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WFP appeals for reopening of Ukraine ports so food can reach people facing acute hunger
by World Food Program, agencies
May 2022
The war in Ukraine and the disruption of food exports have caused a surge in global food prices, with devastating consequences for poor countries. Ukraine, one of the world’s biggest producers of food, has some 20 million tons of grain in storage available for export, but Russia’s current blockade of the country’s Black Sea ports has meant that it can not reach food markets.
The U.N.’s World Food Program has warned that the loss of Ukraine’s grain exports at a time when 45 million people in 38 countries are grappling with extreme hunger may trigger famine in a number of countries.
Whilst the conflict has brought immense suffering to the Ukraine people and heightened concerns for food insecurity in the country and its future abilities to maintain export volumes, the current global circumstance necessitates an immediate opening of ports to facilitate the export of desperately needed food to some of the world's most vulnerable peoples.
Undoubtedly political tensions are high and there are many pressing humanitarian, human rights and livelihood challenges to address in the conflict, most notably an immediate end to the fighting, but it is not beyond agreement to realise an opening of the ports and a resumption of exports facilitated by the World Food Program and other relevant UN agencies.
In 2021, the Russian Federation contributed some $62 million to the WFP and was amongst the top 25 ranked donors. In past years, Russia donated 100 heavy vehicle trucks to assist with WFP global operations.
Whilst there are disturbing reports from the FAO, from the conflict zone in Ukraine of grain stores being stolen by Russian troops and grain complexes and storage facilities being destroyed in the conflict, such is the overwhelming global humanitarian need that immediate negiotations must be undertaken to commence shipping of urgently needed grains.
Such is the desperate need for countries dependent on Ukraine for food imports that the European Union is proposing complex land and rail freight options to facilitate accessing Ukraine's desperately needed grain supplies.
This week India the world's second biggest wheat exporter suspended exports to the end of the year, due to weather impacts on its crops and the drawdown on its grain reserves due to recent covid support programs. There are concerns surrounding the size of the shortfall of the world's biggest wheat exporter China, after unseasonal weather impacts on this years harvest.
Over 20 countries have imposed export restrictions on grain exports as local price rises provoke alarm from national governments. Food market speculators are also impacting global prices and need to be immediately constrained.
The UN Security Council and the G7 have both recently sounded alarm over the current food insecurity situation on the most vulnerable countries, in response to the impacts of rising food, fuel and fertilizer costs.
Climate change continues to impact a number of countries harvests, with recent heat waves in India and Pakistan undermining conditions. In Europe, growing conditions in France and Spain have been undermined. In countries in humanitarian crisis, drought conditions in Afghanistan and a number of African countries have severely undermined harvests and livelihoods.
Even at a time of such heightened tensions and suffering for many, it must be possible to realise an agreed mechanism between Russia and the WFP to facilitate the immediate reopening of Black Sea ports – including Odesa – so that critical food from Ukraine can reach people facing acute food insecurity and the immediate threat of famine.
6 May 2022
War in Ukraine: WFP calls for ports to reopen as world faces deepening hunger crisis - Lifesaving food remains trapped while a record number of families struggle to survive.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is calling for the immediate reopening of Black Sea ports – including Odesa – so that critical food from Ukraine can reach people facing acute food insecurity in countries such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen where millions are on the brink.
“We’re running out of time and the impact of inaction will be felt around the world for years to come,” said David Beasley, Executive Director of the the World Food Programme.
Pointing to the rising costs of food, fuel and shipping, Beasley stressed no one is immune to the consequences of the ongoing war. Today, as record numbers of people wonder what they will eat tomorrow, harvests from Ukrainian farms are failing to be shipped to the destinations where they are needed most.
“Right now, Ukraine’s grain silos are full. At the same time, 44 million people around the world are marching towards starvation,” said Beasley.
Before the war, most of the food produced by Ukraine – enough to feed 400 million people – was exported through the country’s seven Black Sea ports. In the eight months before the conflict began, close to 51 million metric tons of grain passed through them, according to WFP.
“We have to open up these ports so that food can move in and out of Ukraine,” said Beasley. “The world demands it because hundreds of millions of people globally depend on food that comes through these ports.”
Global food prices have risen sharply since the onset of the crisis. This will affect local food prices and people in the most vulnerable locations, on extremely tight budgets, are particularly at risk. In the month after the conflict started, export prices for wheat and maize rose by 22 percent and 20 percent respectively, on top of steep rises in 2021.
