stories and commentaries

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US returns 'Bells of Balangiga' to Philippines after 1901 clash

US forces took the bells after a brutal counter-attack that killed anywhere from hundreds to thousands of Filipinos.

    US Defense Secretary James Mattis formally returned church bells to the Philippines that were taken as war trophies over a century ago following gruesome clashes, seeking to close a contentious chapter in the two allies’ shared history.

    The decision to return the “Bells of Balangiga” to the Philippines ends a decades-long quest by Manila, including by President Rodrigo Duterte, and is expected to bolster US-Philippines’ relations.

    But it has upset some US veterans and Wyoming states’s delegation to the US Congress, which uniformly opposed returning bells that were a memorial to the 45 American soldiers killed during a surprise attack on September 28, 1901, in the central town of Balangiga.

    Two of the three bells have been on display at FE Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. The third bell is at a US Army museum in South Korea.

    ‘Bells mark time’

    Mattis, speaking at a ceremony at the air force base attended by the Philippines ambassador to the United States, said the Philippines has proven itself as a great US ally in conflicts over the century since that clash. He said the sacrifices of US forces would not be forgotten.

    “To those who fear we lose something by returning these bells, please hear me when I say: Bells mark time, but courage is timeless,” Mattis said. “It does not fade in history’s dimly lit corridors.”

    In Manila, the Philippines’ foreign affairs department cheered the move.

    “Today is a time of solemn remembrance as we pay tribute to all those who gave up their lives during the Filipino-American War,” it said.

    Wyoming’s Congressional delegation, which did not attend the ceremony, issued a terse statement.

    “We continue to oppose any efforts by the administration to move the bells to the Philippines without the support of Wyoming’s veterans community,” Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and Representative Liz Cheney said in statement.

    All three bells will be restored and handed over to the Philippines as early as December, said Joe Felter, deputy assistant secretary of defence for South and Southeast Asia.

    ‘Howling wilderness’

    The 1901 attack in Balangiga, on the Philippine island of Samar, was seen as perhaps the worst routing of US soldiers since the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, also known as Custer’s Last Stand.

    According to historians, one or more of the church bells were rung to signal the attack in Balangiga.

    US forces took the bells after a brutal counter-attack that killed anywhere from hundreds to thousands of people in the Philippines, historians say. One US general was said to have directed his troops to “make the interior of Samar a howling wilderness”.

    Some Wyoming veterans, like Cheryl Shannon at Veterans of Foreign Wars, said they were fine with the decision to return the bells.

    “We’re tired of it always being an issue,” said Shannon, an Iraq war veteran.

    But Hank Miller, a veteran with the VFW who wanted to keep the bells in Wyoming, said broader support for his position had faded as it became clear Washington would return the bells.

    “I was advised to ‘stop fighting a losing battle’ and ‘stop beating a dead horse’ as the bells were going back,” Miller said.


    101 East

    Philippines: Disaster Capitalism, Inc

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    Philippine President Duterte skips some summit meetings but is in 'top shape'

    SINGAPORE (REUTERS) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte skipped several meetings at the Asean summit in Singapore on Wednesday (Nov 14), prompting the 73-year-old’s office to issue a statement scotching speculation that it was due to ill health.

    “We assure the nation that his aforementioned absence has nothing to do with his physical health and well-being which have been the subject of speculation,” spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

    “The president’s constantly punishing work schedule is proof that he is in top physical shape.”

    Mr Panelo named four scheduled events that Mr Duterte had not attended on Wednesday, during which the President “took power naps” to catch up on sleep, and said he would also skip a gala dinner with the leaders of nine South-east Asian nations, US Vice President Mike Pence and several others.

    Mr Duterte’s health has been a constant source of speculation since he disappeared from public view for a week last year, and he has said openly that he is tired and would like to step down before the end of his term ends in 2022.

    Last month, Mr Duterte’s office revealed that he had undergone a colonoscopy and he told reporters that a biopsy had shown he did not have cancer.

    The Constitution provides for the public to be told of the state of health of an incumbent president, if serious.

