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2017-08-19

Saturday, 19 August 2017 00:00 Published in page one

BARCELONA — Police on Friday hunted the driver who rammed a van into pedestrians on an avenue crowded with tourists in Barcelona, leaving 14 people dead and  more than 100 injured, just hours before a second assault in a resort along the coast. The latest fatality is an injured woman from Cambrils.

Police said they killed five “suspected terrorists” during the night in the seaside town of Cambrils, 120 kilometers south of Barcelona where bystanders and police were injured in a second car attack.
Three others were arrested in other parts of the Catalonia region where both cities are located, but the driver responsible for the carnage in Barcelona remained at large, authorities warned.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) yesterday  confirmed that four Filipinos have been injured following the terrorist attack in Barcelona.
In a statement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the Philippines joins the international community in denouncing the brutal attack.
“The Philippines condemns in the strongest terms this disturbing act of terror perpetrated by extremists against innocent men, women and children in Barcelona,”  he said.
“We stand in solidarity with the people of Catalonia and all of Spain and the rest of the world 
as we fight this common scourge,” he added as he expressed Manila’s sympathies to the Spanish government and to the families of the victims.
Citing reports from the Philippine Honorary Consul in Barcelona, the DFA said the terrorist attack involved a vehicle that plowed through pedestrians in Barcelona’s Las Ramblas tourist district.
The DFA did not release the names of the four members of the Irish family of Filipino descent but said the Philippine Honorary Consulate went to the hospital to check on them.
The DFA cited Honorary Consul Jordi Puig Roches that the mother and her daughter have been released from the hospital but the father and his son are still under observation and are being assisted by the Irish Honorary Consul.
It was also assured that the Philippine Embassy in Madrid and the Honorary Consulate in Barcelona have been in touch with authorities and leaders of the Filipino Community to make sure that the 20,000 other Filipino residents of the northeastern Spanish city are safe.
Vehicles  now weapons of terror
The attacks are the latest in a wave of such assaults in Europe where vehicles have been used as weapons of terror.
In the Barcelona incident, claimed by the Islamic State group, a white van sped down a wide avenue packed full of tourists on Thursday afternoon, knocking people down and killing 13 in a scene of chaos and horror.
The driver left the vehicle and fled on foot.
Some eight hours later in Cambrils, an Audi A3 car rammed into pedestrians, injuring six civilians — one of them critical — and a police officer, authorities said.
Gunfire ensued during which police killed the five attackers. Some were wearing what appeared to be explosive belts, although Catalan interior minister Joaquim Forn later said they were fake.
‘United in grief’
Witnesses in Barcelona recounted how bodies were strewn along the famous Las Ramblas boulevard where the driver went on a rampage as other people fled for their lives, screaming in panic.
As world leaders united in condemning the carnage, the IS propaganda agency Amaq claimed that it was carried out by “soldiers” from the jihadist group.
Police announced the arrest of three suspects, including a Spaniard and a Moroccan.
Carles Puigdemont, president of the region of Catalonia where both cities are located, warned the suspect still on the run was potentially dangerous, saying “these types of people have already demonstrated they have the will to harm whatever happens.”
There were at least 18 nationalities among the Barcelona victims who came from countries as varied as France, Venezuela, Australia, Ireland, Peru, Algeria and China, according to Spain’s civil protection agency.
Belgium said one of its citizens had died in the Las Ramblas assault, while the France’s foreign minister said 26 French nationals were injured, 11 seriously, The Hague said three Dutch were injured and a Greek diplomat reported three nationals had been wounded — a woman and her two children.
“We’re united in grief,” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in a televised address after rushing to Barcelona, the biggest city in Catalonia, a region in Spain’s northeast whose separatist government is defying Madrid with a drive for independence.
‘Whole street started to run’
Las Ramblas is one of Barcelona’s busiest streets, lined with shops and restaurants and normally packed with tourists and street performers until well into the night.
“When it happened I ran out and saw the damage,” local shop worker Xavi Perez told AFP.
“There were bodies on the ground with people crowding round them. People were crying. There were lots of foreigners.”.
