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No-mask Christmas possible—Austriaco

“If 250,000 (vaccine doses are given) per day, we will get to containment in October and herd immunity in November.[T]his is a realistic and attainable goal for all of us. So we have to imagine as a country a no-mask Christmas,” priest-scientist Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P. said on June 17.

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MASKLESS CHRISTMAS? Priest-scientist Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P. brings up the possibility of achieving herd immunity in the NCR+ region by Christmas season this year. Screenshot from GMA News Online.

A priest-scientist said on Thursday, June 17 that 16.65 million people must be inoculated by October to achieve a maskless Christmas.

Fr. Nicanor Austriaco O.P., a visiting professor from the UST College of Science, said that 40 to 50 percent of the country needs to be vaccinated to contain the virus. Meanwhile, 70 to 80 percent of the population needs to be inoculated to achieve herd immunity.

“So how long will it take?  We calculated: If 250,000 (vaccine doses are given) per day, we will get to containment in October and herd immunity in November.[T]his is a realistic and attainable goal for all of us. So we have to imagine as a country a no-mask Christmas,” Austriaco said at a press briefing with presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.

Vaccinated people will be protected if the virus is contained, while herd immunity ensures the protection of the non-vaccinated population. (Read: COVID-19 infection externalities: Herd immunity versus containment strategies)

According to Austriaco, who is also an OCTA research fellow, a “no-mask Christmas” is achievable through combined efforts of the people and the government.

“When that happens, we can begin to lift social distancing and masking arrangements… This is something that we can imagine. Let us all do this together, where we achieve herd immunity – the NCR plus eight by Christmas and the rest of the country, by sometime next year,” he said.

As of June 13, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr said that there are 6.9 million vaccine doses already administered by the government. 5.06 million jabbed by their first dose and 1.87 million being fully vaccinated. 

There are over 1.34 million total recorded cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines as of June 17.

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Austriaco is also working on a non-injected, yeast-based oral COVID-19 vaccine that he referred to as “vaccine for the poor.”

“We are basically taking a human probiotic yeast…and we are engineering that yeast to express a fragment of the Sars-COVID 2 virus. And our hope is that we will be able to take this yeast and we will be able to use the yeast to be able to stimulate the immune response, the protective response of the body, for Filipinos and other third world developing countries,” he told CNN Philippines in February.

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Never again shall we falter injustice — CSC, LSCs

In a unity statement released on Tuesday, July 27, the councils slammed the government’s promise with the “change is coming” slogan as it only brought the country into “the most inhumane form of violence.”

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The University’s Central Student Council (CSC), along with the Local Student Councils (LSCs) demanded accountability from the government for the atrocities it has committed during the past five years. 

In a unity statement released on Tuesday, July 27, the councils slammed the government’s promise with the “change is coming” slogan as it only brought the country into “the most inhumane form of violence.”

“Never again shall we falter from injustice,” the student councils said in a statement.

“Within the first year of his term in office, this priority had turned the most inhumane form of violence by starting an all out war against the poor, the indigenous people, the oppressed and exploited Filipino masses – a peaceful life that is far from the number of dead bodies throughout his Presidency,” they added. 

The councils also emphasized the continuous harassment and threats of the government against human rights activists and progressive groups amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with the E.O. 70 or the Whole of the Nation Approach and the rise of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

Last May, youth groups including the College Editors Guild of the Philippines filed complaints to the Commission on Human Rights  and the National Bureau of Investigation against the government’s red-tagging scheme that included documented attacks against students and activists.

Along with the continuous harassment, they also criticized the administration’s “misplaced priorities and futile policies” with the Rice Tariffication Law, TRAIN Law, contractualization, and the ABS-CBN shutdown, which “failed the Filipinos again with misplaced priorities and futile policies” that heavily affected the lives of the Filipinos. 

“These are just some of the horrible and fascist policies the administration either pursued, failed to pursue, or promulgated,” 

With the health crisis that struck the country, the councils highlighted how the administration’s lack of COVID-19 response — a surge of COVID-19 cases, a poor healthcare system, unending lockdowns, gave rise to problems in the economy and education sector of the country.

“These acts reflected the situation of our economy, with unemployment and underemployment on the rise, businesses struggling to stay afloat, and a looming poverty rate,” they said.

“The administration’s poor pandemic response also affected the situation of the education sector, prompting the rise of out-of-school youth, and the devastating quality of education – the lifeblood of our nation’s future,” they added.

According to the Department of Education, for the enrollment period of school year 2020-2021, the number of enrollees in both public and private schools was only 21,344,915, which represents 76 percent of the population of the previous school year 2019-2020.

They concluded their statement by urging the Thomasian community to remember these actions and to never surrender by amplifying their voices and living out duties for the nation.

“May the past five years of the Duterte Administration serve as a reminder for us to speak our voices, raise our fists, and fight for the people.” the councils said.

