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            [post_content] => Manila. Southeast Asian nations would adopt a softer than usual tone about South China Sea disputes at a leaders' summit on Saturday (29/04) in Manila, and exclude references to militarization or island-building, according to a draft of the chairman's statement.

Although some Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) leaders will express "serious concern" over the "escalation of activities" in the disputed sea, Asean will drop references, or even allusions, to China's construction of artificial islands and the military hardware it has placed on them, according to excerpts of the draft seen by Reuters.

The statement would be a watered-down version of that issued last year and comes amid a charm offensive by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who takes the rotating Asean chair this year, to court China for its business and avoid rows over sovereignty in the South China Sea.

However, a diplomat from the Asean secretariat told Reuters that officials were still working on the draft of the statement and "it may still change" before it is issued at the end of the summit on Saturday.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea where about $5 trillion worth of sea-borne goods pass every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have conflicting claims on the strategic waterway.

Asean references to the South China Sea issue typically do not name China, which has been expanding its seven manmade islands in the Spratlys, and equipping them with hangers, runways, radars and surface-to-air missiles.

Last year's Asean statement in Laos emphasized the importance of "non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities, including land reclamation."

According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, China will soon be capable of deploying fighter jets on three of its reefs. China insists its activities are for defense purposes and are taking place in what it considers its sovereign waters.

The Philippines irked China two months ago when its then foreign minister, Perfecto Yasay, said he and Asean counterparts had noticed "very unsettlingly" that weapons systems had been installed, and considered that "a militarization of the region."

The foreign minister of the former administration, Alberto del Rosario, on Tuesday said the Philippines' hosting of Asean summit was an opportunity for Duterte to raise China's militarization.

"We should utilize our leadership to be able to uphold the rule of law," he said. "The leadership of the Philippines will lose a lot of influence if we pass up that opportunity."

A former government official involved in foreign policy likened the Philippines to Cambodia, which has been accused of taking China's side and serving as a de facto veto against consensus Asean decisions that would otherwise be unfavorable to Beijing.

"Everyone is now watching the Philippines, we expect China to send its message to Southeast Asian countries through Duterte," the official said, requesting anonymity.

"We are now acting like China's lackey."

Reuters
            [post_title] => Asean to Go Easy on Beijing Over South China Sea Dispute
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            [post_content] => Jakarta. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo is scheduled to visit the Philippines this week to improve bilateral relations and attend the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit on Friday (28/04).

The president will be accompanied by Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi. The trip is also meant to reciprocate Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's visit to Indonesia in September.

Two memoranda of understanding and a joint declaration on the establishment of a shipping line between Davao City in Southern Philippines and Bitung in North Sulawesi are expected as an outcome of the leaders' meeting.

The Davao-Bitung shipping line is going to increase trade between the two countries.

A shuttle ship, Roll On Roll Off (RORO), which can carry up to 500 containers, will operate on the route.

"We hope this will strengthen trade relations between Indonesia and the Philippines, and will reduce transport time," the Foreign Ministry's director of cooperation for Asia Pacific and Africa, Benyamin Carnadi, said in a press briefing on Tuesday.

According to Benyamin, with the new shipping line the transportation time will be twice shorter.

Trade between Indonesia and Philippine increased by 32 percent between 2015 and 2016, and was worth more than $6 billion last year.

While Indonesia mainly exports coal, motorized vehicles and spare parts, the state visit will also market products from the strategic industry, including dock landing ships.
            [post_title] => Jokowi to Boost Ties With Philippines During State Visit
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            [post_content] => Hong Kong/The Hague. A Philippines lawyer said he had filed a complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte and senior officials at the International Criminal Court, or ICC, on Monday (24/04), accusing them of crimes against humanity in a nationwide anti-drugs crackdown.

Attorney Jude Sabio said in the 77-page complaint that Duterte "repeatedly, unchangingly and continuously" committed crimes against humanity and that under him, killing drug suspects and other criminals has become "best practice."

Sabio is the lawyer for Edgar Matobato, a man who has testified in the Philippines Senate that he was part of a hit squad that operated on Duterte's orders.

It is the first publicly known communication to the ICC against Duterte and is based on the testimony of Matobato and retired policeman Arturo Lascanas, reports from rights groups and media reports, including a Reuters series on the killings.

The complaint alleges that Duterte and at least 11 senior government officials are liable for murder and calls for an investigation, arrest warrants and a trial.

