Wednesday, July 22, 2015

PHOTOS: Philippines challenges China's Claim of West Philippine Sea at UNCLOS Tribunal in The Hague

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Philippines challenges China's Claim of country's exclusive economic zone at UNCLOS Tribunal in The Hague. image: inquirer.net

IN PHOTOS: Philippines challenges China in The Hague

In photos emailed to Rappler, the Permanent Court of Arbitration gives us a glimpse of the closed-door hearings pitting Manila against Beijing

MANILA, Philippines – Behind closed doors, the Philippines recently waged a legal battle against China in The Hague, Netherlands, in a historic case over the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The Philippines on Thursday, July 23, is set to submit a new document to The Hague to bolster its case.

While Manila pursues this, a question remains: What exactly happened during hearings from July 7 to 13?

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, which serves as the venue for the arbitration proceedings, emailed Rappler high-resolution photos to give us a glimpse of the closed-door hearings.

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China claimed the shores of Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Japan as their own

The photos show a powerhouse team, led by internationally acclaimed lawyer Paul Reichler, defending the Philippines' case before an equally high-caliber arbitral tribunal in The Hague.

The tribunal said around 60 members joined the Philippine team. (READ: Binay hits Philippine team vs China in The Hague))

Check out these photos from the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague.

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TOP DIPLOMAT. Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario delivers an opening statement. Photo courtesy of PCA

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IN SESSION. Early on, the arbitral tribunal in The Hague decides to hold the hearings behind closed doors. Photo courtesy of PCA

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TOP GOVERNMENT LAWYER. Philippine Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, who serves as agent for his country, delivers a statement. Photo courtesy of PCA

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TEAM OF EXPERTS. The counsel team for the Philippines, including Professor Bernard Oxman, Professor Alan Boyle, and Mr Lawrence Martin, in the closed-door hearings. Photo courtesy of PCA

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HISTORIC CASE. The arbitral tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, listens to the first country that brought China to court over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). Photo courtesy of PCA

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'GIANT SLAYER.' Internationally acclaimed lawyer Paul Reichler, the Philippines' chief counsel, delivers a statement. Photo courtesy of PCA

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REPRESENTING GOVERNMENT. Members of the Philippine delegation, including Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs Menardo Guevarra. Photo courtesy of PCA

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OBSERVER DELEGATIONS. The tribunal allowed observers from the following countries – Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Japan – to attend the hearings. Photo courtesy of PCA

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HIGH-CALIBER TRIBUNAL. The arbitral tribunal is led by Judge Thomas Mensah (president, C), the first president of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. The high-caliber tribunal also includes the following (L to R): Judge Jean-Pierre Cot, Judge Stanislaw Pawlak, Judge Rüdiger Wolfrum, and Professor Alfred H. A. Soons. Photo courtesy of PCA

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TEAM PHILIPPINES. Representing all 3 branches of Philippine government, the Philippine delegation comes in full force in The Hague. Photo courtesy of PCA

The 5-member tribunal said it "now enters its deliberations" on whether it has the right to hear the Philippines' case. It said it expects to rule on this matter "before the end of the year."

The tribunal said it "is conscious of its duty under the Rules of Procedure to conduct proceedings 'to avoid unnecessary delay and expense and to provide a fair and efficient process.'"

Once the tribunal decides it has jurisdiction over the case, the Philippines can already present the meat of its arguments. (READ: EXPLAINER: Philippines' 5 arguments vs China)

The Philippines said it expects a definitive ruling against China by 2016 – Rappler.com

Philippine Azkals would take full advantage of three more home games to match in FIFA World Cup qualifier

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The Philippine Azkals have scored the maximum six points from two matches. image: spin.ph

Azkals play 3 more home matches in FIFA World Cup qualifier

MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine national football team is scheduled to play only three more games in the country in the ongoing qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup as the rest of its matches will be held outside the Philippines.

“Let’s take advantage of the hometown matches by watching the Azkals play in person. The Azkals will be playing for the country’s honor. The fans’ support will count a lot,” Team Manager Dan Palami said.

The next Azkals game is scheduled on September 8 against a tough Uzbekistan squad at the spanking Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan.

Kickoff time is at 8 p.m.

Palami said playing before a home crowd will be motivating for the Azkals, especially if the players see the all-out support of fans turning up in droves for the games.

“We are fortunate to see our Azkals playing more home games, unlike in the 2011 qualifiers where they had only two home games,” he said.

For the ongoing World Cup qualifiers, the Azkals were lined up to play four games in the Philippines -- with the first game already held last June 11 against Bahrain at the Philippine Sports Stadium -- and another four games outside the country under a round robin format. The first home away game of the Azkals happened last June 17 in Doha, Qatar, when it trounced Yemen, 2-0.

