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Asean leaders to avoid direct China criticism

Thursday, 27 April 2017 00:00 Published in Headlines

By Joyce Ann Rocamora

Southeast Asian leaders will express concern this week about an “escalation of activities” in the South China Sea but avoid directly criticizing China, according to the draft of a summit statement.
The statement, set to be released on Saturday at the end of a two-day leaders’ meeting in Manila, reflects Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s efforts to ease tensions with China over competing claims to the strategically vital waters.
The chairman’s statement at the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit will merely hint at China’s island-building in the sea without mentioning it by name, according to the draft obtained by AFP.  
“We shared the serious concerns expressed by some leaders over recent developments and escalation of activities in the area which may further raise tensions and erode trust and confidence in the region,” the statement said.
However it did not mention China directly, nor an international tribunal’s ruling last year rejecting Beijing’s sweeping claims to the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion dollars in annual shipping trade passes.Four Asean members — Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam — along with China and Taiwan, have claims in the sea, which security analysts say is a potential flashpoint for conflict.

The UN-backed tribunal ruled last July that China’s claims to nearly all of the sea had no legal basis and its construction activities there were illegal.
The case was filed by Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino, who forcefully challenged Beijing through legal and diplomatic avenues including Asean events. This led to a sharp deterioration in bilateral relations.
Duterte, who assumed the presidency shortly before the ruling was issued, has chosen to pursue friendly ties with China to try to win billions of dollars’ worth of trade and aid.
As part of that, he has said he will not use the ruling to pressure China.
The draft follows a similar statement at an Asean summit in Laos last year when intensive Chinese lobbying helped to ensure there was no mention of the ruling.
The draft also noted “progress” on a so-called framework agreement for a code of conduct on the South China Sea.
Philippine diplomats have said the “framework” code of conduct might be completed by June, with China expressing optimism about the talks.
But negotiations for an actual code have already taken 15 years, after Asean and China adopted a non-binding agreement in 2002 to discourage hostile acts.
Meanwhile, China has built its artificial islands, which are capable of serving as military bases.
“What’s the point of having a code of conduct if China has successfully militarized the South China Sea?” Renato de Castro, international studies professor at Manila’s De La Salle University, told.
Asean draft on SCS row ‘deeply           disappoints’ says Ex DFA chief
The softer tone on the South China Sea  row and the omission of the arbitral ruling’s emphasis in this year’s draft Asean Chairman’s statement is “deeply disappointing” said former Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario yesterday.
Asean, currently chaired by President Rodrigo Duterte, is expected to exclude the Permanent Court of Arbitration award in their joint statement after a summit on April 29.
This landmark decision given by a Hague-based court is seen as a legal win for both the Philippines and other small littoral states against China’s imposed nine-dash line.
Portions of the draft Chairman’s statement obtained by reporters at the Asean media center said: “We underscore the importance of “maintaining peace, stability, security and freedom of navigation in and over-flight over the South China Sea.”
It noted that we share “serious concerns expressed by some leaders over recent developments and escalation of activities in the area which may further raise tensions and erode trust and confidence in the region.”
However, specific references to militarization and island-building in the area, basically by China, are omitted.
Earlier, the Asia Maritime Transparency Institute (AMTI) released its latest report and satellite images that showed Chinese defense systems being built in Spratly Islands being  almost complete.
Within this area, AMTI said China’s radar system in Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross Reefs are ready for military use.
These three islands are currently occupied by China but the Philippines has firmly noted its claims here.
Noting these, del Rosario said their succinct view is that “there is a minimum expectation of positive leadership to be attributed to the Philippine Chairmanship of Asean.
He stressed that the draft of the Chairman’s Statement is “deeply disappointing and, if not revisited, would manifest an absence of the desired leadership.”
      At a proper time
In an interview, DFA Spokesman Robespierre Bolivar assured that it’s in our “interest” that the South China Sea issue is discussed, however,  they expect the discussion of the leaders to be “on a more positive tone” because of the progress from the discussion of the Code of Conduct framework.
Asean and China are currently working together to finish the framework of the Code of Conduct, a more binding edict enshrined in the 2002 Declaration of Conduct which stresses the importance of exercising restraint in the region.
On the issue of the omitted arbitral award, Bolivar guaranteed that it will surface at a proper time.
“He (President Duterte) mentioned that the policy of the government will not go beyond the four corners of the ruling, that’s something that he said, and that we will raise the ruling or the merits, or the elements of the ruling at a proper time.”
In this respect, Bolivar said they defer to the president on how he will gauge the mood or this proper timing that he mentioned.
China confusion
Meanwhile, Duterte’s contradictory statements on the Philippines’ approach to its dispute with China over rival claims in the South China Sea will be under close scrutiny.
Duterte adopted a more pragmatic approach, remaining mostly silent on Philippine concerns while seeking billions of dollars worth of Chinese trade and aid.
But early this month Duterte announced he had ordered his troops to occupy vacant islands in the South China Sea.
He also said he may go to one of the islands already occupied by the Philippines to plant a national flag.
He and his aides later retracted the statements, as Duterte reverted to a more friendly tone towards China.
“China is confused and the international community is intrigued,” Renato de Castro, international studies professor at Manila’s De La Salle University, told AFP.
Nevertheless, Duterte has said he will not use Asean to pressure China.
Asean and China are also working on a “framework” agreement for a code of conduct on the South China Sea, with Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei other claimants.
The summit will take place under heavy security following a series of deadly clashes recently with Islamic militants in the central and southern Philippines.
About 40,000 security forces have been assigned to guard the event, authorities said.
Senators, please behave—Lacson
Sen.Panfilo Lacson  yesterday came close to telling fellow politicians to put their best foot forward and spare the country from getting embarrassed before visiting leaders attending the Asean Summit due to political wrangling.
“There should be  a respite, he said when asked if there should be a political ceasefire, at least during the duration of the 30th Asean Summit, the first Asean  2017 event that will have country leaders in attendance and to be hosted by President Duterte.
“Those from the opposition may still express their dissent but this should be issue-based that will highlight policy differences but not bordering on personal attacks if only to show to the whole world that we put national interest above personal differences,” he added.
Some of Lacson’s colleagues have aired disgust over the timing of the filing of the case against President Duterte before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague in the Netherlands as it coincided with the country’s hosting of the Asean Summit.
But Lacson, however, disagreed saying that the case is not likely to prosper if it will be backed up only by testimonies of self-confessed hitmen Edgar Matobato and retired SPO3 Arthur Lascanas who both attested to the alleged existence of the Davao Death Squad (DDS) which supposedly carried out extrajudicial executions of criminals in Davao City under the purported orders of Duterte, then still its mayor.

