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

NEW DFA CHIEF ALMENDRAS VOWS DIPLOMATIC ACTION OVER SCARBOROUGH HARASSMENT


MARCH 22 -Foreign Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, who now heads the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), answers questions from reporters during his first press conference at DFA headquarters in Pasay, south of Manila, Philippines, Monday March 21, 2016. AP/Aaron Favila Interim Foreign Affairs Secretary Jose Almendras on Monday vowed that the Philippines will take appropriate action on China's reported harassment of Filipino fishermen at the Panatag or Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
At least 10 Filipino fishermen reported being harassed and driven away from the Manila-claimed shoal by a Chinese coast guard vessel. READ: China flexes muscle in disputed waters "When and if our Armed Forces does validate it, then we will be launching our official course of action -– to express our opinions according to the diplomatic channels," Almendras said in a press conference. Almendras said that the country will use diplomatic channels once the claims of the fishermen have been verified. "I’m not saying that our fishermen are lying or not. It’s just that procedure and protocol requires us to validate and really vet it before we start doing the immediate action," Almendras said. According to reports, Chinese government vessels have been blockading the shoal and drove Filipino fishermen away on March 5 and 6 when they tried to get close. READ MORE...RELATED, Analyst: Manila vs Beijing ruling will affect nations with similar claims... RELATED, Malaysia says 100 China boats intrude into its waters...

ALSO: Aquino creates new task force to protect West Philippine Sea
[Members of the new task force include the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of National Defense, Department of Justice, Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Transportation and Communications, Department of Finance, and National Economic and Development Authority.]


MARCH 23 -West Philippine Sea (MB File) West Philippine Sea (MB File Photo)
With less than 100 days in office, President Benigno Aquino III has created a high-level task force that would synchronize a “unified” government action in protecting the country’s sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea. In Memorandum Circular No. 94, the President has assigned the National Security Adviser to chair the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea with several government departments and security agencies as members. The formation of the high-level task force came amid the country’s protest against China’s aggressive reclamation activities to assert its claims in the West Philippine Sea. Manila is still waiting for a decision of the UN tribunal on its petition asserting maritime entitlements in the disputed territory. “Consistent with the Constitution, the Philippines’ interests in the West Philippine Sea include the maintenance and protection of Philippine sovereignty, preservation and defense of territorial integrity, and promotion of the welfare and well-being of the Filipino people,” the circular read. “Given the country’s national interest, national policies and evolving strategic lands, a more deliberate and coherent approach in addressing the West Philippine Sea issue is needed for the purpose of orchestrating the national effort an achieving unified action in the West Philippine Sea,” it added. The President acknowledged that the issues and actions required in the WPS transcend maritime security domain since these extend to other areas of concern such as “diplomatic, politico-legal, information, military and law enforcement, and socio-economic fields.” READ MORE...RELATED,
China says US-PH base deal raises questions...

ALSO: US troops to start arriving for Balikatan on Monday (March 28)


MARCH 27 -US Marines with 3rd Marine Regiment quickly return to their Amphibious Assault Vehicle to grab extra equipment needed on the firing line during a bilateral amphibious landing by the Philippine and US Marines on North Beach at the Naval Education Training Center in Zambales, Philippines on April 21, 2015, as part of exercise Balikatan. US Marine Corps/Cpl. Matthew Bragg, file
MANILA, Philippines - American troops joining the Balikatan drills are expected to start arriving in the Philippines on Monday as their Filipino counterparts kick off planning exercises designed to boost their ability to handle emergency situations.
US military personnel and their equipment will enter the Philippines through northern Luzon, according to Cpt. Frank Sayson, Philippine spokesman for this year’s Balikatan exercises. He, however, declined to provide specifics for security reasons. “Based on the plan, the mobilization of the American troops and the offloading of their equipment for Balikatan 2016 will start tomorrow (March 28). We are following a timeline and they should be here by tomorrow and the proceeding weeks,” Sayson said in an interview on Sunday. Balikatan 2016, a major event that highlights the longstanding alliance of the Philippines and the US, will be held from April 4 to 15. The exercise, however, kicked off quietly last March 16 with the launching of construction and medical activities in Panay and Palawan, the province nearest the South China Sea. READ MORE...

ALSO: Dark day in Brussels Airport, metro station attacked


MARCH 23 - BRUSSELS ATTACKS – People rush out of the Zaventem Airport near Brussels, Belgium, after explosions ripped through the facility yesterday. This was followed later in the day by a bomb explosion at the Metro Station, also in the Belgian capital.(REUTERS/AP)
Brussels – Victims lay in pools of blood, their limbs blown off, as the smoke cleared to reveal a scene of horror after twin explosions ripped through the main terminal at Brussels airport, witnesses told AFP. The normally bustling departure hall at Zaventem was wrecked by the morning rush-hour blasts, with part of the ceiling collapsing near the check-in desks and many of the huge plate glass windows blown out by the attack. “A man shouted a few words in Arabic and then I heard a huge blast,” airport baggage security officer Alphonse Lyoura, who still had blood on his hands following the explosion, told AFP. He said there was another explosion about two minutes later. “I helped at least six or seven wounded people. We took out some bodies that were not moving. It was total panic everywhere,” Lyoura said. “I saw people lying on the ground covered in blood who were not moving. “At least six or seven people’s legs were totally crushed. A lot of people lost limbs. One man had lost both legs, and there was a policeman with a totally mangled leg.” A third explosion hit the Maalbeek metro station near the European Union’s main buildings, just as commuters were making their way to work in rush hour. A spokesman for the Brussels Metro said 15 people were killed and 55 injured in an explosion on a train, and Belgian media reported at least 13 dead in two explosions at the airport, with many others injured. The city was already on high alert after the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, a key suspect in the Paris terror attacks in November that were claimed by the Islamic State group. ‘A TERRIBLE MESS’ Jean-Pierre Lebeau, a French passenger who had just arrived from Geneva, told AFP: “We heard the explosion and felt the blast.” He said he had seen many wounded and “blood in the elevator.” READ MORE...RELATED,
Pinoys in Belgium told to keep calm, avoid public places...

