Thursday, January 26, 2012

USA to build new Military base in Spratly Islands -Negotiation with Philippines Government

Zachary S. Welch/AP - Two decades after evicting U.S. forces from their biggest base in the Pacific, the Philippines is in talks with the Obama administration about expanding the American military presence in the island nation, the latest in a series of strategic moves aimed at China.

Two decades after evicting U.S. forces from their biggest base in the Pacific, the Philippines is in talks with the Obama administration about expanding the American military presence in the island nation, the latest in a series of strategic moves aimed at China.

Although negotiations are in the early stages, officials from both governments said they are favorably inclined toward a deal. They are scheduled to intensify the discussions Thursday and Friday in Washington before higher-level meetings in March. If an arrangement is reached, it would follow other recent agreements to base thousands of U.S. Marines in northern Australia and to station Navy warships in Singapore.

Among the options under consideration are operating Navy ships from the Philippines, deploying troops on a rotational basis and staging more frequent joint exercises. Under each scenario, U.S. forces would effectively be guests at existing foreign bases.

The sudden rush by many in the Asia-Pacific region to embrace Washington is a direct reaction to China's rise as a military power and its assertiveness in staking claims to disputed territories, such as the energy-rich West Philippines Sea (South China Sea).

"We can point to other countries: Australia, Japan, Singapore," said a senior Philippine official involved in the talks, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the confidentiality of the deliberations. "We're not the only one doing this, and for good reason. We all want to see a peaceful and stable region. Nobody wants to have to face China or confront China."

The strategic talks with the Philippines are in addition to feelers that the Obama administration has put out to other Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam and Thailand, about possibly bolstering military partnerships.

The United States already has about 600 Special Operations troops in the Philippines, where they advise local forces in their fight with rebels sympathetic to al-Qaeda. But the talks underway between the Philippines and Washington potentially involve a much more extensive partnership.

Officials in the Philippines — which has 7,107 islands — said their priority is to strengthen maritime defenses, especially near the South China Sea. They indicated a willingness to host American ships and surveillance aircraft.

Although the U.S. military has tens of thousands of troops stationed at long-standing bases in Japan, South Korea and Guam, as well as the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, it is seeking to solidify its presence in Southeast Asia. Some of the world's busiest trade routes pass through the South China Sea and the nearby Strait of Malacca.

Instead of trying to establish giant bases reminiscent of the Cold War, however, Pentagon officials said they want to maintain a light footprint.

"We have neither desire nor any interest in creating a U.S.-only base in Southeast Asia," said Robert Scher, a deputy assistant secretary of defense who oversees security policy in the region. "In each one of these cases, the core decision and discussion is about how we work better with our friends and allies. And the key piece of that is working from their locations."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Word War begin Hong Kong Vs Mainland China like West Philippines Sea (South China Sea)

Kong Qingdong, a direct descendant of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, stands in front of a painting depicting celebrities and world leaders, including a dancing Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, at the Confucius Peace Prize ceremony in Beijing December 9, 2011

For China's newest battle in the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea), look no further than Hong Kong.

As reported by India base news online, China's dominant website called the people of the Philippines, Vietnam and Southeast Asian (ASEAN) as beggars, dogs, dirty pigs and must be slaughter or be burn alive.

The semi-autonomous island is home to immoral people, most of whom are thieves, dogs and bastards, according to Kong Qingdong, a professor of Chinese studies at Beijing University.

"As far as I know, many Hong Kong people don't regard themselves as Chinese. Those kinds of people are used to being the dogs of British colonialists — they are dogs, not humans," Mr. Kong said in a recent interview on Chinese news website v1.cn. See video here

Mr. Kong's comments came after a recent survey from the University of Hong Kong in which 34% of Hong Kong's seven million people said they think of themselves as Chinese.

They were also in response to a debate that emerged after a video of a squabble between Hong Kong residents and mainlanders went viral last week. The video captured a subway squabble between a mainland visitor who was eating on the Hong Kong train and local passengers who informed her that eating on the subway was forbidden. See video here

The spat turned into a yelling match, sparking another passenger to hit the train's emergency button, calling for subway staff to intervene. After a train representative arrived, a Hong Kong passenger told him, "No need to speak to them. That's what mainlanders are like."

In Hong Kong, Mainland residents are better known for spitting and littering than they are known for their etiquette. "There is no denying that the manners and etiquette of some visitors from the mainland do not meet the standards set by the local Hong Kong residents. But poor manners are considered only a nuisance," said Huang Xiangyang, a writer for state-run China Daily, last week in an op-ed column addressing the subway brawl.

Mr. Kong's response to the video was not well received in Hong Kong. Protests erupted on the island over the weekend, according to Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK. Scores of Hong Kong citizens, many of whom brought their dogs with them, gathered at the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government, Beijing's main representative office in Hong Kong, urging China's mainland residents and officials to understand Hong Kong's values.

