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By On May 24, 2018

Scars, unexploded bombs have lingered since Philippine siege

Thousands remain in emergency shelters and the threat of unexploded bombs lingers in the rubble of Marawi, a southern Philippine city where survivors on Wednesday remembered the disastrous siege by extremists that began a year ago.

MARAWI, Philippines (AP) â€" Thousands of displaced remain in emergency shelters and the threat of Islamic extremists and unexploded bombs lingers in the rubble of a southern Philippine city, where survivors on Wednesday remembered a disastrous five-month siege by Islamic State group-aligned fighters that began a year ago.

The Rev. Teresito Soganub, who survived 117 days of captivity by the extremists in Marawi city, said that aside from the devastation, it would take years for him and other civilians to overcome the horror of having lived through airstrikes and gunbattles that threatened them day and nigh t.

“I’m still very, very far from a full recovery,” Soganub said by telephone. “If it takes long to rebuild and reconstruct, it’s more difficult to deal with this psychological and psychiatric trauma.”

The government is finalizing a plan to rebuild the most devastated commercial and residential districts, where the carcasses of pockmarked homes, buildings and mosques stand eerily and gathering weeds in an urban wasteland guarded by troops.

The city’s journey back to normalcy may take years at a huge cost, said officials, some of whom have warned that if the rehabilitation falters, the restiveness it would generate could be exploited by Muslim militants.

“There were lots of bullets, a lot of cannon fire and airstrikes that targeted us because we were with the IS group that was being pounded by troops,” Soganub said from his southern home province, where he held Mass with family and friends. “Each day of the 117 days, 24 hours, we were facing death every time and our lives depended on the temperament of our hostage takers.”

Residents, officials and military officers released dozens of white balloons and doves into the blue sky from a government complex in lakeside Marawi and prayed for peace and recovery.

The May 23 siege that was crushed in October killed more than 1,100 mostly militants, left the mosque-studded city’s heartland in rubbles, prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place the southern third of the country under martial law and reinforced fears that the Islamic State group was gaining a foothold in the Asian region. The months of intense fighting forced hundreds of thousands of residents of Marawi and outlying towns to flee for their lives.

While many have returned home after the attack was quelled, thousands more whose houses were destroyed in the main battle area that remains off-limits to civilians are still living in evacuation centers and t emporary shelters, officials said. At least 50 people are still listed as missing and many human remains have not yet been identified and have been buried in numbered graves.

A regional official, Zia Alonto Adiong, said it was crucial to keep the public informed.

“One day in an evacuation center is already too long for someone who has lost everything,” Adiong said. “I think the frustration comes from the fear of expulsion, fear of not knowing what’s going to happen.”

Presidential adviser Jesus Dureza called for patience after some disgruntled Marawi residents held a noisy protest.

“We are working, government is doing its best to restore as much as possible what was destroyed and I think we are on the road,” Dureza said. “But we’d like to call on all those who have gone through suffering to please be patient. There is no magic formula here. There is no reconstruction that will happen overnight. There will be a lot of challenges. Not every body will agree, there will be contrary voices and feelings.”

Source: Google News Philippines | Netizen 24 Philippines

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By On May 24, 2018

Philippines orders Australian nun to leave, rejects appeal

The Philippine immigration bureau has turned down an Australian nun's appeal for the reversal of an order revoking her missionary visa after the president complained about her joining opposition rallies and ordered her to leave the country.

Immigration chief Jaime Morente said Wednesday that his bureau has sent a letter to Sister Patricia Fox's lawyer that advised her of steps needed for her to comply with the order to leave the Philippines in 30 days.

"This order is final and executory. We will not entertain any fu rther motion for reconsideration," Morente said in a statement.

Fox's lawyer, Jobert Pahilga, however, said she would not leave the country before exhausting all legal remedies, including an appeal to the justice department.

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President Rodrigo Duterte has lashed out at his critics, especially those who have raised questions about his bloody crackdown on illegal drugs. His administration bar red a critical Italian politician, Giacomo Filibeck, from entering the country last month.

The 71-year-old Fox is a coordinator of a Roman Catholic order for nuns called Notre Dame de Sion and has been working for the Filipino poor for almost 30 years. She has joined rallies against Duterte and his government, which has been criticized for waging a brutal war on illegal drugs that left thousands of mostly urban poor suspects dead and for stifling dissent.

Pahilga argued that Fox did not engage in political activities but joined gatherings of farmers and tribal people to help protect their rights in actions that were part of her religious mission to promote justice and human rights. He said she expects the immigration bureau to follow the rule of law and "not arrest or forcibly deport her."

Fox "will not depart the country as she finds it necessary to exhaust all available legal remedies to challenge the cancellation of her missionary visa," Pahilga said. "It has far-reaching implications to other foreigners sojourning in the Philippines especially those engaged in missionary or solidarity works with the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized."