ALSO: TORONTO - Rob Ford, well-loved Toronto mayor, dead after brave long battle with rare cancer
[EMBUED BY NOTORIETY; DYNAMIC PUBLIC SERVICE; VERY HUMANE POLITICIAN WITH THE BIGGEST HEART. Died too soon!]


MARCH 22 -Rob Ford, 46, seemed like an unstoppable political force, but the city councilor and former mayor could not beat cancer.
Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford has passed away at the age of 46 after an 18 month battle with cancer. Rob Ford, the Toronto city councilor who became the world’s most famous mayor during a wild, scandal-filled term, is dead at age 46. The married father of two young children died after 18 months of treatment for a rare and aggressive cancer first diagnosed in the midst of his 2014 bid to be re-elected mayor. Ford would have turned 47 on May 28. A brief statement from the Ford family announcing the death Tuesday described the former mayor as a “dedicated man of the people” who “spent his life serving the citizens of Toronto.” “The family will not be making any statements to the media or taking any questions,” the statement said. Politicians were quick to respond to the news. “I have known Rob Ford for many years. He was a man who spoke his mind and who ran for office because of the deeply felt convictions that he had,” Mayor John Tory said in a release. “His time in City Hall included moments of kindness, of generosity to his council colleagues and real efforts to do what he thought was best for Toronto.READ MORE...RELATED,
Doug Ford misses brother ‘like crazy,’ he tells CBC...

ALSO: Baguio draws 500,000 visitors during Holy Week


BAGUIO CITY - An estimated 500,000 to 1 million tourists visited the country's summer capital to commemorate the Holy Week, according to the city tourism office.
Among the events which drew a mammoth crowd of vacationers was the Black Friday procession along Session Road. Mt. Cabuyao was also temporarily opened to Christian devotees who observed the Stations of the Cross. The city government, however, banned entry to the Sitio Pungayan in Tuba, which is the actual site of the fictional town of La Presa in the hit ABS-CBN teleserye "Forevermore" starring Liza Soberano and Enrique Gil. (READ: CA protects site of ABS-CBN teleserye) The Baguio Correspondence and Broadcasters' Club (BCBC), meanwhile, granted free tours of Baguio to six first-time visitors of the city. The Philippine Military Academy (PMA) campus also drew visitors who wanted to avoid heavy traffic around other tourist spots. Commuters returning to Metro Manila started flocking bus terminals on Saturday afternoon. Buses typically leave stations every hour but now do so every 10 minutes due to the influx of passengers. Heavy traffic was experienced at the city's central business district. FULL REPORT.


READ FULL MEDIA REPORTS HERE:

New DFA chief vows diplomatic action over Scarborough harassment


Foreign Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, who now heads the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), answers questions from reporters during his first press conference at DFA headquarters in Pasay, south of Manila, Philippines, Monday March 21, 2016. AP/Aaron Favila

MANILA, MARCH 28, 2016 (PHILSTAR)  By Patricia Lourdes Viray March 22, 2016 - Interim Foreign Affairs Secretary Jose Almendras on Monday vowed that the Philippines will take appropriate action on China's reported harassment of Filipino fishermen at the Panatag or Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

At least 10 Filipino fishermen reported being harassed and driven away from the Manila-claimed shoal by a Chinese coast guard vessel.

READ: China flexes muscle in disputed waters

"When and if our Armed Forces does validate it, then we will be launching our official course of action -– to express our opinions according to the diplomatic channels," Almendras said in a press conference.

Almendras said that the country will use diplomatic channels once the claims of the fishermen have been verified.

"I’m not saying that our fishermen are lying or not. It’s just that procedure and protocol requires us to validate and really vet it before we start doing the immediate action," Almendras said.

According to reports, Chinese government vessels have been blockading the shoal and drove Filipino fishermen away on March 5 and 6 when they tried to get close.

READ MORE...

Chinese coast guard rubber boats reportedly rammed and destroyed a vessel carrying Filipino fishermen at the Scarborough Shoal, which is located 124 nautical miles off Palawan and 472 miles from China's Hainan province. Manila refers to Scarborough as Panatag Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc.

Almendras earlier met with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jinhua to discuss bilateral concerns but admitted that the alleged harassment was not discussed.

The new Foreign Affairs chief described the meeting with the Chinese diplomat as "very nice and friendly."

