Friday, June 29, 2012

China starts ‘combat ready’ patrols in disputed seas

BEIJING—China has begun combat-ready patrols in the waters around a disputed group of islands in the South China Sea, the Defense Ministry said on Thursday, the latest escalation in tensions over the potentially resource-rich area.
Asked about what China would do in response to Vietnamese air patrols over the Spratly Islands, the ministry's spokesman Geng Yansheng said Beijing would "resolutely oppose any militarily provocative behavior."
"In order to protect national sovereignty and our security and development interests, the Chinese military has already set up a normal, combat-ready patrol system in seas under our control," he said.
"The Chinese military's resolve and will to defend territorial sovereignty and protect our maritime rights and interests is firm and unshakeable," Geng added, according to a transcript posted on the ministry's website (
He did not elaborate. The ministry forbids foreign reporters to attend its monthly briefings.
China is involved in a long-running dispute with Vietnam and the Philippines about ownership of the South China Sea and its myriad, mostly uninhabited, islands and atolls. Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims.
Last week China said it "vehemently opposed" a Vietnamese law asserting sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, which straddle key shipping lanes thought to contain rich energy reserves.
That row came days after an easing in a months-long standoff between China and the Philippines, but shows the persistent cycle of territorial frictions triggered by what some see as Beijing's growing assertiveness in the area.
The South China Sea is potentially the biggest flashpoint for confrontation in Asia, and tensions have risen since the United States adopted a policy last year to reinforce its influence in the region.-GMA News (June 28, 2012 9:26PM)

NASA cancels climate study project in Thailand

BANGKOK- The United States says it will not be able to carry out a major climate study this year because Thailand has delayed a decision on whether to grant the US space agency permission to use a key naval air base.

NASA’s request to use Thailand’s U-Tapao air base as the project’s operations center has faced opposition from critics who say it could be a cover for military purposes. The base is located at Chonburi province, 190 kilometers (118 miles) southeast of Bangkok.

“It is too early to say at this time whether resources will be available to revisit the project next year,” US Embassy spokesman Walter Braunohler told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The project, called the “Southeast Asia Composition, Cloud, Climate Coupling Regional Study,” was to use satellites, aircraft and ground missions to study how air circulation during the monsoon affects the climate and air quality in South and Southeast Asia.

Thai scientists involved in the project were skeptical that NASA would pursue its mission in Thailand next year.

“It’s a great loss for Thailand to lose a vital opportunity to learn what we should know about regional climate, including floods, drought and other catastrophes,” said Serm Janjai, a physics professor at Thailand’s Silpakorn University involved in the project. “But what is more important is it has destroyed confidence in Thailand among the international science community. Someone has to take responsibility for this failure.”

NASA said it canceled the mission Tuesday “due to the absence of necessary approvals by regional authorities in the time frame necessary to support the mission’s planned deployment and scientific observation window,” according to the project’s website.

Thailand’s Cabinet had agreed Tuesday to have lawmakers debate the issue before deciding on whether to grant permission for the project. However, Parliament does not reconvene until August 1—a month after NASA’s deadline for a decision.
U-Tapao was a major base for US bombing missions during the Vietnam War, and some critics have charged that the NASA project is a threat to Thai sovereignty and that it might also anger China. The US military has continued to use the base for refueling and as a staging area for humanitarian relief operations, including those conducted after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Myanmar’s 2008 Cyclone Nargis.

The NASA project would have studied carbon emissions in the region in August and September, when regional monsoons could carry wildfire smoke from Indonesia and Malaysia north to countries such as Thailand.

Critics of the project include nationalists and the opposition Democrat Party. There have been allegations, unsupported by evidence, that the project would be a cover for US military and intelligence activities. NASA and scientists supporting the project have pointed out in rebuttal that its details were openly available.-Philippine Standard Inquirer (June 28, 2012 6:05PM)

China vows to oppose military provocation

BEIJING - China said Thursday it would resolutely oppose any military provocation in its territorial waters, remarks which appeared to be directed at the United States, Vietnam and the Philippines.

China's military has established routine naval patrols in the South China Sea, "indisputable territory" of the nation and a matter of "national sovereignty," defence ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said.

"We will resolutely oppose any military provocations," Geng said in statements posted on his ministry's website.

"The determination and will of China's military to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering."

Geng's remarks came as the United States launched the largest-ever "Rim of the Pacific" naval exercises in Hawaii, involving 22 nations, including the US, India, Russia, Australia and the Philippines.

China was not invited to participate or observe the exercises.

Tensions in the South China Sea have intensified recently with Vietnam and the Philippines both accusing China of increasingly flexing its military muscle in the region, despite a pledge from all claimants to avoid actions that could further stoke tensions.

Both the Philippines and Vietnam have also sought to shore up relations with the United States to counter China's increasingly vocal assertions over the region that also includes key international shipping routes.

Geng downplayed the US-sponsored multi-national military exercises, but voiced concerns over Washington's recent announcement to deploy more of its naval forces to the Pacific Ocean.

"Frankly speaking, we do not believe that this (the multilateral exercises) is such a big matter and it is not worth being upset about," Geng, who was speaking at a press briefing that was only open to Chinese journalists, said.

