Saturday, June 01, 2013

Vietnam to join UN peacekeeping operations

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said Friday his country will start taking part in United Nations peacekeeping operations in non-combat roles.

Dung made the announcement during a keynote speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an Asia-Pacific security forum that gathers top defence and military officials from around the world.

"At this prestigious forum, I have the honour to announce that Vietnam has decided to participate in UN peacekeeping operations, first in such areas as military engineering, military medicine and military observation," he said.

The prime minister did not give other details.

Edmond Mulet, the UN Assistant Secretary-General of Peacekeeping Operations, visited Vietnam in February to help the country prepare to join the organisation's peacekeeping force by next year, according to Vietnamese media reports.

There were currently 15 peacekeeping operations worldwide as of March, with 116 countries contributing military and police personnel to the effort, the UN website says.

The world body does not have its own military force and depends on contributions from member states. - Channel News Asia

How did the Philippines trump China to become the fastest growing economy in Asia?

The Philippine economy grew by 7.8% in the first three months of 2013, surpassing every single analyst estimate and putting it just above China as one of Asia’s fastest growing economies. The torrid growth, the best in nearly three years, is especially impressive given that exports declined 6.2% as electronics shipments collapsed.

So how is it growing so fast?

1) Infrastructure

The Philippines, like Thailand, is pursuing a massive infrastructure spending program worth around $10 billion. It covers a wide range of investments, from power plants and bridges to roads and schools. Although not all the money has been spent, the program has already created upwards of 400,000 jobs and helped win an investment grading from rating agencies, opening up the country to more international money.

2) Domestic Demand

If foreigners aren’t going to buy your goods, you better hope the locals are. Domestic demand in the Philippines has been very strong, driven by private investment and consumer growth in a way that China must envy. Manufacturing growth is up by 9.7% due to demand for food, appliances, communication and transport, and construction was up a whopping 32.5% in the first three months of the year. Services expanded 7%.

“Initially, this was led by infrastructure spending from the government,” the National Economic and Development chief Artemio Balisacan told the Philippine Star. “By the second half of 2012, private construction started to rebound.”

3) Remittance Payments

Underpinning domestic demand is a raft of remittance payments that make their way to the Philippines each year from its vast diaspora—over $5 billion in the first quarter of 2013. The cash transfers have long helped the Philippines pay off foreign debt and boost domestic consumption.

Can it continue?

Good news lasts only so long, and analysts have pointed to several risks. Exports may continue to fall as China slows and Europe stagnates. Remittance payments, although large, are at their lowest in nearly four years, and the Philippine stock market tumbled almost 4% on Thursday, in line with the Nikkei, despite the strong economic growth figures. Manila is sticking with a 6-7% growth target for the whole of 2013.

“There’s a disconnect between the economy and the valuation of the market,” a Manila-based trader told Bloomberg. “While overseas investors say they like our economic fundamentals, they find valuations to be stretched.” The Philippine stock market is one of Asia’s best performing bourses, up 41% in the last year, but traders are clearly worried about whether there is an asset bubble in the making. The Philippines has strengths China doesn’t, but building roads and pushing up the budget deficit is not enough when it comes to a long-term strategy. - Quartz

Vietnam slams 'groundless' maritime claims

Vietnam on Friday slammed "groundless" territorial claims in Asian waters and called for self-restraint among nations involved in disputes.

Speaking at a security conference in Singapore, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said building "strategic trust" was the key to continued peace, cooperation and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

However, he warned that sovereignty and territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the East China Sea were "evolving with great complexity", threatening maritime security and freedom of navigation in those areas.

"Somewhere in the region, there have emerged preferences for unilateral might, groundless claims and actions that run counter to international law and stem from imposition of power politics," Dung said in a keynote speech to the annual conference known as the Shangri-La Dialogue.

Dung did not specify any one country, but Vietnam and the Philippines are the most vocal states in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in opposing Beijing's claims in the South China Sea.

China says it has sovereign rights to nearly all of the sea, including waters and territories much closer to other countries and thousands of miles away from the Chinese coast.

ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, also claim parts of the sea, which is believed to sit atop huge deposits of oil and gas and is home to some of the world's busiest shipping lanes and richest fishing grounds.

Competing claims have for decades made the area one of Asia's potential flashpoints for military conflict. China and Vietnam fought battles in 1974 and 1988 for control of islands that left dozens of soldiers dead.

Tensions have risen again in recent years as China used increasingly aggressive diplomatic and military tactics to assert its claims.

Among the moves that have caused alarm were China's occupation of a shoal close to the Philippines' main island last year, and the deployment in March of Chinese naval ships to within 80 kilometres (50 miles) of Malaysia's coast.

Manila this month also protested what it said was the "provocative and illegal presence" of a Chinese warship near Second Thomas Shoal, but Beijing dismissed the complaint, insisting that the area was part of its territory.

In his speech in Singapore, Dung said Vietnam adhered to the principle of peacefully settling disputes and urged others to do the same.

"All parties concerned need to exercise self-restraint and must not resort to force or (the) threat to use force," he said.

He called on ASEAN and China to work together on a legally binding code of conduct to prevent conflict in the South China Sea.

The conference gets into full swing on Saturday, with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expected to press China on cyber attacks and reaffirm Washington's strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific region.

Chinese Lieutenant General Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of general staff of the People's Liberation Army, will address the forum on Sunday.-ABS-CBN News

Friday, May 31, 2013

Thailand seeks FMD-free status in 3-5 years

The Thai government is seen to complete within the next three to five years a foot-and-mouth- disease-free (FMD-free) livestock zone that isolates farms unscathed by the disease, according to Thai government veterinarians.

The FMD-free zone is seen to be established in eastern Thailand.

The Thai government is currently conducting legislative zoning of the provinces that would included in the control areas. The movement of animals within the zone would be restricted to prevent contamination.

A registry of animals within the FMD free zone would also be created.

