Asian Correspondent » James Cordova Asian Correspondent Fri, 03 Jul 2015 10:16:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Opinion: Journalists should stop bitching about WikiLeaks Tue, 06 Sep 2011 07:07:12 +0000

The recent release by WikiLeaks of nearly 300,000 US diplomatic cables has exposed not just how the US views and deals with the rest of the world but also the conceit of journalists who think that they and they alone should be the purveyors of information.

While I grant that sifting through the documents can be quite daunting, to argue that WikiLeaks should not have dumped all those  documents simply because the ordinary person will not have the time nor the inclination nor the capacity to go through them is just BS.  Such an argument should not trump the basic principle behind the recent WikiLeaks releases: that there is a need to shine a light on how the most powerful country on Earth does its business in other parts of the world.

Should it matter that people won’t have the time nor the intellectual capacity to sift through the documents? It shouldn’t, because the idea is transparency. The idea is for governments to know that not all that they do will remain locked away in some archive. The idea is for these governments to always have it in the back of their minds that each time they deal with dictators and mass murderers, they will be exposed.

The matter about WikiLeaks failing to redact the names of  sources whose life could be in danger for talking to US diplomats is another matter, of course. Could WikiLeaks have partnered with more news organizations to do what The New York Times, The Guardian and the others have done with these documents in the past? Is Julian Assange too conceited and arrogant himself not to have entertained the idea, let alone pursued it?

Still, this recent document dump should not dissuade WikiLeaks from doing more of what it does. As to the journalists who feel that what they say and think are the only thing that matters, the challenge for them is to jump in and sift through the documents. They should write about what was exposed in those cables and put them in context. As journalists, that’s the best — and the least —  that they can do right now. They cannot afford to just stand there and bitch about WikiLeaks and the fact that, once again, the anti-secrecy organization has triumphed.

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Pervasive sexual harassment, slavery in Philippine jails denounced Sun, 28 Aug 2011 03:36:22 +0000

The women are often taken out of their cellblocks when the guards are drinking, are forced to sit with them, treating them like hospitality girls in bars who provide them entertainment.

The women are also forced to massage the officers.  They are also forced to wash the guards’ clothes.

The women are so vulnerable that a women’s rights group has decided to come out to denounce these cases of sexual harassment and modern-day slavery.

Tanggol Bayi (Defend Women), a group that defends the human rights of women, said the Philippine government, specifically the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the  Bureau of Jail Management and Penology should investigate these atrocities inside prison facilities throughout the country.

“Reports on women inmates in Philippine National Police Custodial Center at Camp Crame were being taken out of their cells at night and were forced to sit with jail officers during their drinking spree are disturbing enough because it shows the vulnerability of these women to these forms of sexual harassment. There are also additional reports that the women prisoners were also required to massage male jail guards and wash their clothes. These acts of slavery and sexual harassment should stop and the jail guards and officials responsible or those who tolerated these under their watch should be made accountable,” said Cristina Palabay, Tanggol Bayi spokesperson.

The authorities, she said, should “adhere to international laws and rules governing the treatment of prisoners, including women prisoners, as stated in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and in the newly adopted resolution at the United Nations General Assembly known as the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders.”

Palabay also said the government should stop its “policy and practice of strip searching  visitors of inmates in jail facilities.”

“Visitors of political prisoners and regular inmates have experienced trauma and psychological abuse, which are sexual in nature, in instances of their visits to their detained relatives and friends. Furthermore, their refusal to be subjected to such searches denies them of entry and their visitation rights,” she said in a statement on Sunday.

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Toxic skin whiteners pose serious threat to Philippine consumers Sat, 27 Aug 2011 02:10:03 +0000

Skin whiteners are huge among Filipinos, the so-called little, brown brothers – and sisters. Their use of these products rides on the “colonial mentality” phenomenon that has afflicted the Philippines ever since colonizers, particularly the US, messed up with our national psyche. Today, there’s this compulsion among us to sound educated by speaking and writing in English, to look fair.

This mentality has harmed our national identity and consciousness. But on a less philosophical level, the massive use of skin whiteners poses a physical danger to the public.

Philippines Womens Rally

Filipino demonstrators dressed as pregnant women wear mock beauty products in a protest against toxic skin-whitening products last year. Pic: AP.

According to the EcoWaste Coalition, an environment group in Manila, they and the Food and Drug Administration have identified at least 50 skin whiteners that contain mercury and other toxic chemicals. A crackdown is supposed to be at work but, today, the coalition reported that a dozen of the 50 brands are still being sold in at least eight cities across the country.

The coalition based this on a recent test buy of several products.

The coalition identified some of the brands.

Yoko Gentleman Cream by Siam Yoko Co. Ltd., Thailand (which sells from 20 to 50 pesos) and Jiaoli Miraculous Cream by Gelidai Jiaobao Cosmetics Co. Ltd., China (which sells from 80 to 120 pesos) were the top two “most available” brands in the market from among the banned products.

Other banned products that the EcoWaste Coalition’s AlerToxic Patrol procured during its latest test buys were Beauty Girl Natural Olive and Sheep Double Whitening Speckles Removed Essence, Berglotus Spot Removing Series, Doctor Bai Intensive White Revitalizing and Speckle Removing Set, JJJ Magic Spots Removing Cream, Jiaoli 10 Days Eliminating Freckle Day and Night Set, Miss Beauty Excellent Therapy Whitening Cream (two types), Pretty Model Whitening and Freckle Removing Set, Sara Glutathione Sheep Placenta Whitening and Anti-Spot Cream and S’Zitang Cream.

It said these were found to contain from 1,085 to 28,600 ppm of mercury, a toxic metal that can cause allergic reactions, skin irritations and other neurotoxic effects.

That these are still being sold over the counter tells you a thing or two about the criminal minds of these retailers.

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WikiLeaks: US-Philippine relations ‘just short of incest’ Fri, 26 Aug 2011 01:20:01 +0000

WikiLeaks, that venerable treasure trove of government secrets, has been releasing quite a number of cables that originated from the US Embassy in Manila. These cables are a fascinating read, if only because they provide an insight into the thinking of the Americans as they relate to Filipinos. They also betray American policy on the Philippines.

You can read them stuff here.

But a recent cable nearly knocked me off my chair. It is headed “U.S.-Philippine Military Cooperation: A Mature Relationship”.

————————————- ———————
¶3.  (SBU) Malacanang Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who also
chairs the Presidential Human Rights Committee, praised the
“excellent” and “special” relationship the U.S. and Philippines
enjoy in military cooperation and noted that the citizens of Jolo
Island in Mindanao had clamored that the annual U.S.-Philippine
Balikatan military exercises take place there after having seen the
contributions these exercises made to peace on the island of Basilan
in earlier years.  Ermita also noted that the U.S. Rewards for
Justice program had proven to be extremely successful, and he
predicted that other senior terrorist leaders would be captured or
killed in military operations.
¶4.  (SBU) Separately, National Defense Undersecretary Ernesto
Carolina, in charge of the Philippine Defense Reform program, called
U.S.-Philippine military cooperation a “unique” and “mature”
relationship.  He said that, with the help of the USG, the
Philippines was on track to complete reform in the Armed Forces of
the Philippines (AFP).  He noted that reform was proceeding even as
the AFP waged a war on three fronts: against the Communist
insurgency, the Muslim secessionist movement, and terrorist threats.
He praised AFP successes against terrorist organizations in
Mindanao and underscored that, reflecting U.S. commitment to
Philippine military efforts, the U.S. Ambassador Kenney had already
visited Jolo nine times during her first year in-country.  National
Defense Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor, also head of the
Philippine Anti-Terrorism Task Force separately called the
U.S.-Philippine relationship “just short of incest.”

Read the full cable here.

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Greenpeace says 14 global clothing brands toxic Wed, 24 Aug 2011 00:42:16 +0000

Greenpeace, the environment advocacy group, has released its latest research into toxic water pollution. According to the group, its research shows the presence of nonylphenol ethoxylates, a highly toxic chemical known to disrupt hormones, in clothing items bearing the logos of 14 global brands.

Greenpeace identified the brands as Abercombie & Fitch, Adidas, Calvin Klein, Converse, G-Star RAW, H&M, Kappa, Lacoste, Li Ning, Nike, Puma, Ralph Lauren, Uniqlo and Youngor.

“Our research shows that global clothing brands are responsible for the discharge of hazardous chemicals into waterways in China and across the world, as part of their manufacturing processes,” said Beau Baconguis, toxics campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “People have a right to know about the chemicals that are present in the very fabric of their clothing and the harmful effects these chemicals have when released into the environment.”

According to Greenpeace: “The chemicals, which break down to form nonylphenol – which has toxic, persistent and hormone-disrupting properties – were detected in clothes bought and manufactured in locations all over the world, demonstrating that the use and release of hazardous chemicals is a widespread and pervasive problem with serious, long-term and far-reaching consequences for people and wildlife.”

Adidas and Nike stores in a Philippine mall.

It said that the “discharge of most hazardous chemicals is not regulated under Philippine laws. The Amended Priority Chemicals List – the list of hazardous chemicals that must be prioritized for action, issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in 2005 – does not even include NPEs. Workers involved in the manufacture of sports apparel and the communities that host the facilities are probably being exposed to NPEs without their knowledge.”

“Now that Nike and Puma have committed to cleaning up their supply chains, and are using their power as brand owners to influence the environmental impacts of production, Adidas and other leading clothing brands can no longer avoid the responsibility of ensuring that the environment, their customers and people across the world are no longer threatened by the release of hazardous chemicals,” said Baconguis.

“By failing to take action to eliminate these chemicals, global brands like Adidas are expecting customers to do their dirty laundry for them; every time clothes containing these chemicals are washed, hazardous substances are released into rivers across the world. Brands must remove these chemicals from their products, and the best way to do this is to eliminate them from the production process,” Baconguis concluded.

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Philip Morris behind effort to manipulate Philippine courts? Wed, 24 Aug 2011 00:17:53 +0000

HealthJustice, a group of lawyers that are pushing for better public health, released a statement yesterday giving more details about the alleged attempt by tobacco companies to block an anti-smoking campaign in the Philippines. This time, HealthJustice identified one particular company, Philip Morris, for allegedly using tobacco farmers as a front in a legal challenge to the anti-smoking campaign being implemented by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, the agency that manages several towns and cities that comprise Metro Manila.

If these charges are true, I think it is high time for the Supreme Court of the Philippines to investigate into this and punish those who are trying to manipulate the country’s judicial system.

Philip Morris, according to HealthJustice, was behind the bail bond a security guard paid the court after he was arrested for violating the anti-smoking law in Manila. As a result of the case, a Manila court later issued a temporary restraining order against the MMDA, ordering it to stop its anti-smoking campaign.

But also according to HealthJustice, Philip Morris has made it appear that tobacco farmers from the north had pooled together their own money to come up with the 100,000 peso bail bond.