But "deploying more military forces in the Asia-Pacific goes against the world's pursuit of peace, development and cooperation, as well as trust among nations in the region," he said.
The Philippines said Thursday it was committed to "defuse the tension" with China over a disputed shoal, despite the continued presence of Chinese ships in the area.

"While we continue to assert our sovereignty over (the shoal) and sovereign rights over the waters surrounding it, we are committed to defusing the tension in the area through diplomatic discussions and consultations," Department of Foreign Affairs Raul Hernandez said in a statement.

"We urge everyone to refrain from making statements that would tend to re-escalate the situation in the area," the statement added.

China says it has sovereign rights to the whole South China Sea, believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits. The sea is also claimed in whole or part by Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines.-ABS-CBN News (June 28, 2012 9:14PM)

US sees momentum on South China Sea code

WASHINGTON-The United States said Wednesday it saw momentum in talks between China and Southeast Asia on agreeing to a code of conduct to ease deep friction over competing claims in the South China Sea.

The South China Sea is likely to be high on the agenda when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads next month to Cambodia for talks of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and regional powers including China.

Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said he understood that a draft proposal on a code of conduct was being discussed and that the United States expected to hear more details while in Cambodia.

"What we have seen of late has been an increase in diplomacy between ASEAN and China about aspects associated with a potential code of conduct," Campbell told a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"I will say that we are frankly impressed with the level of focus that particularly ASEAN has given to this," Campbell said.

Campbell did not give more details on the potential code of conduct and acknowledged that disputes over the South China Sea are "fraught with difficulty."
"They spur nationalist sentiment across the region as a whole and it is extraordinarily important to deal with them with great delicacy," he said.

ASEAN and China agreed in 2002 to negotiate a code of conduct. But there has been little visible progress, with a rising China preferring to negotiate with each country individually instead of dealing with a unified bloc.

ASEAN foreign ministers, meeting in April in Phnom Penh, said they hoped to narrow differences and sign a code of conduct with China by the end of the year.

The Philippines and Vietnam accuse China of aggressively asserting its claims in recent years, leading to minor clashes that diplomats and military commanders fear could quickly escalate into major conflicts.

The United States have recently expanded military relations with the Philippines and Vietnam, part of what President Barack Obama's administration has cast as a growing US focus on relations with Asia.

The details of the code of conduct remained murky. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, speaking to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 2, said the code should set a binding "rules-based framework" to prevent and manage disputes.

At the annual ASEAN talks in 2010 in Vietnam, Clinton said the United States had a "national interest" in open access to the South China Sea, through which half of the world's trade flows.

Her statement generated a wide response in Asia, with Southeast Asian nations largely welcoming the remarks and stepping up cooperation with the United States but China accusing her of fanning tensions.

Campbell said Clinton was also looking to visit Laos. If confirmed, the trip would be the first by a US secretary of state to Laos since the communist victory in 1975.

The United States established normal trade ties with Laos in 2004 and has been studying ways to clean up ordnance. The United States dropped millions of bombs on Laos during the Vietnam War to cut off Hanoi's supply lines.

US relations with Laos have remained uneasy largely due to concerns over treatment of the Hmong, a hill people who assisted US forces during the Vietnam War and have since reported incidents of persecution.

Campbell and the Laotian vice foreign minister, Bounkeut Sangsomsak, met Wednesday in Washington and discussed cooperation on issues including health, education, law enforcement and anti-trafficking, the State Department said.

One signature effort of the Obama administration has been reaching out to another long-isolated nation -- Myanmar.

The country formerly known as Burma has undertaken dramatic reforms since last year including allowing elections in which opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in parliament.

US senators said Wednesday that they expected soon to confirm Derek Mitchell as the first US ambassador to Myanmar in more than 20 years.-ABS-CBN News (June 28, 2012 12:40PM)

PH-US joint naval exercises set off Mindanao Sea

Manila- The Philippines and United States navies and coast guard will again conduct joint training exercises in a bid to strengthen partnership and cooperation between the two allies.

The annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2012 will be held in the vicinity of Mindanao Sea or Bohol Sea, which lies between the provinces of Bohol and Leyte and north of Mindanao. The area is under the area of responsibility of the Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao (NFEM).

The exercises will run from July 2 to 10 and will  include in-port training, subject matter expertise exchanges (SMEEs), ceremonies and interactions; diving and salvage training at General Santos Bay, Sarangani; and medical/dental/ engineering civic action projects and community relations activities at different locations in General Santos City and Glan, Sarangani Province.

According to Col. Omar Tonsay, Philippine Navy spokesman, this year's CARAT 2012 will involve 450 personnel from the Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard; and 500 personnel from the US Navy and Coast Guard.

Units involved are the US Navy, US Coast Guard, Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard surface, air, and special operations units who will conduct shore-based cross training exercises (CTX), diving exercise (DIVEX)/salvage exercise (SALVEX), air operations exercise, and at-sea fleet training exercises (FTX), Search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX), as well as friendly sports competitions in volleyball and basketball.

