PHNO HEADLINE NEWS THIS PAST WEEK
(Mini Reads followed by Full Reports below)

U.S. SAYS CHINA'S SEA ACTIONS UNDERMINE INVESTOR CONFIDENCE IN THE REGION


MAY 22 ---In this February 2015 photo, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken talks to coffee shop employee who fled North Korea. On Wednesday, May 20, 2015, Blinken said China may be setting an uncomfortable precedent in building islands in the disputed South China Sea. AJ Blinken Twitter
- China's large scale reclamation activities in disputed areas of the South China Sea not only threaten regional security but also place trade at risk, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
In an address in Jakarta on Wednesday, Blinken said China's economic rise is contradicted by its military expansion in the globally vital trade route. "As China seeks to make sovereign land out of sandcastles and redraw maritime boundaries, it is eroding regional trust, undermining investor confidence, and challenging the energy security upon which all of us depend," Blinken said, according to a transcript released by the State Department. Blinken echoed American officials' statements expressing disapproval over Beijing's insistence of the legality of its artificial islands hundreds of miles off its mainland shores. "China has been engaged in large-scale reclamation projects and activities and its claim of territory beyond that which is recognized by international law undermines the very freedom and stability that we are trying to protect," he said. He said China's behavior "threatens to set a new precedent—whereby larger nations are free to intimidate smaller ones, and that provokes tension, instability, and can even lead to conflict."  READ MORE...

ALSO: China shoos away US plane in disputed sea


MAY 22 ---Composite photo shows a US Navy P8-A Poseidon surveillance aircraft which was asked to leave the area by the Chinese navy as it approached contested islands in the South China Sea. Photo also shows construction on Fiery Cross Reef, from where the warning could have been issued.
“This is the Chinese navy ... This is the Chinese navy ... Please go away ... to avoid misunderstanding.”  (This was the warning received by the pilot and crew of a US Navy P8-A Poseidon on its radio as the surveillance aircraft flew over the artificial islands being created by China last Wednesday.)  The Chinese navy warned a US surveillance plane flying over artificial islands that Beijing is creating in the disputed South China Sea to leave the area eight times, according to CNN, which was on board the flight on Wednesday. At one stage, after the American pilots responded by saying the plane was flying through international airspace, a Chinese radio operator said with exasperation: “This is the Chinese navy... You go!”  The P8-A Poseidon, the US military’s most advanced surveillance aircraft, flew at 4,500 meters at its lowest point, CNN said. The Poseidon took off from Clark Air Base in Pampanga.  The incident, along with recent Chinese warnings to Philippine military aircraft to leave areas around the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea, suggests Beijing is trying to enforce a military exclusion zone above its new islands.  Some security experts worry about the risk of confrontation, especially after a US official said last week the Pentagon was considering sending military aircraft and ships to assert freedom of navigation around the Chinese-made islands. READ MORE...

ALSO: Senators urge bilateral talks with China on West PHL Sea dispute


BONGBONG AND CHIZ
Senators Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Francis Escudero on Sunday urged Malacañang to start talks with China to find a peaceful solution to competing claims in the West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea inside the country's exclusive economic zone. Marcos, chair of the Senate committee on local government, said the Philippine government cannot solely rely on a legal and rules-based approach in resolving its maritime row with China, especially after the US stepped up air and sea patrols in international waters. “Ngayon, napasok na ang superpower na Amerika. Kung may mangyari between America and China, hindi tayo maiipit, madudurog tayo,” he told dzBB radio in an interview. Marcos said the Philippine government should utilize both diplomatic and back channels in talking to China. “Kausapin na natin ang mga Chinese hindi lang sa government-to-government level, kung hindi pati na rin unofficially. Marami namang mga Pilipinong nasa gobyerno na marami ring kaibigan sa China. Puwede nilang kausapin ang kanilang mga kaibigan at itanong kung paano maaayos ito. Hindi lang formal engagement ang kailangan natin,” he said. In a separate radio interview, Escudero said the Philippines has nothing to lose if it initiates bilateral talks with China even while its arbitration case before the United Nations' (UN) Arbitral Tribunal is ongoing. “Ano ba namang mawawala sa atin kung makipag-usap tayo sa multilateral, regional or bilateral [na setting]? Basta ang mahalaga ‘wag tayong bibigay pag one-on-one na ang usapan,” he said. READ MORE...

