Saturday, September 08, 2012

Philippines to host APEC summit in 2015

The Aquino administration will start constructing the necessary infrastructure next year in preparation for hosting the 23rd Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in 2015.

In a joint statement issued Thursday, APEC ministers officially announced that Indonesia will host the summit next year, China in 2014, and Peru in 2016.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for International Economic Relations Laura del Rosario said the meetings of senior officials and ministers will be held in various locations across the country ahead of the summit.

"We will not just host in Manila, we will go to Clark, we will go to Cebu, in different venues. We’ll make sure that the hotels are ready, the cultural presentations are ready and the infrastructures are ready," Del Rosario said.

But Del Rosario said the final venue for the APEC summit in November 2015 will be firmed up by next year.

"It’s a huge event because it’s not just one meeting but a series of meetings which will start in January 2015. We will have four senior officials meeting and maybe five ministerial meetings at different times of the year," she said. -Black Pearl (September 8, 2012)

Aquino meets Singapore, Chile leaders; talks with China, Malaysia, Vietnam next

President Benigno Aquino held bilateral meetings Saturday with leaders of Singapore and Chile at the sidelines of the APEC summit. He has three more bilateral meetings set, with leaders of Vietnam and Malaysia, and the most-awaited, with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

On Saturday morning President Aquino met separately with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Chile President Sebastian PiƱera at the Conference Center of Far Eastern Federal University in Russky Island, venue of the 20th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Summit.

Mr. Aquino as of Friday night had four bilateral meetings set, the two others with leaders of Vietnam and Malaysia.

Dialog with China finally confirmed

On Saturday noon, the most-watched meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao was finally confirmed by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.

The DFA chief said the format of the bilateral dialog has been finalized and it is just a matter of setting the final date and time.

Del Rosario said he is "very sure" the disputes in the South China Sea will be discussed by the two leaders.

Both Aquino and Hu, however, recognize that the disputes are "not the sum total" of the Philippines-China bilateral relations.

Hu has already met with his counterparts from Indonesia, Brunei and Vietnam in Russky Island, where he emphasized the need to exercise restraint and for claimants to "avoid taking any unilateral measure that will magnify, complicate or internationalize the dispute to prevent the issue from affecting East Asian cooperation and regional stability."

Aquino also has bilateral dialogs set with President Truong Tan Sang of Vietnam, which also has a claim in contested areas in the West Philippine Sea, and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razal on Sunday before he returns to Manila.

This year’s APEC summit theme is "Integrate to Grow, Innovate to Prosper". During the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting (AELM), the leaders will discuss four priorities: trade and investment liberalization and regional economic integration, strengthening food security, establishing reliable supply chains, and cooperation to foster innovative growth. 

Aquino arrived in Russky Island at 9 p.m. Friday (6 p.m. Manila time) with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Finance chief Cesar Purisima, and presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda.

"At this point, we cannot say whether it (bilateral meeting with Hu) will be dropped or not. They’re still working and anticipating," Philippine Ambassador to Moscow Alejandro Mosquera said earlier.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for International Economic Relations Laura del Rosario earlier announced that it was China that requested for a bilateral meeting, but she clarified here in Russky Island that it was "now a mutual request."

Del Rosario said Aquino and Hu are expected to tackle conflicting claims in the West Philippine Sea if the bilateral meeting pushes through.-Interaksyon (September 08, 2012 3:25PM)

Friday, September 07, 2012

Clinton Arrives in Brunei

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has landed in Brunei, becoming the first top U.S. diplomat to visit all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Clinton is on a six-nation tour of the Asia-Pacific that has largely focused on urging the ASEAN regional bloc to present a unified front in managing territorial disputes with China.

​​Brunei is a claimant in the strategic South China Sea, an energy rich area that has become a flashpoint for escalating maritime disputes between China and its neighbors.

Earlier Thursday, Clinton made a brief stop in East Timor, where she said her visit was a "clear, unmistakable sign" that the U.S. will remain a Pacific power.

Following meetings with Timorese officials, she praised Asia's newest country for holding fair elections earlier this year, saying democracy could help it achieve further stability.

East Timor, which gained independence from Indonesia only a decade ago, has struggled to keep up economically with many of its Southeast Asian neighbors.

The country has received a growing amount of Chinese aid and investment, as Beijing seeks to expand its influence in the region. But Clinton again insisted that her visit and increased U.S. involvement is not aimed at curbing Chinese power.

She made similar comments on her previous stop in China, where the two powers tried to find common ground on several issues, including North Korea, Iran, Syria, and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

No major ground was broken on issues of contention during the two days of talks in Beijing, though Clinton said the visit had helped strengthen the bilateral relationship.

During the talks, Chinese leaders rejected U.S. pressure to agree with ASEAN on a code of conduct for managing the disputes in the South China Sea. Beijing prefers to deal individually with rival claimants, which include Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia.

Following her stop in Brunei, Clinton will head to Russia for a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders.-Voice of America (September 06, 2012)

US expects South China Sea tensions to rise

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during her joint conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. Talks between Clinton and Chinese leaders Wednesday failed to narrow gaps on how to end the crisis in Syria and how to resolve Beijing's territorial disputes with its smaller neighbors over the South China Sea. (AP Photo/Feng Li, Pool)
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday that her talks in China this week were useful despite highlighting sharp differences between Washington and Beijing over key international issues from Syria's civil war to territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

"Even when we disagree — believe me we can talk very frankly now — we can explore the toughest issues without imperiling the whole relationship," Clinton said in Dili, East Timor, a day after she met President Hu Jintao and other Chinese officials in Beijing.

