Tension mounts between Philippines, China over Benham Rise

A Philippine Coast Guard ship sailing along Benham Rise, off the east coast of the main Philippine island of Luzon. (AFP)
Updated 17 February 2018
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Tension mounts between Philippines, China over Benham Rise

BAGUIO CITY: China’s recent naming of five undersea features in the Benham Rise has prompted the Philippines to deploy troops to its northern frontier.
Benham Rise is a 13-million hectare underwater plateau, potentially rich in mineral and natural gas deposits, located near Aurora province in Northern Luzon.
In 2012, the UN confirmed that it is part of the Philippines. It was later renamed Philippine Rise by President Rodrigo Duterte.
On Friday, hundreds of Filipino Marines arrived at Port Irene in Cagayan from Mindanao. From dealing with extremists in the southern Philippines, their new task is to protect Philippine Rise from any foreign intrusion.
The deployment of troops comes one week after Duterte ordered the cessation of all marine exploration by foreign scientists and directed the Navy to “chase out” any vessel fishing or conducting research in Philippine Rise.
It is the first time that troops from Marine Battalion Landing Team 8 have been deployed in Northern Luzon. They will be integrated into Joint Task Force Tala under the 5th Infantry Division.
Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat, Commander, Armed Forces of the Philippines Northern Luzon Command, told Arab News that this military deployment allows the Philippines to “promote and manifest our strong claims on the farthest islands of the northern frontier.”
Salamat stressed that it is not just troops he has at his disposal. “We are privileged to have additional platforms that include air and sea assets to be able to ensure regular maritime patrols in the Philippine Rise,” he said. “That is the marching order of the president: To secure our interests. We will continue to perform our mandated task, which is to protect our sovereignty.”
However, Salamat said that Marines would not be sent to secure Scarborough Shoal — an island group that was seized by China in 2012 that has long been a source of tension between the two countries. “That is a diplomatic issue,” Salamat said.
Duterte’s administration attracted heavy criticism when it was revealed that it had granted a request from China to explore the resource-rich waters of Benham Rise. But Duterte last week was unequivocal in his insistence that the Philippines had sovereignty over the region.
“Benham Rise belongs to the Filipino. We will claim exclusive ownership of the economic zones — 200 nautical miles,” he said.
“Let me be very clear about this: The Philippine Rise is ours and any insinuation that it is open to everybody should end with this declaration.”
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement on Thursday: “We object and do not recognize the Chinese names given to some undersea features in the Philippine Rise.”
He added that the Philippine Embassy in Beijing had already raised Manila’s concerns with China.


Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

Updated 17 August 2018
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Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

  • The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country
  • According to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part in the state funeral, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend

GENOA: Grieving relatives wept over the coffins of dozens of victims of Genoa’s bridge disaster Friday amid growing fury over a planned state funeral, while rescuers pressed on with their tireless search for those missing in the rubble.
The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country, with Italian media reporting that some outraged families would shun Saturday’s official ceremonies.
Italy’s government has blamed the operator of the viaduct for the tragedy and threatened to strip the firm of its contracts, while the country’s creaking infrastructure has come under fresh scrutiny.
Authorities plan a state funeral service on Saturday at a hall in Genoa, coinciding with a day of mourning.
Relatives who gathered at the hall on Friday embraced and prayed over lines of coffins, many adorned with flowers and photographs of the dead.
But according to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend.
“It is the state who has provoked this; let them not show their faces, the parade of politicians is shameful,” the press cited the mother of one of four young Italians from Naples who died.
The father of another of the dead from Naples took to social media to vent his anger.
“My son will not become a number in the catalogue of deaths caused by Italian failures,” said his grieving father, Roberto.
“We do not want a farce of a funeral but a ceremony at home.”
Despite fading hopes of finding survivors, rescue workers said they had not given up as they resumed the dangerous operation to search through the unstable mountains of debris.
“Is there anyone there? Is there anyone there?” one firefighter shouted into a cavity dug out of the piles of concrete and twisted metal, in a video published by the emergency services.
Between 10 and 20 people are still missing, according to Genoa’s chief prosecutor.
Ten people remain in hospital, six of them in a serious condition.
Hundreds of rescuers are using cranes and bulldozers to cut up and remove the biggest slabs of the fallen bridge, which slammed down onto railway tracks along with dozens of vehicles.
“We are trying to find pockets in the rubble where people could be — alive or not,” fire official Emanuele Gissi told AFP.
Officials say about 1,000 people in all are working on the disaster site, 350 of them firefighters.
The populist government has accused infrastructure giant Autostrade per L’Italia of failing to invest in sufficient maintenance and said it would seek to revoke its lucrative contracts.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini demanded that the company offer up to 500 million euros ($570 million) to help families and local government deal with the aftermath of the disaster.
The dead also include children, one as young as eight, and three Chileans and four French nationals.
The French nationals, all in their 20s, had traveled to Italy for a music festival, and other victims included a family setting off on holiday and a couple returning from their California honeymoon.
More than 600 people were evacuated from around a dozen apartments beneath the remaining shard of bridge.
On Thursday evening the first residents of some buildings in the affected area were allowed to return home, though others are too badly damaged to save.
The Morandi viaduct dates from the 1960s and has been riddled with structural problems for decades, leading to expensive maintenance and severe criticism from engineering experts.
Its collapse prompted fears over aging infrastructure across the world.
Italy has announced a year-long state of emergency in the region.
Autostrade, which operates and maintains nearly half of Italy’s motorways, estimates it will take five months to rebuild the bridge.
It denies scrimping on motorway maintenance, saying it has invested over one billion euros a year in “safety, maintenance and strengthening of the network” since 2012.
Atlantia, the holding company of Autostrade which is 30 percent owned by iconic fashion brand Benetton, has warned that the government would have to refund the value of the contract, which runs until at least 2038.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Autostrade “had the duty and obligation to assure the maintenance of this viaduct and the security of all those who traveled on it.”
The disaster is the latest in a string of bridge collapses in Italy, where infrastructure generally is showing the effects of a faltering economy.
Senior government figures have also lashed out at austerity measures imposed by the European Union, saying they restrict investment.
But the European Commission said it had given Rome billions of euros to fix infrastructure.