It comes in a year forecast, even before the war, to be one of catastrophic hunger with needs outpacing resources to help people going hungry across the world.
In West Africa, acute hunger is already at a ten-year high as the region struggles to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic – with costs already high, many will suffer as prices rise even further.
The ripple effect of the Ukraine crisis will worsen the food insecurity situation in East Africa, too – Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan are amongst those likely to be hardest hit due to their reliance on imports from Russia and Ukraine.
Food and oil price hikes are driving up WFP’s monthly operational costs by up to US$71 million a month, effectively reducing its ability to respond to hunger crises around the world.
“The war in Ukraine is a catastrophe on top of catastrophe,” said Beasley. “I urge all parties involved to allow this food to get out of Ukraine to where it’s desperately needed so we can avert the looming threat of famine.”

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Lies spread faster than facts online in Philippines Election
by BBC, France 24, Foreign Correspondent, agencies
May 2022
Philippines faces stark election choice – dictator’s son or human rights lawyer? (Guardian News)
Voters in the Philippines will go to the polls for a presidential election that pits frontrunner Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of the late dictator, against a human rights lawyer who has promised a transparent government.
Marcos Jr, known as “Bongbong”, whose authoritarian father plundered billions of dollars from the state and presided over rife human rights abuses, has maintained a strong lead in opinion polls in the run-up to Monday’s vote. If elected president, it would mark an extraordinary rehabilitation of one of the country’s most controversial political families.
Marcos is trailed in the polls by Leni Robredo, the current vice-president and a human rights lawyer who has advocated for marginalised groups. As vice president – a position elected separately from the president – she has frequently clashed with president Rodrigo Duterte, and has condemned his so-called “war on drugs’, which has killed as many as 30,000 people according to some estimates, and prompted an investigation by the international criminal court.
Marcos, whose backers have used social media to rebrand the family and whitewash history, has a significant lead in opinion polls, according to a recent survey by Pulse Asia.
However, analysts say it is possible such surveys have overestimated Marcos’s lead, pointing to the large turnouts at Robredo’s rallies.
“The reality could be that it is a very close race,” said Ronald Mendoza, the dean of Manila’s Ateneo school of government. “Hopefully [the result] will be settled sooner because that lends itself to a more stable transition.”
On Saturday, the last day of campaigning, Robredo supporters filled the streets of Makati, in the national capital region, with a sea of bright pink, the campaign’s trademark colour. “We have the right to a future with dignity, and we have the duty to fight for it. We have learned that nothing is impossible,” Robredo told crowds of supporters.
Robredo is up against two of the country’s most powerful political families: the Marcoses, and the Dutertes. The president’s daughter, Sara Duterte, is running alongside Marcos Jr for the vice-presidency, though Duterte has not endorsed a presidential candidate.
The Marcos camp has shunned TV debates and avoided questions from media outlets it deems unfriendly. Instead, the family and its backers have used social media to reach voters, especially those who do not remember martial law, a time when thousands were killed, tortured and arrested. A network of accounts portray the Marcos period as a time when the country was prosperous and order, inundating news feeds with false claims about the period. Marcos Jr has denied the presence of any coordinated online campaign.
Robredo’s camp, by contrast, has been driven by volunteer activists who have gone house to house trying to win over undecided voters. It is a strategy that is not usually applied on such a wide scale in presidential elections in the Philippines, and its impact is unclear, say analysts.
“It’s something of a puzzle for us political scientists and observers of elections, whether this new thing in this campaign – that voluntarism, the house-to-house campaigns will matter in the final results of the elections,” said Prof Maria Ela L Atienza, who teaches political science at the University of the Philippines.
People are swayed not by loyalty to a political party, but by other personal factors, including the extent to which they feel a connection with candidates.
Atienza said the level of engagement among supporters of candidates is comparable to 1986, when Marcos Sr called snap elections – an attempt to prove his mandate amid growing pressure at home and abroad. His claim to have won, amid reports of cheating and fraud, led to the People Power Revolution, which overthrew his rule.
It put the Philippines on “the imperfect road to democracy”, said Atienza. The small gains since then could be threatened by the prospect of another Marcos presidency, she added.
* Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of the late dictator, has won the presidential election.
May 2022
The Marcos makeover: How history was rewritten to place a dictator's son on the cusp of power, by Bonny Symons-Brown. (ABC Foreign Correspondent)
On a rainy day in April, the man favoured to become the next president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, stood before thousands of adoring fans in Tacloban and invoked a name once considered political poison. It was the name of his own mother.