    If a sitting president dies, is permanently disabled or removed through impeachment, the vice-president succeeds to serve the remaining years in a six-year, single term.

    Vice-President Leni Robredo, a leader of the opposition, was elected separately in 2016. Speculation about Mr Duterte’s health last month prompted concern that the Philippines could be headed for uncertainty given the highly polarised political climate.

    Mr Duterte has cited Ms Robredo’s “incompetence” as a reason for his inability to quit as president.

    Mr Duterte has a record of skipping summit sessions, though he did not miss any as host when the Philippines held the chair of Asean last year.

    Mr Panelo said it was “amusing that some quarters are making a big fuss” of Mr Duterte’s absences, noting that he had attended Asean meetings with leaders from China, Japan and Russia.

    “Last night, the President worked late and had only less than three hours of sleep,” he said. “It is unfortunate that the first event scheduled today was at 8.30am”.

    Mr Duterte is known for having an unorthodox working schedule that typically starts in mid-afternoon and includes Cabinet meetings that can go on beyond midnight.

    Go to our Asean microsite for more stories and commentaries

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    Miss Earth contestants cry sexual harassment at Philippine pageant

    MANILA – At least three contestants at a recent international beauty pageant in Manila have accused one of the sponsors of sexually harassing them with indecent proposals, sexual innuendos and inappropriate touching.

    In separate posts on Instagram, Miss Earth contestants Jaime VandenBerg of Canada, Abbey-Anne Gyles-Brown of Britain and Emma Mae Sheedy of Guam said they felt exploited, vulnerable and sexually harassed in the month leading up to the pageant finals last Saturday (Nov 3).

    Ms Sheedy named Mr Amado Cruz, a sponsor who purportedly owns several restaurants here, as the one who repeatedly approached and contacted her and other contestants asking for sexual favours.

    Mr Cruz has yet to comment on the allegations against him.

    Miss Earth, a beauty pageant that promotes environmental awareness, is the smallest of four international pageants held annually. Through a foundation, it has tie-ups with the Philippine government and the United Nations Environment Programme, and works with groups like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Foundation.

    Ms VandenBerg took to social media on Wednesday (Nov 7) to reveal that a sponsor was given her phone number without her consent and began asking for her hotel and room number.

    “It did not work. (But) he showed up at almost all of my events telling me he could take care of my needs and asked for sexual favours in exchange to get me further in the pageant,” she wrote on Instagram. “I was disgusted.”

    View this post on Instagram

    I left to compete at an international pageant in the Philippines about a month ago. I was so excited because I had been to the Philippines before and loved the country and the people; however, the experience with the pageant was not what I had expected. I left Miss Earth because I did not feel safe under their care. The second day of the pageant I felt uncomfortable because a sponsor from the first night was given my phone number, without my consent, and was calling me asking for my hotel and room number. I gave my phone to a team manager so that she could resolve the issue, but it did not work. He showed up to almost all of my events telling me he could take care of my needs and asked for sexual favours in exchange to get me further in the pageant. I was disgusted. He showed up to a hotel some girls were staying at and when I ran into him he continued to ask for my room number. I was lucky I wasn’t staying at that hotel. After so many strange calls, I recognized his phone number and was able to block it. At an event at the Manila Yacht Club he took all of the delegates in my group to his yacht and had some girls take sultry photos. Again, I was disgusted. Later in the pageant we had another sponsor event at the Manila Yacht Club and he was telling girls he could take them to Boracay, as long as we didn’t tell any one. A group of us left to sit out side as we did not feel comfortable. He followed us outside and was upset we were not dancing with him. The team mangers laughed and told us to be nice. Eventually we were allowed to go and sit on the bus because we refused to go back to his yacht. Six girls and myself left because we felt unsafe at that event. I asked many times why more girls weren’t given the option to leave but, was never given an answer. That night a few of us were given the opportunity to bring our concerns to Miss Lorraine, the woman in charge of the pageant. I went through almost two weeks of sexual harassment before I anything was done about it. I was told he would not be around any more, but I had advised Lorraine of several other issues that were not resolved. Miss Peachy, another employee of the pageant, spoke with me at an event about…

