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

PRESIDENT AQUINO PAGE THIS WEEK

MOST VOTERS IN SURVEY SAID 'NOY SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR MAMASAPANO'


FEBRUARY 15 -MOST voters said they want more Senate hearings on the Mamasapano massacre and said President Benigno Aquino III should be held accountable for the deaths of the 44 police commandos, the latest The Standard Poll showed.
MOST voters said they want more Senate hearings on the Mamasapano massacre and said President Benigno Aquino III should be held accountable for the deaths of the 44 police commandos, the latest The Standard Poll showed.
More than a year after the bloody encounter, 67 percent of Filipinos said they remain dissatisfied with the results of the Senate investigation and would like more public hearings. Looking back. In this file photo taken on Jan. 26 last year, police commandos load body bags containing the remains of their comrades who were killed in a clash with Muslim rebels the previous day in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Only 16 percent of the respondents said the Senate probe on the botched operation to neutralize two high-profile terrorists in Mamasapano should be concluded. A majority of voters across all geographic areas—70 percent in Metro Manila, 62 percent in North and Central Luzon, 71 percent in South Luzon and Bicol, 68 percent in the Visayas, and 66 percent in Mindanao—said they were in favor of reopening the probe. Most respondents in both urban (67 percent) and rural (68 percent) areas also said the hearings should continue. Despite repeated explanations from Malacañang and its congressional allies on his limited role in the operation, President Aquino remained the top person blamed for the Mamasapano massacre, with 46 percent of respondents saying he should be held accountable. READ MORE...RELATED, Who really killed Marwan?  AND MILF dismayed on non-passage of BBL...

ALSO: Noy to raise maritime row in US-Asean Summit – Palace

FEBRUIARY 15 -President Aquino is expected to tackle political and security concerns, particularly the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) issue, in the United States-Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit in Sunnylands, California, this week, Malacañang yesterday said. The Chief Executive will leave the country today to attend the two-day special summit between the leaders of the Asean and the US to be hosted by President Barack Obama. “Expected to be discussed are the political and security issues such as the maritime security, transnational challenges and effective fight against the threat of violent extremism,” presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told a radio interview. He said the summit will be informal where the leaders of the Asean member-nations can express their opinions regarding issues that they feel need to be addressed. “Based on the discussion during the last Asean Summit in Kuala Lumpur last November, it is most likely that President Obama will hold dialogue with Asean member-states regarding the maritime security,” Coloma stressed. READ MORE...RELATED,
WORLD VIEW- The dark heart of Asean...

ALSO: ASEAN, US to meet on maritime security


FEBRUARY 15 -Maritime security will be an important part of the discussion during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-United States Leaders’ Summit to be held at Sunnylands, California this week and which President Aquino is scheduled to attend. Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma, in a radio interview yesterday, said that based on the discussions during the United States-ASEAN (US-ASEAN) Summit in Kuala Lumpur last November, US President Barack Obama will probably initiate a dialogue with ASEAN leaders on matters concerning maritime security. “Maritime security has emerged as a vital concern to ASEAN,” he stressed. Coloma noted that the goal of achieving ASEAN economic integration through the ASEAN economic community, as well as the US initiative on establishing a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to promote free trade in the Asia Pacific region may be enhanced through more vigorous trades that, in turn, must be assured by freedom of navigation in the main navigational routes of global trade and commerce including the South China Sea. Several ASEAN member states, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam, are currently embroiled in a heated territorial dispute with China over the South China Sea. Coloma said President Aquino has always represented the Philippines’ position on the importance of ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight, as well as adherence to international law and UNCLOS. READ MORE...RELATED, Analyst: US wants leadership in Southeast Asia...

ALSO: Obama hosts PNoy, other ASEAN leaders at desert retreat


FEBRUARY 15 -President Barack Obama hosted members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for the start of a two-day summit at the scenic Sunnylands retreat in Rancho Mirage. GOOGLED IMAGES PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd will lead other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) heads of state in bringing forth the issue of maritime security, particularly the disputes at the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea), during their meeting with US President Barack Obama this week, according to a Malacanang official. Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., in an interview over state-run Radyo ng Bayan, on Sunday said it has been agreed during the Asean-US Summit last November that Obama shall hold a dialogue with Asean leaders on their maritime concerns. “Maritime security has emerged as a vital concern to Asean. The goal of achieving Asean economic integration through the Asean economic community, as well as the US initiative on establishing a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to promote free trade in the Asia Pacific region may be enhanced through more vigorous trades that, in turn, must be assured by freedom of navigation in the main navigational routes of global trade and commerce, including the South China Sea,” Coloma added. Quoting the Department of Foreign Affairs, he said Aquino will attend the Asean-US Leaders’ Summit in Sunnylands, California, from February 15 to 16 “to further boost and strengthen strategic partnerships” among the countries involved. READ MORE...RELATED, ASEAN-US Summit Viewed as More Symbolic Than Substantive...

ALSO: Aquino, Cabinet members arrive in California for Asean-US Summit


FEBRUARY 16 -President Barack Obama greets Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, right, at a meeting of ASEAN, the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Monday, Feb. 15, 2016. Obama and the leaders of the Southeast Asian nations are gathering for two days of talks on economic and security issues and on forging deeper ties amid China's assertive presence in the region. AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
President Benigno Aquino III and members of his Cabinet arrived in California on Monday morning (Tuesday afternoon Manila time) for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - US Summit hosted by US President Barack Obama. The Philippine delegation consists of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Trade Secretary Adrian Cristobal Jr., Economic Planning Secretary Emmanuel Esguerra, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras and Climate Change Commissioner Emmanuel de Guzman.
A senior protocol from the US State Department, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr. and Consul General Leo Herrera Lim welcomed Aquino and his delegation at the airport. Aquino is scheduled to attend the first retreat session of the ASEAN-US Summit this afternoon. The first session bears the the theme "Promoting an Innovative, Entrepreneurial ASEAN Economic Community."  READ MORE...RELATED, Aquino to raise sea dispute with Obama...


