Philippines’ Duterte, infamous for deadly drug war, ends term

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (C) holding a Galil sniper rifle with outgoing Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald dela Rosa (L) during a change of command ceremony at Camp Crame in Manila. (AFP file photo)
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (C) holding a Galil sniper rifle with outgoing Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald dela Rosa (L) during a change of command ceremony at Camp Crame in Manila. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 28 June 2022

Philippines’ Duterte, infamous for deadly drug war, ends term

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (C) holding a Galil sniper rifle in Manila. (AFP file photo)
  • Duterte’s woes deepened during his final year in office as International Criminal Court (ICC) judges authorized a full-blown investigation into a possible crime against humanity during his drugs crackdown

MANILA: Rodrigo Duterte, who steps down as Philippine president Thursday, has earned international infamy for his deadly drug war and foul-mouthed tirades but remains hugely popular among Filipinos fed up with the country’s dysfunction and political elite.
A tough-talking populist and self-professed killer, Duterte launched an anti-crime campaign that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of alleged dealers and addicts while drawing global condemnation.
Yet millions of Filipinos backed the 77-year-old’s swift brand of justice, even as he joked about rape in his rambling speeches, locked up his critics and failed to root out the nation’s entrenched corruption.
His daughter Sara’s victory in the vice presidential race on May 9 showed his popularity remains sky-high, six years after being swept to power on a promise to rid the country of drugs.
That trust was dented by the coronavirus pandemic, which plunged the country into its worst economic crisis in decades, leaving thousands dead and millions jobless amid a slow-paced vaccine rollout.
Duterte’s woes deepened during his final year in office as International Criminal Court (ICC) judges authorized a full-blown investigation into a possible crime against humanity during his drugs crackdown.
Critics of his signature campaign ended up behind bars or facing lengthy jail terms, including opposition Senator Leila de Lima and journalist Maria Ressa, who was named a Time magazine person of the year in 2018 for her work.

Duterte repeatedly said there was no official campaign to illegally kill addicts and dealers, but his speeches included incitements to violence and he told police to kill drug suspects if their lives were in danger.
“If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself, as getting their parents to do it would be too painful,” Duterte said hours after being sworn in as president in June 2016.
His unfiltered comments were part of his self-styled image as a maverick, which found traction with a public desperate for solutions to pervasive corruption, dysfunction and bureaucratic red tape.
He freely used vulgarities and even called God “stupid,” a widely disparaged opinion in the majority-Catholic Philippines.
A night owl who turned up his nose at diplomatic niceties, he would show up several hours late to public events — often with his shirt partly unbuttoned and sleeves rolled up — where he gave hours-long stream-of-consciousness speeches.
Duterte was rarely seen in public during the pandemic, apart from weekly appearances on television in pre-recorded meetings with his key advisers.
On occasion, he disappeared altogether, fueling rumors about his health until loyal aides posted “proof of life” photos on social media, showing him playing golf, riding a motorbike or taking a walk.
The former lawyer and prosecutor was born in 1945 into a political family. His father served for three years as a cabinet secretary in Ferdinand Marcos’s government before the nation plunged into dictatorship in 1972.
An ally of the Marcos family, Duterte even allowed Ferdinand, whose brutal regime silenced the legislature and killed opponents, to be buried in the capital’s Heroes’ Cemetery.
During his long tenure as mayor of the southern city of Davao, Duterte was accused of links to vigilante death squads that rights groups say killed more than 1,000 people there — accusations he has both accepted and denied.

His rule was also marked by a swing away from the nation’s former colonial master, the United States, in favor of China.
“I simply love (Chinese President) Xi Jinping... he understands my problem and is willing to help, so I would say thank you China,” he said in April 2018.
As part of that rapprochement, he set aside the rivalry with Beijing over the resource-rich South China Sea, opting to court Chinese business instead.
But billions of dollars of promised trade and investment from the country’s superpower neighbor have been slow to materialize.
In July, he walked back a decision to end a key military deal with the United States.
Duterte failed to tackle some of the country’s worst problems, including corruption, wrongdoing and impunity among local officials and police.
Three Philippine policemen were sentenced in 2018 to decades in prison for murdering a teenager during an anti-narcotics sweep, the first and only conviction so far against officers carrying out Duterte’s war on drugs.
Duterte’s critics hailed the conviction as a rare example of justice and accountability during the president’s reign.
He had said he was ready to go to jail over the crackdown, but vowed never to allow himself to come under ICC jurisdiction.
Characteristically defiant and menacing, Duterte said in May he would continue waging his drug war even after leaving office.
“I will go riding on a motorcycle and roam around... I’ll search for drug peddlers, shoot them and kill them.”


