Philippines’ Duterte slammed for demanding Washington pay for US troop deal

Philippines’ Duterte slammed for demanding Washington pay for US troop deal
Philippine politicians on both sides of the aisle have slammed President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest tirade against the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 14 February 2021

Philippines’ Duterte slammed for demanding Washington pay for US troop deal

Philippines’ Duterte slammed for demanding Washington pay for US troop deal
  • Officials say “embarrassing” move “puts price tag on peace”
  • Others warned that the diplomatic relations of the Philippines, together with its sovereignty, should not come with a price tag

MANILA: Philippine politicians on both sides of the aisle have slammed President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest tirade against the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US.
Duterte made the comments during a Philippine Air Force event on Friday, demanding that Washington pay Manila if it wants the more than two-decade-old VFA to remain in place.
One senator said the leader’s comments were “embarrassing” and gave the impression that the Philippines was a “nation of extortionists.”
Others warned that the diplomatic relations of the Philippines, together with its sovereignty, should not come with a price tag.
Catholic priest and peace advocate Elizeo Mercado Jr., a senior policy adviser at the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, told Arab News that “whatever the president’s decision on the VFA, it is outright wrong to put a price on it.
“Friendship has no price. To put a price tag on it is not good diplomacy and not good for the relationship with the US. The president might agree or disagree, or allow or disallow the VFA, but it should be based on a matter of principle, not on price,” Mercado told Arab News.
He added that the move was in “bad taste” and “makes us look like we are for sale.”
Mercado said: “If we are friends with the US, we can talk about the VFA. If we are not friends with the US, we can also talk about it respectfully, on the basis of principle.”
Vice President Leni Robredo, in a radio program, also criticized Duterte’s comments.
“It sounded like extortion. It sounded like a criminal saying, ‘if you want this, you have to pay first,’” she said, adding that the demands were “no way to treat a longtime ally.”
Robredo added: “It’s embarrassing. It’s like we are extorting them. For me, when we say we do not want to renew the VFA, then let’s lay down the reasons. Let us show them why it will not be good for us. Money should not be the consideration.”
The vice president said that relations should be based on the mutual benefit of both parties. “It’s not ‘we’re friends because you gave me money,’” she said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who chairs the country’s committee on national defense, said a diplomatic approach would have been more effective in sending a message to the US.
“Why use strong words to send a message to a longtime ally, when a civil, diplomatic and statesmanlike approach can be more effective?” Lacson said in a statement on Sunday.
He shared Mercado and Robredo’s sentiment that the president’s comments were in “bad taste.”
The previous day, Lacson warned that the Philippines needed the VFA — especially given recent Chinese intrusions into Philippine territory, particularly in the West Philippine Sea — as “the last thing” the Philippines should lose is the balance of power that its allies, including the US, “can provide to suit our national interests and territorial integrity.
“It was in that context that I posted a tweet on the matter on Saturday. I decided to take it down after giving it a thought that the president’s intention was to get a fair shake of the agreement, only he could have said it in a more diplomatic way. On crucial issues such as this, there should be no room for misinterpretation or misunderstanding moving forward,” Lacson said.
“The president may have used strong words to send his message across to the US, but there is a more civil and statesmanlike manner to ask for compensation from a longtime ally using the usual diplomatic channels and still getting the same desired results.”
International security analyst Stephen Cutler told Arab News that the VFA addresses “all kinds of activities of US military.”
He said: “The massive aid provided by the US after disasters uses US military goods, equipment and personnel. None of that would likely be available without the VFA. So USAID would still help, but through chartered civilian flights and civilian personnel. US Navy ships might bring supplies, but would stay in international waters, with Philippine boats ferrying foods and goods to shore.”
As for Duterte’s remarks, he said: “For me, I see the president as addressing his constituents, and trying to rally them to his ideas of ‘stand on our own.’
“It looks like the president wants to buy new air and naval assets and equipment for the Philippine military, but the opposition won’t fund that because they think that the US will provide support if needed.
“He may be laying a path for even more defense spending at a time when anti-coronavirus spending is the only thing on people’s minds,” Cutler added.
The VFA provides a legal framework through which US troops can operate on a rotational basis in the Philippines. Experts say that without it, other bilateral defense agreements, including the Mutual Defense Treaty, cannot be implemented.
Duterte notified Washington in February last year that he was canceling the deal amid outrage over a senator and ally being denied a US visa. But he has extended the termination process, which will now be overseen by US President Joe Biden’s administration.
Representatives from both countries have been meeting to iron out differences over the military agreement.