Fox's visa was officially revoked because she worked outside a village in suburban Quezon city in metropolitan Manila where she had said she would confine her work. Her actions violated the terms of her missionary visa, Immigration spokeswoman Dana Sandoval said.

Fox is facing a separate complaint for engaging in political activities, Sandoval said, adding that if she is found guilty, she could face deportation and be included in a blacklist that would prohibit her from entering the Philippines even as a tourist.

Fox said last month that she did not regret getting involved in social issues and was grateful for people who gave her support.

"This isn't just my fight. It's like an attack ... on the whole church, the role of the church, the role of foreign missionaries, the role of human rights workers," Fox told reporters.

Source: Google News Philippines | Netizen 24 Philippines

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By On May 24, 2018

Philippines' lacklustre fight in the South China Sea

Protesters demonstrate outside the Chinese consulate against China's militarisation of disputed islands [Bullit Marquez/AP]
Protesters demonstrate outside the Chinese consulate against China's militarisation of disputed islands [Bullit Marquez/AP]

Manila, Philippines - "I cannot go to war with China," says Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte whenever he is pressed about his country's challenged sovereignty claim over a portion of the South China Sea.

It's the same line he told his Navy on its 120th anniversary on Tuesday. Although appreciative of the sailors' "gallant" efforts to defen d the archipelago's maritime territory, Duterte implicitly acknowledged their inferiority to their Chinese counterparts.

"I cannot go into a battle that I cannot win," he said before the Navy's ranks and top brass.

It's a decidedly "defeatist" stance Duterte has taken, his critics point out, and they say he is partly to blame for China's audacity in continuing to militarise its garrisons in the Spratly and Paracel island groups despite calls from several countries that it stop.

That is because the Philippines has not joined those calls, when it is the one country that possesses an ace card that could possibly trump China's military might: a UN-backed arbitral award that debunks China's sweeping claim over the South China Sea, and affirms its own exclusive rights to 200 nautical miles of sea from its shores.

Because Duterte has chosen to set the ruling aside in hopes of wooing China, analysts believe th e Philippines is now losing the dispute to its more aggressive neighbour.

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"If the government continues on its present track, the arbitral ruling will become irrelevant to the realities on the ground within the next year or so," Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute of Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea, told Al Jazeera.

Bombers and missiles

On Friday, China's People's Liberation Army Air Force announced it deployed bomber planes to one of its outposts in the Paracel Islands, an area also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

Earlier this month, a CNBC report cited US intelligence sources saying China had installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles on the Spratly Islands, where the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have overlapping claims.

In both cases, the Philippines falls within striking range of China's w eapons, causing alarm among the public and putting pressure on Duterte to take action.

On Monday, his Department of Foreign Affairs said it was "taking the appropriate diplomatic action" to protect the country's claims, but it will not "publicise every action taken".

It was hardly the reaction the Philippine public expected.

In contrast, Vietnam accused China of "increasing tensions and causing regional instabilities", and demanded it halt its militarisation of the area.

The Philippines' acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and former foreign affairs secretary Albert Del Rosario, who both helped build and argue the country's case before the UN-backed tribunal in The Hague, criticised the government's response.

Del Rosario said the Duterte government needed to "revisit" its foreign policy, and its decision to shelve the arbitral award cost the country "opportunities to advance [its ] position", and enabled China to "work itself into [the Philippines'] backyard".

Since 2015, China has reclaimed seven reefs in the Spratlys and turned them into military-ready installations. The arbitral award states those reefs fall within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone under international maritime law.

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Carpio, meanwhile, urged the government to "formally protest" China's actions and to rally other countries that were willing to back the arbitral award.

Otherwise, Carpio said the Philippines would end up a "willing victim of China's third warfare strategy" of intimidating rival claimants with military might.

Addressing Duterte's fear of war with China, Carpio said a formal protest is recognised by the UN Charter as a "peaceful and legitimate response" and, therefore, not a trigger for military confrontation.

'Active collaborator '

Duterte has been criticised widely for citing the possibility of war with China as a pretext for inaction.

In a lecture he gave in July 2017, Carpio said Duterte had a "dismal lack of understanding of international law and relations", pointing out that China would not risk attacking the Philippines because it would activate a mutual defence treaty with the US.

In other words, a war with the Philippines would be a war with the US, which Carpio believed China would not want.

However, for Jose Antonio Custodio, a military analyst and former consultant of the Philippines' National Security Council, Duterte is not just being overly careful.

"The actions of the Duterte administration from day one have seen it breaking away from forging an international consensus against China's territorial ambitions and moving into an active collaborator of Beijing," Custodio told Al Jazeera.

Aside from shelving the arbitral award, Duterte diluted statements of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that would have addressed the South China Sea disputes, when he was the bloc's chairman in 2017. He has also continually heaped praise and flattery on China and opened the Philippines to its economic and political influence through aid and loan packages.