Philippine official cites Saudi Arabia’s commitment to migrant workers’ rights

Philippine official cites Saudi Arabia’s commitment to migrant workers’ rights
Updated 11 sec ago

Philippine official cites Saudi Arabia’s commitment to migrant workers’ rights

Philippine official cites Saudi Arabia’s commitment to migrant workers’ rights
  • Over 150 countries voted in favor of the UN Global Compact on Migration with the exception of five countries
  • Saudi Arabia has signed 23 agreements with labor-exporting countries, the contents of which conform to international standards

DUBAI: Philippine migrant workers secretary Susan Ople has cited Saudi Arabia’s commitment to support migrant workers’ rights, as she announced stricter measures to protect the rights and welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), particularly domestic workers.

The official, in a statement highlighted Saudi Arabia’s “public expression of support for the UN Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which declares that the protection of migrants and migrant workers is a shared responsibility among States.”

“Even countries where the sponsorship or ‘Kafala system’ is in place have signed this UN document, signifying their support to sound migration governance and humane treatment of migrant workers, including those in vulnerable occupations such as domestic work,” Ople said in her statement.

Over 150 countries voted in favor of the UN Global Compact on Migration with the exception of five countries: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, Poland and the United States.

Sattam Alharbi, Deputy Minister of Human Resource and Social Development, in an earlier UN forum in New York, reiterated the robust partnership between the Philippines, as the labor-sending country, and Saudi Arabia, a country of migrant labor destination.

Saudi Arabia has signed 23 agreements with labor-exporting countries, the contents of which are per international standards, to ensure a partnership based on the promotion of human rights between employees and employers.

In 2021, about 1.6 million overseas Filipinos comprised Saudi Arabia’s 13.49 million expatriate population. Saudi Arabia is the leading destination for OFWs, making about 26.6 percent of those being deployed.

“Safeguarding the rights and welfare of our migrant workers is at the heart of the DMW’s programs, services, and agreements. We will always strive to do our best amid so many challenges in the world we live in,” Ople said.

Some of the initiatives to be put in place to ensure protection of OFWs include the performance review and assessment of licensed recruitment agencies and their foreign counterparts, the issuance of country-specific employment contracts taking, stricter guidelines to only qualified and fully trained household workers are deployed abroad and white-listing of ethical recruitment agencies and foreign recruitment agencies.

Meanwhile, the names of foreign employers and recruitment agencies, both local and foreign, that have been blacklisted due to recruitment and labor violations would be published as a warning to the public.


Bombing at Kabul mosque kills 10, including prominent cleric

Bombing at Kabul mosque kills 10, including prominent cleric
Updated 18 August 2022

Bombing at Kabul mosque kills 10, including prominent cleric

Bombing at Kabul mosque kills 10, including prominent cleric
  • No immediate claim of responsibility for the attack
  • Several children were reported to be among the wounded

KABUL: A bombing at a mosque in the Afghan capital of Kabul during evening prayers on Wednesday killed at least 10 people, including a prominent cleric, and wounded at least 27, an eyewitness and police said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, the latest to strike the country in the year since the Taliban seized power. Several children were reported to be among the wounded.
The Daesh group’s local affiliate has stepped up attacks targeting the Taliban and civilians since the former insurgents’ takeover last August as US and NATO troops were in the final stages of their withdrawal from the country. Last week, the Daesh claimed responsibility for killing a prominent Taliban cleric at his religious center in Kabul.
According to the eyewitness, a resident of the city’s Kher Khanna neighborhood where the Siddiquiya Mosque was targeted, the explosion was carried out by a suicide bomber. The slain cleric was Mullah Amir Mohammad Kabuli, the eyewitness said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
He added that more than 30 other people were wounded. The Italian Emergency hospital in Kabul said that at least 27 wounded civilians, including five children, were brought there from the site of the bomb blast.
Khalid Zadran, the Taliban-appointed spokesman for the Kabul police chief, confirmed an explosion inside a mosque in northern Kabul but would not provide a casualty toll or a breakdown of the dead and wounded.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also condemned the explosion and vowed that the “perpetrators of such crimes will soon be brought to justice and will be punished.”
There were fears the casualty numbers could rise further. On Thursday morning, one witness to the blast who gave his name as Qyaamuddin said he believed as many as 25 people may have been killed in the blast.
“It was evening prayer time, and I was attending the prayer with others, when the explosion happened,” Qyaamuddin said. Some Afghans go by a single name.
AP journalists could see the blue-roofed, Sunni mosque from a nearby hillside. The Taliban parked police trucks and other vehicles at the mosque, while several men carried out one casket for a victim of the attack.
A US-led invasion toppled the previous Taliban government, which had hosted Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
Since regaining power, the former insurgents have faced a crippling economic crisis as the international community, which does not recognize the Taliban government, froze funding to the country.
Separately, the Taliban confirmed on Wednesday that they had captured and killed Mehdi Mujahid in western Herat province as he was trying to cross the border into Iran.
Mujahid was a former Taliban commander in the district of Balkhab in northern Sar-e-Pul province, and the only member of the minority Shiite Hazara community among the Taliban ranks.
Mujahid had turned against the Taliban over the past year, after opposing decisions made by Taliban leaders in Kabul.