The Philippine Navy sees the exercises as a way to "enhance combined interoperability capability with the US Navy and the Philippine-US Coast Guards, as well as test their personnel and naval assets operational readiness and ultimately, improve the n capability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines by an exchange of doctrinal and tactical best practices."
CARAT 2012 will be participated in by Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas (BRP) Magat Salamat (PS20), BRP Miguel Malvar (PS19), BRP Salvador Abcede (PG114), and BRP Teotimo Figuracion (PG389) for the PN; the USS Vandergrift (FFG48) and USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50) for the USN; BRP Pampanga (SARV 003) for the PCG; and the USCG WAESCHE (WMSL751) for the USCG. The PN will also employ one PN Islander (PNI 320) while the USN will provide a P3C Orion and a SH-60B Helicopter together with a BO-105CB helicopter from PCG.

The CARAT started back in 1995 and has been a yearly combined exercise conducted at different Naval Forces areas of operations on rotation basis. Venues have been determined a year in advance and are finalized following confirmation from both navies during a final planning conference. 

Last year, the exercise was conducted in Sulu Sea area east of Palawan under the Naval Forces West and in Zambales under Naval Forces Northern Luzon the year before that.-Interaksyon (June 28, 2012 5:50PM)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

PH to become e-vehicle hub

The Philippines will emerge as the hub of electric vehicle parts manufacturing in the region, once the government’s electric tricycle program becomes successful, two industry associations said Wednesday.

The Motor Vehicle Parts Manufacturers Association of the Philippines and the Electric Vehicle Association of the Philippines said the ailing vehicle parts industry would be revitalized with the expected influx of local and foreign investments in the e-trike program.

MVPMAP groups 125 local auto parts makers while the newly-organized EVAP is composed of 27 EV manufacturers, assemblers, importers, dealers, members of the academe and enthusiasts.

MVPMAP president Ferdi Raquelsantos said in a statement the two groups were fully supportive of the e-trike program of the Energy Department and the Asian Development Bank.
The e-trike program plans to replace 100,000 conventional tricycles with electric tricycles over the next four years.

“With most of our members operating at below 50 percent of their rated plant capacity, this program will provide incremental income and employment to our members,” Raquelsantos said.

He said around 50,000 employees were dependent on the local parts making industry.

“Considering that more than 25 percent of our labor force is not fully utilized with 9.8 percent of them unemployed and another 19.2 percent of them underemployed, this e-trike program will help us and our employees get back on our feet,” he added.

Raquelsantos said the e-trike project had already caught the attention of foreign investors, judging from their interest in the recent 2012 Electric Vehicle Summit.-Manila Standard Today (June 28, 2012)

Malaysia denies corruption in submarine sale

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's government has denied allegations of corruption in its $1.25 billion purchase of two submarines as it responded for the first time to a French investigation into alleged bribery payments in the deal.

Fresh allegations emerging from the French case have been leapt upon by Malaysia's political opposition and are threatening to tarnish Prime Minister Najib Razak ahead of a general election he must call within the next nine months.

Defence Minister Zahid Hamidi told parliament around midnight local time on Tuesday that his ministry had not paid any commissions in the purchase and had followed "established guidelines" to acquire the French Scorpene-class submarines. The government had no knowledge of the alleged sale of classified defence documents, he said.

"The (defence) ministry has never paid any commission either directly or indirectly to any company in the acquisition of Scorpene submarines," he said.

The allegations have emerged in a French investigative case examining whether French shipbuilding giant DCNS paid bribes to Malaysian officials.

Malaysian human rights group SUARAM and its French lawyers have alleged that DCNS bought classified Malaysian defence ministry documents to help its bid for the 1 billion euro contract it won in 2002. They say investigation documents show that about 36 million euros were paid by Thales International, a subsidiary of DCNS, to a company called Terasasi, controlled by a former associate of Najib.

"The defence ministry doesn't have any information on the alleged sale of secret documents by Terasasi to Thint Asia (Thales International) for the alleged sum of 36 million euros," Zahid said.

Najib, who was defence minister at the time, has for years denied allegations of wrongdoing in the purchase of the submarines. There has been no evidence linking him directly to corruption in the deal, and his supporters say his political rivals are behind efforts to revive the issue just ahead of the election, which he must call by March 2013.

His government is under mounting pressure to give a fuller explanation of the transaction after documents in the French case were leaked and run by Malaysia's lively online media.

The documents, including records seized by French prosecutors in a raid on DCNS's offices, detail payments made to two companies set up by former political analyst Razak Baginda, a former associate of Najib who worked on the submarine deal.

Many of the documents were published this week by online news site Asia Sentinel. A French lawyer representing SUARAM in the French case told Reuters the leaked documents were genuine.

Government supporters say that civil prosecutions, such as that brought by SUARAM, are common in France and are no indication that a crime has been committed.

Malaysia's government has acknowledged that a second firm, Perimekar, received 115 million euros for its support services in the deal, but it had not previously commented on the role of Hong Kong-based Terasasi.

The allegations emerging from the French case have helped galvanise Malaysia's opposition as it seeks to topple the ruling coalition for the first time in the upcoming elections. The opposition made shock gains in 2008 that shook the BN's half-century grip on power, although most analysts expect it to fall short of winning a parliamentary majority in the next election.-ABS-CBN News (June 27, 2012, 11:21AM)

Pinoys to celebrate Social Media Day on June 30

Over 27 million Filipinos regularly log in to Facebook while a couple of million have made Twitter a popular go-to site for trends, news and information. Since 2008, Filipino netizens have led the world in video and photo uploads. The growing numbers have made pundits name the Philippines the world's social media capital since 2010.
Today, social media has made inroads in advertising, marketing, public relations, governance and politics, advocacies and causes, journalism and media.

