Thursday, July 26, 2012

UN warns Gay sex fuels HIV rise in Catholic Philippines

Humphrey Gorriceta is one of only three men who have come out in public about their disease (AFP, Jay Directo)
Gay sex in a conservative Catholic society where the influential church forbids the use of condoms is fuelling an alarming rise of HIV infections in the Philippines, UN experts warn.
The Southeast Asian country is facing a HIV epidemic, with sex between men making up nearly 90 percent of all new cases, according to the health department and the United Nations' Development Programme (UNDP).
Ten new infections are being detected every day, three times the rate of just a few years ago, the UNDP said.

Although the total of 9,669 confirmed cases is relatively small in a population of nearly 100 million people, authorities acknowledge many more cases likely remain undetected and point to the concerning upward trend.

The Philippines is one of only seven countries globally where HIV cases have risen by 25 percent or more since 2001, according to the UNDP.

"This is a worrying explosion of HIV cases marked by a shift in the way the virus is transmitted," Philip Castro, the UNDP's HIV/AIDS programme officer in the Philippines, told AFP.
HIV regional data (AFP Graphic)
He said 87 percent of new infections were attributed to unprotected men-to-men sex (MSM), in a country where condom uses overall is one of the lowest in Asia.
"What's more alarming is that more than 60 percent of (those engaging in) MSM had reported having unsafe sex in their last contact," Castro said.
Lack of public education about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, as well as the shame of living with the disease; also prevent many from acknowledging infections and seeking help, health experts said.

They lay a lot of the blame on the powerful Catholic Church, of which 80 percent of the population are followers, for spreading a conservative message they say has led to a lack of understanding and tolerance about condoms.

Unprotected sex remains extremely common in the gay community, according to Humphrey Gorriceta, who contracted HIV after having unprotected sex with multiple male partners.

The 37-year-old former art gallery manager is now campaigning to raise public awareness about the dangers of unsafe sex and help other people infected with HIV.
"I know a lot of people living with HIV that are not allowed to go to school, to attend church services and gain access to certain health services," he told AFP.

"HIV is like the modern leprosy, except it is hidden."
Gorriceta said two friends who were diagnosed with HIV committed suicide recently due to depression.

"I helped the police take down one of them from hanging on the ceiling," he said.
Gorriceta, one of only three men who have come out in public about their disease, said he believed the number of people with HIV was higher than the official tally.
"Not all the people who are supposed to be tested get tested, and many of them are not properly aware of condom use," said Gorriceta, who is studying for a masters degree in public health.
Nearly all the new HIV cases in the Philippines are being detected among the gay community (AFP/File, Noel Celis)
And while nearly all the new HIV cases in the Philippines are being detected among the gay community, prominent safe sex campaigner and columnist Ana Santos warned other sectors of the community were also in danger.
She said there were cases of bisexual men who contracted HIV after having gay sex, then unknowingly transmitted the disease to their girlfriends or wives.

"They were having sex with other men or transgenders and were also having sex with their partners," she said. "These are things that are not openly talked about so we do not have a complete understanding of this phenomenon."
"Our society is very conservative, people are not open to talking about sex much less about men having sex with men."
Santos also said religious edicts had influenced society so that sexually active people often did not buy condoms or contraceptives because of shame.
Condoms are sold in drug stores at about a dollar a piece, but this is beyond the reach of the masses in a country where a third of the population live on less than that amount each day.
And with the church pressuring politicians, a 15-year campaign for parliament to pass a reproductive health bill that would require government to give free condoms to the poor has failed.
The Philippines ry is facing a HIV epidemic, with sex between men making up nearly 90 percent of all new cases (AFP, Jason Gutierrez)
The bill would also require that sex education be taught in schools.
Experts point to a long-running education, medical check-up and condom give-away programme that has curbed the spread of HIV among the sex worker community as proof that such methods work.
"Based on our assessment, limiting HIV/AIDS among female sex workers has been a relative success," UNDP's Castro said.

The church insists, though, that monogamous partners in responsible relationships is the key to stopping the spread of HIV.