Clinton was criticized in official Chinese media during the visit, and she exchanged blunt words with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi over how to end the bloodshed in Syria. She and Yang also pointedly disagreed over the South China Sea, where the Obama administration fears tensions stoked by nationalism will continue to rise over competing claims between China and its smaller neighbors, some of whom have their own overlapping claims.

"As was evident yesterday, there is a huge amount going on where the United States and China need to consult," Clinton said, citing Iran and North Korea as well as Syria and the South China Sea.

She said she personally and the U.S. were "not going to shy away from standing up for our strategic interests and in expressing clearly where we differ."

China is resisting a push by the U.S. and other countries for U.N. sanctions against Syria to put pressure on President Bashar Assad's regime, saying the civil war there must be resolved through negotiations. Beijing also wants to negotiate several territorial disputes over the resource-rich South China Sea individually with its neighbors, rejecting the speedy implementation of a code of conduct to prevent clashes and multilateral negotiations that the U.S. advocates.

A senior U.S. official traveling with Clinton from East Timor to Brunei, a member of the Association of South East Asian Nations that has claims in the disputed waters, said Washington believed that there would be a period of higher tensions for some time to come "no matter what" progress may be able to be made.

"This is the new normal," the official said. "I think we have to be prepared for more tensions on these matters." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss internal administration's assessments.

The United States has said the peaceful resolution of South China Sea disputes is in the U.S. national interest, mainly due to maritime security and the safety of international shipping. However, speaking next to Clinton on Wednesday, Yang said the disputes were no one's business but the "directly concerned" countries.

Clinton said Thursday that "the mark of a mature relationship, whether it is between nations or between people, is not whether we agree on everything — because that is highly unlikely between nations and people — but whether we can work through the issues that are difficult."

She said it was important for the U.S. and China to talk ahead of a number of international gatherings, including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit this weekend in Vladivostok, Russia, the U.N. General Assembly and the East Asia Summit.

Clinton is winding down an 11-day, six-nation tour through the Asia-Pacific. After stops in the Cook Islands, Indonesia, China, East Timor and Brunei, she heads to Russia on Friday for the APEC forum.-Yahoo News Asia (September 07, 2012 12:00AM)

Hackers attack Cambodia after Pirate Bay founder's arrest

Cambodia was attacked computer hackers after police arrested a Swedish founder of the Pirate Bay file-sharing website last week, the Wall Street Journal says.

The report said a group calling itself NullCrew began hacking into Cambodian government and commercial websites after news of Gottfrid Svartholm Warg's arrest.

"Among other targets were websites for the Cambodian armed forces, the Ministry of Public Works and Cambodia's Institute of Standards. NullCrew hackers then posted what they claimed were passwords to the websites on a bulletin page widely used by so-called hacktivist groups," the report said.

NullCrew was quoted as saying that "Cambodia is now a target" after the Swede's arrest. "They should have expected it when they did this," the group reportedly said. "Cambodia, we will not stop until you come to your senses."

Chin Daro, a deputy director at Telecom Cambodia, was quoted as saying that officials were working with Internet service providers to identify the source and extent of the attack. "It's hard for us if the address is outside the country," he reportedly said.

The newspaper noted that hacker attacks have emerged as an urgent challenge for governments and corporations around the world in recent years.-Asia News Network (September 06, 2012) 

Indonesia warns Hong Kong on migrant workers

Indonesia sais that it could impose a moratorium on sending workers to Hong Kong if China's special administrative region continued to neglect the basic rights of migrant workers in the country.

The director general for overseas labour placement and protection at the Indonesia's Manpower and Transmigration Ministry, Reyna Usman, explained that the government would decide on the moratorium if the authority in Hong Kong, labour agencies and employers failed to honour Government Regulation No. 98/2012 on the labour recruitment fee cut.

"We are waiting for Hong Kong's response to our new policy. If the response is negative, the government will have no choice but to suspend the sending of migrant workers to Hong Kong and Macau," she told The Jakarta Post.

The ministerial decree stipulates that a migrant worker should only pay HK$13,436 (US$1,732), instead of the current HK$24,000, before they are allowed to work in Hong Kong.

"The exorbitant fee allows workers to only receive a little from their monthly salary as they have to pay around $3,400 every month to return the recruitment fees to labour agencies for up to 10 months," she said.

Usman said that she had already held talks with Hong Kong labour authority representatives and warned them about the moratorium.

The ministerial decree imposes the recruitment fee evenly on workers and their employers. The decree stipulates that workers pay $13,436 for insurance, medical and psychological tests, passports, 110-day training and payment for Indonesian sponsors. The employer, meanwhile, pays $11,179 (to workers from Java) and $13,906 (to those from outside Java) for labour contract documents, a two-year insurance premium, medical test, working visas, plane ticket, airport tax and fees for labour agencies.

The decree was issued shortly after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited Hong Kong in March this year where he was greeted by protests from Indonesian migrant workers who complained about the exorbitant recruitment fee.

The government had earlier suspended sending workers to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan because of rampant labour abuse in Middle Eastern countries.

It recently lifted the moratorium of labour exports to Malaysia but no workers have been sent because the situation remains volatile for Indonesian workers.

Hong Kong has more than 160,000 migrant workers from Indonesia and was, until recently, named as one of the best destinations for Indonesian migrant workers to ply their trade because of its stable economic growth and labour-friendly regulations.

