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By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

A number of Southeast Asian foreign ministers have aired their concern over recent develop-ments and escalation of activities in the disputed South China Sea, Philippines’ top diplomat Perfecto Yasay Jr. said at the conclusion of a high-level ministerial meeting in Boracay, Aklan yesterday.
Yasay chaired this year’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Foreign Ministers’ Retreat which has highlighted ways to address regional and international issues such as the sea row.
China claims at least 90 percent of the South China Sea (SCS), through which $5 trillion in tradepasses annually that overlaps with the Philippines and other Asean members’ waters.

But on July 12, 2016 The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidated Beijing’s nine-dash line within the entirety of the region.
In a press conference aired live, Yasay mentioned that while the Philippines has decided to shelve this ruling in preparation for a bilateral engagement with China on this issue, at least four foreign ministers from the bloc called for the respect of the court’ decision.
Asked to name the countries, Yasay said he’s “not at liberty to mention the names” but all in all, there are “two, three or four countries.”
A number of ministers also expressed grave concerns over the militarization in the area.
To recall, last year’s summit concluded with a muted reference on the issue.
According to Yasay, the Philippines will raise this award when the time is right.
“But as of now we’re pursuing a relationship with China with a two-track approach, separating the contentious issue from non-contentious ones,” he said.
He added that “while we wait for the proper timing to talk out this dispute  with Beijing, we are promoting trade and investment.”
Today, as the Philippines chair this year’s Asean, Yasay said all members from the bloc and China are optimistic that a framework for a Code of Coduct in the South China Sea will be concluded by end of June 2017.
He said this CoC will be a way forward to address the competing territorial claims which have long been a major source of tension in the region.
Once formulated, the foreign affairs chief said the legal binding CoC will then proceed.

Perjury, murder raps mulled vs Lascañas

Wednesday, 22 February 2017 00:00 Published in Headlines

By Julius Leonen
and Gerry Baldo

The Depart-ment of Justice (DoJ) is consi-dering perjury and murder charges against SPO3 Arturo Lascañas following the reversal he made on his previous testimony at a Senate probe into extrajudicial killings (EJK) at a press conference last Monday.
He was in the company of opposition Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and lawyers of embattled Sen. Leila de Lima.
Lascañas debunked in previous Senate proceedings the existence of the so-called “Davao Death Squad” (DDS) allegedly led by President Duterte when he was still Davao City mayor as he testified that no such vigilante group existed.
Last Monday, however, Lascañas came out with his recantation to the press with opposition Senator Trillanes, who appears to be hell-bent on pinning down President Duterte in an ongoing word war, to announce that he had lied in his previous statements.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said that the DoJ has yet to acquire a copy of a sworn statement from Lascañas for them to look into his “contradictory allegations.”
He earlier had dismissed Lascañas’ claims as another Edgar Matobato scenario.
“We will investigate his admissions of his killings, and file charges against him, just like what happened to Edgar Matobato who is now wanted for frustrated murder,” Aguirre said.Matobato, in previous Senate inquiries into extra-judicial killings, claimed that he was an operative of the DDS and a hired hitman by Duterte when he was Davao City Mayor.

