Kuwait, Philippines Move to Defuse Domestic Worker Row

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Kuwait, Philippines Move to Defuse Domestic Worker Row

Tuesday, 1 May, 2018 – 09:00
Overseas Filipino Workers from Kuwait gather upon arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay city, Metro Manila, Philippines in February. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Kuwait announced on Monday that it will set up a special commission to address the employment of housemaids in the Gulf state, in what was interpreted as an olive branch extended to the Philippines over the migrant labor row.

Manila announced on Monday that it was prepared to dispatch a delegation to Kuwait to contain the escalating dispute over domestic foreign workers in Kuwait.

The development stood in stark contrast to President Rodrigo Duterte’s announcement over the weekend that Manila’s ban on sending domestic workers to Kuwait was permanent.

Duterte in February prohibited workers heading to Kuwait following the murder of a Filipina maid whose body was found stuffed in her employer’s freezer.

The resulting row deepened last week after Kuwaiti authorities ordered Manila’s envoy to leave the country over videos of Philippine embassy staff helping workers in Kuwait flee their employers.

During its weekly meeting, the Kuwaiti government on Monday said it was opposed to any move “aimed at undermining its sovereignty and its laws”, the official KUNA news agency reported.

The government added however that it will set up a special commission chaired by the minister of social affairs and labor to follow up “on cooperation with friendly states” on the employment of housemaids in Kuwait.

“This is largely a misunderstanding and exaggeration of some minor or one-off cases,” Deputy Foreign Minister Nasser al-Subaih told reporters in Kuwait City.

“We have taken a serious stance … but we do not believe in escalation and want to remain in direct communication to resolve the problem,” Subaih added.

Kuwait and the Philippines had been negotiating a labor deal that could have resulted in the lifting of the ban on Filipinos working in the Gulf state.

The Philippines on Tuesday welcomed Kuwait’s olive branch in the migrant labor row.

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said: “This gesture on the part of Kuwait, a country with which we have a shared history and strong people-to-people ties, will allow us to move forward.”

“We affirm our friendship with the government of Kuwait and its people. The strength of that friendship will withstand this misunderstanding,” he added.

Around 262,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, nearly 60 percent of them domestic workers, according to the Philippines’ foreign ministry.

Duterte said workers returning from Kuwait could find employment as English teachers in China, citing improved ties with Beijing.

The Philippines has sent millions of its people to work abroad, seeking salaries they cannot get in their relatively impoverished nation.

The money they send back home accounts for about 10 percent of the Philippine economy.

In Philippines The Government Says Your Life Is Worth $20.00

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

What’s the Value of Human Rights? According to the Philippines House of Representatives, $20.

Youth protest against drug-related extrajudicial killings. Source: Anakbayan. Used with permission

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies in the House of Representatives led by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez have voted to give 1,000 pesos (20 US dollars) to the 2018 budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), a constitutional body tasked to ensure that the state is upholding various human rights laws and treaties.

Around 112 lawmakers joined the house speaker in the vote to render the agency practically useless in performing its mandate. The CHR has been consistently voicing its concern over the excesses of Duterte’s “war on drugs,” which has already killed 13,000 drug suspects.

The CHR was created by the 1987 Philippine Constitution to prevent a repeat of the massive human rights abuse committed under the 21-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Duterte has repeatedly said he looks up to the former strongman whom he allowed to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) in 2016.

The meager budget is all but the latest blow from the Duterte administration, which has deemed the CHR as a nuisance to its campaign to fight illegal drugs.

But the CHR is not alone in condemning the extrajudicial killings of suspected drug personalities. Aside from the political opposition, church groups, and various civil society organizations, Duterte’s bloody “war on drugs” has also earned the disapproval of the international community such as the European Union and the UN Commission on Human Rights.

During a media interview, Speaker Alvarez explained the reasons why the majority decided to defund the CHR:

I see no reason for this government to fund [CHR]. You prefer to protect the rights of criminals instead of the victims.

Commission on Human Rights logo

Responding to the criticism of some Congress members, the CHR clarifiedits official duty:

We regret that despite continued clarifications on our mandate, they have wrongly perceived our role as combative rather than a collaborative effort to bolster Philippine democracy by ensuring that all public officials are honest in the performance of their duties and adhere to universally accepted principles of human rights.