Usman also said the ministry is preparing a list of Hong Kong labour agents that continued to ignore the ministerial decree.

"The Hong Kong agencies have been to told to register with the labour attach? at Indonesia's Consulate General in the territory while unscrupulous labour agencies in Indonesia will have their licences revoked," she said.

Labour agencies in the country applauded the ministerial decree but wanted the government to closely watch its implementation.- Asia News Network (September 06, 2012)

Vietnam's Agent Orange victims get 'detox' treatment from Scientologists

With the backdrop of a field contaminated by dioxin, Vietnamese delegates attend a ceremony marking the start of a project to clean up dioxin left over from the Vietnam War, at a former U.S. military base in Danang, Vietnam Thursday Aug. 9, 2012. Vietnamese with ailments linked to Agent Orange are undergoing a "detoxification" treatment involving saunas and vitamins that was developed by the Church of Scientology and which has been criticized as pseudoscientific.
HANOI, Vietnam - Vietnamese with ailments linked to Agent Orange are undergoing a "detoxification" treatment involving saunas and vitamins that was developed by the Church of Scientology and which has been criticized as pseudoscientific.

Scientologists use the "Hubbard Method" to try to cure drug addiction and alcoholism. The church set up a centre in New York after the 9-11 attacks offering a similar service for first responders who may have been exposed to toxins.

A group of 24 people arrived for treatment at a military hospital in Hanoi for a month, free of charge, Dau Xuan Tuong, deputy administrator at the Vietnam Association of Agent Orange Victims, said Thursday. He said 22 people underwent the treatment in 2011 in northern Thai Binh province.

"Their health has improved after the treatment, and some saw their chronic illnesses disappear," he said. "We need to do more scientific research to determine its impact."

It was not possible to immediately get comment from the Scientology movement. Proponents have said the detoxification program improves people's quality of life.

The U.S. military dumped some 20 million gallons (75 million litres) of Agent Orange and other herbicides on about a quarter of former South Vietnam between 1962 and 1971, decimating about 5 million acres (2 million hectares) of forest — roughly the size of Massachusetts — to remover the foliage that concealed enemy fighters.

Dioxins in it have since been linked to birth defects, cancers and other ailments, but the United States maintains there is no evidence Agent Orange has caused the health problems among Vietnamese. Washington has compensated American soldiers for ailments they say were caused by the compound, however.

"I hope my wife and I will fully recover completely and will not suffer after-effects to pass on to my descendants," prospective patient Nguyen Dai Sang was quoted as saying in the Viet Nam News daily.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Christopher Hodges said Washington was not funding the program and said "we are not aware of any safe, effective detoxification treatment for people with dioxin in body tissues."

It wasn't known what other medical care the participants were receiving. Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard opposed psychiatry and the use of drugs for mental illness and addictions, but church members accept conventional medical treatment for physical conditions.

Actor Tom Cruise co-founded the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project, where participants were each given vitamins and nutritional counselling and participated in daily exercise and sauna sessions. He defended it at the time as helping the workers recover.

Critics, many of them scientists, have said there is no evidence the "Hubbard Method" does any good.

It was unclear if the Vietnamese government was aware of those concerns before agreeing to try the project.

Last month, the U.S. began a landmark project cleaning up toxins from the site of a former air base in Danang in central Vietnam. Part of the former base consists of a dry field where U.S. troops once stored and mixed the defoliant before it was loaded onto planes.

Washington has been quibbling for years over the need for more scientific research to show that the herbicide caused health problems among Vietnamese. It has given about $60 million for environmental restoration and social services in Vietnam since 2007, including to disabled people, but the Danang project is its first direct involvement in cleaning up dioxin, which has seeped into Vietnam's soil and watersheds. -The Province (September 06, 2012)

Filipino moms rank first in food campaign

Filipino mothers rank first in wanting to make a difference in the world’s ailing food system. This is the finding of a six-country survey of Oxfam, an international NGO.

In its report, “The Food Transformation: Harnessing Consumer Power to Create a Fair Food Future”, Oxfam said women who make the majority of the decisions about the food their families eat control amounts to around US$12 trillion or 65 per cent of the world’s annual consumer spending. The Oxfam report also revealed that the women surveyed want to know what changes they can make in the way they buy, store and prepare food in order to tackle hunger and help the environment.

Oxfam found out that 73 per cent of mothers living in urban areas of the six countries surveyed said they want to know how to make a difference when they shopped for food. Filipino mothers posted the highest at 88 per cent.

Oxfam laments that the global food system—how food is grown, distributed and consumed—sends 1 billion people to bed (if there are beds) hungry every night. And yet consumers, women in particular, can dramatically turn things around by making “positive food choices”.

It must be instinct that drives women to always find ways to make changes for the better. But it would be even better if they are shown how, where, when, what and why. For example 83 per cent of all the mothers in the survey said they wanted to know how to use less energy when cooking. More than 75 per cent also said they were happy to make other changes such as feeding their families a meat-free meal once a week. And 85 per cent of Filipino mothers were willing to give up meat, while 96 per cent of them wanted to know how to use less energy when cooking.

This brings to my mind a nun who taught poor rural women how to cook nutritious and delicious meals that used cheap, indigenous and readily available ingredients. Ingredients that many ignored because these were thought to be less tasty or because people were ignorant about their nutritional value.