ALSO: 42ºC heat index kills 2 in Isabela


MAY 22 ----A 62-year-old grandmother and a 53-year-old farmer died from heat stroke in Isabela province. File photo
TUGUEGARAO CITY, Philippines – A 62-year-old grandmother and a 53-year-old farmer died from heat stroke as the heat index was reported to have reached 42 degrees Celsius in Isabela province since Wednesday. Heat index or apparent temperature is what the temperature feels like to a human body when both air temperature and humidity are combined. Thus, even when the actual temperature is only 32 degrees, the human body may feel it as 42 degrees when humidity is considered. City Assistant Heath Officer Kristine Purugganan confirmed that the death of Edwin Galupan, 53, resulted from heat stroke, a condition where the body overheats (usually above 40 degrees) from continued exposure to high temperature. Galupan was found unconscious in his cassava farm in Barangay Casalatan on Tuesday noon. In the adjacent Reina Mercedes town, grandma Bannawag Lucas, 62, was found lifeless in her house in Barangay Sinnipil also on Tuesday, town police chief Richard Babaran said. Although initial investigation showed that she also died from heat stroke, the police are still waiting for the municipal health officer to declare the actual cause of death. Her relatives earlier told investigators that she had high blood pressure problems. Both deaths came as Ramil Tuppil, resident weather forecaster in Isabela, reported a rising heat index, which was placed at 43.6 degrees yesterday. The actual temperature was 36.8 degrees Celsius.] The hottest temperature was recorded at the Science Garden in Quezon City at 1:50 p.m. – Helen Flores THIS IS THE FULL REPORT

ALSO Fun in the sun: APEC meet spurs Boracay tourism


MAY 22 ---This week, Boracay plays host to delegates attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) second senior officials meeting (SOM2) as well as the meeting of ministers responsible for trade. STAR/File photo 
BORACAY, Philippines – Boracay island is one of the country’s top tourist destinations, drawing over half a million foreign visitors in the first four months of the year alone. 
This week, Boracay plays host to delegates attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) second senior officials meeting (SOM2) as well as the meeting of ministers responsible for trade. Against a backdrop of fine white sand and deep blue waters, the officials tackled issues ranging from cross-border trade to disaster funding. But APEC organizers made sure the 1,527 delegates – 948 of them foreign – had ample time and opportunity to enjoy the island paradise. Delegates were treated Wednesday to a tour of the island’s attractions, including the Motag Living Museum and Puka Beach. Motag is the first interactive living museum in the country where visitors are introduced to traditional farming methods, Malayanon folk songs, weaving of traditional crafts and preparation of native food. During their visit to Puka Beach, small groups of delegates indulged in swimming, sunbathing and body massage. Some also had their skin inked with henna tattoo and their hair braided, while others took a crash course in beads-making. A boat ride to watch the sunset was followed by a welcome dinner for SOM2 delegates at the beachfront of the Pearl of the Pacific Resort, which featured the island’s famed fire dancers and a cultural presentation amidst the magical set by artist Leeroy New. READ MORE...

ALSO: PHL is site of climate training center; Germany to fund climate training hub


MAY 22 ---Secretary Lucille Sering, vice chairman of the Climate Change Commission (CCC), said the establishment of the South-South Center of Excellence for Climate Information and Services would benefit small developing countries that were identified as the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. File photo
The Philippines has been identified as the site of a climate training center that will be constructed using a grant of three million euros from the German government. “We were able to push for a proposal and submit it to the government of Germany, through the Ministry of Environment, and we got a positive result,” Secretary Lucille Sering, vice chairman of the Climate Change Commission (CCC), told a press conference in Pasig City yesterday. She said the establishment of the South-South Center of Excellence for Climate Information and Services would benefit members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), a group of 20 small developing countries that were identified as the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The Philippines was chosen as president of CVF during the climate change conference of parties in Peru in December 2014. Sering – who just arrived from the Petersberg Climate Dialogue VI held in Germany – said the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) has signified its intention to host the center at the Clark Green City, which is currently under development. The secretary said they hope to start the construction of the facility this year. READ MORE...

