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Posts tagged ‘United Islands of the Philippines’

Duterte’s allies dominate Senate race, shut out opposition

May 22, 2019

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine president’s allies won a majority of the 12 Senate seats at stake in the midterm elections, official results showed Wednesday, while the opposition’s shutout heralds a stronger grip on power by a leader accused of massive human rights violations.

Elections officials proclaimed the winners after finishing the official count of the May 13 elections overnight. The tally had been delayed by glitches in automated counting machines. President Rodrigo Duterte backed eight winning aspirants to half of the seats in the 24-member Senate, including his former national police chief, Ronald dela Rosa, who enforced the president’s crackdown on illegal drugs in a campaign that left thousands of suspects dead and drew international condemnation.

Last week’s vote has been seen as a gauge of public support for Duterte, who is midway through the single six-year term Philippine presidents are allowed under the constitution. His anti-drug crackdown, unorthodox leadership style, combative and sexist joke-laden outbursts, and contentious embrace of China have been the hallmarks of his presidency.

“Do I look like a rubberstamp?” Senator-elect Bong Go, a longtime Duterte aide, replied when reporters asked him about concerns that the new Senate would be beholden to Duterte. But he stressed he would back the president’s war against criminality, corruption and illegal drugs and would support a bill to reimpose the death penalty for heinous crimes and drug trafficking. Go said Duterte has not given any illegal orders to him or anyone he supervised.

Duterte’s three children also won races for mayor, vice mayor and a congressional seat representing their southern home region of Davao city. Voters also decided congressional, gubernatorial, mayoral and city and township races. Nearly 75 percent of more than 63 million registered Filipinos cast their votes in a strong turnout.

Analysts say many Filipinos seem more open to authoritarianism due to failures of past liberal leaders. Such a mindset has helped the family of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos make a political comeback, the latest example being his daughter, Imee Marcos, one of the winning Senate candidates who was endorsed by Duterte.

The president has aimed for stronger leverage in the traditionally more independent Senate to bolster his legislative agenda. That includes the return of the death penalty, lowering the age for criminal liability below the current 15, and revising the 1987 constitution primarily to allow a shift to a federal form of government, a proposal some critics fear may be a cover to remove term limits.

During the campaign, Go said he felt Filipinos were not ready yet to support a shift to a federal form of government partly because of a lack of adequate information campaign about its benefits. “It’s a longshot and it’ll be difficult for us to work for the approval of federalism at this time,” Go said.

“My no. 1 agenda is the reimposition of the death penalty for drug trafficking,” dela Rosa said in a separate news conference, adding the drug menace remains troubling despite Duterte’s crackdown. The handful of opposition senators whose seats were not up for election and the independents who won office last week could potentially offset the strong majority Duterte’s allies hold in the new upper chamber. At least seven senators are needed to block amendments to the constitution, which was passed with safeguards against dictatorship in 1987, a year after Marcos was ousted by an army-backed “people power” revolt.

Opposition aspirants, who were set back by a lack of funding and other campaign issues, considered the Senate the last bastion of checks and balances in the Philippine national government given the solid dominance of Duterte’s loyalists in the lower House of Representatives.

Unofficial tally shows Duterte allies winning big in polls

May 14, 2019

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies appeared to have overwhelming leads in elections for the Philippine Senate, one of the opposition’s last bulwarks against a brash populist leader accused of massive human rights violations.

Preliminary results comprising 94 percent of returns from Monday’s midterm elections showed at least eight candidates endorsed by Duterte were leading the races for 12 seats in the 24-member Senate. Official Commission on Election results are expected to be declared in about a week.

Those leading include Duterte’s former national police chief Ronald dela Rosa, who enforced the president’s crackdown on illegal drugs, a campaign that’s left thousands of suspects dead and drawn international condemnation.

Monday’s vote is seen as a gauge of public support for Duterte, who is midway through the single six-year term Philippine presidents are allowed under the constitution. His deadly anti-drug crackdown, unorthodox leadership style, combative and sexist joke-laden outbursts, and contentious embrace of China have been the hallmarks of his presidency.