"You know I am quite sure that my mother is watching the live stream," he told the crowd, as a legion of vloggers beamed the rally to their Facebook followers. "Let's say hello Imelda. Hello Imelda!"
The mention of the Philippines' notorious former first lady, Imelda Marcos, drew rapturous cheers from the audience, as they relayed their greeting to the 92-year-old watching at home.
During the reign of her late husband Ferdinand Marcos Sr, Imelda became a global pariah for raiding the public purse to fund her extravagant lifestyle, enduringly symbolised by her vast collection of shoes.
In 1986, a popular uprising forced the Marcoses into exile in Hawaii, but not before they looted up to $US10 billion from state coffers over two decades in power, much of which has never been recovered.
For some in the Philippines, the Marcos name is a byword for brutality, corruption and theft, while others remain fiercely loyal to the family.
But as the country's presidential election campaign enters its final days, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr, the only son of Imelda and Ferdinand Sr, is poised to complete an extraordinary rehabilitation of the family's political brand.
The 64-year-old is a front-runner in the race to succeed strongman president Rodrigo Duterte when the country votes on May 9.
Marcos Jr and his running mate Sara Duterte, the outgoing president's daughter who is standing for vice president, are campaigning on a message of national "unity". A recent poll put Marcos Jr well clear of his nearest rival, vice president Leni Robredo.
Driving the resurrection of the country's most divisive political dynasty is a calculated recasting of the ruthless Marcos dictatorship as a "golden age" of the Philippines.
"How can history have been changed so drastically?" journalist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa asked. "With the help of social media platforms."
A torrent of disinformation
Last year on September 11 – the 104th birthday of the late Ferdinand Marcos Sr – a video began circulating on Facebook, which has since been viewed over 4.7 million times. A montage of smiling well-wishers hold handmade signs reading "Happy Marcos Day" and "#Marcos Real Hero", before the video cuts to Marcos Jr making a lengthy tribute to his father's vision for the Philippines.
Set to upbeat music, the eight-minute clip is peppered with photos of the bridges, power lines, specialist hospitals – even a nuclear power plant – built under Marcos Sr's rule.
For Marcos Jr's 10 million social media followers, videos like this feed the narrative of a lost era of economic greatness.
It is this revisionist history that Marcos Jr has put at the centre of his campaign, which experts say is key to his rising popularity.
The true legacy of Marcos Sr's infrastructure binge was a mountain of debt that ballooned from $843 million when he took office in 1965 to over $39 billion by the time he was deposed.
For decades after Marcos Sr was driven into exile by the "People Power Revolution", the Philippines was known as "the sick man of Asia" due to its struggling economy. The nuclear power plant – also funded by foreign loans – has never become operational.
Pro-Marcos propaganda dominating platforms like Facebook, YouTube and TikTok is helping to rewrite the past for many who did not live through the dark reality of that era.
Around half the country's 67.5 million eligible voters are aged between 18 and 42. Many don't know the brutal years of martial law that began in 1972, when thousands were killed and tortured, or how the Marcoses accumulated billions in ill-gotten riches at their citizens' expense.
Indeed, on social media, the Marcos era is basking in a moment of sunny nostalgia. In one viral TikTok trend, users took up a challenge to film their older family members' reactions as they played March Of The New Society, an anthem associated with the period of martial law.
"Based on the stories of my grandmother … it was good in those days," Chemmy Rivas, a young Marcos supporter from Tacloban, told Foreign Correspondent on the day Marcos Jr visited town.
One falsehood gaining traction online claims no arrests were made during martial law, despite Marcos Snr himself admitting to Amnesty International in 1975 that 50,000 people were arrested.
It is deeply concerning for Tina Bawagan, who was tortured during martial law after joining the underground resistance to the Marcoses.
"The young ones, they don't know that this happened, and they believe that the Marcoses had a good government," she said. "It's essential that we continue to tell the story so that it doesn't happen again."
But telling the story is increasingly challenging in the Philippines, where social media networks have come to dominate the information landscape.
Sidelining the mainstream media
Throughout the election campaign, Marcos Jr has mostly avoided journalists. He rarely gives interviews and last month refused a public debate with his top rival, claiming he wanted to stay out of the mudslinging and focus on running a "positive campaign".
According to Aries Arugay, a political scientist from the University of the Philippines Diliman, the strategy has not hampered his ability to get his message out.