President Benigno Aquino III appointed Almendras as ad interim Foreign Affairs secretary after Albert Del Rosario resigned for health reasons. Almendras has said the appointment will not mean changes in Philippine foreign policy, which includes bringing the South China Sea dispute before an international court for arbitration.

RELATED: Noy: Almendras capable of handling DFA

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RELATED FROM PHILSTAR

Analyst: Manila vs Beijing ruling to affect nations with similar claims By Patricia Lourdes Viray (philstar.com) | Updated March 25, 2016 - 1:57pm 16 476 googleplus1 2


Paul Reichler, the Philippines's lead counsel for its case against China over maritime claims in the South China Sea, speaks before the international tribunal in the Hague in July 2015 for the jurisdictional hearing. PCA / Released

MANILA, Philippines — Other nations with expansive maritime claims over remote islets may have to reconsider their position if the international tribunal established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) will rule in favor of Manila in its case against Beijing, an analyst said.

The Philippines in 2013 filed an arbitration case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands to challenge the latter's claims over the South China Sea. The ruling is expected to be out in May this year.

Academia Sinica research fellow Yann-Huei Song said that the expected favorable ruling for the Philippines may set a precedent that will affect the claims of several nations calling on China to abide by decision.

READ: Obama, SE Asian leaders seek resolution to maritime disputes

"For instance, Australia, Brazil, France, Japan, and the United States all make expansive maritime claims from remote islets that are not dissimilar in size or habitability to some of the Spratly Islands that the Philippines insists are legally rocks, not islands," Song said in an article published in the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

Song explained that all states with the similar claims may face pressure to abide by the precedent set if the tribunal rules that the features in the disputed sea are rocks and cannot generate a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or continental shelf as stated in accordance with the Article 121 of UNCLOS.

"That means that McDonald Island (Australia), Clipperton Island (France), Saint Peter and Paul Rocks (Brazil), Okinotorishima (Japan), and Howland Island, Baker Island, and Kingman Reef (the United States) should generate only 12-nautical-mile territorial seas, not EEZs or continental shelves as their owners currently claim," the maritime analyst said.

The expected ruling of the tribunal in connection to the Spratlys, particularly Itu Aba or Taiping Island which are "rocks" under UNCLOS, will affect the claims of the US.

Howland Island, Baker Island and Kingman Reef in the Pacific Ocean contain no fresh water, no agricultural soil and no permanent population. Under Article 121 of the UNCLOS, they they are not able to "sustain human habitation" or "economic life."

During its 1986 annual meeting of the Law of the Sea Institute in Miami, Florida, the US government stressed its claim to an EEZ around all its possessions, inhabited or not, without regard to size or location.

"The United States had concluded that all islands should have the same capacity to generate EEZs, whether they are inhabited or not, and that isolated or awkwardly located islands should not be viewed as 'special circumstances' or geographical anomalies in determining extended maritime boundaries," State Department assistant legal adviser for oceans, international environmental, and scientific affairs David Colson said.

Professor Jon Van Dyke said that the US position seeks to expand the areas of the ocean claimed by one nation to the exclusion of others. This position reduces the resources shared as "common heritage" for all humankind.

Song noted that the US will have to change or abandon its claim to 200 EEZs and continental shelves in its remote Pacific islands.

Other states with similar claims, including Australia and Japan, should also consider the tribunal's decision and adjust their maritime claims to conform with UNCLOS, Song concluded.

RELATED: Philippines's lead counsel: China to lose influence if it defies tribunal's decision

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RELATED FROM PHILSTAR

Malaysia says 100 China boats intrude into its waters (Associated Press) | Updated March 25, 2016 - 6:20pm 2 325 googleplus0 0


The Luconia Shoals, divided into the North and South Luconia Shoals, and sometimes known as the Luconia Reefs, are one of the largest and least-known reef complexes in the South China Sea. Bing Maps

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — About 100 China-registered boats have been detected encroaching into Malaysian waters near the Luconia Shoals in the South China Sea, a Malaysian minister said.

Shahidan Kassim, a minister in charge of national security, said the government has dispatched the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and the navy to the area to monitor the situation.


Infographic based on map in US Department of Defense's report "Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy." Philstar.com / RP Ocampo

Shahidan was quoted by the national Bernama news agency on Friday as saying that legal enforcement action would be taken if the Chinese vessels are found to have entered Malaysia's exclusive economic zone.

READ MORE...

Shahidan and other ministry officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have overlapping claims. Tensions have ramped up since China began a massive land reclamation program in the strategically vital sea lane in 2013.

Home to some of the world's busiest sea lanes, the area is also rich in fisheries and may hold oil and natural gas reserves under the seabed.

RELATED: What we know about Jackson Atoll in disputed sea


MANILA BULLETIN

Aquino creates new task force to protect West Philippine Sea by Genalyn Kabiling March 23, 2016 Share0 Tweet0 Share0 Email0 Share16 image: http://www.mb.com.ph/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/er.jpg


West Philippine Sea (MB File) West Philippine Sea (MB File Photo)

With less than 100 days in office, President Benigno Aquino III has created a high-level task force that would synchronize a “unified” government action in protecting the country’s sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea.

In Memorandum Circular No. 94, the President has assigned the National Security Adviser to chair the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea with several government departments and security agencies as members.

