Trump 'verbally' confirms PH visit in November

MANILA – US President Donald Trump "verbally" confirmed his attendance to the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Meetings in the Philippines in November, the official in charge of the event said on Wednesday, April 19.
Ambassador Marciano Paynor Jr, Director-General for Operations of the ASEAN 2017 National Organizing Council, made the statement during a Palace press conference, when asked whether Trump had confirmed his attendance to the November summit.
"As of now, President Trump, for instance, when President Duterte called him up to congratulate him, had already indicated that he is coming in November. At least verbally, he said he is coming," said Paynor.
If Trump does not attend the Belt and Road Summit in China in May, the ASEAN Summit in November will be the first time that he will meet Duterte.
Duterte is scheduled to participate in the China summit. Trump is not among the Western leaders who have confirmed attendance to the mid-May event.
Duterte called Trump in December 2016 to congratulate him on his victory in the US presidential elections. The two apparently hit it off, especially after the US leader wished him well on his much-criticized war on drugs.
Duterte had often recalled his phone conversation with Trump in public events, complete with an impersonation of the controversial US leader. He, however, did not mention Trump's verbal assurance that he would attend the ASEAN summit.
Paynor expects "100%" attendance of ASEAN leaders and their dialogue partners to the November summit.
"Multilateral meetings of this sort, you usually expect 100% attendance. Many of the leaders who do not attend do so because of internal issues," he said.
Aside from the leaders of the 9 other ASEAN member states, leaders of the US, Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and other dialogue partners of the regional grouping are expected to grace the event.
Paynor, however, said there might be "one or two" leaders who may not be able to come. – Rappler.com

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Multi-billion peso infra projects to start this year

MANILA -- The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has revealed the government's multi-billion infrastructure projects that would be undertaken starting this year.
During the Dutertenomics forum at the Conrad Hotel in Pasay City on Tuesday, April 18, DPWH Secretary Mark Villar and other members of the Duterte administration's economic team shared the respective plans of the departments in the next five years.
The DPWH chief noted that for this year, the agency will be starting different projects amounting to almost P500 billion covering undertakings in Luzon and Mindanao.
"The infrastructure program of this administration for this year 2017 is approximately P450 billion. If you were to add the projects in 2010 to 2013, it would be less than what we intend to spend this year in infra, increasing every year," he said.
Among the projects in the pipeline include the Luzon Spine expressway network which is a series of ongoing projects.
These projects are connection of high-standard highway network that will connect the northernmost province of the Philippines to the southernmost to Bicol; the TR4 high speed expressway going to Quezon and Lucena and Quezon-Bicol expressway; CALA-X, eastern alignment of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX).
"High speed network would be able to bring development thru all of Luzon. If you put these in numbers for instance today to get form Bicol to Metro Manila it will take you 12 hours when this high speed standard highway is finished before the end of the term of the president you can go from Bicol to La Union in less than 12 hours," Villar said.
"The South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) and NLEX connector project which will make the travel time from Alabang to NLEX (Balintawak the entrance to NLEX) in 30 minutes," he added.
Likewise, included in the government's "Build, Build, Build," projects is the NLEX Harbor Link Segment 10, an all elevated expressway aimed at providing direct access between the port area and the northern provinces of Luzon via NLEX.
The 5.7-km expressway worth P10.5-billion, will decongest Metro Manila by providing an alternative entry to NLEX, bypassing EDSA and other busy streets of Manila.
Once opened, travel time from the Manila Port to the NLEX will take only 10 minutes.
The undertaking is set to be completed this year.
Villar said that also expected to have groundbreaking this year is the Cavite-Laguna that will connect Cavite expressway (CAVITEX) to the Mampalasan exit in Laguna.
"The President has also instructed us to go into most ambitious bridge program in the history our country, the Panguil Bay Bridge connecting Misamis to Lanao this is in Mindanao," he said.
Villar added, "the Leyte Tide Embankment this is also a project that will mitigate disaster. We all know what happened to Leyte before and this is a long term solution. It is a 21 km embankment at a cost of P2.1 billion that will also serve as a tourist attraction at the same time it will permanently prevent recurrence of what happened in Tacloban Leyte in the past. This is an example of our disaster risk resiliency program in the DPWH and is also scheduled to be completed before the end of our president's term in 2022."
"Build, Build, Build” is the mantra of the administration’s infrastructure program where several government agencies are partnering to implement major projects involving roads, bridges, railways, airports, and green cities to bolster development and ease traffic congestion in the country. -- PNA

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Robredo to pay protest fee only after recount of Marcos ballots