Duterte’s three children were also expected to win the races for mayor, vice mayor and a congressional seat representing their southern home region of Davao city. The 74-year-old maverick leader first carved a reputation as an extra-tough mayor, who hunted drug addicts and criminals on a Harley Davidson motorcycle and carried the nickname, Duterte Harry, after the gunslinging Clint Eastwood film character.

“Undoubtedly, the Duterte magic spelled the difference,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a news conference. “The overwhelming majority of the electorate have responded to the call of the president to support those whom he said would help pass laws supportive of his goal to uplift the masses of our people and give them comfortable lives.”

Manila-based analyst Ronald Holmes, however, said that except for dela Rosa and Duterte’s longtime aide, Bong Go, who entered politics for the first time without their own established bases of support, other leading administration senatorial contenders earned votes based on their own political track records.

The flipside of Duterte’s perceived endorsment strength was the weakness of the opposition ticket and its campaign, said Holmes, who heads Pulse Asia, an independent pollster that predicted the dominance of Duterte’s senatorial bets.

Another analyst, Richard Heydarian, said many Filipinos seem more open to authoritarianism due to failures of past liberal leaders from long-established political clans. Such a mindset has helped the family of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos make a political comeback, the latest through the senatorial bid of one of his daughters, Imee Marcos, who was endorsed by Duterte and whose vote tally in the unofficial results indicated a victory.

Duterte, who has shown little tolerance for critics specially those who question his anti-drug campaign, aimed for stronger leverage in the traditionally more independent Senate to bolster his legislative agenda.

That includes the return of the death penalty, lowering the age for criminal liability below the current 15 years old, and revising the country’s 1987 constitution primarily to allow a shift to a federal form of government, a proposal some critics fear may be a cover to remove term limits.

Last year, opposition senators moved to block proposed bills they feared would undermine civil liberties. The handful of incumbent opposition senators whose seats were not up for election could potentially get backing from leading independent aspirants to veto Duterte’s emerging majority in the upper chamber. At least seven senators are needed to block any proposal by Duterte’s camp to revise the country’s constitution, which was passed with anti-dictatorial safeguards in 1987, a year after Marcos was ousted by an army-backed “people power” revolt.

“While we expect dissent to continue, we hope that that same be demonstrated with fairness and within the bounds of the law, as well as with deference to the leaders duly chosen by the electorate,” Panelo said.

Aside from the drug killings, Duterte’s gutter language and what nationalists say is a policy of appeasement toward China that may undermine Philippine territorial claims in the South China Sea have also been the cause of protests and criticism.

Opposition aspirants consider the Senate the last bastion of checks and balances given the solid dominance of Duterte’s loyalists in the lower House of Representatives. Voters in Monday’s elections made their choices for 18,000 congressional and local posts, including 81 governors, 1,634 mayors and more than 13,500 city and town councilors in 81 provinces. The elections were relatively untroubled, despite pockets of violence in southern Mindanao region, which is under martial law as government forces hunt down Islamic State group-linked militants and communist insurgents.

Duterte allies seek to dominate Philippine midterm polls

May 12, 2019

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s name is not on the ballot, but Monday’s midterm elections are seen as a crucial referendum on his rise to power with a brutal crackdown on illegal drugs, unorthodox style and contentious embrace of China.

Nearly 62 million Filipinos have registered to choose among 43,500 candidates vying for about 18,000 congressional and local posts in one of Asia’s most rambunctious democracies. The most crucial race is for 12 seats in the 24-member Senate, which Duterte wants to fill with allies to bolster his legislative agenda. That includes the return of the death penalty, lowering the age for criminal liability of child offenders and revising the country’s 1987 constitution primarily to allow a shift to a federal form of government, a proposal some critics fear may be a cover to remove term limits.

Opposition aspirants consider the Senate the last bastion of checks and balances given the solid dominance of Duterte’s loyalists in the lower House of Representatives. Last year, opposition senators moved to block proposed bills they feared would undermine civil liberties.

Duterte’s politics and key programs, including his drive against illegal drugs that has left more than 5,200 mostly urban poor suspects dead, have been scrutinized on the campaign trail and defended by close allies running for the Senate, led by his former national Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa, who first enforced the crackdown when the president took office in mid-2016.