The Philippines joins the world in celebrating Social Media Day this weekend with a gathering of Twitterati, bloggers and other internet users in Makati City and elsewhere in the country.
Organized by TweetUp Manila, the big event will be held on June 30, 4:00-7:00 pm, at the Tower One Fountain Area, Ayala Triangle, Ayala Avenue, Makati City. Admission is free.
It will carry the theme "Social Media Capital", a hats off to over 35 million Filipino netizens who made it possible to capture that new title for the country.

The event will also serve as the launching date for  Project 140, which seeks to identify and support 140 prospective scholars from the country's poorest provinces, through the cooperation and sponsorship of social media users, big and small.
Similar events are also set to be held in Quezon City, Iligan City, Cagayan de Oro City and Davao City.
The global Social Media Day is spearheaded by US-based technology website Mashable.
Supporting the Makati event are Ayala Land, Inc., Make It Makati, TV5, Beyond the Box, Crumpler, NetBooster Asia, eLearning Edge, Unilab, EchoStore, Michelis, Axe, Garnier, Boracay, Adobo Magazine and KLM, among others.
For more information about the event, follow @TweetupMNL on Twitter or
visit TweetUp Manila on Tumblr. -GMA News (June 27, 2012 1:53PM)

DFA to seek clarification on return of Chinese vessels to Panatag

MANILA-The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday said it would seek clarification from China regarding the return of its vessels to the lagoon of the Scarborough [Panatag] Shoal off northwestern Philippines two days after it was reported to have left the contested area.

“We would like to ask for clarification as to what happened,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez told reporters as he reiterated China’s commitment to pull out its vessels inside the shoal.
Hernandez said China’s renewed presence at the lagoon would be taken up in the government’s next consultations with Chinese embassy officials in Manila.

“Negotiations and decisions always require people to act in good faith," he said. "We would like the parties to this issue to comply with commitments."

“That’s how we try to move forward with the discussion and to resolve this issue diplomatically and peacefully,” Hernandez said.

Manila and Beijing both pledged to pull out all its government and fishing vessels from inside the shoal’s lagoon to ease tensions, Hernandez said.

Weeks earlier, Philippine vessels, as part of this commitment, left the lagoon and moved outside the shoal, but Chinese government ships and fishing boats have remained inside.

Both the Philippines and China claim ownership to the shoal, which had been at the center of weeks-long territorial feud between the two nations.

A standoff erupted between the two countries on April 10 when China’s government ships prevented Philippine authorities from accosting Chinese fishermen poaching in the shoal, which Manila said was part of its territory.

On June 15, the President Benigno Aquino III ordered the pullout of the two remaining Philippine government ships in the area due to bad weather, in a move that temporarily halted the standoff.

Aquino has said that he would send back Philippine sovereignty vessels to the shoal if Chinese ships would not leave the area.

A Philippine plane, he said, would conduct surveillance to check on the Chinese presence as soon as the weather clears.

Scarborough, a ring-shaped coral reef with rocky outcrops teeming with marine life, is called Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc by Manila and Huangyan Island by Beijing.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has sent its recommendations to the President regarding the current situation at the shoal.

“We’ll just wait for the higher authorities to make a decision,” Hernandez said, declining to give further details. “I am not at liberty to divulge these recommendations at this time.”

On Monday, the DFA announced that Chinese government ships and fishing vessels have left the shoal’s lagoon.

Hernandez said the basis of the DFA’s announcement was based on information it received on June 23 that there are no more Chinese vessels inside the shoal.

Two days later, the Philippine Navy conducted an aerial survey of Scarborough and sighted six Chinese fishing vessels, accompanied by 17 smaller boats, inside the lagoon while five of Beijing’s government ships stood guard outside the contested area.

Manila said the shoal, located 124 nautical miles from Masinloc town in Zamabales and 472 nautical miles from China’s nearest land mass in Hainan province, was within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone as provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Both countries, along with 162 other nations, are signatories to the treaty.

China rejected Manila’s assertion over the shoal, saying proximity alone could not be a basis for ownership.

It said it was the first to have discovered Scarborough, citing ancient maps to prove its claim.

Apart from Scarborough, China also claims the South China Sea nearly in its entirety, including areas that overlap with the Philippines’ territorial waters.

Competing claims to the South China Sea, believed to be harboring vast oil and gas deposits, by the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan, have ignited violent confrontations in the past, sparking fears it could be Asia’s next potential flashpoint for war. -Interaksyon (June 27, 2012 7:38PM)

Australia, Malaysia refugee swap progress

SYDNEY—Australia's lower house Wednesday passed a bill to allow boatpeople to be sent offshore for processing as refugees, moving a step further towards asylum-seekers being transferred to Malaysia or Nauru.

The bill, which sparked angry and emotional debate, passed the House of Representatives by 74 to 72 but is considered unlikely to pass the Senate when the Labor government brings it to the upper house on Thursday.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard supported a private members bill from independent MP Rob Oakeshott to help revive the deal clinched last year to send 800 boatpeople to Malaysia in exchange for 4,000 of that country's refugees.