After the September 8 game against Uzbekistan, the next Azkals matches in the country are on November 12, 2015, against Yemen and on March 29 next year against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), both at the Philippine Sports Stadium.

The rest of the Azkals games scheduled outside of the country are on October 8, 2015, against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in Pyongyang; on October 13, 2015, against Bahrain in Manama, and on March 24 next year against Uzbekistan in Tashkent.

There are eight groups with five teams each. The top team in each group plus the four second-best teams to be determined by goal difference across all groups will advance to the next round. The Philippines, Uzbekistan, People’s Republic of Korea, Bahrain, and Yemen are in Group H.

The 12 teams will compete in the 2016 qualifiers, which will determine the final group for the World Cup in 2018 to be held in Russia. The 12 teams will also automatically qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup.

“Our ultimate goal is to play in the World Cup, the most followed sporting event worldwide and which is every nation’s dream,” Palami said.

Tickets for the Azkals vs. Uzbekistan game to be held at the Philippine Sports Stadium on September 8, 2015 are now available at www.ticketworld.com.ph.  Tickets are at P531.80 for Price Zone 1, P331.14 for Price Zone 2 and P125.40 for Price Zone 3. - Philstar

Globe in ₱1.83-B buyout deal for Bayantel stake

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Globe takes over Bayantel. image: Business World Online

GLOBE Telecom, Inc. has reached a buy-out deal worth 1.83 billion with the Lopez group that will give the Ayala-led company full control of cash-strapped Bayan Telecommunications, Inc.

The move is seen to help Bayantel completely get out of the doldrums by 2023.

"Globe Telecom, Inc. has agreed to purchase from Bayan Telecommunications Holdings, Corporation (BTHC) and Lopez Holdings, Corporation (LHC) all the equity in the capital stock of Bayan Telecommunications, Inc. that is held by BTHC and LHC, valued at approximately 1.83 Billion Php," Globe said in a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange yesterday.

Globe will boost its control over Bayantel to 98.57% from 56.87%, through a debt-to-equity conversion scheme involving up to 70.76 million shares. The transaction is under Bayantel's rehabilitation plan and was approved by the National Telecommunications Commission on July 2.

Globe already acquired a 38% interest in Bayantel in October 2013 after the Pasig City Regional Trial Court Branch 158 approved the amended rehabilitation plan jointly filed by the companies, where Globe converted Bayantel's debt into common shares, according to the listed telecommunication firm's 2014 annual report.

Globe, as a principal creditor, had planned to further convert a portion of the $423.3-million debt, so it can hike its stake to as high as 56.6%.

"The debt-to-equity conversion transaction between Globe and Bayan will precisely enable the latter's continued viability as a service provider, allowing it to exit rehabilitation and enhance its current service offering to the public," Globe's General Legal Counsel Froilan M. Castelo had said in a July 3 mobile phone reply.

"Globe will certainly add value to Bayantel, bringing financial and technical support and synergies, as well as experience and our own culture of innovation," he added.

Globe had said it can address "increasing demand" for voice, short message, and mobile data services through the joint use of frequencies originally assigned to Bayantel. In return, Bayantel would be able to offer mobile telecommunications.

Globe shares added 16 or 0.63% to close at 2,544 apiece on Tuesday. - Business World Online

Singer Chris Brown barred from leaving Philippines amid contract dispute

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Singer Chris Brown is shown at a party on April 10 in Bermuda Dunes, California. image: CNN

Manila, Philippines (CNN)Award-winning U.S. singer Chris Brown has been barred from leaving the Philippines because of a contract dispute, the official Philippines News Agency reported Wednesday.

Brown was stopped Wednesday morning while preparing to depart on a private jet from Manila's international airport on his way to Hong Kong for a concert, the news agency said.

The Philippine Department of Justice said that an order had been issued Tuesday night to stop any attempts by Brown, 26, to leave the country.

Brown performed a concert that evening as planned, but the order was put in place to compel him to pay back money that promoters said was owed to them after he failed to appear for a previous appearance scheduled for last New Year's Eve.

That concert was supposed to take place at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan, north of Manila.

The Bureau of Immigration said Brown and his promoter John Michael Pio Roda were both subject to an immigration lookout bulletin, but they could seek a clearance certificate that could allow them to leave if the Department of Justice consented.

It's not the first time that the chart-topping star has run into trouble with authorities.

A few months after Billboard named him Artist of the Year, Brown assaulted his then-girlfriend Rihanna -- another popular singer -- inside a rented Lamborghini on the eve of the Grammy Awards in February 2009. He pleaded guilty that June to one felony assault count, after which he was put on probation for five years, ordered to serve 180 days of labor-oriented service and made to take a yearlong domestic violence class.