That is why I am glad that the humble malunggay that thrives just about anywhere is now the toast of nutritionists and alternative healers. And so is the kamote which still has to be rehabilitated from years of verbal abuse, as in nangamote, which refers to a person grovelling in failure. And now the violet variety is even vaunted as a super food. I have planted some in my backyard but the heavy rains weren’t very kind.

Said Kalayaan Pulido-Constantino, Oxfam spokesperson for the Philippines: “The survey shows that Filipino women can be a force to fix the way we manage food. Filipino women—and men who must begin to share this responsibility—can do this through positive food choices that redound to the good of our food system.

“For example, they can buy produce from small farmers to help strengthen their livelihoods and therefore sustain food production for the long term.” In the Philippines, she added, Oxfam is working with partners to put up women’s markets—alternative spaces which sell food sustainably produced by women, women who remain largely unrecognised as food producers.

Last year, I wrote a magazine feature on women farmers who grew food with their own hands and the celebrity chefs who showcased the resulting dishes in an Oxfam lunch event. While I like to see more of this, I would also like to see TV food shows that teach poor families how to cook cheap, nutritious and delicious dishes.

TV has so many cooking shows that feature celebrity chefs and other wannabes who promote food brands, equipment and themselves. Why not a no-nonsense pang-masa TV food show that is instructive? Will there be sponsors?

TV is a must-have even for poor families because it is the cheapest entertainment for them. You see TV antennae sticking out from homes under bridges. Maybe food/cooking lessons of the TV kind would work best among women in organised communities. Women learning together and trying out new things together.

Street families—now a new sector unto themselves—are a different story. They surely have food stories—shortages, that is—of their own.
“Women across the globe are concerned about the way food is produced and the people who produce it,” said global Oxfam spokesman Colin Roche. “They want to know what they can do to make a difference and together they are a powerful force for change.”

Oxfam, he added, has come up with ways women can adopt—from cutting waste to using less energy—that anyone can do to help put the global food system back on the road to recovery. What we do in the supermarket or in the kitchen does matter, he said.

Five positive choices which, if people around the world would make, would help farmers feed themselves and their communities and tackle climate change that adversely affect food production: Eat less meat, reduce food waste, support small-scale food producers such as buying Fair Trade, buy seasonal, and cook smarter. Why? Visit

The survey of over 5,100 mothers from towns and cities in Brazil, India, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, the United States and Spain showed that women in developed countries felt less connected to food producers and less knowledgeable about their food choices’ impact on people and planet as compared to women in developing countries.

Oxfam said 86 per cent of Filipino mothers surveyed felt they knew how their food choices affected the wider world compared to 46 per cent in the US; 60 per cent of Indian women surveyed felt a connection to food producers compared to just 23 per cent in the UK.

In the Philippines, Oxfam is working with women farmers and fishers to promote sustainably produced food.- Asia News Network (September 06, 2012)

Myanmar parliament ousts constitutional court judges

NAYPYIDAW -- Myanmar's parliament on Thursday ousted nine constitutional court judges in the culmination of a long-running standoff that observers say exposed growing political rivalry within the regime.

Three-quarters of lower house lawmakers voted to impeach the members of the Constitutional Tribunal, whose duties include interpreting provisions under a controversial 2008 charter drawn up by the former junta, and vetting new laws to ensure they conform with the text.

The upper house voted for the impeachment last month.

The row erupted after the court, in response to a request by President Thein Sein to study the issue, issued an order in February that limited the power of parliamentary committees and commissions to summon ministers for questioning.

It was seen as the country's first major political crisis since decades of military rule ended last year, pitting the government against the parliament -- and in particular lower house speaker Shwe Mann, a top regime figure and former general considered a possible contender to replace Thein Sein when he retires.

"Shwe Mann needs to distinguish himself from the military system and the old guard. I don't know if he's going to win or not but he's taking a lot of risk," said a Yangon-based analyst who did not want to be named.

Since taking office last year, former general Thein Sein has overseen a number of dramatic changes such as the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.

But progress has been slower on the legislative front, in part because of the time-consuming power struggle between the presidency and the parliament, observers say.

The constitutional court row "intruded into the agenda and delayed other things like the foreign investment law," said Aung Naing Oo, a Myanmar expert at the Vahu Development Institute.

The impeachment was supported by all political parties, including the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party -- which has close ties to the military -- as well as Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

In a speech to parliament before the vote, USDP lawmaker Soe Yin said there was a need for "checks and balances" within the new political system.

"To attack the parliament is to attack the people," he said.

Only the unelected military representatives who occupy one quarter of the seats in the legislature opposed the impeachment.

Thein Sein and the two house speakers must now choose nine new judges and submit the list to lawmakers for approval.

A government minister who asked not to be identified told AFP he believed the dispute was "not a threat to the democratization process" and hinted that the conclusion confirmed the growing power of the parliamentarians.

When the new regime took power in early 2011, "people thought the parliament would be a rubber-stamp body," he said.

But "we have to come to the parliament again and again and they ask us a lot of questions," he said. "Their job is to scrutinize us. They have to review our policies. So we should not complain."-Interaksyon (September 06, 2012 6:04PM)

Vietnamese anti-corruption journalist on trial

HANOI - A Vietnamese journalist accused of bribing police during an undercover investigation into corruption went on trial Thursday in a case that has generated international attention.

Hoang Khuong, 39, a reporter with the official Tuoi Tre newspaper, is being tried alongside five other defendants at a court hearing due to last for two days in southern Ho Chi Minh City, state media said.

Khuong is accused of paying 15 million dong ($715) to a traffic police officer, through a broker, in return for the release of an impounded motorbike.