Aside from the drug killings, Duterte’s gutter language and what nationalists say is a policy of appeasement toward China that may undermine Philippine territorial claims in the South China Sea, have also been hounded by protests and criticism.

“This is very much a referendum on his three years of very disruptive yet very popular presidency,” Manila-based analyst Richard Heydarian said. “Are we going to affirm or are we going to reject the 2016 elections? Was that an aberration and historical accident that we have to fix, or is this actually the beginning of the kind of new era or new normal?”

A May 3-6 survey by independent pollster Pulse Asia showed 11 of Duterte-backed senatorial candidates and four other aspirants in the winning circle, including only one from the opposition. The survey of 1,800 respondents had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

Duterte himself remains hugely popular, topping ratings surveys with about 70 percent approval. While the election survey strongly indicated a favorable outcome for Duterte, there was a probability that the result could still change given the considerable number of undecided voters and narrow leads of some candidates.

Divided, cash-strapped and without a unified leader, opposition aspirants are fighting an uphill battle to capture the few number of Senate seats they need to stymie any hostile legislation. Many Filipinos seem more open to authoritarianism due to past failures of liberal leaders, Heydarian said. Such a mindset has helped the family of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos to make a political comeback.

Among many dirt-poor Filipinos, however, the concern is day-to-day survival. “Martial law is scary but we’re more afraid of dying in hunger,” Arturo Veles, a jobless father of six, told The Associated Press.

Wiping away tears, Veles spoke outside his family’s shanty in the humid squalor atop Smokey Mountain, a long-closed dumpsite in Manila’s Tondo slum that remains a symbol of the country’s appalling poverty. His asthma-stricken wife, Agnes, said that not one congressional candidate had treaded the fly-strewn and trash-littered path to their cluster of crumbling huts, probably because of the smell and filth.

Arturo Veles said the poor always suffer the most, indicating he and his wife would not vote for administration candidates. “They only see the poor, those using and selling drugs. That’s the only thing they see, not the depth of our poverty.”

Village guard Jose Mondejar, who lives in a Tondo community heavily festooned with elections streamers and posters, said Duterte’s anti-crime campaign has reduced daytime robberies by drug addicts of passing cargo trucks by about 70 percent in his neighborhood.

“Criminals once even opened fire on our village hall because we were cracking down on them,” he said. “Now you can walk around here without being pestered. Duterte’s campaign has worked.”

Ex-guard frees dozens of hostages in Manila mall, is subdued

March 02, 2020

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A recently dismissed security guard freed his hostages and walked out of a shopping mall in the Philippine capital on Monday, ending a daylong hostage crisis in an upscale commercial district near the police and military headquarters, officials said.

The former guard at the commercial complex, identified by police as Archie Paray, left the V-Mall in suburban San Juan city in metropolitan Manila with his hostages, who were secured by police. The suspect was allowed to speak before reporters and authorities for several minutes to describe his grievances against his superiors, whom he accused of corruption and abuse, before police approached and subdued him.

“I’m very thankful that everything ended up peacefully,” said San Juan city Mayor Francis Zamora, who negotiated with the hostage-taker to give up his weapons and guaranteed his safety shortly before the crisis ended.

About 60 to 70 people were held hostage by Paray, he said. Zamora said the suspect, who was armed with a pistol and possibly grenades, shot one person at the V-Mall before he rushed to the second floor and took hostages in an administration office. The victim was in stable condition at a nearby hospital.

Zamora said the suspect was a disgruntled former security guard. “He felt bad because he was removed as a guard,” Zamora told reporters, adding that the man tried but failed to convince fellow guards to join him.

He was apparently dismissed after abandoning his job in recent weeks without notifying management, Zamora said. The suspect later used his cellphone to deliver a message to the guards and the media, expressing his anger over a change in his work hours and accusing his superiors of corruption.

In a bid to appease the hostage taker, six officers in charge of overseeing the mall’s security apologized to the suspect at an early evening news conference for their “shortcomings” and resigned or offered to quit.