HealthJustice quoted Avelino Dacanay, chairman of Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation, a farmers’ group, in its statement: “I don’t know him (Anthony Clemente, the security guard), but I doubt that farmers paid for the bond for the TRO. If you understand how precious P65 is to a farmer, how much more P100,000? It’s not something that farmers can just easily part with, especially for something that will not affect us anyway.”

According to HealthJustice, the guard’s lawyer, Luis dela Paz, had earlier claimed that the bail bond was paid by a certain Asuncion Lopez, a resident of a village in La Union province called Seng-ngat and a proponent of the Seng-ngat Ecological Society .

HealthJustice said other cases in the past establish the links between Lopez and Philip Morris, as can be gleaned from three news stories published online:

Tobacco farmers file graft charges vs BIR officials
BIR execs charged on strip stamp issue
Tobacco farmers press charges vs BIR executives

HealthJustice also claims that the Barangay Seng-ngat Ecological Society is “closely linked to Philip Morris. In 2007, they welcomed Chris Nelson, managing director of Philip Morris, at the inauguration of their office and for the induction of their officers. Signages in Sudipen, La Union also show logos of Philip Morris and TransManila, Inc. – a contracted domestic tobacco leaf buyer of Philip Morris.”

Photos from a Multiply page, two of which are below, seem to corroborate this link.

Philip Morris officials led by Chris Nelson, its managing director in the Philippines, is shown with Seng-ngat Ecological Society members and officers.

A sign in Barangay Seng-ngat that bears the name and logo of Philip Morris

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Plagiarism in the Philippines: Like father, like son? Fri, 19 Aug 2011 02:40:28 +0000

The Bible says the sins of the father should not be visited upon the son. But what if the son commits the same sin as the father?

Krip Yuson, a multi-awarded and hitherto well-respected author in the Philippines, was exposed in April by a blog called FireQuinito for plagiarism, a charge that he admitted. He had apologized for his crime. He had been removed from GMA News Online, where he was an editor and where he committed the deed, but continues to write his column at the Philippine Star, a large newspaper where passages in some of his writings, or what passed for it, were actually copy-pasted from press releases.

Krip, whose real name is Alfred, is the father of Aya Yuson, a fine jazz musician who also writes for GMA News Online. (Did he fill the seat his father vacated? I don’t know.) Aya’s mother, Sylvia Mayuga, is also a well-known writer in the Phlippines.

Aya has been having a good run at GMA News Online, based on the stories that carry his byline. All in all, his pieces are competent. I like his occasional reviews of movies and music.

Then I found out that there have been instances when Aya, at worst, plagiarized or, at best, failed to attribute sources of information he used in a few stories published on GMA News Online.

In “Blades cleave to the hidden heart of Pinoy culture,” Yuson describes – without neither quotation marks nor attribution — the kampilan, an ancient Filipino sword, this way: “At times the hilt was bound to one of the aforementioned hands by a talismanic piece of cloth. This was meant to prevent slippage.”

Compare that with the description by Wikipedia: “At times the hilt was bound to the hand by a talismanic piece of cloth to prevent slippage.” This same description appears in this blog and this website.

Also without quotation marks and attribution is this next sentence: “Sometimes chain mail covering was employed to keep the hands free of injury.”

The three websites I cited above put it this way: “Sometimes a chain mail covering was attached to prevent the hand from injury.”

In “Eskrima, the Filipino art of self-protection,” Yuson describes the Kalis Ilustrisimo, again without quotation marks and attribution, thus: “Kalis Ilustrisimo is a blade-based Filipino martial art founded by Antonio ‘Tatang’ Ilustrisimo.”

Wikipedia puts it this way: “Kali Ilustrisimo (also Kalis Ilustrisimo) is a blade-based Filipino Martial Art (Eskrima) founded by Antonio ‘Tatang’ Ilustrisimo.”

In the same story, Yuson writes: “Founded in 1937 by the late Grandmaster Benjamin Luna Lema, Lightning Scientific is a system known for its fast, powerful, and fluid strikes. It shows a marked preference for blind-siding and blanketing the opponent with a wicked web of rattan. Many Lightning Scientific stick strikes are delivered from wide chambered positions — very telegraphic, perhaps, but they land with a heck of a wallop.”

The website FMATalk: “A system founded in 1937 by Grandmaster Benjamin Luna-Lema. The system is composed of the Tercia, Cadenilla, Serrada and Espada Y Daga styles. It is known for its powerful, fluid, and fast strikes; its preference for ‘blind-siding’ the opponent; and its focus on the stick and knife. An important principle in Lightning is closing with the opponent and ‘blanketing’ them with multiple strikes.”

Granting that Yuson did not copy the paragraph word for word. Still, the similarities make it obvious that he lifted it from the FMATalk website. The question is: Why couldn’t he just cite the website as a source for that description? Lazyness, perhaps?

There are other references in this particular Yuson story that needed  references or attributions.

In “Post-Holy Week fun in the mountains of Inang Bayan,” Yuson notes that “In La Trinidad, Benguet, from April 28 to April 30, there will be a fun-filled, thrill-packed passel of events dubbed the Fourth Eco-Tourism and Bendiyan Festival of Kabayan.”

A Philippine Information Agency press release also describes the event as “fun-filled, thrill-packed.” Probably just a coincidence, but it wouldn’t hurt to put those in quotation marks, right? It was, after all, not his original description.

I have to point out that what Aya committed here pales in comparison with what his father did, which was compounded by the elder Yuson’s pathetic attempt to explain it away (he said he had rewritten the story in question in such a way that he felt he owned part of it; turns out his rewrite claim was bogus).

So why am I exposing Aya Yuson as if he behaved as badly as his father?

Because he belongs to a family known for its literary and journalistic gifts, a family that assures us with their every published word that what they say is not just true but is the product of the same literary genius for which it has been toasted by the literary community and rewarded by the public.

That Aya can behave so cavalierly toward the work of others is a bad example to those aspiring to become writers and journalists. Because no matter how seemingly inconsequential, plagiarism is a sin.

I doubt Aya’s career in journalism or literature will be destroyed by this but he should be mature enough to derive some lesson here. At the risk of sounding like a father, here are some advice:

If you didn’t discover the information yourself, attribute it.

If that nice quote is not yours, use the quotation marks.

If a story you are writing sounds really bad because you lifted most of it from press releases, don’t put your byline on it.

But a most important advice to Aya Yuson: Never follow everything your father does.

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Tobacco companies in Philippines play dirty legal game Thu, 18 Aug 2011 23:40:27 +0000

This is how dirty tobacco companies in the Philippines have become. They have gone to the extent of lying, conniving and gaming the country’s judicial system just to have their way.

The Philippine government, particularly the local government units and such agencies like the Metro Manila Development Authority (MDDA), has been launching an anti-smoking campaign around the country. This is not to ban cigarettes altogether but just to designate areas where smokers can smoke.

Some have complained that the smoking regulations impinges on their right to smoke. In the meantime, the MMDA has arrested or fined those they have apprehended ever since the campaign began earlier this year.

Then suddenly, a judge issues a restraining order against the MMDA, stopping it from implementing its “Smoke-Free Campaign.”

MMDA and local officials during the launching of the agency's anti-smoking campaign. (Photo from

MMDA and local officials during the launching of the agency's anti-smoking campaign. (Photo from

It turns out that one of those who complained in court against the MMDA used to work as security guard for a tobacco company and that, according to him, the company paid for his  P100,000 bail bond., which he would never be able to afford from his salary as a security guard.

Apparently, the plan was to have somebody file a case against the tobacco regulation in court, hoping that would set off a chain of events that could end up with the court deciding against the MMDA, which is exactly what happened.  In short, the case fabricated by the tobacco company.

“The admission of the complainant that the case was fabricated should appall Filipinos to no end. The tobacco industry is obviously pulling out all stops to block laudable public health measures like the MMDA’s enforcement campaign,” states Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan, a former health secretary and an anti- tobacco advocate.

“Cases like these show how the tobacco industry belittles the competence of medical authorities in guarding the health of our citizens. In planting a witness against MMDA, they undermine the authority of the government to take care of its people,” Galvez-Tan said in a statement. “We, as medical professionals, know that efforts such as the smoking ban are necessary as there are no safe levels of exposure to second hand smoke.”

“There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests. The falsehood of the petition against MMDA is an abuse of the judicial system. It only further validates the need for the government to be protected from the tobacco industry,” says Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, projectdDirector of of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.

In a statement, MMDA chairman Francis  Tolentino decried the court order stopping his agency.

“We are saddened by this turn of events but this will not stop us from pursuing more health-related advocacies
pursuant to Republic Act No. 7924 which mandates us to promote public health, safety and sanitation, urban protection and pollution control,” he said in a statement. “This is just a temporary setback. We will fight this all the way to protect the health of our citizens.”

The tobacco industry earlier challenged efforts by the government to implement picture warnings on tobacco packaging. They have also fought, unsuccessfully, the ban on tobacco advertising in the mass media.

According to tobacco control groups and the health department, 240 Filipinos die every day because of cigarette addiction and exposure to second-hand smoke and that tobacco-related illnesses are putting pressure on an already inadequate public health care system.

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Mideo’s cross and the Philippine art contretemps Thu, 18 Aug 2011 03:08:45 +0000

“Society puts my freedom above your hypocrisy.”
— Transvestite, La Mala Educacion, un film de Pedro Almodovar

A scene in La Mala Educacion, a film on sexual abuse by priests

A scene in La Mala Educacion, a film on sexual abuse by priests

Mideo Cruz, the Filipino visual artist who is the subject of a modern-day Inquisition in the Philippines, must be feeling like Jesus Christ these days. That is to say, every bit of abuse he suffers from the mouths of charlatans — online, in the halls of the Philippine Senate, and on the pulpit — must feel no differently from the blows to the nails through Christ’s hands and feet.

Cruz deeply offended the Catholic faith when he created a collage of religious images and pop icons in an art installation called Poleteismo, one of the 32 artworks exhibited at a show called Kulo (Simmer) at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. For his installation, he also used a wooden ashtray shaped like an erect penis and stuck it to the picture of the face of Jesus Christ. In another part of the installation, he stuck another penis to a cross. In another, a condom — some say used but apparently only because it was not in its sachet — was hung on a crucifix.

Cruz himself had conceded that he wasn’t surprised that Christians, particularly those who revere images of their religious figures, would be offended. I am a Christian. I was shocked to see it. But was I offended? Not the least bit, perhaps because, although I’m not really a devout Catholic, I consider my faith to be a very personal thing. So personal that I cannot even establish a connection with what the religious establishment says are its representations, e.g. icons and statues and crosses and crucifixes.

Cruz himself had conceded that he wasn’t surprised that Christians, particularly those who revere images of their religious figures, would be offended. I am a Christian. I was shocked to see it. But was I offended? Not the least bit, perhaps because, although I’m not really a devout Catholic, I consider my faith to be a very personal thing. So personal that I cannot even establish a connection with what the religious establishment says are its representations, e.g. icons and statues and crosses and crucifixes.

Unlike the bigots and ignoramuses who went after Mideo Cruz with a terrifying religious zeal, I don’t worship these symbols.  Unlike these bigots, I am secure in my faith, in the knowledge that my god will not be taken down or diminished by the work of an artist.