The bill, aimed at deterring people-smugglers from the dangerous maritime voyage to Australia, would allow an immigration minister to designate any nation as an "offshore assessment country" if it was party to the Bali Process.

The Bali Process is a regional cooperative framework for dealing with asylum-seekers involving more than 40 countries.

The bill passed with an amendment which places a sunset clause on it, meaning it would be reviewed after 12 months.

Parliamentarians engaged in hours of debate on the topic as an asylum-seeker emergency unfolded off the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island where a crowded boat sank Wednesday, leaving at least one person dead.

Rescuers saved 125 people from where the ship capsized, some 107 nautical miles north of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, but authorities said there were up to 150 people onboard.

The accident comes barely a week after another vessel went down in the same area, leaving as many as 90 people estimated to have drowned.

Australia's Labor government and their conservative opponents have been at loggerheads over boatpeople, with the opposition against the plan to send asylum-seekers to Malaysia which is not a signatory to UN refugee conventions.

Gillard offered, as a compromise, to re-open a detention centre on Nauru while pressing ahead with her Malaysia deal if the opposition agreed to vote for the Oakeshott bill but this was rejected.

The vote was won with the help of independent MPs. The Malaysia plan was aimed at stopping the flow of hundreds of people, mostly from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, coming by boat from Asian hubs each year in the hope of being resettled in Australia.-Interaksyon (June 27, 2012 7:00PM)

Vietnam says China offshore oil auction illegal

HANOI  - Vietnam has denounced China's opening of offshore oil blocks to foreign companies in contested areas of the South China Sea as "illegal", as territorial tensions grow between the communist neighbors.

On Saturday, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation announced that nine offshore blocks were available for exploration, and said it was seeking bids from foreign companies.

Vietnam's foreign ministry said in a statement late Tuesday that the blocks "lie entirely within Vietnam's 200-mile exclusive economic zone."

"This is absolutely not a disputed area. (CNOOC's move) is illegal and of no value, seriously violating Vietnam's sovereignty," it said, blaming the bid invitation for "causing tension" in the South China Sea.

On Wednesday, Vietnam's state-owned oil company, PetroVietnam, called on international companies to boycott the "illegal and wrongful bid invitation," saying the nine blocks "lie deeply on the continental shelf of Vietnam".

"PetroVietnam requests international oil companies not to participate in the bidding for the nine blocks," the company's general director, Do Van Hau, said at a Wednesday press conference.

The blocks, which cover an area of more than 160,000 square kilometers (64,000 square miles), overlap blocks which PetroVietnam is already in the process of developing with its own foreign partners, Hau said.

"PetroVietnam will send an official letter of protest and request the cancellation of the Chinese tender," he said, adding they would also "protest until the end" any companies who signed contracts with CNOOC in the area.

On Saturday, CNOOC announced the nine blocks were "available for international exploration and development cooperation between CNOOC and foreign companies."

The tender was "normal business activity", Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular news briefing on Tuesday.

"We hope Vietnam will respect these agreements and avoid taking any action that may complicate the matter," he said.

China and Vietnam are locked in a long-standing territorial dispute over the South China Sea, and frequently trade diplomatic barbs over oil exploration, fishing rights and the Spratly and Paracel Islands, which both countries claim.

Last week, Vietnam angered China by adopting a law which claims sovereignty of the mineral-rich islands, prompting Beijing to summon Vietnam's ambassador to oppose the "illegal and invalid" move.

China says it has sovereign rights to the whole South China Sea, believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits. The sea is also claimed in whole or part by Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines.-Interkasyon (June 27, 2012 7:22PM)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

China warns Philippines vs 1st school on Pag-asa

China has warned the Philippines against operating a public kindergarten school on Pag-asa Island off Palawan province.

Hong Lei, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, told a press briefing on Monday in Beijing that China “opposes any illegal activity that may infringe on China’s sovereignty,” according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Manila should “refrain from taking any measure that will complicate and exacerbate the current situation and affect peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Hong said.

He insisted that China had “indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratly chain of islands and its surrounding waters.

Pag-asa Island is part of Kalayaan town in Palawan. Home to about 200 Filipinos, the island has been under the Philippine government’s control since the 1970s. It has a town hall, a health center, an airstrip and a naval station, among other facilities.

Last week, the Kalayaan municipal government inaugurated a public kindergarten, which Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon said aimed to help the town’s civilian population.

The school was inaugurated without fanfare on June 15 with five students, their parents and a teacher. A Philippine flag fluttered in the breeze in the schoolyard.

Hong expressed hope “relevant countries will abide by the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China,” which was earlier entered into by China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

The Philippines and three other Asean member-states—Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei—are among the Spratlys claimants, along with China and Taiwan.-Philippine Daily Inquirer (June 27, 2012)

Banaue rice terraces back in UNESCO heritage list

The rice terraces in the Cordillera region are no longer in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) List of World Heritage Sites in Danger, a decade after the famous tourist attraction was included in the list as a result of deterioration.
During the 36th session of the World Heritage Committee on Tuesday in St. Petersburg, Russia, the rice terraces were reinstated in the UNESCO World Heritage List by a committee composed of 21 state parties to the World Heritage Convention, according to a statement from the UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines.
“It is indeed a great honor for our country to have the international community recognize our efforts in ensuring the conservation of the rice terraces,” said Virginia A. Miralao, Secretary-General of the UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines.

