US reiterates commitment to enhance security ties with Philippines

US reiterates commitment to enhance security ties with Philippines
Filipinos wearing masks for protection against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pass a mural dedicated to healthcare workers in this Oct. 30, 2020 photo taken in Manila. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 February 2021

US reiterates commitment to enhance security ties with Philippines

US reiterates commitment to enhance security ties with Philippines
  • Cites importance of ‘open dialogue’ to maintain strength of alliance

MANILA: Washington will continue to find ways to strengthen and advance security cooperation with the Philippines, its “oldest” ally in the region, the US State Department has told Arab News.

It follows the latest demand by President Rodrigo Duterte for the US to pay more if it wants to maintain the two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which allows the deployment of American troops in the country.

“We value our alliance with the Philippines, which is the oldest in the Asia-Pacific region,” the State Department said.

It an unprovoked, angry tirade on Friday, during an address to Philippine troops after inspecting newly acquired air assets, Duterte said that if the US wants the VFA to be continue, it would have to pay, citing US-Chinese relations.

“It’s a shared responsibility, but your share of responsibility does not come free. Because after all, when the war breaks out, we all pay,” Duterte said. “We are nearest to the garrison there, where there are a lot of arsenals of the Chinese armed forces.”

While the State Department’s letter did not directly address Duterte’s demands, it emphasized that it “will continue to look for ways to further strengthen and advance security cooperation that furthers shared security challenges and respects human rights.

“Open dialogue between allies is essential to maintaining the strength of an alliance which is vital to both of our countries’ security,” it said.

Duterte had unilaterally canceled the VFA last year in an angry response to an ally being denied a US visa, but retracted his decision a few months later.

He has faced widespread criticism for his latest remarks on the VFA, which several Filipinos said was “embarrassing.”

Senator Panfilo Lacson and Vice President Leni Robredo, for their part, said that Duterte’s statement gave the impression that the Philippines was a “nation of extortionists.”

Duterte responded during his public address on Monday, when he said that “foreign relations or foreign policy is vested in the president alone” and that Lacson had “nothing to do with the VFA.”

On Tuesday, however, Lacson pointed out that the constitution gives senators a say in the Philippines’ international agreements such as the VFA, “especially if they affect the country’s long-term national interest and security.”

Lacson added that “a diplomatic and civil approach is more effective in upholding the national interest in the long run.”

Another lawmaker, Senator Richard Gordon, advised Duterte to let his defense and foreign affairs secretaries negotiate for the VFA in private.

“Though the words were too harsh … the president’s demand was for the country’s interests,” he said.

During his Monday address, Duterte also accused the US of storing arms in “depots” in the Philippines and “slowly converting Subic into an American base.”

Subic is a former US naval base north of the capital city, Manila.

Denying the president’s claims, Wilma Eisma, chairperson and administrator of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) said in a statement on Wednesday that, under the VFA, US military vessels and support ships “are allowed to visit the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.

“This agreement also gives the same privilege to vessels from other nations, including Japan, India, Australia, South Korea and Indonesia, whose military ships have docked here under the said accord,” Esima said.

She added that the port visits by foreign military vessels last for only a few days — long enough for disembarkation and re-embarkation of troops and assets in case of military exercises under the VFA, or for ship re-supply and onshore visits by the crew in other cases.

These visits, she explained, have not, in any way, converted the “Subic Bay Freeport into a military base.”

Eisma further said that according to its mandate, the SBMA operates and manages the special economic zone to develop a self-sustaining industrial, commercial, financial and investment center to generate employment opportunities in and around the zone and to attract and promote productive foreign investments.

“The SBMA will continue with its economic mandate and defer to competent authorities in the matter of foreign policy and national security,” she said.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque supported the president’s demands on Monday for Washington to pay more than “loose change” for the VFA.

“If we have very strong ties with a very strong ally then I think it also comes with a higher amount of financial assistance to be given,” he told a regular briefing.

Roque cited a study by the Washington-based Stimson Center, which showed the Philippines received $3.9 billion in US counter-terrorism support from 2002-2017 compared to the $16.4 billion for Pakistan over the same period.

“We got $3.9 billion. Is that a huge amount? That’s loose change compared to what other countries were getting,” he said.

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.

Having notified Washington in February last year that he was canceling the deal, he subsequently extended the termination process, which US President Joe Biden’s administration will now oversee.

Representatives from both countries have been meeting to iron out differences over the deal.