There’s a scene in Pedro Almodovar’s 2004 masterpiece La Mala Educacion (Bad Education) where a transvestite intones confidently that “society puts my freedom above your hypocrisy.”

Mideo Cruz must have wished that this, too, is a reality in the Philippines as it was, supposedly, in the Spain of the ’70s when La Mala Educacion‘s story unfolds. (The movie is about a schoolboy sexually abused by a priest, who is also the school principal, and how that abuse changed him and the lives of the people around him.)

But Filipinos now live in a society where the Church has forced itself back into the domain of governance. The result is a political and moral environment no different from the time of Jose Rizal, who denounced the friars for their abuses and was hounded because of it. The Philippines pretends to be a secular society and democratic state but at its core it is no different from any society where faith reigns above all else.

Because how can you explain the censorship of an artwork? Or the fact that the president of the republic chose to side with the rulers of this theocracy? Or the fact that, during every election, Filipinos worry more about which party the Church or the Christian groups would endorse rather than which of them promises real, doable change?

It is a theocracy that is also apparently rotting from its own excesses and corruption, and so insecure about its future that these priests and bishops are shaking in their miraculous white robes. They then decide that the blame lies elsewhere, perhaps in the twisted minds of men like Cruz, perhaps in the phallic symbols that threaten to fray the fabric of a deceitful faith, perhaps in the shortsighted bureaucrats-artists that run the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

As Cruz himself intoned in an interview with, he has been made into a sacrificial lamb.

No, Mideo Cruz, Philippine society does not — cannot — put your freedom above its hypocrisy. Because if it could, it would self-destruct.

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‘Cyber warfare can raise humanitarian concerns’ Thu, 18 Aug 2011 01:52:39 +0000

August is the so-called International Humanitarian Law Month. As perhaps befitting the occasion, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the vanguargs of IHL all over the world, sent out what it called an “interesting interview” with ICRC legal expert, Cordula Droege. The subject is “cyber warfare and its implications on international humanitarian law.”

The ICRC notes  that “all over the world, policy makers and military leaders are considering the implications of cyber warfare.”  Droege explains that “the existing legal framework is applicable and must be respected even in the cyber realm.”

Below is the Q&A sent out by the ICRC:

What do you mean by “cyber warfare” and why is it of concern to the ICRC?

The concept of cyber warfare is somewhat nebulous and different people appear to mean different things when they refer to it. For the purposes of this discussion, cyber warfare refers to means and methods of warfare that rely on information technology and are used in the context of an armed conflict within the meaning of international humanitarian law – as opposed to the traditional kinetic military operations.

Similarly, such terms as “cyber attacks,” “cyber operations” or “computer network attacks” have no internationally agreed legal meaning and are used in different contexts (not always limited to armed conflicts) and with different meanings. Let us use the rather broad term of cyber operations to refer to operations against or via a computer or a computer system through a data stream. Such operations can aim to do different things, for instance to infiltrate a computer system and collect, export, destroy, change, or encrypt data or to trigger, alter or otherwise manipulate processes controlled by the infiltrated system. The technology can be used in warfare and, under certain circumstances, some of these operations can constitute attacks as defined under international humanitarian law.

Cyber operations can raise humanitarian concerns, in particular when their effect is not limited to the data of the targeted computer system or computer. Indeed, they are usually intended to have an effect in the “real world.” For instance, by tampering with the supporting computer systems, one can manipulate an enemy’s air traffic control systems, oil pipeline flow systems or nuclear plants. The potential humanitarian impact of some cyber operations is therefore enormous. Cyber operations that have been carried out thus far, for example in Estonia, Georgia and Iran, do not appear to have had serious consequences for the civilian population. However, it seems that it is technically feasible to interfere with airport control systems, other transportation systems, dams or nuclear power plants via cyber space. Potentially catastrophic scenarios, such as collisions between aircraft, the release of poisons from chemical plants, or the disruption of vital infrastructure and services such as electricity or water networks, therefore cannot be dismissed. The main victims of such operations would most likely be civilians.

Does international humanitarian law apply to cyber operations?

International humanitarian law, or IHL, only comes into play if cyber operations are committed in the context of an armed conflict – whether between States, between States and organized armed groups or between organized armed groups. Therefore, we need to distinguish the general issue of cyber security from the specific issue of cyber operations in armed conflict. Terms like “cyber attacks” or even “cyber terrorism” may evoke methods of warfare, but the operations they refer to are not necessarily conducted in armed conflict. Cyber operations can be and are in fact used in crimes committed in everyday situations that have nothing to do with situations of war. A large proportion of operations colloquially termed “cyber attacks” are in fact network exploitation attacks carried out for the purpose of illicit information gathering and occur outside the context of armed conflicts. But in armed conflict situations, IHL applies when the parties resort to means and methods of warfare relying on cyber operations.

If IHL applies to cyber operations, what does it say about them?

IHL does not specifically mention cyber operations. Because of this, and because the exploitation of cyber technology is relatively new and sometimes appears to introduce a complete qualitative change in the means and methods of warfare, it has occasionally been argued that IHL is ill adapted to the cyber realm and cannot be applied to cyber warfare. However, the absence in IHL of specific references to cyber operations does not mean that such operations are not subject to the rules of IHL. If the means and methods of cyber warfare produce the same effects in the real world as conventional weapons (such as destruction, disruption, damage, injury or death), they are governed by the same rules as conventional weapons.

New technologies of all kinds are being developed all the time and IHL is sufficiently broad to accommodate these developments. IHL prohibits or limits the use of certain weapons specifically (for instance, chemical or biological weapons, or anti-personnel mines). But it also regulates, through its general rules, all means and methods of warfare, including the use of all weapons. In particular, Article 36 of Protocol I additional to the Geneva Conventions provides that, “[i]n the study, development, acquisition or adoption of a new weapon, means or method of warfare, a High Contracting Party is under an obligation to determine whether its employment would, in some or all circumstances, be prohibited by this Protocol or by any other rule of international law applicable to the High Contracting Party.” Beyond the specific obligation it imposes on States parties, this rule shows that general IHL rules apply to new technology.

This is not to say that there might not be a need to develop the law further as technologies evolve or their humanitarian impact becomes better understood. That will have to be determined by States. In the meantime, it is important to stress that there is no legal vacuum in cyber space. Beyond that, however, we are faced with a number of question marks on how IHL will apply in practice.

What is it about cyber space that makes it difficult to apply the rules of IHL?

The means and methods of cyber warfare are still incompletely understood, except presumably by the technical experts who develop and apply them. The development of new technologies is frequently classified. That being said, to determine whether and to what extent the means and methods of cyber warfare are qualitatively different from those of conventional warfare, the most important thing is to understand how the technology could be used and what effects it could have in armed conflict.

But one aspect of cyber space that would seem to pose difficulties is the anonymity of communications. In the cyber operations that occur on an everyday basis, anonymity is the rule rather than the exception. It appears to be impossible in some instances to trace their originator. Since all law is based on the allocation of responsibility (in IHL to a party to a conflict or to an individual), major difficulties arise. In particular, if the perpetrator of a given operation and thus the link of the operation to an armed conflict cannot be identified, it is extremely difficult to determine whether IHL is even applicable to the operation.

Another feature of cyber space is, of course, interconnectivity. The interconnections between computer systems – civilian and military – could make it difficult to apply even the most fundamental rules of IHL.

What rules of IHL are applicable to cyber operations? How can they be applied in the world of interconnectivity?

All IHL rules governing the conduct of hostilities are potentially applicable during armed conflict, but whether they are relevant in such a context, and how they could be applied, are real questions. Before giving some examples, it is important to recall that one of the main purposes of IHL is to protect the civilian population and civilian infrastructure from the effects of hostilities.

Let us consider some fundamental rules of IHL to illustrate not only their importance for cyber operations but also the difficult questions that their application to cyber space raises. These rules are related to the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution.

The principle of distinction and the prohibition of indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks

The principle of distinction requires that parties to a conflict distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives. Attacks may only be directed against combatants or military objectives. Indiscriminate attacks, that is attacks which are not or cannot be directed at a specific military objective or whose effects cannot be limited as required by IHL, are prohibited. Similarly, attacks against military objectives or combatants are prohibited if they may be expected to cause incidental civilian casualties or damage which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated (so-called disproportionate attacks).

This means that, in planning and carrying out cyber operations, the only targets permissible under IHL are military objectives, such as computers or computer systems used in support of military infrastructure or of infrastructure used specifically for military purposes. It follows that attacks via cyber space may not be directed against, for example, computer systems used in medical facilities, schools, and other purely civilian installations. The issue of humanitarian concern in this respect is that cyber space is characterized by interconnectivity. It consists of innumerable interconnected computer systems across the world. Military computer systems appear to often be interconnected with commercial, civilian systems and to rely on them in whole or in part. Thus, it might well be impossible to launch a cyber attack on military infrastructure and limit the effects to just that military objective. For instance, the use of a worm that replicates itself and cannot be controlled, and might therefore cause considerable damage to civilian infrastructure, would be a violation of IHL.

Obligation to take precautions

The party responsible for an attack must take measures, to the maximum extent feasible, to avoid or minimize incidental damage to civilian infrastructure or harm to civilians. This will require verifying the nature of the systems that are being attacked and the possible damage that might ensue from an attack. It also means that when it becomes apparent that an attack will cause excessive incidental civilian damage or casualties, it must be cancelled.

Also, parties to conflicts have an obligation to take necessary precautions against the effects of attacks. It would therefore be advisable for them, in order to protect the civilian population against incidental effects of attacks, to assess whether military computer systems are sufficiently separate from civilian ones. The reliance of military computer systems and connections on systems run by civilian contractors which are also used for civilian purposes could be a cause for concern.

On the other hand, information technology might also serve to limit incidental damage to civilians or civilian infrastructure. For instance, it might be less damaging to disrupt certain services used for military and civilian purposes than to destroy infrastructure completely. In such cases, the principle of precaution arguably imposes an obligation on States to choose the less harmful means to achieve their military aim.

What is the ICRC doing in relation to cyber warfare?

We need to bear in mind that the military potential and the humanitarian impact of cyber warfare – despite all the things we read about them in the media – are far from fully understood. However, it is certainly possible that cyber operations could have disastrous consequences for civilians. That is why the ICRC monitors their development and reminds parties to conflicts of their obligations to comply with IHL. We are also paying close attention to a number of initiatives that aim to clarify the law applicable to cyber operations in armed conflict. Our aim is to reaffirm the applicability of IHL, to prevent any weakening of IHL caused by the development of new standards, and to remind those involved that in the world of interconnectivity the need to spare the civilian population is probably greater than ever.

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10 years later, US troops still ‘fighting terror’ in southern Philippines Thu, 18 Aug 2011 01:44:12 +0000

Renato Reyes, the secretary-general of the leftist group Bayan Muna in the Philippines, has an interesting blog post on the continued presence of American troops in the Philippines. He notes that while Washington has been drawing down troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, the US government doesn’t seem to have the same action on the more or less 600 American forces stationed in the southern Philippines, much to the consternation of leftists and anti-Americans like Reyes.