The CHR said it will continue to perform its mandate even with the small funding:

Despite these circumstances, we will not turn our backs on our Constitutional duty to render justice for all and give everyone their due. The concern for human rights is beyond partisanship or disagreement. We shall seek means to move forward and navigate through the hurdles mindful of our oath to serve the people and the Republic—because it is what is right and what is needed of the times.

After the media reported the 1,000-peso budget of the CHR, Filipinos quickly took to social media to express their outrage.

Ted, a young professional, criticized the government on Facebook:

The 1000-peso CHR budget means the government is crap and has no regard for human rights.

Facebook user Kim Tanhui urged fellow Filipinos to stop tolerating human rights abuses:

EVERY person’s rights as a human must be protected, whichever official, candidate, or party he or she may be supporting.

This is about the public tolerating this blatant disregard for human rights and morality, which unfortunately, has become the norm during the recent months. Wake up, people! This is your government telling you that your human rights is worth only P 1,000. This is your government rendering the CHR, the body which was designated to protect you from government abuses, powerless.

Twitter user @DonyaJemimah did some quick number crunching to highlight how much Duterte’s allies have valued human rights:

1K = CHR’S BUDGET (HUMAN RIGHTS)
1K = 103M FILIPINOS = 0.000009 EACH

APPARENTLY, 1 VFRESH CANDY IS MORE EXPENSIVE THAN OUR HUMAN RIGHTS 🙄

Even United Nations special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, posted her dismay:

Reprehensible and unconscionable:  Congress slash annual budget of Commission for Human Rights to 20 USD @UNHumanRights

Even some supporters of the president expressed their shocked by the brazen move of the Lower House. With the Lower House essentially done with their part of the budget process, the ball is now with their counterparts in the Senate, the upper chamber of the Philippine Congress whose members are able to move with more flexibility away from the president’s line as they enjoy a broader and nationwide constituency. Some senators have already committed to restoring the CHR’s original proposed budget of 678 million pesos ($13.2 million) once they resume their budget deliberations.

Will this outrage be sustained and help opposition senators in giving the CHR a more appropriate budget? How will the Duterte administration maneuver to ensure the CHR is rendered useless with its $20 budget? With activists and various cause-oriented groups gearing up for a big gathering this coming September 21 to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the declaration of martial law, which ushered in massive human rights abuses by the Marcos dictatorship, this move by the Duterte administration will certainly be not forgotten.

Vietnam Urges Stronger Stand Against China At ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PAKISTAN DAILY TIMES)

 

MANILA: Vietnam urged other Southeast Asian nations to take a stronger stand against Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, as a tense regional security forum began Saturday with North Korea also under fire over its nuclear program.

Ahead of the launch of the annual gathering of foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Vietnam made a bold play against China with a raft of suggested changes to a planned joint communique.

It set the stage for what was expected to be a fiery few days of diplomacy in the Philippine capital, with the top diplomats from China, the United States, Russia and North Korea set to join their ASEAN and other Asia-Pacific counterparts for security talks from Sunday.

The meetings will take place as the United Nations Security Council votes this weekend on a US-drafted resolution to toughen sanctions against North Korea to punish the isolated regime for its missile and nuclear tests. The United States said it would also seek to build unified pressure on the North at the Manila event — known as the ASEAN Regional Forum — and Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Pyongyang would receive a strong message.

But on the South China Sea dispute — one of Asia’s other top powder keg issues — there was far less consensus with Vietnam resisting efforts by the Philippines to placate Beijing, diplomats told AFP.

Vietnam on Friday night sought to insert tough language against China in an ASEAN statement that was scheduled to be released after the Southeast Asian ministers wrapped up their own talks on Saturday.

According to a copy of a draft obtained by AFP, Vietnam lobbied for ASEAN to express serious concern over “construction” in the sea, in reference to China’s ramped up artificial island building in the disputed waters in recent years.

Vietnam also wanted ASEAN to insist in the statement that a planned code of conduct for the sea with China be “legally binding”, which Beijing opposes.

The lobbying occurred when the ASEAN foreign ministers held unscheduled and informal talks late on Friday night.

“The discussions were really hard. Vietnam is on its own to have stronger language on the South China Sea. Cambodia and Philippines are not keen to reflect that,” one diplomat involved in the talks told AFP.