Khuong's arrest in January caused public outcry in communist Vietnam and prompted a debate about the state of local journalism, with many experts expressing fears the case could deter reporters from tackling corruption.

France-based Reporters Without Borders has called for the immediate release of Khuong, saying that "what he did was in the course of an undercover investigation".

In 2008, Vietnam jailed a reporter for two years for his coverage of corruption in the transport ministry in a case that sent a chill through the country's media industry.

Khuong could face a jail term of up to 13 years if convicted on charges of paying a bribe.- Interaksyon (September 06, 2012 7:12PM)

Philippine start banning domestic helper export- Malaysia affected

PETALING JAYA, Malaysia - The shortage of maids is set to get worse with the Philippine embassy here tightening the rules for new agencies to bring in maids from the country.

The changes come in the wake of the Philippine government's decision last week to phase out the sending of its citizens overseas to work as domestic helpers.

Sources in the industry said the embassy was no longer giving accreditation to new maid agencies.

However, the embassy's labor attach Dr Alicia Santos, told The Star that accreditation for new recruitment agencies to bring in Filipino domestic helpers had not been stopped but it would not be easy to get as before.

"Not everyone who applies will get the endorsement. We are becoming stricter to ensure that agencies abide by all requirements and terms," she said.

Dr Santos said existing agencies could continue operating but the embassy was conducting a thorough assessment on all of them.

"Many agencies which pledged to follow regulations have not been keeping to their word," she added.

Dr Santos said there had also been discussions on imposing a moratorium, but nothing had been finalized.

On whether accredited agencies would be stripped of their status if they were found to have breached rules, she said the matter was still being discussed with higher authorities.

"The major issues faced with employment agencies here concern payment of salaries as well as the welfare and protection of our citizens," she said.

Last week, the Philippine government directed the Overseas Employment Agency to reduce the deployment of Filipinas to work as hired help in foreign households, in stages, over the next five years.

The programme to slow down and stop the migration of domestic workers abroad is aimed at protecting Filipinas from abuses.

The phase-out plan would affect about 180 countries where Filipinas work as maids or nannies.

However, the Philippine government said it might allow such workers to parts of Europe where salaries were high for certain types of domestic labour.

The Philippine embassy here cited the country's improved economy and the availability of quality jobs at home as the reasons for the decision.

It said those seeking jobs as domestic workers were often over-qualified, adding that Philippines preferred to send only skilled and semi-skilled workers abroad.

Dr Santos said the demand for Filipina maids in Malaysia had increased since 2009 as they were highly trained in performing household chores and could speak English.

The minimum wage for Filipina domestic workers is set at US$400 (S$502) per month, compared with between RM600 and RM800 for Indonesians.

The number of Filipina domestic workers in the country reportedly rose from 4,000 in 2009 to about 10,000 currently.

According to the Philippines' Overseas Employment Agency records, 499,495 household service workers went abroad over the past six years.

More than 70,000 of them secured jobs overseas in the first half of this year.-Rebuilding for the Better Philippines (September 06, 2012)

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Asian media seek less Western dominance

The Fifth 10+3 Media Cooperation Forum concluded here Tuesday with the view to lessening Western dominance of media and promoting Asia’s voice and values.

Some 70 delegates from the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region gathered in this chilly capital of northeast Jilin province in China to thresh out issues including disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The conference was held at Nanhu Hotel, Changchun, just as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Beijing to dissuade China from using “force and coercion” in its territorial disputes with a number of countries, among them the Philippines, Japan, and Vietnam.

“The real target of the US is to harm China’s relations with its neighbors,” a Chinese academic was quoted by CNN as saying.

During the series of speeches in the morning, Wakamiya Yoshibumi of Asahi Shimbun Japan noted that China media faced restrictions, and urged against the promotion of ultranationalist sentiments.

Media’s role includes maintaining “a social order faithful to truth,” he said.

Peter Ong of Lianhe Ziaobao Singapore pointed out how economy in the region was affected by the issues in the West Philippine Sea.

“We were worried about that standoff (in Panatag or Scarborough Shoal last Aprill),” Ong earlier said, adding it would benefit no one if a shooting war ensued.

In the afternoon session where delegates spoke in a roundtable forum, Jude Defensor of Expat Communications observed the prevalence of social media enabled a tweet to elicit more feedback than a well-written and researched article.

Another delegate, however, said that the journalist must not dispose of the conventional way of news gathering, and that print media were still superior because of “finer editorial content.”

A delegate who has attended all five conferences reacted to insinuations that the gathering was a talkshop like its political counterpart.

“They say all we do is talk, but of course we have to talk because it is better than fighting,” he said.

The forum, organized by China’s People’s Daily and hosted by the Jilin provincial government, ended with a consensus that “agreeing to disagree” was a healthy sign of a free media.-The Philippine Star (September 06, 2012 12:00PM)

20 Asean countries join workshop in response to biological event

Twenty ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) member countries are taking part in a workshop on preparedness and response to a biological event in Manila.

The three-day workshop, co-chaired by the Philippines, the United States and Australia, opened yesterday at the Hyatt Hotel in Manila.

It is the fourth in a series of ARF workshops on biosecurity and biosafety that began in 2009.

A key recommendation from the 2009 workshop was the need to enhance preparedness and response to a biological event.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the workshop, hosted by the Philippines, brings together delegates representing the human health and security sectors of ARF participating countries and distinguished speakers from local and international organizations concerned with biosafety and biosecurity issues.