ALSO: PH to import extra rice as El Nino bites


ABS-CBN FILE PHOTO  President Aquino has approved a proposal to import more rice this year, government sources said, in a move to avert a potential spike in food price inflation due to forecast El Niño-affected dry weather conditions. Fresh buying by the Philippines, one of the world’s biggest rice importers, could help support rice export prices in Asia, which have fallen in recent months because of weak demand. The final terms of the increased imports, which normally specify the amount and variety, are still subject to the approval by the National Food Authority (NFA) Council headed by Food Security Chief Francis Pangilinan, the two sources said. The Philippine government last week revised its estimate of first-half domestic rice production, with dry weather already affecting more than half of the country’s 81 provinces. The sources declined to disclose the volume of additional imports, although industry sources have said the Philippines may buy up to 310,000 tonnes more this year, with shipments expected before the lean harvest season starting July. It recently bought 500,000 tonnes via government-to-government deals with key sellers Vietnam and Thailand, and regional supplies remain abundant. Thailand, the world’s second-biggest rice exporter after India, has said its plans to sell 2 million tonnes of rice over the next two months from stockpiles built up under the previous administration’s failed buying program. READ MORE...

ALSO: Bangladesh and Rohingya Muslims abandoned by smugglers; PH to push undocumented boat people back to sea


AP PHOTO/BINSAR BAKKARA
Like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, the Philippines will push back to sea undocumented Asian “boat people” despite a United Nations appeal to Southeast Asian countries to open their ports to the migrants from impoverished Myanmar and Bangladesh, according to Malacañang.
But if documented migrant arrivals qualify as refugees or asylum seekers, the Bureau of Immigration will allow them entry, according to Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. “Otherwise, we will have to deny admission if they don’t have travel documents,” the head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office told the Inquirer on Sunday. Hundreds of Asian migrants abandoned at sea by smugglers have reached land and relative safety, said a Reuters report. But an estimated 6,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, many of them hungry and sick, were adrift in Southeast Asian seas in boats that had been abandoned by smugglers, it said. READ MORE...

ALSO Commentary from Kyoto: Rohingya refugee crisis shames Southeast Asia


Editorial photo from DawatMedia.Com: The Guardian view on the Rohingya refugee crisis: cruel and stupid --It is a sad paradox that the partial liberalisation of Burma has also unleashed an anti-Muslim chauvinism within its Buddhist majority. Yangon must face this down The plight of the Muslim Rohingya refugees drifting without succour in the Andaman sea is appalling, and must be alleviated. The Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian governments should be put under pressure to do their humanitarian duty toward these unfortunate people. But those governments are also right to say both that they cannot be expected to bear the burden alone, and that the problem is bound to get worse unless the root causes, which are the contested status of the Rohingya in Burma and the existence of a ruthless people-trafficking industry in the region, are not tackled in a determined way. May 15, 2015 Editorial 
KYOTO – The Rohingya Muslim boat people are causing great political agitation in Southeast Asia, where ethno-religious and migration issues remain sensitive and challenge both the definitions of nation-state and regionalism. In the past months, new waves of Rohingya Muslims have arrived at the shores of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, where they were pitilessly denied entry and pushed back out to sea with scant humanitarian considerations. The Rohingya are a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority group residing in the western part of Myanmar in the state of Rakhine, formerly known as Arakan. According to available statistics, more than 140,000 of the estimated 800,000 to 1.1 million Rohingya were forced to seek refuge in displacement camps in 2012 in the aftermath of a series of conflicts with the majority Buddhists in Myanmar. READ MORE...


READ FULL MEDIA REPORTS HERE:

US says China's sea actions undermine investor confidence


PHILSTAR

Fun in the sun: APEC meet spurs Boracay tourism  By Jennifer Rendon (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 22, 2015 - 12:00am


This week, Boracay plays host to delegates attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) second senior officials meeting (SOM2) as well as the meeting of ministers responsible for trade. STAR/File photo

BORACAY, Philippines – Boracay island is one of the country’s top tourist destinations, drawing over half a million foreign visitors in the first four months of the year alone.