A battle has been brewing as of late between this special administrative region, still influenced by its history as a former British colony, and its onlookers to the north, who represent the world's second-largest economy and have a strong sway over the future of Hong Kong.

Earlier this month, 1,500 Hong Kong mothers took to the streets to protest the flooding of local hospitals by a growing tide of pregnant mainland women who rush to Hong Kong to give birth, ensuring their children are Hong Kong citizens and have access to the administrative region's schools and subsidized health care.

Also in January, hundreds of Hong Kong citizens rallied outside an outlet of the Italian luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana after the store's security told local citizens that only visitors from China's mainland could snap photos of the shop.

Tensions between China and Hong Kong have heightened since 1997, when British authorities returned Hong Kong to China after more than 150 years of colonial rule. Hong Kong residents, who speak Cantonese, not the mainland's Mandarin, and drive on the left side of the road, have been eager to preserve their own culture. Many are afraid that businesses are slowly pushing them aside, discriminating against them in favor of wealthy mainlanders with whom they feel they do not identify.

Mr. Kong warns Hong Kong residents who think they their morals are better than the mainlanders': "Don't have anything to do with us. We will stop supplying your water. We will stop supplying your vegetables. We will stop growing your rice. You can grow it all yourself."

A recognized descendent of Confucius, Mr. Kong last year participated in a ceremony awarding the Confucius Peace Prize, China's unofficial answer to the Nobel Peace Prize, to Vladimir Putin.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

USA & Philippines prepare for combat drills in the Spratly Islands Province of Palawan - claimed by China

U.S. and Philippine marine forces are preparing for the annual Balikatan Exercises (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) to hold combat drills at an oil rig in the Spratly Islands, Province of  Palawan - West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) island which are claim by china to bolster the defense of such sensitive facilities in a bold move that may provoke protests from China, which claims waters in the surrounding areas or near the location of islands which under controlled by china.

Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, commander of the Philippine military's Western Command, said that the exercises will be held in March or April 2012 off western Palawan province and should not alarm China because these will be done within Philippine territorial waters.

The drills involve U.S. Marines training their Philippine counterparts in defending and retaking oil and gas rigs captured by security threats like terrorists, Sabban said, adding military organizers from both sides did not contemplate on China as an imaginary target when they planned the drills.

"We need this special training so we can defend our oil and gas platforms," Sabban said. "We're doing it in an actual oil rig. We have many of these oil rigs we need to protect."

The drills are part of an annual joint military exercises by the longtime defense allies called Balikatan, which aims to improve the capability of the two countries' forces to respond militarily to threats that include terrorists, pirates and smugglers or deal with natural disasters.

The Balikatan or "shoulder-to-shoulder" exercises have mostly been done around the main northern Luzon Island in past years but will be held in Palawan for nearly a month starting in mid-March. More than 500 U.S. soldiers and marines, along with their warships and aircraft, will take part in the exercises with about 1,000 Filipino military personnel, Sabban said.

Aside from the combat drills, the military participants will undertake school repairs and medical missions.

"It's an annual exercise and should not cause any concern to China," Sabban said.

Still, the Balikatan exercises may likely invite Chinese protests.

Palawan province lies near the Spratlys, a potentially oil- and gas-rich chain of islands, shoals, coral outcrops and sand bars being disputed by China and the Philippines, along with Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. The Spratlys have long been feared as Asia's next potential flashpoint for conflict.

China, which claims virtually all of the South China Sea on historical grounds, has routinely protested military exercises near the disputed territories. The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to an AP request for a comment.

Sabban said the upcoming oil rig drills will be held in Philippine waters northwest of Palawan near an area called Malampaya, site of the country's largest natural gas field.

It has been learned that China last year claimed new territory in or near the venue of the planned drills. The Recto Bank with 84.77 Nautical Miles from Mainland Palawan  and within the Philippine Waters was claimed by china.

China protested in July 2011 a publicly-announced plan by the Philippine government to explore for oil and gas in waters called "areas 3 and 4," the nearest point of which lies less than 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Palawan. The Philippines has dismissed China's claims, arguing the areas were well within the country's territorial waters and too far off mainland China, Energy Undersecretary Jose Layug Jr. has said.

The new areas being claimed by China are not part of the Spratlys because it is inside the Philippines 200 Nautical Miles Exclusive Economic Zone and at the Philippines Backyard.

The Philippines has appropriated more funds to protect Malampaya and outlying waters and secure foreign companies exploring for oil and gas, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said. The Philippines received its Dividend from Malampaya Amounting to $1.1 Billion US Dollars which could be used to boost the needed Warfare upgrade to protect the areas of oil and gas exploration which was lately disrupted by china.

"What creates uncertainty is this looming threat coming from China," Abad said. "It hasn't really helped the cause of everybody who are active players in the region for China to be unpredictable and for countries not to be able to read the direction of Chinese government policy."

Beijing has been asserting its territorial claims more aggressively as its economic and diplomatic muscle has grown. In March 2011, two Chinese vessels tried to drive away a Philippine oil exploration ship from Reed Bank 84.77 Nautical Miles, another area west of Palawan.

