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No rants this time: Duterte tells Tillerson he’s a ‘humble friend’ of America

President Duterte welcomes US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at Malacañang Palace Monday (Aug. 7, 2017). REUTERS

MANILA – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte called himself a “humble friend” of the United States on Monday, taking a break from his notorious hostility towards Washington to grant a warm reception to visiting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Duterte’s often profanity-laden tirades against the United States has become his trademark during his year-old presidency, but he appeared happy to meet Tillerson, who was in Manila to attend a regional security meeting dominated by North Korea’s missile tests, and maritime squabbles.

“I am happy to see you … and you have come at a time when the world is not so good, especially in the Korean peninsula, and of course, the ever nagging problem of South China Sea,” Duterte told Tillerson at the presidential palace.

“I know you’re worried there, because you also have domestic problems … We are friends. We are allies,” said Duterte.

“I am your humble friend in Southeast Asia,” he said.

The maverick leader makes no attempt to hide his grudge against the United States, which he has repeatedly chided for what he says is a history of hypocritical foreign policy, and for treating the Philippines like a dog.

He last year announced to China his “separation” from Washington, has complained about being given “hand-me-down” US military hardware, and once invited American investors jittery about his remarks to pack their bags and leave.

But Duterte’s biggest anger was directed at former President Barack Obama, whose administration spoke out against his signature war on drugs, a fierce crackdown that has killed thousands of Filipinos.

Duterte’s warm words for Tillerson indicates Philippines-US ties under US President Donald Trump may be in better shape.

Though Duterte still vents about Washington, he has spoken positively about Trump, who praised him for doing “an unbelievable job on the drug problem”.

Trump in an April phone call told Duterte he would invite him to the White House. But when a US lawmaker recently said he would try to block that, Duterte said he would never go to the United States because “I’ve seen America and it’s lousy”.

Duterte said he and Tillerson discussed “many things” on Monday, but he did not give details.

The defense treaty alliance between the two countries remains strong and US forces have been providing the Philippines with technical assistance to fight militants allied with Islamic State. He last year repeatedly threatened to eject US military trainers and advisers.

Asked prior to his meeting if helping the Philippine military meant the United States was endorsing the government’s bloody anti-drugs campaign, Tillerson said the two were unrelated.

“I see no conflict, no conflict at all in our helping them with that situation and our views of other human rights concerns we have with respect to how they carry out their counter-narcotics activities,” he said.


CCTV footage of alleged ‘planting’ of guns in Ozamiz vice mayor’s house released

MANILA, Philippines — The camp of the Parojinog family released footage that purportedly shows police allegedly “planting” guns in the house of Ozamiz City Vice Mayor Nova Parojinog during the deadly July 30 raids that left the mayor of the northern Mindanao and 15 other persons dead.

Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa did not discount the possibility that the closed circuit television footage is authentic but urged that cases be filed in court as he said he had to be “neutral” on the matter.

Earlier, police admitted having disabled the CTTV cameras on the homes they raided, supposedly to prevent the identities of their informers from being exposed. The Parojinogs say police missed the released footage.

Among those slain during what police insist were shootouts but the family maintains was a massacre during the pre-dawn raids on July 31 were Ozamiz Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog, the vice mayor’s father, his wife and two siblings.


Video link:


U.S. eyeing drone strikes in PH – NBC News

Debris and fire is seen during an airstrike in Marawi City. (Reuters)

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE – 9:27 a.m.) The United States may conduct drone strikes on extremist targets in the Philippines if a Pentagon plan is approved, according to an NBC News report.

Quoting defense officials, NBC News reported that “the authority to strike ISIS targets as part of collective self-defense could be granted as part of an official military operation that may be named as early as Tuesday.”

“The strikes would likely be conducted by armed drones,” it added.

If the plan is approved, the report said, “the U.S. military would be able to conduct strikes against ISIS targets in the Philippines that could be a threat to allies in the region, which would include the Philippine forces battling ISIS on the ground in the country’s southern islands,” referring to the continuing battle for Marawi City against extremist groups tat have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, which began May 23 and led President Rodrigo Duterte to place Mindanao under martial law.