The Thai government is also improving its mass vaccination program to support both small and large-scale farmers.

This development could benefit the developing dairy industry in the Philippines because this would enable Filipino dairy farmers to purchase  semen from Thailand for their breeding programs.

The continued prevalence of FMD in some Thai livestock farms is preventing the Philippines from importing heifers and semen from the country, which would be cheaper than sourcing heifers from New Zealand and semen from the United States.

Thailand is currently in stage three out of the five stages of controlling FMD. This means that the country is strengthening its veterinary tools to respond to the disease.

“There is still no definite time frame for reaching stage five, but we are trying our best to reach the higher level. After this, an expert from the OIE will conduct an assessment on the vaccines,” Ratchanee Atthi, expert on bacterial Vaccine development of the Bureau of Veterinary Biologics told visiting Philippine dairy officials and dairy farmers.

“The FMD-zone is not yet final but perhaps in three to five years it will be established,” she added.

The Thai government charges farmers a small price for the vaccines but provide free veterinary services.

Atti said the government veterinary service currently provides the vaccine needs of 80 percent of the Thai livestock industry.

There are also private biological technology companies that sell vaccines to farmers.

Thailand currently has around 500,000 dairy animals against the 40,000 in the Philippines. 

The Philippine government is importing this year around 800 milking cattle from New Zealand for its breeding program. These are Holstein Friesian cows cross-bred with Sahiwal cattle which can more enduring a tropical climate.

Each cattle would cost around P140,000 against the cost of 65,000 baht for Thai Friesian cows which are Holstein Friesian cows cross-bred with native Thai cattle.

These cattle are lent to farmers for breeding and are eventually returned to the government either pregnant or with an offspring.

National Dairy Authority (NDA) administrator Grace Cenas said it would be easier to conduct business with Thailand once the country is already FMD-free.

“So you should hurry because we are interested in doing business with you,” Cenas said in jest during the forum with Thai veterinary officials.

Filipino businessmen who are part of the delegation also recognize that the establishment of the FMD-free zone would also give the Philippines access to cheaper source of semen for breeding.

Holstein Friesian semen imported from the US costs around P500 to P1,000 per straw, but the average price in Thailand is  300 baht per straw.

“We can wait for this. We want to get the genetics and we cannot get this because they are still not FMD free,” said Juan Lozada, chairman of the Philippine Dairy Confederation.

The Thai veterinary service currently produces cattle vaccines for foot and mouth disease, Hemmorhagic septicaemia, Anthrax spore, Brucellosis, and Backleg diseases.

It also produces vaccines for swine and poultry diseases.-The Philippine Star

Myanmar, Kachin rebels agree tentative peace pact

Myanmar on Thursday reached a tentative peace deal with ethnic minority Kachin rebels aimed at ending the country's last major active civil war, which has displaced tens of thousands of people.

Kachin and government representatives, meeting on home soil for the first time since fighting flared up two years ago, signed a seven-point plan to end hostilities in the remote northern region.

"I think we have achieved a breakthrough," said negotiator Min Zaw Oo, a director of the EU-funded Myanmar Peace Center who took part in the talks in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina.

"The agreement is to stop fighting at this point and afterwards there are going to be detailed discussions about the repositioning of troops," he added.

An official translation of the document said the two sides vowed to strive for a "de-escalation and cessation of hostilities".

They also agreed to hold political dialog -- a key demand of the Kachin, who have long argued that negotiations should address their demands for more political rights as well as greater autonomy.

The two sides also agreed to hold discussions on resettling people displaced by the fighting and create a joint monitoring team.

A presidential spokesman hailed the agreement as "really good news". Representatives from the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA) were not immediately available to comment.

The bloodshed in the northern state of Kachin bordering China -- along with religious unrest elsewhere in the country -- had overshadowed widely praised political changes as Myanmar emerges from decades of military rule.

Representatives of the KIA and President Thein Sein's reformist government held three days of talks in Myitkyina. Previous rounds of negotiations had taken place across the border in China.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's special adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, also joined the meeting for the first time as an observer, along with representatives of China and other ethnic minorities.

Civil war has plagued parts of the country formerly known as Burma since it won independence from Britain in 1948.

While the KIA is the last major rebel army to agree to a preliminary peace deal, skirmishes occasionally break out between the government and other groups.

According to the UN, about 100,000 people have been displaced in remote, resource-rich Kachin state, where a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the rebels broke down in June 2011.

Thein Sein's government has agreed tentative ceasefires with most of Myanmar's ethnic rebels as part of its reforms, but fighting in Kachin had persisted.

The military's use of air strikes against the KIA in December caused an international outcry, but the violence has since eased.

Since coming to power two years ago, Thein Sein has surprised even cynics by freeing hundreds of political prisoners, easing censorship and letting opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi enter parliament.

But international optimism over the sweeping changes has been marred by the Kachin conflict and several outbreaks of Buddhist-Muslim strife around the country.

In the latest religious violence, one person was killed and five injured Wednesday in clashes in the eastern state of Shan, bordering Kachin. - GMA News

Philippines' surprisingly strong first-quarter growth eclipses Chin

The Philippines on Thursday posted surprisingly strong growth in the first quarter, knocking China from pole position in Asia, driven by robust domestic consumption and government spending.

The stellar pace of expansion, which blew past expectations, pulled the peso up from an 11-month low and cemented views the central bank would leave its key policy rate on hold this year.

Growth is seen powering on after the Philippines earlier this month got an investment grade rating from Standard & Poor's, the second debt agency to do so this year. That lowers borrowing costs and helps to attract foreign capital for an economy mired with high unemployment and poverty.

First quarter GDP grew a seasonally adjusted 2.2 percent over the prior three months, the fastest clip since the first quarter of 2012. A Reuters poll of economists had forecast 1.6 percent growth.

From a year earlier, the economy grew 7.8 percent, helped by robust domestic spending, making the Philippines the fastest growing economy in Asia as it pushed past China's 7.7 percent annual pace and 1.6 percent quarterly growth.