Two Philippine air force planes were deployed, but the Chinese vessels had disappeared by the time they reached the submerged bank.

The Philippines did not mention if they are going to spend the $1.1 Billion US Dollars for Armaments upgrade but it was lately pronounced by Philippines President Benigno Aquino that they will upgrade and purchase a squadron F-16 Multirole jetfighter from the United States.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Philippines 3rd most preferred market for global fund - positive outlook

The Bank of America-Merrill Lynch survey citing the Philippines as the third most preferred market for global fund managers reflects the positive outlook for the Philippine economy that is enhanced by the accountability, transparency and good governance espoused by the Aquino administration, a Palace official said Wednesday.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the Aquino administration remains positive that the Philippine economy will continue to grow amid the economic situation in the US and Europe.

"I think when the survey was taken, it has taken into account all the factors -- external and internal. The external factors are the factors that are experienced globally while certainly they look into the internal factors," Lacierda said.

"They have seen the promise of good governance . . . Our efforts to anti-corruption will certainly lead to good governance and would lead to a situation where the Philippines has been perceived as an attractive area for investment," he said.

The Bank of America-Merrill Lynch survey said the Philippines comes after China and Indonesia in the list of most preferred markets in the world for global fund managers.

"This is borne of expectations that in the wake of four credit upgrades, the country will be further upgraded to investment grade later this year. The survey also cites investor confidence being boosted by the President's reform agenda," Lacierda said.

"The simple fact is justice, accountability, transparency, good governance, and the improvement of the economy to accomplish inclusive growth are an indivisible whole. An economy that is inclusive is one in which citizens are empowered to improve their lives and contribute to the well-being of the national community," he said.

The Philippines received upgrades last year from London-based Fitch Ratings, from BB to BB+ and the Moody's Investors Services in June 2011. Standard & Poor's upgraded the country from stable to positive in November of 2010.

Meanwhile, Malacañang Wednesday hailed the Senate Blue Ribbon committee for recommending plunder charges against former President Arroyo for alleged mismanagement of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds.

Lacierda said the Office of the Ombudsman must now look into the fourth plunder complaint against Arroyo recommended by the Senate committee.

"The findings of the blue ribbon committee on the mismanagement and plunder of PCSO funds shows what happens when the misdeeds of the past are exposed to daylight. We commend Senator Teofisto Guingona III's graft-busting investigation. Congressional oversight is a crucial weapon in the fight to punish wrongdoing and hold erring officials to account," Lacierda said in a Palace news briefing.

"The ball is now in the court of the Ombudsman to file charges for plunder against the officials involved," he added.

Lacierda said the government is determined to rectify the wrongs of the past despite the obstacles set by Arroyo and her allies.

The Senate Blue Ribbon committee earlier claimed that Arroyo should be charged with plunder and technical malversation for the release of 325 million in PCSO intelligence funds in her last three years in office.

Three other plunder cases have been filed against Arroyo, currently under hospital arrest pending a trial for electoral sabotage charges. (With a report from Genalyn D. Kabiling)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Philippines: Sen. McCain & Lieberman take PH side in West Philippine Sea dispute with China

Manila - The name John McCain is no stranger to the Philippines, It was here where as a young man the senator's father served as commander at the former US Naval base at Subic Bay. McCain first tasted freedom from years as prisoner of war touching down at Clark Field on the Island of Luzon.

With few exceptions; the American senator and his companions have probably one of the longest and strongest personal ties to the country. When McCain as well as Joe Liberman, as well as Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire met with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario; issues discussed included U.S. defense and development assistance to the Philippines.

McCain: Concern over intrusions into 'West Philippine Sea'

Senator McCain, who in his remarks referred to the "West Philippine Sea" and issues over Chinese Navy intrusions into the Philippine Province of Palawan's waters.

The DFA also briefed updated the delegation on US funded programs like "the Mindanao Peace Process, ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Myanmar, climate change and the renewed engagement of the U.S. in the Asia Pacific. "

The Philippine Foreign Secretary expressed, "Appreciation for U.S. Senate Resolution 217, which was passed on 27 June 2011, which called for a peaceful and multilateral resolution to maritime territorial disputes in the disputed islets and reef just off shore of the Philippine Island of Palawan and over several hundred miles from China."

Del Rosario; also thanked the Senator for his position about the need to maintain freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea; and for stressing the need for U.S. support in defense of the Philippines as America's former commonwealth and oldest and closest ally in ASEAN.

Senator McCain, expressed "strong affinity" for the Philippines and noted the "long and friendly personal relationship" between the two countries, conveyed that the best way to avoid confrontation with China is to maintain freedom of navigation.

Secretary del Rosario also requested the U.S.' assistance on the Philippine Government's request for a third Weather High Endurance Cutter (WHEC), which would enable the Philippines to attain minimum credible defense posture and to enhance maritime domain awareness.