But it is a question worth asking:  “Why is the Philippine government not doing anything about the permanently stationed US  Special Forces in Mindanao?”

In his op-ed, which I repost in full below, with his indulgence, Reyes outlines not only the hypocrisy of American policy concerning countries like the Philippines but also points out the possible director of future US military engagements in other parts of the world.

A decade on: “War on terror” caused permanent basing of US troops in Mindanao

Why is the Philippine government not doing anything about the permanently stationed US  Special Forces in Mindanao?

The permanent presence, which is nearing its 10th year now, dates back from the time the US launched its borderless “war on terror” in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, which is also marking its 10th anniversary this year. The “war on terror” resulted in direct US military aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq and saw US forces conducting operations in Pakistan. Other “secret wars” were launched worldwide in the name of fighting terrorism.

In 2002, the Philippines was tagged by the US as the “second front” in the “war on terror”, and Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines was launched against the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiya purportedly training in Mindanao. For the first time, US forces were deployed in actual combat areas in Mindanao under the guise of training exercises called Balikatan 02-1. US forces have not left Southern Philippines since. A permanent structure has been set-up inside Camp Navarro in Zamboanga which hosts a rotating force of about 600 personnel of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, under the US Joint Special Operations Command.

It is incomprehensible why the Philippine government has not questioned the permanent basing of US troops in Mindanao, since this already goes against the definition of ‘visiting forces’ as contemplated by the Visiting Forces Agreement. The decision to maintain the US Special Forces in Mindanao was a unilateral move by the US government during the time of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. However, the Aquino administration apparently does not mind the continuing violation of the country’s sovereignty under this arrangement.

Unlike in Iraq or Afghanistan, there is no time-table for the pull-out of US troops in Mindanao. There are no clear parameters on how they will consider their mission ‘accomplished’. Clearly, the US government is circumventing a constitutional prohibition on US bases. The Philippine Constitution is clear, no foreign military bases absent a treaty ratified by both governments. With the virtual basing of US troops in Mindanao, the Philippine government is allowing itself to be hoodwinked by Washington. The Philippine government is allowing itself to be used in advancing this 10-year borderless war on terror that has claimed more lives worldwide than the original victims of 9-11.

Exactly two years ago, the New York Times reported that then US Defense Secretary Robert Gates decided to “keep an elite 600-troop counterinsurgency operation deployed in the Philippines despite pressure to reassign its members elsewhere”.

The NY Times article tells us that the decision for US Special Forces to stay in Mindanao was a unilateral decision made by the US government. It is an imposition by a super power on a puppet state. It is not a sign of enduring friendship. It is a sign that the US is trying to one-up the Philippines every chance it gets. It shows how the US government regards us a nation.

It is time to ask what the Department of Foreign Affairs is doing.  What is the Presidential Commission on the VFA doing? What is the Joint Congressional Oversight of the VFA doing? None of them appear to be even remotely concerned about this violation of our country’s sovereignty. Is it because were so desperate to get US support for our claims in the Spratlys? Is it because our government is so dependent on US economic and military aid that it is prepared to look the other way when sovereignty is assaulted?

The NY Times article described the Special Operations Forces as “the most highly skilled in the military at capture-and-kill missions against insurgent and terrorist leaders. Within their ranks, Army Special Forces, known as the Green Berets, have for decades been training (US) allied troops on their home soil and conducting counterinsurgency missions.

Meanwhile, analyst Nick Terse in an article describes the JSOC as a power-elite even in Washington. “In 120 countries across the globe, troops from Special Operations Command carry out their secret war of high-profile assassinations, low-level targeted killings, capture/kidnap operations, kick-down-the-door night raids, joint operations with foreign forces, and training missions with indigenous partners as part of a shadowy conflict unknown to most Americans.”

Analysts have also estimated that funding for these units have tripled in the aftermath of 9-11, from $2.3 billion to $6.3 billion in 2011, not counting appropriations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the Philippines, Terse says that the US government spends some $50 million a year to maintain the 600-man Special Forces unit.  The Obama administration has given the JSOC a more prominent role in US combat operations abroad.

After ‘concluding’ Balikatan 02-1 in 2002, the US government again unilaterally announced that troops will be staying behind for so-called “Civil Military Operations” and to continue training local troops. The US forces have not left since then. They have also established temporary faculties in other parts of Mindanao. January 2012 will mark a decade of US permanent basing in Mindanao, and there seems to be no end in sight for their deployment in this part of the world, not if Obama can help it.

It is ironic that while the nation will be observing the 20th anniversary of the historic rejection of the US bases treaty by the Philippine Senate, US forces have managed to diminish this victory by having permanent and continuing presence in Mindanao. It’s like the bases never really left. While the US facilities in Mindanao host a much smaller force, the rationale for their presence remains the same.

The problem with US troops in Mindanao highlight the serious flaws of the Visiting Forces Agreement. The VFA’s vagueness is being exploited to allow the permanent stationing of an unlimited number of foreign troops, engaged in unspecified activities, anywhere in the country.

There has been a review of the VFA completed by Malacanang, yet the results have not been made public. Unfortunately, the review does not include the question of permanent basing of US troops in Mindanao.

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The Ampatuan deal: Impunity alive and kicking in the Philippines Thu, 21 Jul 2011 11:52:40 +0000

If there’s any doubt that impunity is alive and well in the Philippines, look no farther than the presidential palace, where Benigno S. Aquio III, the son of democracy icons Corazon Aquino and Ninoy Aquino, now presides.

In the past few weeks, Filipinos were once again confronted with the spectacle of a government kowtowing with the rich and powerful, justice be damned.

First, it entertained the request of Zaldy Ampatuan, one of the principal conspirators in the infamous Maguindanao massacre in which 58 people were killed by members of his family and militia, to be a state witness in what is now dubbed the trial of the century. The Aquino government then backtracked a bit, but the damage has been done: it has registered to the public that it was willing to negotiate with the perpetrators of the worst single case of political violence in the Philippines. It is an atrocity that Aquino himself has promised to prosecute, even using one of the widows of the massacre to endorse him during the election campaign in 2010.

Zaldy Ampatuan

Zaldy Ampatuan. Pic: AP.

Then it allowed Zaldy Ampatuan to be taken out of his the prison facility where he has been staying for over a year with his brothers and father – rulers of the ruthless Ampatuan clan that at one time was the most influential political dynasty in the southern Philippines because of their willingness to use any means to stay in power. Zaldy Ampatuan has been staying in a hospital, complaining allegedly of high blood pressure and diabetes — illnesses that, while serious, are not immediately life threatening.

This is special treatment, plain and simple. And God knows what the Ampatuans would ask from this government next.

Zaldy Ampatuan has been mouthing off lines that he is willing to testify against the fraud and corruption of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, his former master. This is well and good. But as has been pointed out before, this should not be at the expense of justice.

But there’s definitely a quid pro quo here somewhere. And that is not the outrageous part because, indeed, deals are being made every minute in this country.

We expected more, however, from this president and from this administration. We expected Aquino to be resolute about the quest for justice. We expected him not to kowtow with these monsters. But, barely a year in office, he has quashed our expectations in a big, big way.

What this deal with Zaldy Ampatuan will do is to prove that, in the Philippines, impunity is alive and kicking and that we cannot expect even our supposed knight in shining armor to come to our rescue.

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HRW report details military involvement in Philippine killings Wed, 20 Jul 2011 02:35:19 +0000

The report released yesterday by Human Rights Watch carries what is probably the first and most definitive account of the military’s involvement in the killings of activists in the Philippines. Too bad this has not been highlighted in the media’s stories on the report. But I think it is an important aspect of this crisis that puts the atrocities in their proper context.

It should also serve not just an indictment of but a challenge as well to the Philippine military to finally reform itself.

In the section on “Extrajudicial Executions and Enforced Disappearances,” HRW defines these atrocities and puts it in context:

An extrajudicial killing is a deliberate, unlawful killing by state security forces. In the Philippines, there is much debate about the terminology, in particular extrajudicial killing versus extralegal killing; but the meanings are the same. An enforced disappearance is when an individual is deprived of liberty by or with the state’s acquiescence, and officials refuse to provide information regarding the victim’s detention, whereabouts, or fate. Extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances violate basic human rights, including the right to life, the right to liberty and security of the person, the right to a fair and public trial, as well as the prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment.

It then proceeds to say that Human Rights Watch has “investigated seven apparent extrajudicial killings and three enforced disappearances that occurred since June 30, 2010, in which there was significant evidence of military involvement.  News media have reported other possible cases during that period that Human Rights Watch was not able to investigate due to time constraints. In three other cases, Human Rights Watch found no evidence of military involvement; another reported case could not be adequately investigated because of ongoing military hostilities in the area. In all of these cases we examined the response of police and other authorities to the killings.”

The report further states the case of one ex-soldier who was ordered to carry out assassinations:

The investigated cases show no consistent patterns. Several victims were leftist activists who may have been killed because of perceived association with the New People’s Army (NPA), while others appear to have been ordinary farmers involved in land disputes with local officials. In one case local politics was at issue.

A former soldier, “Ricardo,” told Human Rights Watch that commanding officers of his battalion ordered him to carry out several extrajudicial killings during his time in the Philippine Army from the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s. While much in Ricardo’s account could not be independently confirmed, his information seemed credible based on its consistency and detail.

Ricardo said army intelligence had determined that the targets were working for the NPA. He said that in 2005, an officer in the army’s 8th Infantry Division ordered him to kill Felidito Dacut, a lawyer and Bayan Muna-Eastern Visayas regional coordinator because, “as a human rights lawyer, he was hampering military activities.” Ricardo said a fellow soldier shot and killed Dacut with a .45 caliber pistol on March 14, 2005, near Tacloban City in Leyte.[36] He said that military officers trained him to make such assassinations look like they were perpetrated by the NPA’s Special Partisan Unit (SPARU) by using a .45 caliber pistol and wearing bonnets (balaclavas).

“Ricardo” also said that military officers on several occasions ordered him to help dispose of victims’ bodies. He described one instance in 2007 at Fort Bonifacio, the Philippine Army headquarters in Manila, where commanding officers ordered him and several intelligence officers to put a male corpse inside a steel drum, seal it, and place the drum in a vehicle as it was to be taken elsewhere, but he was not aware where. He said he was unable to describe the dead man because his face was covered with blood.

Further down this section of the report, Human Rights Watch enumerated several cases of these targeted killings with the alleged order coming from the military.

What this is is a scary indictment of how brutal the military has become and how helpless the civilian establishment has been against it.

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HRW: Impunity reigns in Philippines under Aquino Tue, 19 Jul 2011 12:42:13 +0000

Human Rights Watch released today its latest report on the human rights situation in the Philippines. Its verdict is quite emphatic: Impunity still reigns in the country, regardless of the promise by President Aquino that things would change under his watch.