Last July 27, the CSC and LSCs also joined the Tumindig online protest by posting “tumindig” avatars to encourage the thomasian community and Filipinos to take courage to dissent. 

The final State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Duterte was aired last Monday, July 26 which lasted for almost three hours. 

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‘Digna’ effigy joins protesters in SONA 2021 mobilization

The artwork is inspired by the Higantes of Angono, which were historically used by farmers as effigies in protests against oppressive landlords.

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'Digna' portrays a female farmer wearing a sash with the words “Duterte Wakasan.” Photo by Anakpawis Partylist.

Ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte’s final State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 26, an artist collective created a 14-foot effigy that represents the plight of Filipino farmers.

The art installation was used during the people’s protest titled “Duterte Wakasan: Hatol ng Bayan, Araw ng Paghuhukom, Duterte Wakasan!”

“Digna,” designed by Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (SAKA), portrays a female farmer wearing a sash with the words “Duterte Wakasan.” It is inspired by the Higantes of Angono, which were historically used by farmers as effigies in protests against oppressive landlords.

“Digna represents all farmers who are unflinchingly fighting; standing strong and brave amid the government’s anti-peasant attacks, and macho-fascist tirades over the past five years,” SAKA wrote on July 25.

Before the 2020 SONA, farmers have slammed Duterte for ignoring their struggles amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, they also blasted the chief executive for signing the rice tarrificarion law, which removed the import restrictions on rice.

Last year’s protest, titled “SONAgkaisa,” focused on the government’s flawed COVID-19 response and the controversial anti-terror bill, which was signed into law on July 3, 2020.

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Difficult beginnings towards a fulfilling end: Behind-the-scenes of the first online baccalaureate mass

“We cannot accommodate all of the problems […] I know it’s not enough, but this is all we can do for now [and] for you,” De Mesa said.

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UST Minecraft’s Arch of the Centuries and camera setup. Screengrab provided by Charles Nobleza

While they admit to feeling pressured throughout the event preparations, Thomasian student-leaders remain hopeful as they take charge of the baccalaureate festivities. 

In a series of interviews with TomasinoWeb, Central Student Council (CSC) President Krizia Bricio, UST Minecraft founder Charles Nobleza, and send-off concert supervising producer Ashley de Mesa recalled the satisfaction they felt during the last weeks of preparations for the baccalaureate mass and send-off concert.

“Noong una, medyo uncertain ako […] pero kanina sa orientation, medyo na-alleviate na ang negativity na na-fifeel ko kasi marami naman willing mag-participate,” De Mesa said.

Despite the initial backlash it received, UST Minecraft ignored the negativity and focused on improving the virtual campus.

“[W]e designed [it] to feel as if you were in the event in real life. We did not add any new additions for the server [and] just focused on the main aspects needed such as fireworks and the attire of the graduates,” Nobleza said.

Given the present COVID-19 restrictions, the baccalaureate festivities and traditions will be done on Minecraft with 500 students and administrators representing their respective batches and programs.

UST Minecraft started as a student-initiated project back in the second quarter of 2020. Its first university-wide event was #USTeXP: UST Minecraft Tour, a virtual campus tour for Freshie Week 2020.

Since then, they have participated in several university-wide events such as Paskuhan and one of UST’s Leadership Training Webinars.

Commitment to service 

To compensate for the absence of in-campus ceremonies for batch 2020 and 2021, Tiger Media Network suggested having a send-off concert for the graduates.

“We had the send-off planned as early as February or March kasi akala namin May na siya mangyayari,” De Mesa said.

Bricio favored this idea as it gave the graduates something to look out for.

Naka-set na sa atin na grand ang celebrations for students […] Unfortunately, ‘di na yan nasabayan ng virtual version kasi hahanapin din nila ‘yung interaction,” Bricio said.

The send-off concert will feature the tribute features of batch 2020 and batch 2021 as well as pre-recorded performances such as those presented during Paskuhan 2020.

Similar to last year’s Paskuhan festivities, the production of the entire event shall be “hybrid” wherein the hosts and a number of the technical staff would work on-site while the rest worked online.

“We did our best” 

Despite its early planning dates, the University only announced the final date for the baccalaureate mass in June.

Given the time constraints and difficulties of coordinating online, several aspects of the event were left unaccomplished, such as the virtual personalization of each batch when exiting the Arch of the Centuries and the sending of  tokens to those who cannot attend the event.

“We cannot accommodate all of the problems […] I know it’s not enough, but this is all we can do for now [and] for you,” De Mesa said.

Bricio also mentioned that the best solution they came up with for those who cannot participate in the festivities was making the livestream available on Facebook.

Despite these lapses, they assured that each batch and program were well-represented.

The staff and groups involved in the program hoped to improve in the virtual events that would follow and for the batches to still enjoy the traditions and festivities of the university.

[H]aving it virtual in Minecraft is a band aid solution. Despite it being online, I hope that they would enjoy the festivities stored for them since we devoted a lot of time and effort into creating this for them,” Nobleza said.

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