Thus far, official U.S. assistance to the Philippine military has been limited to intelligence sharing, materiel support and training although there have long been allegations of direct American involvement in combat operations, which both the U.S. and Philippine governments deny.

Reacting to the NBC report, communist rebels blasted the reported U.S. plan.

Fidel Agcaoili, chairman of the negotiating panel of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, in what he called an initial reaction, said: “We condemn any such agreement to allow US to intervene militarily with air strikes and the use of drones.”

“Obviously, the US would want to turn the Philippines into another Yemen, or worse, Iraq or Syria, to justify outright stationing of bases and troops in its war posturing against China,” Agcaoili said as he accused the Philippine military of being “so pro-American that they would not mind turning the country into a battlefield to defend and promote US interests.”

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said such airstrikes “will violate our national sovereignty and will run counter to the constitutional ban on foreign troops participating in combat operations in the Philippines.”

“There can be no justification for allowing a foreign superpower with the world’s worst rights record to be conducting airstrikes on Philippine soil,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said.


.S., Australia, Japan call for legally binding code in South China Sea

U.S. Secretary of State Secretary Rex Tillerson passes by the table of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the start of the 7th East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers' Meeting and its dialogue partners as part of the 50th ASEAN Ministerial Meetings. (Reuters/Aaron Favila/Pool)

MANILA, Philippines — Australia, Japan and the United States on Monday urged Southeast Asia and China to ensure that a South China Sea code of conduct they have committed to draw up will be legally binding and said they strongly opposed “coercive unilateral actions.”

The Association of South East Asian Nations and China should establish a set of rules that were “legally binding, meaningful, effective, and consistent with international law,” the foreign ministers of the three countries said in a statement following a meeting in Manila.

Foreign ministers of ASEAN and China on Sunday adopted a negotiating framework for a code of conduct, a move they hailed as progress but seen by critics as a tactic to buy China time to consolidate its maritime power.

Australia, Japan and the United States also “voiced their strong opposition to coercive unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions.”

They urged claimants to refrain from land reclamation, construction of outposts and militarization of disputed features, a veiled reference to China’s expansion of its defense capability on Mischief, Fiery Cross and Subi reefs in the Spratly archipelago.

The three countries are not claimants but have long been vocal on the issue, arguing their interest is in ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight.

They urged China and the Philippines to abide by last year’s international arbitration ruling, which invalidated China’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea, where more than $3 trillion worth of sea-borne goods passes every year.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims there.

The code framework is an outline for what China and ASEAN call “consultations” on a formal agreement, which could start later this year.

Several ASEAN countries want the code to be legally binding, enforceable and have a dispute resolution mechanism. But experts say China will not allow that and ASEAN may end up acquiescing to what amounts to a gentlemen’s agreement.

Sharp contrast

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said there was a “sharp contrast” in perceptions this year between regional and non-regional countries, and the statement by Japan, the United States and Australia showed that.

Coastal countries had “fully recognized the progress we have made through concerted efforts from all parties,” he said.

“On the other hand, some non-regional countries remain in the past … They are not recognizing the positive changes occurring in the South China Sea.

“Is it that some countries do not want to see greater stability in the South China Sea?” he asked.

Singapore’s foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, said on Sunday it was premature to conclude the outcome of the negotiations, but added: “Surely when we move into the COC, it has got to have some additional or significant legal effect.”

Jay Batongbacal, an expert on the South China Sea at the University of the Philippines, told news channel ANC the adoption of the framework gave China “the absolute upper hand” in terms of strategy, because it will be able to decide when the negotiating process can start.

China also called out “some countries” who voiced concern over island reclamation in the South China Sea in the joint communique issued by ASEAN members on Sunday.

“In reality it was only one or two country’s foreign ministers who expressed concerns of this kind,” Wang told reporters.