Abusive behavior by security forces persists when perpetrators are not held accountable for their actions. Curtailing human rights violations requires more than new policies and senior officials committed to reform; it requires that would-be perpetrators know that they will go to prison and their careers will end if they order or participate in serious abuses. The Philippine government should adopt effective measures to end extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, hold perpetrators accountable, and prevent them from recurring.

In the report, HRW says that evidence is strong to link the military to several of the killings under President Aquino. This, of course, is not surprising since the military has always been thought to be behind the killings, abductions and disappearances of activists. What is surprising is that these atrocities continue under a president who promised to end the reign of impunity in the Philippines.

HRW put forth the following recommendations to the government:

  • Investigate and prosecute all those responsible in each case of extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance detailed in this report.
  • Issue an executive order directing police and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) investigators to vigorously pursue crimes allegedly committed by the military, or themselves be subject to disciplinary measures.
  • Communicate fully to all military personnel that officers and soldiers who provide evidence or testimony in cases of human rights violations will be eligible for witness protection and other measures to ensure their safety.
  • Order the inspector general and the provost marshal of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to investigate and report publicly within 90 days on the involvement of military personnel in extrajudicial killings, and to identify failures within AFP investigative agencies to prosecute officers under principles of command responsibility.
  • Order the military to cease targeted attacks on civilians, to cease the practice of denying military involvement in all extrajudicial killings, and to cease labeling leftist groups as fronts for the CPP-NPA, which places group members at considerable risk.
  • Take all necessary measures, including reforming the witness protection program, to ensure the safety of survivors of serious crimes, witnesses, and families of victims and witnesses before, during, and after trial.
  • Submit a bill to Congress that prohibits and protects against enforced disappearances and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

It also asked donor countries, particular the US and the EU, to “publicly press the Philippine government to investigate and prosecute members of the military for extrajudicial killings, including those liable under command responsibility. Diplomats based in Manila should closely monitor Philippine government investigations of individual extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance cases.”

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Philippines and the Church: Blackball politics Mon, 18 Jul 2011 03:26:37 +0000

I find it appalling that the Aquino administration has decided to play dirty with the Roman Catholic Church.

Recently, the Philippines has been thrown into a fit after revelations in a Senate hearing disclosed that several bishops had availed themselves of SUVs from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), the government agency that runs the country’s lotteries and other gambling operations.

By itself, there is nothing spectacularly wrong with this. The PCSO routinely gives out cash and other doleouts to poor Filipinos and charities, among them parishes and other Church-based groups. These religious organizations and their charities have been receiving resources from the PCSO for a long time now to help the poor and the needy.

But the Aquino administration has spun the disclosure as if the PCSO donating vehicles to priests and bishops are a new anomaly. Again, they’re not.

The purpose of the revelation, obviously, is to discredit the bishops and the Church, to make them out to be hypocrites, men of the cloth who supposedly are against all forms of gambling and yet are receiving money and resources from gambling operators.

There is truth to this spin, of course, for why would the bishops do such thing? That is reprehensible.

But equally reprehensible is to use these disclosures to discredit the bishops in order to weaken the Church’s position on the Reproductive Health Bill now pending in Congress.

Again, I am for the RH bill, but this fight has gotten so low that I don’t think it would be that easy to repair the damage this has done to Church-State relations. Regardless of what we think of the bishops and the Church, they are still a formidable force wh0 have a direct impact on the lives of millions of Filipinos.

While I don’t think it is naive to think that the Church’s position on the RH bill can be changed by mere argument, I personally would want them defeated on the basis of their position, its untenability, its unrealistic assumptions – not because they are hypocrites who receive gambling money.

Because what this episode is telling Filipinos is that the politics of blackballing trumps debate. That is not the kind of politics I want my children to grow up in.

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Manila’s elite polo and golf clubs snub Pacquiao Sat, 16 Jul 2011 05:04:55 +0000

The Manila Polo Club and the Manila Golf Club are among the most elite clubs in the Philippines. They reaffirmed this recently when they reportedly denied the membership of Manny Pacquiao, the Philippines’ most popular and richest athlete.

To these clubs, it doesn’t matter that Pacquiao earns gazillion dollars for each fight and that he had actually bought a $388 million house in the country’s enclave of the richest, Forbes Park. A house in Forbes Park alone should qualify you to be a member of God’s inner circle but apparently to these clubs, they’re off limits to a noveau riche like Pacquiao. Never mind that Pacquiao earned his riches and stature — he is a congressman, by the way — by working hard. Never mind that he is an inspiration to the Filipino youth.

Would it hurt these clubs to have Pacquiao as a member? Would his humble, decidedly impoverished beginnings dilute the blue blood that runs in these clubs?

I say to Pacquiao — forget about these clubs. You don’t have to have their acceptance or recognition. It is their loss, not yours.

I say to Pacquiao — go back to your roots. Interact more frequently with the poor people who look up to you. Listen to them. Feel their pain. They have always accepted you and respected you. You don’t even have to spend a dime to have that.

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Philippine massacre: Ampatuans try to save their skin Fri, 15 Jul 2011 05:38:00 +0000

Zaldy Ampatuan, former governor of a Muslim region in the southern Philippines who is among the members of Ampatuan clan implicated in the notorious Ampatuan massacre in November 2009, wants to testify against anomalies and fraud allegedly committed by the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Zaldy Ampatuan dropped this bombshell along with his supposed offer to turn state witness against his father and brother who have been tagged as the masterminds in the massacre in which 58 people, mostly journalists, were killed.

Zaldy Ampatuan. Pic: AP.

This one-two punch from Zaldy Ampatuan is remarkable and immensely useful for the prosecutors of the massacre. Except for a couple of things. One, the prosecution, as the secretary of justice herself asserted, doesn’t lack witnesses and evidence to pin down the perpetrators, among them Zaldy Ampatuan himself.

Two, it reeks of a bad deal. Harry Roque, a lawyer of several of the victims, had disclosed that Zaldy Ampatuan had sought an audience with President Noynoy Aquino himself, allegedly through the intercession of presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda and interior secretary Jesse Robredo. Allegedly, Zaldy Ampatuan would offer to be a state witness against his family and also, as gravy, he would also testify against the supposed fraud and anomalies under Arroyo.

Why the office of the president would even consider talking to an accused conspirator in the worst single case of political killing in the Philippines is beyond me. It is unconscionable for this administration to even entertain the idea of a plea bargain with Zaldy Ampatuan.

Lacierda and Robredo, by making statements supporting Zaldy Ampatuan’s wish to turn state witness, are usurping the powers and functions of the Department of Justice. They may represent the president but they are way out of line on this one.

It should be clear by now that Zaldy Ampatuan wants to save his own skin, if not those of his entire family. Knowing how easily corrupted the justice system is in the Philippines, is it unreasonable to suspect that after him, his father and brother could get off the hook?

The really outrageous part here is that the government do not need Zaldy Ampatuan to successfully prosecute the massacre’s perpetrators. And it does not need Zaldy Ampatuan to prosecute Arroyo.

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Human rights during Aquino’s first year: Falling far short Wed, 29 Jun 2011 01:03:19 +0000

Human Rights Watch, based in New York, released today a report assessing the Aquino administration’s human rights record during its first year. The verdict: much needs to be done.

Aquino’s First Year and Human Rights
Human Rights Watch

JUNE 29, 2011

As a presidential candidate, Benigno Aquino III made strong promises on human rights protection. He repeatedly emphasized the importance of justice for rights violations and promised to dismantle so-called private armies that are used by politicians and other powerbrokers. Since taking office on June 30, 2010, he has continued to draw on his family’s own experience when, in 1983, assailants linked to the Marcos government assassinated his father at the airport that now bears his name. As a victim of human rights abuses, President Aquino has said he would not tolerate them.

One year on, while a number of positive reforms have been undertaken, genuinely effective measures to investigate and prosecute those responsible for serious human rights violations by the military and police have fallen far short. Killings and enforced disappearances have continued since Aquino took office, and despite strong evidence of military involvement in several cases, police investigations have stalled, the military persists in making blanket denials, and arrest warrants against alleged perpetrators go unexecuted. Aquino maintains that the government is “working overtime” to prevent new cases of human rights violations and to continue to resolve previous cases, and has pleaded for patience.

Human Rights Watch recognizes that the Philippines faces multiple insurgencies from the New People’s Army and other armed groups that have been responsible for many serious abuses. In addressing these insurgencies it is crucial that the government does so in a manner that is fully in keeping with its legal obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.

Human Rights Watch issued a comprehensive set of recommendations to Aquino last July that laid out the steps his administration should take to ensure accountability for extrajudicial killings and other abuses and to enhance respect for human rights. Now, one year into the Aquino administration, Human Rights Watch has assessed the government’s rights record and the effectiveness of its reforms. We make recommendations to the administration to better promote and protect human rights in the Philippines, many of which we have made previously.

Torture and Other Ill-Treatment

In December 2010, President Aquino directed Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to drop charges against the so-called “Morong 43″-43 men and women alleged by the military to be members of the communist New People’s Army-after receiving evidence that the arrests had been illegal. Soldiers and police arrested the 43 in February 2010 on firearms charges. Soldiers blindfolded the detainees for 36 hours and denied them access to lawyers. Several detainees alleged various forms of torture.

Following Aquino’s order, 36 have been released; two remain in jail on other charges while five are participating in the government’s rebel returnee program. Aquino’s action sent a message to the security forces that criminal charges will not prevail if detainees’ rights are violated. On the same day, de Lima signed the implementing rules and regulations for the 2009 Anti-Torture Law, a necessary step in the full implementation of the law. However, the government failed to order any investigation into the allegations of detainee mistreatment.

The government can only send a firm message that torture will not be tolerated by thoroughly investigating all allegations of such abuse and holding perpetrators accountable. The Aquino administration should order the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and police to investigate all allegations of torture in which security forces are implicated, starting with the Morong 43 case.

Investigations and Prosecutions of Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances

Extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances have long been a problem in the Philippines, and have continued since Aquino took office. The Philippine National Police (PNP) and Justice Department have instituted some reforms to improve investigation and prosecution of these crimes. The PNP has developed new manuals on crime scene investigations and case management and is training investigators with the aim of training at least two investigators at each police station by the end of 2011. The Justice Department created a task force that it says has a broader mandate than former-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s task force against political violence, Task Force 211. The new task force will review all reported and unsolved cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, with the intention of speeding up the resolution of cases with sufficient evidence as well as reinvestigating cases in which the trail of evidence has gone cold. The Justice Department has taken several steps to enhance the performance of prosecutors including creating a code of conduct in December 2010, which establishes an internal affairs unit to deal with administrative complaints, and creating an electronic case management system.

However, police investigations are still fraught with delays and impediments. In the past 12 months the justice system has failed to hold anyone accountable for a political killing, and Aquino has done little to address underlying causes of security force abuses. No member of the military has been arrested for killings or “disappearances” perpetrated since Aquino took office. And no commanders have been actively investigated for their role in these abuses.