MANILA – After former Senator Ferdinand Marcos settled the first half of the recount fee required by the Supreme Court (SC), will Vice President Leni Robredo pay her dues?
Robredo's election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said they are willing to pay only after the recount of ballots contested by Marcos is completed.
"We are willing to pay. We know the rules. We will only pay after Mr Marcos [has] already finished the revision and the recount of the ballot. In other words, kapag tapos na siya sa kanyang mga protesta (if he is already done with his protest)," Macalintal said in an interview on ANC's Headstart on Tuesday, April 18.
He explained: "Because the payment that we are supposed to pay is for our counter-protest. So the counter-protest will only start after the protest, and that is under rule 65 of [the] Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET)."
The SC, acting as the PET, earlier ordered Marcos and Robredo to pay a service fee for the precincts they are contesting. Marcos, who is contesting over 39,000 clustered precincts, was ordered to pay P66 million. Robredo was required to pay P15 million for the 8,042 clustered precincts she is questioning.
Both were required to settle this week the first installment of P36 million and P8 million, respectively.
Marcos, whose lawyer initially said they would file a motion for reconsideration regarding the hefty amount, paid the P36 million on Monday. He said his friends and supporters were able to raise the amount.
Robredo, meanwhile, filed a manifestation and a motion on April 12. Her lawyers argued that Marcos should first prove that his complaint has basis.
This can be done by the initial recount of ballots in 3 provinces that he will identify. Macalintal said this is also under the PET rules.
The Robredo camp also asked the PET to impose a P185-million fee on Marcos because he questioned the entire election system when he sought the preservation of the election paraphernalia of all 92,509 clustered precincts, which consist of 369,138 established precincts.
Robredo's lawyers again denied the accusation of the Marcos camp that they are delaying the proceedings.
"How could you say we are delaying? If you say that we are delaying, you are actually accusing the PET of not knowing what to do that we can actually delay the proceeding. That is an insult against the competence and the integrity of the PET. Because if the PET sees that we are delaying it, then we could be cited in contempt of court," said Macalintal. –Rappler.com

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Bus in Nueva Ecija crash overloaded

MANILA – The public transport bus that figured in one of the deadliest crashes in the country so far, this year, was overloaded, the Nueva Ecija police chief said on Wednesday, April 19.
Senior Superintendent Antonio Yarra made the assessment in a phone interview with Rappler on Wednesday, or a day after a Leomarick Trans minibus fell into a ravine in Nueva Ecija, leading to over 30 deaths.
"Based on our account of deaths and injured, the bus was carrying 77 persons," Yarra said, adding that the minibus was supposed to carry only up to 45 passengers.
Initial reports placed the number of passengers at around 60.
Based on the initial report to the Nueva Ecija Police Provincial Office, the bus, which was traveling from Isabela to Candon City in Ilocos Sur, was at the curved portion of the Maharlika Highway in Barangay Capintalan when the driver "lost control" of the vehicle.
Yarra said based on the survivors' account, one of the bus' front tires exploded, causing it to overturn, and then fall into the ravine.
Authorities said that as of Wednesday morning, 31 people were dead following the crash, while 46 were injured and still confined at different hospitals in NUeva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya.– Rappler.com

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Manila subway eyed to be completed by 2024

MANILA -- The government's planned Mega Manila Subway is expected to be completed by 2024 with the contract targeted to be signed by Philippine and Japanese officials in November, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) said Tuesday, April 18.
"It is targeted to be started in the fourth quarter of 2020 but I'm trying to push them to start it by 2019, with completion on the second quarter of 2024," Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade said during the Dutertenomics Forum in Pasay City.
The planned subway was one of the rail projects agreed upon by Japan and the Philippines, earlier announced by Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia.
"Target signing for contract is November this year," Tugade said, noting that the agreement is expected to be signed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
According to Tugade, the subway system will connect Quezon City and Taguig City with a travel time of 31 minutes.
"It will be the first subway system in the Philippines and will be using the Japanese tunnelling expertise," he said.
Tugade also noted that further amendments to the project may entail the inclusion of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
"As of yesterday, we were discussing alignments. Tutumbukin 'yung airport... 'Yung airport isasama na 'yun sa project," he said. — GMA News

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Duterte repeals Gloria Arroyo EO on military procurement

MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte has repealed former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's executive order that meant to streamline defense contracts.
Duterte signed on April 7 Executive Order No. 18, noting that EO No. 235 Arroyo signed in 2003 limited the authority of the Department of National Defense (DND) secretary to delegate the approval of procurement contracts and establish a single Bids and Awards Committee for the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
"It has been observed that the implementation of EO No. 235 resulted in bureaucratic impediments and unnecessary delays in the procurement of important defense projects," the EO stated.
"The Secretary of Defense is hereby mandated to identify and institutionalize measures that will effectively monitor the operations of the separate Bids and Awards Committee which may be created pursuant to RA No. 9184 to ensure and promote transparency, impartiality, and accountability in procurement transactions," it also read
Nonetheless, all defense procurement contracts, including those presently being processed and/or reviewed, will be reviewed and/or processed in accordance with Republic Act No. 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act and EO No. 423 (s. 2005) as amended by EO No. 645 (s. 2007). — GMA News

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ASEAN Summit in Manila to tackle West PH Sea

MANILA – The upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila will tackle the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute among other issues, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Wednesday, April 19.
In his first press conference, new DFA spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said: "The leaders will be discussing regional and global issues of concern. We expect that the South China Sea will be among the topics discussed, among others – North Korea, for instance, terrorism, countering violent terrorism."
Whether Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte "will be the only one initiating" the discussion on the sea dispute "remains to be seen," said Bolivar, a veteran diplomat who replaced now Ambassador-designate to Malaysia Charles Jose as DFA spokesman.
The 30th ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings will be held in Manila from April 26 to 29 this year.
Duterte will lead the summit as the Philippines this year chairs the 10-member regional grouping.
In relation to the sea dispute, one of the Philippines' main objectives is to lead ASEAN in crafting a framework code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.
The Philippines aims to finalize the framework COC by the middle of this year.
Bolivar explained that ASEAN has held two working group meetings on the framework COC – first in Bali, then in Siem Reap.
He said there will be no such "formal" working group discussions in Manila on the sidelines of the 30th ASEAN Summit.
Still, Bolivar said in a text message, "The progress on the discussions on the framework may be discussed if any of the leaders bring it up."
'The best of the Philippines'
In Wednesday's press conference, Bolivar also explained the significance of the upcoming ASEAN Summit.
"Ito 'yung pagkakataon natin na ipakita 'yung pinakamaganda tungkol sa bansa natin, to show the best of the Philippines," the DFA spokesman said. (This is our chance to show the most beautiful things about the Philippines.)
Bolivar also said that chairing ASEAN has an "income generation aspect" in towns, cities, and provinces because around 150 international meetings will be held across the Philippines.
"Minarapat ng national organizing council na ikalat 'yung mga meetings kung saan saang bahagi ng bansa para buong bansa, ma-showcase natin during our chairmanship," he said.
(The National Organizing Council found it best to spread the meetings in different parts of the country so that we can showcase the whole country during our chairmanship.)
During the Philippines' chairmanship, another major event will be the meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in May.
Bolivar said Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo will fly to Washington DC in May for the ASEAN-US Foreign Ministers' Meeting.
The DFA is eyeing a bilateral meeting between Manalo and Tillerson on the sidelines of the ASEAN-US Foreign Ministers' Meeting, Bolivar said.
The Philippines received the ASEAN chairmanship from Laos, the host of the ASEAN Summit in 2016.
Under the Philippines' chairmanship, ASEAN is also marking its 50th anniversary.– Rappler.com

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NPA releases 2 soldiers held captive for 2 months

MANILA – It was happy reunion with their wives after over two months in captivity.
Sergeant Solaiman Calocop and Private First Class Samuel Garay, the two soldiers that communist rebels abducted in Sultan Kudarat, were released Wednesday morning, April 19.
Jessa Mae Garay is 6 months pregnanat but she still joined Normalia Calocop and the local officials who served as 3rd party facilitators in the release.
The Mt. Alip Command of the New People's Army released the two soldiers at 9 am on Wednesday in Davao Del Sur. They were brought to Camp Panacan in Davao City for medical check-up.
It's a fulfillment of one of the commitments made to the government by the National Democratic Front (NDF), which is representing the communist rebels in peace talks with the Duterte administration.
Army 10th Infantry Division Commander Major General Rafael Valencia said the soldiers were turned over to former Davao Del Sur Representative Mark Cagas who met with the communist rebels with a number of local officials.
"We are glad that the CPP/NPA rectified the treacherous and insincere act that they made last February 2 of abducting the two soldiers while there was ceasefire and there was ongoing peace talks with the government," Valencia said.
The communist rebels were also protesting back then the alleged ceasefire abuses committed by the military, which prompted the NPA to withdraw its ceasefire.
The release of the soldiers was delayed because the military refused to declare a Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO), a request made by the rebels to guarantee the safety of the captives, the rebels, and the third party facilitators.
Valencia maintained the soldiers were taken when there was a ceasefire in place and there were no military operations. He said there's no reason to declare SOMO for their release because the rebels can just abandon the soldiers anywhere.
"Ang position namin dyan, kung gusto nila iwanan na lang nila kahit saan ang 2 sundalo. Unang-una, naka-civilian 'yan. Unarmed 'yan nung kinuha nila. Sabi ko nga, if they are responsible and sincere partner sa peace talks, dapat noon pa nila pinakawalan 'yan dahil kinuha nila yan nung ceasefire at may peace talks pa e," said Valencia.
(Our position is, if they want they can leave the two soldiers somewhere. In the first place, they were wearing civilian clothes and were unarmed when they were taken. As I've said, if they are a responsible and sincere partner in the peace talks, they should have released them a long time ago because they were taken when we still had a ceasefire and there was peace talks.)
President Rodrigo Duterte scrapped the peace talks after the NPA withdrew its ceasefire, but he changed his mind and the camps agreed to reopen negotiations 6 weeks later.
Clashes between the military and the NPA continue, however, despite the reopening of the talks.
The two camps met for the 4th round of formal talks in early April where they agreed to forge an interim joint ceasefire. This could be in place towards the end of the year at the latest if talks on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) proceed as scheduled. – Rappler.com