Matobato, a self-confessed hitman and serial killer, was proven a liar in previous Senate hearings and investigations into his alleged involvement in DDS.
Matobato had claimed in a Senate hearing that he was instructed to kidnap and kill suspected terrorist Salih Makdum as part of an operation for the DDS.
While Matobato and another respondent were  eventually charged for the kidnapping of Makdum, it was revealed however that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) does not have any records whatsoever of Makdum in their terror watch list. Moreover it was found that Makdum was no terrorist but a neighbor of Matobato who tried to sell  him land but which deal never pushed through.
In addition, Aguirre said last Monday that the surfacing of Lascañas was merely a plot to muddle the “serious crimes” Sen. de Lima for her alleged involvement in the proliferation of illegal drugs through the Bilibid narcotics trade.
“This is diversionary tactic to deflect the seriousness of the crimes committed by Sen. Leila de Lima. This is calculated to orchestrate their call for warm bodies to attend the Edsa Anniversary,” Aguirre said.
De Lima is facing three counts of drug charges before the Muntinlupa City regional trial court (RTC) in connection to her alleged involvement in the proliferation of illegal drugs at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
”I do not know Lascañas. His testimony is a turnaround from his previous testimony at the Senate. He could be another Matobato as he was presented by Trillanes,” Aguirre said.
Contrary to his earlier statement, Lascañas said his conscience led him to allegedly tell the truth and back the claim of self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato stating that the group was real.
New Lascañas tale
Lascañas was hounded by the spirit of a boy he killed decades ago to reveal the truth in the Davao Death Squad, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, a sidekick of Trillanes  said.
Magdalo is the partylist group in which Trillanes is affiliated.
Alejano said he believes that Lascañas was telling the truth when he recanted his testimony before the Senate last year.
Alejano stressed that recanting a statement did not discredit the claims of Lascañas.
“If flip-flopping is the basis, then we can’t believe President Duterte because he always does that,” Alejano said.
Alejano stressed that Lascañas may have not told the turth when he testified before the Senate in October last year because he was under duress.
“At that time he had nothing to hold on to. He had a divine encounter when he had a kidney operation that he promised to reveal or make a public confession before God, but he had no way of doing it,” Alejano explained.
“He went through an operation, during his recovery in one room, in a room, he saw an evil spirit, whether it was a dream or not. Then there was a bright light coming from everywhere and then he saw the child. The bright light erased the darkness that symbolized a demon. The boy whom he saw, was the boy whom they killed together with a suspect in a kidnapping incident,” Alejano said.
Alejano posited that Lascañas had been silent because he had already retired as a policeman.

SolGen: Leila playing victim; DoJ chief slams De5

Wednesday, 22 February 2017 00:00 Published in Headlines

By Julius Leonen
and Gerry Baldo

The Office of the Solicitor (OSG) blasted Sen. Leila de Lima for crying political persecution as she is now facing drug trafficking charges at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) for her alleged role as a protector of drug lords at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) while Department of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre slammed the accused senator of issuing baseless tirades against President Duterte and cautioned her for inciting to sedition.
In a statement issued yesterday, Solicitor General Jose Calida lashed out at de Lima who, aside from being the chief public enemy for being an alleged drug trafficking offender, also called hera “high priestess of hypocrisy,” for insinuating that she is merely being politically persecuted by the Administration.