The international committee arrived at the decision after the successful site restoration and conservation, as well as planning and proper management, of the rice terraces.

According to UNESCO, the Philippines reached the minimum restoration percentage of 50 percent of collapsed terraces, rehabilitated major irrigation systems, finished the required documentation, and developed community-based land and zoning plans.
Located in the Cordillera mountain range in North Central Luzon, the rice terraces were inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995 as an “extraordinary example of an evolved, living cultural landscape.” The Igorot people carved the terraces along steep mountainsides over hundreds of years, and the tradition has been retained until n w.

Lapses and threats

In 2001, the rice terraces were placed in the List of World Heritage in Danger because of the site’s deterioration over the years.

Among the factors cited by UNESCO were neglected irrigation, weak management systems, migration, lack of focus on tourism, and unregulated developments in the site.
The International Committee on Monument and Sites (ICOMOS) noted: “A worrying percentage of [the] rice terraces had deteriorated; springs had dried up and deforestation within the watershed had occurred.
“Subsistence farming and limited alternative economic opportunities had forced many Ifugaos to seek work elsewhere and traditions and rituals associated with the cultivation of the rice had been disappearing,” according to the committee.

Restoration process

The rice terraces consist of five clusters -- Nagacadan, Hungduan, Mayoyao, Bangaan, and Batad terraces -- located in four municipalities.
Banaue Rice TerracesThe Philippines created the Ifugao Cultural Heritage Office to manage the site. Various government groups—such as the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources—also worked with UNESCO to conserve the rice terraces and promote the site’s history, culture, and traditions.
UNESCO described the rice terraces as “the fruit of knowledge handed down from one generation to the next, and the expression of sacred traditions and a delicate social balance.”-GMA News (June 26, 2012 5:38PM)

Navy says 28 Chinese ships still near shoal

MANILA, Philippines - A total of 28 Chinese ships and boats are still in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, 23 of them inside the lagoon of the disputed area, according to the latest aerial surveillance by the Philippine Navy.

The Navy’s aerial surveillance revealed that six fishing vessels and 17 dinghies or small boats are inside the lagoon, contrary to an earlier claim by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) that China had pulled all its vessels from the area.

Navy chief Vice Adm. Alexander Pama said the remaining vessels – three Chinese maritime surveillance vessels (CMS) and two fishery and law enforcement command (FLEC) ships – are outside the lagoon.

The aerial surveillance was conducted by a Navy islander plane last Monday, the same day the DFA announced that China had pulled out its vessels from the lagoon.

Pama, however, said the DFA’s statement might have been based on previous reports.
He said China is merely rotating its vessels in the area, which is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

There are also indications that Chinese boats are conducting fishing activities despite the fishing ban separately declared by China and the Philippines last month.

“Apparently that’s (fishing) what they are doing in that area,” Pama said when asked if China is violating its own fishing ban.

He said no Philippine fishing boats were spotted in the area due to the fishing ban imposed by the Philippine government.

Despite the continued presence of Chinese vessels in the shoal, it remains unclear whether the Philippines would send its ships back.

“There are no instructions yet (to send back ships to the shoal). But in fairness, the weather is bad. The waves are huge. Our ships may not be able to handle it,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.

Malacañang refused to comment on whether Chinese vessels were indeed “crowding” Panatag that could lead to accidents in the shoal.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said they have to verify the reports of overcrowding of Chinese vessels in the area.

“That’s something that we’ll have to verify with MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority), with the Philippine Navy. We don’t have the data on that. if it’s really crowding the waters. But certainly we have a number of imports and exports going on so we use seafaring – the boats and the ships – for our exports and imports. But as to the term ‘crowding the waters’ that’s something that I will have to verify first,” Lacierda said.

On June 15, President Aquino directed two Philippine ships to pull out of Panatag Shoal due to bad weather. Ordered to return to port were a Coast Guard ship and a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessel, which have symbolized the country’s claim over the area.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said they would evaluate whether the ships would be sent back to the shoal once the weather improves.

The DFA had also claimed China would also pull out its ships but this was later denied by Beijing.

Beijing’s denial dashed hopes that the standoff, which triggered fresh tensions in the West Philippine Sea, was nearing its end.

Last week, Aquino said the government is ready to send ships back to the shoal if Chinese vessels remain in the area.

But Malacañang has yet to order the return of Philippine ships despite the latest surveillance report by the Navy.

Gazmin supported the redeployment of Philippine vessels to the shoal, saying China could take advantage of their absence to boost its claim.

Last Monday, the DFA said China had pulled out all its boats from the shoal’s lagoon following an agreement with the Philippines that sought to ease tensions.

Del Rosario said China and the Philippines had reached a verbal agreement to pull out from the lagoon but not the wider vicinity of the shoal.

He said all Chinese boats had left the lagoon as of Saturday.

“It has been confirmed by the Philippine Navy (PN) that, as of two days ago, there were no more ships inside the lagoon. The Chinese fishing boats have obviously returned,” the DFA said in a statement yesterday.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the DFA has made its recommendation to President Aquino after the Chinese vessels returned.

“The DFA has made its recommendation and let’s wait for the decision of higher authorities,” he added.

