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Comfortable life for all Pinoys still Duterte’s top priority

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A COMFORTABLE LIFE FOR ALL FILIPINOS

From the signing of anti-poverty laws to chastising water concessionaires, President Rodrigo Duterte marked the year fulfilling his campaign promise to bring a “comfortable life” to all Filipinos with only over two years left until he steps down in 2022.

The Duterte administration’s efforts to significantly cut down poverty rates are moving full steam with the signing of laws such as the Magna Carta of the Poor.

Before the law was signed, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that some 5.9 million Filipinos were pulled out of poverty in 2018, as poverty incidence fell to 16.6 percent from 23.3 percent in 2015.

At this rate of development, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said it is “possible for poverty incidence to further drop to “10 to 12 percent” by 2022, which is slightly lower compared to the current administration’s target to bring it down by 14 percent by the end of Duterte’s term.

“With the continued adoption of the DutertEnomics and socio-economic reforms, the poverty rate will be continuously reduced,” Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar said in a statement.

The Magna Carta of the Poor (Republic Act No. 11291), signed on April 12 mandates the State “to adopt an area-based, sectoral and focused intervention to poverty alleviation where every poor Filipino must be empowered to meet the minimum basic need through the partnership of the Government and the basic sectors”.

Duterte also signed on April 17 an act institutionalizing the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) (R.A. No. 11310), the national poverty reduction strategy and human capital investment program that provides conditional cash transfer to poor households for a maximum period of seven years to improve the health, nutrition and education aspects of their lives.

Accessible social services

To ensure that every Filipino, especially, the poor have equal access to quality healthcare, Duterte signed the Universal Healthcare Act of 2019 (R.A. 11223) which automatically enrolls all Filipinos under the government’s health insurance program.

Under the law, coverage will be expanded to include free consultation fees, laboratory tests, and other diagnostic services.

Duterte also signed into law a bill (R.A. 11210) that extends the maternity leave of female workers in the country from 60 to 105 days with full pay.

All working mothers in the government and private sector are guaranteed with 105 days of paid maternity leave credits, with 7 days transferable to fathers while an additional 15 days of paid leave will be granted to single mothers, according to the law.

Complementing these measures is the Malasakit Center Law (R.A. 11463), which expands the accessibility to the government’s medical and financial healthcare services’ through the Malasakit Centers, that will be built in all public hospitals in the country.

To cut bureaucratic red tape in government, Duterte also ordered state offices to finish all transactions in just hours.

For the farmers

To open up the country’s rice market, Duterte signed the Rice Tariffication Law (R.A. 11203) on February to switch the current quota system in importing rice into a tariff system, where rice can be imported more freely.

On November, Duterte ordered the National Food Authority (NFA) to increase the country’s emergency buffer stock from 15 days to 30 days by buying more palay (unhusked rice) from farmers and help them cope up with higher price of palay.

The country’s rice industry is expected to thrive with the implementation of the programs under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), a component under the Rice Tariffication Law aimed at making Filipino farmers more efficient and productive so they can compete with their counterparts in Southeast Asia.

Under the Duterte administration, some 120,889 hectares of land have been distributed while farmers with machinery, seeds and farm animals to maximize the use of agrarian lands.

Duterte also issued Executive Order No. 75 mandating all government agencies to identify government-owned lands suitable for agriculture for distribution.

Easing traffic

Refusing to beg Congress for emergency powers, Duterte said he would rather allow EDSA to rot if some lawmakers insinuated that he would use it for corruption.

In June, Duterte promised to cut travel time from Makati and Edsa to five minutes by yearend but was unable to do so.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, however, said failure to fulfill Duterte’s promise does not mean it was not attainable under the current administration.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) and other concerned state agencies have been ordered to introduce innovations to ease traffic congestion in the country’s metropolis.

Among others, the Duterte government’s ambitious “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program is seen as a solution to address traffic congestion in Metro Manila.

Around PHP9 trillion has been earmarked for the implementation of around 100 big-ticket infrastructure projects and over 10,000 small infrastructure projects under the “Build, Build, Build” program.

Invoking the arbitral ruling

After temporarily shelving the arbitral ruling in 2016 to give way to friendlier relations between the Philippines and China, Duterte finally invoked the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling won by the Philippines against China during his visit to Beijing on Aug. 29.

Despite having raised the arbitral ruling while discussing concerns on the West Philippine Sea, Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirmed China’s position that it is not recognizing the ruling.