He made a public apology but didn't stay out of trouble. In 2012, he had an altercation with rapper Drake at a New York club. The next year, a woman accused Brown of shoving her at a club in Anaheim, California, bringing an assault and battery claim; he was accused of committing a hit-and-run in Los Angeles; and he was accused of felony assault after an incident outside a W Hotel in Washington.

Those incidents added up, along with a positive marijuana test and prosecutors' claim that Brown didn't finish his court-mandated community labor. He entered rehab in 2013 to "gain insight into his past and recent behavior," his representative said, only to get kicked out of the facility for smashing his mother's car window during a family session, according to his probation officer.

Brown entered another rehab facility, only to leave in 2014. He was then taken into custody by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies after a judge revoked his probation. He was released from jail in June 2014.

Last week, the artist was the apparent victim of crime after armed intruders burst into his Southern California home and locked his aunt in a closet, according to police. - CNN

Journalist Arlene Espiritu reported from Manila and Merieme Arif from Atlanta, while Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN's Greg Botelho contributed to this report.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Philippines Budget Surplus expanded to ₱67.3 Billion Php in May 2015

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PHL budget surplus widens nearly 6 times in May

More Amid the pressing need to boost public spending to pump-prime the economy, government revenues continued to outpace expenditures for the second month this year.

The budget surplus expanded by almost six times to 67.3 billion Php in May from 11.8 billion Php a year earlier, figures released by the Department of Finance (DOF) on Monday showed. 

The amount widens the 52.6 billion Php surplus reported in April, bringing the budget balance to a surplus of 86.4 billion Php in the first five months of the year. In comparison, the government registered an 8.5- billion Php surplus in January to May last year.

Revenues expanded by 41 percent to 242.5 Php billion in May. In January-to-May, revenues were 16 percent higher at 922.2 billion Php, according to the DOF.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue raked in 128.5 billion Php while the Bureau of Customs and the Bureau of the Treasury collected 26.7 billion Php and 11.0 billion. Other offices contributed P76.4 billion, reflecting the 60.1 billion Php of coconut levy-related remittances.

Government expenditures increased by 9 percent to 175.2 billion Php, including 20.6 billion Php in interest payments. But the amount represents only about 72 percent of the total revenues generated during the month.

In January to May, expenditures reached 835.7 billion Php, a 6 percent increase from a year earlier. Interest payments decreased by 2 percent to 136.9 billion Php, accounting for 16 percent of total expenditures.

"Various volatile events in the global landscape serve as stark reminders of the importance of the hard work of reform carefully sustained by prudent fiscal management. We continue to build ample safeguards protecting the country from shocks that pose risks to our upward trajectory," Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said. 

But economists, credit watchers and banks have cited slow government spending for the worse-than-expected performance of the Philippine economy this year.

Even the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) admitted that meeting the lower end of the government's growth target of 7 percent to 8 percent would be difficult given the slowdown in global demand.

The government must focus on intervention in the agriculture and industry sectors to sustain the Philippine economy, former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno told GMA News Online.

"To me, ang dapat talagang palalakasin mo, side-by-side, ay agriculture and industry – meaning manufacturing, construction and power.

"Why agriculture? Because a third of the workforce is in agriculture and more than half of the poor is in rural areas," Diokno said.

A modern agriculture sector could translate into cheaper food prices and subsequently benefit the poor, ease the demand for higher wages and make inputs to food manufacturing cheaper, he added. – VS, GMA News

 

$1Billion USD - Upgrading 23 important Military Assets DELAYED again for Corruption?

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The Philippines relies on aging helicopters such as this UH-1 Huey seen on a recent mission in Mindanao. PHOTO: TREFOR MOSS/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Philippine Military Upgrade Stalls

Delay for $1 billion in defense deals leaves planned overhaul years from completion

MANILA—A push by the Philippines to overhaul its obsolete military has ground to a halt just as the U.S. ally is striving to deter China in the disputed waters between them.

A string of programs collectively valued at $1 billion stalled early last year, said military officials and executives involved in Philippine defense deals. The delay underscores how the government’s efforts to transform the country’s derelict navy and air force have become mired in red tape, funding problems and corruption allegations.

The delays leave long-held plans to build a “minimum credible deterrent”—comprising small but capable air and naval fleets—at least a decade from completion, said Jose Antonio Custodio, a Manila-based defense consultant. Even with a basic deterrent in place today, Manila would likely still lack the means to check Beijing’s assertiveness.

“We’re still at square one,” said Mr. Custodio. “With China building all these new bases [in the South China Sea], I’d say it’s already too late.”

Securing secondhand equipment from allies such as Japan and the U.S. may now be the Philippines’ only chance of quickly upgrading its forces, people familiar with the country’s procurement process said. The approach of presidential elections in May make it unlikely that any big contracts will be signed before then.

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President Benigno Aquino III has promised to rejuvenate the military, which has been degraded by decades of underinvestment.