"The reproductive health bill or any law for that matter, would not address rising HIV prevalence," said Melvin Castro, head of the church's episcopal commission on family and life.
"Change of attitude and lifestyle will."
Copyright © 2012 AFP. All rights reserved

Japan-Asean Anti-terrorism meet in Cebu; Military Clash with Abu Sayyaf al Qaeda linked kills 11 in Basilan

A platoon of the Philippine Marines marches in this file Photo.  —File Photo by Reuters

Philippine forces clashed with Muslim extremists on a southern island Thursday (July 26, 2012), leaving seven soldiers and four militants dead, the military said.

Elite rangers battled members of the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group on the troubled southern island of Basilan, with three soldiers and two insurgents also wounded in the clash.

“Firefight is ongoing as of this report,” the military statement said.

It was the latest in a series of deadly clashes in the heavily-forested island of Basilan, a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf.

The group was founded in the 1990s with seed money from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Cebu meet tackles Japan-Asean cooperation to fight terrorism

A $4.1 billion fund is being proposed for anti-terrorism cooperation between Japan and Southeast Asian nations.

“There should be mutual cooperation in the area of combating terrorism.” said Tomatsu Shinotsuka of the Japanese Foreign Ministry during the 7th Asean-Japan counter-terrorism dialogue at the Marco Polo Plaza Hotel yesterday.

The dialogue will give the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and Japan, a major economic player in the region a chance to discuss the substantive progress, achievement and implementation of useful projects in fighting counter-terrorism.

“Terrorism is a common threat not only in Asia but also to the world as a whole.” said Shinotsuka.

“There should be speed of cooperation and mutual trust. We will take up various aspects of cooperation between Japan and the Asean,” Shinotsuka added.

Undersectary Nabil Tan said the anti-terrorism cooperation between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and Japan will be boosted by the $4.1 billion Japan-Asean Integration Fund (JAIF).

Tan said the counter-terrorism dialogue is a global undertaking aimed at fostering closer collaboration and exchange of information among the ten ASEAN member states – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa, Jr. who also chairs the Philippine Anti-Terrorism Council, said border security is necessary to ensure safety in the country. Ochoa said this is on top of the country’s anti-terrorism policy.

“Effective law enforcement, strong institutional mechanisms and addressing social problems like poverty and education form the core of the country’s three-point agenda to fight counter-terrorism,” Ochoa said.

For the institutional mechanisms, Ochoa said the amendments of the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) and the Human Security Act is important for it to prevent and suppress terrorist financing and to put in check terrorism activities in the country.

Abu Sayyaf in Southern Philippines, and Qaeda link groups Jemaah Islamiyah of Indonesia operating in Malaysia and Southern Thailand remains a threat in the troubled area of the ASEAN region.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Vietnam, Philippines slam China Military garrison plan in Philippine & Vietnam Territories


Vietnam and the Philippines have lashed out at China's moves to establish a military garrison in the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea), amid escalating tensions in the disputed waters.

Hanoi filed a formal protest with Beijing against the plan outlined by China this week to station troops in Sansha in the disputed Paracel Islands, saying it "violates international law".

The Paracel Islands are one of two archipelagos in the South China Sea that are claimed by both China and Vietnam.

Manila, which is involved in a dispute over another archipelago, the Spratly Islands, also weighed into the row, summoning the Chinese ambassador to lodge a complaint against the garrison announcement.

An intensifying spat over the South China Sea - the site of key shipping routes and thought to have vast oil and gas reserves - has seen a barrage of diplomatic moves between the countries with competing territorial claims.

Call for 'strong resolve'

Philippine president Benigno Aquino has called on the nation to show strong resolve against China's strident rhetoric.

In a nationwide address, President Aquino said his government had shown 'forbearance and goodwill' in the long-running dispute with China over Scarborough Shoal.

Walden Bello of the Akbayan Party, part of the Aquino administration's coalition, told Radio Australia's Asia Pacific that the Philippine people are united behind President Aquino against Beijing, but would prefer to settle the issue without conflict.

"I don't think that the response that people want is to respond with force to China's move," he said.

"The focus of the President has been to stress a diplomatic solution to the issue, to discuss it bilaterally with China, as well as to bring it to multilateral fora, like the Association of South-east Asian Nations.

"But at the same time, there is a chance that for defensive purposes, the country must be able to have a good defence capability, without being provocative," said Mr Bello

"I don't think that there is any intention on the part of the government to challenge China militarily," he said.

McCain enters fray

Meanwhile, US Senator John McCain says that China is "unnecessarily provocative" in saying it will establish a military garrison on disputed South China Sea islands.