The Philippines' year-on-year GDP figure also topped the 6.1 percent growth forecast in a Reuters poll and was the fastest since the second quarter of 2010, then boosted by spending related to national elections that put President Benigno Aquino in power.

"We may now be moving along a new growth trajectory," economic planning chief Arsenio Balisacan told reporters.

Capital formation jumped an annual 47.7 percent in the first quarter as the private sector invested heavily to expand capacity given strong domestic consumption.

Public construction climbed 45.6 percent as a faster budget roll-out and better fiscal position allowed for more spending to rehabilitate decrepit school buildings, roads and bridges.

Per capita GDP grew an annual 6.1 percent in the first quarter, the highest in at least two years, although unemployment was at a year-high of 7.1 percent as of March.

With a fast-growing population, estimated at 96.8 million as of March, job creation can't keep pace with the around 1 million new entrants to the job market every year, Balisacan said.

The challenge was to create more broad-based growth so that the poorer sectors of society could benefit from jobs in high growth sectors, he added.

Bernard Aw, analyst at Forecastweb in Singapore said the Philippines' improved risk and debt profile would help shield the peso from external vagaries.

The export-reliant Philippines is facing some risk that demand for its high-tech products will slow on more evidence that the recovery in global growth is losing momentum.

But the global slowdown had little impact on manufacturing. Data showed the sector grew an annual 9.7 percent in the first quarter on domestic demand for food items, household appliances, chemicals, and communication, transport and machinery equipment.

Market reaction was mixed. While the peso was up at 42.28 per dollar, the local stock market slid as much as 3.4 percent in line with sharp declines in regional bourses.


At a time when several regional central banks have cut rates to bolster growth, economists said the Philippine central bank would most likely leave its key overnight borrowing rate on hold for the rest of the year. Inflation is forecast to stay within the central bank's 3 to 5 percent target band this year despite strong growth.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Amando Tetangco said he did not foresee the inflation target being breached over the policy horizon despite strong GDP growth.

The central bank next meets to review policy on June 13. It has kept its policy rate steady at a record low of 3.5 percent since December 2012, but has slashed the rate on its special deposit account (SDA) facility by more than 200 basis points since July 2012 to divert credit to more productive use.

"We think the BSP will continue to cut the SDA rate to lift domestic spending as well as save costs," said Trinh Nguyen, economist at HSBC in Hong Kong. The central bank has incurred heavy losses as the SDA facility attracted huge liquidity.

With the outlook on exports still murky, domestic consumption will remain as the main driver for economic growth this year. Manila is targeting growth of 6 percent to 7 percent in 2013 after an upwardly revised 6.8 percent expansion the prior year.-Reuters

Thursday, May 30, 2013

PH competitiveness rank jumps to 38th

The Philippines was one of the most improved countries in the region in the 2013 World Competitiveness Yearbook (WCY) ranking.

The country improved 5 notches to 38th out of 60 countries worldwide on the back of strong macroeconomic fundamentals and upbeat investor confidence. In 2012, the country ranked 43rd out of 59 countries. 

Among its peers in the Asia-Pacific, the Philippines, with its score of 63.146, bested Indonesia and India which ranked 39th and 40th, overall.

Data showed that this is the best performance of the Philippines since 2009. The country's latest ranking beat the 39th overall rank it posted in 2010. 

"The country has reversed two consecutive years of decline and it is now 11th among Asia-Pacific countries in the sample (compared to 13th in 2009). The Philippines has now overtaken both India and Indonesia in the sample of Asia-Pacific countries of the WCY," Institute for Management Development (IMD) said in a report.

"Backed by a robust 6.6% GDP growth – the second highest in Asia – a soaring stock market, and an upgrade to investment grade by two major rating agencies, the Philippines has been hailed by many analysts as the next economic tiger of Asia," it added.

Competitive Landscape. All graphs from Asia Institute of Management (AIM)

Key factors

The WCY measures 4 broad factors in measuring competitiveness—economic performance, government efficiency, business efficiency and infrastructure.

The survey results showed that the Philippines' rank in economic performance improved 11 places to 31st in 2013 from 42nd in 2012. This is the second best ranking that the country posted in economic performance after placing 29th overall in 2011.

Among the sub-factors, the Philippines ranked highest in terms of prices at 23rd, a decline from 17th in 2012. The country's lowest rank in this category is international investment ranking, which decelerated to 55th in 2013 from 54th in 2012.

"This is backed by the 6.6% real GDP growth in 2012, the second highest in WCY, controlled inflation of 3.2%, and an 8.8% increase in exports of goods and services (in pesos)," IMD said. 

In terms of government efficiency, IMD data showed it hardly moved but improved from 32nd to 31st. This is the same rank it posted in 2010.

Although total tax revenues increased by 13.2%, the country's budget deficit increased to P242.8 billion in 2012 from P197.8 billion in 2011. IMD also said the country's debt-to-GDP ratio of 51.4% in 2012 is slightly higher than the 50.9% in 2011.

Among the sub-factors, the highest ranking was in fiscal policy, which was 9th overall, an improvement from 11th place in 2012. Business legislation, on the other hand, continued to trail other sub-factors and was ranked 51st overall, a slowdown from 49th place in 2012.

Further, business efficiency improved 7 places from 26th to 19th, mostly because of the soaring stock market. This is the first time since 2009 that the country's business efficiency ranking was above 20th place.

Among the sub-factors, labor market continued to be ranked 1st overall, maintaining its position in 2012. In this factor, productivity and efficiency ranked the lowest at 41st but was an improvement of 14 notches from 55th place in 2012.

"This is mostly pulled by the 5.4% growth (fourth in this year’s WCY) in overall productivity (real GDP per person employed), as GDP grew robustly while employment growth languished. However, it is noticeable that although the Philippines ranked high in growth of overall productivity, the country is ranked 59th in level of overall productivity," IMD said. 