    A post shared by Jaime VandenBerg (@missjaimeyvonne) on

    I left to compete at an international pageant in the Philippines about a month ago. I was so excited because I had been to the Philippines before and loved the country and the people; however, the experience with the pageant was not what I had expected. I left Miss Earth because I did not feel safe under their care. The second day of the pageant I felt uncomfortable because a sponsor from the first night was given my phone number, without my consent, and was calling me asking for my hotel and room number. I gave my phone to a team manager so that she could resolve the issue, but it did not work. He showed up to almost all of my events telling me he could take care of my needs and asked for sexual favours in exchange to get me further in the pageant. I was disgusted. He showed up to a hotel some girls were staying at and when I ran into him he continued to ask for my room number. I was lucky I wasn’t staying at that hotel. After so many strange calls, I recognized his phone number and was able to block it. At an event at the Manila Yacht Club he took all of the delegates in my group to his yacht and had some girls take sultry photos. Again, I was disgusted. Later in the pageant we had another sponsor event at the Manila Yacht Club and he was telling girls he could take them to Boracay, as long as we didn’t tell any one. A group of us left to sit out side as we did not feel comfortable. He followed us outside and was upset we were not dancing with him. The team mangers laughed and told us to be nice. Eventually we were allowed to go and sit on the bus because we refused to go back to his yacht. Six girls and myself left because we felt unsafe at that event. I asked many times why more girls weren’t given the option to leave but, was never given an answer. That night a few of us were given the opportunity to bring our concerns to Miss Lorraine, the woman in charge of the pageant. I went through almost two weeks of sexual harassment before I anything was done about it. I was told he would not be around any more, but I had advised Lorraine of several other issues that were not resolved. Miss Peachy, another employee of the pageant, spoke with me at an event about…

    A post shared by Jaime VandenBerg (@missjaimeyvonne) on

    Ms VandenBerg said that at one event at the Manila Yacht Club, the contestants were made to pose for sultry photos and dance while on board Mr Cruz’s yacht.

    She and six other contestants refused to participate and were led to a waiting bus.

    “We felt unsafe at that event,” she said. They complained to their team managers, but “(they) just laughed and told us to be nice”.

    Ms VandenBerg later brought up her concerns to Ms Lorraine Schuck, executive vice-president of Carousel Productions, which ran the Miss Earth pageant. Ms Schuck assured her that Mr Cruz “would not be around any more”.

    “But I had advised Lorraine of several other issues that were not resolved… I went through almost two weeks of sexual harassment before anything was done about it,” said Ms VandenBerg.

    She eventually withdrew from the pageant and returned to Canada.

    Ms VandenBerg did not name the sponsor in her post, but Ms Sheedy tagged Mr Cruz as the culprit.

    View this post on Instagram

    My side of the Miss Earth International Experience: – After a year and a half of preparation for my first beauty pageant; the Miss Earth pageant, I was excited to travel back to the Philippines for the 6th time. The hospitality of the Filipinos is not found anywhere else. The Philippines is like a second home to me. I joined the pageant to make a difference and be a role model to those around me. I enjoyed a majority of the pageant, but what I did not know, is that a specific sponsor from the Manila Yacht Club would change the way I see pageantry and sponsors. The sponsor who’s name is Amado S. Cruz became a problem for many of the delegates, including myself. To focus on ONLY myself, I was pulled aside multiple times to be invited to Boracay, private islands and into his house and insisted that I and “the latino women dance for him.” Amado S. Cruz grabbed my bare backside at the National Costume Competition where I was able to push him away, but he consistently told me not to tell anyone about any of the instances. At the Manila Yacht Club, Amado S. Cruz ensured that the team managers and security personnel were separated in another room, this is where he made many girls uncomfortable. A groups of us left the room because we felt uncomfortable, but Amado S. Cruz followed us and insisted that we stayed inside to dance with him. We asked our team managers to bring us to the busses, which took over 20 minutes for them finally to do. Later on that night @missjaimeyvonne and @Miss.Earth.England spoke on the phone with Lorraine Schuck, the Vice President of Miss Earth, who assured them that Amado S. Cruz would not be at any other event. From the moment the pageant started until coronation night, Amado S. Cruz was at every event and dinner he could physically get to. Since other delegates have posted, multiple other queens from past years have come out about the same behavior. I want to help put a stop to this sponsor being apart of the Miss Earth International Pageant because he has become a problem for years. #missearth2018 #missearth #MeToo @missearth