In response, Senator McCain committed that they "will try to get a waiver on the cutter" as he sees that it would be unreasonable not to give it" to the Philippines. He also said that they would do whatever they could to help the Philippines improve its maritime security." A media release on the event from the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said.

Lieberman: Philippine cooperation on counter-terror 2nd to none

As chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Senator Lieberman conveyed his gratitude for the Philippines' cooperation in counterterrorism and requested updates on the Mindanao Peace Process.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis provided updates on the Government of the Philippines-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (GRP-MILF) Peace Process, and expressed optimism that a peace agreement will be signed between the two panels before the end of the Aquino administration.

The visit of Senator McCain and his delegation to the Philippines is part of their trip to Southeast Asia which includes Vietnam and Myanmar. The visit's purpose is to broaden and deepen the existing defense and security relations between the two countries.

The Quartet of US Senators met with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III later Tuesday night - Aquino who says he "Will continue to focus on the country's economic growth." earlier in the week he also welcomed Chinese investors into the country. Palace officials note both Taiwan and PRC investments are most welcome to Manila. But "Naval incursions are not" in side remarks to visiting US senators.

The Aquino Administration which says it is firm in "its commitment to good governance, it also would not waver in pursuing equitable economic growth, citing solid accomplishments such as creating an additional 2.1 million jobs last year, as well as having increased tourist arrivals by about a million additional visitors in 2011," Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a statement released to the media on Tuesday afternoon said.

"The great strides that have been made in curbing corruption, fighting poverty, and promoting good governance—the achievements of the past one and a half years—are only indicators of the changes that will continue to sweep the Philippines in the coming years," he added.

In the recent meeting of the President with the members of the US Congress, Lacierda said the American legislators expressed their confidence in the reform agenda of the Aquino administration.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

US Senators Support Philippines in Spratly Islands Dispute

Four U.S. senators visiting Manila have been discussing the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) territorial dispute and touting their support for the Philippines.

Arizona Senator John McCain reiterated the U.S. stance that there is no need to have any sort of confrontation with China over issues related to the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea).  But he also said it is important to strengthen U.S. ties with the Philippines.

"We think that it's important for us and other ASEAN nations as well as the Philippines to emphasize that we will do whatever we need to do in order to protect the principle of freedom of navigation, particularly in the West Philippine Sea," McCain said.

McCain and the other senators used the preferred local name when referring to the disputed sea, which has some of the world's most heavily traveled sea lanes. The region is believed to have vast oil and gas reserves and also provides abundant fishing.  China says it owns practically the entire sea based on a centuries-old map. But the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to part or all of the sea.

Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  He says keeping peace and order means always being ready for war.

"China has made claims over the West Philippine Sea - the South China Sea - that I don't accept and I know the Philippine government doesn't accept," said Lieberman. "The question is how do we reconcile those differences? I think we have a better chance of reconciling them peacefully, as Senator McCain says, if we both strengthen the Philippine military and we continue, and I hope even expand, our presence here on the waters here."

Lieberman pointed to the installation in the Philippines in August of a used American Hamilton-class cutter that is now the country's largest military ship. The Philippines is expected to take possession of another one this year and two more in the future. The BRP Gregorio del Pilar patrols waters along a natural gas drilling project in the West Philippines Sea.

China has expressed displeasure numerous times about U.S. input on the disputes in the Spratly Islands of the Philippines, such as vocal support for multilateral talks among claimant countries. China continues to emphasize one-on-one talks with each party.

2nd week of January 2012, the Philippines protested what it calls intrusions in mid-December 2011 by Chinese vessels and a military ship into waters it says were well within the country's exclusive economic zone. The United Nations designates an exclusive economic zone as a 370 kilometer or 200 Nautical Miles Exclusive Economic Zone (UNCLOS) area beyond a country's coastline. China extended its claim more up to the seas in Malaysia for more than 1000 Miles called the protest of the Philippines as baseless as their claimed that "they owned everything".

Last year, the Philippines cited about nine instances of alleged Chinese intrusions into its waters. One allegation accused Chinese boats of harassing an oil exploration ship. China has repeatedly said there were no intrusions.

Philippines reiterates call ASEAN members to take a decisive stand on Spratlys issue

The Philippines reiterated anew its call on the other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to take a united and decisive role in the resolution of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) disputes by supporting its proposal that a meeting be held as soon as possible among the claimant states, including China, under the guidance of ASEAN.

"The Philippines calls on all ASEAN Member States to endorse this proposed claimant states' meeting, which the Philippines is ready to host. We would also welcome other ASEAN Member States to host this meeting if they would like to unequivocally express their support for and advance a rules-based approach in the region," Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in his statement at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting (AMM) Retreat held in Siem Reap, Cambodia on January 11.

"The Philippines eagerly awaits ASEAN's response to this proposed meeting of claimant states," he added. The DFA chief also reiterated that a rules-based approach is the only legitimate way in addressing disputes in the West Philippine Sea and that the dispute settlement mechanism established in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the fundamental principle of the rules-based approach being espoused by the Philippines.

