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Thursday:  July 24, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in the Philippines (4)

Monday
Dec172012

Philippines Passes Controversial Reproductive Health Bill - (REPORT) 

(Video: Kabayan LA)

(HN, December 17, 2012) - Today in the Philippines both the Senate and the House of Representatives backed a bill that has been debated for 13 years, and defied the powerful Roman Catholic Church to vote in favor of state-funded contraception.  Many women and supporters celebrated as news of the bill became known, though the two chambers passed slightly different versions of the bill, and they need to agree on a common version to put before President Benigno Aquino, who hopes to sign it into law by the end of the year.

This was the fourth attempt to pass a bill dealing with family planning issues in the heavily Catholic island nation with more than 80% of the population, 'religious'.  The last three bills were blocked by the Church and its political allies - including revered boxer-turned-congressman Manny Pacquiao - who say the law could corrupt `moral values'. They say they will continue to oppose the new bill.  

Supporters say it is a vital human rights measure in the impoverished country with one of the highest mortality rates in the region.  Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a key backer of the law, said that, despite the Church's opposition, "there is no force more powerful than an idea whose time has come".

Opposers such as Bishop Gabriel Reyes say, "What the Church will do is to continue instructing our people, telling them the evils of contraceptives".  "They should not accept it because contraceptives are not pro-poor. It's not pro-children or pro-family. It is harmful against women, children and family."

A government health survey in 2011 found that the maternal mortality rate had risen by 36% between 2006 and 2010. Many maternity hospitals are struggling to cope with the number of births - and the UN appealed to the Philippines earlier this year to pass the bill.

"An idea whose time has come" - (PERSPECTIVE)

 (PHOTO: Mothers stay with their babies at a ward of Jose Fabella maternity hospital in Manila, Sept 12, 2012/NewStraitsTimes)By Manila Times Today

What transpired in Congress on Monday showed us that our lawmakers can get something done if they really want to.

At the House of Representatives, the reproductive health bill was passed on third reading through a vote of 133 in favor, 79 against, with seven abstentions.

The Catholic bishops had vowed to put up a strong fight after their defeat - by a slimmer margin - last week, when 113 House members said yes to the RH bill and 104 said no. Over the weekend, letters were read to the Catholic faithful from their Church leaders who reiterated that the measure was intrinsically evil.  But no, the margin got even wider.

The bishops also hoped that the rabid opponents of the bill at the Senate would be able to sway their colleagues to block it upon second reading, also on Monday.  The public was treated to a last-ditch showcase of tired arguments, the usual  sanctimony and silly hairsplitting about sex having to be safe but not satisfying. There were also funny moments – like when a senator claimed to be the voice of the unborn child.

Nonetheless, the bill passed both second and third reading by a vote of  13-8.

Those belonging to the losing bloc insist that President Aquino dangled incentives to those who would vote in favor of the bill, or that the lawmakers who said yes to it were motivated by political gains.

They refused to acknowledge that support for the bill grew because of its own merit, not because of politics. Lawmakers crossed party lines in expressing their support or opposition to the bill.

Even the President was hesitant to show full support for the measure at the onset.  He tried to change its name to responsible parenthood and to forge a dialogue with the Catholic bishops.  He was not sure he could afford to alienate the men in robes who were his late mother’s staunchest allies.

(PHOTO: People rally outside congress in Manila on August 6, 2012 to press for the passage of the bill/Jay Directo)The battle has been noisy.  It has been put on the table and discussed in the public sphere. Filipinos listened, thought for themselves, formed their own opinion and made their voices heard by the lawmakers they elected to represent them.

The Catholic leaders say it is not over and they will bring the fight to other fora.  Their arrogance and self-righteousness have doomed them to downfall.

In the end, Senator Miriam Santiago, author of the Senate version of the measure, summed it up well when she quoted Victor Hugo, who said: “There is no force more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

The struggle has been long. Monday’s vote is as historic as it has been overdue. Next on the agenda is making sure the RH Law’s lofty objectives are not frustrated by bungled implementation.

"Church unfazed, will fight up to Supreme Court" - (PERSPECTIVE)

(PHOTO: There has been angry campaigning from the Catholic church in the nation of 100 million, where 80% of the population are followers/AFP)By Vito Barcelo with Maricel V. Cruz

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines on Monday said its fight against the Reproductive Health bill was not yet over despite the bill’s approval on third and final reading in the House of Representatives on a vote of 133-79 with seven abstentions.

And voting 13-8, the Senators also approved the same bill, which had been certified as urgent by President Benigno Aquino III, on third and final reading. The RH bill aims to guarantee universal access to the methods of contraception, fertility control, sexual education and maternal health care.