A pledge to spend $1.7 billion on new equipment initially bore fruit, as the administration signed a flurry of defense contracts valued at $834 million in late 2013 and early 2014, including deals for 12 Korean fighter jets, three Airbus transport planes and a new fleet of combat helicopters from Canada and the U.K.

“The record will show that the Aquino administration has stepped up the pace of [military modernization] considerably, surpassing the procurement program undertaken by three previous administrations combined,” said presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma.

However, Mr. Coloma said Mr. Aquino still hasn’t signed a law passed by the Philippines Congress in February 2013 earmarking $2 billion for defense procurement. Mr. Coloma didn’t explain the delay.

Government finances have been stretched thin after the government spent billions on reconstruction following Supertyphoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in 2013. Spending has also slowed after a recent scandal in which prosecutors charged three senators with corruption for their alleged involvement in the use of dummy NGOs to steal around $220 million in public money. All three senators denied the charges. Strict government procurement rules have been further tightened since then, putting the brakes on a range of spending programs.

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The Philippine vessel Ramon Alcaraz participated in bilateral maritime exercise with the U.S. in June last year.PHOTO: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Contracts for two naval frigates valued at $398 million and for two long-range patrol planes valued at $132 million—capabilities that would help the Philippines monitor its maritime territory, where it has overlapping claims with China—are among those that were scheduled to have been bid out last year but haven’t moved ahead. “It’s a bureaucratic logjam,” said Mr. Custodio.

Foreign defense companies seeking to supply these and other systems can only wait for the logjam to clear.

“It seems that all programs are paralyzed,” said a Western defense executive whose company is involved in one stalled project.

Another Western executive said the Philippines was hardly unique in experiencing lengthy holdups for military equipment, but recalled how the country’s defense leadership had built momentum in 2013, only to hit the buffers in early 2014.

“Defense officials just don’t have the authority to make things happen now,” he said.

The Philippine Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines didn’t respond to requests to comment.

With China accelerating its island-building program in the South China Sea, Philippine military chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang recently urged Manila to spend more on defense as the country’s economy enjoys healthy growth. Last year’s defense budget was just $3.3 billion—far less than neighboring Singapore’s $9.5 billion.

A Philippines senate inquiry into the country’s military modernization efforts has meanwhile questioned the effectiveness of the funds spent so far, with one senator arguing there was practically nothing to show for the $1.4 billion spent on new weaponry in the decade to 2013.

Senators also looked into a deal for 21 secondhand helicopters, which the defense department canceled in April after only seven deliveries amid concerns about the quality of the technology, and with a Philippine tax official claiming that the aircraft had been ordered in exchange for kickbacks.

The defense department has denied the allegations.

The breakdown of the helicopter program has made defense officials even more reluctant to place new orders and expose themselves to further scrutiny, said Mr. Custodio.

Mr. Aquino has turned to allies for help. On a recent state visit to Japan, he requested secondhand P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, having already received a $183 million loan from Tokyo to fund the construction of 10 new patrol boats. Tokyo has said it is considering the requests, though it hasn’t committed to anything specific. Australia, South Korea and the U.S. have all donated used military kit to Manila in recent years and have signaled a willingness to do more.

But hand-me-downs won’t deliver a deterrent capable of influencing decision makers in Beijing, Mr. Custodio says. “The Chinese are building islands on our doorstep.”  - THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Write to Trefor Moss at trefor.moss@wsj.com

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Smartmatic bags ₱1.7-Billion Php voting machine contract for 2016 Election

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In Resolution No. 2015-004, the Comelec Special Bids and Awards Committee -1 has recommended the issuance of the "Notice of Award" to Smartmatic-Total Information Management for its bid offer of more than ₱1.7 billion Php. photo: PhilStar

Smartmatic bags 1.7-B voting machine contract

MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has approved the awarding to Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) of the contract to lease 23,000 optical mark reader (OMR) machines for the 2016 polls.

In Resolution No. 2015-004, the Comelec Special Bids and Awards Committee -1 (SBAC-1) has recommended the issuance of the "Notice of Award" to the joint venture for its bid offer of more than P1.7 billion.

"SBAC-1 resolves to recommend to the head of the procuring entity the issuance of the Notice of Award (to the joint venture) as the bidder with the lowest calculated responsive bid for the lease with option to purchase of election management system and precinct-based OMR or optical scan system," the committee said.

The project has an approved budget of 2.5 billion Php, but Smartmatic-TIM's bid offer was only 1.72 billion Php.

SBAC-1 had disqualified Smartmatic-TIM twice after it found the joint venture's bid documents to be "non-responsive" they did not contain Articles of Incorporation and actual bid price offer. The Comelec approved the joint venture's appeal for reconsideration.

The Comelec also declared a failure the joint venture's demonstration of its machines during the post qualification stage of the bidding. But when the joint venture protested, the poll body relented.