Far-right and others march against French virus rules

Far-right and others march against French virus rules
Updated 24 July 2021

Far-right and others march against French virus rules

Far-right and others march against French virus rules
  • Legislators in France’s Senate were debating the bill Saturday after the lower house of parliament approved it Friday
  • French government is trying to speed up vaccinations to protect vulnerable populations and hospitals, and avoid new lockdowns

PARIS: Far-right activists and members of France’s yellow vest movement protested Saturday against a bill requiring everyone to have a special virus pass to enter restaurants and other venues and mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for all health care workers.
Legislators in France’s Senate were debating the bill Saturday after the lower house of parliament approved it Friday, as virus infections are spiking and hospitalizations are rising anew. The French government is trying to speed up vaccinations to protect vulnerable populations and hospitals, and avoid new lockdowns.
Most French adults are fully vaccinated and polls indicate a majority of French people support the new measures. But not everyone.
Protesters chanting “Liberty! Liberty!” gathered at Bastille plaza and marched through eastern Paris in one of several demonstrations Saturday around France. Thousands also joined a gathering across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower organized by a former top official in Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration party.
While most protesters were calm, tensions erupted on the margins of the Bastille march. Riot police sprayed tear gas on marchers after someone threw a chair at an officer. Other projectiles could also be seen in a video of the incident.
Many marchers focused their anger on a French “health pass” that is required to enter museums, movie theaters and tourist sites. The bill under debate would expand the pass requirement to all restaurants and bars in France and some other venues. To get the pass, people need to be fully vaccinated, have a recent negative test or have proof they recently recovered from the virus.
Lawmakers have debated the measure amid divisions over how far to go in imposing health passes or mandatory vaccinations.
Last weekend, more than 100,000 people protested around France against the measures. They included far-right politicians and activists as well as others angry at President Emmanuel Macron for various reasons.
Remaining members of France’s yellow vest movement, largely from political extremes, are using the virus bill to try to rekindle its flame. The movement started in 2018 as a broad uprising against perceived economic injustice and led to months of protests marked by violence between demonstrators and police, but subsided after the French government addressed many of the protesters’ concerns.


Afghan government imposes night curfew to stem Taliban advance

Afghan government imposes night curfew to stem Taliban advance
Updated 24 July 2021

Afghan government imposes night curfew to stem Taliban advance

Afghan government imposes night curfew to stem Taliban advance
  • The curfew will be effective between 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. local time
  • The resurgent Taliban now controls about half of Afghanistan’s roughly 400 districts

KABUL: Afghan authorities on Saturday imposed a night-time curfew across 31 of the country’s 34 provinces to curb surging violence unleashed by a sweeping Taliban offensive in recent months, the interior ministry said.
“To curb violence and limit the Taliban movements a night curfew has been imposed in 31 provinces across the country,” except in Kabul, Panjshir and Nangarhar, the interior ministry said in a statement.
The curfew will be effective between 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. local time, Ahmad Zia Zia, deputy interior ministry spokesman said in a separate audio statement to reporters.
Since early May, the Taliban have launched a widespread offensive across the country that has seen the insurgents capture border crossings, dozens of districts and encircle several provincial capitals.
With the withdrawal of American-led foreign forces all but complete, the resurgent Taliban now controls about half of Afghanistan’s roughly 400 districts.


Vietnam locks down capital Hanoi for 15 days as COVID-19 cases rise

Vietnam locks down capital Hanoi for 15 days as COVID-19 cases rise
Updated 24 July 2021

Vietnam locks down capital Hanoi for 15 days as COVID-19 cases rise

Vietnam locks down capital Hanoi for 15 days as COVID-19 cases rise
  • The lockdown order, issued late Friday night, bans the gathering of more than two people in public
  • In the latest wave of COVID-19 since April, Vietnam has recorded over 83,000 infections and 335 deaths

HANOI, Vietnam: Vietnam announced a 15-day lockdown in the capital Hanoi starting Saturday as a coronavirus surge spread from the southern Mekong Delta region.
The lockdown order, issued late Friday night, bans the gathering of more than two people in public. Only government offices, hospitals and essential businesses are allowed to stay open.
Earlier in the week, the city had suspended all outdoor activities and ordered non-essential businesses to close following an increase in cases. On Friday, Hanoi reported 70 confirmed infections, the city’s highest, part of a record 7,295 cases in the country in the last 24 hours.
Nearly 5,000 of them are from Vietnam’s largest metropolis, southern Ho Chi Minh City, which has also extended its lockdown until Aug. 1.
In the latest wave of COVID-19 since April, Vietnam has recorded over 83,000 infections and 335 deaths.
A meeting of the National Assembly that opened in Hanoi on Tuesday with 499 delegates is going ahead, although it was shortened to 12 from the original 17 days.
The delegates have been vaccinated, are regularly tested for the coronavirus and are traveling in a bubble, and are isolated at hotels, according to the National Assembly.