READ FULL MEDIA REPORTS HERE:

Most voters said ‘Noy should be held accountable for Mamasapano’


MOST voters said they want more Senate hearings on the Mamasapano massacre and said President Benigno Aquino III should be held accountable for the deaths of the 44 police commandos, the latest The Standard Poll showed.

MANILA, FEBRUARY 22, 2016 (MANILA STANDARD) posted February 15, 2016 at 12:01 am by Joyce Pangco Panares MOST voters said they want more Senate hearings on the Mamasapano massacre and said President Benigno Aquino III should be held accountable for the deaths of the 44 police commandos, the latest The Standard Poll showed.

More than a year after the bloody encounter, 67 percent of Filipinos said they remain dissatisfied with the results of the Senate investigation and would like more public hearings.

Looking back. In this file photo taken on Jan. 26 last year, police commandos load body bags containing the remains of their comrades who were killed in a clash with Muslim rebels the previous day in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Only 16 percent of the respondents said the Senate probe on the botched operation to neutralize two high-profile terrorists in Mamasapano should be concluded.

A majority of voters across all geographic areas—70 percent in Metro Manila, 62 percent in North and Central Luzon, 71 percent in South Luzon and Bicol, 68 percent in the Visayas, and 66 percent in Mindanao—said they were in favor of reopening the probe.

Most respondents in both urban (67 percent) and rural (68 percent) areas also said the hearings should continue.

Despite repeated explanations from Malacañang and its congressional allies on his limited role in the operation, President Aquino remained the top person blamed for the Mamasapano massacre, with 46 percent of respondents saying he should be held accountable.

READ MORE...

Others that respondents held accountable were former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima (37 percent), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (22 percent), former Interior Secretary and Liberal Party standard bearer Manuel Roxas II (21 percent), the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (19 percent), and former Special Action Force head and senatorial candidate Getulio Napeñas (18 percent).

Only 12 percent of the respondents said no one should be blamed for the Mamasapano tragedy.

A plurality or 46 percent of voters said they are dissatisfied with the way the Aquino administration responded to the clash while only 26 percent said they were satisfied.

Across geographic areas, dissatisfaction was highest in Metro Manila (60 percent) and South Luzon/Bicol (52 percent), followed by North/Central Luzon (46 percent), Visayas (42 percent) and Mindanao (39 percent).

The survey, conducted by resident pollster Junie Laylo from Jan. 27 to Feb. 4 had 3,000 respondents—all of whom are registered voters with biometrics and who said they are sure to vote in next year’s elections. Respondents came from 79 provinces across the country and the 17 cities in the National Capital Region. It has a national margin of error of +/- 1.8 percent.

Aquino earlier described the Mamasapano incident as a tragedy that he will carry to the grave.

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RELATED FROM THE INQUIRER

Who really killed Marwan? SHARES: 2391 VIEW COMMENTS By: Nikko Dizon @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer 03:16 AM February 21st, 2016

SMALL GROUP OF POLICE ASSETS USED: POLICE ASSET GOT TERRORIST BEFORE SAF RAID, SAYS PARTY-LIST GROUP FINDINGS


Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir (also known as “Marwan”) lies dead in his hut, his possessions in disarray after a surprise raid by members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF). Caught unaware in his hideout, the bomb expert with a $6-million reward on his head shot it out with the raiding team and was killed. But the gunfire alerted Marwan’s security and other Moro rebels in the area who ended up killing 44 members of the PNP-SAF in an 11-hour firefight in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

A plan to kill Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, using a small of group police assets had been completed when Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos barged in with guns blazing, leading to the deaths of more than 60 people, according to the findings of a party-list group that investigated the Jan. 25, 2015, Mamasapano clash.

READ: Mindanao party-list group identifies aide who killed Marwan

The assets were recruited by Director General Alan Purisima, then the PNP chief, and Director Charles T. Calima Jr., then the head of the PNP Directorate for Intelligence.

One of the assets, named Commander Kokoy, warned the police not to send forces to Mamasapano because hostile groups controlled the village.

Despite the warning, the SAF went in, inviting a violent response from the hostile groups and “Oplan Exodus,” the SAF counterterrorism operation to take down Marwan, ended with 44 police commandos, 17 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters and three civilians dead.

Oplan Exodus and the assets’ mission to kill Marwan appear to be parallel operations to get the terrorist, for whose capture dead or alive the US government had offered a reward of $5 million and the Philippine government P7 million.

One of the police assets was Datukan Singgagao (not Sanggagao as reported earlier), an aide to Marwan who carried out the dirty job.

Napeñas knew it

Anti-War Anti-Terrorism (Awat) Mindanao leader Jose “Peping” Agduma told the Inquirer by phone that police Director Getulio Napeñas, the former SAF commander, knew about the plan to use assets in the operation.

Agduma said Napeñas knew that Singgagao would be the one to kill Marwan and cut off the terrorist’s finger for DNA identification.