The Supreme Court in a landmark decision and a national Commission on Human Rights report have named soldiers and military officers behind the enforced disappearance of four leftist activists in 2006 and 2007-Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeño, Manuel Merino, and Jonas Burgos. But still the government has not brought charges against them. Rather, the families have been left to do so.

The Aquino administration should implement the justice reforms highlighted in our July 2010 letter. President Aquino should issue an executive order directing police and NBI investigators to vigorously pursue crimes allegedly committed by government officials, and members of the military, police, and paramilitary groups, including by executing arrest warrants, or themselves be subject to disciplinary measures for insubordination or a criminal investigation for obstruction of justice or graft and corruption. The Aquino administration, in cooperation with Congress and the Philippine National Police, should create hotlines or comparable lines of communication to receive anonymous information on extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses. As an important immediate step, prosecutors should work with police investigators to pursue charges against named soldiers and military officers in the landmark enforced disappearance cases.

The Aquino administration has not pushed for legislation to prohibit and protect against enforced disappearances. President Aquino should without delay sign and urge the Senate to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Witness Protection

The Aquino administration has commendably increased funding for the Justice Department’s witness protection program. However, it has not instituted the necessary reforms to enhance this program and hold those who intimidate witnesses accountable. The penalty for intimidating a witness is still only a 3,000 peso (US$65) fine or up to a year’s imprisonment.

President Aquino should make the investigation and prosecution of those intimidating witnesses a priority and prompt Congress to increase the penalties for this offense and expand it to include intimidating witnesses’ relatives. Justice Secretary de Lima should work to enhance the program to provide protection for witnesses from the onset of a police investigation until after the trial for as long as necessary. This should include, where needed, relocation and change of identity of witnesses at the conclusion of the trial. De Lima should also institute measures for witnesses to offer testimonies safely, while protecting the rights of defendants, for example by using video-conferenced testimonies, closed courtrooms, or depositions.

“Private Armies” and Paramilitary Forces

Aquino made a campaign promise to dismantle “private armies” and to revoke Executive Order 546, which local officials cite to justify the provision of arms to their militias. One year later, Executive Order 546 remains in force. While Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo has claimed that the Aquino administration has dismantled almost half of the private armies in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, he has not presented any evidence of this. Aquino continues to defend the use of poorly trained and supervised paramilitary forces that have long been implicated in serious abuses to fight New People’s Army insurgents and Islamist armed groups.

The most egregious atrocity in recent years implicating a local ruling family, the November 23, 2009 Maguindanao massacre, in which 58 people including more than 30 media workers were killed, was carried out by a private army consisting of government-endorsed paramilitary force members, as well as police officers and soldiers. The trial of senior Ampatuan family members is ongoing, with the former governor of Maguindanao, Andal Ampatuan, Sr., arraigned on June 1, 2010. However, over half of the 195 accused remain at large and only 57 have been arraigned. Aquino actively supported efforts to televise the Maguindanao massacre trial, enhancing transparency and public awareness.

President Aquino should address a key underlying cause of the Maguindanao massacre by crafting a staged approach for disarming and dismantling all private armies and paramilitary forces, and instead enhancing and professionalizing the military and reserve forces.

The Aquino administration has failed to address the proliferation of military weaponry throughout the country, which strengthens abusive private armies. An immediate, long overdue step should be to revoke Executive Order 546.

In addition, Aquino should issue an executive order requiring all government officials to report firearms acquired for professional or personal use, and order the Commission on Audit to investigate whether the Peace and Order fund or other public monies have been used to fund private armies. He should also submit a priority bill to Congress to prevent local government officials from using the selection or dismissal of police chiefs in their jurisdiction for private purposes, require that reasons be provided for the selection, and mandate local government officials to disclose any relationship or affiliation with proposed candidates.

Government Involvement in “Death Squads”

The Aquino administration has not acted to dismantle so-called death squads, which continue to operate in Davao City and other cities targeting mostly poor and marginalized victims, such as alleged petty criminals, drug dealers, gang members, and street children. President Aquino should publicly denounce extrajudicial killings and local anti-crime campaigns that promote or encourage the unlawful use of force, starting in Davao City, and pledge that government officials who are found to be involved or complicit in such killings be fully prosecuted. Aquino should order the NBI to commence thorough investigations into alleged death squad killings in Davao City, General Santos City, Digos City, and Tagum City. National-level investigators should be used, and the role of local police and other authorities in such crimes should be a particular focus. And he should order the Commission on Audit to investigate whether public monies have been used directly or indirectly for death squad activities in the aforementioned cities.

Commitment to Reproductive Rights

In the face of vehement opposition from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, President Aquino has remained publicly committed to the reproductive health bill, which aims to provide universal access to contraception and maternal health care. The bill, which goes some way to enhancing protection of sexual and reproductive rights and the right to the highest obtainable standard of health, but still makes abortion a criminal offense, remains before the Congress. The Aquino administration should take the necessary action to lift bans and restrictions on modern contraceptives, such as the Manila City Executive Order and several barangay orders.

Domestic Workers’ Rights at Home and Abroad

The Philippines has long been a leader in advocating for the protection of its migrant workers abroad, including in chairing the final negotiations for the new International Labour Organization Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, adopted on June 16, 2011. President Aquino should commit to protecting the rights of domestic workers both at home and abroad by promptly signing the convention and transmitting it to the Senate for ratification and by finalizing and urging Congress to enact the Domestic Workers’ Bill.

Promoting Human Rights in Burma

When democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest last year, Aquino lauded the move and called for the release of Burma’s remaining 2100 political prisoners and more action towards democratization. Aquino should go further by publicly supporting the establishment of an international Commission of Inquiry into violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in Burma. An international inquiry would be a significant step toward justice.

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US acknowledges Philippine progress in fighting human trafficking Tue, 28 Jun 2011 03:19:23 +0000

The US government has acknowledged progress in the campaign against human trafficking in the Philippines. According to the 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report released yesterday by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Philippines is now off the Tier Watch List and is now on Tier Two. (Visit this site to understand the tier placements.)

Below is a statement released today by the US embassy in Manila:

U.S. Government Acknowledges Philippine Progress in Combating Human Trafficking

The United States officially acknowledged progress made by the Government of the Philippines in combating human trafficking in the 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report that was released by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday, June 27, at approximately 2 p.m. Washington, DC time in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the Department of State.

In the report, the Philippines moved to Tier Two status, indicating progress has been made thanks to government leadership. Tier Two status removes the immediate threat of sanctions but does indicate work needs to continue on this global challenge.

At the event releasing the report, Secretary Clinton presented Attorney Darlene Pajarito, Assistant Zamboanga City Prosecutor, with the State Department’s Global Trafficking in Persons’ Hero Award. Attorney Pajarito successfully prosecuted the first human trafficking case in the Philippines and tried the first labor trafficking prosecution resulting in a conviction.

“We salute President Aquino and Secretary of Justice De Lima for their commitment in this fight. I would also like to commend Zamboanga Prosecutor Attorney Darlene Pajarito for her steadfast advocacy against modern day slavery in the Philippines,” said U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, Jr.

“This is not the end, but rather the beginning of the next phase in our common fight against human trafficking. We applaud the Philippines’ efforts to increase the prosecution of traffickers and to address the corruption that allows this scourge to prosper. While we applaud the successes, we also recognize that much more must be done. The U.S. will continue to be a strong partner to the Philippines in this global fight against modern slavery.

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Are Aquino’s romantic relationships real or imagined? Mon, 27 Jun 2011 21:19:17 +0000

Philippine president Benigno S. Aquino III has unleashed what can be a potentially deadly public-relations storm concerning his love life.

As you probably know, his relationships with women is very much a subject of the news in the Philippines and elsewhere, and for good reason. He is the country’s first bachelor head of state and people are naturally interested in his relationships. And he has had plenty. Or so he tells the public.

The Manila Bulletin published a story a few days ago asking whether Aquino’s love interests are for real or not. The story was based on a video posted online by the president’s office showing Aquino giving a speech on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Department of Budget and Management. The Official Gazette of the president even transcribed the speech and published it on its website. (Thanks to TV5’s Jove Francisco for all these links.)

Benigno Aquino III, Shalani Soledad

Sen. Benigno Aquino III and alleged girlfriend Shalani Soledad on the presidential campaign trail. Pic: AP.

The interesting part of the speech is in Tagalog, which I am pasting below. Keep in mind that the DBM secretary, Butch Abad, is the president’s mentor, close friend and campaign manager.

Paano ho ba natin uumpisahan ito? With your permission, Butch: Si Butch ho kasi, campaign magager ko in two occasions already. And ‘yung kanyang marketing ploy po … para mapakita sa inyo kung gaano ka-creative iyong ating kalihim: Sabi niya kailangang pagusapan ho. Eh wala naman ho kaming pondo. Alam niyo, simula noong napasok ako sa gubyerno, ang litanya ho sa akin, “walang pera.” Ngayon nalang po na Secretary si Butch Abad, ‘pag natanong ko, “Butch, may pera ba tayo?” Mayroon. Basta sinabi niya, mayroon tayo niyan. Aba, iba nga talaga tono ngayon. So noong araw noong tayo’y nasa oposisyon at walang pera, nagisip siya ng paraan, paano ba ako ipakikilala sa taumbayan? So ang ginawa po niya, mayroon pong isang sikat na artistang mangangawit, at awa ng Diyos po ay naging laman kami ng mga ilang tabloid at diyaryo na hindi bababa ng walong buwan. Ako po’y nagtataka, dahil minsan ko lang ho nakilala sa buong buhay ko itong itinutukoy na singer, ay kinalabasan lahat raw ho ng concert pinanood ko, parang nagkakaigihan kami. Basta, walong buwan ho tumatakbo iyan, at ako’y nagtataka na talaga, paano pahahabain ang istorya na walang laman? At noong natapos po—hindi pa ho ako tumatakbo noong panahon na iyon—natuklasan ko kung paano ‘yung pamamaraan. ‘Di umano’y, at wala po akong kinalaman doon, nagpapadala ng bulaklak ang mga … kaibigan nalang … ni Secretary Abad doon sa babaeng kinaukulan. At tinanggap naman po. At kada bigay niya ng bulaklak, dagdag nanaman ng istorya doon sa aming paguugnayan na hindi naman po nangyari talaga. Sabi ko, “Butch, ang galing mo gumawa ng fiction, dapat naging manunulat ka nalang.”

In a nutshell, Aquino revealed a strategy by Abad to keep Aquino in the headlines, to introduce him to the public during the campaign for the 2010 elections. What Abad did, the president said, was feed the tabloids and the rest of the press with the gossip that Aquino and a popular singer were dating. Abad even sent flowers to the singer under Aquino’s name, the president said, keeping news of the “affair” going and ensuring that Aquino remained in the papers.

“I said, ‘Butch, you are good at creating fiction. You should be a writer’,” Aquino said in his speech.

The president has had several supposedly romantic liaisons since then, which the media has meticulously reported, to the point that Aquino had been complaining about the attention his dating had been getting.

So now the question is, as the Manila Bulletin aptly put it, are those relationships for real or are they fiction designed to  keep the rumor mills turning?