China claims nearly all of the strategically vital sea, including waters approaching the coasts of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

China has in recent years expanded its presence in the sea by building the artificial islands, which are capable of holding military bases.

Alongside Vietnam, the Philippines used to be the most vocal critic of Beijing’s expansionism.

But, under President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines has sought to downplay the dispute with China in return for billions of dollars in Chinese investments and aid.

China has in recent years also successfully lobbied other ASEAN nations, particularly Cambodia, to support its diplomatic maneuvering in the dispute.

At the ASEAN opening ceremony on Saturday morning, Cayetano confirmed there had been strong debates on Friday.

“You have to excuse my voice as, my colleagues, we kept each other up until almost midnight last night. In the true ASEAN way we were able to passionately argue our national interest,” Cayetano said.

Various diplomats said that Vietnam was likely to lose its battle to insert the strong language against China, with the Philippines as host of the talks wielding greater influence.

ASEAN is set to this weekend endorse a framework for a code of conduct with China, which is meant to pave the way for more concrete action.

 

 

Published in Daily Times, August 6th 2017.

Martial Law Will Be Extended in the Philippines

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME WORLD)

Martial Law Will Be Extended in the Philippines

9:24 AM ET

(MANILA, Philippines) — The Philippine Congress on Saturday overwhelmingly approved the president’s appeal for martial law in the south to be extended to the end of the year to help troops quell a two-month siege by Islamic State group-linked militants and stamp out similar extremist plots in the volatile region.

House of Representatives Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez announced that senators and House members voted 261-18 in favor of granting President Rodrigo Duterte’s request in a special joint session. The 60-day martial law was to expire late Saturday.

The military chief of staff, Gen. Eduardo Ano, warned during the session that aside from the uprising in Marawi, extremist groups have plotted similar insurrections in other southern cities and that martial law has helped troops stop attacks, including bombings, elsewhere.

“There was an order for them to do their own version of Marawi in other areas, but we were able to stop this because of martial law,” Ano told the legislators.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana played down concerns of military abuses, saying no major human rights violations have been reported since Duterte declared martial law to deal with the Marawi violence, the worst crisis in his yearlong presidency.

Some opponents argued that government forces could deal with the attack in lakeside Marawi, a center of Islamic faith in the southern third of the largely Roman Catholic nation, without resorting to martial law. Others worried that the extension was too long and that the rest of the country may eventually be placed under martial rule.

Left-wing activists opposed to Duterte’s declaration rallied outside Congress. Some unfurled protest posters in the plenary hall but were forced out by security officers.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros recalled how civil liberties were curtailed and Congress was padlocked when dictator Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law in the Philippines in 1972. Marcos was ousted in a “people power” revolt in 1986.

Since the Marawi fighting broke out on May 23, at least 428 militants, 105 soldiers and policemen, and 45 civilians have been killed. Half a million residents have been displaced, according to the military.

During the daylong special session of Congress, a wounded army officer, 1st Lt. Kent Fagyan, told how troops smashed concrete walls of houses and buildings with sledgehammers to advance slowly toward militant positions away from sniper fire. Troops dealt with booby traps and had to wrest back control of Marawi communities room by room, he said, adding that the militants had powerful machine guns, drones and “seemingly unlimited ammunition.”

“Inside, you can’t eat on time, you can’t sleep because you’ll be awakened by explosions here and there starting in the morning up to evening for almost 24 hours,” Fagyan said.

“On behalf of my colleagues, who are still fighting in Marawi, we thank you for your continued support,” he said. “We feel that we’re not alone fighting them with the clothes and water that you sent over.”

The siege on Marawi started when more than 600 heavily armed fighters, waving Islamic State group-style black flags, stormed into the city, occupying buildings, houses and mosques and taking hostages. Several foreign fighters, including 20 Indonesians and a Malaysian financier known as Mahmud bin Ahmad, joined the insurrection, Duterte said in a letter to Congress this past week.

Duterte wrote in his letter that the leadership of the Marawi siege “largely remains intact despite the considerable decline in the number of rebels fighting in the main battle area.” Other radical armed bands “are ready to reinforce Isnilon Hapilon’s group or launch diversionary attacks and similar uprisings elsewhere,” he said, referring to the leader of the attackers.

Intelligence reports that Hapilon sent funds and ordered allied militants to launch attacks in key cities across the south have been validated, Duterte said.