Despite efforts of the government to address the country's infrastructure constraints, infrastructure was the only factor that posted a decelation to 57th place in 2013 from 55th in 2012.

IMD data showed this is the same ranking Philippine infrastructure got in 2011, the lowest ranking it got since 2009. Data showed that this is because 4 out of the 5 sub-factors were ranked below 50. 

Technological Infrastructure ranked the highest at 40th, an improvement of 6 notches from 46th in 2012. Tied for lowest place are Education and Scientific Infrastructure at 59th overall, a deceleration from 57th and 58th place, respectively.

"Poor infrastructure is a hindrance not only to more efficient domestic economic activity, but also in more successfully attracting foreign investments. The country’s ASEAN neighbors Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, are ranked 25th, 48th, and 56th, respectively, in infrastructure. It is not surprising that these countries also perform much better in attracting foreign investments," IMD said.

Inequality persists

Despite the glowing economic performance of the Philippine economy in 2012, IMD said it is important for the country to exert more effort in attaining inclusive growth. 

IMD found it disappointing tha,t while the country did register above 6% growth in 2012, the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) data showed poverty incidence hadly moved in the first semester of 2012. 

The country's poverty incidence stood at 27.9% in the first semester of 2012, virtually unchanged from the same period in 2006 and 2009.

Poverty incidence in the same period in 2009 was 28.6% and in 2006, 28.8%, National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) Secretary General Jose Ramon Albert said in a press conference last April 23. 

Data showed that most of the poorest provinces are located in Mindanao while the least poor were located mainly in Luzon. IMD said this mirrors 2011 data that showed the National Capital Region accounted for 36% of GDP but only 13% of population while Mindanao contributed only 14% but has 24% of population.

INTERACTIVE: The poorest provinces in the Philippines

"The result was disappointing, to say the least, as poverty incidence hardly moved from the 2009 level, in spite of six percent average annual GDP growth during these years. Regional GDP figures show the imbalance of growth and development in the country," IMD said.

IMD added that NCR's per capita GDP was almost 13 times greater than ARMM. This may not be a surprise considering that investments in infrastructure favored Luzon. 

It noted that majority of the PPP projects rolled out in 2011 and in 2012 are in Luzon, with a small share going to Visayas, and none in Mindanao. 

There are also imbalances in employment. IMD said 40% of workers in the Philippines are "vulnerable" or unpaid family workers and own-account workers. 

IMD said occupations with the highest wage such as government, private enterprises, and organization officials are paid more than 4 times the lowest-paid occupation - laborers and unskilled workers.

"Wages are also highly uneven – average wage in NCR (the region with the highest wage) is almost twice that in the lowest wage region (Region IX)," IMD said. 

"Wages in the highest-paid sector (extra-territorial organizations and bodies) are almost 7 times higher than in the lowest-paid sector (private households with employed persons)," it added. 

Challenges in 2013

IMD said the following are the main challenges of the Philippines in 2013:

Infrastructure - many roads remain unpaved and the main airport is operating beyond capacity
Corruption - ranked 105th out of 174 by Transparency International
Unemployment - is amongst the highest of the ASEAN5 group
Undeveloped financial system and access to finance - access to finance is one of the greatest challenges facing SMEs
Natural disasters - on average 20 typhoons visit annually, causing billions of pesos in damages
Since 1997, the AIM Policy Center has been a partner institute of the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) for the annual release of the WCY. 

It draws on hard economic data from various international and national sources, as well as the executive opinion survey of top and middle managers from the ranked countries. The study analyzes over 300 competitiveness criteria to assess and rank the nations. - Rappler

Indonesian mosques ordered to turn down the volume

Indonesian mosques have been ordered to cut down on their use of loudspeakers, an Islamic group said Wednesday, a move that may provide some relief to millions who live near the places of worship.

There are some 800,000 mosques in Indonesia, which has the world’s biggest Muslim population, and many use speakers to blast out the call to prayer as well as fiery Koranic verses, often at high volumes in the early hours.

But now the Indonesian Mosques Council has asked the places of worship to restrict the use of loudspeakers following years of complaints by weary residents.

“We must not force something that we believe is good on others who may see it as a disturbance,” said Masdar Masudi, deputy head of the council that groups many of the country’s mosques.

“Even Muslims, such as those who are ill or have insomnia, will definitely get annoyed at the noise.”

Loudspeakers that face into surrounding neighborhoods should broadcast only the call to prayer, which is often relatively quiet and short, said Masudi.

If there are several mosques in the same area, only one should broadcast the call, he said.

For longer and louder readings, speakers can still be used, but they must face into the grounds of the mosque, he said.

Mosques become particularly noisy during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims forgo food, drink and sex between dawn and dusk and the loudspeakers blare out Koranic verses almost constantly.

Previous attempts to get mosques to lower their volume have met with extreme opposition.

An elderly Indonesian was forced earlier this year to withdraw a legal action against a noisy mosque in the city of Banda Aceh on Sumatra Island after an angry mob threatened to kill him.

Nevertheless, he ended up winning a rare victory -- the mosque in question turned down the volume significantly after the case.-Al Arabiya

Timor-Leste Prime Minister to visit the Philippines

The Department of Foreign Affairs announced today that Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste will visit the Philippines from June 5 to 9 upon the invitation of President Benigno S. Aquino III.

The two leaders will discuss areas of mutual interest and cooperation between the Philippines and Timor-Leste, such as education, trade and investment, infrastructure, and defense. While in the Philippines, Prime Minister Gusmão will give a lecture at the University of the Philippines College of Law. He will also undertake a familiarization tour of Subic and Clark and meet with potential Filipino investors in Timor-Leste.

Prime Minister Gusmão was Timor-Leste’s first President after achieving independence on May 20, 2002. He is currently serving his second five-year term as Prime Minister, having first assumed the position in 2007. He is concurrently Minister for Defense and Security.