SBAC-1 added in its resolution that Smartmatic-TIM is required to "post its corresponding performance security in an amount equal to a percentage of the total contract price."

Currently, the Comelec is looking at two options for the conduct of polls next year.

One option is to refurbish some 81,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, while the other option is to lease 70,000 more OMR machines.

The 23,000 OMR machines will supplement whichever of the two options is chosen.

Meanwhile, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista met with officials and members of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) last Sunday to brief them on what to expect from a computerized conduct of polls in 2016.

CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Arcbishop Socrates Villegas said the meeting coincided with the 111th Plenary Assembly of bishops.

Villegas said the prelates would further tackle election issues in the next plenary assembly in January. While the CBCP did not issue post-assembly statement on the elections, Villegas said it's the consensus among the bishops that next year's polls should be transparent, efficient and with public accountability.  – Evelyn Macairan :Sheila Crisostomo  - Philstar

AFP is reinforcing rusting Navy ship on Spratly Ayungin reef outpost with Welding and Cement

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Filipino soldiers wave from the dilapidated Sierra Madre ship of the Philippines Navy as it is anchored near Ayungin shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines, in this photo taken in May. Photo: Reuters

Philippines reinforcing rusting Navy ship on Spratly reef outpost

Manila:  The Philippines navy is quietly reinforcing the hull and deck of a rusting ship it ran aground on a disputed South China Sea reef in 1999 to stop it breaking apart, determined to hold the shoal as Beijing creates a string of man-made islands nearby.

Using wooden fishing boats and other small craft, the navy has run the gauntlet of the Chinese coastguard to move cement, steel, cabling and welding equipment to the BRP Sierra Madre since late last year, according to two navy officers who have been inside the vessel.

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The BRP Sierra Madre, a marooned transport ship which Philippine Marines live on as a military outpost, photographed last year. Photo: Reuters

The 100 meter-long tank landing ship was built for the US Navy during World War Two. It was eventually transferred to the Philippines navy, which deliberately grounded it on Second Thomas Shoal to mark Manila's claim to the reef in the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea. A small contingent of Philippine soldiers are stationed onboard.

Manila regards Second Thomas Shoal, which lies 195 km south-west of the Philippines region of Palawan, as being within its exclusive economic zone. China, which claims virtually all the South China Sea, says the reef is part of its territory.

"We know China has been waiting for the ship to disintegrate but we are doing everything to hold it together," said one of the officers, adding that while the work was progressing slowly, it should be finished by the year-end.

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A newly deployed Philippine Marine, part of a military detachment stationed aboard the BRP Sierra Madre, fishes near the ship in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this photo taken last year. Photo: Reuters

The other naval officer said welding was being done at night because of the heat. Concrete foundations were being laid inside the ship's hull to try to stabilize it, he added.

Without giving exact dates, both sources said they witnessed the repairs taking place earlier this year. They declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the media. The soldiers currently stationed on the ship, who are demolition experts, were doing the work, said the second source.

Just to the west of Second Thomas Shoal is Mischief Reef, one of seven coral formations in the Spratlys that China is rapidly turning into islands that Beijing says will have undefined military purposes.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims to the Spratly waterway, which is some 1,100 km from the Chinese mainland.

Asked about the repairs, Philippine Foreign Ministry spokesman Charles Jose declined to comment. But such work would not violate an informal code of conduct signed in 2002 by China and south-east Asian states that prohibited any change to the status quo in disputed areas, he said.

"In our view, repairs and maintenance of existing facilities are allowed ... especially if such repairs and maintenance work are for the safety of our personnel and safety of navigation," Mr Jose added.

A Philippines general familiar with the repairs  said the ship's hull and deck were being strengthened, and air-conditioning units added.

"We are improving the living quarters inside, to make life for our soldiers more comfortable," he said, declining to give further details about the repairs or to be identified.

Photos show a pockmarked vessel covered in rust, sitting on the permanently submerged reef but listing slightly to one side. Much of the boat's hull is visible.

Besides being a military outpost, the BRP Sierra Madre is also a commissioned Philippine navy ship.

That means Manila could request U.S. military assistance under a decades-old security treaty with Washington if the ship was attacked, said senior Philippine military officials.

"Even if it's covered with rust, it will remain an active duty commissioned navy ship. It's a symbol of our sovereignty," said the Philippine general.

Second Thomas Shoal illustrates the mismatch in power between the Philippines and China.

Since the start of 2014, the Philippine navy's regular attempts to resupply soldiers on the BRP Sierra Madre with food and water have become a cat-and-mouse routine, with large Chinese coastguard vessels on patrol in the area trying to block the path of the smaller Philippine boats, naval officials said.