“Yes, he is very much aware of the plan. It is in the action agents’ affidavits, which can be revealed only at a proper forum.

Napeñas is crying for justice for his men but the truth is, he is liable. He also knows the truth,” Agduma said.

Awat Mindanao, a party-list group with a vast network in Mindanao, is calling for a reopening of the Mamasapano investigation to look into the police assets’ mission and learn once and for all what really happened.

Awat Mindanao had done a yearlong investigation of the Mamasapano clash and found that it was Singgagao and not the SAF that killed Marwan.

The narration of Commander Kokoy is part of Awat Mindanao’s investigation report, a copy of which the group had provided the media, including the Inquirer.

Agduma said his group had also sent copies of the report to Senators Grace Poe and Juan Ponce Enrile before the Senate reopened its Mamasapano investigation on Jan. 27.

It was Commander Kokoy who recruited Singgagao, his childhood friend, for the operation. The assets were promised a P50-million reward by Purisima and Calima.

Cotabato meeting

Commander Kokoy told the party-list group that in 2014, he and his fellow assets, called “action agents” by the police, met with Calima, a certain Colonel Espejo, a certain Major Arandia and a few other PNP personnel at Al Nour Hotel in Cotabato City.

It was at this meeting where Commander Kokoy mapped out for the PNP officials the terrain where Marwan was located. It was agreed that only one person would execute Marwan.

“At first, the PNP wanted to have the body delivered to them. I suggested, however, that a finger be taken from the body instead because one person could not possibly carry the body. So we agreed on this,” Commander Kokoy said in the Awat report.

“We agreed that there was no need for a commando-type operation to enter the area where Marwan was located in order to prevent loss of lives because there were several different groups in the area,” he said.

The operation carried out by the commandos, as planned by the SAF, was compromised after one of them tripped on a booby trap, which exploded and alerted Marwan, his bodyguards and other armed groups in the vicinity.

An intense, hours-long firefight ensued, costing the SAF strike force, the 84th Special Action Company (SAC), nine of its members.

Several kilometers away, the SAF’s 55th SAC also battled it out with armed men in the middle of a cornfield. Of the 35 members of the 55th SAC, only one survived.

The deaths of the 44 SAF commandos ignited a public outcry that became President Aquino’s worst political crisis, during which his lowest public approval ratings fell to their lowest in five years.

The Mamasapano debacle also led to the shelving of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which would have completed a peace agreement signed by the government and the MILF in 2014.

Palace: SAF killed Marwan

Malacañang on Saturday stood by President Benigno Aquino III’s statement that it was the SAF that killed Marwan.

“The President is always very transparent about these things. He said there were reports like this [that] we could not just set aside and ignore, that is why we had to look into it, analyze and look at the evidence. But the President also said that after looking at the evidence and studying them, and this includes the independent study of the Senate, it appears the alternative theory has no basis,” Communications Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III said.

PNP Investigation and Detective Management Director Benjamin Magalong, who headed the police board of inquiry that investigated the Mamasapano clash, also insisted that it was the SAF that killed Marwan.

“Anybody can claim, ‘I killed Marwan.’ But where is their evidence?” Magalong said.

READ: ‘Marwan killed by aide’

“Why only now, and where is their evidence? That is all. As an investigating and fact-finding body, we look at the evidence,” he said.

Magalong said the board of inquiry never received information such as disclosed by Awat Mindanao during its investigation in Tukanalipao village in Mamasapano last year.

“If we had, we would have checked it out,” he said.

Exhumation of Marwan

Awat Mindanao has offered to help the government exhume the body of Marwan, as it knows where the terrorist was buried, but Magalong said that was up to the group.

“But why only know when the investigation’s already [finished]? They should have done that before. Why didn’t they come forward when we were investigating?” Magalong said.

Asked if it could have anything to do with claimants to the reward, Magalong said: “As far as I know, the [P7 million] reward has been claimed, but I’m not sure about the [$5 million] reward.”

Magalong confirmed that the SAF employed an informant who pointed out Marwan’s location. He said the informant was a civilian.

Agduma challenged President Aquino to explain why he retracted the statement he made at the Inquirer Multimedia Forum on Sept. 8 last year that there was an “alternative version of events” and that he was having it verified.

“The President should explain again the alternative truth,” Agduma said.

At a news conference on Friday, Awat Mindanao called for a reopening of the Mamasapano investigation but that it should only be done by an independent body, comprised of business, civic and religious leaders.

Agduma said a new investigation would give Awat a proper venue to present the action agents that Purisima and Calima worked with, among them Commander Kokoy, one Arthur Uy, reportedly an MILF member and one Timtim, a brother of Kague Kadialen Dalimbang (also known as Mohiden Ananimbang), the chief of staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Asset’s weapon

Agduma also said that the action agents could lead investigators to Marwan’s body for exhumation. Morever, Awat has in its possession Singgagao’s M203, which he used to kill Marwan.

It was Commander Kokoy who recovered the weapon, as well as Singgagao’s body, which he found some 30 meters away from Marwan’s hut.

It was Commander Kokoy, and not Singgagao as earlier reported, who built a hut some 500 meters away from Marwan’s hut, using money given by Purisima.

He also purchased a solar panel. Living near Marwan enabled him to monitor the terrorist and inform the authorities. With a report from Jaymee T. Gamil

RELATED STORIES

Aide betrayed Marwan

Was torching of Marwan’s hut a cover-up as to who really killed the terrorist?

