Philippines to deploy 40,000 troops to secure elections

Special Philippines to deploy 40,000 troops to secure elections
Farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon province march along the EDSA highway to support the presidential candidate and incumbent Vice President Leni Robredo ahead of the 2022 national elections, in Mandaluyong City, Philippines, April 28, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 May 2022

Philippines to deploy 40,000 troops to secure elections

Philippines to deploy 40,000 troops to secure elections
  • More than 67 million Filipinos are expected to cast their votes on May 9
  • Philippine authorities said there are more than a hundred ‘areas of grave concern’

MANILA: The Philippine military said on Sunday more than 40,000 troops will be deployed to prevent disruption in the May 9 election, when tens of millions of Filipinos are expected to cast their ballots.

In a country with historically high turnouts, more than 67 million Filipinos have registered to vote in the upcoming elections to choose the successor to President Rodrigo Duterte. They will also elect a vice president, around 300 lawmakers and 18,000 local government officials, including provincial governors and town mayors.

The Philippines poll commission, known as Comelec, has marked more than a hundred “areas of grave concern” across the archipelagic country.

Col. Ramon Zagala, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the military is working together with the Philippine National Police to ensure security during the elections.

"Right now, we allocated 40,000 troops just for election duties and … we can even commit more,” Zagala told Arab News.

“There are 114 towns and 15 cities that Comelec identified as areas of grave concern that we will focus on.”

Violence has been a recurring concern during Philippine polls, which have been one of the deadliest periods in the country’s politics, especially in the south where warlord-politicians often have their own private armies.

Zagala said there are currently no major threats to the elections, but that authorities will “continue to monitor and continuously conduct checkpoints.” 

The Philippine military is also monitoring local threats, including the New People’s Army, Abu Sayyaf Group, and Maute Group.

“We are monitoring the areas where these groups are based,” Zagala said.

One of the deadliest election-related incidents in the country was the Maguindanao massacre that took place in November 2009, ahead of the presidential vote in 2010. It claimed 58 lives — politicians, their supporters, and at least 32 journalists.

The incident triggered widespread condemnation, but the region continues to be a hotspot where violence is expected during the election cycle.

US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites

US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites
Updated 17 August 2022

US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites

US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites
  • Despite years of warnings and a deadline imposed by Washington, states that depend on the river have not managed to agree on a plan to cut their usage

LOS ANGELES: Water supplies to some US states and Mexico will be cut to avoid “catastrophic collapse” of the Colorado River, Washington officials said Tuesday, as a historic drought bites.
More than two decades of well below average rainfall have left the river — the lifeblood of the western United States — at critical levels, as human-caused climate change worsens the natural drought cycle.
Despite years of warnings and a deadline imposed by Washington, states that depend on the river have not managed to agree on a plan to cut their usage, and on Tuesday, the federal government said it was stepping in.
“In order to avoid a catastrophic collapse of the Colorado River System and a future of uncertainty and conflict, water use in the Basin must be reduced,” said Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary for water and science at the US Interior Department.
Arizona’s allocation from the river will fall by 21 percent in 2023, while Nevada will get eight percent less. Mexico’s allotment will drop by seven percent.
California, the biggest user of the river’s water and the most populous of the western states, will not be affected next year.
The Colorado River rises in the Rocky Mountains and snakes its way through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California and northern Mexico, where it empties into the Gulf of California.
It is fed chiefly by snowpack at high altitudes, which melts slowly throughout the warmer months.
But reduced precipitation and the higher temperatures caused by humanity’s unchecked burning of fossil fuels means less snow is falling, and what snow exists, is melting faster.
As a consequence, there is not as much water in the river that supplies tens of millions of people and countless acres of farmland.
The states that use the water have been locked in negotiations over how to slash usage, but missed a Monday deadline to cut a deal, so Washington stepped in.
Officials in upstream states hit out Tuesday at what they saw as an unfair settlement, with California exempted from any cuts.
“It is unacceptable for Arizona to continue to carry a disproportionate burden of reductions for the benefit of others who have not contributed,” said a statement by Tom Buschatzke, director of the state’s Department of Water Resources and Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Project.
Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Beaudreau said his department — which oversees US water supplies — was “using every resource available to conserve water and ensure that irrigators, Tribes and adjoining communities receive adequate assistance.”
“The worsening drought crisis impacting the Colorado River Basin is driven by the effects of climate change, including extreme heat and low precipitation,” he said.
“In turn, severe drought conditions exacerbate wildfire risk and ecosystems disruption, increasing the stress on communities and our landscapes.”
The western United States is suffering under a drought that is now in its 23rd year, the worst episode in more than 1,000 years.
That drought has left swathes of the country dry and vulnerable to hotter, faster and more destructive wildfires.
Communities served by the Colorado River, including Los Angeles, have been ordered to save water, with unpopular restrictions in place on outdoor watering.
Those restrictions are unevenly adhered to, with some lawns — especially in the plushest parts of Los Angeles and its surroundings — still remarkably green.