The formation of the high-level task force came amid the country’s protest against China’s aggressive reclamation activities to assert its claims in the West Philippine Sea. Manila is still waiting for a decision of the UN tribunal on its petition asserting maritime entitlements in the disputed territory.

“Consistent with the Constitution, the Philippines’ interests in the West Philippine Sea include the maintenance and protection of Philippine sovereignty, preservation and defense of territorial integrity, and promotion of the welfare and well-being of the Filipino people,” the circular read.

“Given the country’s national interest, national policies and evolving strategic lands, a more deliberate and coherent approach in addressing the West Philippine Sea issue is needed for the purpose of orchestrating the national effort an achieving unified action in the West Philippine Sea,” it added.

The President acknowledged that the issues and actions required in the WPS transcend maritime security domain since these extend to other areas of concern such as “diplomatic, politico-legal, information, military and law enforcement, and socio-economic fields.”

READ MORE...

Members of the new task force include the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of National Defense, Department of Justice, Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Transportation and Communications, Department of Finance, and National Economic and Development Authority.

Other task force members are the National Coast Watch System, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police-Maritime Group, Philippine Coast Guard, and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

In the MC 94 signed last March 17, the new task force will receive guidance from the President though the Cabinet Cluster on Security, Justice and Peace.

It will also be responsible in orchestrating and sychronizing the employment of the different national government agencies’ capabilities to achieve the national objectives in the WPS. Regular reports will be submitted to the President through the cabinet security cluster.

The same circular created an Area-level Task Force that will coordinate the efforts of the different government agencies at the area level. Tactical-level Task Forces (TTs) may also be organized to perform mandates with the direction from the ATF.

The President also directed government agencies and local government units to render support and cooperation to the new task force.

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RELATED FROM THE MANILA BULLETIN

China says US-PH base deal raises questions by Reuters March 23, 2016 Share0 Tweet0 Share0 Email0 Share25

Beijing – China said on Monday agreements like the one reached last week by the United States (US) and the Philippines allowing for a US military presence at five Philippine bases raised questions about militarization in the South China Sea.

US is keen to boost the military capabilities of East Asian countries and its own regional presence in the face of China’s assertive pursuit of territorial claims in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest trade routes.

US and its regional allies have expressed concern that China is militarizing the South China Sea with moves to build airfields and other military facilities on the islands it occupies.

Asked about the base deal, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that US-Philippine cooperation should not be targeted at any third party nor harm other nations’ sovereignty or security interests.

“I also want to point out that recently the US military likes to talk about the so-called militarization of the South China Sea,” Hua told a daily news conference.

“Can they then explain, isn’t this kind of continued strengthening of military deployments in the South China Sea and areas surrounding it considered militarization?”

READ MORE...

China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have claims.

The United States says it takes no sides in the disputes but wants to ensure free navigation through the sea. It has said it will increase what it calls freedom-of-navigation operations by its navy ships through the waters.

US allies Malaysia and Australia both reiterated on Monday calls for freedom of navigation through the South China Sea.

“We’ve been extremely consistent in saying that our activities will continue, that we will send our ships and our planes to that part of the world as we require, as it is necessary in accordance to international law,” Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne said after meeting her counterpart in Malaysia.

Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that free movement in the air and waters should continue.

China has never interfered with freedom of navigation and has stressed that some of the equipment it is installing on small islands and reefs will facilitate navigation.


PHILSTAR

US troops to start arriving for Balikatan on Monday By Alexis Romero (philstar.com) | Updated March 27, 2016 - 4:45pm 2 75 googleplus0 0


US Marines with 3rd Marine Regiment quickly return to their Amphibious Assault Vehicle to grab extra equipment needed on the firing line during a bilateral amphibious landing by the Philippine and US Marines on North Beach at the Naval Education Training Center in Zambales, Philippines on April 21, 2015, as part of exercise Balikatan. US Marine Corps/Cpl. Matthew Bragg, file

MANILA, Philippines - American troops joining the Balikatan drills are expected to start arriving in the Philippines on Monday as their Filipino counterparts kick off planning exercises designed to boost their ability to handle emergency situations.

US military personnel and their equipment will enter the Philippines through northern Luzon, according to Cpt. Frank Sayson, Philippine spokesman for this year’s Balikatan exercises. He, however, declined to provide specifics for security reasons.

“Based on the plan, the mobilization of the American troops and the offloading of their equipment for Balikatan 2016 will start tomorrow (March 28). We are following a timeline and they should be here by tomorrow and the proceeding weeks,” Sayson said in an interview on Sunday.

Balikatan 2016, a major event that highlights the longstanding alliance of the Philippines and the US, will be held from April 4 to 15. The exercise, however, kicked off quietly last March 16 with the launching of construction and medical activities in Panay and Palawan, the province nearest the South China Sea.

READ MORE...

The exercises will be held amid concerns over China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), a busy sea lane where about $5-trillion worth of trade passes through annually. Organizers of the exercise, however, insist that the conduct of drills has nothing to do with the maritime dispute.

Military drills aimed at improving the interoperability of Filipino and American troops will be held in Crow Valley in Tarlac, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Clark Air Field in Pampanga, Subic Bay in Zambales and in Palawan. Officials said the exercises would focus on maritime law enforcement and disaster response efforts.