The attackers’ lasting power and large arsenal of weapons have surprised Duterte and his top security officials, who acknowledged they underestimated the combat strength of the militants and their preparations, including the stockpiling of assault firearms in Marawi. Troops long used to fighting insurgents in the jungles have struggled to rout the gunmen from Marawi’s dense urban sprawl.

The crisis has sparked alarm that the Islamic State group may be gaining a foothold in Southeast Asia through allied local militants, as it faces major setbacks in Syria and Iraq. The United States and Australia have deployed surveillance planes to Marawi, and China has provided weapons for Filipino troops, including those fighting in the besieged city.

Philippines: Gunman Murders At Least 36 In Marriott In Manila

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

By Manolo Serapio Jr and Neil Jerome Morales | MANILA

A gunman burst into a casino in the Philippine capital Manila on Friday, firing shots, setting gaming tables alight and killing at least 36 people, all suffocating in thick smoke, in what officials believe was a botched robbery.

There was no evidence linking the attack at the Resorts World Manila entertainment complex to fighting between government troops and Islamist militants in the country’s south, said Ernesto Abella, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte.

“All indications point to a criminal act by an apparently emotionally disturbed individual,” Abella told a news conference. “Although the perpetrator gave warning shots, there apparently was no indication that he wanted to do harm or shoot anyone.”

The gunman killed himself in his hotel room after being shot and wounded by resort security, police and Resorts World management said. A second “person of interest” who was in the casino at the time was cooperating with the investigation, police said.

Most of the dead suffocated in the chaos. Fire bureau spokesman Ian Manalo said many guests and staff had tried to hide from the gunfire rather than get out of the building when attack began shortly after midnight (1600 GMT) and fell victim to the choking smoke.

Oscar Albayalde, chief of the capital’s police office, said those who died were in the casino’s main gaming area.

“What caused their deaths is the thick smoke,” he told reporters. “The room was carpeted and of course the tables, highly combustible.”

A Resorts World Manila official said the dead included 22 guests.

DEATH IN ROOM 510

At dawn, the body of the suspected gunman was found in a hotel room in the smoldering complex, which is close to Ninoy Aquino International Airport and an air force base, police said.

A injured policeman is seen at the entrance of a hotel after a shooting incident inside Resorts World Manila in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines June 2, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

“He burned himself inside the hotel room 510,” national police chief Ronald dela Rosa told a news conference. “He lay down on the bed, covered himself in a thick blanket and apparently doused himself in gasoline.”

Resorts World Manila Chief Operating Officer Stephen Reilly said casino security guards had shot and wounded the gunman – armed with what authorities described as a “baby armalite” – during the attack.

“Severe loss of blood from the gunshot wound significantly slowed down the assailant and resulted to his holing up in the room where he took his own life,” Reilly said.

Officials said at least 54 people were hurt, some seriously, as they rushed to escape what was at first was believed to have been a militant attack.

Survivor Magdalena Ramos, who was a guest at the hotel, said people began shouting “ISIS! ISIS!” when the gunfire began. The 57-year-old said she hid in a kitchen and then fled when the smoke became too thick.

But police quickly said they did not believe the attacker had any militant connections.

“We cannot attribute this to terrorism,” national police chief dela Rosa told DZMM radio.

“We are looking into a robbery angle because he did not hurt any people and went straight to the casino chips storage room. He parked at the second floor and barged into the casino, shooting large TV screens and poured gasoline on a table setting it on fire,” he said.

Earlier reports said the gunman may have been white, but police later said he appeared to be Filipino, although they were still establishing his nationality.

Kimberly Molitas, a spokeswoman for the capital’s police office, said 113 million pesos ($2.27 million) worth of casino chips stolen during the raid had been recovered.

GUNSHOTS, PANIC

Videos posted on social media showed people fleeing as several loud bangs went off.

“Even the security personnel panicked,” casino guest Jeff Santos told a radio station. “Definitely us patrons we did not expect that, everyone ran away.”

Jeri Ann Santiago, who works in the emergency room at the San Juan de Dios hospital, said patients were suffering from smoke inhalation and some had fractures. None had gunshot wounds, she said.

The Philippines has been on heightened alert amid a crisis in the south of the country, where troops have been battling Islamist rebels since May 23.

Duterte declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao last week and has warned it could become a haven for Islamic State supporters fleeing Iraq and Syria.