He has called for a multilateral solution to the dispute.

"The decision by China's Central Military Commission to deploy troops to islands in the South China Sea, which are also claimed by Vietnam, is unnecessarily provocative," Mr. McCain said in a statement.

He said other action by China including its appointment of legislators to govern such disputes "only reinforces why many Asian countries are increasingly concerned about China's expansive territorial claims, which have no basis in international law, and the possibility that China will attempt to impose those claims through intimidation and coercion."

The actions by Beijing "are disappointing and not befitting a responsible great power," he said.

Words of caution

Mr. Bello says that although there are those in the Philippines government who favor seeking help from the United States, this is not a majority view.

"There are those of us within the government that are basically saying that we have to rely first of all, on ourselves, secondly on our neighbors, and be very, very careful about the way that the United States steps into the situation," he said.

Mr. Bello says it is important to look at the actual situation rather than getting agitated over China's rhetoric.

"We must distinguish between Chinese rhetoric and what it actually does," he said.

"Especially at this point, there is a leadership transition in China and everybody within every faction within the Chinese Communist Party is trying to impart, to some extent, this kind of militant discourse and rhetoric.

"Once the leadership transition is over, then you might find more flexibility on the part of the Chinese," said Mr. Bello.

"Secondly, the actual Chinese deployments that accompany its rhetoric, these are not major warship deployments," he said.

Australia News Network 

Gloria Arroyo posts bail on fraud charges, Freed from Military hospital

Former Philippines president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a key target in the government's anti-corruption fight, was granted bail on election fraud charges on Wednesday and walked out of an army hospital where she had been detained since December 2011.

But Arroyo could soon be back in detention with government lawyers seeking another arrest warrant from the anti-graft court, Sandiganbayan, over charges of plunder Over alleged misuse of state lottery funds, a non-bailable criminal offence.

Arroyo is also facing a graft charge over an aborted $329 million national broadband deal with China's ZTE Corp. in 2007. She denies all the charges.

Arroyo's corruption trial is central to President Benigno Aquino's pledge to tackle endemic graft that threatens to take the shine away from an economic revival and investment rebound in the Philippines.

"The fight against corruption continues," Aquino's spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters after Arroyo was granted a 1 million pesos ($23,800) bail. "This will not dampen our resolve to file and continue to institute corruption cases against responsible officials."

The Philippine's anti-graft court on Tuesday issued a travel ban, the third such order that will prevent Arroyo leaving the country for treatment for a spinal problem.

The 65-year-old Arroyo, president from 2001 to 2010, walked out the hospital wearing a neck brace and gray dress, and was driven home in a white van.

Television footage briefly showed her smiling and waving to supporters as her convoy made its way to her house.

A regional trial court granted her bail on the electoral fraud case because it found the evidence against her to be weak, based only on the testimony of a single witness. But the bail petition of other accused -- Andal Ampatuan, former governor of the southern province of Maguindanao, and election official Lintang Bedol -- were denied.

Ampatuan is facing 57 murder charges for his role in what was the country's worst politically-motivated killings in 2009, when relatives of his political rival, civilians, and about 30 journalists were brutally killed.

Arroyo has already posted bail on three counts of graft charges over allegations she and her husband got $30 million in kickbacks from the ZTE broadband deal.

"We thank God and all the people who are praying for her," the former leader's daughter, Luli Arroyo-Bernas said in a television interview, her voice cracking with emotion.

She insisted her mother was innocent and that the bail decision showed "there's still hope that justice can prevail in the country".

Arroyo's family and lawyers said the former leader would seek further treatment for her ailment, and may consider going overseas. She underwent a spine surgery last year.

"We will bring her to an alternative treatment facility," said Arroyo-Bernas. "We'll do everything possible to make her well again."

Many fear she might escape prosecution once she leaves detention. In November 2011, she attempted to leave for Hong Kong for treatment but was stopped at the airport by government agents. Days later, she was arrested on election fraud charges.

Arroyo, a sitting member of the lower house of Congress, will have to get permission from three separate courts before travelling abroad.

Reuters 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thailand, Philippines May Resist Rate Cut as Growth Holds Up

Thailand and the Philippines will probably refrain from cutting interest rates this week as the Southeast Asian economies withstand a global growth slowdown that spurred policy easing from Brazil to China.