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RELATED FROM THE MANILA BULLETIN

MILF dismayed on non-passage of BBL by Alexander D. Lopez February 19, 2016 (updated) Share0 Tweet0 Share0 Email0 Share7 image: http://www.mb.com.ph/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/BjuLUjvCIAAcM4D-225x300.jpg


MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, Manila Bulletin, mb.com.ph MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim (Photo by Official Gazette PH)

DAVAO CITY – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) expressed dismay on the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), saying that their “sentiment is mirrored by the tangible frustration of the great majority of the Bangsamoro people, the peace-loving populace not only in Mindanao but also in the entire country” and even the other nations who have been observing the peace process between the MILF and the Government of the Philippines (GPH).

“We the entire membership of the MILF express our deep disappointment and grave dismay over the non-passage of the BBL in the House of Congress in the Republic of the Philippines,” the statement said that was signed by MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim.

The BBL, Murad added, would have been the key mechanism in implementing the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed by and between the GPH and MILF.

The MILF chair also emphasized the group’s gesture of good faith and sincerity by doing its part in complying with all its obligations and responsibilities under the signed agreements.

“It has entrusted the passage of the BBL to the GPH since the process was entirely internal to the latter, and all its concerned structures had the obligation to deliver the law that could have truly implemented the terms of the agreements in letter and spirit It was not an easy decision to make and required a great deal of patience, perseverance and steadfastness. It was also fraught with risks and vicissitudes of legislation. But the BBL was no longer in the hands of the MILF since the process and responsibility of delivering the legislative measure had already shifted to the Philippine Government after the Bangsamoro Transition Commission [BTC) submitted it to both Houses of Congress.”

The MILF strongly pushed for the passage of the original BBL for the greatest interest of the Bangsamoro people; but it did not and do not claim to be the sole owner of the basic law, Murad said adding that the role of the MILF ends after the transition period.


TRIBUNE

Noy to raise maritime row in US-Asean Summit – Palace Written by PNA Monday, 15 February 2016 00:00



President Aquino is expected to tackle political and security concerns, particularly the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) issue, in the United States-Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit in Sunnylands, California, this week, Malacañang yesterday said.

The Chief Executive will leave the country today to attend the two-day special summit between the leaders of the Asean and the US to be hosted by President Barack Obama.

“Expected to be discussed are the political and security issues such as the maritime security, transnational challenges and effective fight against the threat of violent extremism,” presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told a radio interview.

He said the summit will be informal where the leaders of the Asean member-nations can express their opinions regarding issues that they feel need to be addressed.

“Based on the discussion during the last Asean Summit in Kuala Lumpur last November, it is most likely that President Obama will hold dialogue with Asean member-states regarding the maritime security,” Coloma stressed.

READ MORE...

The Palace official added maritime security has emerged as a vital concern to Asean.

“The goal of achieving Asean economic integration through the Asean economic community, as well as the US initiative on establishing a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to promote free trade in the Asia-Pacific region may be enhanced through more vigorous trades that, in turn, must be assured by freedom of navigation in the main navigational routes of global trade and commerce, including the South China Sea,” Coloma said.

“President Aquino has always represented the Philippines’ position on the importance of ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight, as well as adherence to Unclos and international law,” he added.

According to Coloma, Aquino has also been a leading advocate for a legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, as well as on the importance of seeking peaceful avenues for dispute resolution that underpins the Philippines’ petition before the UN Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague, a move that is being followed closely by other states with maritime entitlement claims.

After the Asea-US Summit, Aquino is scheduled to meet the Filipino community and some groups of investors and businessmen in Los Angeles.

------------------------------

RELATED FROM THE INQUIRER

WORLD VIEW The dark heart of Asean SHARES: 426 VIEW COMMENTS By: Joshua Kurlantzick @inquirerdotnet 12:24 AM February 16th, 2016


GOOGLED IMAGES

WASHINGTON, DC—In a two-day summit that starts today in California, US President Barack Obama will meet with the leaders of the 10 countries of Asia’s most important regional grouping: the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The event, the first-ever US-Asean summit on American soil, is being touted as a sign of America’s growing interest in Southeast Asia. The question is whether the United States, by inviting all members of Asean, has allowed its interests to overwhelm its principles.

In many ways, this move toward closer relations makes a lot of sense.

For starters, tensions between several Southeast Asian countries and China are on the rise, owing partly to the fact that China has been acting increasingly assertive in staking its contested territorial claims in the region’s waters. Most recently, China decided to move an oil rig into waters claimed by Vietnam.

A similar decision two years ago led to deadly anti-China riots in Vietnam.

And it is not just Vietnam that’s worried. Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines are also trying to upgrade their navies and coast guards. Indeed, two decades after essentially tossing US forces out of local bases, the Philippines has welcomed back American troops as part of a new military cooperation deal.

Even countries whose economies rely on China are worried. China is Laos’ biggest aid donor and largest trading partner; yet Laos’ ruling communist party last month elected a new leadership reportedly devoid of any pro-China politicians.

In Burma (Myanmar), which also depends heavily on Chinese aid and trade, the fear of becoming a Chinese satellite was a key reason its military junta ceded power to a civilian government in the early 2010s.

Beyond security challenges, the United States has a growing economic interest in Southeast Asia. Together, the Asean countries comprise America’s fourth-largest trading partner.

But there is one very serious problem with the upcoming US-Asean summit.

Since the US pivot to Asia was launched in 2011, Southeast Asia’s political systems have, on the whole, regressed significantly. Over the last few years, Thailand has gone from flawed democracy to military rule, which could persist through 2018, or beyond.