    A post shared by Emma Mae (@erma101) on

    My side of the Miss Earth International Experience: – After a year and a half of preparation for my first beauty pageant; the Miss Earth pageant, I was excited to travel back to the Philippines for the 6th time. The hospitality of the Filipinos is not found anywhere else. The Philippines is like a second home to me. I joined the pageant to make a difference and be a role model to those around me. I enjoyed a majority of the pageant, but what I did not know, is that a specific sponsor from the Manila Yacht Club would change the way I see pageantry and sponsors. The sponsor who’s name is Amado S. Cruz became a problem for many of the delegates, including myself. To focus on ONLY myself, I was pulled aside multiple times to be invited to Boracay, private islands and into his house and insisted that I and “the latino women dance for him.” Amado S. Cruz grabbed my bare backside at the National Costume Competition where I was able to push him away, but he consistently told me not to tell anyone about any of the instances. At the Manila Yacht Club, Amado S. Cruz ensured that the team managers and security personnel were separated in another room, this is where he made many girls uncomfortable. A groups of us left the room because we felt uncomfortable, but Amado S. Cruz followed us and insisted that we stayed inside to dance with him. We asked our team managers to bring us to the busses, which took over 20 minutes for them finally to do. Later on that night @missjaimeyvonne and @Miss.Earth.England spoke on the phone with Lorraine Schuck, the Vice President of Miss Earth, who assured them that Amado S. Cruz would not be at any other event. From the moment the pageant started until coronation night, Amado S. Cruz was at every event and dinner he could physically get to. Since other delegates have posted, multiple other queens from past years have come out about the same behavior. I want to help put a stop to this sponsor being apart of the Miss Earth International Pageant because he has become a problem for years. #missearth2018 #missearth #MeToo @missearth

    A post shared by Emma Mae (@erma101) on

    In an interview, Ms Schuck told GMA News that she did address Ms VandenBerg’s complaints, but she was informed about them a week after the pre-pageant events began.

    “She never told us. She came here on the sixth (of October). We found out about it on the 14th. She never told anyone,” she said.

    Ms Schuck insisted that Mr Cruz was banned from all events, although he was in the audience during the coronation.

    “Because the coronation night was a public event, we could not control his appearance. Even the police couldn’t do anything about it,” she said.

    She added that all the contestants were provided police escorts for their safety.

    Ms Gyles-Brown, the British contestant, said in her Instagram post that she had a similar experience as Ms VandenBerg.

    View this post on Instagram

    My personal encounter @missearth. • It’s time to speak up about my personal experience. I have been in close contact with my national director and all incidents have been noted. I have worked very hard for my title of Miss Earth England and as I have previously mentioned I took 4 years to get to the top and win my place at the Internationals. I was elated to finally represent England over in the beautiful Philippines. My trip was a rollercoaster of emotions, stress and endurance and I did not leave the pageant as I was not going to miss out on the experience. I have many beautiful memories of my time here in the Philippines and many wonderful days. I met happy Filipinos who showed me such kindness and respect. I enjoyed 50% of my trip but the other 50% was over shadowed by feeling exploited, vulnerable, unnerved & sexually harassed as I was approached by a sponsor on many occasions who asked for sexual favours in exchange for the Crown. This happened at Manila Yacht Club on a sponsored evening meal away from the team managers behind closed doors. The sponsor also tried to find out what hotel and room I was staying in. Myself and Canada approached Team Manager to express our disgust only to be laughed at. Another official attendee of the night told me not to cry as I would ruin my makeup! There was no respect or compassion shown to myself or Jaimie. I felt traumatised by this experience and had many sleepless nights. I was not sure who had my personal details including my mob number and hotel room. It was not only myself and Canada who were approached on this night but other delegates who I believe are going to come forward and tell their side of the story. I approached Lorraine Schuck who is the Vice President Of Miss Earth she informed me that the sponsor would be removed from all contact with contestants but this did not happen. As other groups experienced the same issue. Myself and @missjaimeyvonne removed ourselves from this uncomfortable environment and sat on the bus away from further exploitation. This is one of many incidents we faced during our Miss Earth Journey! The said sponsor in fact show up at a prelim event and also attended the Coronation night