The Bank of Thailand will keep its benchmark unchanged at 3 percent for a fourth straight meeting tomorrow, according to all 13 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. Eleven of the 14 analysts in a separate survey forecast the Philippines will hold rates at 4 percent the next day, even as more predicted a reduction this month than for the June meeting.

Both countries forecast growth as fast as 6 percent in 2012, aided by government spending in the Philippines and post- flood reconstruction in Thailand, which this month marks 15 years since its baht devaluation sparked the Asian financial crisis. Inflation risks may also re-emerge and crimp scope for easing as a U.S. drought pushes corn and soybean to records and India's monsoon shortfall threatens rice output in the No. 2 producer.

"Monetary policies in Southeast Asia are fairly accommodative and that's enough to support growth for now," said Aninda Mitra, Singapore-based head of Southeast Asian economics at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. (ANZ) "The scope to cut rates is tempting but it will be too premature at this point, as inflation risks could be exacerbated."

The MSCI Asia-Pacific Index (MXAP) of regional shares has fallen about 17 percent in the past year as the deepening European sovereign-debt crisis spurred outflows from emerging markets.

Global Growth

The International Monetary Fund last week cut its global growth forecast for next year to 3.9 percent, and the Asian Development Bank said the region's economies may need to ease monetary and fiscal policies further, after reducing its predictions for expansion for 2012 and 2013.

South Korea, which unexpectedly lowered borrowing costs July 12, may report the slowest growth since 2009 for the second quarter. The country's economy expanded 2.5 percent from a year earlier last quarter, compared with a 2.8 percent pace in the previous three months, according to the median estimate of 15 economists surveyed ahead of a July 26 report.

Weaker demand may cap overseas sales at South Korea's largest companies, with Samsung Electronics Co. posting second- quarter sales that trailed estimates. South Korean manufacturers' confidence fell to the lowest level in four months for July while consumer confidence dropped to a three- month low in June, according to Bank of Korea reports last month.

Slower GDP

Gross domestic product probably grew 0.5 percent from the previous quarter, slowing from a 0.9 percent pace, according to the median estimate of 13 economists. The Bank of Korea lowered its 2012 growth forecast to 3 percent from an earlier estimate of 3.5 percent on July 13, a day after it unexpectedly cut its benchmark rate by a quarter percentage point to 3 percent.

Separately, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand will maintain its official cash rate at a record-low 2.5 percent on July 26, according to all 16 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. Governor Alan Bollard has kept borrowing costs unchanged since March 2011 to boost growth that was hurt by last year's deadly earthquake in the city of Christchurch.

Seven of nine members of a so-called shadow board set up by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research Inc. said the central bank should hold the benchmark rate again. Two members of the panel comprised of economists, academics and company executives preferred a rate cut.

Inflation Readings

Price gains in the Philippines and Thailand are still lower than in neighbors including Indonesia and Vietnam. Consumer prices in the Philippines rose 2.8 percent in June from a year earlier, after climbing 2.9 percent in May. The central bank predicts inflation will be within its 3 percent to 5 percent target this year and next.

In Thailand, consumer prices increased 2.56 percent from a year earlier in June. Core inflation, which excludes fresh food and fuel costs and is used by the central bank to guide monetary policy, was 1.92 percent last month.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has raised minimum wages and will spend as much as 2 trillion baht ($63 billion) over seven years on infrastructure projects to boost growth after last year's floods. The $346 billion economy unexpectedly expanded 0.3 percent from a year earlier in the first quarter, after contracting 8.9 percent in the previous three months.

Fiscal Support

Philippine President Benigno Aquino, who marked his second year in office in June, is increasing state spending to a record this year as he seeks $16 billion of investments in roads and airports. The $225 billion economy expanded 6.4 percent in the first quarter, the fastest pace since 2010.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas has scope to loosen policy, Governor Amando Tetangco said earlier this month, while Bank of Thailand Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul said in June authorities have room to adjust borrowing costs if needed.

Thailand "will likely maintain the key rate at 3 percent until the end of the year," said Santitarn Sathirathai, a Singapore-based economist at Credit Suisse Group AG. "We don't expect any surprises unless Europe collapses, which of course will prompt a further rate cut. If the economy continues to be strong, we may see a more hawkish statement later this year and probably a rate hike next year."