Biden signs massive climate and health care legislation

Biden signs massive climate and health care legislation
Updated 17 August 2022

Biden signs massive climate and health care legislation

Biden signs massive climate and health care legislation
  • In a triumphant signing event at the White House, Biden pointed to the law as proof that democracy — no matter how long or messy the process — can still deliver for voters in America

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden signed Democrats’ landmark climate change and health care bill into law on Tuesday, delivering what he has called the “final piece” of his pared-down domestic agenda, as he aims to boost his party’s standing with voters less than three months before the midterm elections.
The legislation includes the most substantial federal investment in history to fight climate change — some $375 billion over the decade — and would cap prescription drug costs at $2,000 out-of-pocket annually for Medicare recipients. It also would help an estimated 13 million Americans pay for health care insurance by extending subsidies provided during the coronavirus pandemic.
The measure is paid for by new taxes on large companies and stepped-up IRS enforcement of wealthy individuals and entities, with additional funds going to reduce the federal deficit.
In a triumphant signing event at the White House, Biden pointed to the law as proof that democracy — no matter how long or messy the process — can still deliver for voters in America as he road-tested a line he will likely repeat later this fall ahead of the midterms: “The American people won, and the special interests lost.”
“In this historic moment, Democrats sided with the American people, and every single Republican in the Congress sided with the special interests in this vote,” Biden said, repeatedly seizing on the contrast between his party and the GOP. “Every single one.”
The House on Friday approved the measure on a party-line 220-207 vote. It passed the Senate days earlier with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a 50-50 tie in that chamber.
“In normal times, getting these bills done would be a huge achievement,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said during the White House ceremony. “But to do it now, with only 50 Democratic votes in the Senate, over an intransigent Republican minority, is nothing short of amazing.”
Biden signed the bill into law during a small ceremony in the State Dining Room of the White House, sandwiched between his return from a six-day beachside vacation in South Carolina and his departure for his home in Wilmington, Delaware. He plans to hold a larger “celebration” for the legislation on Sept. 6 once lawmakers return to Washington.
The signing caps a spurt of legislative productivity for Biden and Congress, who in three months have approved legislation on veterans’ benefits, the semiconductor industry and gun checks for young buyers. The president and lawmakers have also responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and overwhelmingly supported NATO membership for Sweden and Finland.
With Biden’s approval rating lagging, Democrats are hoping that the string of successes will jump-start their chances of maintaining control in Washington in the November midterms. The 79-year-old president aims to restore his own standing with voters as he contemplates a reelection bid.
The White House announced Monday that it was going to deploy Biden and members of his Cabinet on a “Building a Better America Tour” to promote the recent victories. One of Biden’s trips will be to Ohio, where he’ll view the groundbreaking of a semiconductor plant that will benefit from the recent law to bolster production of such computer chips. He will also stop in Pennsylvania to promote his administration’s plan for safer communities, a visit that had been planned the same day he tested positive for COVID-19 last month.
Biden also plans to hold a Cabinet meeting to discuss how to implement the new climate and health care law.
Republicans say the legislation’s new business taxes will increase prices, worsening the nation’s bout with its highest inflation since 1981. Though Democrats have labeled the measure the Inflation Reduction Act, nonpartisan analysts say it will have a barely perceptible impact on prices.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., on Tuesday continued those same criticisms, although he acknowledged there would be “benefit” through extensions on tax credits for renewable energy projects like solar and wind.
“I think it’s too much spending, too much taxing, and in my view wrong priorities, and a super-charged, super-sized IRS that is going to be going after a lot of not just high-income taxpayers but a lot of mid-income taxpayers,” said Thune, speaking at a Chamber of Commerce event in Sioux Falls. The administration has disputed that anyone but high earners will face increased tax scrutiny, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen directing the tax agency to focus solely on businesses and people earning more than $400,000 per year for the new audits.
The measure is a slimmed-down version of the more ambitious plan to supercharge environment and social programs that Biden and his party unveiled early last year.
Biden’s initial 10-year, $3.5 trillion proposal also envisioned free prekindergarten, paid family and medical leave, expanded Medicare benefits and eased immigration restrictions. That crashed after centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Virginia, said it was too costly, using the leverage every Democrat has in the evenly divided Senate.
During the signing event, Biden addressed Manchin, who struck the critical deal with Schumer on the package last month, saying, “Joe, I never had a doubt” as the crowd chuckled. Later, outside the White House, Manchin said he has always maintained a “friendly relationship” with Biden and it has “never been personal” between the two, despite Manchin breaking off his negotiations with the White House last year.
“He’s a little bit more vintage than I am, but not much,” Manchin said of Biden.
Though the law is considerably smaller than their initial ambitions, Biden and Democrats are hailing the legislation as a once-in-a-generation investment in addressing the long-term effects of climate change, as well as drought in the nation’s West.
The bill will direct spending, tax credits and loans to bolster technology like solar panels, consumer efforts to improve home energy efficiency, emission-reducing equipment for coal- and gas-powered power plants, and air pollution controls for farms, ports and low-income communities.
Another $64 billion would help 13 million people pay premiums over the next three years for privately bought health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Medicare would gain the power to negotiate its costs for pharmaceuticals, initially in 2026 for only 10 drugs. Medicare beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket prescription costs would be limited to $2,000 annually starting in 2025, and beginning next year would pay no more than $35 monthly for insulin, the costly diabetes drug.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a powerful political ally to Biden, noted during the White House ceremony that his late wife, Emily, who battled diabetes for three decades, would be “beyond joy” if she were alive today because of the insulin cap.
“Many seem surprised at your successes,” Clyburn told Biden. “I am not. I know you.”


