President Barack Obama walks along the West Wing Colonnade toward the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, ahead of his daily briefing. Obama will make a historic first visit to Manila next month as part of his SEA tour. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

MANILA, SEPTEMBER 16, 2013 (BULLETIN) by Genalyn Kabiling - United States President Barack Obama is scheduled to make a historic visit to the Philippines next month as part of the US pivot toward Asia.

The White House confirmed that Obama will visit the Philippines in the last leg of his four-nation jaunt to Asia to meet with President Benigno Aquino III to reaffirm the strong economic, people-to-people, and security links between the two countries.

In a statement, the White House Press Secretary said the Philippines will become the fifth Asian treaty ally President Obama visited during his presidency. No other details were provided as regards to the US President’s itinerary while he is in the country. Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda also made an announcement of the US President’s visit, saying Obama accepted President Aquino’s invitation to visit Manila on October 11 and 12 in a bid to boost bilateral economic and security ties.

“President Obama will meet President Aquino to discuss ways to further strengthen the enduring Philippines-US alliance including the expansion of our security, economic and people to people ties,” Lacierda said.

This will be Obama’s first visit to the Philippines since assuming the presidency in 2008. His visit to Manila comes amid negotiations on the proposed greater US access to the Philippine military bases. The planned framework agreement on the increased rotational presence of American troops in the country aims to boost Manila’s defense capability.

Before traveling to Manila, the US leader will travel to three other Asian countries, namely Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia. The US leader is expected to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in Bali, Indonesia. He will also travel to Brunei for the US-ASEAN summit and East Asia Summit, followed by a visit to Malaysia for a global entrepreneurship summit.

Last month, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited the Philippines and confirmed Obama’s upcoming travel to Southeast Asia in line with the strategy of increasing economic and security engagement with the region.

Hagel also made clear that United States has no plans to establish permanent military bases in the Philippines but is committed to helping its strategic ally to build its own “modern military.”

“This has been a very productive trip for me to Southeast Asia. As the United States’ rebalance to the Asia- Pacific makes clear, this region is very important to America’s economic, strategic and security interests both now and in the years to come,” Hagel said.

“So I look forward to continuing our engagement in the region as much as I know President Obama is looking forward to his upcoming visit,” the Pentagon chief added. (with reports from Roy C. Mabasa)


Philippine Leaders Descend on Strife-Torn City as Hopes of Cease-Fire Fade

Thousands of people were camped out at a stadium Saturday to flee the fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels in Zamboanga in the Philippines. By FLOYD WHALEY Published: September 14, 2013

MANILA — Fighting intensified in the embattled southern Philippine city of Zamboanga on Saturday as hopes for a quick cease-fire with Muslim rebels evaporated amid some of the most serious violence to strike the troubled region in years.

The six-day standoff with the rebels in Zamboanga, one of the most vibrant trading cities in the southern Philippines, was believed to have left at least 55 people dead. It has also raised fears of a setback in the government’s efforts, backed by the United States, to calm insurgencies and fight terrorism.

The government said most of the dead were rebels holed up in several seaside neighborhoods. Government forces were firing mortar rounds into the area and battling street by street to take areas back from the militants.

The situation was serious enough that the country’s top civilian and military leaders traveled to the city, despite the mayhem, to plan their strategy.

FROM YAHOO NEWS: Government soldiers take cover on armoured vehicles as they try to assault the positions of Muslim rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), during a gunbattle in Zamboanga city in southern Philippines September 13, 2013. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

President Benigno S. Aquino III arrived Friday, with one of his escort helicopters taking small-arms fire as he landed. The crisis has crippled the once peaceful city, a mostly Christian enclave on the island of Mindanao, displacing more than 62,000 people.

There were conflicting reports about how the standoff began Monday morning. The police said several hundred armed men from the Moro National Liberation Front landed by boat in Zamboanga and tried to raise their flag over City Hall and declare independence from the national government. When police officers and the military tried to stop them, the police said, the insurgents took hostages and retreated to the city’s Muslim slums.

Rebel leaders have said that their march to City Hall was peaceful, and that the military attacked them.

Since then, government officials said, they have worked hard to evacuate civilians in the affected area, but it remained unclear how many hostages were still being held.

Hopes for a cease-fire briefly emerged Saturday when the vice president — a political rival of Mr. Aquino’s — announced an informal truce with the rebels. But the fighting never let up, and the president’s aides have since said Mr. Aquino would be the one to coordinate military actions as well as any efforts to engage the rebels in talks. At a televised news conference on Saturday afternoon, the government did not answer questions about whether it was trying to negotiate with the militants.

Less than a year ago, Mr. Aquino achieved relative peace in the region by winning a deal with a much larger rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The various insurgencies in the region are driven in good part by Muslims’ beliefs that the Christian-dominated national government has left them out of economic development.

On Saturday, Zamboanga’s mayor, Beng Climaco, said in an emotional statement that she had turned over management of the crisis to national officials.

 “The spate of events that unfolded and continue to unfold are very heartbreaking and upsetting,” she said.

In addition to Mr. Aquino, attendees at Saturday’s strategy planning session included Vice President Jejomar Binay; the secretary of national defense, Voltaire Gazmin; and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.

Mr. Roxas told reporters after the meeting that the military’s plan had been to prevent the violence from spreading to other parts of the city. That was accomplished, he said, and though he declined to offer details, he said the military was now trying to clear the rebels out of the neighborhoods they were holding.

As of Saturday afternoon, 3 civilians had been killed in the fighting and 28 had been wounded, officials said. In addition, three police officers and two members of the military had been killed.

Mr. Roxas said that the bodies of 21 rebels had been recovered, and that 26 others had also been reported killed. Some of the bodies, he said, had been burned in fires that the government said the rebels had set. Military officials estimated that 100 rebels remained in the area.

More than 400 homes in the rebel-held areas had been burned, and major sections of the city were impassable. The airport has been closed for five days, and commercial ships were asked to move away from the port area for security reasons.

 “The entire city is virtually isolated from the world,” said Ms. Climaco, the mayor. “Innocent lives have been lost, properties have been damaged and our economy paralyzed.”

The Moro National Liberation Front signed a peace deal with the Philippine government in 1996, but many of its members retained their weapons. Leaders of the group have said the government’s peace deal last year with the larger rival group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, had undercut their own peace agreement.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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