 On the other hand, Gazmin, when asked whether he believes China lied to the Philippines about the vessels inside the lagoon, replied: “We don’t want to react on that but what we are giving you are the factual operational reports.”

Panatag Shoal is located 124 nautical miles from the nearest base point in Zambales. It is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone as provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to which China is a signatory.

A standoff ensued on April 10 after Chinese maritime surveillance ships stopped the Philippine Navy from arresting Chinese fishermen who had engaged in illegal fishing and harvesting of endangered marine species in the area.

The Philippines has protested the Chinese vessels’ action but China has insisted that it has sovereignty over the area.

Both countries support peaceful means to resolve the dispute despite reports of bullying by Chinese ships of Filipino vessels and fishermen.-The Philippine Star (June 27, 2012)

PH eyes compensation from Thailand over tobacco dispute

The Philippines will seek compensation from Thailand once it finds out the Southeast Asian country failed to comply with an earlier ruling by the World Trade Organization correcting the taxation scheme for Philippine-made cigarettes.

Trade Undersecretary Adrian Cristobal said a team would be sent to Thailand to verify if that Southeast Asian country failed to meet the May 15 deadline for compliance.

“We are vigilant on our tobacco case against Thailand. If necessary, we will go for the issue on compensation,” Cristobal said.

Article 22 of the WTO said compensation and the suspension of concessions or other obligations are temporary measures available in the event that the recommendations and rulings are not implemented within a reasonable period of time.

Cristobal said on July 15, 2011, the WTO ruled that Thailand was in breach of its obligations with respect to the customs and tax treatment of cigarettes produced in the Philippines.

Thailand said it intended to implement the WTO rulings and sought a reasonable period to do so until May 15, 2012.

Article 22 said that in considering what concessions or other obligations to suspend, the complainant (in this case the Philippines) “should first seek to suspend concessions or other obligations with respect to the same sector(s) as that in which the panel or appellate body has found a violation or other nullification or impairment.”-Manila Standard Today (June 27, 2012)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

China fishing boats leave Scarborough Shoal—DFA

China has made good its promise to pull more than 20 fishing boats out of the lagoon of Scarborough Shoal, easing tension in its territorial dispute with the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario confirmed on Monday that China has withdrawn the fishing boats from the lagoon.
“Based on coordination between the Philippines and China, as of two days ago, we have received information that all (Chinese fishing boats) have left the lagoon of  Bajo de Masinloc,” Del Rosario said in a statement, using one of two Philippine names for Scarborough Shoal.
The Philippines also refers to the area as Panatag Shoal. China calls it Huangyan Island.
“There are no longer boats from either the Philippines or China inside the [shoal’s lagoon],” Del Rosario said.
The Philippines has no more vessels outside the lagoon, either, a Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessel and a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources survey ship having been ordered home by President Benigno Aquino on the night of June 15 because of bad weather.
Until then, the two Philippine vessels had been facing off with seven Chinese vessels since early April, flying the Philippine flag to assert the country’s sovereignty over the disputed shoal.
The standoff began on April 8 with two Chinese government vessels blocking the path of a Philippine Coast Guard vessel to prevent the arrest of Chinese fishermen who were collecting rare clams and corals and poaching sharks in the lagoon of the shoal, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone recognized under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
China refuses to recognize the zone as Philippine territory and insists ancient maps prove it owns the shoal and nearly all of the West Philippine Sea.
The standoff appeared to have been resolved with inclement weather forcing both sides to withdraw their vessels from the shoal last week until the Philippines learned that China never left the disputed area at all.
As of last week, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), China still had six government vessels outside the shoal’s lagoon.
The six are what remain after the removal of two vessels as stormy weather made the West Philippine Sea dangerous to small vessels last week.
On June 18, Hong Lei, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, announced that “due to rough seas, the Chinese fishing boats are on their way back for shelter.”
Hong also said that “for the safety of the fishermen and their boats, the China Rescue and Salvage (unit of the Chinese transport ministry) has sent the vessel Nanhaijiu-115 to provide necessary assistance at the request of China’s Fisheries Administration and the fishermen.”
Maintaining presence
But he said “the Chinese side will continue to maintain administration and vigilance over Huangyan Island waters.”
Hong was referring to the Chinese government vessels that would stay behind at the shoal after the fishing boats’ departure.
According to the DFA, however, “consultations” are going on for the removal of the Chinese vessels from the contested area.
Mr. Aquino last week threatened to order government ships back to the shoal unless China withdrew all its vessels.-Philippine Daily Inquirer (June 26, 2012)

US nuke sub docks at Subic

THE United States’ Los Angeles-class USS Louisville (SSN 724), a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine, on Monday docked at Subic Bay, the second submarine to arrive in the bay in over a month since the docking there of the Virginia-class USS North Carolina (SSN 777).

The submarine’s arrival again announced the United States’ increasing presence in the Pacific following China’s flexing of its naval muscles there and the continuing disputes in the South China Sea among the countries claiming parts of the area.

The US Embassy in Manila said the submarine was in the country “for a routine port call,” and that part of its visit was to replenish supplies and give the crew an opportunity to rest.

Philippine Navy spokesman Col. Omar Tonsay said the submarine will stay in the country from June 25 to June 30.

“The submarine has no mission or whatsoever in coming to the Philippines except replenishment of supplies and may be rest for the crew,” Tonsay said.