Cheney braces for loss as Trump tested in Wyoming and Alaska

Cheney braces for loss as Trump tested in Wyoming and Alaska
Updated 17 August 2022

Cheney braces for loss as Trump tested in Wyoming and Alaska

Cheney braces for loss as Trump tested in Wyoming and Alaska
  • Win or lose, the 56-year-old daughter of a vice president is vowing to remain an active presence in national politics as she contemplates a 2024 presidential bid

CHEYENNE, Wyoming: Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a leader in the Republican resistance to former President Donald Trump, is fighting to save her seat in the US House on Tuesday as voters weigh in on the direction of the GOP.
Cheney is bracing for a loss against a Trump-backed challenger in the state in which he won by the largest of margins during the 2020 campaign.
Win or lose, the 56-year-old daughter of a vice president is vowing to remain an active presence in national politics as she contemplates a 2024 presidential bid. But in the short term, Cheney is facing a dire threat from Republican opponent Harriet Hageman, a Cheyenne ranching industry attorney who has harnessed the full fury of the Trump movement in her bid to expel Cheney from the House.
“Today, no matter what the outcome is, is certainly the beginning of a battle that is going to continue,” Cheney told CBS News after casting her vote Tuesday, standing alongside her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney. “We’re facing a moment where our democracy really is under attack and under threat. And those of us across the board — Republicans, Democrats and independents who believe deeply in freedom and who care about the Constitution and the future of the country — have an obligation to put that above party.”
Many of Wyoming’s voters don’t seem to agree with their three-term Republican congresswoman.
“We like Trump. She tried to impeach Trump,” Cheyenne voter Chester Barkell said of Cheney. “I don’t trust Liz Cheney.”
And in Jackson, Republican voter Dan Winder said he felt betrayed.
“Over 70 percent of the state of Wyoming voted Republican in the last presidential election and she turned right around and voted against us,” said Winder, a hotel manager. “She was our representative, not her own.”
Tuesday’s contests in Wyoming and Alaska offer one of the final tests for Trump and his brand of hard-line politics ahead of the November general election. So far, the former president has largely dominated the fight to shape the GOP in his image, having helped install loyalists in key general election matchups from Arizona to Georgia to Pennsylvania.
This week’s contests come just eight days after the FBI executed a search warrant at Trump’s Florida estate, recovering 11 sets of classified records. Some were marked “sensitive compartmented information,” a special category meant to protect the nation’s most important secrets. The Republican Party initially rallied behind the former president, although the reaction turned somewhat mixed as more details emerged.
In Alaska, a recent change to state election law gives a periodic Trump critic, US Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an opportunity to survive the former president’s wrath, even after she voted to convict him in his second impeachment trial. She is the only Senate Republican running for reelection this year who backed Trump’s impeachment.
The top four primary Senate candidates in Alaska, regardless of party, will advance to the November general election, where voters will rank them in order of preference.
In all, seven Republican senators and 10 Republican House members joined every Democrat in supporting Trump’s impeachment in the days after his supporters stormed the US Capitol as Congress tried to certify President Joe Biden’s victory.
Just two of those 10 House members have won their GOP primaries this year. The rest have lost or declined to seek reelection. Cheney would be just the third to return to Congress if she defies expectations on Tuesday.