Security was tightened around the presidential palace on Friday, with armored personal carriers stationed on approach roads and river ferries barred from passing close by.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said four Taiwan nationals were among those killed and a South Korean foreign ministry official said one South Korean had died, apparently after a heart attack.

Shares in resort owner Travellers International Hotel Group Inc, a joint venture of the Philippines’ Alliance Global Group Inc and Genting Hong Kong Ltd, fell 7 percent.

(Additional reporting by Peter Blaza, Clare Baldwin, Karen Lema, Manuel Mogato, Enrico Dela Cruz and Martin Petty in MANILA and Ju-min Park in SEOUL; Writing by Alex Richardson and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

Philippines The Next ISIS Strong Hold?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) The Philippines military has unleashed a series of air strikes in a push to regain full control of a largely Muslim city that was overrun last week by ISIS-affiliated fighters.

More than a hundred residents of Marawi, on the southern island of Mindanao, have died and 70,000 have fled the town of 200,000 since fighters from the Maute Islamist militant group entered the city and clashed with military and police.
“Precision airstrikes are (being) judiciously used to prevent collateral damage and employed at specific targets of resistance to protect our troops and hasten clearing of the city of terrorist elements who continue to resist,” military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said Tuesday, according to the official Philippine News Agency.
The siege on Marawi unfolded as Muslims worldwide began to mark the holy month of Ramadan. Mindanao has a significant Muslim population, though the Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country.
The Maute militants set fire to churches and other buildings as they entered the city, flying the flag of the so-called Islamic State to which they pledged allegiance last year.
Sporadic gunfire erupted throughout the day as helicopters flew over the city, a witness told CNN.
Families last week packed belongings into cars and sat in long lines of traffic as they sought to escape the ISIS-backed fighters, residents told CNN at the time.
Parts of neighboring Iligan city are on lockdown, with a nighttime curfew, to prevent fighters from moving in, according to a statement posted on the city’s official Facebook page.

Fighting ongoing

Reports suggested the Maute fighters were defending Isnilon Hapilon, a longstanding terrorist leader designated by ISIS as the group’s emir for Southeast Asia, after he was cornered by Philippines police and military forces.

Filipino soldiers engage in a firefight with ISIS-linked militants on May 30, 2017, in Marawi in the southern Philippines.

Militants’ ongoing resistance suggested Hapilon, who has a $5 million FBI bounty on his head, was still in the city, the Philippines military said.
More than 80 militants had been killed since fighting began, while 17 soldiers and three police officers had died, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Joar Herrara told CNN.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte suggested over the weekend that he would be open to tapping nationalist rebel groups, which recently signed peace deals with the government, as reinforcements in the fight against ISIS.
Duterte declared martial law over the island of Mindanao last week after the crisis began.
“If this martial law lasts and you want to help us fight for the republic, … I will use you as soldiers, with the same pay, privileges, and I will build houses for you,” Duterte said in a message to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front.

ISIS emir for Southeast Asia Isnilon Hapilon has a $5 million bounty on his head from the FBI.

Hostages escape

Militants had executed more than a dozen people, and numerous others had been taken hostage, the Department of National Defense said.

Duterte considers martial law across Philippines

Duterte considers martial law across Philippines
During government airstrikes Monday against Maute group positions, 11 hostages fled a building and swam across a river to reach government troops on the other side, they told CNN Philippines. One man died trying to escape.
The surviving hostages said they had seen one of their companions beheaded in front of them and were warned they would meet the same fate if the government did not meet the group’s demands.

Martial law

Duterte has suggested he might extend martial law until the end of the year or impose it nationwide, a possibility that has alarmed critics of the government and survivors of the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos.
The country’s constitution permits only a 60-day declaration of martial law; any extension must be approved by lawmakers.
On Tuesday, 15 of 23 senators signed a resolution expressing support for Duterte’s existing declaration.
The resolution said the Maute group had committed acts which constitute “the crime of rebellion” and added that imposing martial law on the region was “satisfactory, constitutional and in accordance with the law.”

Philippine Military Launches Airstrikes to End ISIS-Linked Siege of Marawi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME AND THE AP)

Philippine Military Launches Airstrikes to End ISIS-Linked Siege of Marawi

(MARAWI, Philippines) — Philippine fighter aircraft unleashed rocket fire against militants on Saturday, prompting villagers to hoist white flags to avoid being targeted as the military turned to airstrikes to try to end the siege of a southern city by Islamic State group-allied militants.