This week, Boracay plays host to delegates attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) second senior officials meeting (SOM2) as well as the meeting of ministers responsible for trade.

Against a backdrop of fine white sand and deep blue waters, the officials tackled issues ranging from cross-border trade to disaster funding. But APEC organizers made sure the 1,527 delegates – 948 of them foreign – had ample time and opportunity to enjoy the island paradise.

Delegates were treated Wednesday to a tour of the island’s attractions, including the Motag Living Museum and Puka Beach.

Motag is the first interactive living museum in the country where visitors are introduced to traditional farming methods, Malayanon folk songs, weaving of traditional crafts and preparation of native food.

During their visit to Puka Beach, small groups of delegates indulged in swimming, sunbathing and body massage. Some also had their skin inked with henna tattoo and their hair braided, while others took a crash course in beads-making.

A boat ride to watch the sunset was followed by a welcome dinner for SOM2 delegates at the beachfront of the Pearl of the Pacific Resort, which featured the island’s famed fire dancers and a cultural presentation amidst the magical set by artist Leeroy New.

READ MORE...
Caught up in the festive atmosphere, a good number of the delegates turned the evening into a beach party and danced the night away.

The increased security surrounding APEC events did not dampen Boracay’s mood of fun, as tourists continued to enjoy the beach and the exciting nightlife of the island.

In fact, the Department of Tourism (DOT) is confident that the arrival of the APEC delegates would give a big push to Boracay island’s tourism.

For the first four months of 2015, tourist arrivals logged in at 567,351.

With the APEC trumpeting what Boracay could offer, the target of 1.5 million tourist arrivals this year is very attainable, said Aklan Gov. Florencio Miraflores.

Miraflores said they have, in fact, reached their last year’s target, which resulted in P1.09 billion in local revenue from the tourism industry alone. Tourist arrivals last year was recorded at 1,472,352.

For Miraflores, Boracay is a perfect example of how tourism can help the country’s economy.


via e-MAIL: APEC News (newsalert@apec.org) 6:00 AM Groups, Newsletters
To: News Editor

Inclusiveness Key to Stimulating Consumer Spending and Economic Growth Issued by APEC Policy Support Unit


BORACAY SUNSET May 5 photo from PanayNewsPhilippines: upload.wikimedia.org The scenic Boracay sunset will provide a perfect view for delegates of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s 2nd Senior Officials’ Meeting and Related Meetings and the Ministers Responsible for Trade Meeting next week

Boracay, the Philippines, 22 May 2015 –Economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region hinges on the strength of consumer spending, underscoring the importance of inclusive growth and structural reforms to boost domestic demand. These findings are outlined in the new APEC Policy Support Unit Economic Trends report presented in Boracay today.

APEC’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 2.9 per cent in 2014, compared with a world GDP growth of 3.4 per cent. Consumer spending remained the key driver behind the continued expansion of APEC economies, accounting for some 2.6 per cent or almost 90 per cent of the region’s GDP growth in 2014.

“Upside opportunities for growth come mainly from domestic factors, particularly robust household spending that is supported by government expenditures and investment,” said Dr Alan Bollard, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat.

“Financial conditions marked by low interest rates and strong credit growth remain important determinants of private consumption expenditures along with lower oil prices which help boost household purchasing power,” he added.

As economies rebalance towards domestic drivers, APEC members will increasingly need to rely on reforming the domestic environment including fair and transparent taxation policies and providing social safety nets to free up household spending.

“Events in 2014 show the importance of structural reform to sustain economic growth. The increasing weight of private consumption as a driver of growth points to the significance of behind-the-border conditions—rather than reliance on export-led growth—to reinvigorate economies,” explained Dr Denis Hew, Director of the APEC Policy Support Unit.

Fostering inclusiveness is also an important element to stimulating consumer spending in APEC economies.