Prime Minister Gusmão was one of the leaders of the East Timorese resistance movement. He actively campaigned with the international community to help bring about Timor-Leste’s independence.

The Prime Minister is widely recognized for his leadership and has received numerous citations and awards from international bodies such as the UNESCO Félix Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize (2002) and First Class Medal for Contribution to Humanity awarded by the President of the Republic of Vanuatu (2011), among others.-Official Gazette

Vatican suggests for papal nuncios of the Philippines and Malaysia to meet to discuss dispute

The Vatican has suggested for the papal nuncios to the Philippines and Malaysia to meet to discuss the humanitarian concerns in connection with the territorial dispute over Sabah.

Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo spokesman Abraham Idjirani said the Vatican’s suggestion was relayed to Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III, during his meeting with Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Archbishop Jose Palma at the CBCP head office in Intramuros, Manila on Wednesday.

He said that the Cebu prelate informed Kiram that, “one of the orders from the Vatican, as per our understanding, was for the nuncios to the Philippines and Malaysia to sit down together and really talk about the issue.”

Palma will be the one who would reportedly arrange the meeting between the two papal nuncios.

“The Sabah issue is a geopolitical issue. This would affect the on going discussion of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the peace talks. When we say ‘religious point of view’, we are talking about the humanitarian concerns for both the Muslims and the Christians,” Idjirani added.

There are also plans to create an international interfaith between Muslims, Christians and other faiths.

“This meeting serves as strategic path to reach achieve a complete resolution on Sabah issue including the Mindanao conflict,” he added.

It was the second time that Kiram visited the CBCP president, the first meeting took place last April 3.-Philippines News Agency

1 dead, 4 hurt in anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar

Hundreds of Buddhist men on motorcycles, screaming and waving iron rods and sticks, roamed the streets of a town in northeastern Myanmar on Wednesday in a new wave of violence targeting Muslims. At least one person died and four others were injured, state television said.

A mosque, a Muslim school and other buildings were burned in the two days of rioting. Many Muslims stayed locked inside their homes and shops remained shuttered in Lashio town, near the border with China, the latest region to fall prey to the country's spreading religious violence.

The flare-up in Lashio reinforced doubts that President Thein Sein's government can or will act to contain the violence and crack down on racial and religious intolerance.

The rioting was sparked Tuesday by reports that a Muslim man had splashed gasoline on a Buddhist woman and set her on fire. The man was arrested and the woman was hospitalized with bad burns.

Mobs took revenge by burning down the mosque and other buildings on Tuesday, but caused no reported casualties. Calm appeared to return as troops were deployed on the streets and authorities banned gatherings of more than five people and imposed an overnight curfew.
But on Wednesday several hundred angry young men drove motorcycles through Lashio's downtown area. A Buddhist monk was seated on the back of one of the motorcycles, waving a stick.
On another street, a crowd threw rocks at buildings. Smoke billowed in another area, and local politician Sai Myint Maung said a movie theater had been burned and there were rumors that more troublemakers were gathered on the outskirts of the town.

Wary Muslims hid in their homes, fearing the kind of brutal violence that claimed dozens of lives earlier this year in other parts of the country, and the large-scale attacks that killed hundreds in western Myanmar last year.
"I never expected that such racial violence would erupt in Lashio," Sai Myint Maung said. "Our small town is multiethnic and we have lived in peace for a long time."

A local freelance journalist was attacked as he photographed a mob ransacking some shops.

"The mob accused me of recording their act and asked me to surrender the camera. I handed over the memory card and I was hit on my head with an iron pipe, causing a gash on my head," Khun Zaw Oo said. He said he managed to flee but a companion also holding a camera was attacked and badly injured.

The government appealed for calm.

"Damaging religious buildings and creating religious riots is inappropriate for the democratic society we are trying to create," presidential spokesman Ye Htut said on his Facebook page. He said "two religious buildings and some shops" in Lashio were burned, without specifying whether they were Muslim or Buddhist.

"Any criminal act will be dealt with according to the law," Ye Htut said.

State TV said a 48-year-old man had been arrested for throwing gasoline on a 24-year-old Buddhist woman and setting her on fire. It identified the man as an Indian Muslim but did not explain the reason for the attack.

The man was charged with causing grievous injuries and arson, as well as drug possession due to stimulants found in his pocket, the TV report said. The woman was being treated for burns on her chest, back and hands.

National police said nine people were arrested for involvement in the two days of violence, but didn't say if they were Buddhists or Muslims.

Minority Muslims have been the main victims of Myanmar's religious violence, but so far there have been no criminal trials of members of the Buddhist majority, raising questions over whether Muslims can find justice.

The sectarian violence first flared in western Rakhine state last year, when hundreds of people died in clashes between Buddhists and Muslims that drove about 140,000 others, mostly Muslims, from their homes. Most are still living in refugee camps.

This month, authorities in two areas of Rakhine announced a regulation limiting Rohingya families to two children. The policy drew sharp criticism from Muslim leaders, rights groups and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell on Tuesday said the U.S. opposes coercive birth limitation policies, and called on Myanmar "to eliminate all such policies without delay."

The clashes had seemed confined to the Rakhine region, but in late March, similar Buddhist-led violence swept the town of Meikthila in central Myanmar, killing at least 43 people. Earlier this month, a court sentenced seven Muslims from Meikthila to prison terms for their role in the violence.

Several other towns in central Myanmar experienced less deadly violence, mostly involving the torching of Muslim businesses and mosques.

Muslims account for about 4 percent of Myanmar's roughly 60 million people. Anti-Muslim sentiment is closely tied to nationalism and the dominant Buddhist religion, so leaders have been reluctant to speak up for the unpopular minority.

Thein Sein's administration, which came to power in 2011 after half a century of military rule, has been heavily criticized for not doing enough to protect Muslims. He vowed last week during a trip to the U.S. that all perpetrators of the sectarian violence would be brought to justice.-Yahoo News

Could Indonesia's garment industry guide Bangladesh?