The workshop will take an in-depth technical approach on laboratory biosafety and biosecurity as preparedness measures; the need for local and national communication and coordination; the role of the international community in preparedness and response to a biological event; and other priorities identified through the annual ARF workshops. 

This year’s event will build on the ARF Workshop on Disease Detection and Surveillance: Enhancing Public and Veterinary Health Networks to Combat Infectious Disease and Bioterrorism, which was held in Manila on 13 to 15 September 2011.-The Philippine Star (September 06, 2012 12:00PM)

Global treaty on domestic workers soon in force, thanks to Philippine ratification

A landmark treaty on the protection of up to 100 million domestic workers in the world will take effect within the next year, the International Labor Organization (ILO) said Wednesday.

The Philippines on Wednesday became the second country to ratify the treaty, which was passed in June 2011, after Uruguay ratified it on June 14 this year, according to the ILO, which requires two countries to ratify a treaty before it can go into effect.

"Today's ratification by the Philippines sends a powerful signal to the millions of domestic workers who will be protected when the Convention comes into force," ILO chief Juan Somavia said in a statement.

"I hope it will also send a signal to other member states and that we will soon see more and more countries committing to protect the rights of domestic workers," he added.

Domestic workers represent about 3.6 percent of waged employment worldwide, the ILO said.

In developing nations, domestic employment can meanwhile account for as much as 12 percent of the workforce, with women and girls -- many of them migrants -- holding around 83 percent of such jobs, it added.

The new convention ensures that domestic workers enjoy the same rights and conditions as other workers, including reasonable working hours, a full rest day every week, clear information on their terms and conditions of employment and the right to collective bargaining.-Interaksyon (September 05, 2012 12:09AM)

Amid friction between global powers, China's Xi cancels Clinton meeting

China's likely next president Xi Jinping has cancelled a meeting with the visiting US Secretary of State, a US official said Wednesday, amid friction between the two global powers. 

Hillary Clinton had been due to meet Vice President Xi later Wednesday during a brief visit to Beijing that looks set to be dominated by a series of territorial disputes between China and its neighbours, notably in the South China Sea.

"We were informed after 11:00 p.m. last night by the Chinese side that for unexpected scheduling reasons, the meeting between Vice President Xi and Secretary Clinton is not going to happen today," said the official, who requested anonymity.

"We understand from the Chinese side that Vice President Xi's meetings with the prime minister of Singapore and a Russian official have also been cancelled today."

Clinton nevertheless met with the rest of the top Chinese leadership including President Hu Jintao.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, asked at a joint news conference with Clinton about Xi's cancellation, said: "I hope people will not have unnecessary speculation."

China has in the past called off meetings at the last minute to show displeasure, although Xi has generally made US-friendly statements and sought warm relations during a trip across the United States earlier this year.

Clinton has voiced hope that China, which claims virtually all of the South China Sea, will agree to work out a code of conduct on regional territorial disputes, and has encouraged Southeast Asian nations to stand united.

But Beijing has repeatedly expressed concern over what it sees as interference by Washington in the region.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said ahead of Clinton's arrival Tuesday that China hoped the United States would "do more to promote regional peace and stability, instead of the opposite."-Interaksyon (September 05, 2012 10:07PM)

Taiwan vows more patrols, China will 'defend territory' as Japan moves to buy disputed isle

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou on Wednesday pledged to dispatch more coastguard vessels to the disputed waters in the East China Sea, a move that could fuel simmering tensions in the area.

Ma told the coastguards to protect domestic fishermen operating in waters of the Diaoyutai, an island chain known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

"The duty of the coastguards is to ensure the safety of domestic fishermen and protect their interest," Ma said after hearing a report by Wang Chin-wang, chief of the Coast Guard Administration.

"So the coastguards must not sail there once every few years but every year and every month, even every day during the fishing seasons," he said.

Taiwan's coastguards have had 10 maritime standoffs with their Japanese counterparts in the waters since 2008 after Ma was elected as the president.

"This shows that the government is firm regarding the sovereignty of Diaoyutai," he said, adding that for several hundred years the water area has been a major fishing ground for Taiwanese fishermen.

In the latest incident, in July, coastguard vessels from Taiwan and Japan "bumped into" each other in waters near the disputed island chain as a Taiwanese vessel was escorting activists to the area.

Ma's remarks come as China on Wednesday pledged to take "necessary measures" to defend its territory after Japanese media said Tokyo had agreed to spend 2.05 billion yen ($26 million) for the purchase of the three of the islands from private Japanese landowners.

The islands, also claimed by China and Japan, have sparked a major row between the countries after activists from both sides sailed to the archipelago last month.

Japan arrested 14 activists who sailed to the island from Hong Kong, triggering protests by China and Taiwan, and moved swiftly to deport them.

Days later Japanese activists landed on one of the islands and raised their national flag.

In response Taiwan summoned Japan's representative to protest the trip.

The islands may lie on top of significant oil reserves, and their strategic value is considerable, but according to observers national pride is also a major reason for the acrimony in the dispute.-Interaksyon (September 05, 2012 9:17PM)

China assures freedom, safety of navigation in South China Sea

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Wednesday assured visiting United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that sailors from various countries will enjoy freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea.

“I would like to add that the freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea is assured. For China and our neighboring countries the South China Sea (has) really (been) a lifetime (means) for exchanges, trades, and commerce,” he said after his meeting with Clinton in China.

“There is no issue currently in this area nor (will there be) an issue in the area in the near future,” he added.

