Former Philippine president Aquino charged in $1.35 billion budget case

Former Philippine president Aquino charged in $1.35 billion budget case
Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino takes his oath during a legislating hearing last December on the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia manufactured by French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi. (AFP)
Updated 20 June 2018

Former Philippine president Aquino charged in $1.35 billion budget case

Former Philippine president Aquino charged in $1.35 billion budget case

MANILA: Former Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has been indicted in a $1.35 billion criminal case over his failure to get congressional approval to use state funds to jump-start major government projects, authorities said Wednesday.
The money became a source of controversy during Aquino’s term from 2010-2016, with critics claiming he used it to barter for favors from legislators. He has always denied any wrongdoing.
The charge, filed last week by a special anti-corruption prosecutor but only made public Wednesday, alleges that Aquino violated the constitution’s separation of powers.
In the indictment, prosecutor Conchita Morales alleged Aquino wrote a series of instructions to his budget minister to funnel 72 billion pesos ($1.35 billion) into a special initiative in June 2012.
“Without the approval of the said memoranda by respondent Aquino, (the budget ministry’s fund release order) would not have been issued,” Morales said in a statement.
Aquino branded the initiative, the “Disbursement Allocation Program,” an attempt to speed up public spending in the notoriously bureaucratic nation in order to boost economic growth.
The scheme redirected money left unspent in agencies’ budgets to other parts of the government that needed funding for projects.
The program began in 2012 but Aquino was forced to halt it two years later, after the Supreme Court ruled it violated a constitutional provision which gives the legislature sole power to authorize government spending.
Aquino had yet to receive a copy of the indictment alleging “usurpation of legislative powers,” his spokeswoman Abigail Valte said.
“We’re quite curious to study how the (prosecutor) arrived at a reversal of its previous decision finding no liability on the part of former president Aquino,” Valte added.
The prosecutor dropped the case in 2015, but reversed herself following an appeal by a group of legislators and anti-corruption campaigners.
If convicted, Aquino could face up to two years and four months behind bars.
Both of Aquino’s predecessors were hit with charges after their terms ended.
Joseph Estrada, a populist movie star who swept to a landslide electoral win in 1998, was arrested in 2001 shortly after a bloodless popular revolt cut short his six-year mandate.
A court sentenced him to life in prison for plunder in 2007, but he won a pardon from his successor Gloria Arroyo less than six weeks later.
Arroyo, who ruled for nine years, was arrested in 2010 and charged with rigging the 2007 senatorial election, a case which carries a life sentence but which remains under trial.
She was released from nearly five years in detention in 2016, shortly after Rodrigo Duterte was elected president, when the Supreme Court acquitted her on charges of misusing 366 million pesos in state lottery funds.


Tokyo logs record 5,042 cases as infections surge amid Olympics

Tokyo logs record 5,042 cases as infections surge amid Olympics
Updated 6 min 13 sec ago

Tokyo logs record 5,042 cases as infections surge amid Olympics

Tokyo logs record 5,042 cases as infections surge amid Olympics
  • Nationwide, Japan reported more than 14,000 cases for a total of 970,000
  • Some experts have called for a current state of emergency in Tokyo and five other areas to be expanded nationwide
TOKYO: Tokyo reported 5,042 new daily coronavirus cases on Thursday, hitting a record since the pandemic began as the infections surge in the Japanese capital hosting the Olympics.
The additional cases brought the total for Tokyo to 236,138. Nationwide, Japan reported more than 14,000 cases on Wednesday for a total of 970,000.
Tokyo has been under a state of emergency since mid-July, and four other areas have since been added and extended until Aug. 31. But the measures, basically a ban on alcohol in restaurants and bars and their shorter hours, are increasingly ignored by the public, which has become tired of restrictions.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has denied that the July 23-Aug. 8 Olympics have caused a rise in infections.
Alarmed by the pace of the spread, some experts have called for a current state of emergency in Tokyo and five other areas to be expanded nationwide.
Instead, Suga on Thursday announced a milder version of the emergency measures in eight prefectures, including Fukushima in the east and Kumamoto in the south, expanding the areas to 13 prefectures.
Experts at a Tokyo metropolitan government panel cautioned that infections propelled by the more contagious delta variant have become “explosive” and could exceed 10,000 cases a day in two weeks.