The US Navy website says the Louisville was commissioned on Nov. 8, 1986, and that it is one of the most advanced attack submarines in the world. Its mission is to seek out and destroy enemy ships and submarines.

The sub is 360 feet long and weighs 6,900 tons. It is armed with sophisticated MK48 torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles.
“USS Louisville is the fourth United States ship to bear the name in honor of the city of Louisville, Kentucky,” the US Embassy said in a statement.

The Louisville has primarily operated out of San Diego, California, and Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

On May 13 the US Pacific Command sent the USS North Carolina (SSN 777) to the Philippines and docked at Subic bay for a five-day visit.

The submarine has a total crew of 133, and is  home-ported in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. It was commissioned in 2008.

The submarine is more than 350 feet long and weighs more than 7,800 tons when submerged. It is one of the stealthiest, most technologically advanced submarines in the world.

Meanwhile, officials in Manila said Monday that China had withdrawn its boats from the lagoon of a tiny South China Sea shoal following an agreement with the Philippines that at least temporarily eased the countries’ territorial dispute.

The Philippine government pulled out its two vessels from Scarborough Shoal on June 15, and President Benigno Aquino III last week threatened to send them back unless China also withdrew.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said he had received information that all boats had left the shoal’s lagoon as of Saturday. He said earlier that China and the Philippines had reached a verbal agreement to pull out from the lagoon but not the wider vicinity of the shoal, where Chinese vessels apparently remained.

Both countries claim the shoal. Tensions flared in April when the Philippines accused Chinese fishermen of poaching within its exclusive economic zone, which includes the shoal. China responded by sending paramilitary vessels to protect the fishermen.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing in Beijing that the situation at the Huangyan Islands—the Chinese name for Scarborough Shoal—”is overall toward peace.”

He did not comment on the Philippines’ statement that Chinese vessels had withdrawn from the lagoon. He said that Chinese vessels “have been running the … islands and the nearby waters and standing on alert.”

The horseshoe-shaped shoal, a popular hunting ground for Filipino and Chinese fishermen, is one of the hundreds of tiny outcrops and islands dotting the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and an area believed to be rich in natural gas and oil.

China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam claim the nearby Spratly Islands, where disputes have occasionally triggered naval clashes. A non-binding 2002 accord discourages aggressive acts that could spark fighting.-Manila Standard Today (June 26, 2012)

China asks Philippines to verify 'collision' incident

The Chinese Embassy in Manila called on “relevant persons” late Sunday to verify reports that a Chinese vessel rammed a Filipino-manned fishing vessel, killing one and leaving four others missing.

In a statement, Chinese spokesman Zhang Hua said he has yet to verify reports on the alleged ramming of a Philippine fishing boat by a Chinese vessel on Monday last week that caused the eventual death of one Filipino fisherman.

Four others went missing, while three were rescued.

“Such media reports remain to be verified. Upon seeing the stories, the Chinese Embassy immediately checked with the relevant authorities in China and was told that, up until now, there have been no reports of vessel collision accident or SOS requests on the reported dates and in the reported waters,” Zhang said.

“We wonder what that news story was based upon. We hope relevant persons can verify the facts with a responsible attitude before they report,” he added.
On Sunday, reports circulated that an unnamed Chinese vessel accidentally rammed a local fishing boat north of the disputed Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal, over which the Philippines and China have been engaged in a tense standoff since April 10.
In a report from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), it said the fishermen’s boat “Axl John” was damaged after being bumped by the Chinese vessel while anchored on an artificial fish shelter.

The collision caused the eventual death of a Filipino fisherman identified as Christopher Carbonell, 32, of Bolinao, Pangasinan.
Three others were rescued: Edimio Balmores, 40; Herman Balmores, 51; and Celino Damian, 32.

Four fishermen are still missing: Fred Celino, Arnold Garcia, Domy de los Santos and Amante Resonable.

One of the rescued fishermen alleged that it was a Chinese vessel that rammed their boat. However, this could not be verified as he did not see the vessel’s name or those aboard it.

President Benigno Aquino III refused to blame China on the incident, saying he is still waiting for the result of the investigation.

“There is an investigation, determination of cause, determination of who is at fault. Then after all of this investigation, then that tells us where we will proceed,” Aquino said in an interview in Benguet.

He assured necessary assistance and vowed justice for the victims of the collision.

“If there was a ramming incident and you left the fishermen in the middle of the sea -- that is in clear violation of the laws governing the seas. That is actionable. We can go to the appropriate fora to file the necessary charges for justice for our fishermen,” he said.

Aquino said the government is rendering assistance to the three fishermen who were rescued. The three are currently confined at the Gabriela Silang General Hospital in Vigan City, Ilocos Sur.

Aquino said there is still no definite plan if he will visit the three survivors, noting that they are being assisted by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

“The authorities could not get statements from them because they are still suffering from hypothermia, rapid loss of body warmth. So, they still could not talk. There is no point if I go there because I cannot speak to them,” he said.
China and the Philippines are locked in months-long standoff that originated when Chinese government ships prevented Philippine officials from capturing eight Chinese fishermen who were caught illegally poaching in the shoal.
The shoal is being claimed both by Manila and Beijing.-Sun Star (June 25, 2012 3:24PM)