Muslim man who ended London knifeman’s fatal attack on ex-wife appeals for release

Muslim man who ended London knifeman’s fatal attack on ex-wife appeals for release
Updated 8 sec ago

Muslim man who ended London knifeman’s fatal attack on ex-wife appeals for release

Muslim man who ended London knifeman’s fatal attack on ex-wife appeals for release
  • ‘Abraham’ ran down attacker in car in ‘heroic’ action but was charged on suspicion of murder
  • London’s Metropolitan Police is facing criticism after it was revealed that it had been warned over McCaskie’s potential for violent behavior

LONDON: A Muslim man who ran over and killed a knifeman who was stabbing his ex-wife to death has urged police to abandon the case against him after he was charged on suspicion of murder.

The 26-year-old Chechen, named Abraham, intervened in the stabbing in West London, and has been labeled a hero for his actions, the Mail Online reported.

On Monday, Leon McCaskie, a 41-year-old who was known to police over abusive and angry behavior, attacked his former wife, Yasmin Wafah Chkaifi, 43, with a knife.

Abraham, who was driving nearby, saw the attack and rammed into McCaskie with his car.

But despite his efforts to save the defenseless woman, Abraham was charged and bailed until next month on a murder charge. It has left him “living in a nightmare,” according to his friends.

Abraham said: “I do not see why I, as the person who tried to assist in the defense of other human beings, remain arrested and on bail under suspicion of murder.”

Anger over his treatment has grown, with more than 20,000 people signing a petition demanding the case against him be dropped.

His lawyer, Mohammed Akunjee, issued a statement on behalf of Abraham. “I witnessed a man repeatedly stabbing a defenseless woman on the pavement a short distance in front of my car,” it said.

“I drove my vehicle toward the attacker in order to get him away from the woman he was attacking. I did not intend to harm the attacker. I only intended to protect those being attacked.

“My vehicle struck the attacker and he was taken under my car, causing it to stall. I could not reverse my car to free him. I and the other passersby attempted to lift the car away from the attacker so we could provide the man with first aid.

“Unfortunately we were unsuccessful with this and I have since learned that both the young lady and her attacker have died. I am deeply sorry that the man I tried to stop from attacking other people has died.

“It was never my intention to harm him, I just wanted to stop him from hurting anybody further. My only regret is that God did not allow me to be present at the scene sooner so that my intervention may have saved the life of the young woman concerned.

“I have asked my solicitor to contact the Metropolitan Police to request that they consider de-arresting me and begin treating me as a witness to a tragic event rather than as a criminal as they currently are.”

Abraham’s friends said he was in shock over the incident.

One said: “If he ever sees anyone in trouble he will always try to help. He’s a good Muslim man and couldn’t bear to see the woman being attacked.

“He was on his way to a job and stopped to do the right thing. He’s in shock about what happened. It’s been a nightmare for him.”

Another said: “This guy is a family man with children and was just doing the right thing. It was instinct and an act of human kindness.

“He is one of the most peaceful and good people I’ve ever met. He would never walk away when somebody needs help.

“He risked his life to save this poor woman. Police should praise him and let him go to his little children and wife.”

London’s Metropolitan Police said Abraham had been “fully cooperative” after being arrested following the incident.

The force is also facing criticism after it was revealed that it had been warned over McCaskie’s potential for violent behavior.

Chkaifi was increasingly concerned that McCaskie would try to kill her after learning that he had planted secret cameras in her home.

“He’s had cameras in my house recording me for months. He’s stolen my mail, my phone and has access to all my personal data. I think he will kill me.”

Chkaifi had filed a police report over the stalking allegations.

McCaskie was also convicted of obstructing a police officer and driving without insurance in 2017.

Chkaifi was a qualified childminder and was studying for a master’s degree.

A friend said of the slain mother: “She was a good soul. It’s very rare in life you come across a good soul. She always had a happy disposition. She was just a lovely person.”

Another said: “She was incredibly kind, hospitable and an amazing cook and dancer. She had a bubbly personality and a confidence about her that was so attractive.

“She was proud of her Moroccan heritage and a spiritual woman. We spoke about Islam, identity and social justice. She was a good person.”


Diaspora in Brazil reconnecting with Lebanon

Diaspora in Brazil reconnecting with Lebanon
Updated 27 January 2022

Diaspora in Brazil reconnecting with Lebanon

Diaspora in Brazil reconnecting with Lebanon
  • Renewed interest caused by socioeconomic crisis, Port of Beirut blast
  • Embassy urging Lebanese citizens living in Brazil to register to vote in upcoming elections

SAO PAULO: The ongoing Lebanese socioeconomic crisis, and the devastating explosion at the Port of Beirut in August 2020, have led many Lebanese Brazilians to show greater interest in the Arab country’s affairs.