“Senator de Lima’s latest tirades against President Duterte and the government clearly show why she is the high priestess of hypocrisy. She should stop acting like a vacuous victim and crybaby.
“My unsolicited advice to her is: face the charges with equanimity and dignity befitting a senator,” Calida said.
The senator is currently facing three separate criminal cases at three Muntinlupa trial courts for allegedly accumulating drug money from the colossal NBP narcotics trade to support her senatorial campaign in the 2016 National Elections.
For his part, DoJ chief Aguirre slammed the embattled senator for making “baseless” statements in her vitriolic press conference yesterday, targeting the Duterte Administration over SPO3 Arturo Lascañas’ flip-flop, warning her to be careful in issuing statements as she was allegedly “inciting to sedition.”
“Just a piece of unsolicited advice to her, from someone she referred to as a mediocre lawyer. She should be careful about her statements. She was already inciting to sedition earlier,” Aguirre said.
De Lima, in her press conference, called on the people to stand up to the President, whom she called a serial killer and a sociopath, and mount a people power against the government, to oust Mr. Duterte.
Aguirre also belittled Senator de Lima’s tirades yesterday wherein he, together with Solicitor General Calida, was called “arrogant” and “abusive” officials of the Duterte Administration.
A seemingly frantic Sde Lima claimed in her press conference that people shouldn’t bother asking why during the Duterte Administration that the “criminal, corrupt, people with no moral compunction whose souls are dark” are thriving.
“Totally baseless. Bereft of any factual basis. I’ll  just try to understand where Senator de Lima is coming from. She has been under a lot of pressure lately,” Aguirre said.
“People in her situation can easily make accusations,unfounded as they may be. I try my best to understand her. All I can do now is to pray for her,” Aguirre said.
In addition, Aguirre insisted that Senator de Lima should instead face her charges and defend herself in court instead of coming out and talking to the media  with spurious tirades and statements against the Duterte Administration.
“As a former Secretary of Justice, Senator de Lima should know that the real battle is in the courts,” Aguirre said.
“She should do the fighting there, answer all the charges against her there and present credible evidence in her defense there and not in a press conference,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre also dismissed the embattled senator’s tirades as a mere rehash of the opposition’s squabble to pin down President Duterte.
Aguirre stressed that de Lima never filed a case against Duterte when she was the Human Rights Chair and Justice Secretary.
“It is all rehashed and Senator de Lima knows it. She served as Chair of the Commission on Human Rights from May 7, 2008 to June 30, 2010 and as Secretary of Justice from June 30, 2010 to October 12, 2015, yet she did not file any case against then Mayor Duterte on the purported killings,” Aguirre said.
The Justice Secretary even disputed the timing of the Lascañas’ turnaround against President Duterte.
Aguirre earlier said that Lascañas’ flip-flop was a way to muddle  de Lima’s “serious crimes.”
“Even the timing is suspect, why come out only now? Is somebody diverting the public’s attention from what is to come? One cannot help but ask these questions,” Aguirre said.
Lascanas charges vs Du30 merit UN probe—opposition
Predictably, Albay Rep Edcel Lagman yesterday said that there are seriously disturbing parallels between the murderous activities of the Davao Death Squad (DDS) and the deadly campaign against the so-called drug menace.
Lagman noted the odious similarities include the following, such as  unabated extrajudicial killings; monetary rewards to the killers; the victims are mostly poor and petty suspected criminals; Involvement of police elements and their vigilante cohorts; official tolerance and complicity; and impunity for the executioners.
Both whistleblowers, Edgar Matobato and SPO3 Arthur Lascañas, have confessed that they were members of the DDS which he claimed to have summarily killed criminal suspects in Davao City and both were paid for the killings.
From 1998 to 2015, the DDS reportedly wantonly killed 1,424 individuals.
In President Duterte’s campaign against drug pushers and drug users, the police and  vigilantesexecuted more than 7,000 victims.
This developed as the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the United Nations (UN) to conduct an inquiry into President Duterte’s “war on drugs” following allegations by his former henchman that he led and funded the DDS when he was mayor of Davao City for two decades.
“The allegations by retired Senior Police Officer 3 (SPO3) Arturo Lascañas that President Duterte, when mayor of Davao City, ordered the killing of several people  heighten the urgent need for an independent United Nations (UN) investigation into more than 7,000 people in Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ to uncover ultimate responsibility for those crimes,” said HEW deputy Asia director Phelim Kine.
Lascañas, who retired from the Philippine National Police (PNP) only in December 2016, previously testified before the Senate to deny that the DDS ever existed and said the claims of confessed DDS hitman Eduardo Matobato were baseless.
He also claimed that Duterte also ordered the killing of a man suspected of being a member of a kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) gang, along with his pregnant wife, two children aged between 4 and 5, and two household workers.
Lascañas said all the allegations of Matobato were true, thus giving the lie to the Senate report that claimed the DDS did not exist and consequently, there was no basis to pursue an investigation into the extra-judicial killings (EJKs) during  Duterte’s incumbency as Davao City mayor.
“The disclosures also suggest possible motivations for the Duterte administration’s moves to launch a politically-motivated prosecution of Senator de Lima, who, as chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in 2009 launched the only official investigation into the DDS killings,” Kine said.
“The authorities should immediately drop all charges against Senator de Lima, cease their harassment of her and cooperate fully with a UN probe,” he concluded.

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