Lawmakers found no proof of Matobato's Senate testimony, which the president's aides have dismissed as fabrication.

Almost 9,000 people have been killed since Duterte took office last summer. Police claim a third of those killings were in self-defense during legitimate police operations. Rights groups say many of the remaining two-thirds were committed by vigilantes cooperating with the police or by police disguised as vigilantes. Police deny this.

Duterte has persistently denied he is involved with any death squad and said that his orders to kill drug suspects come with the caveat that police should operate within the bounds of the law.

Ernesto Abella, a spokesman for Duterte, said last week authorities "follow operational protocols" and those who breached procedures were made to answer before the law.

He added that news reports about close to 9,000 people being killed in the drug war was "false news."

Citing standard procedure, ICC spokesman Fadi el Abdallah declined comment on any possible communication filed.

Officials at Duterte's office said they were not immediately able to comment.

Since it was set up in July 2002, the ICC has received over 12,0000 complaints or communications. Nine of these cases have gone to trial and six verdicts have been delivered.

The ICC has no powers of enforcement, and any non-compliance has to be referred to the United Nations or the court's own oversight and legislative body, the Assembly of States Parties.

The complaint is only a possible first step in what could be a long process at the ICC. The tribunal first has to decide whether it has jurisdiction, and then decide on whether it should conduct a preliminary examination.

It can then ask a judge to open an official investigation, which could lead to a trial.

Duterte has said he welcomed the prospect of the ICC putting him on trial. He said last month he would not be intimidated and his campaign against drugs would be unrelenting and "brutal."

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said last year her office was following developments in the Philippines "with a view to assessing whether a preliminary examination needs to be opened."

"I am deeply concerned about these alleged killings and the fact that public statements of high officials of the Republic of the Philippines seem to condone such killings and further seem to encourage state forces and civilians alike to continue targeting these individuals with lethal force," she said.

Reuters
            [post_title] => Lawyer for Philippines Hit Man Files Complaint Against Duterte at ICC
            [post_excerpt] => A Philippines lawyer said he had filed a complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte and senior officials at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Monday (24/04), accusing them of crimes against humanity in a nationwide anti-drugs crackdown.
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            [post_content] => Manila. A jailed critic of Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday (22/04) praised police who alleged in a Reuters report that officers received cash for executing drug suspects, and said an international criminal case should be filed against the president for crimes against humanity.

Senator Leila de Lima described as "brave and honorable men" the two senior police officers, one still in service and the other already retired, who made the allegations about the conduct of officers during Duterte's bloody war on drugs.

De Lima said the two officers, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, had given "testimonial proof that the extrajudicial killings are indeed state-sponsored and carried out upon direct orders of the president."

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa on Friday challenged the two officers to come out and face him, according to GMA News online.

Close to 9,000 people have died since Duterte took office and promised an unrelenting campaign to rid the Philippines of illegal narcotics. About a third were killed in anti-drug operations in which officers said the victims had violently resisted arrest.

Many other deaths were blamed on mysterious vigilantes who killed dealers and users, or homicides that could be unrelated to drugs. Police deny any involvement in those killings, most of which they say remain under investigation.

The two policemen who spoke to Reuters said PNP officers carried out most of the killings attributed to vigilantes.

"It is just a matter of time before all of the truth comes out in all its horrifying detail, of how a president took hold of a nation's consciousness to promote social cleansing as a final solution to the nation's problems," De Lima said.

De Lima last year led a Senate probe into alleged summary killings during Duterte's anti-drugs campaign but has since been detained on charges of involvement in the drugs trade in prisons when she was justice minister in the previous administration. She says the charges are trumped up.

De Lima said there should be no doubt there was sufficient cause to file an international criminal case for crimes against humanity against Duterte, Dela Rosa and other police commanders and high ranking cabinet members and lawmakers.

One of the two policemen, a retired intelligence officer, authored an unpublished 26-page report that provides granular detail on the alleged methods deployed in the drug war, as well as the campaign's masterminds and perpetrators. The report, which said it is based on the accounts of 17 serving and former officers, does not contain any documentary evidence.

The president's office has said there was "no such report," and that police were "not in the business of hiring assassins."

It also called on the two officers to make their complaints publicly and under oath. 

A Reuters spokesperson said: "Our reporting was fair and accurate and we stand by it."