RELATED: PAF FA-50s to join Balikatan war games

The Philippines and the US are also expected to kick off planning exercises for emergency situations -- including a magnitude 6.5 earthquake in Metro Manila -- on Monday.

Sayson said the command post exercises would be held simultaneously at the Philippine military’s main headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo and the US Pacific Command headquarters. The exercises will be held until March 31.

“Through this military exercise, we will know how our generals react when a crisis happens,” Sayson said, adding that the situation requires coordination with other agencies.

“Of course, we also expect [help from] our allies like America. Because of our bilateral relations through the MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty), we can ask them to help us,” he added.

Under the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951, the Philippines and the United States will jointly develop their security capabilities to ward off external armed attacks.

Activist groups like the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan want the MDT and related agreements like the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement scrapped, saying they keep the Philippines dependent on the US and can drag the country into US conflicts.


MANILA BULLETIN

Dark day in Brussels Airport, metro station attacked by AFP March 23, 2016 Share1 Tweet2 Share0 Email0 Share6


BRUSSELS ATTACKS – People rush out of the Zaventem Airport near Brussels, Belgium, after explosions ripped through the facility yesterday. This was followed later in the day by a bomb explosion at the Metro Station, also in the Belgian capital.(REUTERS/AP)

Brussels – Victims lay in pools of blood, their limbs blown off, as the smoke cleared to reveal a scene of horror after twin explosions ripped through the main terminal at Brussels airport, witnesses told AFP.

The normally bustling departure hall at Zaventem was wrecked by the morning rush-hour blasts, with part of the ceiling collapsing near the check-in desks and many of the huge plate glass windows blown out by the attack.

“A man shouted a few words in Arabic and then I heard a huge blast,” airport baggage security officer Alphonse Lyoura, who still had blood on his hands following the explosion, told AFP.

He said there was another explosion about two minutes later.

“I helped at least six or seven wounded people. We took out some bodies that were not moving. It was total panic everywhere,” Lyoura said.

“I saw people lying on the ground covered in blood who were not moving.

“At least six or seven people’s legs were totally crushed. A lot of people lost limbs. One man had lost both legs, and there was a policeman with a totally mangled leg.”

A third explosion hit the Maalbeek metro station near the European Union’s main buildings, just as commuters were making their way to work in rush hour.

A spokesman for the Brussels Metro said 15 people were killed and 55 injured in an explosion on a train, and Belgian media reported at least 13 dead in two explosions at the airport, with many others injured.

The city was already on high alert after the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, a key suspect in the Paris terror attacks in November that were claimed by the Islamic State group.

‘A TERRIBLE MESS’

Jean-Pierre Lebeau, a French passenger who had just arrived from Geneva, told AFP: “We heard the explosion and felt the blast.”

He said he had seen many wounded and “blood in the elevator.”

READ MORE...

“First, we were kept together by the police, then they gave us the order to evacuate,” he said, recounting the shock on people’s faces and a smell seemingly of gunpowder at the scene.

Michel Mpoy, 65, who was at the airport to pick up a friend coming from Kinshasa, said it was “a total mess – it was terrible.”

An employee for the Swissport airport management company described how she looked after a child following the blasts.

“I heard the first explosion and I took a child in my arms and hid him under the counter. Then I gave him to a policeman,” the employee said without giving her name.

“There were injured people lying everywhere and some weren’t moving.”


ISIS Claims Responsibility for Brussels Attacks (PRO ISIS IMAGE)

At the airport, on the northwest outskirts of the city and not far from NATO headquarters, Jean-Pierre Herman said he was relieved to have got out safely.

Herman embraced his wife Tankrat Paui Tran, who he had just gone to collect from the airport after her flight from Thailand.

“My wife just arrived,” Herman said. “I said ‘hello,” we took the elevator and in the elevator we heard the first bomb.

“The second exploded just when we got off. We ran away to an emergency exit. I think we are very lucky.”

Charlotte McDonald-Gibson, a British journalist living in Brussels, told AFP there had been “total confusion” at the airport, where she was having breakfast before a flight.

“Suddenly staff rushed in and said we have to leave,” she said. “They rushed out and into the main terminal A departures building. Nobody knew what was going on.”

“It was total confusion, people were just standing around wondering what was happening.”

Another blast about half an hour after those at the airport hit the Brussels metro between the Maalbeek and Schuman stations in the European Union (EU) quarter of Brussels, which is also home to major international organisations and companies.

Around 10 people were killed, emergency services said.

SIRENS WAILING

AFP journalist Lachlan Carmichael was on the metro, and described how his train was halted in the tunnel and then evacuated as it began to fill up with smoke.

A police officer told him: “There are wounded, there are dead, I do not know how many.”

The officer was escorting a woman through a police cordon being put up around the Maalbeek station, with all public transport being closed down.

Another AFP journalist, Cedric Simon, said the situation around the Maalbeek metro station was totally confused, with a cloud of smoke and dust settling over the road outside.

Simon said there were about 15 people lying on the roadside, many with bloodied faces and being treated by medical staff as all Brussels hospitals were put on standby to deal with casualties.

The streets were filled with police cars and emergency vehicles, sirens wailing, and blue lights flashing.