The Philippine vessels have always got through by making a run for the shoal's shallow waters, which aren't deep enough for the Chinese coastguard, naval officials said. The tear-shaped shoal itself is large, some 10-11 nautical miles from top to bottom.

Zhang Baohui, a mainland security expert at Hong Kong's Lingnan University, said Beijing would be angry about the repairs, adding that Chinese ships would probably continue their "menacing" tactics. But they would not do anything that could be considered an act of war, Dr Zhang said.

"The larger geo-strategic context is more important than Second Thomas Shoal," he said. - Reuters/The Sydney Morning Herald

Google Maps removes Chinese name for disputed South China Sea reef Scarborough Shoals

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Google Maps shows the name Scarborough Shoal for the disputed island Photo: Google Maps

Google drops Chinese name from Maps after South China Sea controversy

Following pressure from the Philippines, Google redacts the Chinese name for the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea

Google has removed the Chinese name for a disputed shoal in the South China Sea from its Maps service, following protests from Philippine citizens.

Google Maps English service on Tuesday corrected the labeling of the atoll to read Scarborough Shoal, the internationally neutral term for the territory claimed by both the Philippines and China.

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Chinese protesters in Los Angeles, part of an escalating territorial dispute over the Huangyan Island, the Chinese name for Scarborough Shoal (Alamy)- image: The Telegraph

The move came after more than 2,000 people signed an online petition on Change.org asking for Google to stop identifying the shoal as part of China’s Zhongsha Island chain.

“We’ve updated Google Maps to fix the issue. We understand that geographic names can raise deep emotions which is why we worked quickly once this was brought to our attention,” Google’s office in Manila said in a statement.

In 2012, China and the Philippines engaged in a standoff at Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground, after a Philippine warship attempted to expel Chinese fishing boats in the area. China has controlled the shoal since, though it is some 650 km away from Hainan island, the nearest major Chinese landmass.

China bases its claim to the area on its “nine-dash line”, a demarcation based on historical records that decrees almost the entire to South China Sea as Chinese territory.

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A Filipino holds a sign during a demonstration in front of the Chinese embassy in Los Angeles (Alamy) - image: The Telegraph

The Philippines claims the shoal as part of its exclusive economic zone under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“China’s sweeping claim of South China Sea under their nine-dash line purportedly historical boundary is illegal and is creating tension among nations,” the petition read.

“Google maps showing this is part of Zhongsha island chain gives credence to what is plainly a territory grab that peace loving nations should stand against.”

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Construction at Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the south China Sea by China (EPA) -image: The Telegraph

The kerfuffle comes at a moment when tension between China and the Philippines over South China Sea territory is high, following months of rapid and dramatic land reclamation work by China on the Spratly Islands, another disputed archipelago.

Last week the Philippines launched a case in the Permanent Court of Attribution in The Hague in an attempt to prove that China’s “nine-dash line” claim is incompatible with UNCLOS. - Source: The Telegraph

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Japan agency upgrades PH's credit rating to BBB+

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Japan credit rating agency raises Philippine rating

THE Philippines has received another credit rating upgrade, which is the highest rating the country has ever achieved.

In a report released Monday, Japan Credit Rating Agency Ltd. (JCR) gave the Philippines BBB+ from BBB rating. This was just a notch away from the minimum score in the "A" category.

The latest upgrade from JCR is the 22nd positive rating action (covering both improvement in outlook and actual credit scores) for the Philippines from major international credit rating agencies since 2010, the Investor Relations Office (IRO) of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said.

This development places the Philippines' credit rating two places ahead of Indonesia's BBB- and at par with that of India, whose economy is seven times the size of that of the Philippines.

"JCR is of the view that the Philippine economy will, by and large, sustain an annual growth of around 6 percent in the years to come driven by strong domestic demand," the rating agency said.

In the report, JCR highlighted the ability of the Philippines to maintain sound fiscal position, high external liquidity, and solid economic growth.

It also cited general stability in the country's political situation even as potential candidates for national positions gear up for the 2016 elections.

JCR also noted the stable social situation amid inroads in poverty reduction, with the poverty rate falling from 28.6 percent in 2009 to 25.8 percent in the first half of 2014.

The new credit rating is assigned a "stable" outlook, which means adjustment is unlikely in the short term.

Government economic officials welcomed the upgrade, which marked the third positive rating action from JCR over the past five years.

"The latest ratings decision of JCR, which makes the Philippines very close to securing a rating within the 'A' category, appropriately reflects the strength exhibited by the economy. Inflation has remained low, external liquidity ample, and banking system sound. All this has been achieved despite a challenging external environment," BSP Governor Amando Tetangco said.

"The upgrade to BBB+ is a recognition partly of how the country’s fiscal sector has transformed since 2010. Fiscal reforms, both legislative and administrative, have resulted in more buoyant revenue collections, manageable deficits, and lower debt service burden. The pace by which the debt burden has declined over the years is one solid proof of the rare kind of fiscal discipline that the Philippines exercises," Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said.