“I’m asking for his forgiveness, and because of this, I’ll resign from my job so this crisis will come to an end,” said Oscar Hernandez, one of the security officers. Earlier in the day, more than a dozen SWAT commandos entered the mall, their assault rifles ready. Other policemen stood by outside, along with an ambulance.

The shopping complex, popular for its restaurants, shops, bars and a bazaar, lies near an upscale residential enclave, a golf club and the police and military headquarters in the bustling Manila metropolis of more than 12 million people, where law and order have long been a concern.

Three years ago, a gunman stormed a mall-casino complex in Manila, shot TV monitors and set gambling tables on fire, killing 36 people who were mostly suffocated by thick smoke. The gunman stole casino chips before he fled but was found dead in an apparent suicide in an adjacent hotel at the Resorts World Manila complex.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group, but Philippine authorities rejected the claim, saying the attacker was not a Muslim militant but a heavily indebted gambler.

Associated Press journalists Kiko Rosario in Bangkok and Joeal Calupitan in Manila contributed to this report.

Disgruntled ex-guard takes dozens of hostages in Manila mall

March 02, 2020

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine police on Monday surrounded a shopping mall in an upscale section of Manila after a recently dismissed security guard opened fire and took dozens of people hostage, an official said.

Mayor Francis Zamora of San Juan in the Philippine capital said the gunman, who was armed with a pistol, shot one person at the V-Mall. The victim was in stable condition at a nearby hospital. Zamora said a police negotiator was trying to talk to the gunman — a disgruntled former security guard at the shopping complex — inside a mall administration office.

“He felt bad because he was removed as a guard,” Zamora told reporters, adding that the man tried but failed to convince fellow guards to join him. Aside from a pistol, the hostage taker was yelling that he had a grenade, but authorities could not immediately confirm that, Zamora said.

“We have evacuated all the people in the shopping center and we’re in a lockdown here in the entire mall,” he said. An initial police report said the hostage taker, who was identified as Archie Paray, shot a mall official before rushing to the second floor of the complex, where he was holding dozens of mostly employees in an office. The report said “more or less 50 staffs” were being held hostage, but it did not provide other details.

Zamora said about 30 to 40 people were being held, adding that his estimate was based on the size of the administrative office were they were being held. The suspect was complaining of “unequal treatment,” the police report said.

The man demanded to talk to fellow guards and the media, Zamora said, but it was not clear if officials would agree to those conditions. More than a dozen SWAT commandos were earlier seen entering the mall, their assault rifles ready. Other policemen stood by outside, along with an ambulance.

The shopping complex, popular for its restaurants, shops, bars and a bazaar, lies near an upscale residential enclave, a golf club and the police and military headquarters in the bustling metropolis of more than 12 million people, where law and order have long been a concern.

Associated Press videojournalist Joeal Calupitan contributed to this report.

3rd strong quake this month kills 5 in southern Philippines

October 31, 2019

KIDAPAWAN, Philippines (AP) — The third strong earthquake this month killed five people Thursday, injured several others and destroyed buildings that were already damaged by the earlier shaking in a devastated region in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Several cities and towns in the quake-hit area suspended school classes and office work due to fear of more tremors. Many residents may have returned to already-damaged houses despite the risks because of the humid tropical heat, causing some injuries due to falling debris, officials said.

A village hall collapsed in Batasan village in Makilala town of hard-hit Cotabato province and the village leader was pinned to death, Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza said. Another man was pinned to death by a fallen tree and a woman died after being hit by heavy debris elsewhere in Makilala, government welfare officer Rosemarie Alcebar told The Associated Press by telephone. Two other villagers died due to quake-related injuries in Cotabato’s Arakan town but details of their deaths were not immediately available, Alcebar said.

In Cotabato’s city of Kidapawan, a small hotel partially collapsed, crushing the lobby and a bank on the ground floor and causing the building to lean on an adjacent hospital. Both the hotel and the hospital were ordered abandoned because of the previous quake damage but six employees and an engineer were inside Eva’s Hotel when the ground shook at midmorning, Mayor Joseph Evangelista said.