“Enabling more segments of society to participate in the economy and expanding the middle class will be critical to encouraging consumer spending as the foundation of sustained growth in the region,” said Emmanuel San Andres, Analyst at the APEC Policy Support Unit.

“APEC member economies will need to focus on education and skills development as well as creating more open labor markets for women and other vulnerable groups. Increasing labor productivity and innovation should also be prioritized,” concluded San Andres.

For more information:

Download APEC Economic Trends Analysis: Economic Resilience Amidst Global Headwinds

# # #

For further details, or to arrange possible media interviews, please contact: David Hendrickson +65 9137 3886 at drh@apec.org Michael Chapnick +65 9647 4847 at mc@apec.org 

More on APEC meetings, events, projects and publications can be found on www.apec.org . You can also follow APEC on Twitter and join us on Facebook and LinkedIn.

http://www.apec.org/Press/News-Releases/2015/0522_Econtrends.aspx


PHILSTAR

Germany to fund climate training hub (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 22, 2015 - 12:00am


Secretary Lucille Sering, vice chairman of the Climate Change Commission (CCC), said the establishment of the South-South Center of Excellence for Climate Information and Services would benefit small developing countries that were identified as the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. File photo

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines has been identified as the site of a climate training center that will be constructed using a grant of three million euros from the German government.

“We were able to push for a proposal and submit it to the government of Germany, through the Ministry of Environment, and we got a positive result,” Secretary Lucille Sering, vice chairman of the Climate Change Commission (CCC), told a press conference in Pasig City yesterday.

She said the establishment of the South-South Center of Excellence for Climate Information and Services would benefit members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), a group of 20 small developing countries that were identified as the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The Philippines was chosen as president of CVF during the climate change conference of parties in Peru in December 2014.

Sering – who just arrived from the Petersberg Climate Dialogue VI held in Germany – said the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) has signified its intention to host the center at the Clark Green City, which is currently under development.

The secretary said they hope to start the construction of the facility this year.

READ MORE...
“We hope to be able to push more because we want to take advantage of the interest of the World Meteorological Office (based in Geneva, Switzerland) to be our technical adviser,” said Sering.

“The benefit for us is so huge. It will create more capacity. It will revitalize our education system and create more expertise on meteorological education,” she added.

Sering stressed that the center will not only benefit the Philippines, but also other countries prone to the effects of climate change.

She said the funding for the construction of the center will be on top of the 15-million euro (about P750-million) grant that Germany approved to support climate change adaptation and mitigation projects in the Philippines.

CCC, which is chaired by President Aquino, organized this week a CVF regional workshop in Pasig City.

During the closing of the event yesterday, Sering said that the CVF, under the Philippine leadership, will try to gather support for a more ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction.

“Right now, even before reaching one degree Celsius increase in global temperature, we are already experiencing powerful typhoons during the rainy season and extreme heat during the summer months,” said Sering.

“We are looking at a more ambitious GHG emission reduction – one that will realize a global temperature below the two degrees Celsius limit that science has set,” she added.

She said the role of the CVF is to provide answers, actions and results that would reduce the vulnerability of member countries.

“To do that, huge ambitions on all fronts, especially finance and technology, have to be achieved,” she stressed.

Resolution of key issues

Meanwhile, several ministers who attended the Petersberg Climate Dialogue VI held in Berlin from May 17 to 19 said that key issues must be resolved ahead of formal negotiations in Paris later this year to prevent a repeat of the failed Copenhagen conference in 2009.

Led by Germany and France, the dialogue served as a preparation for the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.

Sering represented the Philippines during the three-day dialogue, which was attended by officials from 35 countries, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.

A document released by the dialogue’s chairpersons said several ministers had cited the need to mobilize political support ahead of the Paris negotiations.

“Many ministers suggested that convergence on important issues would be needed well before the Paris conference. This would require early involvement of ministers and possibly heads of state and government,” the document read.

“Their pro-active engagement in mobilizing political support in favor of a progressive outcome at COP 21 was considered important for success in Paris,” it said.

The ministers said the progress made in converging on key issues “should regularly be captured and shared each step of the way.”

They also cited the importance of engaging with stakeholders like businesses, civil society organizations and sub-national entities when discussing issues.