Del Rosario said the rules-based approach under UNCLOS also calls for the resolution of disputes through peaceful means, thus the Philippines proposed to ASEAN the Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship, and Cooperation (ZoPFF/C) as the actionable framework to clarify and segregate the disputed land features from the non-disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea, and in the process, address the issue of the 9-dash line.

The Philippines also has stated that it is considering third party adjudication, arbitration or conciliation, as appropriate, in the context of the dispute settlement mechanism of UNCLOS.

"Thus far, we are pleased that fellow ASEAN Member States support the rules-based approach, which essentially calls for:

(1) Solving the issue peacefully,

(2) In accordance with the rule of law, particularly international law and UNCLOS, and

(3) The multilateral participation of various stakeholders to account for the various perspectives and interests. These principles are the very bedrock of our international order. We have all furthermore agreed that we have to move forward with the Code of Conduct," Del Rosario said.

Del Rosario also stated that as the ASEAN is working on building the ASEAN Community, "it behooves Member States to now play a positive and meaningful role to solve the disputes peacefully in accordance with the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) and reach a stage whereby we are able to help resolve sensitive issues decisively without letting such issues fester and adversely affect the progress of our bilateral or multilateral relations."

He further noted that all are eager to move forward on the Code of Conduct to resolve the issues in the West Philippine Sea and the Philippines is ready to accept a Code of Conduct that calls for the primacy of international law, including UNCLOS, in resolving the disputes in the West Philippine Sea.

"It is ready to accept a Code of Conduct that espouses the concrete and actionable activities to foster cooperation in the West Philippine Sea in the context of international law," Del Rosario said.

He also stressed that the Philippines is willing to commit to a Code of Conduct that addresses the very core of the issue and that is to define, clarify, and segregate the disputed areas from the non-disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea.

"I understand that these elements may require considerable focus to achieve our objective. As I have often expressed, ASEAN is at a critical juncture of playing a momentous role for the resolution of the disputes in the WPS/SCS. We must now muster the will as an ASEAN Community to face these sensitive issues with determination," he said.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Philippines ranked 8th friendliest paradise in the world -survey

Philippines – It may not always be that "fun" in the Philippines contrary to a widely circulated Department of Tourism (DOT) slogan but we are more than consistent in being warm and friendly as people.

A recent international survey conducted between May and July 2011 involving 3,385 expatriates in 100 countries reinforced this notion, with the Philippines being ranked eighth friendliest.

The top three spots were occupied by New Zealand, Australia, and South America.

According to Lisa Wood, head of marketing for HSBC, which spearheaded the survey, the study was meant to capture important insights into an expat's life.

"As the largest global survey of expats, Expat Explorer allows us to capture invaluable insights into expat life and how it differs from country to country, continent to continent and from an expats' home country of origin," says Wood, via a report on www.forbes.com that published the result of the rankings. "We want to be a business that truly understands its customers so that we can ensure our products and services meet their needs effectively."

To determine the friendliest country, the survey isolated results in four categories: ability to befriend locals, success in learning the local language, capacity for integrating themselves into the community, and ease in which they fit into the new culture.

New York-based expat coach Heather Markel says all of these play into the ability of expats to create a new support structure, which is among the biggest challenges when relocating.

"Because a majority of expats are so focused on closing the life they are leaving, they end up depressed at some point after relocating, because by not focusing on creating their new life before arriving, they end up with 'nothing'—no friends locally, nothing familiar, a feeling of loss," says Markel, via the same report. "Other challenges include learning a new language, experiencing new foods, more or less convenience, how genders might be treated. The sense of loss for what they liked in the culture they left can be a big challenge, as can a changed lifestyle."

Seventy-five percent of respondents living in New Zealand reported that they were integrating well in the local community; in Australia it was 77% and in South Africa 79%.

"New Zealanders as a whole seem like happy people, and that translates into friendly, helpful and kind people," notes American expat Kim Brinster who was also interviewed for the same piece.

Other positive aspects of New Zealand living, she says, include a "pitch-in-and-help mentality," as well as navigable government and health-care systems.

Dov Golan, an Israeli national who choose to live in the Philippines and for 14 years already  -- can't stop gushing about the people of his adopted country.

"They're very friendly and they're very polite they're very easy to talk to and they're warm people," said he in an interview with GMA News.

Golan, who is married to a Filipina, is not planning to leave anytime soon.

The same GMA report said that Malacanang welcomed the result of the HSBC survey hoping that it would help bolster the DOT's campaign to boost tourism in the country.

But which countries landed at the lowermost rung of the survey?

The least friendly country for expats was the United Arab Emirates. And among the countries that expats consider "most challenging" were Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Russia and India.

The Philippines' rising economy to Star in 2050

BANKING giant Hongkong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC) announced recently that the Philippines can be one of the world's top economies by 2050.