At the joint conference in Beijing (shown in this video,) Yang also supported various calls for an agreement on an enforceable Code of Conduct in these waters where islets and various formations are subject of claims and dispute.

However, the Chinese foreign minister reiterated the Chinese position over the formations in the South China Sea.

“The position of the Chinese government has been consistent and clear cut. China has sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters. There is plenty of historical and jurisprudential evidence on this,” he said.

He also repeated the Chinese position on the form of dispute settlement for different claims: that this be resolved bilaterally.

“The overlapping rights and interests of claims over some waters of the South China Sea should be discussed by directly concerned countries on the basis for historical facts and international law and handled and settled for direct negotiation and a friendly consultation,” he said.

Yang said the “principles and spirit” expressed in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, also known as the DOC, between China and the ASEAN must be respected.

“Recently I have visited several southeast Asian countries that are also member states of ASEAN. Like China, these countries also believe that the parties concerned should act in accordance with the principles and spirit of the DOC and on the basis of the consensus, work towards the eventual adoption of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea,” he said.

On the United States’ role in the region, Yang said China and the US “share more convergent interests and interact more frequently” now and are expected to deal with each other in more practical ways.

“At the moment the international situation continues to undergo profound and complex changes and the prospect of the world economic recovery is still quite great. We hope that China and the US will work together to develop a positive and pragmatic relationship that is also the shared expectation of the peoples in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said, expressing hope for a “win-win progress” in the region.

“As for the US policy towards the Asia-Pacific region, we have always hoped that the US would size up the situation and would make sure that its policy is in conformity with the stance of our current era and the general wish of countries in the region to seek peace, development, and cooperation,” he said.

China is in dispute with Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines over some islets and other formations in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. -Interaksyon (September 05, 2012 6:07PM)

South China Sea code 'in everyone's interest' - Clinton

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Beijing Wednesday that reaching a code of conduct over the South China Sea was in "everyone's interest," but denied seeking to contain the rising power.

"We do believe it's in everyone's interest that China and ASEAN engage in a diplomatic process toward the shared goal of a code of conduct," Clinton told a joint news conference in Beijing with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

Clinton has voiced hope that China, which claims virtually all of the strategic waterway, will agree to work out a code of conduct on the disputes and has encouraged Southeast Asian nations to stand united.

On Wednesday she denied charges that the United States was trying to hold back China, saying that President Barack Obama's administration did not want "unhealthy competition" between the Pacific powers.

"Both President Obama and I have said frequently that the United States welcomes the rise of a strong, prosperous and peaceful China," she said.

There are 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, four of which -- the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei -- also lay claim to territories within the South China Sea.

Taiwan also has claims in the area.-Interaksyon (September 05, 2012)

Territorial disputes, other tensions could cloud APEC summit

Asia-Pacific leaders gather in Russia's far east this weekend for talks aimed at promoting trade but territorial disputes and other regional tensions may cloud the event.
The annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit aims to tear down trade barriers and promote integration across 21 economies covering the Pacific Rim, spanning from China to Chile via the United States.

But this year's meeting, in the former military port city of Vladivostok, will take place as tensions have reignited between APEC members Japan, South Korea and China over decades-long territorial disputes.

China has also become locked in hostile rows with APEC members Vietnam and the Philippines over competing claims in the South China Sea.

Beijing has been showing increasing annoyance with what it perceives as American efforts to contain its global rise, which it said were highlighted again by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's latest sweeping tour of the region.

The disharmony could impact progress on trade at the leaders' summit on Saturday and Sunday, analysts say, although they believe everyone involved will work hard to ensure the summit's agenda is pushed forward.

"(The tensions) will probably make the formal meetings a little bit less friendly and warm than they might otherwise have been," Deborah K. Elms, head of the Temasek Foundation Centre for Trade & Negotiations at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, told AFP.

"But I don't think that any country wants the current problems in territory to spill over into economics at this point -- and certainly derail the limited APEC agenda."

Among the key figures at the summit will be Clinton, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Japan Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

Clinton is representing President Barack Obama, who cannot attend because he is campaigning for re-election.

World leaders are known to veer away from the formal agenda at APEC summits to discuss pressing geopolitical issues, especially on the sidelines, when they take the opportunity for face-to-face meetings.

"Leaders being leaders, they are free to talk among themselves as to what topics they feel are important and relevant," APEC executive director Muhamad Noor told AFP.

Noor said the Vladivostok meeting's formal talks would focus on speeding up trade liberalization -- including cutting tariffs on environmentally friendly products -- and ensuring steady food production to stop steep price rises.

Officials would also likely discuss ways to minimize the impact of disasters on the global supply chain, he added, noting industrial disruptions caused by last year's earthquake and tsunami in Japan and floods in Thailand.

Noor said average tariffs across APEC members was under 6.0 percent, down from 17 percent in 1989, when the group was formed, and officials were now focused on toppling non-tariff barriers.

APEC members account for 44 percent of global trade and about 41 percent of the world's population.

Last year's summit in Hawaii was dominated by Obama's push for an Asia-Pacific-wide free-trade area called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Some progress has been made on the TPP since, with the number of countries officially involved now up to 11. The TPP is not on the formal agenda this year but discussions could be held on the sidelines.

Russia has spent $20 billion upgrading Vladivostok -- a former naval capital that fell into disrepair after the fall of the Soviet Union -- including building several bridges, highways, an airport terminal and a rail link.