Murkowski is facing 18 opponents — the most prominent of which is Republican Kelly Tshibaka, who has been endorsed by Trump — in her push to preserve a seat she has held for nearly 20 years.
On the other side of the GOP’s tent, Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee, hopes to spark a political comeback on Tuesday. She’s actually on Tuesday’s ballot twice: once in a special election to complete former Rep. Don Young’s term and another for a full two-year House term starting in January.
Back in Wyoming, Cheney’s political survival may depend upon persuading enough Democrats to cast ballots in her Republican primary election. While some Democrats have rallied behind her, it’s unclear whether there are enough in the state to make a difference.
As of Aug. 1, 2022, there were 285,000 registered voters in Wyoming, including 40,000 Democrats and 208,000 Republicans.
Ardath Junge, of Cheyenne, said she recently changed her registration from Democratic to Republican.
“I did it just to vote for Cheney because I believe in what she’s doing,” said Junge, a retired schoolteacher.
Many Republicans in the state — and in the country — have essentially excommunicated Cheney because of her outspoken criticism of Trump. The House GOP ousted her as the No. 3 House leader last year. And more recently, the Wyoming GOP and Republican National Committee censured her.
Anti-Trump groups such as US Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s Country First PAC and the Republican Accountability Project have worked to encourage independents and Democrats to support Cheney in recent weeks. They are clearly disappointed by the expected outcome of Tuesday’s election, although some are hopeful about her political future.
“What’s remarkable is that in the face of almost certain defeat she’s never once wavered,” said Sarah Longwell, executive director of the Republican Accountability Project. “We’ve been watching a national American figure be forged. It’s funny how small the election feels — the Wyoming election — because she feels bigger than it now.”
Cheney has seemingly welcomed defeat by devoting almost every resource at her disposal to ending Trump’s political career since the insurrection.
She emerged as a leader in the congressional committee investigating Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 attack, giving the Democrat-led panel genuine bipartisan credibility. She has also devoted the vast majority of her time to the committee instead of the campaign trail back home, a decision that still fuels murmurs of disapproval among some Wyoming allies. And she has closed out the primary campaign with an unflinching anti-Trump message.
“There is nothing more important she will ever do than lead the effort to make sure Donald Trump is never again near the Oval Office,” Dick Cheney said in a recent ad produced by his daughter’s campaign.
Cheney’s allies were struggling not to lose hope in the hours before polls closed.
“I’m still hopeful that the polling numbers are wrong,” said Landon Brown, a Wyoming state representative and vocal Cheney ally. “It’ll be a crying shame really if she does lose. It shows just how much of a stranglehold that Donald Trump has on the Republican Party.”

Chinese navy ship docks in Sri Lanka, stokes worry in India

Chinese navy ship docks in Sri Lanka, stokes worry in India
Updated 16 August 2022

Chinese navy ship docks in Sri Lanka, stokes worry in India

Chinese navy ship docks in Sri Lanka, stokes worry in India
  • The Yuan Wang 5 sailed into the Hambantota port and was welcomed by Sri Lankan and Chinese officials in the morning

HAMBANTOTA, Sri Lanka: A Chinese navy vessel arrived at a Beijing-built port in southern Sri Lanka on Tuesday, after its port call was earlier delayed due to apparent security concerns raised by India.