Brussels has been on high alert since the attacks in Paris in January, with heavily armed police and then troops put on the streets.

Troops were clearly very watchful as they patrolled outside EU and other institutions in the Maalbeek-Schuman area. (With a report from AP)

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RELATED FROM TELEGRAPH.CO.UK

TERRORISM IN BRUSSELS By Telegraph Video, and AP, video source APTN7:35AM GMT 23 Mar 2016


People walk away from Brussels airport after explosions rocked the facility in Brussels, Belgium Tuesday March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert, Associated Press)

Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system on Tuesday, killing at least 34 people and injuring many others just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said.

All flights were cancelled, arriving planes were being diverted and Belgium's terror alert level was raised to maximum. Security was also tightened at all Paris airports.

A plume of smoke rises over Brussels airport after an explosion (Twitter @D_Schwarzer)

Zach Mouzoun, who arrived on a flight from Geneva about 10 minutes before the first blast, told BFM television that the second, louder explosion brought down ceilings and ruptured pipes, mixing water with blood from victims.

"It was atrocious. The ceilings collapsed," he said. "There was blood everywhere, injured people, bags everywhere."
"We were walking in the debris. It was a war scene," he said.

Andrew and Denise Brandt, who were in the airport when the explosion occurred, said they felt a “wave" go through their bodies before they saw "people running, crying, towards us"

Approximately an hour after the airport blasts, an explosion occurred at a metro station in Brussels close to the European Union's institutions in the Belgian capital, subway staff told AFP.

The blast occurred shortly after 8.00am GMT in the morning rush hour, at Maalbeek station. TV images showed black smoke billowing from the station entrance.

Near the entrance to the Maelbeek subway station, not far from the headquarters of the European Union, rescue workers set up a makeshift treatment center in a local pub. Dazed and shocked morning travelers streamed from the metro entrances as police tried to set up a security cordon.

"The metro was leaving Maelbeek station for metro when there was a really loud explosion," said Alexandre Brans, 32, wiping blood from his face. "It was panic everywhere. There were a lot of people in the metro."

First responders ran through the street outside with two people on stretchers, their clothes badly torn.

The explosions happened only days after Salah Abdeslam, the prime suspect in the November 13 Paris attacks that killed 130 people, was arrested in Brussels.

Worldwide tributes to the victims of the Brussels attacks, in pictures

People hold up a banner as a mark of solidarity at the Place de la Bourse in Brussels, Belgium.
Messages of love and support are shared across the world as solidarity for Brussels rings loud in European cities flooding their famous monuments in the colours of the Belgian flag.


Los Arcos monument, Guadalajara, Mexico Photograph: Ulises Ruiz Basurto/EPA


The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France Photograph: Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images

CLICK HERE FOR MORE: Around the world cities organised illuminations in the colours of Belgian flag in tribute to victims of the terror attacks


PHILSTAR

Pinoys in Belgium told to keep calm, avoid public places By Rosette Adel (philstar.com) | Updated March 23, 2016 - 10:40am 1 8 googleplus0 0


A writing on the asphalt reads "Brussels forever" at the place de la Bourse in the center of Brussels, where people write hundreds of messages on the ground to remember the victims of todays attack, Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Bombs exploded at the Brussels airport and one of the city's metro stations Tuesday, killing and wounding scores of people, as a European capital was again locked down amid heightened security threats. AP/Martin Meissner

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Embassy in Brussels has asked Filipinos based in Belgium to avoid public places and to be extra careful after attacks in the Belgian capital on Tuesday.

Philippine Ambassador Victoria Bataclan told Filipinos to avoid crowded public places like malls and recreation centers that could be targets of terror attacks after at least 34 people were killed and more than 190 were injured in two explosions at the Brussels airport and another at a metro station in the city on Tuesday. Terrorist group Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

“Stay where you are if you do not necessarily need to travel to and from Belgium, and spread caution around,” Bataclan said in a statement posted on her Facebook account.

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Bataclan also encouraged Filipinos in Belgium to keep monitoring advisories from local authorities. She advised Filipinos there to be extra vigilant and cautious after Belgium raised its alert level to 4, the highest in that country.

She extended condolences to the victims and families on behalf of the Philippine government and asked the Filipino community there to remain calm.

The embassy is still verifying whether any Filipinos were affected by the terror attacks.

Filipinos and families affected by the incidents are advised to contact the embassy through the duty phone number +32 488609177, Ambassador Bataclan’s mobile phone number +32 471309430, landline numbers +32 23403377 or 93, its Facebook page, and email addresses brusselspe@gmail.com  and consular.brusselspe@gmail.com .


TORONTO STAR

Rob Ford, well-loved Toronto mayor, dead after very brave battle with cancer By: David Rider City Hall Bureau Chief, Jennifer Pagliaro City Hall reporter, Published on Tue Mar 22 2016

VIDEO: http://bcove.me/yvibgpd7


Rob Ford, 46, seemed like an unstoppable political force, but the city councilor and former mayor could not beat cancer.

Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford has passed away at the age of 46 after an 18 month battle with cancer.

Rob Ford, the Toronto city councillor who became the world’s most famous mayor during a wild, scandal-filled term, is dead at age 46.