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These, said Custodio, reveal a Duterte who actively works for China's interests and "spreads an atmosphere of defeatism to justify a shift to a pro-Beijing policy."

'Concern but not a threat'

Aware of such criticism, Duterte's communications team has attempted publicity stunts to portray him as a patriot.

Last week, the president visited a Navy ship about to set out for Benham Rise, a strategic and resource-rich underwater plateau off the country's Pacific coast, which he renamed "Philippine Rise" after Chinese ves sels were spotted scouting the area.

Duterte's son and his top aide rode jet skis near the anchored ship, a nod to him saying he would take a jet ski to the Spratlys and plant the national flag on one of China's installations, back when he was still campaigning to be president.

Even Duterte's underlings are careful when speaking about China. Asked about the president's view of the latest developments in the South China Sea, his spokesman said he views China as "a concern but not a threat".

Duterte insists he has few if any options in dealing with China, and so there is nothing to do but "hope for China's mercy".

As for the arbitral award, he claimed - wrongly - that it was not at his disposal but his predecessor's

"Do not believe in that sh*t that it was during my time that the arbitral ruling was handed down. Of course, it was not," he told a public audience on Sunday.

Althou gh the case was largely the effort of former president Benigno Aquino's government, the tribunal released the verdict on July 12, 2016 - two weeks into Duterte's term.

By taking the award for granted, Batongbacal said Duterte "conceded the game prematurely" and his government will only have itself to blame for "squandering its most significant victory in the South China Sea disputes".

South China Sea: The world's next big war?

UpFront

South China Sea: The world's next big war?

SOURCE: Al Jazeera News

Source: Google News Philippines | Netizen 24 Philippines

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By On May 24, 2018

Divorce Is Prohibited In The Philippines, But Moves Are Underway To Legalize It

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Anti-divorce protesters marched in Manila in February. The Philippine House of Representatives passed a bill in March that would legalize divorce. Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images

Anti-divorce protesters marched in Manila in February. The Philippine House of Representatives passed a bill in March that would legalize divorce.

Ted Aljib e/AFP/Getty Images

After 10 years of marriage to a husband she says was a philanderer, and dealing with her suffocating in-laws, Alpa Go, a mom in Metro Manila, threw in the towel. She wanted out, for herself and her two children.

"I just wanted to cut ties with him," she said speaking in Tagalog. "If I ever achieve my goals, I don't want to do it carrying his name. And if I acquire properties in the future, I don't want to have to share with him. What if I'm gone?" she asks â€" meaning what if she's dead. "Then he would benefit instead of the kids."

What Alpa Go wants â€" but can't get â€" is a divorce. The Philippines, where roughly 80 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, is one of only two countries in the world where divorce remains illegal (with exemptions for the roughly 5 percent of the population that's Muslim). The only other country where divorce rema ins illegal is Vatican City.

With divorce out of the question, Go did the next-best thing. She filed for an annulment. But they're expensive and out of reach for many Filipinos, whose jobs bring them only a few dollars a day.

Go was lucky in the sense that she'd saved enough money to try. She paid the equivalent of $5,000 to file. It didn't work.

"I filed on the grounds of psychological incapacity," she explains, one of the official grounds for annulment. "But [the court] said it wasn't enough."

Later, she says, her friends told her the judge in Metro Manila's Antipolo municipality, where she filed, wasn't a fan of annulments. So Go gave up.

Laywer Clara Padilla, the executive director of EnGendeRights, a Manila-based nonprofit that advocates for women's rights, says Alpa Go's story is far from unusual. She has heard far worse.

"Women, even if they're in an a busive relationship where their husbands would batter them, even if their husbands are drunkards or are alcoholic or engage in extramarital affairs, even if they do drugs â€" their wives are unable to dissolve the marriages," she says.

But a bill passed in March by the Philippines House of Representatives is giving hope to proponents of divorce. It would allow divorce for a variety of reasons, including irreconcilable differences, abuse, infidelity and abandonment.

To become law, the bill needs to be passed by the Senate and approved by the president. But the House bill, which passed by a vote of 134 to 57, is significant since no divorce legislation has ever made it this far in the Philippines, says sociologist Jayeel Cornelio of Manila's Ateneo University. He calls the bill "unprecedented," but also logical in a country where a recent survey showed more than half of Filipinos are in favor of allowing divorce & quot;for irreconcilably separated couples."

"The influence of the Catholic Church, when it comes to political matters and private moral affairs, is becoming weaker and weaker in the country," Cornelio says. "The resistance of the Catholic Church to the divorce bill is increasingly seen as not in the interests of the public but only the interests of the Catholic Church."