While much of the world was reacting to the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh, another clothes-making country, Indonesia, was gripped by its own labor nightmare – the discovery of a kitchenware factory that had held dozens of employees locked in small rooms and deprived them of pay for months.

The case was an extreme example of abuse, but workers'-rights groups say it revealed how even countries that have made progress on improving labor standards are under pressure to cut costs and remain competitive.

A mix of government support and binding agreements between unions and foreign companies have helped give Indonesian workers a voice and improved health and safety, say activists, meaning workers here are more concerned with salaries than ceiling collapses. "We're much better than Bangladesh in many ways; we have one of the best minimum wages in Asia, and we're relatively free to form trade unions," says Surya Tjandra, a labor laws expert at Jakarta's Atma Jaya University.

Like much of Asia, Indonesia built its garment industry on the back of a large pool of low-cost labor, starting in the 1970s. But factory conditions have improved since the sweatshop-plagued 1990s. And after Indonesia's autocratic leader Suharto stepped down 15 years ago, ushering in democracy, labor reforms accelerated.

Former President Megawati Sukarnoputri supported several worker-friendly laws, including a 2003 law that mandates high severance payments. In the past year, minimum wages shot up by as much as 40 percent.

Indonesia's unions also have grown noisy, frequently taking to the streets to protest low wages and other grievances. They've had some success, but still face challenges organizing. Government officials worry that disruptive protests, which occasionally result in violence, could drive away foreign investors.

That's why big-name brands have a critical role to play in improving factory conditions, say labor activists.

They point to a freedom of association protocol [FOAP] signed in June 2011 by trade unions, supplier factories, and six international sportswear brands – including Adidas, Nike, and Puma – which helps ensure that workers can organize in factories to push for better pay and working conditions. It's the first such accord worldwide to involve commitments between local labor groups and suppliers and global retailers.

After the accord was signed, a factory making goods for Nike agreed to pay more than $1 million in unpaid overtime to nearly 4,500 workers as part of a settlement with a local union. In April, a supplier for Adidas came to a similar compensation agreement.

An agreement with six companies may be small when compared with the new accord on fire and building safety in Bangladesh signed by dozens of companies. But the six represent the bulk of the global athletic footwear market, which means they have an important role to play in setting industry standards, says Jeroen Merk, a policy coordinator at the Clean Clothes Campaign, one of the organizations that advocated for the protocol.

Accords like the FOAP are important, says Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a labor-monitoring group, because they are binding agreements "that speak to the obligations of factory owners and the brands and retailers."

Implementation however, remains a challenge. Factories still prevent workers from carrying out union activities; the law allows unions to form but does not set out specific rights that allow them to function. "There have been huge problems with workers being robbed of severance pay," Mr. Nova says, "and while the minimum wage is substantially higher due largely to massive worker protests, it's still a poverty wage."

The minimum wage, set by local governments, ranges from $80 to $160 a month, compared with $37 in Bangladesh and $75 in Cambodia. Indonesia is the world's 12th-largest exporter of textile products, accounting for roughly 1.8 percent of global demand. In recent years it has lost market share to Vietnam and Cambodia, but its relatively better working conditions could start to draw more orders from foreign retailers.

"We're well proven in quality and delivery times," says Ade Sudrajat, the chairman of the Indonesian Textile Association, adding that factories also comply with buyers' codes of conduct on health and safety, which most major retailers have drafted.

Nike was one of the first companies to create codes governing the conditions at its supplier factories following a series of public scandals in the 1990s that partly involved unpaid workers in Indonesia.-Yahoo News

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Indonesia to have economic growth at 6.4-6.9 % in 2014

Finance Minister Chatib Basri predicted Indonesia will have an economic growth at the level of 6.4-6.9 percent in 2014.

"The government is optimistic that the target can be achieved considering the improvement in the world`s economy and the growth of Indonesia`s industry and trade sectors," said the minister during a meeting with members of the parliament here on Tuesday.

The minister also mentioned about inflation rate which will be at the level of 3.5-5.5 percent next year. He said the government will boost food commodity`s production to control food price and implement policies in the energy sector.

"Low inflation rate, in long term, will boost Indonesia`s economy to be convergent with other countries` economy in the region. It will make our economy more competitive," said the minister.

Bank Indonesia (BI) has predicted that the national economy in the second quarter of 2013 will grow at a slower pace than projected earlier, and so will the economic growth this year.

The domestic economy expanded 6.02 percent in the first quarter of 2013, down from 6.11 percent a quarter earlier or lower than the central bank`s forecast of 6.2 percent.

The Bank of Indonesia has predicted that the economy in the second quarter of 2013 will grow at a slower pace than its forecast and will not be much different from the first-quarter growth.

Overall, the 2013 economic growth is expected to move to the lower percentage limit of 6.2-6.6 percent.

The current account deficit in the first quarter of 2013 was recorded at 2.4 percent of the gross domestic product, down from 3.5 percent a quarter earlier.

The shortfall in the current account deficit was the result of improving balance of trade fueled by a drastic drop in the import of consumer goods, the central bank noted.

Meanwhile, capital and financial transactions in the first quarter of 2013 recorded a deficit, along with declining foreign investment inflows because of worsening global economic situation and high inflationary pressure.-Philippines News Agency

Vietnam's economy to remain flat in 2013: economists

Vietnamese economists forecast the country's economy will remain flat this year as in 2012, waiting for the actual adjustment in economic restructuring.

The viewpoints were given during the launch of the Vietnam Economic Report 2013, an annual document providing an overview of the macro-economy over the past year, possible scenarios in the years to come and proposals for policy-makers.

The report, which was debut in capital Hanoi on Monday, set out two economic scenarios for Vietnam with Gross Domestic Product ( GDP) growth reaching either 5.04 percent or 5.35 percent in 2013.