In Cambrils, meanwhile, Markel Artabe, a 20-year-old restaurant worker, said he was on the seaside promenade when he heard what he initially thought were fireworks, but soon realized were gunshots.
He said he saw a person lying on the floor “with a gunshot in the head. His friends were crying out ‘help’.”
Europe’s deadliest attack
Spain, the world’s third most popular tourism destination, had until now been spared the kind of extremist violence that has rocked nearby France, Belgium and Germany.
It had even seen a surge in tourists as visitors fled other restive sunshine destinations like Tunisia and Egypt.
But it is no stranger to jihadist attacks, having been hit by what is still Europe’s deadliest in March 2004, when bombs exploded on commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people in an attack claimed by al Qaeda-inspired extremists.
It also had to deal with a decades-long campaign of violence waged by Basque separatist group ETA, which only declared a ceasefire in 2011.
Police said Thursday that one of the arrested suspects in the Barcelona attack was a Spaniard born in Melilla, a Spanish territory in North Africa, and the other a Moroccan named as Driss Oukabir.
In a further twist, the Spaniard was arrested in Alcanar, about 200 kilometres south of Barcelona, the scene of an explosion in a house late Wednesday that left one person dead and seven wounded and is believed to be linked to Thursday’s assault.
“We suspect that they (the occupants) were preparing an explosive device,” Josep Lluis Trapero of the regional Catalonia police told reporters.
‘Revolting attack’
Thursday’s attack drew condemnation from across the globe, from US President Donald Trump to French leader Emmanuel Macron, whose country has witnessed a series of bloody jihadist atrocities including a truck rampage in Nice in July 2016 that killed 86 people.
The Nice carnage and other assaults including the 2015 shootings and bombings on Paris nightspots were claimed by the Islamic State, but it is believed to be the first IS claim of an attack in Spain.
Catalonia has the highest concentration of radicalized Islamists in the country along with Madrid and the Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla that border Morocco.
Seven injured in second Spain
car rampage: authorities
CAMBRILS – Seven people were hurt when “alleged terrorists” drove into pedestrians in the Spanish seaside resort of Cambrils early Friday before being shot dead by security forces, just hours after a similar attack in nearby Barcelona.
The Audi A3 car rammed into people on the seaside promenade of the tourist city 120 kilometers south of Barcelona, where a van had earlier sped into a street packed full of tourists, killing 13 people and injuring around 100 others.
One of the injured in Cambrils is in critical condition, emergency services said.
The five attackers in the car were shot dead, police added. Some of them wore what looked like explosive belts.
“The alleged terrorists were in an Audi A3 and apparently knocked down several people before coming across a police patrol and a shoot-out ensued,” said a spokesman for the regional government of Catalonia, where Cambrils is located in Spain’s northeast.
Joan Marc Serra Salinas, a 21-year-old waiter, said he heard many gunshots.
“And shouting. And more shouting. I jumped onto the beach and didn’t move,” he said.
Police said they were “working on the hypothesis that the terrorists shot dead in Cambrils could be linked to what happened in Barcelona.”
The driver of the van in the Barcelona attack managed to escape and is still on the run.
Two other suspects, a Spaniard and a Moroccan, have been detained.
In a further twist, the Spaniard was arrested in Alcanar, about 200 kilometers south of Barcelona and the scene of an explosion in a house late Wednesday that left one person dead and seven wounded and is believed to be linked to Thursday’s assault.
“We suspect that they (the occupants) were preparing an explosive device,” Josep Lluis Trapero of the regional Catalonia police told reporters.
IS claims its ‘soldiers’ carried
out Barcelona attack
A report from Beirut said,  “Soldiers” of the Islamic State group carried out a deadly van attack in Barcelona on Thursday, the jihadist organization’s propaganda outlet Amaq said.
“The executors of the Barcelona attack were soldiers of the Islamic State,” Amaq said on its Telegram messenger account, without naming those it claimed were behind the attack.
Amaq said they had launched the attack in response to calls to target states taking part in the United States-led coalition battling the jihadist group in Iraq and Syria.
Police said they had arrested two suspects after the assault, the latest in a wave of vehicle rampages across Europe in recent years.
The attack caused panic on the streets of Spain’s largest city and drew condemnation from world leaders. With Joyce Ann Rocamora and AFP