Duterte maintained his position to push for its claims in the disputed waters, but maintained that the issue should not be the sum total of the relationships between the two countries.

Aside from the arbitral ruling, Duterte also brought up the 60-40 sharing arrangement on the proposed joint exploration for oil and gas in the West Philippine Sea.

The June 9 Recto Bank (Reed Bank) maritime incident where a Chinese vessel allegedly rammed and abandoned a Philippine fishing boat at sea was also discussed in the meeting between the two leaders.

Panelo has insisted that holding bilateral negotiations between the Philippines and China is currently the “most effective” way to resolve the dispute over the West Philippine Sea.

Water woes

Alleged “onerous” provisions found in water concession agreements entered into by government with Maynilad and Manila Water angered Duterte, who refused to allow the government to pay the two water firms for damages.

Duterte began questioning the alleged onerous provisions after the Singapore-based Permanent Court of Arbitration issued separate decisions, compelling the Philippine government in 2017 to pay PHP3.4 billion to Maynilad and in November 2019 to compensate PHP7.39 billion to Manila Water for the losses the two firms allegedly suffered due to non-implementation of increases in water rates.

Saying the water deals “mirror” the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Law or Republic Act 3019, Duterte threatened to sue them for economic sabotage.

Duterte asked the Department of Justice and Office of the Solicitor General to craft new water concession agreements that are “favorable to the State and the Filipino people” and also floated the idea of ordering the military to take over the operations of the two water concessionaires.

The Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) had revoked the approved 15-year extension of concession agreements with Manila Water and Maynilad that are supposed to expire in 2037 which means the two firms only have until 2022 to operate since the 2009 resolution extending the 25-year concession deals signed in 1997 is considered ineffective.

The President will make a major announcement in relation to the alleged onerous contracts on Jan. 6, 2020, according to Malacañang.

Peace talks situation

Duterte permanently terminated the government’s peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) on March 18 saying the communist guerillas could talk peace with his successor instead.

The CPP-New People’s Army (NPA) has been tagged as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

Duterte later created a new panel, to include representatives from different sectoral groups, local government units, and the military, to supervise localized peace engagements.

The Retooled Community Support Program is continuously being implemented in areas with vulnerable populations to ensure the improved delivery of basic services.

However, Duterte on Dec. 5 bared that he has directed former government chief negotiator and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello to talk peace with CPP founder Jose “Maria” Sison hopeful to re-open negotiations with CPP’s political wing, the National Democratic Front (NDF).

Bello said that peace talks could resume by the second or third week of January 2020, but the government and the communist rebels have yet to agree on the negotiation’s venue.

No 4th Martial law

Despite possible attacks by communist guerillas in the future, Duterte, on Dec. 10, backed security officials’ recommendation not to extend the martial law, following the weakening of the terrorist and extremist rebellion.

Even without martial law in place, Duterte was optimistic that the state forces can maintain peace and order in Southern Philippines.

To recall, Duterte placed the whole of Mindanao under military rule on May 23, 2017 after the Islamic State-inspired Maute group laid siege in Marawi City in Lanao de Sur province.

Congress extended the initial 60-day martial rule three times upon the President’s recommendation to help state forces quell the insurgency in Mindanao.

Security officials, however, are counting on proposed amendments to the Human Security Act of 2007 to give them more teeth to fight terrorism.

Among the proposed amendments to this law include increasing the number of days a suspected terrorist can be detained from the current three days and to allow regional trial courts to issue authorizations and to wiretap suspects from 30 days to 60 days or longer (PNA)

Philippines, Chinese companies sign multi-billion worth of projects

HAINAN, China–President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday, April 10, witnessed the signing of agreements between the Philippines and several Chinese companies wanting to invest in the country.

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The business agreements have an estimated investment value of around $9 billion and could employ around 10,000 workers.

“I thank everyone for joining the event. The Philippines welcome responsible foreign investors as new partners in building the Philippine economy,” President Duterte said in a speech after the signing ceremony.

“I express happiness at the signing of the MOUs and LOIs between the Philippine and Chinese companies and to welcome the growing partnership between the Philippines and China.”

The President said he hopes for a more robust and healthy balance of trade between China and the Philippines in the coming years as the two countries continue to enhance and increase trade links.

Economic cooperation in areas of agriculture, fisheries, infrastructure and public works, energy, trade, e-commerce, industrial park development, MSMEs, processing, manufacturing and tourism is of major importance, the President said.