    A post shared by 🌍♻️🌸Abbey-Anne Gyles-Brown🌸♻️🌍 (@miss.earth.england) on

    My personal encounter @missearth. • It’s time to speak up about my personal experience. I have been in close contact with my national director and all incidents have been noted. I have worked very hard for my title of Miss Earth England and as I have previously mentioned I took 4 years to get to the top and win my place at the Internationals. I was elated to finally represent England over in the beautiful Philippines. My trip was a rollercoaster of emotions, stress and endurance and I did not leave the pageant as I was not going to miss out on the experience. I have many beautiful memories of my time here in the Philippines and many wonderful days. I met happy Filipinos who showed me such kindness and respect. I enjoyed 50% of my trip but the other 50% was over shadowed by feeling exploited, vulnerable, unnerved & sexually harassed as I was approached by a sponsor on many occasions who asked for sexual favours in exchange for the Crown. This happened at Manila Yacht Club on a sponsored evening meal away from the team managers behind closed doors. The sponsor also tried to find out what hotel and room I was staying in. Myself and Canada approached Team Manager to express our disgust only to be laughed at. Another official attendee of the night told me not to cry as I would ruin my makeup! There was no respect or compassion shown to myself or Jaimie. I felt traumatised by this experience and had many sleepless nights. I was not sure who had my personal details including my mob number and hotel room. It was not only myself and Canada who were approached on this night but other delegates who I believe are going to come forward and tell their side of the story. I approached Lorraine Schuck who is the Vice President Of Miss Earth she informed me that the sponsor would be removed from all contact with contestants but this did not happen. As other groups experienced the same issue. Myself and @missjaimeyvonne removed ourselves from this uncomfortable environment and sat on the bus away from further exploitation. This is one of many incidents we faced during our Miss Earth Journey! The said sponsor in fact show up at a prelim event and also attended the Coronation night

    A post shared by 🌍♻️🌸Abbey-Anne Gyles-Brown🌸♻️🌍 (@miss.earth.england) on

    “I was approached by a sponsor on many occasions who asked for sexual favours in exchange for the crown… Myself and (Miss) Canada approached team manager to express our disgust only to be laughed at.”

    She said half her experience at the pageant was overshadowed “by feeling exploited, vulnerable, unnerved (and) sexually harassed”.

    “I felt traumatised by this experience, and had many sleepless nights,” she said.

    Like Ms VandenBerg, Ms Gyles-Brown raised concerns about Mr Cruz with the pageant’s minders, but one of them simply told her “not to cry as I would ruin my make-up”.

    Ms Sheed of Guam, in her Instagram post with the hashtag #MeToo, said Mr Cruz “became a problem for many of the delegates, including myself”.

    “I was pulled aside multiple times to be invited to Boracay, private islands and into his house, and (he) insisted that I and the Latino women dance for him,” she said.

    She claimed that Mr Cruz grabbed her “bare backside” and “consistently told me not to tell anyone about any of the instances”.

    “I joined the pageant to make a difference and be a role model to those around me. I enjoyed a majority of the pageant. But what I did not know was that a specific sponsor… would change the way I see pageantry and sponsors,” said Ms Sheed.

    Ms Schuck did not say if Mr Cruz would remain a Miss Earth sponsor. But she urged all three contestants to file official complaints against him.

    “They can sue the guy, and I will support them,” she said.

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