The predominantly Muslim city of Marawi, home to some 200,000 people, has been under siege since a failed army raid Tuesday on a suspected hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, who is on Washington’s list of most-wanted terrorists.

Hapilon got away and fighters loyal to him took over parts of the city, burning buildings, taking cover in houses and seizing about a dozen hostages, including a Catholic priest. Their condition remains unknown.

At least 48 people have died in the fighting, including 35 militants and 11 soldiers, officials say, adding that an unspecified number of civilians are feared to have died.

While up to 90 percent of Marawi’s people have fled amid the fighting, many who were trapped or refused to leave their homes have impeded military assaults, officials said. That has slowed efforts to end the most serious crisis President Rodrigo Duterte has faced since he took power nearly a year ago.

“In as much as we would like to avoid collateral damage, these rebels are forcing the hand of government by hiding and holding out inside private homes, government buildings and other facilities,” the military said in a statement.

“Their refusal to surrender is holding the city captive,” it said. “Hence, it is now increasingly becoming necessary to use more surgical airstrikes to clear the city & to bring this rebellion to a quicker end.”

The violence prompted Duterte on Tuesday to declare 60 days of martial law in the southern Philippines, where a Muslim separatist rebellion has raged for decades. But the recent violence has raised fears that extremism could be growing as smaller militant groups unify and align themselves with the Islamic State group.

Hapilon’s group has received a “couple of million dollars” from the Islamic State group, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters without elaborating Friday.

As air force planes and rocket-firing helicopters pounded militant positions on Saturday, fleeing residents waved white flags or hoisted them on their roofs to signify that they are not combatants.

“I saw two jets swoop down and fire at rebel positions repeatedly,” Alexander Mangundatu, a security guard, told The Associated Press in Marawi as a plume of black smoke billowed from a distant commercial area that was hit. “I pity the civilians and the women who were near the targeted area. They’re getting caught in the conflict and I hope this ends soon.”

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said government forces are working to “clear the city of all remnants of this group.”

Some civilians refused to evacuate because they want to guard their homes, slowing down the government operations, he said.

“But that’s fine as long as civilians are not hurt,” Padilla said.

On Friday, Duterte ordered his troops to crush the militants, warning that the country is at a grave risk of “contamination” by the Islamic State group.

Duterte told soldiers in Iligan, a city near Marawi, that he had long feared that “contamination by ISIS” loomed in the country’s future, using the acronym for the Islamic State group.

“You can say that ISIS is here already,” he said.

Lt. Gen. Carlito G. Galvez Jr., a military commander, said about 150 trapped civilians have been rescued by troops from their homes, adding the militants were burning houses to distract troops. The gunmen were still holding out in two areas and soldiers have begun door-to-door searches.

As troops intensified their assaults, Galvez apologized to Muslim residents over the disruption during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Hapilon, who was recovering from wounds inflicted by an airstrike in January, is still hiding out in the city under the protection of gunmen who are desperately trying to find a way to extricate him, said Philippine military chief Gen. Eduardo Ano. Hapilon has also suffered a mild stroke, he said.

Ano predicted that the military operation would take about a week as soldiers go house to house to clear the city of militants.

In a sign that the long-standing problem of militancy in the south could be expanding, Solicitor General Jose Calida said foreigners, including Indonesians and Malaysians, were fighting alongside the gunmen in Marawi.

Ano said foreign fighters were believed to be inside, but he was more cautious. “We suspect that, but we’re still validating,” he said.

Hapilon is one of the most senior commanders of the Abu Sayyaf, which is notorious for kidnappings for ransom, beheadings and bombings. He pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in 2014. He also heads an alliance of at least 10 smaller militant groups, including the Maute, which has a presence in Marawi and was instrumental in fighting off government forces in this week’s battles.

Washington has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Hapilon’s capture.

Recent Developments Surrounding The South China Sea

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

BANGKOK — A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest key developments in the South China Sea, home to several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.