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NEDA warns of rice shortage if importation is deferred

MANILA -- The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) warned of a possible rice shortage if importation of the commodity is deferred until harvest season is over.

NEDA Secretary General Ernesto Pernia contradicted the position of the Department of Agriculture stopping rice imports while Filipinos farmers are still harvesting, a report by Jam Sisante on Balitanghali said on Wednesday, April 19.

"We don't have the capacity to produce enough rice. We are not really a rice-producing country. Inflation will strike," Pernia said.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said deferring rice importations for now would not stoke inflation.

"Ang sinasabi lang namin ay idefer muna dahil sasabay sa harvest," he said.

"How can a temporary deferment of importation cause inflation? Paano?" he added.

Should there be excess harvest, the price they sell it at would be too low, which means lower income for the farmers.

A group of economists are also concerned, saying rice prices will increase.

"Peligroso 'yan, sapagkat, una, baka magkamali sila o kaya ma-delay. Lalo na government' yan, may bureaucratic procedure,” said Calixto Chikiamco, president of the Foundation for Economic Reform.

The group wants to put an end to the National Food Authority monopoly on rice imports and for the private sector be able to buy the commodity from overseas. — GMA News

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P1M reward for suspects behind foiled Bohol attack

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte is ready to give P1 million as reward for the apprehension, "dead or alive", of each Abu Sayyaf member behind the foiled terror attack in Bohol.
"I have a P1-million offer, per person. Even just a tip, give it to the police and military, no questions asked," he said on Wednesday, April 19, during a chance interview in Tagbilaran, Bohol.
He was there to attend a security briefing for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit. Some ASEAN 2017 events will be held in Bohol this week.
"Dead or alive man 'yan, may reward, pero mas gusto ko 'yung dead kasi 'yung alive, magpakain pa ako ma'am, magastos masyado," said the President.
(Dead or alive there will be a reward, but I prefer dead because you'd have to feed the living, it's more costly.)
He said 6 Abu Sayyaf members are thought to have escaped during a clash between government forces and their group on April 11.
Military and police, with the help of locals, were able to foil a terror attack by the group.
Duterte said the terror attack was targeting ASEAN meetings to be held in Bohol this month.
Arming civilians
The President also intends to empower civilians to carry arms so they can effectively carry out his orders against the terrorists. If they end up facing legal cases for having killed someone, Duterte said he would pardon them. It's the same promise he gave to military and police who will face cases as they implement his drug war.
"I intend to also arm the civilians and I will include the civilians, if you kill, you do not have to worry, you just go to the police and make a report and state your truth and you won't have any problem, I'll take care of you. I'll pardon you," he said.
But he said he still has to consult local government officials who may have issues with such an order.
"I have to talk to local officials, they might have some objections," he added.
Contain terror threat
During the security briefing, Duterte gave orders to security forces to contain the terror threat in Mindanao.
"They must not reach the places well beyond the Mindanao Sea, dapat doon lang sila (they should just stay there)," he said.
The foiled terror attack in Bohol has sparked concern about Abu Sayyaf presence in regions outside Mindanao.
Duterte expressed confidence with the capability of cops and soldiers to monitor the movements of terrorists using a satellite-based tagging system.
If the terror threat spins out of control, he warned that he would not hesitate to take his "last option": to invade the terrorist-infested areas of Jolo, Sulu. -- Rappler

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