“We will continue the fight in other fora, to the Supreme Court and in the level of individual conscience,” Malolos Bishop Jose Oliveros said.  “We have many allies at the Senate and we believe that their conscience will be their guiding principle in rejecting the RH bill”. He said they would be issuing a pastoral letter on Tuesday to be read in all the parishes nationwide.

“The RH bill is a major attack on authentic human values and on Filipino cultural values regarding human life that all of us have cherished since time immemorial,” Olivers said.

“Our position stands firmly on two of the core principles commonly shared by all who believe in God. As religious leaders we must proclaim this truth fearlessly in season and out of season.”

House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez and Batangas Rep. Mark Leandro Mendoza, both critics of the RH bill, said many of their colleagues “had succumbed to the pressure by Malacañang.”

(PHOTO: Nuns protesting in Manila/CatholicTimes)Legazpi Bishop Joel Baylon said the 104 congressmen who initially voted No to the RH bill on December 12 during its second reading were “witnesses in This Year of Faith.” 

“They voted according to the dictate of their faith; we can verily recognize them as witnesses in this Year of Faith.”  Pope Benedict XVI declared Oct. 11, 2012 to Nov. 24, 2013 as the Year of Faith.

Saranggani Rep. Manny Pacquiao said his crushing boxing defeat to Juan Manuel Marquez two days before the vote on the RH bill strengthened his opposition to it.

On Monday, Catholic youth groups questioned President Benigno Aquino’s anti-corruption campaign because of his support for the RH bill. “The bill contains excellent provisions, but it is rather like a cold soft drink with a drop of poison,” the groups said. “That poison is its provision on contraception. The RH bill seeks to subsidize the enjoyment of sex without the corresponding responsibilities that it entails.”

- These reports are assembled from The Straits Times, The Manila Standard, Catholic News and the BBC.

Tuesday
Dec042012

Palau typhoon aftermath: Power out, waves inundate low-lying areas - (REPORT) 

(Video: Raw footage from Palau, 12.3.12/TyphoonHunter)

(South Pacific, HN, 12/4/12) - Palau President Johnson Toribiong said this morning the island nation's capital, Koror, escaped major damage from Typhoon Bopha, but he's waiting for an assessment of eastern atolls and islands where waves went inland.

An initial assessment in Koror shows the damage was not extensive, except for downed trees and power disruption since yesterday afternoon, Toribiong said by phone from Koror.

"We've been blessed," Toribiong said, that Koror was spared from major damage.

Koror's TV and radio services are down and flights have been suspended, the president said. Making phone calls to Palau has been challenging as well.

Toribiong said initial reports showed seawater went inland in areas including Kayangel, Angaur and Babeldaob, where residents evacuated to higher ground.

The president said there has been no report of any casualties on the islands.

David Tevid, with the Palau community on Guam, said he heard some homes may have been swept, but that information could not be independently verified by the Pacific Daily News.

Babeldaob is the largest island in Palau with about 6,000 people. Kayangel is the northernmost state of Palau, with a population of less than 200. Angaur, also with a population of less than 200, was inundated with waves that were whipped inland as well, the president said.

(MAP: Track of Typhoon Bopha-Pablo/National Weather Service)He said an assessment of the damage would begin today as Palau is officially declared out of the damaging typhoon’s reach.

Bopha is moving west at 17 mph but is expected to resume a west-northwest motion, according to the National Weather Service.

Maximum sustained winds have decreased to 130 mph. The Weather Service said Bopha is expected to continue to weaken through this evening. As it moves to the Philippines, typhoon-force winds extend outward up to 35 miles from the center of the storm and tropical-force winds extend outward up to 105 miles from the storm's center.

- This report first appeared in the Guam, Pacific Daily News

Wednesday
Apr112012

The South China Sea: China, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, & the Philippines all stake claim over oil-rich waters (REPORT) 

(MAP: The South China Sea/NASA)(HN, April 11, 2012) -- A cold-war `esque conflict is brewing in the area known as the South China Sea, though recently US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said there is no such scale of a dispute brewing.  It might be described then as an inter-Asia issue with China claiming the entire South China Sea for itself, with Taiwan and four ASEAN members - the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam - also making overlapping claims to parts of the territory.

THE PHILIPPINES

The Philippines and China are contesting sovereignty over a small group of rock formations known as Scarborough Shoal which the Philippines calls the Panatag Shoal but what China call's Huangyan Island. This weekend, Philippine Navy officials said eight Chinese fishing vessels had been found there, 124 nautical miles off the coast of Zambales province and the country’s largest warship, the US Hamilton-class cutter Gregorio del Pilar, was sent to investigate.