It is encouraging that this independent and credible financial organization sees the enormous potential our country has for economic growth, and that if this potential is nurtured, the outcomes will be concrete and tangible and will provide benefits for the nation and its people.

In the HSBC report, the Philippine economy is forecast to rise 27 places upward to 16th rank less than 40 years from now.

The Philippines was also marked as one of 26 "fast-growth" countries expected to register "an average expansion of more than 5 percent per year."

Despite a "very low level of development," the report says the Philippines is among those countries that has made "great progress in improving fundamentals. As they open themselves to the technology available elsewhere, they should enjoy many years of 'copy-and-paste' growth ahead."

The Philippines was noted as being one of the "truly remarkable hot spots in Asia…. The star performer, however, is the Philippines, where the combination of strong fundamentals and powerful demographics gives rise to an average growth rate of 7 percent for the coming 40 years."

Noted as contributing to the country's progress are the "improvements in its economic infrastructure," with the "fast-growing population…expected to increase the country's labor force, which likewise benefits from the quantity and quality of education."

HSBC projected the Philippines's average gross domestic product growth at 8.4 percent from 2010 to 2020, 7.3 percent from 2020 to 2030, and 5.8 percent from 2040 to 2050.

The report stated further the following top 5 projections:

  1. China is expected to become the No.1 economy,
  2. United States will follow China,
  3. India
  4. Japan  
  5. Germany

Germany will remain  in the top five, in that order.

Many smaller economies will move up, such as:

Many European countries may decline, especially those in Northern Europe, because of a smaller work force and the rise of developing nations—

Among the factors that contribute to long-term economic growth are demographics—the size of the working population—and the opportunities for each individual to be more productive.

In order to create a milieu conducive to promoting productivity, there must be the following significant factors: opportunities for education, democratic governments, and strong rule of law.

Factors that could derail progress are war, energy-consumption constraints, climate change, and barriers to population movement across borders.

The report comes with a caveat: "We openly admit that behind these projections we assume governments build on their recent progress and remain solely focused on increasing the living standards for their populations….Of course, this maybe an overly glossy way of viewing the world."

The Philippines under President Aquino is already putting those measures for growth in place. Economic growth showed a strong uptick in 2011, when the Philippine Stock Exchange closed with a 4.1-percent gain. This made it Asia's best-performing economy for the year.

In another report, to create a climate conducive to more growth, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is working toward "a unified trading bloc with free-flow capital by 2015." Electronic-trading links will be set up in Asian countries to "allow more investments and raise liquidity," starting in 2012 in Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, followed later by the Philippines.

In addition, the Aquino administration has taken larger steps toward fighting graft and corruption via the Good Governance and Anti-corruption Cluster (GGAC) Plan for 2012-2016, which was approved on January 3. It will simplify and integrate the government's anti-graft and -corruption systems.

Necessary legislations and policies will be reviewed and strengthened, while digitization and innovations in government operations will be promoted, backed by an aggressive advocacy and communication campaign. Once these measures are in place, the government expects the business and economic environment to improve further.

President Aquino said as much in his toast at the vin d'honneur at Malacañang on January 13 (the ceremony is the Palace's traditional New Year's celebration for the diplomatic corps):

"We have already made great strides in our fight against corruption and poverty, as well as in our thrust to create a progressive economic climate guided by fair and honest practices. Local and foreign groups have acknowledged our triumphs by investing in our country, by lauding our efforts in open governance, and by supporting our programs.

"At the heart of our work for the next year lies a desire to secure for our people a better standard of life, and a brighter future. And all of you present here today are crucial to achieving that goal.

"This year, we will strengthen the programs that work for our countrymen, such as those in education, health, housing, and others like our Conditional Cash Transfer Program.

"We will not relent in our quest to hold accountable those who seek to perpetuate the culture of impunity in our country.

"We will continue to ensure the safety of our nation: by upgrading our defense capabilities, and by working to achieve peace, while pursuing lawless and criminal elements.

"We will continue to sustain the growth of our economy and create opportunities for employment.

"These are not without their challenges, but I am confident that so long as we stand together and remain consistent in our service to the public, our countrymen will be behind us every step of the way, as we work toward success."

* * *

PCSO News: the PCSO will be taking care of the bills of the victims of the Pantukan, Compostela Valley, landslide who are in government hospitals, and will also be assisting the victims of the December 10 plane crash in Barangay Don Bosco, Parañaque City.

The Beechcraft nine-seater was en route to San Jose, Mindoro, when it crashed at 2:15 in the afternoon in a residential area. According to the police report, there were 13 casualties and 15 to 20 houses, including the F. Serrano Elementary School, were burned. Sixteen persons were injured.

The PCSO is also working on a quick-response disaster- management initiative and is drawing up guidelines for this in consultation with the Department of Social Welfare and Development. More PCSO branch offices will also be opened nationwide in order to better address the needs of its beneficiaries.

Atty. Rojas is the general manager of the PCSO. E-mail: jrojas@pcso.gov.ph.