Nguyen Duc Thanh, Director of the Center for Economics and Policy Research and editor of the report, pointed out that Vietnam' s economy is facing a series of short and long term difficulties including settlement of bad debts, revival of businesses and real estate market.

High interest rates have reduced the quality of business environment and the competitiveness of the economy, while local companies have yet to make full use of opportunities created by the country's integration into the World Trade Organization (WTO), Thanh added, suggesting to speeding up economic reform.

The report includes seven chapters and two appendices, encompassing an overview of the global economy and Vietnam's economic performance in 2012, post-WTO inflation trends in Vietnam from 2006 to 2013, non-performing debts in the commercial bank system, international lessons and practical application to Vietnam, and Vietnam's economic prospects and policy proposals in 2013. - Philippines News Agency

China-Myanmar oil, gas pipeline project benefits both: president

Myanmar President U Thein Sein said on Monday that the ongoing China-Myanmar oil and gas pipeline project, which is nearing completion this year, is an important and mutually beneficial cooperation project.

U Thein Sein made the remarks when meeting with Liao Yongyuan, general mangaer of the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), here.

He said Myanmar is now opening up in all directions, but still will continue to maintain China-Myanmar friendship and strive to enhance the neighborly, friendly and cooperative ties between the two countries.

He expressed welcome for Chinese companies to invest in Myanmar and set up oil refinery plant, among others.

Liao said CNPC has as always attached importance to and fulfilled its social responsibility in the course of the pipeline construction, as reflected by the construction of a number of school buildings and clinics along the pipeline.

On the same day, Myanmar Vice President U Nyan Tun also met with Liao's entourage, speaking highly of CNPC's participation in Myanmar's social welfare undertakings.

Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar Yang Houlan was also present at the meeting.-Philippines News Agency

Withdraw ships, Philippines tells China

China should withdraw its ships from Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Reef) because that area of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is an “integral part” of the Philippines’ national territory, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Monday.

Ayungin lies 196 kilometers from Palawan province, well within the Philippines’ 370-km exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Raul Hernandez, spokesman for the DFA, told reporters. “That’s why [China should withdraw its ships from] the area and respect the maritime zones of the Philippines.”

The Philippines on May 10 protested the presence of a fleet of Chinese fishing boats, accompanied by patrol vessels, at Ayungin, but China has not responded.

Instead of answering the Philippine protest, China insisted that it had “indisputable sovereignty” over Ayungin and other parts of the Spratly archipelago in the middle of the West Philippine Sea.

No security meeting

In response, President Aquino announced a $1.82-billion spending plan for the modernization of the military to enable it to defend Philippine territory against “bullies entering our backyard.”

China’s intrusion has spurred calls for a meeting by the National Security Council, but Malacañang says there is no need for such a consultation to deal with the new tensions in the Spratlys.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Monay that Aquino was staying with current efforts, including the diplomatic protest brought by the DFA, to resolve the situation.

Defense officials last week confirmed the presence of two Chinese patrol vessels and a frigate near Ayungin, which the Chinese call Rena’i Reef.

The Chinese media reported that a flotilla of some 30 fishing vessels had been sent to the Spratly Islands, the biggest fishing expedition by China so far this year.

Nine-dash claim

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told a news conference in Beijing last week that it was “beyond reproach” for Chinese vessels to patrol the area, as Rena’i Reef was part of the Spratlys, which belonged to China, as shown by its “nine-dash-line” map.

The map shows most of the West Philippine Sea, including parts near the shores of other countries in the region, as part of China’s territory.

The Philippines claims parts of the Spratlys, including Ayungin Shoal, and Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan claim other parts of the archipelago where islets, reefs and atolls are believed to be sitting on vast energy reserves.

According to Hernandez, the DFA continues to coordinate with the military on the course of action the Philippines should take in the face of yet another “provocative and illegal” Chinese deployment of vessels to parts of the sea within the country’s territory.

Support from Japan

Speaking before Southeast Asian top diplomats at a foreign policy forum in Tokyo last week, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said he hoped China would act as a “responsible and positive force” amid the dispute.

Del Rosario called for a peaceful approach, instead of aggression, to settle disagreements in the region.

During his two-day visit to Tokyo, Del Rosario gained Japan’s support for the Philippine case against China in the United Nations arbitral tribunal.

Like the Philippines, Japan is disputing territory with China in the East China Sea.

Japan administers a group of islands in the sea that it calls the Senkakus, but referred to by China as the Diaoyus.
Japan followed the United States, Germany and the European Parliament in expressing support for the Philippines’ case against China, which Manila brought to the UN tribunal in January after exhausting all other means to resolve its territorial dispute with Beijing.

“The support of the international community for our arbitration initiative is a validation that we are on the right track in resolving the West Philippine Sea issue through a peaceful and rules-based approach,” Hernandez said. - Philippine Daily Inquirer

China defiant over its sea claims

China on Tuesday said the security and stability of the South China Sea should not be undermined after the Philippines demanded withdrawal of Chinese warships from the Second Thomas Shoal and Vietnam accused a Chinese patrol ship of damaging one its fishing boats around the Paracel Islands.

Last week, the Philippine foreign ministry filed a diplomatic protest over the continued presence of three Chinese government vessels near Second Thomas Shoal.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei hoped actions would not be taken that undermine the security of the South China Sea.

"It is beyond reproach for Chinese boats to carry out ordinary patrols in these waters. We hope the relevant parties will abide by the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and refrain from taking actions that complicate and exaggerate the situation and undermine the stability and security of the South China sea," said Hong.

Three ships, including a Chinese navy frigate, were first spotted in the area around May 8, escorting a fleet of 30 fishing boats from Hainan province. Until Monday (May 27), two maritime surveillance vessels remained near the shoal.

"The accusation made against China by Vietnam is completely inconsistent with the facts. The Vietnamese fishing boat entered China's Xisha Islands (Paracel Islands) and conducted illegal fishing activities, severely violating Chinese sovereignty and Chinese laws. It is totally beyond reproach for relevant departments of China to take normal law enforcement measures. We urge the Vietnamese side to take effective measures to educate its fishermen so as to stop such illegal fishing activities," Hong said.