“Many ministers stressed that high-level principles and processes should already be fixed in the Paris agreement, allowing the details of such rules to be elaborated after Paris,” the dialogue chairpersons said.

Laurent Fabius, French foreign affairs minister and co-chairman of Petersberg Climate Dialogue VI, said the draft text of the climate agreement should be refined before the start of COP 21.

Fabius said a majority of the issues should be addressed by October.

“One of the reasons for the failure of Copenhagen was many questions were placed on the floor. We have to answer questions in advance,” he said.

Considered the largest high-level climate gathering, the 15th climate talks held in 2009 at Copenhagen, Denmark broke down because of the failure of parties to reach a deal on greenhouse gas reduction targets and financial support for developing countries.

The conference, which attracted lots of media attention, ended without any formal or legally binding agreement. – With Janvic Mateo, Alexis Romero


MANILA BULLETIN

PH to import extra rice as El Nino bites by Reuters May 22, 2015


ABS-CBN FILE PHOTO  President Aquino has approved a proposal to import more rice this year, government sources said, in a move to avert a potential spike in food price inflation due to forecast El Niño-affected dry weather conditions.

Fresh buying by the Philippines, one of the world’s biggest rice importers, could help support rice export prices in Asia, which have fallen in recent months because of weak demand.

The final terms of the increased imports, which normally specify the amount and variety, are still subject to the approval by the National Food Authority (NFA) Council headed by Food Security Chief Francis Pangilinan, the two sources said.

The Philippine government last week revised its estimate of first-half domestic rice production, with dry weather already affecting more than half of the country’s 81 provinces.

The sources declined to disclose the volume of additional imports, although industry sources have said the Philippines may buy up to 310,000 tonnes more this year, with shipments expected before the lean harvest season starting July.

It recently bought 500,000 tonnes via government-to-government deals with key sellers Vietnam and Thailand, and regional supplies remain abundant.

Thailand, the world’s second-biggest rice exporter after India, has said its plans to sell 2 million tonnes of rice over the next two months from stockpiles built up under the previous administration’s failed buying program.

READ MORE...
In Vietnam, the world’s third-largest exporter where prices have weakened this week on a lack of buying demand, a new crop harvest will begin from around late June, traders said.

Food inflation

A dramatic rise in retail rice prices in the Philippines last year after damage to supply chains from super-typhoon Haiyan pushed food price inflation to the highest in more than five years.

Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said in March that the government must guard against future food price spikes, which had driven up the country’s poverty rate.

The El Niño phenomenon, a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, can lead to scorching weather across Asia and east Africa and is almost certain to last through the Northern Hemisphere summer, the US weather forecaster has said.

A significant El Niño would put the Philippines’ inflation well over the 2-4 percent target by 2016, which could put the central bank under pressure to raise interest rates sooner than expected, HSBC economists said this month.

“We now expect two rate hikes in 1Q and 2Q (next year), but food inflation risks could bring this into late 2015,” HSBC said.


INQUIRER

Thousands of Bangladesh and Rohingya Muslims abandoned by smugglers: PH to push boat people back to sea Jerry E. Esplanada @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer 4:48 AM | Monday, May 18th, 2015


Ethnic Rohingya men take a nap on a pile of clothes donated by local residents at a temporary shelter in Langsa, Aceh province, Indonesia, Sunday, May 17, 2015. Boatloads of more than 2,000 migrants — ethnic Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar and Bangladeshis trying to escape poverty — have landed in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand in recent weeks. The Philippines will push back to sea undocumented Asian “boat people” despite a United Nations appeal to Southeast Asian countries to open their ports to the migrants from impoverished Myanmar and Bangladesh, according to Malacañang. AP PHOTO/BINSAR BAKKARA

Like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, the Philippines will push back to sea undocumented Asian “boat people” despite a United Nations appeal to Southeast Asian countries to open their ports to the migrants from impoverished Myanmar and Bangladesh, according to Malacañang.

But if documented migrant arrivals qualify as refugees or asylum seekers, the Bureau of Immigration will allow them entry, according to Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.