Similarly, Malaysia appeared to be headed for a two-party democracy in 2011. Today, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is in jail on dubious sodomy charges; the government has passed legislation that essentially authorizes it to detain critics indefinitely; and Prime Minister Najib Razak remains embroiled in multiple economic and political scandals.

Cambodia, too, seemed like it had reached a political breakthrough after the opposition coalition nearly won the 2013 general election. But in the last two years, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has reasserted his political dominance. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, fearing arrest, has fled into exile.



Then there is Burma. Although the Obama administration has touted the country as a shining example of democratic change, genuine democracy remains over the horizon. True, the longtime opposition party, the National League for Democracy, won last November’s general election. But the military still controls many ministries and a quarter of the seats in parliament. Moreover, civil wars are erupting along Burma’s borders, and gangs and other radical groups are slaughtering Muslims in the country’s west.

Laos, Vietnam and Brunei remain among the most repressive states in the world, with no evidence of political opening at all. And though democracy has advanced in Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore, progress has been slow; in Singapore, the ruling party continues to dominate the political system.

Many factors account for the weakening of democracy in Southeast Asia. The region’s first generation of elected leaders, like former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, often proved to be no more than elected autocrats who used their majorities to crush their opponents and suppress technologies that could be used as tools for change.

Indeed, Thailand, whose online repression has increased under the junta, now blocks more than 100,000 websites from its citizens. Add to this the influence of China—hardly a force for democratic change—and Southeast Asia’s democratic regression is not particularly shocking.

What is troublesome is that the Obama administration has been reinforcing this damaging trend by bolstering ties with Southeast Asian autocrats.

Obama has maintained close relations with Malaysia’s Najib (the two are reportedly golfing buddies). When Obama visited Malaysia last year, he barely mentioned Anwar’s imprisonment. The Obama administration also has been conspicuously quiet about abuses in Brunei, Laos and Vietnam, inviting the head of Vietnam’s Communist Party to Washington, DC, last July for a showy and warm visit.

In recent months, the Obama administration has begun to restore links with Thailand that were put on ice after the May 2014 coup, including by resuming a high-level strategic dialogue. Yet according to Human Rights Watch, “Thailand’s military junta tightened its grip on power and severely repressed fundamental rights” last year. And, so far this year, it has shown no signs of changing that approach.

The upcoming US-Asean summit will include leaders—like Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 25 years—who were previously considered too ruthless and repressive to be received by the US president on American soil. It seems that security and economic considerations have now usurped democracy as leading determinants of US foreign policy in the region.

For the people of Southeast Asia, this approach may ultimately create more risks than benefits.


Project Syndicate
Joshua Kurlantzick is senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.


MANILA BULLETIN

ASEAN, US to meet on maritime security by Roy C. Mabasa and Genalyn D. Kabiling February 15, 2016 Share1 Tweet0 Share0 Email0 Share42



Maritime security will be an important part of the discussion during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-United States Leaders’ Summit to be held at Sunnylands, California this week and which President Aquino is scheduled to attend.

Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma, in a radio interview yesterday, said that based on the discussions during the United States-ASEAN (US-ASEAN) Summit in Kuala Lumpur last November, US President Barack Obama will probably initiate a dialogue with ASEAN leaders on matters concerning maritime security.

“Maritime security has emerged as a vital concern to ASEAN,” he stressed.

Coloma noted that the goal of achieving ASEAN economic integration through the ASEAN economic community, as well as the US initiative on establishing a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to promote free trade in the Asia Pacific region may be enhanced through more vigorous trades that, in turn, must be assured by freedom of navigation in the main navigational routes of global trade and commerce including the South China Sea.

Several ASEAN member states, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam, are currently embroiled in a heated territorial dispute with China over the South China Sea.

Coloma said President Aquino has always represented the Philippines’ position on the importance of ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight, as well as adherence to international law and UNCLOS.

READ MORE...

“The President has also been a leading advocate for a legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, as well as on the importance of seeking peaceful avenues for dispute resolution that underpins the Philippines’ petition before the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague, a move that is being followed closely by other states with maritime entitlement claims,” he said.

Also expected to be an an important part of the discussion during the ASEAN-US Leaders’ Summit is how Washington could help in the consolidation of ASEAN economic integration.

“The two-day summit will be informal so the leaders of ASEAN member states can freely express their thoughts on any issues or matters that are important in their outlook,” said Coloma.

SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY

In California, it will likely be a sentimental journey for the President when he joins the special summit.

This will be the Philippine leader’s final attendance to the ASEAN-US summit, a chance to promote the country’s economic and security interests as well as bid goodbye to foreign allies.

With a few cabinet members in tow, the President is scheduled to arrive in Sunnylands, California on Monday morning for the summit on February 15-16. Before he returns to Manila, he will visit Los Angeles for various engagements including meetings with US businessmen and the Filipino community.

First in the President’s itinerary is the ASEAN-US summit retreat session on “Promoting Innovative, Entrepeneural ASEAN Economic Community” at the Sunnylands Center and Gardens on February 15. Obama is expected to deliver his opening remarks, followed by the Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, the current chair of the ASEAN.

A working dinner will later be hosted by Obama on the “regional strategic outlook” at the Sunnylands Historic House.

On Tuesday, President Aquino will attend the ASEAN-US summit retreat session 2 on “Protecting Peace, Prosperity, and Security in the Asia-Pacific.” Maritime issues, terrorism, and transnational challenges are high on the agenda of the summit talks.

