Good day. Here are the stories for The Manila Times for Thursday, January 21, 2021.

Joe Biden swears the oath of office at noon on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) to become the 46th President of the United States, taking the helm of a deeply divided nation and inheriting a confluence of crises arguably greater than any faced by his predecessors. The very ceremony in which presidential power is transferred, a hallowed American democratic tradition, will serve as a jarring reminder of the challenges Biden faces: the inauguration unfolds at a US Capitol battered by an insurrectionist siege just two weeks ago, encircled by security forces evocative of those in a war zone and devoid of crowds because of the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

Read: Biden in, Trump out

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte will develop friendship with new United States President Joseph Biden, some Malacañang officials believe. Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said he sees no reason for the friendship between Duterte and Biden to not materialize. Panelo claims Duterte “has been widely respected by state leaders, including President Donald Trump, as he manifests the same respect to and has gained deep and genuine friendship with them.” Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. also hopes the Philippines will maintain close and friendly ties with the US under the Biden administration.

Read: Duterte-Biden friendship seen to bloom

DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday said he was willing to hold a dialogue with officials of the University of the Philippines over his department’s sudden scrapping of an agreement that upholds UP’s right to restrict military operations in its campuses. Lorenzana, however, insisted that the UP administrators must first explain why communist rebels continue to openly recruit students at the university. The Defense chief terminated the 32-year-old University of the Philippines- Department of National Defense (DND) Accord, saying UP had become a hotbed of communism. The scrapping of the agreement sparked protests from the UP community and alumni, who claim the university is now vulnerable to military raids and arrests. Lawmakers passed a resolution calling on Lorenzana to reconsider his decision and talk things over with UP officials.

Read: Lorenzana sets condition for dialogue with UP

Bad news for travelers, as the Makati Shangri-La hotel will temporarily suspend its operations and retrench a number of its employees beginning Feb. 1, 2021 due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. In a statement on Wednesday, the Shangri-La Group said it had reached the decision to reorganize their operations and workforce in the country amid the challenges posted by the pandemic.

Read: Makati Shangri-La shutting down

THE Department of Health has confirmed that eight passengers on the plane that brought home a Filipino with the United Kingdom variant of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) tested positive for the virus. Aside from the passengers, five close contacts, which include the girlfriend of the index patient, a 29-year-old male from Quezon City, his mother, three other passengers who tested negative upon arrival and a healthcare worker who assisted the patient, were found to be infected and have been quarantined. The eight passengers who arrived from the United Arab Emirates on January 7 and found positive after being swabbed by the Philippine Red Cross were in stable condition and in isolation, according to Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire. They were being re-swabbed to collect samples for genome sequencing to determine the variant that infected them, Vergeire said. The eight had cycle threshold (CT) values of more than 30, but their samples were sent to the Philippine Genome Center just the same, she said.

Read: More passengers from UAE flight test positive

The city of Tuguegarao in Cagayan has been placed under a 10-day enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) starting January 20 because of an increasing number of daily coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) infections, according to the Regional Inter- Agency Council of Cagayan Valley. Mayor Jefferson Soriano said the ECQ status, which would end on January 29, was prompted by the sudden surge of Covid-19 active cases in the city, now at 222. The region recorded an alarming rate of 21 new cases a day.

Read: Tuguegarao City on ECQ again

SIX areas in Quezon City were placed under special concern lockdown following an increase in the number of coronavirus cases after the holiday season, Mayor Josefina Belmonte said on Wednesday. These areas were in Agno Extension in Barangay Tatalon, Salary Street in Barangay Sangandaan, Magsalin Street in Barangay Apolonio Samson and La Felonila Street in Barangay Damayang Lagi. Belmonte said the granular lockdowns were the city’s immediate and proactive response to control the situation and curb the spread of the virus.

Read: 6 areas in QC locked down

Over to business, an HSBC Group unit on Wednesday further trimmed its Philippine economic growth estimate for 2020 as it projected gross domestic product (GDP) to reach the low end of the government’s growth target for this year. In a virtual briefing, Cheuk Wan Fan, HSBC Private Banking and Wealth Management managing director and chief investment officer for Asia, said the banking giant expected domestic output to have contracted “by 9.7 percent in 2020,” as it was likely to “lag behind [its] Asian peers, particularly North Asian peers like China, which have been doing relatively well in containing the [coronavirus].” The estimate is worse than the bank’s previous outlook of a 3.9-percent shrinkage and the government’s adjusted assumption of a 8.5- to 9.5-percent contraction.

Read: ‘PH economy likely shrank by 9.7% in 2020’

In sports, Filipino karateka Alwyn Batican is optimistic of his chances of qualifying for the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics in July. The 23-year-old, 5-foot-7 Batican said that the odds are stacked in his favor. He said the development gave him and the other remaining competitors in the Olympic qualifiers a greater chance of qualifying for the Tokyo Games.

Read: Batican upbeat of qualifying for the Olympics

Yen Makabenta, Ramon Tulfo, and Arch. Felino Palafox, Jr. are today’s front page columnists. Makabenta believes vaccine czar Sec. Carlito Galvez, Jr. will tell all on the nondisclsoure agreements with vaccine manufacturers, particularly China’s Sinovac. Tulfo discusses that good deeds never go unrewarded. Meanwhile, Arch. Palafox discusses the architecture, planning and urban design of the Philippines’ first Knowledge, Innovation and Science Technology park, located at the Batangas State University.

Read: Credibility gap or public confidence: Vaccine czar told to tell all on vaccine agreements

Read: Batangas State University’s KIST Park: Architecture, planning and urban design

Today’s editorial focuses on new United States Agency for International Development chief Samantha Power and the potential positive effects in the Philippines under her watch. Read the full version on the paper’s Opinion Section or listen to the Voice of The Times.

Read: Foreign aid given a boost by new USAid appointment

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With Dafort Villaseran, this is Aric John Sy Cua reporting. May you have a safe day ahead.

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