“Otherwise, we will have to deny admission if they don’t have travel documents,” the head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office told the Inquirer on Sunday.

Hundreds of Asian migrants abandoned at sea by smugglers have reached land and relative safety, said a Reuters report.

But an estimated 6,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, many of them hungry and sick, were adrift in Southeast Asian seas in boats that had been abandoned by smugglers, it said.

READ MORE...
There has been a surge in migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh to Malaysia and Indonesia following a clampdown in Thailand, usually the first destination in the region’s people-smuggling network.

The same report quoted a Malaysian maritime official as saying that after over 1,000 boat people had arrived on the Malaysian island of Langkawi, any more boats trying to land would be turned back as a “political matter.”

In Thailand, authorities were reportedly enforcing a long-held policy to push boat people back to sea. The policy involves giving food, water, fuel and medical assistance to migrant boats but preventing them from landing.

Quoting Immigration Commissioner Siegfred Mison, Coloma said the country’s position on the issue was in accordance with the United Nations Convention on Human Rights.

But the International Organization for Migration has chided Southeast Asian countries for intercepting migrant boats and playing what it calls “maritime ping-pong.”


On December 10, 1948, the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights document, drafted by Eleanor Roosevelt.

On Dec. 10, 1948, the Philippines and Thailand, then known as Siam, were the only Southeast Asian countries among 48 nations that signed the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which obliges UN member-states to promote and observe human rights and freedoms.

The document served as the foundation for two binding United Nations agreements—the International Convention on Civil and Human Rights, and the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Both the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard have yet to make public their official policy on migrant arrivals.

But a Coast Guard official, who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak to media, noted that people on board troubled vessels at sea were normally given food, water and medical assistance by the PCG.

From the mid-1970s up to the early ’90s, the Philippines played host to thousands of Vietnamese boat people who fled their country after the Vietnam War.

The refugees’ other destinations included Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong.

From the Philippine Refugee Processing Center in Morong, Bataan, and other refugee camps in the region, the great majority of boat people were resettled in developed countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Thousands of refugees were later repatriated to Vietnam, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

Last weekend, Washington reportedly raised the pressure on Southeast Asia to accept the boat people.

The US Department of State, in a statement, urged governments in the region to “refrain from push-backs of new boat arrivals,” as it also called on them to “work together quickly first and foremost to save the lives of migrants.”

Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines are among the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.


JAPAN TIMES COMMENTARY

Rohingya refugee crisis shames Southeast Asia by Pavin Chachavalpongpun May 21, 2015 Article history


Editorial photo from DawatMedia.Com: The Guardian view on the Rohingya refugee crisis: cruel and stupid --It is a sad paradox that the partial liberalisation of Burma has also unleashed an anti-Muslim chauvinism within its Buddhist majority. Yangon must face this down The plight of the Muslim Rohingya refugees drifting without succour in the Andaman sea is appalling, and must be alleviated. The Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian governments should be put under pressure to do their humanitarian duty toward these unfortunate people. But those governments are also right to say both that they cannot be expected to bear the burden alone, and that the problem is bound to get worse unless the root causes, which are the contested status of the Rohingya in Burma and the existence of a ruthless people-trafficking industry in the region, are not tackled in a determined way. May 15, 2015 Editorial

KYOTO – The Rohingya Muslim boat people are causing great political agitation in Southeast Asia, where ethno-religious and migration issues remain sensitive and challenge both the definitions of nation-state and regionalism.

In the past months, new waves of Rohingya Muslims have arrived at the shores of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, where they were pitilessly denied entry and pushed back out to sea with scant humanitarian considerations.

The Rohingya are a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority group residing in the western part of Myanmar in the state of Rakhine, formerly known as Arakan.

According to available statistics, more than 140,000 of the estimated 800,000 to 1.1 million Rohingya were forced to seek refuge in displacement camps in 2012 in the aftermath of a series of conflicts with the majority Buddhists in Myanmar.

READ MORE...
An estimated 100,000 Rohingya have since fled the camps to escape systemic violence and persecution. 