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Philippines: A rules-based regime in the South China Sea Mon, 27 Jun 2011 01:34:51 +0000

Albert F. Del Rosario, the secretary of the Philippines’s Department of Foreign Affairs, recently circulated an op-ed piece that aims to put in perspective his country’s position on the South China Sea dispute. I am reprinting the piece in full for the benefit of those who have been following this issue in this space.

A rules-based regime in the South China Sea

By Albert F. Del Rosario

The rule of law is the bedrock of peace, order and fairness in modern societies. The rise of a rules-based international system has been the great equalizer in global affairs. Respect and adherence to international law have preserved peace and resolved conflicts. International law has given equal voice to nations regardless of political, economic or military stature, banishing the unlawful use of sheer force.

Nowhere is the pursuit and promotion of a rules-based international system more germane, than in the definition and the protection of the integrity of the territory of a country. An established and well-defined territory, terrestrial or maritime, is a sine qua non for the existence of any nation-state. In a global community of complementing and competing interests, a rules-based international system bestows clarity, definitiveness and legitimacy to territorial claims.

Where there are disputes, rules provide an effective tool for peaceful and fair resolution.

Not since the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef incident in 1995 has the Philippines faced serious challenges in the West Philippine Sea, otherwise known as the South China Sea (SCS). For instance, our ownership of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) features and our legitimate maritime jurisdictions have been contested by certain nations, even as the Philippines’ sovereignty and jurisdiction over the KIG are firmly grounded on international law.

A rules-based approach therefore provides the key to securing our claims and advancing the peaceful settlement of disputes for all in the SCS.

For the Philippines, certainly, the primacy of international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), is the cornerstone on which we define and protect our territory and maritime entitlements in the SCS. It is this principle and the requirements of UNCLOS that governed the passage in 2009 of the Philippine Archipelagic Baselines Law (R.A. 9522).

The same principles underpin the two vital pieces of proposed legislation defining our maritime zones and archipelagic sea lanes which have been certified as urgent by President Benigno S. Aquino III.

International law is also the guidepost by which the Philippines engages parties — claimants and non-claimants alike — towards a peaceful and just resolution of disputes and the guarantee of freedom of navigation in the SCS.

This same pursuit of a rules-based system was behind the adoption of the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DoC).

Paragraph 5 of the DoC provides that “the Parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.” It is noted that this very provision is being aggressively violated.

Under the DoC, the Parties also affirmed the need for a binding Code of Conduct (CoC) and agreed to work towards its realization. A CoC would concretely express our collective goal for rules-based actions by all concerned Parties.

To reinforce this goal, we offer a framework that transforms the SCS from an area of dispute to a Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship, and Cooperation (ZoPFF/C) by a segregation of disputed relevant features from the undisputed waters of the SCS consistent with UNCLOS. In the words of President Aquino, ZoPFF/C is a modality for ensuring that “what is ours is ours, and with what is disputed, we can work towards joint cooperation.”

For example, Recto (Reed) Bank is part of the continental shelf of the western coast of Palawan Province in the Philippines. It is about 85 nautical miles from the nearest coast of Palawan and therefore well within the 200 nautical miles Continental Shelf of the Philippine archipelago under UNCLOS. In contrast, it is roughly 595 nautical miles from the nearest coast of China. This means that the Philippines has unequivocal sovereign rights over Recto (Reed) Bank.

Since the Recto (Reed) Bank is ours, it can only be exclusively developed by the Philippines. The Philippines may however invite foreign investors to assist in developing the area in accordance with Philippine laws.

The disputed features, on the other hand, can be transformed into a Joint Cooperation Area for joint development and the establishment of a marine protected area for biodiversity conservation under ZoPFF/C.

We are confident that ZoPFF/C represents an important contribution to securing peace, stability and progress in the SCS within a rule-of-law framework, and that the concept deserves serious and favorable consideration by countries with stakes in the SCS.

The Philippines’ policy in the SCS, both with respect to securing its terrestrial and maritime domain and to advocating dispute resolution and joint cooperation where applicable, is grounded on an unwavering adherence to international law. Since international law must be observed, it behooves the Philippines to embrace this imperative to the fullest.

We expect nothing less from our international partners.

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ICRC: No grounds can ever justify torture Mon, 27 Jun 2011 01:24:01 +0000

To mark the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the ICRC is reaffirming its strong commitment to the fight against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. To this end, it is unveiling its new operational policy on this all too widespread practice. Edouard Delaplace, who advises the organization’s Geneva-based Unit for Persons Deprived of Liberty, explains in this Q&A provided by the ICRC what the ICRC’s approach aims to achieve.

What is the ICRC’s position on torture?

The ICRC’s position is very clear. Torture constitutes an intolerable outrage upon the victims themselves and upon human dignity. It is and must be prohibited absolutely. This is not only a reflection of the law – it is first and foremost our profound conviction based on ethical considerations and a sense of humanity. No grounds, be they political, economic, cultural or religious, can justify torture or other forms of ill-treatment. Nor can torture be justified on the grounds of national security.

After more than a century of visits to detainees, the ICRC possesses a large body of knowledge on the subject of torture. In recent years, over 500,000 people have been visited by the ICRC in some 80 countries. Every day we see the distress and dehumanization of thousands of people who have been physically and mentally damaged, sometimes beyond repair. It is this firsthand contact with torture victims that has forged our conviction and strengthened our will to fight actively against this scourge.

We also need to bear in mind that torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment carry within them seeds of destruction that can attack the very social fabric of a community or a society. Finally, torture constitutes a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and the international law of human rights.

Is torture becoming less widespread? What are your observations?

Unfortunately not. It is very widespread. There is no country, no society today that is entirely immune from this phenomenon in one form or another. In some cases, we may be talking about a single isolated act in a police station or a prison, and in others a systematic, institutionalized practice. But whatever form it takes, it is a major source of concern for the ICRC.

It is very difficult to find figures that give an accurate picture of the scale of the phenomenon. Nevertheless, in 2009, the ICRC published the results of a survey carried out in eight of the countries most affected by armed conflict or other armed violence – Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Georgia, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia and the Philippines – to try to understand the impact on civilians. Of the respondents who had themselves suffered violence, 17% said that they had been tortured. We cannot extrapolate this figure, but it does give an idea of the prevalence of torture in periods of armed conflict.

What is the main focus of the ICRC’s response to torture and ill-treatment?

The battle against torture is a priority for the ICRC. We have just finished reviewing the framework in which we operate (ICRC policy on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment inflicted on persons deprived of their liberty ) in which we reaffirm the ICRC’s commitment, consolidate practices developed in recent years and suggest new approaches for our work.

Our aim is to protect and assist victims of ill-treatment and their families. They are the ultimate beneficiaries of our efforts.

One new initiative is the ICRC’s work, carried out in partnership with other organizations, in the field of rehabilitation for victims of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Further examples are the support given by the ICRC to national authorities to help them improve the practices of their officials regarding detainees, and the ICRC’s efforts to help create and bolster a legal, organizational and ethical environment conducive to the prevention of torture at national and even local level, as well as on a regional and international scale.

Practically speaking, what does the ICRC do to help torture victims?

The ICRC’s work is based on the visits it makes to people deprived of their liberty to assess the conditions in which they are held and the way they are being treated.

We know that it is at the time of arrest and in the days that follow that people face the highest risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and the aim of the ICRC’s visits is to protect detainees. Of course, our presence alone is not always enough to stop or prevent ill-treatment. But people in detention often tell us that these visits provide them with a welcome respite.

For men and women detainees who have been tortured, a visit by an ICRC delegate provides reassurance that someone recognizes their existence and their suffering. Helping those people recover a sense of their dignity by speaking to them, giving them time and attention, is the first thing an ICRC delegate when he meets someone who is in prison. The ICRC’s visits can also be an opportunity for a man or woman who has suffered ill-treatment to see a doctor who may be able to give information about the possible effects.

These visits also enable the ICRC to provide detainees with services such as an opportunity to contact loved ones and exchange news with them through “Red Cross messages”.

Outside places of detention, the ICRC intends to act more consistently and on a greater scale to offer victims rehabilitation. It is increasing working with organizations that specialize in this field.

In recent years, we have seen a rise in international terrorism and a proliferation and radicalization of armed conflicts. Have these factors given rise to greater tolerance of torture?

The debate on torture regularly emerges into the public arena. It has probably rarely met with as much interest as in the last decade, particularly in the Western world, where it has also been amplified by virtually unlimited real-time access to information. In an environment marked by the radicalization of conflicts, resistance to anything that can be perceived as interference in the domestic affairs of States, and international cooperation in the fight against terrorism, we have seen people put forward once again the old argument that torture works and that it is the price to be paid for our security. This is a utilitarian argument that totally negates the value of the individual human being.

The question as to the legitimacy of torture forces all of us, both as individuals and as a society, to face up to hard questions of an ethical nature. What importance should we attach to protecting the dignity of people deprived of their freedom? Is it conceivable that the safety of the individual and the community can be preserved by a system that fails to protect the dignity of the individual, be he a suspected terrorist, a political dissident, a drug trafficker, a common criminal or simply a person going about his business?

The law has provided a clear answer to these questions. The prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is absolute. And the ICRC intends to go on affirming and defending that absolute prohibition.

The subject nevertheless remains highly emotive. The changing environment has prompted us to revisit our answers and look for new ones, based on the law but also going beyond the law. It is precisely by being mindful of the challenges of the current environment that we can shore up the prohibition on torture and better protect people deprived of their liberty.

How can the ICRC help eradicate torture? Can you give us a few examples?

Torture is an extremely complex phenomenon. Its prevalence or otherwise may be influenced by a wide range of factors involving individuals, the law, the mechanisms of governance, and ethical convictions.

The ICRC takes a comprehensive approach, the primary aim of which is to provide victims with protection, assistance and rehabilitation. At the same time, however, it helps to create a legal, institutional and ethical environment conducive to stopping these practices, and where such an environment already exists, to bolster it.

In terms of the legal environment, the ICRC tries to ensure that the prohibition on torture and other forms of ill-treatment becomes an integral part of national constitutions and that these rules are incorporated at the various levels concerned. For example, the rules on use of force by law-enforcement officers, or the professional ethical codes of lawyers, judges and doctors, should reflect the prohibition of ill-treatment and the need to actively prevent it.

When it comes to the institutional environment, if we want to prevent torture, we need to have monitoring and disciplinary measures in place. Monitoring and observation mechanisms may take the form of visits by an NGO or support from the legal profession. At the same time, violators must be prosecuted and punished through mechanisms such as internal disciplinary enquiries in the police force, the courts and the army. And these need to be effective. The ICRC works to strengthen these mechanisms.

Bolstering the ethical environment is perhaps the biggest challenge of all. Where certain values are not deeply rooted in society, it will be much more difficult to have an impact on the phenomenon of ill-treatment. For the ICRC, ethical arguments should therefore be at the forefront. It is vital to be able to influence the debate on torture if we are to have a chance of making a real impact.