IRO, which serves as the government's central point of contact for credit-rating agencies, underscored the need for public vigilance to ensure that the Philippines keeps its hard-earned investment grade sovereign credit ratings beyond 2016.

"The Philippines has achieved unprecedented gains in its credit standing over the past five years. After suffering from stubborn speculative credit ratings not too long ago, the Philippines now enjoys a seal of good housekeeping from all major international credit rating agencies," IRO Executive Director Editha Martin said.

"There should be no turning back. The need to maintain good governance – which boosts confidence of investors, creditors, rating institutions, and the general public – even after a change in leadership in 2016 cannot be overemphasized," Martin said.- (SDR/Sunnex)

The Fate of West Philippine Sea/South China Sea at the United Nation's Tribunal begin its Journey in Hague vs China

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The Philippine delegation, with lawyers and advocates, before the start of Commencement of the 1st Round of Philippines Argument.- Image CNN Philippines

South China Sea dispute: Philippines warns China flouting UN maritime laws

THE HAGUE: The Philippines has appealed to an international tribunal to declare China's claims to most of the South China Sea illegal, warning the integrity of United Nations' maritime laws is at stake.

In opening comments to the tribunal in the Hague on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines had sought judicial intervention because China's behavior had become increasingly "aggressive" and negotiations had proved futile.

Del Rosario said the UN's Convention on the Law of the Sea, which the Philippines and China have both ratified, should be used to resolve their bitter territorial dispute.

"The case before you is of the utmost importance to the Philippines, to the region, and to the world," del Rosario told the tribunal.

"In our view, it is also of utmost significance to the integrity of the convention, and to the very fabric of the legal order of the seas and oceans."

China insists it has sovereign rights to nearly all of the South China Sea, a strategically vital waterway with shipping lanes through which about a third of all the world's traded oil passes.

Its claim, based on ancient Chinese maps, reaches close to the coasts of its southern neighbors.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the sea, which have for decades made it a potential military flashpoint.

Tensions have risen sharply in recent years as a rising China has sought to stake its claims more assertively.

Following a stand-off between Chinese ships and the weak Filipino Navy in 2012, China took control of a rich fishing ground called Scarborough Shoal that is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

China has also undertaken giant reclamation activities that have raised fears it will use artificial islands to build new military outposts close to the Philippines  and other claimants.

China has rejected all criticism over its actions, insisting it has undisputed sovereign rights to the sea.

However del Rosario told the tribunal in the Hague that China's argument of claiming the sea based on "historic rights" was without foundation.

"The so-called nine dash line (based on an old map used by China) has no basis whatsoever under international law," he said.

The Philippines submitted its case to the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, a 117-state body that rules on disputes between countries, in early 2013.

Del Rosario's comments, held in closed door proceedings but released by his office in Manila on Wednesday, were part of the Philippines' opening oral arguments.

China has refused to participate in the proceedings and said it will not abide by any ruling, even though it is has ratified the UN's Convention on the Law of the Sea.

However the Philippines hopes a ruling in its favor will pressure China into making concessions.

Any ruling from the tribunal is not expected until next year.

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The week covering July 7 to 13 will be pivotal to the Philippines’ legal battle to assert its claims over the portion of the South China Sea that it calls the West Philippine Sea.- Image CNN Philippines

Day 1: PH begins arguments in The Hague

On July 7, 2015, the Philippines has begun arguing before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that the treaty-based court has jurisdiction — and should intervene — in the country's dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea.

Malacañan said the first day of hearings began with Solicitor General Florin Hilbay's introduction of the Philippines' case, and his presentation of the order of speakers.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario made a plea for the tribunal to recognize its jurisdiction. He noted that the case is important not just to the country but also to the global community, owing to its impact on the rule of law in maritime disputes.

Paul Reichler, chief counsel of the Philippines, presented the justification for the five-man tribunal's jurisdiction over the Philippine claims under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Reichler was followed by Philippe Sands, who explained that the Philippines did not raise questions of sovereignty over land or maritime delimitation.

Sands is the director of the University College London's Centre on International Courts and Tribunals.

The first round of Philippine arguments will continue Monday  (July 8) with two more hearings, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., Philippine time.

A few hours before the hearing, Undersecretary Abigail Valte, deputy presidential spokesperson, told CNN Philippines that the delegation is cautiously optimistic that the tribunal would rule in favor of Philippine' on the jurisdiction issue.

Valte is also in The Hague with the Philippine delegation.

"We have been preparing every day, every step of the way to come to a proceeding like this," she said.