Up until now, the Myanmar government has refused to recognize the Rohingya as one of the country’s ethnic groups. Thus, the Rohingya have become “stateless entities” and as a result lack any kind of legal protection from the Myanmar government.

Victimized by the policy of ethnic alienation, the Rohingya are perceived by the Myanmar government as mere refugees from Bangladesh who have no place in the majority Buddhist society.

To escape the dire situation in Myanmar, the Rohingya have sought new homes in some Southeast Asian states and try to enter illegally, begging for humanitarian support from potential host countries. They are not usually welcomed with open arms.

In increasingly horrific cases, the Rohingya have become targets for human trafficking syndicates, which thrive in this part of the world. The discovery of a large numbers of corpses, supposedly those of Rohingya, in southern Thailand reaffirms the victimization of “stateless entities” who fall prey to such illegal activities.

At the crux of the Rohingya crisis are a number of uncomfortable facts in Southeast Asia. As Muslims, the Rohingya suffer from prejudice by the Thai state, which has long been plagued by its own internal Muslim insurgencies. Thailand reluctantly decided to give shelter to Rohingya but is frightened it could worsen the fragile situation in the southernmost provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala, where local Muslims are pushing for autonomous power.

In the past week, more than 30 bombs have gone off in Yala province in Thailand’s deep south, adding to the sense of suspicion on the part of the Thai state vis-a-vis the incoming Rohingya Muslims. Although there is no proof that the Rohingya could become engaged in insurgency, the religious factor has continued to shape Thai policy toward the Rohingya.

Furthermore, the long-held idea of Thailand being a highly homogeneous state leaves little room for the acceptance of religious diversity. In the Thai world, Muslims have always been perceived as “otherness” in the Thai national identity.

What is more disappointing is the fact that the Rohingya have also been rejected by two Muslim nations: Indonesia and Malaysia. While the ethno-religious factor may not play a great role in this case, the Rohingya are certainly viewed as economic burdens and potentially a source of social disharmony.

Questions were asked: How much of the national budget would be spent on looking after the Rohingya refugees? Will the wave of Rohingya affect the job market in local communities? Will their arrival lead to a rise of crime and sense of insecurity among the local population? The list of questions continues, mostly pertaining to the social and economic threat of an influx of migrants.

In the context of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the issue has never been seriously addressed by Myanmar and other states affected by the Rohingya exodus. While ASEAN has set an ambitious objective of achieving community-building by the end of this year, the Rohingya crisis has cast doubt over the ability of the regional group to manage the issues of migrations and citizenship.

While ASEAN has progressed over the years in terms of organizational strengthening, it is clear that the group lacks both the budget and mechanisms to deal with this type of challenge. Indeed, ASEAN has always been a “reactive” organization; it responds to a crisis without any preventive plans. The tsunami of 2004 and Cyclone Nargis in 2008 demonstrated how ASEAN was ill-equipped to confront large-scale humanitarian challenges.

ASEAN’s Inter-governmental Commission for Human Rights (AICHR) is also taking a back seat while the suffering takes place. Although it is supposed to be there for the protection of human rights in the ASEAN region, sadly it has remained largely impotent.

The critical situation facing the Rohingya should serve as an excellent opportunity for the AICHR to rise to the occasion and confirm its commitment in defending basic human rights.

The AICHR should have called for an immediate meeting within ASEAN to seek a solution to the crisis. Yet its silence proves once again how human rights protection still ranks low in the consciousness of ASEAN states.

Lastly, what has Myanmar got to say about the origin of the Rohingya crisis in the first place? It is expected that the Myanmar government will treat the Rohingya conundrum trivially, in accordance with its strict citizenship policy.

But what is surprising is the fact that figures like Aung San Suu Kyi, a Noble laureate and still an icon of democracy, are mute about the unfortunate fate of the Rohingya. Suu Kyi has never expressed concern about their well-being.

Sources in Myanmar revealed that she wished to remain neutral because “whoever’s side she stood on, there would be blood.” This sounds rather lame for a politician who dared to fight military rule even while under long years of house arrest.

Given the fact that she is much admired by pro-democracy and human rights groups alike, she could help in transforming the rhetoric of the Rohingya solution into a tangible result.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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