Philippine officials earlier said promoting freedom of navigation and rule of law in the disputed territory in the South China Sea would also likely be raised by President Aquino at the summit.

At the end of the special ASEAN-US summit, a family photo of Obama and the Southeast Asian leaders will also be taken for posterity.

From Sunnylands, the President will travel to Los Angeles for a series of meetings with Walt Disney International, Western Digital Corporation, and Enterprise Growth Solutions AECOM.

The President is also expected to talk about the country’s robust relations with the United States as well as the country’s position on the territorial dispute with China when he addresses the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

On Wednesday, the President will sit down for a podcast interview by World Policy Institute at the Loyola Marymount University.

Aquino will also be given an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by the Loyola Marymount University “in recognition of his dedication to his country, his integrity, and his embodiment of a Jesuit education”. The LMU is the largest Jesuit Catholic university for undergraduates in the Southwest, with more than 6,000 undergraduate students and more than 3,000 graduate and law students.


Pres. Benigno S. C. Aquino III meets with Western Digital Corporation officials -- led by its chief executive officer Stephen Milligan and its chief legal officer Michael Ray -- as part of his working visit to Los Angeles, California. The President's trip to L.A. follows his attendance to the Special ASEAN-US Summit on February 17. PRESIDENT Benigno S. C. Aquino III said media conglomerate Walt Disney Co. and computer drive maker Western Digital Corp., among others, expressed interest in broadening their presence in the Philippines. -- Photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau PUBLISHED BY BUSINESS WORLD

President Aquino’s final activity in LA is a meeting with the Filipino community at the Hilton LAX on Wednesday night. He is expected to highlight his government’s accomplishments in turning the country around in terms of economic growth and good governance.

Aquino will depart for Manila on Wednesday night.

PRESS COVERAGE

Meanwhile, the Philippine Consulate General’s Office in Los Angeles has imposed a “by invitation only” coverage of the event by the Filipino-American press in an effort to restrain fly-by-night media practitioners.

The move is apparently the aim of a letter dated February 10 signed by Philippine Consul General to Los Angeles Leo Herrera Lim which was sent through email to the different Filipino-American media outlets operating in Los Angeles and nearby counties.

Supposedly, sources claimed this is the first time that the Philippine consulate has required legitimate media practitioners based in Los Angeles to submit a formal letter of assignment before they can cover an event, even if it is a visit of a sitting Philippine president.

During the last visit of Aquino in Los Angeles in June 2013, the Hilton Hotel Ballroom near the LA airport was crowded not only with members of the Filipino community but with hordes of LA-based journalists who were given coverage passes based on the list submitted by the consulate office.

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RELATED FROM PHILSTAR

Analyst: US wants leadership in Southeast Asia By Patricia Lourdes Viray (philstar.com) | Updated February 16, 2016 - 10:46am 1 30 googleplus0 0


President Barack Obama speaks at the plenary session meeting of ASEAN, the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Monday, Feb. 15, 2016. AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

MANILA, Philippines - The ultimate goal of the United States (US) in its strategy toward the South China Sea is to enhance its leadership in the region, an analyst said.

De La Salle University Prof. Richard Heydarian said that the actions of the US toward the disputed sea would also lead to a recalibration of China's strategic calculus amid its maritime assertiveness.

"During the... Sunnylands summit, President (Barack) Obama is expected to push for a regional consensus on the necessity of preserving freedom of navigation in the South China Sea – a barely-veiled rebuke against China’s assertiveness in the area," Heydarian said in an article published in the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

READ: US wants to maintain influence in South China Sea

Heydarian noted that the Obama administration is set to deepen its ties with Southeast Asia and strengthen its efforts in rebalancing to the Asia Pacific as it enters its last year in office.

Obama is also expected to push for more trade and investment ties with Southeast Asian countries as he hosts the ASEAN-US Summit in California.

"In particular, he is expected to discuss the prospect of the major ASEAN economies of Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement," Heydarian said.

Indonesia and the Philippines have earlier expressed their interest to join the TPP.

"Getting those economies on board will go a long way in boosting US economic leadership in Asia," the analyst said.

The US has signed the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and stepped up multilateral engagements with Myanmar under Obama's leadership.

Washington has also established the Lower Mekong Initiative and fortified ties with Vietnam.

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Laos and Cambodia last month. Both countries are considered as Beijing's "strategic backyard."

"In both Laos and Cambodia, Kerry offered economic incentives in the hopes of dampening their heavy dependence on China," Heydarian said.

Obama opened his meeting with leaders from Southeast Asia, the first time these leaders met at the invitation of the US.

The American president said that the meeting reflects his personal commitment to a strong and enduring partnership with Southeast Asian countries.

RELATED: Obama welcomes Southeast Asian leaders to US for talks


GMA NEWS TV

Obama hosts PNoy, other ASEAN leaders at desert retreat Published February 15, 2016 3:09am By ANDREW BEATTY, AFP


President Barack Obama hosted members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for the start of a two-day summit at the scenic Sunnylands retreat in Rancho Mirage. GOOGLED IMAGES

RANCHO MIRAGE, United States - President Barack Obama looks to put domestic issues aside and cap his long courtship with fast-rising South East Asian nations Monday, hosting Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and other leaders at a California desert retreat.

Obama welcomes representatives from 10 ASEAN countries to Sunnylands, a secluded 200 acre resort beloved by Frank Sinatra and US presidents since Dwight Eisenhower.