A statement on the Vietnamese foreign ministry's website said that a Chinese patrol boat had slammed into a Vietnamese fishing boat while it was fishing in the Vietnamese territory of the Paracel Islands on May 20.

Claims by an increasingly powerful China over most of the South China Sea have set it directly against U.S. allies Vietnam and the Philippines. Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also claim parts of the waters and China has a separate dispute with Japan in the East China Sea.-ABS-CBN News

Thailand says talks to resolve tobacco row with Philippines 'productive'

Informal meetings between Philippine and Thai trade officials early this month are expected to result in Bangkok’s full compliance with the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling on tobacco.

“Thailand has continued to engage with the Philippines in discussions on issues of concern to the Philippines. Additional informal consultations requested by the Philippines with several Thai government agencies took place in Bangkok on May 3-4,” Thailand told the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) in a May 13 status report. Thailand presented this status report during the DSB meeting on May 24.

During the said informal talks, the Philippines was represented by Ambassador Esteban B. Conejos Jr., the country's permanent representative to the WTO; Trade Assistant Secretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo; and Assistant Director Angelo Salvador M. Benedictos of the Department and Trade and Industry-Bureau of International Trade Relations (DTI-BITR).

Conejos had asked his Thai counterpart to schedule meetings with the concerned agencies in Thailand that have yet to comply with the WTO ruling.

“In Thailand’s view, these consultations were productive and provide the best means of resolving this dispute. Thailand looks forward to achieving a mutually satisfactory outcome to the dispute,” the status report read.

In 2011, Thailand lost the tobacco case that the Philippines lodged before the WTO in behalf of the Philippine unit of cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris. In its ruling, the WTO agreed that Thailand slapped discriminatory taxes on cigarettes imported from the Philippines.

To comply with the WTO decision, Thailand last year adopted a royal decree abolishing the value-added tax (VAT) exemption enjoyed by resellers of locally made cigarettes, making them at par with imports, which were not VAT-exempt.

But Thailand has yet to fully comply with the WTO ruling even as the reasonable period of time to comply lapsed last year. For instance, the Thai Customs’ Board of Appeals ruling issued last November concerning certain customs valuation entries of imported tobacco from 2002 to 2003 was “inconsistent” with WTO rules, the Philippine WTO mission had said.-Interaksyon

Aung San Suu Kyi condemns Rohingya 'two-child policy'

Aung San Suu Kyi on 27 May

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has condemned a decision by local officials in Rakhine state to enforce a "two-child policy" on Rohingya Muslims.

The ban has been in place since 1994, but officials recently began enforcing it in areas where they say the high birth rate is fuelling ethnic tension.

The tensions led to violent clashes between Buddhist and Muslim communities in the western state last year.

Ms Suu Kyi has been criticised for not speaking up for Rohingya rights.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims were displaced by the violence and live in temporary camps.

'Illegal' move

The 1994 ban, that prevents Rohingya Muslims having more than two children, was allowed to lapse in recent years.

But a commission set up to investigate the violence in Rakhine suggested the use of family planning education to address what it described as the rapid growth of the Muslim population.

On Saturday, authorities in Rakhine introduced the two-child policy in two townships, Maung Daw and Bu Thi Daung. It is not clear how it will be enforced.

The vast majority of Rohingya Muslims - about 800,000 people - live in the two townships. Most of those living in camps are elsewhere in Rakhine.

"Under this directive, Bengali [Rohingya] men are allowed to have only one wife and each married couple can have two children. Where there are more than two children, they are considered illegal," Reuters news agency quoted a senior immigration official as saying.

Ms Suu Kyi told reporters she could not confirm whether the policy was being implemented, but if it was, it was illegal.

"It is not good to have such discrimination. And it is not in line with human rights either," she said.

Phil Robertson of the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) described the move as outrageous and chilling.

HRW have accused the Burmese authorities of being party to ethnic cleansing during the violence in June and October last year, which left about 200 people dead and up to 140,000 displaced.

The Rohingyas are a stateless group of some 800,000 people who are not recognised as Burmese citizens.

The United Nations describes them as a religious and linguistic minority from western Burma, and one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

However, many Burmese officials refer to them as Bengalis - a reflection of the widespread belief that this community belong in neighbouring Bangladesh.-Yahoo World News

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Manila and Taipei begin parallel probes into fisherman's death

The Philippines and Taiwan have begun parallel investigations into the shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman amid a diplomatic row.

A team of eight from Manila arrived in Taiwan on Monday, while a team from Taipei also arrived in the Philippines, officials from both sides confirmed.

The Philippine coast guard shot dead fisherman Hung Shih-cheng, 65, on 9 May in disputed waters.

Taiwan has dismissed Manila's apologies and has imposed economic measures.

"The [Philippine] visitors will have a look at the autopsy report on Hung Shih-cheng this afternoon," a spokesman for Taiwan's Justice Ministry was quoted by Agence-France Presse news agency as saying.

The team, which will stay until Friday, will be inspecting evidence, reviewing data and taking a look at the Taiwanese fishing vessel, the spokesman added.

Meanwhile, a spokesman from the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation also confirmed the arrival of the team from Taiwan, but gave no further details.

The fisherman was shot in waters which both sides say lie within their 200-nautical-mile from shore exclusive economic zone.

The Philippine coastguard said its crew acted in self-defence, believing Mr Hung's boat was trying to ram their vessel. However, the other Taiwanese fishermen on board denied this and gave a different version of events.

The Philippines apologised for the incident, but Taiwan rejected the apology, saying it lacked sincerity.

Taiwan has imposed a host of economic measures against the Philippines, including suspending visa processing for Filipino workers and cutting trade exchanges. It has also conducted military drills in the disputed waters.-British Broadcasting Corporation