The fishermen claim they were seeking shelter from bad weather, and were prevented from entering the lagoon by a Philippine Naval gunboat. A boarding party found endangered marine species on the ships, and a standoff ensued after China sent two surveillance vessels to the area to prevent the arrest of its nationals, Vice Admiral Alexander P. Pama of the Philippine Navy told reporters at a briefing.

On Wednesday in Manila, the Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario met with the Chinese ambassador Ma Keqing over the matter and  both made a statement saying "We resolve to seek a diplomatic solution to the issue", though neither country is backing down from territorial claims to the Scarborough Shoal  region.

(PHOTO: A Chinese fishing boat boarded by Philippine Navy officers/DAF handout)The dispute is one of a myriad of conflicting claims over islands, reefs and shoals in the South China Sea pitting China against its Asian neighbors who, last year using patrol boats to disrupt hydrocarbon survey activities chasing away a ship working for Forum Energy off the Philippines and slicing cables of a vessel doing work for Vietnam. Some of the claims have drawn the United States to press China over sovereignty.

Both of the countries reject China's map of the South China Sea as a basis for joint development of oil and gas resources, and have pushed ahead with exploration work, leading to more confrontations as China expands the use of its marine surveillance vessels.

OIL? SHIPPING?

Also at play are the Spratly Islands, a group of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, cays and islands in the South China Sea. The archipelago is situated off the coasts of the Philippines and Malaysia, about one third of the way from there to Vietnam - amounting to less than four square kilometers of land area over more than 425,000 square kilometers of ocean.  Such small, remote islands have little economic value in themselves, but are important in establishing international boundaries.

The islands stand as rich fishing grounds, and initial surveys indicate the islands may contain significant reserves of oil and natural gas which a 2008 US Energy Information Agency report said could be as much as 213 billion barrels of oil.

About 45 of the islands are occupied by small numbers of military forces from Vietnam, China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Brunei.

Tension has risen in the past two years over worries China is becoming more assertive in its claims to the area as needs for oil and gas rise in the population booming Communist nation in and as more goods are needed in the second largest nation on earth. 

Straddling the Spratly archipelago are also the main shipping lanes between East Asia and Europe and the Middle East and the control of these lanes has not been lost on those claiming sovereignty over these waters.

(MAP: South China Sea claims by country/USC China Center) The stakes have risen further since the US last year began refocusing its military attention on Asia, strengthening ties with the Philippines and Australia.  The US has a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines and has boosted military relations with Vietnam in recent years.

VIETNAM

On Tuesday, Chinese state media said a Chinese cruise ship, the `Scent of Princess Coconut', had completed a trial voyage to the Paracel Islands - Hoang Sa in Vietnamese - a cluster of close to 40 islets, outcrops and reefs that both Vietnam and China claim as theirs since ancient times.

The Scent of Princess Coconut docked at a port in the Chinese southern island of Hainan on Monday after the trip. The proposed opening of the Paracel Islands to tourism by China could add to the long-standing tension, which has drawn the United States into pressing China over the issue.

The Japanese-built ship carried out a three-day voyage to the northern shoals of the Paracels, though China said there was no firm timetable for a launch of such regular cruises. Initial Chinese plans call for ships to visit Woody Island, called Yongxing Island by China, though tourists would not be allowed to leave their boat.

Vietnam's foreign ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said Monday that the trip was "illegal and seriously violates Vietnam's sovereignty".

(PHOTO: Scent of Princess Coconut Cruise Ship/Yexiang Gongzhu)China and South Vietnam once administered different parts of the Paracels, but after a brief conflict in 1974, Beijing took control of the entire group of islands - although this remains disputed by Hanoi.

Last month, China detained 21 crew sailing on two Vietnamese fishing boats near the Paracels, sparking an angry rebuke from Hanoi.

INDIA, RUSSIA

Complicating matters as well are recent claims by both India and Russia which have both, in the past few months announced their own plans to go ahead with oil exploration in the South China Sea, in partnership with Vietnam.  China has vocally asked both nations to step aside saying, "China enjoys indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea".

RESOLUTION?

Although not an ASEAN (Association of Southeast Nations) nation member, Chinese President Hu Jintao travelled to Phnom Penh ahead of the Asia bodies meeting in Cambodia last week to press his case over the South China Sea with Prime Minister Hun Sen - asking that ASEAN work to resolve the dispute among its members.  ASEAN, for its part has stated that it believes the issue should be discussed and solved among those members making claims to the area directly.