Wang said that China had not carried out reclamation for two years. “At this time, if you ask who is carrying out reclamation, it is definitely not China – perhaps it is the country that brings up the issue that is doing it,” he added.

Several ASEAN diplomats told Reuters that Vietnam was one country that had pushed for stronger wording in the statement. Satellite images have shown that Vietnam has carried out reclamation work in two sites in the disputed seas in recent years.


Wife says Comelec chief has unexplained wealth


Patricia Paz Bautista —LYN RILLON

After meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte, the wife of Commission on Elections Chair Andres Bautista submitted last week to the National Bureau of Investigation an affidavit, saying that the Comelec chief might have amassed nearly P1 billion worth of ill-gotten wealth.
Patricia Paz “Tish” Bautista submitted the affidavit on Aug. 1, five days after she sought an audience with Mr. Duterte in Malacañang to tell him that she had discovered several passbooks as well as bank and real property documents under her husband’s name and some of his relatives that were not included in his 2016 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
Bautista declared a net worth of P176.3 million in his SALN.

In her affidavit, Patricia, 47, said she was disclosing “certain information and documents that would show that Andy (Bautista’s nickname) might have had, or currently has, misdealing and corrupt practices while in government service.”
Impeachable offense
“I understand that since Andy holds the position of Comelec chair, he is liable to be impeached should there exist valid and sufficient grounds to hold him in trial for an impeachable offense under Sec. 2, Article XI of the 1987 Philippine Constitution,” Patricia said in the affidavit.
Bautista was appointed to the Comelec by then President Benigno Aquino III in May 2015. In 2010, Aquino named Bautista chair of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, the agency tasked with going after the ill-gotten wealth of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his family.

Among the pieces of information Patricia disclosed to Mr. Duterte and the NBI, which were not in Bautista’s SALN:
• 35 Luzon Development Bank (LDB) passbooks with a total balance of P329,220,962
• A foreign currency account with Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. RCBC) with $12,778.30, or P640,959.53 (at P50.16 [as of Aug. 4] to $1.00)
• An RCBC peso account with P257,931.60
• An HSBC account with HK$948,358.97 or P6.10 million (at P6.43 to HK$1.00)
• A condominium unit in One Bonifacio High Street at Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig City
• A condo unit in The District in San Francisco, California
Patricia said that except for two adjoining condo units in Pacific Plaza Towers at BGC in Taguig City, the family home, she was not aware of the 13 other real properties listed in her husband’s SALN.
Her lawyers said this meant Patricia had no hand in the purchase or acquisition of these properties because her husband always kept her in the dark when it came to their assets.
Patricia said in her affidavit that based on her own assessment, the cumulative value of the properties at their acquisition costs was between P250 million and P300 million, “definitely more than P158.5 million” that Bautista declared in his 2016 SALN.