Former Malaysian PM Najib’s lawyer wants out of case; court says no

Former Malaysian PM Najib’s lawyer wants out of case; court says no
Updated 18 August 2022

Former Malaysian PM Najib’s lawyer wants out of case; court says no

Former Malaysian PM Najib’s lawyer wants out of case; court says no
  • Defense lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik says he made an error of judgment in accepting the case
  • Najib is seeking to overturn his jail sentence for corruption in a high-stakes legal gambit 

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia: Malaysia’s top court on Thursday began hearing ex-leader Najib Razak’s appeal to overturn his jail sentence for corruption in a high-stakes legal gambit that could see him locked up or potentially launching a political comeback.
The Federal Court on Tuesday dismissed the former prime minister’s plea for a retrial, clearing the way for the hearings, which will be held until August 26.
But as the hearing started, defense lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, surprised the court by telling the panel of five judges that he wanted to be discharged from the case.
“I would like to start by tendering the following apology from the bottom of my heart. I am unable to proceed with this appeal,” Hisyam said.
“It was an error of my judgment when I accepted the case,” he said.
The court had earlier dismissed Hisyam’s request for three to four months to prepare.
Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat told the lawyer that he cannot just discharge himself and called for a break.
“You still want to discharge yourself and leave your client unrepresented? In our mind, you cannot discharge yourself. You have to carry on,” the chief justice said.
Najib, 69, and his ruling party were roundly defeated in 2018 elections following allegations of their involvement in a multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB.
He and his associates were accused of stealing billions of dollars from the country’s investment vehicle and spending it on everything from high-end real estate to pricey art.
Following a lengthy High Court trial, Najib was found guilty of abuse of power, money laundering and criminal breach of trust over the transfer of 42 million ringgit ($10.1 million) from a former 1MDB unit to his personal bank account.
He was sentenced to 12 years in jail in July 2020, and an appellate court last December rejected his appeal, prompting him to mount a final plea before the Federal Court.
Najib had been hoping the court would grant a full retrial but that request was unanimously rejected on Tuesday.
Dressed in a dark suit and white mask, Najib arrived in court Thursday and waved to around 70 supporters, who shouted “bossku,” meaning “my boss,” which has turned into a rallying cry among his defenders.
If the conviction is upheld, Najib will begin serving his jail sentence immediately, lawyers said.
An acquittal, however, could propel him into contention for his former political post, as he remains popular in Malaysia despite the scandal that plagued his administration.
He remains an elected member of parliament with the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the leading party in the current government.


UN rights chief says conditions ‘not right’ for Rohingya repatriation

UN rights chief says conditions ‘not right’ for Rohingya repatriation
Updated 18 August 2022

UN rights chief says conditions ‘not right’ for Rohingya repatriation

UN rights chief says conditions ‘not right’ for Rohingya repatriation
  • Bangladesh PM presses organization to move forward with plans
  • Scheme has failed to launch despite repeat pleas from Dhaka

DHAKA: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Wednesday that the repatriation of more than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh is not yet possible due to the situation in Myanmar.

Although Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, it has hosted and provided humanitarian support to the Rohingya Muslims who fled neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017.

Most of the refugees live in dozens of cramped settlements in Cox’s Bazar District, a coastal region in the country’s southeast. Hosting the refugees costs Bangladesh about $1.2 billion per year.

Bachelet arrived in Bangladesh on Sunday for a four-day working visit — her first to the South Asian country.

Despite multiple attempts from Bangladesh in past years to advance a UN-backed repatriation process, the organization has yet to move forward with a plan.

“The conditions are not right,” Bachelet told reporters. “Repatriation must always be conducted in a voluntary and dignified manner, only when safe and sustainable conditions exist in Myanmar.”