China has refused to take part in the proceedings. It prefers to conduct bilateral talks with the Philippines. Sources: CNN Philippines and The Economic Times

Philippines will host Southeast Asian Games in 2019

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The opening ceremony of the 2005 SEA Games in the Philippines, where the Philippines finished number one overall. File Photo by Joel Nito/AFP

Philippines set to host 2019 SEA Games

The biennial regional meet returns to the Philippines for the first time since 2005

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines has agreed to host the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) announced.

Brunei previously pulled out of hosting the 2019 Games due to lack of venues and preparation time.

PSC said it will maximize existing facilities it used when the Philippines last hosted in 2005 and will touch base with the management of Mall of Asia (MOA) and Iglesia Ni Cristo for use of the MOA Arena and the Philippine Arena.

PSC Chairman Richie Garcia reportedly said he doesn't think the budget "will be that big" as they also plan on using the Subic Freeport for water sports. He said most of the events will be held in Metro Manila.

The MOA Arena is constantly used for local sporting events such as the UAAP, NCAA and PBA, but it also hosted the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, the 2013 NBA Global Games and the 2015 UFC Fight Night Manila.

The Philippine Arena is a multi-purpose indoor arena opened in 2014 and is owned by Iglesia Ni Cristo. It has a capacity of 55,000 and is located in Santa Maria, Bulacan.

Within the same vicinity is also a 25,000-seater Philippine Sports Stadium that hosted the national men's football team Philippine Azkals's World Cup Qualifiers match against Bahrain. (IN PHOTOS: A glimpse inside the Philippine Sports Stadium)

The Philippines last hosted the regional games in 2005 where it won its first overall championship. The country's performance in the biennial meet has since plummeted with the Philippines suffering its worst ever finish at 7th in the 2013 edition in Myanmar.

The Philippines improved its standing to 6th this year as Singapore hosted but still equaled its gold medal haul of 29 from 2013.

Malasya is set to host the 2017 SEA Games.

2019 could be a big year for Philippine sports if it also manages to snag the hosting rights to the FIBA Basketball World Cup to be held in the same year.

The final bid for the World Cup hosting will take place on August 7. – Rappler.com

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Philippines preparing Billion Dollars fund for Acquisition of NEW Submarine, Missiles, Ships, radars for AFP Upgrade

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Kilo Class Diesel Submarine. Del Rosario said that between 2018 and 2023 the Philippines would buy electric-diesel submarines ($200 - $500 Million USD per unit)and advanced missile systems.

PH ramps up military spending in face of China threat

MANILA - The Philippines plans to ramp up military spending over the next 13 years, earmarking more than $20 billion to modernize its forces in the face of Beijing's maritime ambitions in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), a top Air Force official told Reuters.

Major-General Raul del Rosario, military chief of plans, said the blueprint includes installing radars and sensors, and buying equipment such as submarines, frigates, fighters, surveillance planes and missile systems.

"By the time, we complete this plan, we will have complete coverage of the South China Sea," said del Rosario, a former fighter pilot, showing the military's detailed plan that was approved on Friday.

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"We will have 24/7 awareness of what is happening in the disputed area and we'll be able to respond quicker to any contingency in our own exclusive economic zone."

He said the ambitious plan was initiated in 2013, but top brass had only approved overall spending of 998 billion pesos ($22.11 billion) last week.

Del Rosario said 83 billion pesos had been earmarked for the first five years, 444 billion pesos for the second five years and 471 billion pesos for the last five years.

In 1995, Congress had earmarked 364 billion pesos for a similar 15-year plan. Less than one-tenth of that sum was actually spent by 2010.

The modernization program is designed to strengthen Manila's claims in the South China Sea, believed to be rich in energy deposits.

China has become increasingly assertive in the South China Sea, building artificial islands in areas over which the Philippines and other countries have rival claims. The moves have sparked alarm regionally and in Washington.

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SUBMARINES, MISSILES AND SURVEILLANCE PLANES

President Benigno Aquino has promised the military about 34 billion pesos this year, which will fund the purchase of two frigates and a twin-engine long range maritime aircraft.

So far, the government has given the military 9.4 billion pesos in 2014. This has been used to purchase eight combat utility helicopters and as a downpayment for 12 FA-50 fighter-trainers from South Korea. Two of the aircraft are expected in 2016.

Del Rosario said that between 2018 and 2023 the Philippines would buy electric-diesel submarines and advanced missile systems.

Three aerial surveillance radars with a range of 350 nautical miles will also be installed in Ilocos Norte, Lubang island and Mount Salacot in Palawan, all facing the South China Sea to detect movements in the disputed area.

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These will complement the navy's two surface sensors capable of detecting ship activities 200 miles away. Three surveillance planes will also be on constant patrol in the area.

"We do not aim to defeat China," del Rosario said. "But our goal is make any state think twice before attacking. We will make sure anybody attacking us would end up with a bloodied nose." -  ABS-CBN News

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