Airstrikes pummel Taliban in south; insurgents gain in north

Airstrikes pummel Taliban in south; insurgents gain in north
Updated 22 min 1 sec ago

Airstrikes pummel Taliban in south; insurgents gain in north

Airstrikes pummel Taliban in south; insurgents gain in north
KABUL, Afghanistan: The Afghan air force carried out more airstrikes against Taliban positions in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, as the insurgent force made additional gains in the country’s north.
A defense ministry statement said air strikes were carried out across the country, including in the southern Helmand province, where the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah is being fiercely contested. The Taliban control of nine of the city’s 10 police districts.
Residents in Lashkar Gah reported heavy bombing near the government radio and television station, which is under Taliban control. Several wedding halls and a guesthouse of the provincial governor’s are all located near the radio and television station.
In northern Afghanistan, the Taliban took control of most of the provincial capital of Sar-e-Pul, the head of its council, Mohammad Noor Rahmani said. In recent months, the group has gained control of dozens of districts across several provinces in the north.
The Taliban onslaught seems to have intensified with the start of the final withdrawal of US and NATO troops in late April. As attacks intensify, Afghan security forces and government troops have retaliated with increasing air strikes, aided by the United States. This has raised growing concerns about civilian casualties across the country.
“We can tell you that we are deeply concerned about the safety and protection of people in Lashkar Gah, in the south, where tens of thousands of people could be trapped by fighting,” Stephane Dujarric, the United Nations spokesman said on Wednesday.
“We, along with our humanitarian partners in Afghanistan, are assessing needs and responding in the south, as access allows,” he said.

Sydney suffers deadliest day of pandemic as lockdown nears seventh week

Sydney suffers deadliest day of pandemic as lockdown nears seventh week
Updated 05 August 2021

Sydney suffers deadliest day of pandemic as lockdown nears seventh week

Sydney suffers deadliest day of pandemic as lockdown nears seventh week
  • Sydney struggles to contain the highly contagious Delta virus strain
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison is under fire for a sluggish national immunization drive

SYDNEY: Sydney recorded its deadliest day of the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday as authorities launched an investigation into a beach party suspected of spreading the virus into a region outside the city, triggering a snap one-week lockdown there.
Sydney, Australia’s largest city which is nearing its seventh week of a planned nine-week lockdown, reported five deaths and a record daily rise in infections as it struggles to contain the highly contagious Delta virus strain.
Four of the five people who died were unvaccinated while one had one dose, state health officials said, as they implored residents to get inoculated as early as possible.
The nearby Hunter region, home to New South Wales state’s second-largest city of Newcastle, was locked down from Thursday evening after six new cases. The orders place an additional 615,000 people under strict stay-at-home orders, raising the total to 6 million people in the state.
Together with the northern city of Brisbane and it surrounds, about a third of Australia’s 25 million population is under stay-home orders.
Officials suspect the virus in the Hunter region spread from a beach party near Newcastle after people traveled from Sydney, an apparent violation of the city’s lockdown.
“Our strongest focus ... is getting to the bottom of how the disease was transmitted and introduced into Newcastle,” New South Wales Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant told reporters in Sydney.
New South Wales reported a record 262 new cases, most of them in Sydney, exceeding the previous daily high of 239 on Sunday, with officials blaming the Delta strain for a significant number of younger people in hospitals.
“As older people become vaccinated ... COVID will predominantly affect the unvaccinated, in this case younger people,” Alexandra Martiniuk, epidemiologist at the University Of Sydney, told Reuters.
Sydney is in shock after the death of a healthy 27-year-old man from the coronavirus on Wednesday — the state’s youngest on record.
With around 35,200 COVID-19 cases and 932 deaths, Australia has avoided the high caseloads of other developed countries but its vaccination figures are among the lowest, with only 20 percent of its population over 16 fully vaccinated.
New South Wales health officials are imploring residents, especially people above 60, to get inoculated.
The five deaths in Sydney included three men in their 60s, one man in his 70s and a woman in her 80s, taking the total number of deaths in the latest outbreak in New South Wales to 21.
Health experts expect the country to endure stop-and-start lockdowns until it reaches a high vaccination coverage although New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has said she might ease some restrictions in Sydney when half the state’s adult population get vaccinated.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is also under fire for a sluggish national immunization drive, which critics say has forced Sydney into the months-long lockdown, shut large swathes of the economy and likely tipped Australia into its second recession in as many years.
“I’m a fortunate one to be in essential service, so I’m still working, still getting paid. For other people it’s a mixed bag. Some people are taking it really well and others not so well,” Keirom O’Donoughue, a pharmacy salesperson in one of the worst-affected suburbs of Bankstown in Sydney, told Reuters.
Neighboring Victoria and Queensland states are also on alert after new cases rose.
Victoria, which ended a lockdown only weeks ago, reported eight new cases, raising the prospect of more tight curbs.
In Brisbane, another 16 COVID-19 cases were reported, the same as the previous two days.