--- HUMNEWS

Friday
Mar302012

Asia pollution problem, drugs, economy on ASEAN Summit agenda (REPORT) 

(PHOTO: Haze over Bangkok at sunset/Flixya, Yumandible) (HN, March 31, 2012) - Thailand will raise haze that blanketed its northern region and its neighboring countries as an agenda concern for leaders to deal with at the 20th Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to be held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia next week, April 3-4, according to Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) group includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Cambodia, whose chairmanship was handed over from Indonesia last year, is for the first time hosting the ASEAN summit and related meetings from today through Wednesday (March 30-April 4). The summit marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of the regional bloc.

Some countries, including the Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Indonesia, support Thailand's initiative and the ASEAN leaders may issue a joint statement for cooperation to solve the haze problem, an annual occurrence.

(MAP: ASEAN nations) ECONOMY MATTERS

In preparation for the high level leaders meeting, finance ministers from ASEAN nations wrapped up their 16th gathering with an agreement to intensify economic and financial cooperation for realizing the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015, said a joint statement released after the gathering.  

"The ASEAN finance ministers together with the troika of ASEAN central bank governors of Indonesia, Cambodia, and Brunei reaffirmed our commitment to maintain growth and development momentum and financial stability of the region in the face of difficult global challenges," said the statement.

It added the ministers exchanged views with the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund on policies to maintain stability in the current environment and called on them to continue to pursue innovative projects and assistance to better serve the needs of the ASEAN economies.

"We agreed to take all necessary actions to sustain growth and preserve the stability of financial markets," Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Keat Chhon said in a press briefing after the meeting.

(Video: Cambodia getting ready for ASEAN 2012/TeukTnotChou)

He said the ministers were also pleased that the ASEAN economies grew by 4.5 percent last year despite the heightened uncertainties in the global economy.   The ministers also agreed to continue intensifying efforts to build stronger integrated financial markets to achieve the ASEAN Economic Community.

Addressing the ASEAN economic situation at a meeting on Friday, Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Haruhiko Kuroda said within ASEAN, Indonesia should continue robust growth on strong domestic demand, while Brunei will return to its trend growth thanks to high petroleum prices.   Thailand and the Philippines, both of which suffered a severe drop in exports toward the end of last year due to supply chain disruptions, are expected to show vibrant growth.

Vietnam continues to battle inflation, whilst Myanmar is expected to accelerate reforms, and Singapore, and to some extent Malaysia, will experience some slowdown, as they will be affected more by external conditions.

"But, importantly, we expect growth in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam--the so-called CLMV countries--to continue to outpace growth in middle-income ASEAN," he said. "All in all, despite a difficult external environment, we still expect ASEAN growth this year to remain robust at 5.2 percent."

ASIA DRUG FREE ZONE

Also on the Asian leaders agenda will be a declaration creating a drug-free zone among members in the next three years.  The 10 ASEAN leaders expect to endorse the declaration at their summit meeting next week. 

Arthayudh Srisamoot, director-general of Thailand's Foreign Ministry's ASEAN Affairs Department, said the government has pushed for the drug-free zone with member nations for some time, and was pleased to see the declaration finally come into being. The government regarded the zone as an important part of its campaign against drugs.

"ASEAN will try to give more cooperation and more coordination on drug policy as well as exchanging experiences among members," he said.

Cambodia will host the ASEAN Senior Officials meeting tomorrow and Saturday, a Foreign Ministerial Meeting on Sunday and Monday; the leaders' group meets Tuesday and Wednesday.  In June, Thailand will host a seminar on cross border management between ASEAN and Japan, South Korea and China (non ASEAN nations) to discuss rules and regulations for free flows of trade in the region.

The leaders are to praise Myanmar for making progress with political development after it invited ASEAN members and the media to observe its by-elections this weekend; hoping that open elections are the first step to more regional cooperation with this just emerging nation - including becoming a visa-free country for ASEAN citizens by 2015.

CHINA

Although not an ASEAN nation, China's presence is being heavily felt in Cambodia as President Hu Jintao arrived in the Phnom Penh capital Friday on a state visit to bolster ties between the already close nations, just days before the ASEAN meeting begins; and, having just left the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in New Delhi where leaders there called for the creation of a new global development bank  and where the attitude was described as `non-West, not anti-West'.

(MAP: The Philippine Sea is a marginal sea east & north of the Philippines/Wikipedia) Hu’s four-day trip is the first visit by a Chinese head of state to Cambodia in 12 years and is timed to showcase Beijing’s close relationship with the current ASEAN chair, observers say. It is likely that the thorny issue of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is likely to resurface among South East Asia leaders as well, without China being represented at the summit.

-- HUMNEWS (c)

 

Related:          Thailand: pollution puts Chiang Mai off the tourist trail

Related:          Will ASEAN Tackle South China Sea?

Related:          ASEAN security experts meet in Cambodia to strengthen small weapon control