The President also acknowledged the job opportunities to be created by Chinese investments now and in the coming years as he promised to maintain good governance in the country to attract more investors.

“Allow me to mention again the efforts to improve the climate of doing business, to promote ease of doing business and to show the goodwill and sincerity of my country vis-a-vis with our new relationship with China,” he told Chinese businessmen.

“I emphasize the Philippines’ commitment to address corruption, that corruption will not be tolerated under my watch.”

Among the agreements signed Tuesday include the exploration opportunities on land reclamation and development by Shanghai GeoHarbour Group, building and operation of LNG receiving terminal by Jovo Group Co. Ltd, development of large tourism projects, electronics industry parts by Zhongfa Group, and infrastructure and construction project and thermal power supply by Haocheng Group.

China Green Agriculture Group also intends to explore agriculture and tourism opportunities in cooperation with the Philippines’ Calata Corp.

Other Chinese companies wanting to invest in the country are East-Cloud Biz Travel Ltd, which wants to venture in the tourism sector; China National Heavy Machinery Corp. for the development of China-Philippines International Techno-Industrial Zone; Shanghai Shinehigh Biotechnology Ltd and Zhejang Dongyang Chemical Co. Ltd for the establishment of pharmaceutical factory; and Sino BMG for the putting up of an aerated concrete block production facility in the Philippines. ###PND

China’s Xi Jinping greets Duterte on his birthday

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Chinese President Xi Jinping extended his best wishes to President Rodrigo R. Duterte who will celebrate his 73rd birthday on Wednesday, March 28.

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In his congratulatory letter sent through the Chinese Embassy in Manila, Xi said China and the Philippines over the past few years have experienced a turnaround in its relations, which he described as being further “consolidated and deepened.”

“Our bilateral relations have enjoyed ongoing betterment and improvement and reaped productive outcomes, which brought tangible benefits to our two peoples and promoted peace and stability of the region,” he said.

“We have met with each other on quite a few occasions and we reached important consensus on advancing China-Philippines relations and deepening practical cooperation, and set the course for the future growth of our bilateral relations,” he added.

Xi said he links the “great significance” to the growth of China-Philippines relations under the current administration, noting he is ready to work with the Duterte “to carry forward sustained and in-depth growth of China-Philippines relations and bring about more benefits to our countries and peoples.”

The two leaders first met in October 2016 during President Duterte’s state visit to Beijing.

The two nations have since established its renewed relations after the meeting which was followed by a series of engagement from both the two governments. (PNA)

TERRORISTS CUT SHORT DUTERTE RUSSIAN VISIT

PRESIDENT DECLARES MARTIAL LAW IN MINDANAO

The siege of Marawi City on May 23 by the terrorist Maute Group has prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to cut his scheduled May 23-26 official visit in Russia aimed to bolster trade and diplomatic relations with the communist country.

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Now in Russia, Duterte is flying back to the Philippines and will arrive late afternoon today, May 24, as government forces battle out the terrorists who occupied and burned government and private establishments in the western city of Mindanao.

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Duterte has declared martial law in the country’s volatile island of Mindanao, home to various terror groups that continue to shatter peace and order and  impede the island’s economic development .

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In Davao City, the President’s home city, presidential daughter Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio advised prospective visitors and tourists to cancel their trips to the city over fears the violence in Marawi could spill over to Davao City.

DUTERTE TO BUILD STRONGER RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA

DUTERTE RUSSIABY LILIAN MELLEJOR

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to build stronger ties with Russia, noting that there were “missed opportunities in the 40-year bilateral relations with that country due to the Philippines’ overdependence on its traditional partners.”

Leading a high-level delegation of representatives from the government and business sectors, Duterte left the Davao International Airport Monday afternoon, May 22, with the hope of bolstering Philippines-Russia relations during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

In his departure speech, Duterte said the “overdependence on traditional partners limited little room to maneuver in a very dynamic international arena.” Duterte is visiting Russia upon the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin from May 22 to 26.

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PRRD welcomed in Moscow by Deputy FM Igor Vladimirovich Morgulov

 

“This is a strategic oversight that has led to many missed opportunities for our country. I am determined to correct this,” he said, adding that while the relations of both countries opened 40 years ago, it has opened “slightly.”

“There is much room to develop mutually beneficial cooperation. There are many opportunities that needed to be explored. Now we can work together to open those doors even wider.

The President underscored the need to broaden the prospects of friendship and cooperation with other nations.