Bloomberg Businessweek 

AirAsia Philippines rolls out Piso Fare promo

Hold on tight to that one peso. It will take you far to your desired destination and delight you with memorable experiences as Philippines' AirAsia, the country's newest low cost carrier, rolls out its Piso Fare promo for all local and international destinations including Fly-Thru service from Clark International Airport to Australia.

"This promo is a testament to our commitment to stay competitive and provide the best value for Filipinos to travel at the lowest cost but with the best quality service," AirAsia Inc. CEO Maan Hontiveros said at a press conference on July 23 in Makati City.

With the Piso Fare Promo, travellers who book via airasia.com starting today until July 29 can now fly direct from Clark International Airport in Pampanga to Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Macau and through AirAsia's newest Fly-Thru service from Clark to Sydney and Perth in Australia for only one peso base fare.

The Fly-Thru service offers guests to seamlessly connect on multiple flight legs, on certain flights without needing to pass through immigration, collect bags, re check-in between flights or have a transit visa. Bags will also be automatically checked through to the final destination. It also allows guests to connect from selected destinations in the AirAsia route network which spans across 20 countries and 80 destinations. All connecting destinations will come from AirAsia's transit point in LCCT (Low Cost Carrier Terminal) in Kuala Lumpur.

The Piso Fare Promo is also offered for travellers bound from Clark to AirAsia's domestic destinations such as Davao, Kalibo, and Puerto Princesa.

With AirAsia's Piso Fare Promo, travellers will only pay one peso for the base fare excluding fuel surcharge, processing fee, aviation security fee and VAT.

"Our guests, who choose our lowest-cost flights, deserve to know what they are paying for. Having well-informed travellers is a key element of AirAsia's business," Hontiveros explained.

AirAsia was the first domestic low-cost carrier to promote the "All-in-fare" concept in February this year when it launched its first ever promo seats.

Hontiveros stressed that AirAsia, unlike some competitors, does not intend to surprise clients with small prints of add-on costs, only to find they have to pay for so many other rate components.

"In the same month that we secured our AOC in February, AirAsia sparked a revolution in air travel when we launched an all-in fare by being transparent in our promo fares. We advertise promo fares which include the base fare, fuel surcharge, processing fee and government mandated fees such as aviation security fee and VAT. No hidden charges, no misleading promotions," she said.

AirAsia continues to change the landscape of low-cost travel according to Hontiveros. With Piso Fare Promo, "planning is easiest with rates all clearly laid out to our guests so that people will know which has the best value."

"With this new promo we aim to expand the market based on informed choices and continuous exciting deals. These are part of distinguishing marks of our brand of low cost travel," Hontiveros added.

1,000 seats are up for grabs with the Piso Fare Promo. (www.airasia.com)

Rappler

PNOY states 40 Military Aircraft to be deliver next 2 years to deter china

President Benigno Aquino III said Monday that the Philippines won't back down in a South China Sea dispute with China and that his country's military will soon get dozens of new aircraft and ships for maritime defense.

Aquino announced in his annual state of the nation address that more than 40 military aircraft – including attack helicopters and two newly refurbished C-130 cargo planes – and other weapons would be delivered in the next two years to bolster Philippine military muscle amid renewed territorial tensions in the South China Sea.

A second former U.S. Coast Guard cutter is to arrive soon from the United States, following a refurbished cutter that was relaunched by the Philippine navy last year as its largest and most modern warship.

Washington has also provided $30 million to strengthen the Philippine military in addition to helping establish a national coast watch center to help protect the country's 36,000-kilometer (22,370-mile) coastline, Aquino said.

But he stressed that the Philippines hopes to forge a peaceful solution that will be acceptable to China.

A standoff erupted in April between Chinese and Philippine ships at Scarborough Shoal, which both countries claim. The territory is called Huangyan Island in China and Bajo de Masinloc in the Philippines. Aquino withdrew his country's ships from the area last month as tensions with Beijing escalated, but Chinese government ships have stayed.

Some Philippine lawmakers have suggested that the Aquino administration tone down its rhetoric and quietly negotiate a compromise with China. A senator has described the lopsided feud as a clash between a mosquito and a dragon.

"There are those who say that we should let Bajo de Masinloc go. We should avoid the trouble," Aquino said in his nationally televised speech before Congress. "But if someone entered your yard and told you he owned it, would you agree? Would it be right to give away that which is rightfully ours?"