Malaysian PM does not have majority support, say opposition and ally

Malaysian PM does not have majority support, say opposition and ally
Updated 05 August 2021

Malaysian PM does not have majority support, say opposition and ally

Malaysian PM does not have majority support, say opposition and ally
  • The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) also challenged the premier

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 5 : Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin does not have a majority as he has asserted, the main opposition bloc and a key ally said, predicting that he could lose a confidence vote next month.
On Wednesday, Muhyiddin said he retained majority support among lawmakers and would prove it through a confidence vote when Malaysia’s parliament reconvened next month. His comments followed the withdrawal of support from some members of his coalition.
Muhyiddin’s grip on power has been shaky since coming to power in March 2020 as he leads an unstable coalition. The latest crisis comes as Malaysia sees a resurgence in COVID-19 infections and economic slowdown from lockdowns.
The main opposition bloc, Pakatan Harapan, disputed Muhyiddin’s majority claim and called for an immediate vote.
“After Pakatan Harapan leaders made careful calculations with friends from opposition parties and all who do not support Muhyiddin, it is clear that Muhyiddin did not speak the truth,” the bloc said in a statement on Thursday.
The United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the biggest bloc in Muhyiddin’s ruling alliance, also challenged the premier.
In a statement on Wednesday, UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said more than eight lawmakers from the party have withdrawn support.
UMNO has constantly challenged Muhyiddin even after agreeing to form a government with him last year. But the party is split on its support for the prime minister — a factor that has kept Muhyiddin in power despite threats from UMNO to quit.
Deputy prime minister and UMNO politician Ismail Sabri Yaakob has stood by Muhyiddin and appeared along with him in a televised address on Wednesday.
Muhyiddin said the political turmoil was triggered by “certain parties” whose demands he had refused to meet, including freeing individuals facing corruption charges.
Several UMNO lawmakers face corruption charges since the party’s defeat in 2018 elections, including former premier Najib Razak and party president Hamidi.
They have both denied wrongdoing.


US plans to require COVID-19 shots for foreign travelers

US plans to require COVID-19 shots for foreign travelers
Updated 05 August 2021

US plans to require COVID-19 shots for foreign travelers

US plans to require COVID-19 shots for foreign travelers
  • Requirement would come as part of the administration’s phased approach to easing travel restrictions for foreign citizens to the country
WASHINGTON: The Biden administration is taking the first steps toward requiring nearly all foreign visitors to the US to be vaccinated for the coronavirus, a White House official said.
The requirement would come as part of the administration’s phased approach to easing travel restrictions for foreign citizens to the country. No timeline has yet been determined, as interagency working groups study how and when to safely move toward resuming normal travel. Eventually all foreign citizens entering the country, with some limited exceptions, are expected to need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter the US.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity Wednesday to preview the policy under development.
The Biden administration has kept in place travel restrictions that have severely curtailed international trips to the US, citing the spread of the delta variant of the virus.
Under the rules, non-US residents who have been to China, the European Schengen area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, South Africa and India in the prior 14 days are prohibited from entering the US
All travelers to the US, regardless of vaccination status, are required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of air travel to the country.
The Biden administration has faced pressure to lift some restrictions from affected allies, the air travel industry and families who have been kept separated from loved ones by the rules. Many have complained that the travel restrictions don’t reflect the current virus situation — particularly as caseloads in the US are worse than in many of the prohibited nations.
Airlines for America, a trade group for major US airlines, said it was pleased by reports that the administration plans to make it easier for more foreign travelers to enter the country if they have been vaccinated.