The married father of two young children died after 18 months of treatment for a rare and aggressive cancer first diagnosed in the midst of his 2014 bid to be re-elected mayor. Ford would have turned 47 on May 28.


The Ford family reacts to Rob's win as councilor and Doug's loss to Mayor Tory (GLOBE AND MAL FILE)

A brief statement from the Ford family announcing the death Tuesday described the former mayor as a “dedicated man of the people” who “spent his life serving the citizens of Toronto.”

“The family will not be making any statements to the media or taking any questions,” the statement said.

Politicians were quick to respond to the news. “I have known Rob Ford for many years. He was a man who spoke his mind and who ran for office because of the deeply felt convictions that he had,” Mayor John Tory said in a release.


Rob Ford, with his mother. (DAILYMAIL.CO.UK FILE)

“His time in City Hall included moments of kindness, of generosity to his council colleagues and real efforts to do what he thought was best for Toronto.

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Former mayor Rob Ford, who was diagnosed with a rare cancer in 2014, would have turned 47 on May 28.RICK MADONIK / TORONTO STAR

Former mayor Rob Ford, who was diagnosed with a rare cancer in 2014, would have turned 47 on May 28.

“He was, above all else, a profoundly human guy whose presence in our city will be missed.”

Premier Kathleen Wynne noted that “Rob Ford grew up in a family with a strong tradition of political involvement and community service. And he upheld that tradition throughout his life.”

“Uncle Rob, You have fought the good fight long enough and now can rest in peace. Love you and will forever miss you,” Ford’s nephew, Toronto District School Board trustee Michael Ford wrote on Twitter.

Ford underwent surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in May 2015, what was then considered his last chance to survive pleomorphic liposarcoma.

Though the surgery was hailed as a success, the discovery of two new tumours months later merited repeated rounds of chemotherapy that kept him away from the council chamber and his city hall office.

In recent weeks, Ford entered a clinical trial aimed at finding a personalized treatment for his cancer. But the process, which involves implanting a tumour in mice and testing different combinations of drugs, takes four months to complete.

As his health worsened, Ford’s family set up a website for well-wishers to leave messages of support.

“May you have a speedy and successful recovery. Be strong,” said one post left Monday. “We need you as Mayor in 2018 to save Toronto.”

His earlier diagnosis forced Ford to abandon his re-election hopes in September 2014, even as polls suggested he remained a contender.

He then coasted to victory in Ward 2 Etobicoke North, which he represented for a decade before his 2010 mayoral triumph.


Rob Ford was well-loved among Ford Nation. Here he is with members of the public as he takes part in the East York Canada Day Parade in 2014.MARK BLINCH / REUTERS


Last year, after learning multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation had shrunk the original tumour enough to allow surgery, a relieved-looking Ford told reporters: “I’m just lucky to be alive today, and I’m just lucky to get another chance at life ... At least I have a chance.”

He also thanked people “from all over the world” who had inundated him with hopeful messages.

The rumpled populist spent the months following surgery as he had the previous 15 years — immersed in politics. He attacked Mayor John Tory’s positions at city hall, gathering ammunition for a declared 2018 mayoral comeback.

Robert Bruce Ford, the son of self-made millionaire Doug Ford Sr. and Diane Ford, worked for the family label-making company before deciding to follow his father, a one-term Progressive Conservative MPP, into politics.

He failed to win an Etobicoke council seat in 1997 but, after the 2000 election, started a decade-long tenure that saw him rail against perceived overspending and face criticism for caustic insults and off-colour comments.

Ford built a profile on talk radio as a plain-spoken champion of the little guy, always eager to get a pothole fixed, and parlayed that into a 2010 mayoral bid that quickly gained steam and shot him into the mayor’s chair.

He at first seemed invincible, unilaterally declaring former mayor David Miller’s Transit City light rail plan dead and convincing council to quickly axe the vehicle registration tax, declare the TTC an essential service and reduce councillor office budgets.

But Ford’s grip on council slipped. He lost battles on the Port Lands and 2012 budget amid seemingly endless controversy that included his use of city staff to coach football and calling police on a comedian at his house.

Ford’s penchant for rule-breaking seemed his undoing after a judge ordered him ejected from office over a conflict of interest, but an appeal court rescued him on a technicality.

In 2013, the Star revealed that Ford had attended a military ball intoxicated and then that a cellphone video apparently showed him smoking crack.

That bombshell triggered months of controversy and worldwide headlines as Ford angrily denied, and then finally admitted, abusing drugs and alcohol. Council stripped him of most of his powers.


A 2012 PHOTO: Ford’s annual family barbecue, to which the entire city was invited this year, attracted a large crowd which was entertained by a band belting out ’60s tunes as people worked through some 4,000 hot dogs and an equal number of hamburgers. There were long lines for the barbecue and the bar.Mayor Rob Ford greeted supporters young and old Friday at a party at the family home, where people worked through some 4,000 hotdogs and an equal number of hamburgers.RICHARD LAUTENS / TORONTO STAR Order this photo

He emerged from rehab apologetic but eager to put the past behind him and win re-election. His legion of diehard “Ford Nation” supporters seemed ready to give him another chance.

In October 2014, following his re-election as councillor and in between chemotherapy treatments, Ford talked to reporters about his legacy.