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US interests in South China Sea dispute Wed, 22 Jun 2011 23:30:04 +0000

One of the most important elements in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea crisis is the involvement of the United States. More specifically, with its allies calling on Washington to step in, what exactly would the US do?

In previous incidents, America has made clear its position on the South China Sea dispute, arguing mainly that the issue has more to do with “freedom of navigation” than anything else, which is the Americans’ way of saying that Beijing has gone out of line by trying to restrict this freedom through its incursions and tenuous claims of sovereignty over certain areas. Washington’s language on the dispute so far has been couched in diplomatese, so much so that it is often difficult to ascertain exactly where its sympathies lie.

There have been some calls from various officials and sectors for Washington to finally make clear its position or to publicly declare a position stronger than what has emanated from the state department. Republic Senator John McCain urged exactly the same thing this week, warning that a flashpoint is already in the making in the region.

But Walter Lohman, the director of the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation in the US, is more specific. He writes in The Heritage Foundation’s website that the US should “stand by” its allies in the Philippines.

Ambassador Harry Thomas’s recent assurances regarding the continued relevance of the U.S.–Philippines treaty alliance is a welcome demonstration of resolve. When Philippines Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario visits Washington this week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should make a similar strong statement. And she should, on behalf of President Obama, extend an invitation to President Aquino to make a full state visit to Washington before the end of the year.

It is important to point out that, as with any crisis in other parts of the world, America will only act based on its interests. With this in mind, Lohman also outlines what he called “American priorities” in the South China Sea dispute, pointing out that “the security situation in the South China Sea is deteriorating in a way unseen since the mid-1990s. And given the growth in China’s military power and global influence since then, it is a much bigger problem for the United States. China’s challenge in the South China Sea — its expansive extralegal claims to maritime territory — demands a strong, clear, interest-based response.”

And these interests are, according to Lohman, 1) freedom of the seas, 2) keeping its commitment to its ally the Philippines based on the Mutual Defense Treaty between the two nations, and 3) peace and security in the sea lanes.

To protect these interests, Lohman writes, Washington should continue its naval operations in the South China Sea; stand by the Philippines; to not “rush to judgment on ratification” of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which the Philippines invokes but China ignores, because that could backfire against US interest in case the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea decides against UNCLOS; consider the value of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s proposal to “facilitate initiatives and confidence building measures” in the dispute.

“Her move hints at something more important than simple geopolitical jockeying. The U.S. is perfectly placed to mediate solutions: It has no stake in the territorial dispute itself, and its core interests are in keeping with the broader interests of the region,” Lohman writes.

He warns that, because the “the intersection of US and Chinese interests in the region and beyond is very narrow,” maintaining a “positive relationship” with Beijing “is not worth jeopardizing America’s real interests at stake: freedom of the seas, commitment to treaty allies, and peace and security in the Pacific.”

Given the credibility of The Heritage Foundation among Washington policymakers, I have no doubt that Lohman’s suggestion will be heeded. If so, it might seem like the US seeks to protect tiny nations such as the Philippines from a bully like China but make no mistake: history shows that America only acts to protect its own interests.

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Asia’s top security threats Wed, 22 Jun 2011 02:21:01 +0000

I’m reprinting in full a commentary by Dr. Denny Roy, senior research fellow at the East-West Center in Hawaii. Roy is the author of “The Pacific War and its Political Legacies.”

Asia’s top security threats

By Denny Roy

In recent decades, East Asia has commanded increasing international attention as the center of world economic growth. The regional peace upon which that prosperity rests, however, is fragile.

Although there has been no major war for decades, several simmering conflicts have the potential to boil over into larger clashes with regional, if not global, consequences. Here is a summary, in my view, of the top five security threats in the region:

#1 North Korea
The Kim dynasty, soon to enter its third generation, is trapped between economic stagnation and the fear that reform will lead to overthrow of the regime. North Korea’s survival strategy of acquiring nuclear weapons and demonstrating a willingness to fight has made reconciliation with South Korea and the U.S. nearly impossible. In the meantime, the danger persists that Pyongyang will spark a war either by carrying out one too many acts of provocation against South Korea, or by providing nuclear material to a state or group that is hostile to the United States.

#2 U.S.-China friction
The U.S. is still the most influential power in Asia and the Pacific, and wants to keep it that way. China is a rising power that wants more of a say in the conduct of regional affairs. Managing this transition peacefully will require U.S. willingness to accommodate some of China’s demands and Chinese willingness to be patient. This will not be easy for either government, especially under the pressure of public opinion. One particular rubber-meets-the-road issue is U.S. Navy surveillance near the Chinese coast; China insists that it must stop, while the Navy insists it will go to the mat to defend the principle of freedom of the seas.

#3 South China Sea territorial disputes
China, Vietnam and four other countries are involved in disputes over ownership of a number of small islets, reefs and rocks in the South China Sea, which are important because they anchor claims to fisheries and seabed fossil fuel resources. China’s claims are the most expansive and the least clear. In 2010, China perceived that Vietnam was growing bolder in its moves to recover resources in disputed areas and that the U.S. had intervened on Vietnam’s side. This produced an alarming outburst from Beijing, and recent weeks have brought even more escalating rhetoric and nationalist public demonstrations on both sides. Meanwhile, China is steadily building its capacity to seize and hold disputed islands, including plans to deploy its first aircraft carrier.

#4 Taiwan
Cross-Strait relations are much calmer since pro-independence Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian was succeed in 2008 by Ma Ying-jeou, who supports the principle that Taiwan is part of China. The economic relationship is booming, and Beijing hopes this will lead to political unification. Ma, however, has no interest in negotiating political issues with Beijing and insists that Taiwan must continue to buy arms from the U.S. China’s patience has limits, and Chinese missiles are still aimed at Taiwan. In addition, the pro-independence opposition party has a chance to get back into power in the January 2012 election. Thus, the real problems have been kicked down the road rather than solved.

#5 Japan’s strategic future
Lacking resources or a large population, Japan is a medium-sized power. Its historical rival China, by contrast, is growing fast and seems to have almost limitless potential. If China becomes the strongest power in the region, Tokyo will face the choice of sticking with the U.S. alliance (assuming that option is still available) or appeasing China, which would mean Beijing would have veto power over major Japanese policies. The Chinese would certainly demand the expulsion of U.S. bases.

The Japanese have aligned with Britain and the United States in the past, but they clearly are not comfortable with the idea of submitting to domination by an authoritarian country they perceive as anti-Japanese. The outcome could conceivably be a nuclear-armed Japan and a Sino-Japanese cold war.

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South China Sea crisis a chance for ASEAN to prove its worth Wed, 22 Jun 2011 02:08:55 +0000

The escalating tension in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) is a test, yet again, of the relevance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). If this bloc plays its ball right and resolve the conflict of several of its members with China, it will cement its raison d’etre and disabuse people of the notion that it is nothing but an elite club of presidents and ambassadors.

Experts and officials agree that ASEAN plays a key role in diffusing the tension and resolving the conflict.  If the ASEAN “wants to be at the center of its security universe, then it must be willing to confront difficult security situations such as the overlapping claims in the South China Sea,” says Mohd Nizam Basiron of the Maritime Institute of Malaysia.

Indonesia, the current chair of the ASEAN, has urged all parties to go back to the Declaration of the Conduct (DOC) on Parties, a document signed by the ASEAN member countries and China in 2002. “An escalation of a number of incidents in South China Sea highlights how important it is for ASEAN and China to immediately wrap up guidelines on the implementation of DOC so all principles that have been agreed on can be fully implemented,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Michael Tene recently told The Jakarta Post.

Pic: AP.

As Tene’s statement implies, these guidelines have not been completed, and this indicates a problem within the ASEAN. While united, divisions within the bloc remains, no doubt complicated by the bilateral relationships China has with each of the members.

But more than this lack of guidelines, I think the problem lies with China’s overall belligerent and arrogant behavior toward the ASEAN countries involved that defies what the DOC stands for.

The DOC was signed in Phnom Penh in 2002 by the foreign ministers of the ASEAN member states and Wang Yi, the vice foreign minister of China. The DOC is rather straightforward in laying out its principles, as you shall find here.

A key element in the DOC is the repeated assertion that all parties shall respect and recognize the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Below are the DOC’s 10 declarations:

1. The Parties reaffirm their commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, and other universally recognized principles of international law which shall serve as the basic norms governing state-to-state relations;
2. The Parties are committed to exploring ways for building trust and confidence in accordance with the above-mentioned principles and on the basis of equality and mutual respect;
3. The Parties reaffirm their respect for and commitment to the freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea as provided for by the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea;
4. The Parties concerned undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea;
5. The Parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.
Pending the peaceful settlement of territorial and jurisdictional disputes, the Parties concerned undertake to intensify efforts to seek ways, in the spirit of cooperation and understanding, to build trust and confidence between and among them, including:
a. holding dialogues and exchange of views as appropriate between their defense and military officials;
b. ensuring just and humane treatment of all persons who are either in danger or in distress;
c. notifying, on a voluntary basis, other Parties concerned of any impending joint/combined  military exercise; and
d. exchanging, on a voluntary basis, relevant information.
6. Pending a comprehensive and durable settlement of the disputes, the Parties concerned may explore or undertake cooperative activities. These may include the following:
a. marine environmental protection;
b. marine scientific research;
c. safety of navigation and communication at sea;
d. search and rescue operation; and
e. combating transnational crime, including but not limited to trafficking in illicit drugs, piracy and armed robbery at sea, and illegal traffic in arms.
The modalities, scope and locations, in respect of bilateral and multilateral cooperation should be agreed upon by the Parties concerned prior to their actual implementation.
7. The Parties concerned stand ready to continue their consultations and dialogues concerning relevant issues, through modalities to be agreed by them, including regular consultations on the observance of this Declaration, for the purpose of promoting good neighbourliness and transparency, establishing harmony, mutual understanding and cooperation, and facilitating peaceful resolution of disputes among them;
8. The Parties undertake to respect the provisions of this Declaration and take actions consistent therewith;
9. The Parties encourage other countries to respect the principles contained in this Declaration;
10. The Parties concerned reaffirm that the adoption of a code of conduct in the South China Sea would further promote peace and stability in the region and agree to work, on the basis of consensus,  towards the eventual attainment of this objective.

And below are paragraphs from a story quoting Liu Jianchao, China’s ambassador to the Philippines.

China does not agree entirely with the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas. Liu said the convention is only a “useful tool for the organization and management of territories, but not for the regulation of countries’ territorial disputes.”

The Philippines has cited the UNCLOS and the effective distances for the basis of its claim over the islands.

To this, Liu said UNCLOS “does not deny historical title” of China over the contested area. “We must interpret UNCLOS in comprehensiveness,” he said.

Clearly, what matters to Beijing is that it gets away with what it wants and that everything has to be on its own terms. This is typical behavior of a bully.

Can the ASEAN tame this bully? That remains to be seen. But it has to try and stand up for its members. It has to invoke the DOC and insist that Beijing respect it, guidelines or no guidelines. It has a chance here to prove its mettle, if not its worth.

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