"I do not think it excessive to ask that our rights be respected, just as we respect their rights as a fellow nation in a world we need to share," Aquino said, referring to China.

Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei also have conflicting claims in the South China Sea. Many fear the resource-rich and busy waters could spark Asia's next major armed conflict.

China, meanwhile, on Monday named the mayor and other officials of a new city it established last month under its southernmost Hainan province to administer all the disputed territories it claims in the South China Sea, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Xiao Jie was named mayor of Sansha city, which will have a military presence, Xinhua said.

Vietnam and the Philippines have protested the city's establishment.

About 6,000 police officers were deployed to secure the House of Representatives, where Aquino spoke, and nearby roads. Several people were injured when riot police clashed with thousands of left-wing and trade union protesters who were seeking higher wages, land reform and a halt to alleged human rights violations.

AP

Philippine Military On-Guard at Kalayaan Spratly – China will build Air Strip in territory

A file photograph from 2008 shows the beach on Philippine-occupied Pag-Asa island, the largest of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Photographer: Joel Guinto/Bloomberg

The military on Tuesday kept mum on China's plan to build a garrison on a group of disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr., however, said they would continue to conduct surveillance reports in the area.

"That (report about the plan to build garrison) has to be validated. [As for the] response, we will ask the Department of Foreign Affairs," Burgos said.

"We will do our job. We will just implement and execute any directive handed down by higher authorities," he added.

Burgos said they would continue to coordinate with state agencies in monitoring the situation in the area.

"We will not waiver in our commitment to uphold the integrity and sovereignty of our national territory," he said.

Burgos said they are continuously upgrading their capabilities to enable them to defend the country's territory.

"We need to protect our natural resources. We will lose a lot of resources if we fail to guard them," he said.

Earlier, China's defense ministry bared plans to establish a military garrison on a group of disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea.

The troops will operate from Sansha in the Paracel Islands, which is being claimed by both China and Vietnam.

China is also reportedly eyeing the construction of an airstrip adjacent to the Pag-asa Island, a Philippine-held territory in the Spratlys Island.

China is said to be eyeing the back of a four-story building in Subi Reef as location for the new airstrip.

The Philippines is claiming several islets, shoals, reefs and sandbars in the Spratly Group of Islands, which is being claimed in whole by China.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim part of the islands, which are said to be rich in oil and natural resources.

The garrison for the Illegally created new Sancha City Of china in the water without land count 1,100 Chinese residents from more than 700 Kilometers of Hainan Island elected a legislature to oversee the area as reported by China News paper. Sansha is on the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam that would also affect the Philippines administered Macclesfield Bank.

The move adds to recent efforts by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei to affirm command over disputed islands in the waters. While it may rile other claimants in the South China Sea, China sets up military garrisons in all its administrative districts, according to Arthur Ding, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Taiwan.

"In order to show its seriousness, just like any other administrative area, China set up a military unit there," Ding said in a phone interview. "It has nothing to do with combat preparation."

About 150 Vietnamese protesters marched through Hanoi to decry China's claims over the Spratly and Paracel islands while Philippines lodged its new Diplomatic Protest against China. The demonstrators in Vietnam, including parents with toddlers and seniors, defied police requests to disperse and circumvented barricades aimed at preventing access to a square where the Chinese embassy is located.

Prefectural City

China welcomed a statement by the Association of Southeast Asians (ASEAN) calling for self-restraint in resolving disputes in the waters. The 10-member bloc had failed to issue a communique after a meeting of foreign ministers this month for the first time in its 45-year history because members differed over wording that may have criticized China's actions.

Asean's eventual statement was "in line" with China's policies, the official Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary published July 21.

In June, China's State Council approved the establishment of the prefecture-level city to administer the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia have "de facto military occupation and administration" over most of the disputed islands in the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by Taiwan and Brunei, according to the International Crisis Group.

Sansha will be based on Yongxing, the largest island in the Paracels with an area of 2.1 square kilometers (0.8 square miles). The chain is several hundred kilometers southeast of Hainan. China ousted Vietnam from the 30 islets and reefs that comprise the Paracels in a 1974 battle in which 71 soldiers were killed.