The Yuan Wang 5 sailed into the Hambantota port and was welcomed by Sri Lankan and Chinese officials in the morning. The development could spark worry in India, which views China’s rising influence in the Indian Ocean with suspicion.

Sri Lanka has referred to the Yuan Wang 5 as a “scientific research ship,” but there are fears in India that the vessel could be used to surveil the region, with multiple media reports calling it a “dual-use spy ship.”

“The Yuan Wang 5 is a powerful tracking vessel whose significant aerial reach — reportedly around 750 km — means that several ports in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh could be on China’s radar,” the Indian Express newspaper wrote.

The keenly watched developments surrounding the vessel underscore the competing interest from regional giants India and China in the small island nation. For more than a decade, Sri Lanka’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean and along one of the busiest shipping routes has seen both countries vie for influence.

Over the years, Beijing was widely seen as having an upper hand with its free-flowing loans and infrastructure investments. But Sri Lanka’s economic collapse proved an opportunity for India to gain greater sway, as New Delhi stepped in with massive financial and material assistance to its neighbor.

The ship has permission to dock in Hambantota until Aug. 22, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry said last weekend. It added that China had agreed the ship would keep its identification systems on and would not carry out any research activities while in Sri Lanka waters.

“Given the geopolitical dynamics in the region and Sri Lanka’s heavy vulnerability on the economic front, Sri Lanka is playing with two fires at a diplomatic level,” said international affairs analyst Ranga Kalansooriya.

The Yuan Wang family of naval vessels serve both the Chinese missile force and the space program, which is run by the People’s Liberation Army, the military wing of the ruling Communist Party.

Previous official Chinese media reports have described PLA officers serving in command positions aboard the vessels in the Yuan Wang class, which may also have civilians in their crews.

China Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin dismissed concerns about the ship in a briefing Monday.

“I would like to reiterate that the marine scientific research conducted by the research ship Yuan Wang 5 conforms to international law and international common practice, and will not affect the security and economic interests of any country,” he said.

German troops back to Bosnia as fear of instability grows

German troops back to Bosnia as fear of instability grows
Updated 16 August 2022

German troops back to Bosnia as fear of instability grows

German troops back to Bosnia as fear of instability grows
  • NATO and senior EU officials have warned that instability from the war in Ukraine could spread to the Western Balkans
  • Bosnian Serb separatist leader Milorad Dodik, during a visit to Novi Grad, said that German troops were not welcome

BERLIN: Germany has deployed troops with the European Union’s peacekeeping mission in Bosnia for the first time in a decade as concerns mount instability from the Ukraine war could spread to the Western Balkans.
On Tuesday, the first German troops to return to the country were greeted in a ceremony at the Sarajevo headquarters of the EUFOR force that marked the start of their mission, a German military spokesman said.
Germany will deploy some 30 troops in total to Bosnia by mid-September, returning to the force that it had left at the end of 2012.
Bosnia is hundreds of miles from the fighting in Ukraine but faces an increasingly assertive Bosnian Serb separatist movement that analysts say has at least tacit support from Moscow.
NATO and senior EU officials have warned that instability from the war in Ukraine could spread to the Western Balkans.
Only days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU decided to almost double the size of its EUFOR peacekeeping force to 1,100 from 600 troops by sending in reserves to stave off potential instability.
During a visit to the northern town of Novi Grad on Tuesday, Bosnian Serb separatist leader Milorad Dodik said German troops are not welcome, referring to Germany’s role in the World War Two. Dodik has previously said he regretted agreeing as a member of the state presidency to extend the mandate of EUFOR.
EUFOR’s mandate runs out in November, and it is up to the UN Security Council to decide whether to extend it for another year. Concerns are growing in the West that Moscow might use its veto to prevent an agreement.
The Russian embassy in Bosnia in a statement on its website decried “unacceptable references” to the impact of events in Ukraine on the situation in Bosnia and said EUFOR itself had described the situation as peaceful and stable in its last report to the UN Security Council.
“The narrative about the need to expand the EUFOR military personnel, including the German troops, is unfounded,” it said.
The statement added that some Western states, primarily the United States and Britain, were preparing the ground for a “crawling NATO-ization” of Bosnia.
EUFOR replaced NATO peacekeeping troops in Bosnia in 2004.
The European troops are meant to stabilize the country after Bosnia’s Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks waged a war for territory in the 1990s in which 100,000 people died.