With Angie M Rosales and AFP

QC MeTC resets Leila disobedience case trial

Thursday, 27 April 2017 00:00 Published in Nation

By Julius Leonen

The Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) Branch 24 has reset the hearing on detained Sen. Leila de Lima’s disobedience to summons charges filed by the Department of Justice (DoJ) against her to June 9.
In a text message to reporters yesterday, lawyer Philip Sawali, de Lima’s legal counsel, said that Quezon City MeTC Branch 24 Judge Ma. Ludmilla Pio-Lim had reset the hearing to June 9 as the “judge will resolve first the motion for reconsideration filed by (de Lima).”
“And secondly because no prosecution witness is ready today. DoJ is dispensing with Speaker Alvarez’s testimony, and the second witness, Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo V. Umali will only be available on June 9, which will be the next hearing,” Sawali said.
De Lima is currently detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame as she is currently facing drug cases in three Muntinlupa RTC branches.
The QC MeTC held its first preliminary conference last March 13 where the prosecution said that they will present House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez as its first witness in the disobedience case against de Lima.
The prosecution said that aside Alvarez, they will also present House committee on justice chair Rep. Reynaldo Umali, House Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Farinas, and six others as witnesses.
It will be recalled that leaders at the House of Representatives filed a criminal complaint before the DoJ against de Lima for repeatedly snubbing proceedings in Congress and incessantly refusing to answer the damning accusations of her involvement in the proliferation of illegal drugs in the country.
The DoJ cited de Lima’s refusal to appear in the House inquiry on proliferation of illegal drugs in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) and her advice to Dayan to continue hiding and not attend the House probe, which she had earlier publicly admitted.
“Respondent’s advice to Mr. Dayan through his daughter to hide and not to appear in the House inquiry constitutes an act amounting to restraining another to attend as a witness in the national assembly (now Congress of the Philippines) and inducing disobedience to a summon,” read the DoJ resolution.
On November 24, Ronnie Dayan, de Lima’s former driver-bodyguard-lover,  bared before the House committee on justice that de Lima had instructed him via a text message to Dayan’s daughter Hannah to hide and desist from attending the House inquiry.
The case’s resolution deemed de Lima’s act to restrain Dayan and his daughter from attending the House inquiry on illegal drug operations constitutes disobedience to a summons.
Since the House of Representatives had started its probe on illegal drug operations at the NBP in October, de Lima refused to attend a single hearing.

The Social Security Commission (SSC), the governing body of Social Security System (SSS), over the weekend, took umbrage over the erroneous news reporting of ABS-CBN’s Balitang Global on the pension fund’s proposal for the mandatory SSS coverage of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).
“The malicious innuendos in the commentary following the erroneous news report is unfair to SSS which is pushing for the mandatory coverage of OFWs which is for their own good and benefit. Contribution collections of SSS is used for members’ benefits,” said SSC Chairman Amado D. Valdez.
The SSC threatened to sue ABS-CBN’s Balitang Global over the erroneous report and irresponsible commentary.
SSS issued the statement after an erroneous report came out at Balitang Global, a news program for OFWs in Middle East hosted by Henry Omaga Diaz and Zen Hernandez, aired on April 16 at The Filipino Channel (TFC) and on ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) on April 17.
The news program incorrectly reported in the introduction of the news report of Mye Mulingtapang about the mandatory coverage for OFWs pushed by SSS that SSS President and Chief Executive Officer Emmanuel F. Dooc himself flew to Italy to personally explain and discuss the proposal to OFWs.
Dooc, since his assumption in office in November 2016, has never left the country for any official business trip.
SSS already called the attention of the hosts, writers and producers of the show and immediately admitted their mistake through an official letter.
The SSC is still deliberating whether to continue to file the case against ABS-CBN’s Balitang Global or to accept the apology.

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