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Opinion & Community

Australia denies offering visa-free privilege to Filipinos

MANILA - The Australian Embassy in Manila has denied reports claiming that Filipinos can enter Australia visa-free beginning 2017.
In a statement on their official website, the Embassy emphasized that Filipino visitors still need to apply for an Australian visa before being allowed entry.
"The Embassy is aware of a hoax/scam suggesting that visa-free options for Filipino nationals will be available from January 2017. This is a scam and potential travelers to Australia must have a valid Australian visa," it said.
The article being disproved by the Embassy cited an alleged bilateral visa agreement between the Australian and Philippine governments to simplify travel barriers between the two countries.
Correct instructions for Filipinos intending to travel to Australia are available on the embassy's website.

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US terror warning for Philippines region popular with Australian tourists

Bangkok: Terrorist groups are planning kidnappings on central Philippines islands popular with Australian tourists, including parts of the business and tourism hub of Cebu, the United States has warned.

The warning - repeated by the Australia government on its smartraveller.gov.au website - comes only days after a report that South-east Asia is facing a growing risk of extremist violence, especially from the southern Philippines, where a handful of militant Islamist groups have sworn allegiance to Islamic State.

The US warned foreigners to avoid the southern regions of Cebu, one of the nation's most popular tourist sites because of its idyllic beaches, spectacular diving and whale watching.

"The US embassy alerts US citizens that terrorist groups are planning to conduct kidnappings in areas frequented by foreigners on the southern portion of Cebu island," the advisory said.

The embassy identified Dalaguete and Santander on Cebu and nearby Sumilon island, a short boat ride from the tourist hot-spots of Bohol and Dumaguete.

The warning indicates that the notorious kidnapping-for-ransom group Abu Sayyaf is roaming more widely from its bases in the islands of Jolo and Basilan.

It comes after a surge of kidnappings in the southern Philippines which included the first attack on a cargo ship, despite Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's stepped-up military offensive against the militants.

Formed with the backing of al-Qaeda in the 1990s, Abu Sayyaf has reaped millions of dollars from kidnappings for ransom, targeting Westerners, Filipinos and Malaysians.

The group beheaded two Canadian hostages earlier this year.

The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict think tank warned in a report last week that regional law enforcement agencies, which retain a strong national orientation, are unprepared for the new threat from Islamic State which it said has "deepened cooperation among extremist groups in south-east Asia".

Philippine groups have links to other parts of the region, particularly Malaysia and Indonesia, and IS has endorsed a Philippine-based militant as "amir" or commander for south-east Asia, the report said.

"The Philippines is important because as far as the IS leadership is concerned, it is the extension of the caliphate in the region," it said.

Sidney Jones, the institute's director, said that

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Philippines says China still guarding key shoal but Filipino fisherman back

MANILA – Philippine aerial surveillance showed Chinese coast guard ships were still guarding a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, but they allowed Filipinos to fish “unmolested” for the first time in years, the defense secretary said Sunday.

The return of Filipino fishermen to Scarborough Shoal, which China effectively seized in 2012, was “a most welcome development” because it brings back their key source of livelihood, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

China granted access to the tiny, uninhabited shoal 123 nautical miles (228 kilometers) from the northern Philippines after President Rodrigo Duterte reached out to Beijing and met Chinese President Xi Jinping and other leaders this month. After his China trip, Duterte announced without elaborating that Filipinos may be able to return to the shoal soon.

A Philippine Navy plane spotted at least four Chinese coast guard ships around the shoal during a surveillance flight over the weekend, Lorenzana said, adding that an earlier report by the Philippine coast guard that the Chinese had left the area was incorrect.

“Flybys of our planes reported Chinese coast guard ships are still there but our fishermen were fishing unmolested,” Lorenzana said.

It’s unclear how long China would keep the shoal open to Filipinos or if there were any conditions attached.

Duterte made clear that the dispute over the shoal, which the Philippines calls Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag and the Chinese refer to as Huangyan Island, was far from over. He said he insisted in his talks with Chinese leaders that the shoal belonged to the Philippines, but that the Chinese also asserted their claim of ownership.

Since 2012, Chinese coast guard ships had driven Filipino fishermen away from the area, sometimes with the use of water cannons. Farther south in the Spratly Islands, China went on to construct seven man-made islands in recent years despite protests from other claimants and the U.S., which insists on freedom of navigation in what it considers international waters.

The new development brought joy to the first Filipinos who ventured back to Scarborough in flotillas of small fishing boats.

“We’re happy that we were able to sail back there,” said Gil Bauya, who returned Saturday with a huge catch of red snappers and other fish to Cato village in the northwestern province of Pangasinan.

“They just let us fish,” Bauya said, referring to three Chinese coast guard ships fishermen saw at the shoal from a distance. “We were waiting what they would do, but they didn’t do anything like deploying small rubber boats to chase us like they used to do.”

After three days of fishing, Bauya said they ran out of ice to preserve their catch and had to sail back home for the All Souls’ Day holiday. Amid the festive air in Cato, where villagers helped them unload their bumper catch, Bauya said he and his crewmen plan to travel back to Scarborough in the coming week.

Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Beijing on Saturday that China’s withdrawal from Scarborough Shoal would be welcomed by Washington.

He said it would be consistent with an international arbitration ruling in July that invalidated Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea. The ruling said that both Filipinos and Chinese can fish at the shoal, but China ignored it.

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Chinese coast guards share food with Filipino fishers

filipinofishermanchinese110216SUBIC, ZAMBALES—This was unthinkable months back: Chinese coast guards, who used to drive away Filipino fishermen, shared their food and cigarettes with Filipinos fishing at Panatag Shoal last week.

“Chinese Coast Guard vessels approached the boats of our fellow fishermen but only to share their food, liquor and cigarettes,” said Wilson Almadin, 41, crew member of a fishing boat that returned to this town from Panatag on Monday.
Shared catch with Chinese
Almadin also said other Filipino fishermen shared some of their catch with the Chinese coast guards.

Eight groups of fishermen from Zambales province sailed to Panatag Shoal, internationally known as Scarborough Shoal, on Oct. 26 and found they
could enter the area without interference from the Chinese Coast Guard, which had been blockading the rich fishing ground since 2012.
Tensions ease up
Almadin belonged to the group of boat captain Ronald Giobalane, 46, which left Subic on Oct. 27 after learning that Filipinos were able to fish near the shoal.
According to Almadin, the Chinese appeared to prove that tensions at the shoal had eased up.
“We’re now free to fish around the shoal. There’s no tension there …. As long as we will be allowed to stay and fish around the shoal, I think we can coexist with the Chinese Coast Guard,” he said.

“There are four Chinese Coast Guard vessels still patrolling around the shoal. But they did not seem to mind our presence,” Giobalane told the Inquirer shortly after docking his fishing boat “MB” at the fish port here on Monday.
Fishermen who used to frequent the shoal said the area teemed with different kinds of fish such as talakitok, yellow fin tuna, skipjack, blue marlin and red grouper, which are usually not found elsewhere.
Panatag Shoal is a triangular chain of reefs and rocks surrounding a lagoon. It has a perimeter of 46 kilometers and an area of 150 square kilometers.
Arbitral court ruling
The shoal is located 240 km from the coastline of Zambales but China seized it after a two-month standoff with the Philippines in 2012.
The Chinese Coast Guard cordoned off the shoal, driving away Filipino fishermen in spite of a July 12 ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that China had no legal basis for its claim to almost all of the South China Sea.
China state visit
President Duterte discussed the return of Filipino fishermen to the shoal with the Chinese officials during his state visit to China last month.
“Our President has been true to his promise to help us return to the shoal and we’re thankful for that. We’re hoping that Filipinos will no longer fear being harassed by the Chinese Coast Guard,” said Ronald Polo, another fisherman.

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Filipino mayor on Duterte's narco-list killed in prison shootout

espinosa110516The mayor was one of some 160 officials Duterte put on a so-called "narco-list" as a war on drugs that has claimed more than 3,000 lives accelerates. Another mayor was killed in an alleged shootout with police.
Filipino police shot dead a mayor and another man in jail in an apparent gun battle as they were searching for weapons and drugs,. It was the second narcotics-linked death of a local politician in a week.
Rolando Espinosa, mayor of Albuera town in Leyte, turned himself into authorities in August after President Rodrigo Duterte publically named him and his son Kerwin drug traffickers and gave "shoot on sight" orders to police if the two resisted arrest. The mayor was later released, only to be indicted and imprisoned last month.

Espinosa was one of some 160 officials Duterte put on a so-called "narco-list" as he accelerates a war on drugs that has claimed more than 3,000 lives.
Police said they recovered two pistols, methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia from the prison raid. It remains unclear how the mayor and other man acquired the weapons and drugs in prison.
The president's office called Espinosa's death "unfortunate" and pledged to investigate.
Espinosa denied any links to drugs, but his son Kerwin is an alleged drug kingpin in the Eastern Visayas region. He was arrested by Abu Dhabi police last month and is expected to be extradited.
Last week, Samsudin Dimaukom, the mayor of another town, was killed in an alleged firefight with police that also left nine of his men dead in the southern Philippines. Duterte also named him on the "narco list."

During more than a quarter of a century as mayor of Davao, the country's second-largest city, Duterte built a reputation for being hard on crime, a policy that earned him criticism for rights abuses but also praise for turning Davao into a safe city with better services.
Duterte took over the presidency in June promising to go after the drug trade, which he says is a pandemic that has corrupted politics, the military and ruined lives.
The extent of the crackdown involving both police and vigilantes has led to warnings from the West and human rights organizations over the rule of law and extrajudicial killings.
Undeterred, Duterte has vowed to press on with the drug war and verbally assaulted his critics, including US President Barack Obama.
While a controversial figure abroad over the drug war and caustic rhetoric, Duterte remains popular at home. According to a poll last month, after three months in office his approval rating stood at 86 percent.

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President Barack Obama emotionally addressed the nation

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Politicians have to be committed to people in equal measures

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After losing to Obama, what should Mitt Romney do next?

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