Overseas interests
She also said that she discovered investments abroad “in the form of his interests in corporations and loan agreements” that were not declared in his SALN:
• Bauman Enterprises Ltd., a company established in the British Virgin Islands on Sept. 29, 2010; a trustee company that Bautista set up with Bank of Singapore.
• Mantova International Ltd., established in Brunei Darussalam on April 26, 2011.
• Mega Achieve Inc., established in Anguilla, a British overseas territory in the Caribbean, on July 15, 2014.
“I previously confronted Andy about these companies and he bluntly denied that he was involved in any way with any of them. However, it is highly suspicious why he would have copies of pertinent documents relative to such companies when he claims that he does not have any involvement with any of those,” Patricia said in her affidavit.
Of the 35 LDB passbooks, Patricia’s name appeared in only one. She told reporters on Friday that she was unaware that she had an LDB passbook.
Seeking separation
Patricia narrated to reporters her discoveries that she included in her NBI affidavit and the life she had with her husband of 17 years from whom she had been wanting to separate since 2013.
She said it was out of “fear” of Bautista and his network that she sought an audience with Mr. Duterte.
Patricia has filed a case of violence against women and children with the Taguig City Prosecutor’s Office, accusing her husband of “emotional and economic sabotage” against her and their children.
But it still bothered her that she had all the documents that might be proof of misdealing and corrupt practices, she said.
Patricia’s lawyers said Bautista could not accuse her of stealing his passbooks and other documents because she found them in their conjugal house.
“I am getting scared… I am holding these stuff. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know how far-reaching it is. I don’t know what to do, right?” Patricia said.
“So I would think that the safest place to bring this is there (referring to Malacañang), because at the end of the day, this is the President. This is as high as it goes,” she added.
Meeting with Duterte
Patricia said she was able to arrange a meeting with Mr. Duterte through friends she did not name.
They met at the Music Room of the Palace on July 26 for two to three hours. Patricia’s lawyers were present.
After Patricia narrated what she knew, she said the President told her that he would help in “whatever way he could.”
“I think he was surprised as much as I was,” she said.
In the course of their meeting, Patricia said the President summoned NBI Director Dante Gierran to the Palace.
When Gierran arrived, Patricia said the President “endorsed us to the NBI director, who had since been the one coordinating (with her legal team).”
Patricia said she executed the affidavit for fear that some of her family’s finances and properties might have been accumulated from “illegal or immoral acts or conduct” during her husband’s time in office.
“I want to make a distinction of the ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ money that forms part of our conjugal property as husband and wife. After all, Andy had worked in the private sector before joining the government and his income from the private sector was substantial as well,” she said.
However, she can not make the distinction herself since it is Bautista who “controls most, if not all, of our finances,” she said.
She added that her husband knew she had in her possession all the documents she mentioned in her NBI affidavit.
Financial support cut
“As his reprisal, Andy has purposely cut off any financial support that he has previously given to me and my family, in the hopes that this act would pressure me to give up the documents and information I have against him,” she said.
Patricia also said in her affidavit that she believed her husband, “although extremely professionally qualified, should not be allowed to hold any government position as a consequence of the possible ramifications of what I have found.”



Heads up: Lunar eclipse, meteor shower coming this week

Illustration courtesy of Pagasa

Keep your eyes on the night sky this coming week as it will serve up some astronomical treats, starting with a partial lunar eclipse on Monday and ending with the Perseids meteor shower on Sunday.
In its astronomical diary for August, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said the partial lunar eclipse would occur before midnight on Aug. 7 until the wee hours of Aug. 8.
Lunar eclipses are usually characterized by the moon or a portion of it turning reddish, as the sun, Earth, and full moon align or nearly align.
During a lunar eclipse, the Earth, situated between the sun and the moon, blocks the sunlight from shining directly on the moon as the moon passes through the Earth’s umbra, or the core of its shadow.
On Monday, “the umbral eclipse magnitude will be 25 percent,” Pagasa said, making the eclipse a partial one.

An illustration prepared by Pagasa showed that the eclipse will cause only a sliver of the moon to have a reddish color.
The moon will rise at 6:03 p.m. on Monday and will set at 5 a.m. the next day. The lunar eclipse will start at 11:50 p.m. on Monday, with the “greatest” phase of the eclipse expected at 2:20 a.m. on Tuesday. The eclipse will end at 4:51 a.m.
“Lunar eclipses are safe to watch. Hence, observers need not use any kind of protective filters for the eyes,” read the astronomical diary prepared by Cynthia P. Celebre, the chief of the Pagasa Research and Development and Training Division.
“A pair of binoculars will help magnify the view and will make the red coloration of the moon brighter,” Pagasa added. “The lunar eclipse will also be visible in western Pacific Ocean, Oceania, Australasia, Asia, Africa, Europe, and the easternmost tip of south America.”
A solar eclipse will also occur on Aug. 21 to 22, but won’t be visible in the Philippines. It will be visible in Hawaii, North America, and most parts of South America, westernmost Europe, and West Africa, Pagasa said.
Meanwhile, given clear skies and little light, the Perseids meteor shower can be observed in the late evening on Saturday, August 12, until the early morning hours of August 13. At its peak, stargazers may even spot at least 50 or more meteors.