The UN human rights chief spoke after meeting Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who said that the Rohingya must go back home to Myanmar.

Hasina’s press secretary Ihsanul Karim told reporters that during the meeting, the prime minister had pushed for the repatriation process to finally begin.

“The Rohingyas are the nationals of Myanmar, and they have to be taken back,” he quoted Hasina as saying.

With the arrival of the Rohingya, Cox’s Bazar became the world’s largest refugee settlement. Few employment opportunities are available, sanitation is poor and access to education limited.

“The presence of Rohingyas in Bangladesh has created a number of security concerns for Bangladesh,” Prof. Delawar Hossain of the International Relations Department at the University of Dhaka, told Arab News.

Security in the camps came back into focus earlier this month when two refugee community leaders were shot dead, reportedly by an insurgent group active in the Cox’s Bazar camps that has been accused of killing scores of opponents.

Reports of criminal organizations using refugees as drug traffickers have also been on the rise.

International financial support for Bangladesh’s hosting of the Rohingya has fallen since 2020, multiplying the challenges the developing country battered by the COVID-19 pandemic is already facing.  

“Any community with a number of 1.3 million people definitely is a pressure on the economy and society,” Hossain said, adding that a return to Myanmar is an “urgent need” for the Rohingya as only then will they be able to start to live normal lives.

He said: “We should do everything possible so that the repatriation starts, because this is the only solution that we have for the Rohingya crisis.”


Former Australian PM defends secret power grab

Former Australian PM defends secret power grab
Updated 17 August 2022

Former Australian PM defends secret power grab

Former Australian PM defends secret power grab
  • Morrison’s tenure in office, from 2018 to 2022, was a period of crisis for Australia with record bushfires, floods and drought as well as the pandemic and a first-in-a-generation recession

SYDNEY: Australia’s ex-prime minister on Wednesday defended secretly appointing himself to several key ministries during the COVID-19 pandemic, rejecting accusations he created a “shadow government” and undermined the country’s democracy.

Rejecting bipartisan calls to apologize and resign from Parliament, Scott Morrison insisted he was right to take “emergency powers” over the health, treasury, finance, resources and home affairs departments, without telling the public or his Cabinet colleagues.

“I was steering the ship in the middle of the tempest,” the former Conservative leader said in a defiant first public appearance since the scandal broke, dismissing critics who were “standing on the shore after the fact.”

“Only I could really understand the weight of responsibility that was on my shoulders, and on no one else,” Morrison said, describing his moves as “break-glass-in-case-of-emergency” safeguards.

Morrison’s tenure in office, from 2018 to 2022, was a period of crisis for Australia with record bushfires, floods and drought as well as the pandemic and a first-in-a-generation recession.

But revelations that any prime minister could make such an extraordinary power grab without parliamentary or public oversight have left some questioning whether the country’s democracy is also in crisis.

Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has asked the solicitor-general to present advice on whether his predecessor acted legally.

“This is fundamentally a trashing of our democratic system. A trashing of the convention and rules that have operated in Australia for 121 years,” Albanese said Wednesday. “This is unprecedented.”

The Labor leader tied Morrison’s actions to a worldwide “retreat” of democracy.

“There’s people fighting now in Ukraine to protect democracy and a sovereign nation. You have a rise of undemocratic regimes.

“Our democracy is precious. We need to defend it and strengthen it, not undermine it, which is what the former government has done.”

Morrison’s Home Affairs Minister, Karen Andrews, said her former leader “needs to resign and he needs to leave Parliament.”

Morrison said he intended to represent his south Sydney constituency “to the best of my ability” until at least the next election in just under three years’ time.

A devout Christian, he has previously described his election as prime minister as a “miracle.”

In power, he was routinely accused of lacking honesty and transparency — an indictment that burst onto the global stage when French President Emmanuel Macron claimed he had lied over an abandoned submarine deal.

The former prime minister insists he gained “no personal advantage” from being sworn in to administer five portfolios and stressed that the arrangements were only to be used in an emergency, such as if a minister died during the pandemic.

Morrison said he only used the powers once, which was to override his resources minister and block a controversial offshore gas project — a move he conceded was separate from the pandemic.

“I’m very happy with that decision,” he said.

“And if people think I should have made a different decision and allowed that project to proceed... well, they can make that argument.”

His conservative coalition lost power in May elections, ending nearly a decade of center-right rule in the country.

In Australia, elected politicians are selected by the prime minister before being sworn in by the governor-general in a formal ceremony that is usually publicly recorded.