PNP chief dela Rosa was quoted saying the two officers were "cowards".

"If they have balls to face the media and make accusations like that, they should also have balls to face their commanders," GMA quoted him telling reporters. 

Reuters
            [post_title] => Top Critic of Philippine Leader Lauds Policemen Over Cash-for-Kills Claim
            [post_excerpt] => A jailed critic of Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday (22/04) praised police who alleged in a Reuters report that officers received cash for executing drug suspects, and said an international criminal case should be filed against the president for crimes against humanity.
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            [post_content] => Washington. The United States said on Thursday (20/04) it was troubled by the growing number of extrajudicial killings in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs and called on Manila to stick to its commitment to investigate them.

Close to 9,000 people, mostly drug users and small-time dealers, have been killed since Duterte took office almost 10 months ago and promised an unrelenting campaign to rid the Philippines of illicit narcotics.

Police say about a third of the victims were shot by officers in self-defense. Human rights groups believe many of the remaining two-thirds were killed by paid assassins cooperating with the police or by the police themselves, disguised as vigilantes. The government and police reject that.

Patrick Murphy, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for Southeast Asia, said the United States shared Manila's objective of eliminating the scourge of illicit drugs and wanted to help.

"We, however, do have a very sustained and deep concern when elements of the drug war are operating outside the rule of law," Murphy told reporters. "The growing number of extrajudicial killings is troubling."

Rights advocates were concerned when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sidestepped questions about extrajudicial killings in the Philippines during his January confirmation hearing, raising the possibility that President Donald Trump might take a softer line on the issue than his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Murphy said there was a distinction between being a nominee and the secretary of state and Tillerson was now the leader of the policy of expressing concern about the way the drug war was being waged.

"We are urging the Philippines to follow up on its commitment to investigate extrajudicial killings whether they are committed by law enforcement, or of a vigilante nature," he said.

Earlier on Thursday, Duterte's office rejected allegations by two senior police officers in a Reuters report that police received cash rewards for executing drug suspects, while the most high-profile critic of the president backed the officers' claims.

Duterte was infuriated by US expressions of concern about extrajudicial killings after he took office last year and threatened to sever the long-standing US defense alliance.

Duterte spoke positively about Trump, a fellow populist, after the US presidential election in November, although his anti-US rhetoric continued.

Reuters
            [post_title] => US Troubled by Increasing Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines
            [post_excerpt] => The United States said on Thursday (20/04) it was troubled by the growing number of extrajudicial killings in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs and called on Manila to stick to its commitment to investigate them.
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            [post_content] => Manila. The Philippine environment minister said she has been given the green light by President Rodrigo Duterte to work with communist rebel fighters to help rehabilitate and develop the country's mining areas.

The decades-long conflict between the New People's Army (NPA) rebels and the Philippine government has killed more than 40,000 people. Earlier this month the NPA agreed to a temporary truce with government, the first joint ceasefire since November 1986.

Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez last month ordered the closure of more than half the nation's mines to protect water resources, a bold step backed by Duterte, who has said the Philippines can survive without mining.

Lopez, an environmentalist-turned-regulator, said her unorthodox plan to work with the rebels has his backing.

"What I've seen with the NPA, they just really want to get people out of poverty, they're really not bad people," Lopez told reporters on Thursday (20/04). "We might have a situation where miners work with the NPA. We must come from the same page."

Jose Maria Sison, the founder and leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines who lives in exile in Utrecht, welcomed Lopez' desire "to work with the NPA for peace and development".

"It is directly related to the environment, agrarian reform and rural development now being negotiated under the substantive item," he said in a Facebook post, inviting her to attend the next round of peace talks, brokered by Norway, in the Netherlands next month.

Lopez said she's initially looking at working with NPA rebels to develop a mining province in southern Mindanao island, and had asked Duterte's permission at a recent cabinet meeting and "he gave a go-ahead."

Duterte's spokesman, Ernesto Abella, said however "that needs to be verified" when asked to confirm the plan.

Miners were unsure whether Lopez's strategy would work.

Mining contracts "are granted by the government, not by the NPAs. So, in what capacity could we work with the NPAs? I don't know," Dante Bravo, president of Global Ferronickel Holdings Inc , told Reuters. Global Ferronickel is the Philippines' No. 2 nickel ore producer.