Earlier this month, China rebuffed U.S. calls to quickly complete a code of conduct for the seas as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned more clashes are likely without a region- wide deal. Asean failed to reach consensus on handling disputes in the South China Sea.

Australia – Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement (SOFVA) Approved! DFA, AFP Cheers!

Department of Foreign Affairs and the military on Tuesday welcomed the Senate's concurrence with the Philippines-Australia Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) with Australia.

The Senate has passed on third reading the resolution seeking to ratify the visiting forces agreement between the two countries.

"The Armed Forces of the Philippines welcomes the ratification of the SOVFA by the Senate. Australia is a key ally in this part of the region. SOVFA is mutually beneficial to both countries armed forces," Colonel Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr, military spokesman said.

"It will further strengthen bilateral ties as we upgrade our soldiers' knowledge and skils particularly in the conduct of HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster response)."

Burgos added this would strengthen "bilateral relationship" with Australia in view of "mutually contributing in the maintenance of peace and stability in the region" as the Philippines gears towards a minimum credible defense capability and reliable disaster response capacity.

The DFA described the agreement as "another milestone in the Philippine-Australian relations," saying it will lead to enhanced cooperation in capacity-building and training of armed forces between the two countries.

"While the 1995 Memorandum of Understanding [MOU] on Cooperative Defense Activities serves as the framework for bilateral defense and military cooperation, the SOVFA paves the way for enhanced cooperation in capacity-building and training of armed forces, interoperability to undertake humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations, counter-terrorism, border security, and maritime security," the statement said.

The statement said Australia had been assisting the Philippines in strengthening its maritime security capability with initiatives such as the Coast Watch South project and the joint Maritime Training Activity LUMBAS.

"These initiatives are expected to be further expanded and strengthened under the SOVFA," the statement added.

Senators voted 17-1 to ratify the SOVFA between the Philippines and Australia on third and final reading on Tuesday (July 24, 2012)

Inquirer.net 

Monday, July 23, 2012

NEDA Approves ₱48 Billion Infra Projects in Luzon

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA)-Investment Coordination Committee (ICC) has approved two major infrastructure projects with a combined project cost of approximately P48.12 billion.

The ICC, which is among the seven inter-agency committees of the NEDA Board, evaluates the fiscal, monetary and balance-of-payments implications of major national projects.

In a statement, the ICC said it approved the 47.018-kilometer, Cavite-Laguna Expressway (CALAX) project and the Bicol International Airport Project.

The CALAX project, with an estimated project cost of 43.319 billion, involves the financing, design and construction of a new four-lane expressway that stretches from the end of Cavite Expressway in Kawit, Cavite to Mamplasan Interchange of the South Luzon Expressway in Biñan, Laguna.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said the project would partly be financed through Public-Private Partnership (PPP), and partly through official development assistance (ODA) from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The Department of Public Works and Highways is the project's proponent.

"The project is consistent with the Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016's transport sector objective of providing dependable access to production areas such as Cavite and Laguna, being rapidly growing industrial and commercial centers south of Metro Manila," Balicasan added.

Meanwhile, the Bicol International Airport Project, with a project cost of 4.799 billion, involves the construction of a new domestic – principal Class 1 airport of international standards in Daraga, Albay. It will replace the existing Legazpi Airport due to the latter's limitations and safety concerns.

Balisacan said the project would improve safety and efficiency of aircraft operations. The construction of a new airport in Albay would meet international standards and practices, as well as enhance the accessibility of tourism destinations in the Bicol region.

The project also involves the construction of landside and airside facilities, passenger and cargo terminal buildings and related facilities/equipment, security and navigational aids equipment, detailed engineering design and land acquisition for the airport compound.

The project would source its funding from the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) budget.

PhilSTAR

DPWH spends ₱3.7 Billion for infra projects in Cebu by 2013

Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) said it has spent 3.7 billion for various infrastructure projects in Cebu for this year.

The DPWH-Central Visayas said it has already completed 45 infrastructure projects worth   1.9 billion, has 18 ongoing projects and 13 projects that have not yet been started.

Most of the completed projects were road asphalting and concreting.

Another 1.8 billion is being allocated for the construction of at least five more flyovers in Cebu City.

The amount includes the road widening component of each flyover project.

The flyover projects were, however, put on hold after some sectors voiced their opposition on the ground that these were to be constructed without first conducting a traffic master plan in the city.