Gov’t to review ‘strings’on P2.17-B MCC grant

Saturday, 19 August 2017 00:00 Published in Headlines

The Department of Finance (DoF) will subject to a review the $434 million or P2.17 billion grant from the US government’s Millenium Challenge Corp. (MCC) after the US government-backed aid agency listed the Philippines among countries eligible to secure funds from it this year.
The MCC grants, however, have strings attached to them and which may fall under foreign loans that President Duterte wants rejected for interference in domestic policies.
Last May, Malacañang sad the administration is rejecting aid from the European Union that comes with conditions that may interfere with the country’s internal affairs.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the government, upon the recommendation of the Department of Finance (DoF), would enforce the new policy on conditional grants that may touch on the country’s sovereign affairs.
Mr. Duterte rejected any form of assistance from the EU with conditions attached to it after the EU warned the government of trade sanctions due to the what it perceived as rising cases of extrajudicial killings in Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said he welcomes the decision of the US government’s MCC to uphold the eligibility of the Philippines to secure a fresh grant from it but he said the government would still go over the conditions set in the millennium challenge compact for the Philippines.
“We will look into the conditions of the MCC grant and determine if they are aligned with our priorities,” Dominguez said.
The MCC said on its website that the eligibility of recipient-countries for year 2018 will be based on, among others, their “demonstrated commitment to just and democratic governance, economic freedom and investments in (its) people,” and “the opportunity to reduce poverty and generate economic growth.”
He said the decision of the MCC is yet another
confirmation of the Duterte administration’s strong commitment to the rule of law and inclusive growth.
“We welcome the decision of the Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC) to approve a new compact for the Philippine government and thank them for this fresh grant offer . The government under the Duterte administration continues to vigorously implement initiatives that reinforce the Philippines’ commitment to good governance, peace and order and the rule of law,” Dominguez said.
He said the MCC decision is  “testament to the fact that despite the political noise emanating from certain quarters, our development partners recognize our government’s commitment to reduce poverty and make growth inclusive  while  maintaining peace and order and upholding the rule of law.”
Vote on RP deferred last March
The MCC said last March it deferred its vote on the eligibility of the Philippines as its board “decided to revisit the discussion on the Philippines’ eligibility at a future date.”
MCC issued a statement in reaction to then Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno who said the grant for the Philippines was not renewed this year.
Sueno then said that the US government did not continue its grant to the country due to alleged cases of human rights violations primarily charges rased by Vice President Leonor Robredo during a recorded video message to the UN Human Rights Council.
In a press statement last Aug. 16, MCC included the Philippines among candidate countries for the milennium challenge compact with the United States “to support policies and programs that advance the progress of such countries to achieve lasting economic growth and poverty reduction.”
The Philippines was listed among 66 candidate countries in the low income category.
The MCC said all countries in the list are candidate for MCC grants next year. Low income candidate countries were chosen “as the 75 poorest countries as identified by the World Bank and provided that a country that changes during the fiscal year from low income to lower middle income (or vice versa) will retain its candidacy status in its former income category for the fiscal year and two subsequent fiscal years.”
In a report last May, the MCC said its “board of directors selected the Philippines as eligible for compact assistance in fiscal year 2015, but, following national elections in May 2016, the board raised concerns over issues tied to the country’s trajectory on human rights, due process, and rule of law.”
“When the board made country selection decisions for fiscal year 2017, it deferred the vote on continued compact eligibility for the Philippines,” it added.
“While the board (of MCC) continues to closely monitor the policy environment, the government of the Philippines continues developing project proposals on agricultural competitiveness and productivity after a jointly completed constraints to growth analysis identified four binding constraints to economic growth including government coordination and implementation capacity, the high costs of transport logistics, the high cost of electricity, and market failures in the rural economy,” the statement added.
An MCC scorecard released in November last year nonetheless showed that the Philippines garnered passing scores in 13 out of the 20 indicators, including control of corruption, rule of law and civil liberties—an improvement from the performance in 2015 wherein the country passed in 12 indicators.
Compact with RP expired last May
The previous five-year grant, which was worth $433.9 million, expired in May last year. The US government set up the MCC to promote economic growth and reduce poverty around the world. However, countries can only qualify if they “demonstrate a commitment to just and democratic governance, investments in its people, and economic freedom,” according to the corporation’s website.
The US under President Barack Obama was a vocal critic of Duterte’s war on drugs.
“MCC will continue to monitor unfolding events in the Philippines and underscores that all country partners are expected to maintain eligibility, which includes not just a passing scorecard but also a demonstrated commitment to the rule of law, due process and respect for human rights,” an Obama spokesman then said.
In a statement, MCC Chief Executive Officer Dana Hyde said  their agency maximizes advocacy to fight poverty and transform people’s lives by partnering with developing countries “that meet rigorous standards for good governance, from fighting corruption to respecting the rights of women and the rule of law.”
At its quarterly meeting on December 13 last year the MCC  awarded Burkina Faso, Sri Lanka and Tunisia with new compacts defined with five-year duration grants each as efforts to encourage economic growth and reduce poverty.
Among the reselected countries, the MCC voted approval for Cote d’Ivoire, Mongolia, Nepal and Senegal to continue developing their compacts.
It also selected Kosovo and Timor-Leste to develop MCC threshold programs, and reselected Togo to continue developing its threshold program.
Executive Director of Institute for Political and Electoral Reform Ramon Casiple said this was not surprising at all.
“It is expected from the US since MCC, from its inception, has a political agenda,” the political analyst said, adding that under the transition to Trump administration, “it is hedging its bet.”
While the move was expected, Casiple doubts that any major effect on the Philippines would follow.
“MCC aid does not have enough clout to change policy,” Casiple said.

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