The Philippine Army did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lopez waged a crackdown on the Philippine mining sector shortly after taking office in June last year. In February, she ordered the closure of 22 of the Southeast Asian nation's 41 mines and later cancelled dozens of contracts for undeveloped mines.

Duterte backed Lopez's mining crackdown, himself angered by years of environmental harm he said miners have caused. Late on Wednesday, he reiterated his support for Lopez, who has said she wants the country to be "mine-free".

"I asked how can we do that? We have to amend the law. There's a mining law which allows mining," Duterte said.

"But I agree with Gina," Duterte said, calling the minister by her nickname.

Duterte reappointed Lopez this week after lawmakers deferred a decision to confirm or reject her appointment before Congress went into recess from March 18. Hearings on her confirmation resume on May 2.

Reuters
            [post_title] => Philippine Minister Wants to Work With Maoist Rebels in Mine Areas
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            [post_content] => Manila. A Philippine senator called for a probe on Wednesday (19/04) into allegations by senior officers in a Reuters report that police received cash rewards for executing drug suspects, while a police spokesman challenged the claims but said they would be investigated.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said in a statement that the Philippine National Police (PNP) should take "drastic measures" to verify the allegations made by two senior police officers, and punish those who have "broken their vow to protect the Filipino people."

In a Reuters report published on Tuesday, the two officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said PNP officers received cash for killing suspects in President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war, planted evidence at crime scenes and carried out most of the killings they have long blamed on vigilantes.

One of the men, a retired intelligence officer, authored an unpublished 26-page report that provides granular detail on the alleged methods deployed in the drug war, as well as the campaign's masterminds and perpetrators. The report, which said it is based on the accounts of 17 serving and former officers, does not contain any documentary evidence.

Gatchalian said the "integrity" of the police was "at stake," and called on PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa to "unmask the truth."

"The PNP leadership should look into these serious allegations made by two officers from within their ranks. While the charges lack documentary evidence, these cannot simply be swept under the rug with a blanket denial," he said.

PNP spokesman Dionardo Carlos said he encouraged the two police officers interviewed by Reuters to come forward and publicly air their allegations. "There's no problem if they will tell the truth, backed up by evidence," he said.

Carlos said claims that cash rewards were being paid for killing drug suspects were implausible, because police would not have that kind of money at their disposal and such acts would be unlawful.

"First of all, that's illegal, prohibited. Second, we are short on funds and nothing was allocated," he told reporters.

Vigilante killings

Close to 9,000 people, mostly drug users and small-time dealers, have been killed since Duterte took office almost 10 months ago and promised an unrelenting campaign to rid the Philippines of illicit narcotics.

Police say about a third of the victims were shot by officers in self-defense during anti-drug operations. Human rights groups believe many of the remaining two thirds were killed by paid assassins cooperating with the police or by police themselves, disguised as vigilantes. Police reject that.

The two officers said that most of the drug-war killings are orchestrated by the police, including those they say are carried out by vigilantes. Reuters was unable to independently verify if the police are behind vigilante killings. One of the officers, an active-duty police commander, also said that officers plant drugs and guns at the scene of deadly narcotics busts.

Gatchalian said the officers who spoke to Reuters should present concrete evidence to support their claims. "Accusations of this kind should have solid backing," he said.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief, said in a text message to GMA news, one of the leading media organizations in the Philippines, that unless Reuters identified the two police officers and they could provide "convincing proof of their allegations," he would dismiss the report as "gossip."

Reuters
            [post_title] => Philippine Senator Calls for Probe Into Police Cash-for-Kill Claim
            [post_excerpt] => A Philippine senator called for a probe on Wednesday (19/04) into allegations by senior officers in a Reuters report that police received cash rewards for executing drug suspects, while a police spokesman challenged the claims but said they would be investigated.
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            [post_content] => Manila. The Philippines has ordered an inquiry into reports that "foreign vessels" near China's man-made islands harassed Filipino fishermen in the disputed South China Sea, the military chief said on Thursday (20/04).

In an interview with reporters, General Eduardo Ano said the armed forces had received sketchy reports of a group of Filipinos being driven away from Union Bank in the Spratlys, near Gaven Reef, on which China has built an island.

A Philippines television channel had earlier reported the fishermen had been fired upon, but the military, in a statement, described the events as "alleged harassment."

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion worth of goods passes annually. Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims, and occupy some islets and reefs in the Spratly archipelago.