BHP Billiton & 12 Oil Firms Start Drilling oil and gas in the Philippines

Philippines — Dubbing it as "the period of upturn in upstream petroleum investments" in the country, the Department of Energy (DoE) has announced that 10 to 12 wells have been committed by service contractor-firms in their drilling programs this year.

In a statement to the media, Energy Undersecretary Jay Layug disclosed that they have cornered "10-12 firm commitments to drill exploration wells and three workover wells from our service contractors."

This includes the following:

  • Blade Petroleum for the Cadlao block in Northwest Palawan;
  • Galoc Production Company (GPC) in Service Contract 14C, also in Northwest Palawan;
  • Philippine National Oil Company-Exploration Corporation (PNOC-EC) in Cagayan basin;
  • Gas2Grid in SC 44 and China International Mining Petroleum Company Limited (CIMP) at SC 49 in Visayas basin;
  • Frigstad Energy at SC 50 in NW Palawan;
  • Pitkin Petroleum at SC53 in Mindoro-Cuyo prospect; and
  • BHP Billiton at its two blocks in Southwest Palawan.

Layug emphasized these drilling programs are part of the work commitments submitted by the service contractors to the energy department. "These are existing work programs under their respective service contracts," the energy official said.

Exploration wells are drilled to discover oil or gas and if these can be developed at commercial quantity; while workover wells may be pursued to improve flowrates, at proven finds or existing production fields.

Service contractors are required to submit a seven-year work program with the DOE; and that could entail drilling of several wells to determine if the oil or gas finds would merit declaration of commerciality.

While the department has not given exact figure on the investment costs, it was indicated that the rule of thumb for offshore deep well drilling could range from $80 million to $100 million; while those onshore may command an investment of $30 million to $50 million per well.

"We have seen an upturn in Philippine upstream petroleum industry this year as a result of current high-oil price market condition and the efforts of the DoE to revitalize the industry," Layug has noted.

For the oil and gas investors, the equilibrium price they have been hinging their investments on has been at $80 per barrel. Obviously though, current price trends have already surpassed that immensely.

Layug specified that the energy department's intent of re-igniting interests in upstream petroleum ventures is in line with the Aquino administration's thrust "to focus on resource development as a long-term plan of action in the hopes of finding indigenous oil and gas resources to reduce our dependence on imported petroleum and mitigate effects of oil price volatility."

The department will be offering 15 new petroleum service areas in biddings scheduled until July 2012.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Philippines seeks another ASEAN support for possible China meet on Spratly row

Recently, the Philippines protested early year 2012 for another China's invasion to the Philippines territory in Sabina Shoal which is only a 82 Miles from the Philippines Main Island.

China rejected the protest of the Philippines and pronounced that they owned everything in the West Philippines Sea and voiced that it will call for another negotiation to settle Spratly.

The Philippines is committed and lead for the resolution of the Spratly and called anew for the support of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in having a meeting with China to resolve the territorial row involving the Spratly Islands.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario made the call at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting Retreat at Siem Reap, Cambodia, where he reiterated his stand for a rules-based solution to the problem.

"In the context of the Philippine position and the background on this issue, the Philippines reiterates its proposal that a meeting be held as soon as possible among the claimant states including China, under the guidance of ASEAN, to resolve the conflicting claims in the WPS (West Philippine Sea) based on the rules-based regime of (the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). This proposal for constructive engagement should be acceptable to all," Del Rosario said.

He added the Philippines calls on all ASEAN Member States to endorse this proposed claimant states' meeting, which the Philippines is ready to host.

"We would also welcome other ASEAN Member States to host this meeting if they would like to unequivocally express their support for and advance a rules-based approach in the region," he said.

The text of his statement delivered last Jan. 11 was posted Sunday on the DFA website.

Aside from the Philippines and China, other claimants to the Spratlys include Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Of these, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam are members of ASEAN.

Only legitimate approach

Del Rosario maintained a rules-based approach is the only legitimate way in addressing disputes in the West Philippine Sea.

He said the dispute settlement mechanism established in the UNCLOS is the fundamental principle of the rules-based approach being espoused by the Philippines.

"I have emphasized this at the 44th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) and 18th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and again at the last ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting, all held in Bali. This rules-based approach under UNCLOS also calls for the resolution of disputes through peaceful means. For this reason, the Philippines proposed to ASEAN the Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship, and Cooperation (ZoPFF/C) as the actionable framework to clarify and segregate the disputed land features from the non-disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea, and in the process, address the issue of the 9-dash line," he said.

He also said the Philippines has stated it is considering third party adjudication, arbitration or conciliation, as appropriate, in the context of the dispute settlement mechanism of UNCLOS.

On the other hand, he said the Philippines also proposed during the November AMM a meeting of claimant states in the West Philippine Sea to specifically include China, to resolve these claims and define the non-disputed and the disputed areas for the purpose of establishing a Joint Cooperation Area.