“They’re supposed to inspect the building with an engineer then it happened. They managed to run out,” Evangelista told DZMM radio. The hospital and the hotel, its concrete columns precariously leaning and its rooms exposed without walls and windows, were cordoned off as they may collapse completely anytime.

In Davao city, President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown, a five-story condominium partly crashed down on its basement and rescue workers scrambled to bring out nine residents, one of whom was injured and brought to a hospital, officials said.

The residents of the 56-room building had been urged to evacuate after it was damaged by the earlier quake on Tuesday but some defied the warning. Duterte and his family were safe in his Davao city home but engineers would check the stability of his house just to be sure, said Brig. Gen. Jose Eriel Nembra, who heads the presidential security force.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said the 6.5-magnitude quake was set off by movement in a local fault at a depth of 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) about 28 kilometers (17 miles) east of Tulunan town in Cotabato province. The region already was devastated by two powerful earthquakes and hundreds of aftershocks this month.

At least eight people died in Tuesday’s 6.6 magnitude quake, two were missing, 395 were injured and more than 2,700 houses and buildings, including schools and hospitals, were damaged, according to the Office of Civil Defense.

An Oct. 16 earthquake with a magnitude 6.3 killed at least seven people, injured more than 200 and destroyed or damaged more than 7,000 buildings. The Philippine archipelago lies on the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” the arc of faults around the Pacific Ocean where most of the world’s earthquakes occur.

Philippine police chief resigns amid drug allegations

October 14, 2019

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine national police chief resigned on Monday after he faced allegations in a Senate hearing that he intervened as a provincial police chief in 2013 to prevent his officers from being prosecuted for allegedly selling a huge quantity of illegal drugs they had seized.

Gen. Oscar Albayalde said his decision relinquishing his post was accepted by Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano over the weekend but insisted on his innocence, saying he has never been criminally or administratively charged for the alleged irregularity. Albayalde resigned a few weeks before his scheduled retirement on Nov. 8.

Addressing the 190,000-strong police force in the last flag-raising ceremony he led at the national police headquarters, Albayalde ordered the policemen to continue serving the Filipino people well. “Do not let these challenges demoralize or stray you from your path,” he said.

The allegations against Albayalde were the latest dark cloud to loom over the national police force, which has largely been enforcing President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody anti-drug crackdown that has left thousands of mostly petty drug suspects dead, alarmed Western governments and human rights groups and sparked complaints for mass murder before the International Criminal Court.

Albayalde headed the police force in Pampanga province north of Manila when 13 of his officers seized a large quantity of methamphetamine, a powerful and prohibited stimulant, in a raid. The officers later faced allegations that they presented a small fraction of the seized drugs in a news conference, possibly to foster their promotion, then hid and sold the rest, with suspicions being fueled when they purchased pricey SUVs not long after.

Albayalde’s men allegedly freed a suspected Chinese drug lord in exchange for a huge bribe then arrested another foreigner, who they presented as the owner of the seized drugs. Albayalde pointed out that state prosecutors cleared the officers of criminal complaints they had faced for the alleged offenses.

Albayalde said the allegations against him may have been an offshoot of jockeying for the top police post that he would vacate if he has stayed in his post until his retirement. But two police officials, including a general who has retired from the force and is now a city mayor, testified in Senate hearings that Albayalde did not take adequate actions to have his men be criminally prosecuted.

One of the two officials, Aaron Aquino, who now heads the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, testified that Albayalde called him then to inquire about the status of the cases against his men. Albayalde acknowledged that as a result of the 2013 incident, he was put on a “floating status,” which meant he was transferred to a regional police force without being given any specific assignment or post. Several months after, however, he was appointed as metropolitan Manila police chief and as national police chief in April last year.

“No protest was made on my appointment,” Albayalde said. “Implicitly, it may be assumed that the president himself was aware of my appointment to that position.” Asked in recent weeks about the possibility of firing Albayalde, Duterte replied he would allow Ano to make a recommendation to him after an assessment. The wait contrasts with Duterte’s outright firing of other government officials accused of corruption and irregularities.

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