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PHILIPPINES DOESN’T WANT TO BE USED FOR U.S. FREEDOM OF NAVIGATION MISSIONS

The Philippines has again thumbed its nose at the U.S., its longtime defense ally, saying it won’t be used as a springboard for U.S. ships and planes conducting operations that challenge China in the South China Sea.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the Philippines will not allow its territory to be used as a staging ground for U.S. patrols — a possible departure from the current policy that allows U.S. aircraft, ships and submarines access to designated Philippine military bases under a 2014 defense agreement.

Lorenzana said U.S. ships and planes can use Guam or Okinawa in Japan for South China Sea missions. But he said they can still refuel and resupply in the Philippines after conducting such maneuvers, not before.

State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said she could not comment on Lorenzana’s remarks as she hadn’t seen them, but added: “Our adherence to freedom of navigation is well known. You know, we will fly, we will sail anywhere within international waters and we will continue that.”

Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, the commander of the U.S. Army’s I Corps who leads international military exercises in the Pacific, said that the U.S. military was prepared to change next year’s joint exercises with the Philippines to humanitarian and disaster relief training.

“If we change the training, we would probably look at putting a different force and a different capability in the Philippines versus the initial one that had been planned to go there,” he told Voice of America, referring to the initial focus on the Philippines’ territorial defense.

President Rodrigo Duterte has reached out to China to try to smooth over the territorial disputes. He also said he wants to scale back the Philippines’ military engagements with the U.S., including scuttling a plan to carry out joint patrols with the U.S. Navy in the disputed waters, which he said China opposes.

But Manila still continues to rely on Washington. On Friday, the Philippine navy took delivery of a third frigate decommissioned from the U.S. Coast Guard.

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US, CHINA REACT TO VIETNAM’S REPORTED ISLAND DREDGING

The United States has called on Vietnam and other claimants to refrain from reclamation and militarization activities in contested South China Sea waters following reports that Hanoi has carried out dredging on one of the features it occupies in the Spratlys.

State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters that the U.S. is aware of the reports.

“We have consistently warned that reclamation and militarization in contested areas of the South China Sea will risk driving a destabilizing and escalatory trend. We encourage all claimants to take steps to lower tensions and peacefully resolve differences,” she said.

Vietnam’s government has not commented on satellite imagery purportedly showing dredging activities inside a channel on Ladd Reef, about 15 nautical miles (28 kilometers) west of Spratly Island where Hanoi recently began extending a runway and building hangers. It wasn’t clear if the latest activity was meant as repair or construction work.

Ladd Reef, which is submerged at high tide, has a lighthouse, which also serves as quarters for Vietnamese troops.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang urged Vietnam to “respect China’s sovereignty and rights, stop illegal invasion and construction activities, and not to take actions that could complicate the situation.”

He repeated Friday that China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea.

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CHINA WARNS BRITAIN AGAINST SOUTH CHINA SEA PATROLS

China has reacted angrily to Britain’s announcement that its four Typhoon fighter jets on a training visit to Japan will patrol the skies over the East and South China sea, where Beijing is embroiled in territorial disputes with neighbors.

The British ambassador in Washington, Kim Darroch, also said last week that his government plans to conduct freedom of navigation operations involving its newest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, when it becomes operational in 2020. He said that Britain “absolutely shares” the U.S. objective to protect freedom of navigation in what it considers international waters despite China’s claiming virtually the entire South China Sea as its territory.

China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency, in an opinion piece, said Darroch was perhaps trying to impress his Japanese colleague and that his remarks create the impression that London may soon deviate from “a largely aloof attitude” toward the South China Sea issue and start to meddle like the U.S. and Japan.

“Should a British warplane embark on a so-called ‘freedom of navigation’ mission in the South China Sea, it would only serve to further complicate the issue and weigh on thriving China-Britain ties,” Xinhua said.

It says China has never denied any legitimate passage of ships or planes in the area.

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CHINA ADDS SECOND CRUISE IN THE PARACELS

China is adding a second cruise ship to the Paracel Islands, a tropical paradise of pristine beaches and little else.

The new cruise ship called Nanhai Zhi Meng will start its maiden four-day voyage in late December from Sanya, a port on southern Hainan Island, to Yinyu, Quanfu and Yagong islands in the Paracels, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

The first cruise was launched in April 2013 and so far has attracted 23,000 Chinese tourists.

The tours only serve islands with no military installations and are only open to Chinese nationals. Unlike the largest island in the Paracels, Woody Island, which is also an administrative center founded in 2012, the coral reefs on the cruise tour have no accommodation or any significant infrastructure.