Over the past couple of years, Lebanese Brazilians — whose numbers are estimated at between 3 million and 10 million — have promoted drives to assist Lebanon’s people, and have become more involved in its politics.   

This trend was intensified by a campaign launched in 2021 by the Lebanese Embassy in Brasilia to encourage Lebanese citizens living in Brazil to register to vote in elections scheduled for May.

“Many Lebanese Brazilians know very little about Lebanon. But now I think people are more conscious and trying to be informed,” said trader Nagib Makhlouf, 69, who was born in Brazil but has Lebanese citizenship.

He has already taken part in three Lebanese elections: Two in the country — he used to visit to see his mother, who lived there — and one from Brazil.  

“Lebanon is in such bad shape that many people in Brazil are outraged with the situation. I know a group of 10 Lebanese Jews who decided to register and vote for the first time,” Makhlouf said.

Lebanese-born Lody Brais, a community leader who helped publicize the embassy’s campaign, said more and more young Lebanese Brazilians have been manifesting their wish to get involved with Lebanon and help it overcome its crises.

“The diaspora’s vote may help change Lebanese politics. People have lost confidence in politicians,” added Brais, who helped collect food and medicines to be donated to Beirut after the explosion.

“Many descendants who have relatives there sent them money. Everybody was concerned for the victims.”

At the time, lawyer Hanna Mtanios Hanna Jr., honorary consul of Lebanon in the Brazilian city of Goiania, received dozens of calls during his COVID-19 confinement from people who wanted to do something to help Beirut.

“Grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Lebanese immigrants would call me saying they had a family connection with the country and wanted to help. Since then, their ties with Lebanon have been growing,” he said.

Lawyer Maggie Chidiac, 58, who has family in Lebanon, told Arab News that it is perceptible how living conditions in the country have declined in recent years.

“We’ve been sending them food and medicines. Community associations and churches usually coordinate donations,” she said.

“The people are facing terrible challenges. We know it because we’re always in touch with them through the internet.”

Communication between Lebanese and their Brazilian relatives have served to inform the latter about Lebanon’s politics, Chidiac said.

“Their reports and opinions are very important for us because they help us understand their situation,” she added.

One of the institutions that coordinated the donations campaign in 2020, the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce — known by the Portuguese acronym CCAB — not only funded healthcare items that were sent by Brazil’s government to Beirut, but also launched money-donation drives.

“The Lebanese consulate in Rio de Janeiro organized a music concert in which Brazilian musicians played with the Beirut orchestra,” said Mohamad Orra Mourad, CCAB’s vice president of international affairs.

“It was televised, and people could donate money to one of our accounts during the show. It all was sent to the Lebanese Red Cross.”

A Brazilian plane carried 6 tons of food, medicines and healthcare items, including mechanical ventilators.

CCAB was awarded a medal by Brazil’s government in December due its efforts in that campaign.

Mourad said the Lebanese Embassy met with Lebanese-Brazilian business leaders in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro last year, and asked them to find a way of contributing to the Lebanese economy.

“We’ve been organizing informal gatherings and discussing forms of answering that request, which can include an investment fund, for instance,” Mourad said.

CCAB will establish a juridical entity that can centralize donations for Lebanon and plans to launch different initiatives, including a program to train businesspeople in the country. Mourad said it also intends to connect Lebanese and Brazilian startups.

“We’ve been pushing for ratification of a commercial agreement between Lebanon and Mercosur,” he added, referring to the South American trade bloc. With ratification, “the commercial exchange could rapidly increase.”

Mourad believes that if more Lebanese Brazilians obtain Lebanese citizenship, they will feel more connected to the country and may decide to invest in it.

“The revived interest among Lebanese Brazilians can certainly lead businessmen to invest in Lebanon,” he said.

“But that will only happen if Lebanon can demonstrate that it will work to overcome instability.”


Royal Navy cannot solve English Channel migrant crisis, veteran tells MPs

Royal Navy cannot solve English Channel migrant crisis, veteran tells MPs
Updated 27 January 2022

Royal Navy cannot solve English Channel migrant crisis, veteran tells MPs

Royal Navy cannot solve English Channel migrant crisis, veteran tells MPs
  • Tom Sharpe: ‘We have to acknowledge … where the solution to this lies, and it’s not at sea’
  • Over 28,000 people made perilous crossing in 2021, many from Middle East, North Africa

LONDON: The British Royal Navy is incapable of patroling the English Channel to prevent further migrant crossings, and increased ships in the area could encourage more to attempt the perilous journey, a former patrol boat commander has warned MPs.