The rules-based approach calls for: solving the issue peacefully in accordance with the rule of law, particularly international law and UNCLOS the multilateral participation of various stakeholders to account for the various perspectives and interests.

"As we work on building the ASEAN Community, it behooves Member States to now play a positive and meaningful role to solve the disputes peacefully in accordance with the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) and reach a stage whereby we are able to help resolve sensitive issues decisively without letting such issues fester and adversely affect the progress of our bilateral or multilateral relations," Del Rosario said.

Code of conduct

Del Rosario also said all are eager to move forward on the Code of Conduct to resolve the issues in the West Philippine Sea.

He said the Philippines is ready to accept a Code of Conduct that calls for the primacy of international law, including UNCLOS, in resolving the disputes in the West Philippine Sea.

"It is ready to accept a Code of Conduct that espouses the concrete and actionable activities to foster cooperation in the West Philippine Sea in the context of international law. And, lastly the Philippines is willing to commit to a Code of Conduct that addresses the very core of the issue and that is to define, clarify, and segregate the disputed areas from the non-disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea," he added.

He pointed out ASEAN is at a critical juncture of playing a momentous role for the resolution of the disputes in the West Philippine Sea.

"We must now muster the will as an ASEAN Community to face these sensitive issues with determination. As you may appreciate, we believe that this is the only way for all of us to move forward and be able to demonstrate ASEAN's leadership in the global community," he said.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Aquino Govt appeals to US to remove 'withholding element' in military aid

The Philippines appealed to the United States to remove the "withholding element" from its military assistance program, saying there is no factual basis for perception of worsening human rights situation in the country.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Del Rosario made the appeal as he met yesterday with visiting members of the US House Appropriations Committee at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) with whom he discussed bilateral issues including defense, security development assistance and good governance.

"We talked about areas of continued assistance and what priority request we have from the US," Del Rosario told reporters following the meeting with the US lawmakers.

Del Rosario said he requested the withholding mechanism in the US Foreign Military Financing (FMF) dropped as the US Congress continues to withhold a portion of US assistance to the Philippine military until the Philippine government meets certain conditions related to solving and prosecuting cases of extrajudicial killings.

"As a result, their thinking is that we are not quite up to standard in terms of our human rights standard in the Philippines. We are trying to live those standards so that withholding element can be removed," Del Rosario said.

"We are asking them to revisit that because we do not like the idea that we are being portrayed as a human rights violator which is not factual. As a matter of fact, we are trying to address that perception and we do have very specific mechanisms to be able to do that," he added.

US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. informed representatives of Philippine-based human rights groups during a discussion at the US Embassy on Oct. 21, 2011 about the withholding of US assistance to the Philippines.

Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) chairperson Teodoro de Mesa led representatives of human rights groups during the meeting with Thomas.

Thomas said the US Embassy was encouraged by the pledge that President Aquino made in his 2010 State of the Nation Address to curb extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

Thomas noted however that the 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report on the Philippines included assertions of cases of extrajudicial killings that occurred under the Aquino administration.

He expressed concern regarding the slow pace of investigations and prosecutions of past cases.

Thomas said that from 2007 to 2010, the US government extended $3.5 million in grants to the Philippine government and non-government organizations to strengthen their capacity to address human rights violations.

He said the US government would continue to press for progress on addressing past cases and the ongoing problem of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

The human rights groups' representatives informed Thomas of their ongoing projects and suggested measures that could significantly improve human rights conditions in the Philippines.

Del Rosario, meanwhile, said he also followed up the Philippine government's request for third Coast Guard Cutter and a squadron of F16 fighter jets under defense articles.

"We are following up on our request for our third Coast Guard Cutter. As you know the second one we are awaiting delivery. We are also following up our request for the F16. We are asking for a squadron to be considered for the Philippines," he said.

Del Rosario said that in December, the US expressed willingness to help the Philippines obtain a squadron of F-16 to improve its defense capability but stressed there is no discussion yet on stationing of US naval vessels in the Philippines.

He noted plans to station US navy ships in the region including Singapore but there was no discussion yet of stationing of naval vessels in the Philippines.

Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin will visit the US in February or March to meet with their counterparts.

Del Rosario said the US is ready to help improve the Philippines' defense capability.

He said the planned acquisitions had already been discussed with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other US officials.

Clinton delivered during her visit to Manila in November a strong message of assurance and support for the Philippines in protecting its maritime domain and improving territorial defense. Clinton delivered her message on the deck of an American warship that arrived in Manila for her visit.

The territorial conflict and heightened tensions between China and the Philippines over the resource-rich West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) remains a critical factor in bilateral relations between China and the Philippines.

The Philippines formally accepted in May the turnover of a US Coast Guard (USCG) Hamilton-class cutter acquired by the Philippines through the US Foreign Military Sales program. The cutter was refurbished and renamed BRP Gregorio del Pilar. It is now the largest patrol ship in the Philippine Navy.

Reference: Philstar News

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