“People know that I saved a lot of money, and people are going to know that I had a few personal struggles,” he said.

“So you can remember it for what you want, but they’re definitely going to remember it.”

Ford is survived by his wife Renata, children Stephanie and Douglas, mother Diane, brothers Doug and Randy, and sister Kathy.


Rob Ford laughs as he sees a sculpture of himself made of butter at the CNE in 2012.
RENE JOHNSTON/TORONTO STAR



https://twitter.com/torontorobford


CLICK AND READ: Big brother Doug Ford on Rob Ford’s death ‘My heart is ripped out. I loved Rob so much’ John Tory and Kathleen Wynne are among those paying tribute to the former Toronto mayor, who died today at age 46.

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RELATED FROM CBC CANADA

Doug Ford misses brother ‘like crazy,’ he tells CBC By: Dan Taekema Staff Reporter, Published on Fri Mar 25 2016

Former councillor becomes emotional during media interviews in the wake of brother Rob Ford’s death.


Then-mayor Rob Ford with brother Doug during a Canada Day parade in East York in 2014.PHOTOSzoom
MARK BLINCH / REUTERS FILE PHOTO

Doug Ford said he misses his younger brother Rob “like crazy” during an emotional interview with CBC on Friday.

“He was a young man who had his whole life ahead of him,” said Doug Ford, adding at times he still wants to pick up the phone to call him.

Rob Ford, the controversial former Toronto mayor and city councillor died on Tuesday after battling cancer. He was 46.

In another interview, with CP24’s Stephen LeDrew, Doug Ford said the family was grateful to Mayor John Tory for “bending over backwards” to help out with arrangements to remember the larger-than-life former mayor.

His body will lie in repose inside a closed casket at city hall for a public visitation on Monday and Tuesday.

On Wednesday, a procession beginning at 10:30 a.m. will wind through downtown from to St. James Cathedral on Church St. for a public funeral service.

“We encourage people to come out and walk with us to the church,” said Doug Ford during the CBC interview with Shannon Martin. “That’s what Rob wanted. Rob was all about the people. He’s not about going in the back of a black limousine.”

The public is invited to join the family in the church, and tents and video screens will be set up outside in an overflow area.

The former city councillor said the funeral is an opportunity for people to celebrate and remember the man his brother was.

“Even when he was going through chemo, he had his call list in front of him,” said Doug Ford. “What person going through chemo is calling people? Right to the end he was doing that. There’s never going to be someone like Rob again.”

When asked if he would be picking up where his brother left off, Doug Ford said “someone has to continue carrying that mantle” as a politician for the people, but he wouldn’t say if he would try to assume that role.

“I have to sit down and talk to my family and talk about it, but we have a big group so we’re always going to be helping people,” he told LeDrew.

On Friday the Ford family posted a video tribute honouring the populist politician set to a Puff Daddy song that was itself a tribute to murdered friend the Notorious B.I.G.

The four-minute video features clips of supporters hugging Rob Ford while Faith Evans’s voice from the track I’ll be Missing You plays.

Ford served as mayor from 2010 to 2014.

Dan Jacobs, Rob Ford’s chief of staff, says the video tribute was requested by his family and made by local filmmaker Tharanga Ramanayake.

The video shows Rob Ford as mayor, and while he was running for re-election, hugging supporters, talking about his track record and encouraging people to vote.

One woman, who is shown carrying three “Ford Nation” flags in one hand, says the scandal-plagued mayor was “a gift from heaven.”

“He came to my building. It was a ghetto building too!” another supporter said. “I got to take a picture with him! That man’s a real celebrity. A real hero.”

Another clip shows the former mayor downplaying his Hollywood status even while signing some of his famous bobble heads.

“I don’t look at myself (that way),” he says. “I’m just an average person that watches taxpayers’ money, returns phone calls and does what the taxpayers want.”

Jacobs says that the Ford family wants members of the public to continue sending their own short tribute videos and photographs to robfordmemorial@gmail.com for inclusion in a montage at Wednesday’s celebration of life.
With files from The Canadian Press


ABS-CBN

Baguio draws 500,000 visitors during Holy Week Ivan Abille, ABS-CBN News Northern Luzon Posted at 03/27/16 4:03 PM

BAGUIO CITY - An estimated 500,000 to 1 million tourists visited the country's summer capital to commemorate the Holy Week, according to the city tourism office.

Among the events which drew a mammoth crowd of vacationers was the Black Friday procession along Session Road.

Mt. Cabuyao was also temporarily opened to Christian devotees who observed the Stations of the Cross.

The city government, however, banned entry to the Sitio Pungayan in Tuba, which is the actual site of the fictional town of La Presa in the hit ABS-CBN teleserye "Forevermore" starring Liza Soberano and Enrique Gil.

(READ: CA protects site of ABS-CBN teleserye)

The Baguio Correspondence and Broadcasters' Club (BCBC), meanwhile, granted free tours of Baguio to six first-time visitors of the city.

The Philippine Military Academy (PMA) campus also drew visitors who wanted to avoid heavy traffic around other tourist spots.

Commuters returning to Metro Manila started flocking bus terminals on Saturday afternoon.

Buses typically leave stations every hour but now do so every 10 minutes due to the influx of passengers.

Heavy traffic was experienced at the city's central business district.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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