At least 125 dead as heavy rain in India triggers floods

At least 125 dead as heavy rain in India triggers floods
Updated 24 July 2021

At least 125 dead as heavy rain in India triggers floods

At least 125 dead as heavy rain in India triggers floods
  • Maharashtra state is being hit by the heaviest rain in July in four decades, experts say
  • Parts of India’s west coast have received up to 594mm of rain, forcing authorities to move people out of vulnerable areas

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: Rescue teams in India struggled through thick sludge and debris on Saturday to reach dozens of submerged homes as the death toll from landslides and accidents caused by torrential monsoon rain rose to 125.
Maharashtra state is being hit by the heaviest rain in July in four decades, experts say. Downpours lasting several days have severely affected the lives of hundreds of thousands, while major rivers are in danger of bursting their banks.
In Taliye, about 180 kilometers southeast of the financial capital of Mumbai, the death toll rose to 42 with the recovery of four more bodies after landslides flattened most homes in the village, a senior Maharashtra government official said.
“About 40 people are still trapped. The possibility of rescuing them alive is thin as they’ve been trapped in mud for more than 36 hours,” said the official, who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to talk to the media.
Harsh weather has hit several parts of the world in recent weeks, with floods in China and Western Europe and heat waves in North America, raising new fears about the impact of climate change.
Parts of India’s west coast have received up to 594 mm (23 inches) of rain, forcing authorities to move people out of vulnerable areas as they released water from dams about to overflow. The hill station of Mahabaleshwar recorded its highest ever rainfall — 60 cm in 24 hours.
Rescuers were searching for victims of landslides in four other places in the state, the official said.
“Around 90,000 people were rescued from flood affected areas,” the Maharashtra government said in a statement, as authorities released water from overflowing dams.
Thousands of trucks were stuck for more than 24 hours on a highway linking Mumbai with the southern technology hub of Bengaluru, with the road submerged in some places.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was in anguish over the loss of lives.
“The situation in Maharashtra due to heavy rains is being closely monitored and assistance is being provided to the affected,” Modi said on Twitter on Friday.
In the southern state of Telangana, heavy rain caused flooding in the state capital of Hyderabad and other low-lying areas.
Indian environmentalists have warned that climate change and indiscriminate construction in fragile coastal regions could lead to more disasters.
“The rain fury that lashed Mahabaleshwar ... is a strong warning against any more tampering with the ecologically fragile Western Ghats,” environment economist Devendra Sharma said on Twitter referring to the range of hills along India’s west coast.


Philippines evacuates thousands as monsoon rains flood cities, provinces

Philippines evacuates thousands as monsoon rains flood cities, provinces
Updated 24 July 2021

Philippines evacuates thousands as monsoon rains flood cities, provinces

Philippines evacuates thousands as monsoon rains flood cities, provinces
  • Over 14,000 people, most of them from a flood-prone Manila suburb, had moved into evacuation centers

MANILA: Philippine authorities moved thousands of residents of the capital, Manila, out of their low-lying communities on Saturday as heavy monsoon rain, compounded by a tropical storm, flooded the city and nearby provinces.
The national disaster agency said 14,023 people, most of them from a flood-prone Manila suburb, had moved into evacuation centers.
“We ask residents of affected areas to remain alert and vigilant, take precautionary measures, and cooperate with their respective local authorities,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.
Harsh weather has hit several parts of the world in recent weeks, bringing floods to China, India and Western Europe and heat waves to North America, raising new fears about the impact of climate change.
The Philippines, a Southeast Asian archipelago of more than 7,600 islands, sees about 20 tropical storms a year but a warmer Pacific Ocean will make storms more powerful and bring heavier rain, meteorologists say.
In some parts of the Philippine capital region, an urban sprawl of more than 13 million people, flood waters, in places waist-deep, cut off roads to light vehicles.
The Philippines is also grappling with one of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19 in Asia, and has tightened curbs to prevent the spread of the more infectious Delta variant.