The event is being held at new university facilities on Russki Island, just off Vladivostok, with Putin hoping the gathering will showcase Russia's ambitions to be a major Pacific player, while also reviving its remote outpost.

However, the revival efforts for Vladivostok have been beset by problems including cost overruns, shoddy construction and criticism about bad planning.- Interaksyon (September 05, 2012)

Japan govt to buy islands disputed with China - media

Japan's central government has agreed to buy a group of islands in the East China Sea at the center of a territorial dispute with China, major Japanese newspapers reported on Wednesday.

The government will soon sign a contract to buy the islands claimed by both countries, known in Japan as Senkaku and in China as Diaoyu, for 2.05 billion yen ($26 million) from its Japanese landowners, the Yomiuri Shimbun said, quoting government sources.

Deputy Chief Cabinet secretary Hiroyuki Nagahama met the landowners on Monday and struck the deal to buy three major islands in the chain, including Uotsurijima, the largest island, Yomiuri said.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's cabinet would soon confirm the nationalization of the islands and allocate reserve funds for the purchase, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

Noda plans to formally inform the Chinese about the move on the sidelines of this year's UN assembly later this month, Asahi said.

Testy Japan-China ties took a turn for the worse in August after pro-Beijing activists landed on one of the islands, which are controlled by Japan. They were arrested by Japanese authorities and deported.- Interaksyon (September 05, 2012)

Philippines climbs 10 notches to 65th in WEF competitiveness ranking

Enjoying a favorable performance in its economy and having a government with a determined anti-corruption drive, the Philippines leaped by 10 notches in the global competitiveness ranking for the year to 65th out of 144 countries.

The country's latest performance followed a similar 10-notch jump to the 75th spot in 2011, thereby resulting in a 20-notch overall jump so far in the Aquino administration.

"The Philippines makes important strides this year in improving competitiveness—albeit often from a very low base—especially with respect to its public institutions," The World Economic Forum (WEF) said in its 2012-2013 Global Competitiveness Report, which was released Wednesday worldwide.

According to the WEF, the Philippines was one of the few countries that registered a double-digit improvement in ranking this year.

The Philippines landed on the 65th spot after it registered an overall score of 4.23 points (out of 7 points) across all 12 categories considered by businesses as major areas for determining a country's competitiveness.

Guillermo Luz, co-chairman of the Philippines' National Competitiveness Council (NCC), said in a press conference on Wednesday that this year was the first time the country landed on the list of upper 50 percent of countries ranked in the global competitiveness survey.

He said the NCC has been targeting the Philippines to land on the list of the upper one-third of the global competitiveness rankings by 2016, the end of the Aquino administration.

The survey on global competitiveness, which taps businesses as respondents, grades countries based on the following 12 categories or "pillars": [government] institutions, infrastructure, macroeconomic environment, health and primary education, higher education and training, goods market efficiency, labor market efficiency, financial market development, technological readiness, market size, business sophistication, and innovation.

Luz said the Philippines registered improvement in 11 out of the 12 categories.

The Philippines gained the most in the "institutions" category, where it jumped by 23 places to 94th from last year's 117th.

In the "infrastructure" category, the country improved its ranking by seven places to 98th; for "macroeconomic environment," up 18 places to 36th; for "higher education" and training, up seven places to 64th; for goods market efficiency, up two places to 86th; for labor market efficiency, up 10 places to 103rd; for financial market development, up 13 places to 58th; for "technological readiness," up four places to 79th; for "market size," up one place to 35th; for "business sophistication," up eight places to 49th; and for "innovation," up 14 places to 94th.

The only category where the Philippines registered a ranking slippage was in "health and primary education," where it fell six places to 98th.

Luz said the country's favorable performance in the "institutions" category reflected the success so far of the Aquino administration to convince the business sector that there has been improvement in governance so far in his term.

Out of the 15,000 businesses that served as respondents to the global competitiveness survey for this year, 132 came from the Philippines.

On the "macroeconomic environment" category, Luz attributes the country's improved ranking in the country's favorable economic performance.

The Philippine economy grew by 5.9 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, making the country one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia. This brought its average growth for the first semester to 6.1 percent, keeping the government's full-year growth target of 5 to 6 percent attainable.

Ramon del Rosario Jr., chairman of the Makati Business Club, however, said a lot of work still has to be done in several areas to help ensure the Philippines meets the 2016 target as far as its global competitiveness ranking is concerned.

To reach the upper one-third of the rankings by 2016, he said, the country must improve significantly on the area of infrastructure development and market efficiency, particularly labor market efficiency.

Despite increases in government spending on infrastructure this year, infrastructure investment in the Philippines remains one of the lowest in the region. Infrastructure spending in the country is estimated to be equivalent to less than 3 percent of the country's gross domestic product, below the 5 percent average for Southeast Asia.

"Despite these very positive trends, many weaknesses remain to be addressed. The country's infrastructure is still in dire state, particularly with respect to sea and air transport, with little or no progress achieved to date," Del Rosario said in the same press conference.

He said businesses have always considered infrastructure a vital area considered by firms in deciding whether or not to invest in a country.

With its improved ranking this year, the Philippines has beaten Vietnam, which enjoyed better rankings than that of the Philippines in the past years. This year, Vietnam ranked 75th.

The Philippines continues to lag behind other major Asian economies in the global competitiveness rankings.

Hong Kong ranked 9th, Taiwan 13th, South Korea 19th, Malaysia 25th, China 29th, Thailand 38th, Indonesia 50th, and India 59th.-Rebuilding for the Better Philippines (September 05, 2012)