Philippine authorities are trying to locate the fishermen, believed to have returned to land, who have been encouraged to report to police or coastguard officials.

China's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it was aware of the incident or if the foreign ships in question were Chinese.

Reports of altercations between the Philippines and China have been rare since President Rodrigo Duterte took office last year and sought to patch up differences between the two countries and encourage business ties. He frequently heaps praise on China President Xi Jinping.

Duterte has refrained from criticizing China's activities in the South China Sea and tends to blame the United States for letting the problem escalate, by failing to stop Beijing from building and arming its artificial islands.

In what appeared to be an olive branch to the Philippines, China's coastguard in October started allowing Filipino fishermen to return and fish at the strategic Scarborough Shoal, which Beijing seized in June 2012. Chinese in the past have fired water cannon at vessels of other countries in the area.

Reuters journalists visited the coral atoll this month and saw a substantially larger Chinese coastguard and fishing presence than usual, although it was allowing Filipinos to fish inside the shoal for the first time since the blockade.

Reuters
            [post_title] => Philippines Checks Report of 'Harassment' Near China-Controlled Reef
            [post_excerpt] => The Philippines has ordered an inquiry into reports that "foreign vessels" near China's man-made islands harassed Filipino fishermen in the disputed South China Sea, the military chief said on Thursday (20/04).
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            [post_content] => Manila. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's office rejected allegations on Thursday (20/04) by two senior police officers in a Reuters report that police received cash rewards for executing drug suspects, while the most high-profile critic of the president backed the officers' claims.

"There is no truth in the allegation that there is a coordinated effort to kill drug suspects," the president's office said Thursday in a written reply to questions from Reuters.

"The so-called officers interviewed must be living movie scenes."

Leila de Lima, who was arrested in February on drug charges after leading a Senate probe into Duterte's drug war, said that the allegations by the two officers had revealed "the ugly and disturbing truth of what has become" of the Philippines police.

De Lima, who says she is the target of a vendetta, made the comments in a handwritten note from detention inside national police headquarters.

In a Reuters report published on Tuesday, the two officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Philippine National Police (PNP) officers carried out most of the killings they have long blamed on vigilantes.

One of the men, a retired intelligence officer, authored an unpublished 26-page report that provides granular detail on the alleged methods deployed in the drug war, as well as the campaign's masterminds and perpetrators. The report, which said it is based on the accounts of 17 serving and former officers, does not contain any documentary evidence.

The president's office, which said there was "no such report," added that the police were "not in the business of hiring assassins." It also called on the two officers to make their complaints publicly and under oath.

On Wednesday, a Philippine senator called for a probe into the allegations, while a police spokesman challenged the claims but said they would be investigated.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said in a statement that the PNP should take "drastic measures" to verify the allegations made by the two police officers, and punish those who have "broken their vow to protect the Filipino people."

Gatchalian said the integrity of the police was "at stake," and called on PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa to "unmask the truth."

Planting Evidence

PNP spokesman Dionardo Carlos said he encouraged the two police officers interviewed by Reuters to come forward and publicly air their allegations. He said claims that cash rewards were being paid for killing drug suspects were implausible, because police would not have that kind of money at their disposal and such acts would be unlawful.

Close to 9,000 people, mostly drug users and small-time dealers, have been killed since Duterte took office almost 10 months ago and promised an unrelenting campaign to rid the Philippines of illicit narcotics.

Police say about a third of the victims were shot by officers in self-defense during anti-drug operations. Human rights groups believe many of the remaining two thirds were killed by paid assassins cooperating with the police or by police themselves, disguised as vigilantes. The government and police reject that.

The two officers said that most of the drug-war killings are orchestrated by the police, including those they say are carried out by vigilantes. Reuters was unable to independently verify if the police are behind vigilante killings.

One of the officers, an active-duty police commander, also said that officers plant drugs and guns at the scene of deadly narcotics busts.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief, said Wednesday in a text message to GMA news, one of the leading media organizations in the Philippines, that unless Reuters identified the two police officers and they could provide "convincing proof of their allegations," he would dismiss the report as "gossip."

The report also asserts that Duterte, who released Communist rebels from prison to restart peace talks, has close ties to leftist forces. In response, the president's office said that the Communist insurgency in the country was "rooted in poverty, inequality and economic exclusion," and that Duterte "is open to dialogue with groups of different political persuasions and ideologies, including the Left."

Reuters
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