Projects completed under the Cebu City District Engineering Office are located at the following:

  • M. Cuenco Avenue
  • Mabini-Lopez Jaena Street
  • Carlock Street
  • Tupas Street
  • 8th Street
  • N. Bacalso Avenue (Cebu South),
  • Gov. Cuenco Avenue
  • C. Padilla Street
  • Cebu Circumferential Road (F. Llamas Street).

Those projects completed under Cebu First Engineering District were the two road projects in Toledo-Tabuelan-San Remigio Road, two Cebu North Hagnaya Wharf road projects, three Antonio Y de Pio road projects, Daanbantayan Port, and Olive Bridge construction.

Completed road projects under Cebu 2nd District Engineering District are the two in Cebu South Coastal Road and the two concrete road pavements of Sibonga-Dumanjug Road and two in N. Bacalso Ave. (Cebu South Road).

Those completed under the Cebu 3rd Engineering District are Pinamungahan Cadre Road, Toledo-Pinamungahan-Aloguinsan-Mantalongon Road, Cebu-Toledo Wharf Road, Carcar-Barili Road and Toledo-Tabuelan-San Remegio road.

In addition, the DPWH-Central Visayas has proposed some 6.024-billion worth of infrastructure projects for Cebu City and Cebu province in 2013, mostly listed under the names of the different congressmen.

District Engineer Susan Ornopia of the DPWH Cebu 4th Engineering District said Representative Benhur Salimbangon (Cebu, 4th district) has infrastructure projects worth 581.3 million for his district.

In the list presented by DPWH-Central Visayas, a total of 859.741-million worth of infrastructure projects was attributed to Representative Tomas Osmena (Cebu City, south district).

This includes 839.741 million for national roads and bridges, 15 million for drainage and 5 million for national building.

Projects under Representative Rachel del Mar (Cebu City, north district) include P615 million for national roads and bridges and 72 million for flood control/drainage, for a total of 700.412 million.

Other proposed projects for 2013 are: Under Representative Pablo Garcia (Cebu, 2nd district), 1.522 billion, including 1.406 billion for national roads and bridges, 109 million for flood control/drainage; Representative Eduardo Gullas (Cebu, 1st district), 523.7 million; Representative Pablo John Garcia (Cebu, 3rd district), 651.3 million; Representative Ramon Durano VI (Cebu, 5th district), 651.3 million; Representative Arturo Radaza (Lapu-Lapu City, lone district), 360 million; and Representative Gabriel Luis Quisumbing (Cebu, 6th district), 387.2 million. 

Sunstar

Cebu Park District rising for more 10,000 new workforces

Ayala Land president Tony Aquino, also Cebu Holdings chairman, said a "live-work-play" positioning is the game-changing key to the primacy of Cebu IT Park and Cebu Business Park rolled into one mixed-used hub.

"Given that both commercial squares are geographically aligned and strategically located at the heart of the city, addressing them as a single destination will solidify and strengthen their potential as business centers," he said. "Mirroring the synergy of both parks will practically provide a larger environment for BPOs and even for other businesses that will spur growth in the region."

With an expected 20 percent increase in the 50,000 workforce, the business parks, among the most sought-after addresses in the region, are being amalgamated to be addressed as the Cebu Park District with ALI and Cebu Holdings at the forefront of a 10-billion development project.

With the rising number of commercial conglomerates, Cebu Park District is further bolstering its urban convenience, thus, more CBD developments and amenities must be endowed, according to Aquino.

"There is already an existing lifestyle destination in the area—Ayala Center Cebu," he said. "This defining lifestyle centerpiece is set to expand in the coming years, not only in terms of shopping, dining and entertainment, but even with residential towers and hotel that will be integrated in its overall masterplan."

Aquino living space makes the Cebu Park District worth calling it home for good.

"Only Ayala Land Premier managed to integrate its residential tower, 1016 Residences, in City Sports Club Cebu while Alveo Land's Solinea complements Cebu's resort vibe by having stylish living spaces and well-appointed amenities," he said. "Avida, on the other hand, furthers the living options through a multi-tower residential complex that are in close proximity to the business and lifestyle centers in the district."

Cebu Park District is also bringing open and lush breathing spaces to provide places to relax and to highlight the development's family-friendly impressions amid the usually busy setting of a cityscape.

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