Prices range from $580 to $1,450 per person.

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Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

China Not Happy With Donald Trump For His Phone Call To Taiwan’s President

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST)

Donald Trump Speaks To Taiwan’s President, Reversing Decades Of U.S. Policy

China, the U.S. and most of the international community consider Taiwan to be a Chinese territory, not an independent nation.

12/02/2016 06:02 pm ET

President-elect Donald Trump spoke by phone Friday with Tsai Ying-wen, the president of Taiwan. The call was the first in more than 30 years between an American president-elect and a leader of the semi-autonomous island.

According to a readout of the call from the Trump transition team, Tsai congratulated Trump on his victory, and the two discussed “the close economic, political, and security ties exists between Taiwan and the United States.”

But the Trump team’s description of the call belies the fact that the conversation has the potential to upset three decades of relations between the United States and its most important global trading partner.

China, the United States and most of the international community consider Taiwan to be a Chinese territory. But Taiwan, with its own elected government, constitution and military, considers itself an independent nation.

In recognition of China’s claim to sovereignty over Taiwan, the U.S. cut diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979. Trump’s call will likely enrage Beijing, and stands to damage U.S. relations with Chine before Trump even takes office.

“The Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions,”  Evan Medeiros, a former Asia director at the White House national security council, told the Financial Times, which first reported the call Friday afternoon.

“Regardless if it was deliberate or accidental, this phone call will fundamentally change China’s perceptions of Trump’s strategic intentions for the negative. With this kind of move, Trump is setting a foundation of enduring mistrust and strategic competition for US-China relations,” Medeiros said.

The call with Tsai is the latest in a string of conversations between Trump and foreign leaders that have left foreign policy experts and career diplomats shocked and concerned.

Earlier this week, Trump spoke with Pakistani president Nawaz Sharif and said he looked forward to visiting the country as president ― something President Barack Obama has deliberately avoided doing because of the complex, and sometimes duplicitous, security and intelligence relationship between the two countries. Trump also spoke with President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, a despot and international pariah who has ruled the former Soviet republic since 1989.

On Friday, Trump also spoke to Rodrigo Duterte, the newly elected president of the Philippines. Since taking office, Duterte has encouraged the extra-judicial murder of hundreds of people accused of dealing drugs, and he has suggested that journalists deserve to be assassinated.

In response to the alarm raised by Trump’s phone calls, White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Thursday delicately urged Trump to seek out advice from career diplomats at the State Department. “President Obama benefited enormously from the advice and expertise that’s been shared by those who serve at the State Department,” he told reporters at the daily press briefing.

“I’m confident that as President-elect Trump takes office, those same State Department employees will stand ready to offer him advice as he conducts the business of the United States overseas. Hopefully he’ll take it.”

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.) was more direct with his criticism. “What has happened in the last 48 hours is not a shift. These are major pivots in foreign policy w/out any plan. That’s how wars start,” Murphy tweeted on Friday. “And if they aren’t pivots – just radical temporary deviations – allies will walk if they have no clue what we stand for. Just as bad. It’s probably time we get a Secretary of State nominee on board. Preferably w experience. Like, really really soon.”

Donald Trump Invites Philippines’ President Duterte To White House And Vice Versa

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES AND REUTERS)

Donald Trump Invites Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte to the White House After ‘Animated’ Phone Call

Rodrigo Duterte
Eugene Hoshiko—AP Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks to journalists before getting aboard a coast guard ship at a Japan Coast Guard base in Yokohama, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016. The Philippine President had a telephone conversation with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Dec. 2.

Both leaders invited each other to their respective nations

Donald Trump invited Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House in 2017 during a telephone conversation, according to an aide to Duterte.

Reuters reported on Friday that the conversation between the two had been described by Duterte aide Christopher Go as a “very engaging, animated” one, lasting more than seven minutes. Some have drawn similarities between the two leaders based on their unexpected rises to power and their controversial statements and provocative personalities. Immediately after the U.S. election last month, Duterte extended an olive branch to Trump, despite fractious relations between the two countries since the Philippine Presidential election in May this year.

Duterte also invited Trump to the Philippines next year when the country chairs the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Go said. It is tradition for the U.S. president to attend the proceedings. At the summit in October, Duterte called President Obama the “son of a whore.”

[Reuters]

 

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