The meteor shower appears to radiate out from the constellation Perseus, which is located in the eastern horizon during August, Pagasa said.
“August is one of the most popular time of the year to observe meteor showers,” Pagasa said. /atm



Land mine kills MILF fighters in operation vs BIFF

Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, at their stronghold at Camp Darapanan in Maguindanao province in southern Philippines. AP, file

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines — Five Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas were killed Sunday in a land mine blast while running after militants operating in the fashion of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The fatalities belong to a group in the MILF operating against ISIS-inspired militants in the second district of Maguindanao since last week.

The slain guerrillas and their companions were moving to surround members of a third faction in the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Barangay Andavit in Datu Saudi Ampatuan tripped off an improvised explosive device.

Four BIFF militants were killed in an encounter Wednesday with pursuing MILF guerrillas in Barangay Pusaw in Sharif Saydona town also in Maguindanao.

Two MILF guerrillas were wounded in the gunfight. They were brought to a hospital in Cotabato City and are being assisted by the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

Lt. Col. Gerry Besana of the 6th Civil Military Operations Battalion, a component unit of 6th ID, told The STAR on Sunday that the five MILF fighters killed by an IED are followers of Commander Asrap.

Asrap is one of MILF commanders under Task Force Ittihad (Unity) now helping the police and the military neutralize BIFF bandits.

The MILF targeted on Wednesday a third bloc in the BIFF under Esmael Abdulmalik, trained in the fabrication of IEDs by slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, most known as Marwan.

Abdulmalik and his men display the black ISIS flag when they roam around to recruit members and collect money from farmer families in Maguindanao’s adjoining Datu Saudi, Shariff Saydona, Salibo, Mamasapano and Datu Piang towns.

The IED used against members of the MILF’s Task Force Ittihad had construction support bars, bent nails and fragments of cast iron with jagged edges.

Six guerrillas hurt in the land mine explosion were immediately rushed to a hospital by responding Army units based in nearby barangays. They have since been brought to Cotabato City for further treatment.

BIFF different from MILF

The outlawed BIFF was founded in 2010 by the late Imam Ameril Ombra Kato, who had studied Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s.

Kato started as a senior commander in the MILF, but bolted due to irreconcilable differences with its central committee.

He then organized the BIFF, which is radically militant and whose pioneer members were former MILF guerillas booted out for insubordination and criminal offenses.

The BIFF claimed allegiance to ISIS more than two years ago.

The BIFF is not covered by the July 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the government and the MILF.

The security pact obliges the government and the MILF to cooperate in addressing peace and security issues in potential conflict flashpoint areas in the south.

One BIFF faction, under Imam Karialan, said last week that it has cut its ties with the group of Abdulmalik.

Karialan’s group, in a statement, also emphasized that it is not hostile to other revolutionary organizations fighting for Moro self-determination.

BIFF insiders said the hasty announcement was a propaganda ploy precipitated by apprehensions on the MILF’s anti-terror campaign in Maguindanao province.


100 homes lost in Zamboanga Sibugay fire

Firefighters from Ipil and from nearby towns helped contain the fire. Paul Jun E. Rosaroso, file

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — A big fire in a slum area in Ipil town, Zamboanga Sibugay razed at least 100 houses on Saturday night.

Police and local authorities reported no casualties from the conflagration that displaced around 600 villagers of Barangay Don Andres.

Chief Superintendent Billy Beltran, chief of Police Regional Office 9, said the fire broke out about 9 p.m. in the slum area of Purok Sampaguita.

Beltran said the Bureau of Fire Protection from Ipil immediately responded. Firefighters from the towns of Titay, Roseller Lim, Tungawan, Naga, Kabasalan, Siay and Imelda helped contain the conflagration.

The fire, which lasted more than two hours, razed 100 houses, most of which were made from light materials.

Damage is estimated at P1 million.

The BFP is still investigating into how the fire started.

The local government of Ipil has extended relief assistance to the fire victims, who were temporarily evacuated to the town’s covered court.

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