“Russia is a country that we must work with. There are opportunities for cooperation that cannot be ignored. With [its] geographic footprint in the Asia-Pacific region and its strategic interests in the region, a positive engagement is required to find areas of synergies in interests,” the President stressed.

His visit, Duterte said, is an offshoot of his talk with President Putin during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting last year, where they agreed to boost their bilateral relations.

According to the President, Russia must cease to be at the margins of Philippine diplomacy. “My administration will give [Philippines-Russia] relations the importance commensurate to its full potential. We will push for pragmatic engagement in the politico-security sphere, increased economic cooperation, and enhanced cultural and people-to-people exchanges,” he said.

During his meeting with President Putin and Premier Medvedev, Duterte said they will discuss ways of charting the future direction of “our partnership across many areas.”

“[We will] exchange views [on] regional and international issues to determine how we can best advance our shared interests,” he said.

The President will also be meeting business leaders in Russia with the aim of sustaining the Philippines economic growth and seek responsible economic partners who will become the country’s new allies in development.

It is my hope that this official visit will lay the firm foundation for a robust, comprehensive, and mutually-beneficial Philippines–Russia partnership, he said.

For a long time, the United States is one of the Philippines’ traditional partners.

Earlier, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ma. Cleofe Natividad said the visit of the President will send a strong message of the Philippines’ commitment to seek new partnerships and strengthen relations with non-traditional partners such as Russia.

Natividad said Duterte’s visit in Russia will be substantive. Aside from the President’s meeting with President Putin and Medvedev, there will be several bilateral agreements which are expected to be signed. These agreements are related to defense, security, legal assistance, trade and investment, peaceful use of nuclear energy and culture.

Natividad said the President is also going to deliver a policy speech at the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations or the MGIMO, where Duterte will articulate his administration’s commitment to pursue an independent foreign policy that is anchored foremost on national interest considerations.

MGIMO is an elite institution for diplomatic training and international relations.

There is also a need for Philippines and Russia to explore the many untapped opportunities for mutually beneficial economic relations.

According to Natividad, Russian investments in the Philippines are modest. The bilateral trade is also an area that needs improvement.

Natividad cited the bilateral trade in 2016 totaled only to USD 226 million, with the Philippines exporting only PHP49 million worth of goods to Russia.

Natividad revealed that Russian investments in the Philippines are still miniscule and Russian tourist arrivals in the Philippines are at around 38,000 only, still way below that of many ASEAN countries. (PNA)

President Duterte off to Middle East, April 10

duterte-malacanangBy Lilian  Mellejor

President Rodrigo Duterte will fly out from Davao City  on April 10,  Monday, for a one-week official visit to the Middle East to strengthen partnerships with the Gulf States and promote the welfare of overseas Filipino workers there.

The President is expected to leave Monday afternoon for Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of Bahrain and the State of Qatar, where over a million Filipinos are working.

President Duterte will be meeting His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he will stay from April 10 to 12, according to an advisory from Malacañang’s Media Accreditation and Relations Office (MARO).

The Chief Executive will then proceed to Manama, Bahrain on April 12 to 14 to meet His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the advisory said.

President Duterte would also visit Doha, Qatar from April 14 to 16 to meet with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, MARO said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs earlier announced that the State Visit to the Middle East is aimed to strengthen efforts for the protection of the rights and promotion of the welfare of the more than one million Filipinos in those countries.

It will also be an opportunity to invite investors to the Philippines and usher in progress at home, and to forge stronger partnerships by elevating our political and economic cooperation with these countries to new heights, said Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Hjayceelyn Quintana.

The President is expected to highlight with the leaders matters relevant to the welfare and dignity of Filipinos living in their countries as well as explore avenues for economic and political cooperation; explore partnerships in tourism development, halal food security, Islamic finance and energy security, as well as investments; and seek partnerships in security, countering terrorism and combating illicit drugs.

The DFA reported the Middle East remains the destination of choice of overseas Filipino workers, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar.

Quintana revealed that the Middle East is the second largest source with 28 percent or almost 7.6 billion US dollars remitted from the region in 2016. Out of that 28 percent, more than a third was remitted by OFWs based in Saudi Arabia, the second top source of remittance.

Also, 87 percent of the total crude mix was sourced from the Middle East, of which 36.1 percent came from Saudi Arabia, the top supplier of crude oil into the country.

The DFA said the President will also be witnessing the signing of agreements on labor, agriculture, air services, culture, health and political bilateral consultations. (PNA)