Cornelio says a divorce bill is a sensible, and even "inevitable" next step after the passage of the country's reproductive health law in 2013, which allowed poorer Filipinos in particular access to birth control. Many municipalities have been slow in implementing the reproductive health law, which took more than a decade to pass â€" evidence of how much power the Church still enjoys.

Still, there is an unusual level of bipartisan support for the divorce bill â€" a matter of concern for the Catholic Church.

"Yes, it is worrisome for us,& quot; says Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila. "According to our Philippine constitution, now we are supposed to be pro-family to protect the family, and strengthen the family, and divorce will not help our people at all."

Pabillo acknowledges that there are cases where women who are emotionally or physically abused by their husbands need to get out. But in those cases, he says, "She can legally be separated from the man, so we also [offer] a way out."

It's not a way that allows them a divorce to start life anew in the eyes of the government or the Church. But Pabillo is firm.

"We cannot make a policy for certain cases when the whole society would suffer in the long run," he insists.

Nonsense, says Padilla. She says the Philippines remains "pretty much behind the rest of the world" â€" in the "dark ages," even, she says â€" when it comes to issues li ke divorce and LGBT rights.

"The Philippines should be a secular state where there should be separation of church and state," Padilla says, "where the Catholic Church should not be able to influence their religious beliefs in the passage of laws."

The Philippine Supreme Court recently ruled that Filipinos married to foreigners can get divorced abroad and be recognized as such at home.

Even though the divorce bill had strong support in the House, in the Senate, resistance is much stronger.

"Unfortunately for those who are proposing it, I don't believe in it," says Senate majority leader Vicente Sotto III. "As far as I'm concerned, it's not a priority," he says, though he admits he's taking heat from his four daughters â€" all of whom, he says, support the right to divorce and want him to consider the bill.

Sotto's own opposition, he says, won't keep him from allowing a v ote in the Senate. "We'll discuss it," he says. "I am not going to stymie the bill because I'm not in favor of divorce, that does not mean I'll not do my job. If a senator comes to me and says, 'please, have it in the agenda because we want it discussed,' after discussing in committee, so be it. We'll do it."

A Senate version of the bill could come up for consideration in the next few months, and both Sotto and Pabillo put the chances of passage at about 50-50. Even if the Senate does pass it, the bill would still need to be approved by President Duterte, whose own marriage was annulled.

Duterte has expressed his opposition to divorce in the past. But he's also been a fierce and foulmouthed critic of the Catholic Church, when it comes to the Church's condemnation of his war on drugs, which human rights groups say has claimed more than 12,000 lives since it began nearly two years ago.

If enough Fil ipinos make a public show of supporting a divorce bill, the populist Duterte might go along. Giving the people what they want while giving the Church a black eye, some observers suggest, might be a twofer Duterte simply cannot resist.

Source: Google News Philippines | Netizen 24 Philippines

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By On May 22, 2018

Philippines' UnionBank to Link Rural Lenders Using Blockchain

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UnionBank of the Philippines announced on Monday a plan to link rural banks using blockchain technology to achieve an interconnection similar to what the SWIFT and Bancnet systems deliver.

UnionBank chairman Justo Ortiz made the announcement during the launch of the Blockchain Association of the Philippines. He said his company would initially pilot-test the system in six rural banks as per the approval from the Philippine central bank.

Through the application of blockchain, Ortiz hopes to limit the number of steps in completing certain transactions from 20 at present to just three.

He said:

"The rural banks are the first mile to getting those members of the community that are unbanked.”

20,000 blockchain programmers

As part of its ambition to capitalize on blockchain, UnionBank will expand its blockchain programmer team from 30 to 100 before the end of this year. According to Ortiz, the number is expected to jump to 20,000 within two years.

"We need to be able to bring people from abroad to basically up the game here at t he enterprise level. At the end of the day, if the enterprises adopt, it will force the individuals to adopt. It's chicken and egg,” he said, adding that blockchain could help "crack the code of financial inclusivity."

Crypto is the future

In an earlier interview with Cryptovest, UnionBank CEO Edwin Bautista described cryptocurrency as the future in answer to the question why UnionBank is the only one of 10 banks in the country to have welcomed blockchain and digital currencies.

“We really do not know if cryptocurrency will be the future currency and replace fiat. No one knows for certain. But what if it were? We have to keep an open mind about it. We cannot reject something just because we do not understand it,” Bautista said.

UnionBank inks blockchain payment scheme with Visa

In January, UnionBank struck a deal with credit card services giant Visa to create a cross-border bank-to-bank (B2B) payment system that will benefit small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The first of its kind in the Philippines, the platform aims to facilitate B2B transactions, with a focus on those from SMEs to recipient banks.

Ortiz said at the time the Visa B2B Connect system would allow payment processing in real time or at least within a day instead of the usual three to five business days.

Source: Google News Philippines | Netizen 24 Philippines