The visitors may have preferred the cachet of a White House visit and an Oval Office photo-op. But, like his predecessors, Obama is fond of the dry air, clean skies and the verdant fairways of this golfing Mecca.

Before sitting down at the summit table, Obama spent two days on the links.

The White House sees this summit and the prestigious venue as an opportunity to show ASEAN's importance before Obama leaves office in January 2017.

Presidential trips to Vietnam and Laos are expected later this year to reinforce the point.

They will have to try, however -- perhaps in vain -- to prevent the event from being overshadowed by the death of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia.

The leaders of Vietnam and Myanmar, facing their own domestic challenges, have dropped out, electing to send deputies instead.

The ASEAN bloc was once an afterthought in American policy -- too small, too diverse and too dysfunctional to be an effective player.

But Obama -- who spent a few of his formative years in Indonesia -- has made it a fulcrum for his much-vaunted "pivot to Asia."

"Now, ASEAN is of enormous interest to the United States," said top Obama foreign policy advisor Ben Rhodes.

"The 10 ASEAN nations together represent the world’s seventh largest economy. They are at the nexus of critical security issues, whether it's maritime security, counterterrorism, or counter-piracy."

Obama's administration has tried to bind ASEAN more tightly together, in part to serve as a counterpoint to China, the region's dominant power.

The White House has actively coaxed countries like Myanmar away from dictatorship, making the bloc more democratic and more likely to back global norms.

Obama is trying to "create a strategic context for getting China to play by the rules," according to Earnest Bower of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Down to business

America's superpower rival and sometime partner will be a presence throughout the Sunnylands summit, both seen and unseen.

Leaders wondering among the palms and artichoke agaves will find a small red US-China "Friendship Bench" where Obama and President Xi Jinping sat for a "shirtsleeves summit" three years ago.

During this summit, Obama and his counterparts will try to agree on how to deal with a myriad of competing maritime claims in the strategically vital South China Sea.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam -- as well as China and Taiwan, who will not be represented at Sunnylands -- all lay claim to an array of remote reefs, spits, atolls and shoals that have become geopolitical hotspots.

For decades there has been building and tinkering on the islets, but recent breakneck Chinese military construction has prompted fears of conflict.

Officials and diplomats say a major aim of Monday and Tuesday's meetings is to agree on a response to a major UN panel ruling on the disputes that is expected within months.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration will decide whether China's controversial territorial claim to a vast expanse of sea inside a "nine dash line" has any legal merit.

A collective US-ASEAN endorsement of the court's verdict -- whatever the outcome --would heap pressure on China, which refuses to recognize the panel.

The White House has tried, so far unsuccessfully, to cajole Beijing into stopping military work and committing to resolve any disputes by negotiation and following the rule of law.

Backers "hope that, if not immediately, then over time, the Chinese will not want to be isolated and an international pariah, a country that doesn't agree with international law," said Bower.

Behind the scenes diplomatic maneuvering is intense.

Beijing has fiercely lobbied ASEAN nations without a direct stake in territorial disputes, notably Cambodia and Laos, to water-down any common position.

Officials point to signs that China may be preparing to talk to Japan about disputes in the East China Sea in an effort to weaken pressure. — Agence France-Presse

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RELATED FROM THE VOICE OF AMERICA

ASEAN-US Summit Viewed as More Symbolic Than Substantive Print Comment (1) Share Feb


FILE - A security guard talks to a visitor at the entrance to the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Wednesday, June 5, 2013.

BANGKOK— With a backdrop of Beijing's growing assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea, President Barack Obama is set next week to host the leaders of the 10 ASEAN members at an estate near Palm Springs, California.

Analysts caution that expectations about the outcome need to be managed.

“This being the last year of President Obama in office, I'm not particular strong on the idea that a great deal of substance can be done,” said Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

The Philippines and Vietnam are among those involved in maritime territorial disputes with China, and increasingly looking to Washington for security assurances. That puts them apart from some of the other ASEAN states, which resist amplifying the rhetoric toward Beijing.

That also could make it difficult for any substantive or groundbreaking proclamation emerging from the meeting in California.

“I don't think the United States is setting out to wreck anything,“ said Hong Kong University international law professor Chin Leng Lim. “But of course the United State has concerns about the South China Sea, about freedom of navigation... and these issues will be put up front at the summit.”

F
ILE - The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) transits the South China Sea in this U.S. Navy picture taken Oct. 29, 2015.

Obama administration officials see ASEAN as a key pillar in America's geo-strategic rebalancing to Asia and the Pacific, as well as a desire to enhance economic ties with the growing region.

"We want to make very clear that the United States is going to be at the table and a part of setting the agenda in the Asia Pacific in the decades to come. In order to do that, we need to be engaging organizations like ASEAN at the highest levels," Deputy National Security adviser Ben Rhodes said this week.

Professor Lim, a specialist on regional trade and development, told VOA, that "We don't have an ASEAN speaking with one voice on several issues of interest. And I think if you accept that, what it means is that the United States and the U.S. agenda for the meeting is effectively and firmly in the driving seat of this summit.”

And much of the current focus in ASEAN is on trade.

Twelve countries signed in Auckland, New Zealand last week the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The trade pact includes four ASEAN members: Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. Two others, Indonesia and Thailand, are seen as eventual candidates for the TPP.


FILE - President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Nov. 21, 2015.

“If the United States is pushing the TPP and the idea of an ASEAN-United States free trade agreement isn't going to fly, then we really have to look at pragmatically at how the various ASEAN members can be brought into the TPP over time,” said HKU professor Lim.