"Their disinformation game is top notch," Arugay said of the Marcos Jr campaign. "They're resting comfortably in that disinformation infrastructure that has been quite important in their campaign."
A recent study found Facebook was the number one driver of disinformation in this election campaign and most of it was benefiting Marcos Jr.
"Facebook is our internet," said Ressa, co-founder of the independent Filipino news website Rappler. "One hundred per cent of Filipinos on the internet are on Facebook."
According to Ressa, social media is likely to prove the decisive factor in the election. Her team has been investigating the growing influence of disinformation networks on social media like those used to amplify President Rodrigo Duterte's message, with devastating effect, during the 2016 election campaign.
The team found that, since 2016, social media has come to dominate the centre of the Philippines' "information ecosystem", while news organisations that "thought they had tremendous power were essentially pushed to the side," Ressa said.
For some Filipinos, Facebook is their only source of news. Residents of Manila's poorer neighbourhoods may not have electricity, TV or radio, but most have a mobile phone.
Those who run out of phone credit are still able to browse the Facebook newsfeed, which means they get the headlines but are unable to dive deeper.
"Our minds are being poisoned by fake news, wrong history," community political organiser Jaja Fugoso told Foreign Correspondent.
Most people in the community where she works get their history lessons from TikTok and YouTube, she said.
Some social media content originates from the Marcos campaign, but a large portion is produced by an army of online acolytes, who can generate revenue from popular posts.
Video bloggers Ruben Gelio and Jay Cho don't work for the Marcos campaign but they make a living live streaming campaign events on Facebook and posting positive content about Marcos Jr.
Gelio, 24, believes vloggers like him have become more powerful than the mainstream media. "Some of the media is so biased about Marcos and they never show anything that Bongbong Marcos does a good deed," he said. "As vloggers, we show the other side of the coin to the people. This is the real Marcos, not the one that mainstream said."
'Lies spread faster than facts'
In an effort to push back the tide of disinformation, mainstream media organisations have teamed up with tech companies to create fact-checking collectives like
Rappler has launched its own fact-checking operation, debunking claims including that the Philippines was "the richest country next to Japan during Marcos' term".
Social media networks are also cracking down on the disinformation flooding their platforms.
In January, Twitter suspended more than 300 accounts and hashtags promoting Marcos Jr, for violating its policies against spam and manipulation. Then in April, Facebook suspended a network of over 400 accounts, pages and groups in a move designed to crack down on hate speech and misinformation.
But while some pro-Marcos disinformation networks have been taken down, many have regenerated and stand poised to "help pave the way for a [Marcos] win", according to Ressa.
"You cannot have integrity of elections if you don't have integrity of facts," she said. "And what social media has done is not only make facts debatable, but to actually spread lies faster than facts."
Of all the contested facts about the Marcoses, perhaps the most astonishing is that some now doubt whether they stole money at all.
The Marcoses' extravagant theft of state riches has been well documented, not least by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), a body set up by former president Corazon Aquino as one of her first orders of business in 1986 to recoup the family's hidden loot.
The PCGG estimated the Marcoses amassed somewhere between $US5 billion and $US10 billion of assets, including jewels, gold, real estate, famous artworks and cash stuffed in Swiss bank accounts.
"Children were dying of malnutrition, but the Marcoses went on shopping, stealing, hoarding ill-gotten wealth," said Filipino lawyer Ruben Carranza, who was part of the PCGG investigation.
The commission has recovered about $US3.3 billion and another $2.4 billion is under litigation.
In 2018, Imelda Marcos was sentenced for graft, but has never spent a day in prison and is currently free on bail appealing the decision. Her seeming impunity has helped fuel perceptions that the Marcoses are innocent, a claim that finds a willing audience on social media. A myth claiming Ferdinand Marcos Sr inherited an enormous amount of gold during his time as a lawyer has been doing the rounds for over a decade.
Disillusioned by the failure of successive governments to tackle the poverty and corruption that continue to dog daily life, many Filipinos appear willing to overlook not only the late dictator's massive theft and human rights violations, but Marcos Jr's own 1997 conviction for failing to file tax returns, which some opponents have argued should disqualify him from the presidency.
Many fear a Marcos Jr presidency would spell the end of any further investigation into the family's corruption.
Aries Arugay said a Marcos in the presidential palace would also ensure Imelda Marcos continues to enjoy impunity for her part in fleecing the country for her own personal gain. "The conventional wisdom is the dynasties are good for dynasties, but they're really bad for governance and the people."


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