Tom Sharpe, who served in the navy for 27 years, made his comments as Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed to it taking over the Channel patrols operation from the Border Force.

A record 28,381 migrants arrived on British shores on dinghies or other small vessels last year, triple the number for 2020. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel last week told Parliament that she had “commissioned the Ministry of Defense as a crucial operational partner to protect our Channel against illegal migration.” 

On Wednesday, Sharpe told the House of Commons defense committee: “We have to acknowledge right at the start, in terms of context, about where the solution to this lies, and it’s not at sea.”

He added: “If you fill the Channel with ships you could make this problem worse because you’re now making the crossing safer, and therefore more attractive.

“In terms of what the navy’s got right now, as I say they could use anything, but there is no fat, there is no spare capacity.

“The person in the planning board ... is going to be hoping desperately that naval vessels aren’t requisitioned for this task because they’re all in use on other things.”

John Spellar, acting chairman of the defense committee, said it is “unfortunate that the Ministry of Defense has declined to provide either a minister or an official or a senior navy officer” to respond to queries. 

Sharpe said the navy could assist with intelligence collection and resource organization, suggesting that ministers could spend on 10 surveillance nodes to track attempted crossings. 

Under this approach, he said, “you’re not playing ‘whack-a-mole’ any more, to use that expression, which is what I think is happening now.”

The veteran sailor said he could not “conceive a situation where you’re physically turning these ships back that’s either legal, or perhaps more importantly, safe.”

His comments against more confrontational tactics come as Border Force workers this month threatened to strike over Patel’s “pushback” tactics, which were passed in September but are currently under judicial review. 

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “We cannot have a situation where our members could be open to potential civil and criminal action for implementing a policy that they do not agree with and know is not safe.”


Violence erupts at rally in Pakistan’s port city, killing 1

Violence erupts at rally in Pakistan’s port city, killing 1
Updated 27 January 2022

Violence erupts at rally in Pakistan’s port city, killing 1

Violence erupts at rally in Pakistan’s port city, killing 1
  • MQM mainly represents ethnic MoHajjirs, who fled to Pakistan from India during 1947′s partition

KARACHI: Police in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi clashed overnight with activists demanding the repeal of a law to limit powers of local mayors, killing one, officials said Thursday.
The violence erupted when police swung batons and fired tear gas to prevent rallygoers from marching toward government offices in the southern port city, drawing nationwide condemnation across the political spectrum.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, or MQM, told reporters that party member Mohammad Aslam died at a hospital after being injured in the ensuing crush with police. Women and children were also among the dozens of injured.
MQM mainly represents ethnic MoHajjirs, who fled to Pakistan from India during 1947′s partition, and it dominates politics in Karachi, the capital of southern Sindh province. It is an ally in the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Thousands are expected to attend the activist’s funeral on Thursday, and the MQM has called for another day of protests.

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India probes illegal immigration after tragedy near Canada border

India probes illegal immigration after tragedy near Canada border
Updated 27 January 2022

India probes illegal immigration after tragedy near Canada border

India probes illegal immigration after tragedy near Canada border
  • Hundreds of Indians, mostly from the western states of Punjab and Gujarat, attempt to cross the US-Canada border each year

MUMBAI: Indian police have detained six people in a crackdown on illegal immigration after four Indians were found frozen to death near the border between the United States and Canada last week, officials said on Thursday.
Hundreds of Indians, mostly from the western states of Punjab and Gujarat, attempt to cross the US-Canada border each year, braving harsh weather conditions in search of a better life and job opportunities in the West.
Police in Gujarat said they identified the four, belonging to a single family, after law enforcement agencies on the border provided photographs of passports and other belongings.
“We are now trying to nab the human traffickers who managed to send this family and others abroad via illegal channels,” said police official A.K. Jhala in the state capital of Gandhinagar.
The six detained by police were running a travel and tourism company in the state, he added.
US authorities have charged a US man with human trafficking after the four — a man, woman, baby and teenager — were found dead in the Canadian province of Manitoba, a few yards north of the frontier with Minnesota.
They were among four families from the same village who had traveled to the border this month.
Officials said they got separated from the group of 18 people and were probably caught in a blizzard, resulting in a tragedy described as “mind-blowing” by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The situation came to light only when the group was intercepted by authorities and one of them was found to be carrying a backpack with baby supplies, although there was no infant among them.
“The nexus of human trafficking runs deep, often involving local politicians too,” said Jhala, adding that people even sell their land and homes to fund efforts to get to the United States or Canada.
A foreign ministry official in the Indian capital of New Delhi said authorities were coordinating with border officials in the United States and Canada to investigate the illegal immigration case.