ASEAN has been negotiating for more than three years with six other countries (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand) for another so-called free trade agreement known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

“ASEAN is facing a new competitive landscape, with the signing of the TPP and the near conclusion of RCEP negotiations that will bring together 16 countries in Asia,” said Asian Trade Center executive director Deborah Elms in Singapore. “To remain relevant, ASEAN must take regional integration seriously. Without concrete results, globally mobile firms will focus their attention and resources elsewhere.”

ASEAN also launched its own long-planned economic community from the beginning of the year, theoretically creating a single entity for 600 million people. It has little of substance yet, but its proponents express optimism that it will achieve its goal of being a single market and production base, with free flow of services, investments and labor by the year 2020.

The US-ASEAN summit venue, the 80-hectare Sunnylands estate, once the home of a billionaire publisher, was used by President Obama to host Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.


FILE - President Barack Obama stands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands as they meet for talks in Rancho Mirage, California, June 7, 2013.

“Diplomatically, symbolically, this is putting ASEAN – 10 medium-size and smaller countries – virtually on par on China, which is a great acknowledgment of the distance ASEAN has come since past years,” Tay in Singapore told VOA.

ASEAN members run the political gamut from full democracies to states under one-party Communist rule.

President Obama personally invited all of the ASEAN leaders to Sunnylands when he attended the ASEAN summit three months ago in Malaysia.

The summit participants, besides addressing the key regional security and trade issues, also are expected to discuss climate change and human trafficking.

Steve Herman A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.


PHILSTAR

Aquino, Cabinet members arrive in California for Asean-US Summit By Patricia Lourdes Viray (philstar.com) | Updated February 16, 2016 - 3:33pm 1 6 googleplus0 0


President Barack Obama greets Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, right, at a meeting of ASEAN, the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Monday, Feb. 15, 2016. Obama and the leaders of the Southeast Asian nations are gathering for two days of talks on economic and security issues and on forging deeper ties amid China's assertive presence in the region. AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III and members of his Cabinet arrived in California on Monday morning (Tuesday afternoon Manila time) for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - US Summit hosted by US President Barack Obama.

The Philippine delegation consists of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Trade Secretary Adrian Cristobal Jr., Economic Planning Secretary Emmanuel Esguerra, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras and Climate Change Commissioner Emmanuel de Guzman.

A senior protocol from the US State Department, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr. and Consul General Leo Herrera Lim welcomed Aquino and his delegation at the airport.

Aquino is scheduled to attend the first retreat session of the ASEAN-US Summit this afternoon. The first session bears the the theme "Promoting an Innovative, Entrepreneurial ASEAN Economic Community."

READ MORE...

The president will then attend the working dinner that Obama will be hosting.

READ: Obama welcomes Southeast Asian leaders to US for talks

The second retreat session on the following day will revolve around "Protecting Peace, Prosperity, and Security in the Asia-Pacific." After the second session, the leaders will pose for their official family photo opportunity.

The summit is the first standalone meeting between the US and Southeast Asian nations held in the United States. It will be held at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage.

Aquino will head to Los Angeles for a working visit after the summit. He is set to address the Los Angeles World Affairs Council at the Intercontinental Hotel.

The president will also meet with the top executives of three big Los Angeles-based companies during his working visit. He will meet with officials of Walt Disney International, Western Digital Corporation, and AECOM’s Enterprise Growth Solutions.

The Filipino community in Los Angeles is looking forward to Aquino's visit in the area.

"Our kababayans in the US and I are looking forward to welcoming him once more to the United States. We’d like to wish him a successful visit," Cuisia said in an interview with Radio Television Malacañang.

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RELATED FROM THE MANILA TIMES

Aquino to raise sea dispute with Obama February 14, 2016 10:33 pm by JOEL M. SY EGCO, SENIOR REPORTER

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd will lead other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) heads of state in bringing forth the issue of maritime security, particularly the disputes at the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea), during their meeting with US President Barack Obama this week, according to a Malacanang official.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., in an interview over state-run Radyo ng Bayan, on Sunday said it has been agreed during the Asean-US Summit last November that Obama shall hold a dialogue with Asean leaders on their maritime concerns.

“Maritime security has emerged as a vital concern to Asean. The goal of achieving Asean economic integration through the Asean economic community, as well as the US initiative on establishing a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to promote free trade in the Asia Pacific region may be enhanced through more vigorous trades that, in turn, must be assured by freedom of navigation in the main navigational routes of global trade and commerce, including the South China Sea,” Coloma added.

Quoting the Department of Foreign Affairs, he said Aquino will attend the Asean-US Leaders’ Summit in Sunnylands, California, from February 15 to 16 “to further boost and strengthen strategic partnerships” among the countries involved.

Besides maritime security, Coloma said the summit may also tackle political and security issues, “transnational challenges” and the continuing threat of terrorism.

“The two-day summit will be informal so that the leaders of Asean can freely express their sentiments and concerns that are of import,” he added.

Coloma said President Aquino will likely lead his Asean counterparts during the dialogue with President Obama since he has been so passionate about the sea dispute with China.

“President Aquino has always represented the Philippines’ position on the importance of ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight, as well as adherence to Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and international law,” he added.

“The President has also been a leading advocate for a legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, as well as on the importance of seeking peaceful avenues for dispute resolution that underpins the Philippines’ petition before the UN Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague, a move that is being followed closely by other states with maritime entitlement claims,” Coloma said.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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