New leader Marcos Jr. wants to ‘reintroduce’ Philippines

New leader Marcos Jr. wants to ‘reintroduce’ Philippines
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. met with US President Joe Biden in a bid to strengthen the sometimes complicated ties that have ebbed and flowed between the two nations. (AFP)
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Updated 24 September 2022

New leader Marcos Jr. wants to ‘reintroduce’ Philippines

New leader Marcos Jr. wants to ‘reintroduce’ Philippines
  • Three months into his administration, he seemed energetic and enthusiastic — and eager to project his vision for the nation beyond its borders

NEW YORK: Looking to “reintroduce the Philippines” to the world, new President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has ambitious plans for his nation on the international stage and at home — if, that is, the twin specters of pandemic and climate change can be overcome or at least managed.
And if he can surmount the legacies of two people: his predecessor, and his father.
He also wants to strengthen ties with both the United States and China — a delicate balancing act for the Southeast Asian nation — and, like many of his fellow leaders at the United Nations this week, called on the countries that have caused global warming to help less wealthy nations counteract its effects.
Marcos, swept into office this spring, is already drawing distinctions both subtle and obvious between himself and his voluble predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who alienated many international partners with his violent approach to fighting drug trafficking and the coarse rhetoric he used to galvanize supporters.
Asked if Duterte went too far with his lethal drug crackdown, Marcos redirected the criticism toward those who carried out the plan.
“His people went too far sometimes,” Marcos said on Friday. “We have seen many cases where policemen, other operatives, some were just shady characters that we didn’t quite know where they came from and who they were working for. But now we’ve gone after them.”
Marcos, 65, sat for a wide-ranging interview in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s annual leaders’ meeting. Three months into his administration, he seemed energetic and enthusiastic — and eager to project his vision for the nation beyond its borders.
On Thursday, he met with US President Joe Biden in a bid to strengthen the sometimes complicated ties that have ebbed and flowed between the two nations since the Philippines spent four decades as an American colony in the early 20th century.
“There have been bits and pieces where they were not perhaps ideal,” Marcos said. “But in the end, that overall trajectory has been to strengthen and strengthen and strengthen our relationship.”
In addition to Duterte, Marcos also must draw distinctions between himself and the most iconic figure in the Philippines’ public sphere: his late father, whose name he shares. Ferdinand Marcos Sr., hero to some and plundering dictator to others, ruled from the 1960s to the 1980s, including a tumultuous period of martial law and repression. He made the family reputation an indelible part of Filipino history.
Addressing the family legacy directly is something the son has been loath to do, at least explicitly, though he vehemently rejects use of the term “dictator” to describe his father’s rule, To him, the political baggage of his parents is a remnant of the past.
“I did not indulge in any of that political back-and-forth concerning the Marcos family,” he said. “All I spoke about was, ‘What are we going to do to get into a better place?’ And people responded.”
Engaging, he said, would have simply been a retread — and an unnecessary one. “It doesn’t help. It doesn’t change anything,” he said. “So what’s the point?”
When it comes to his predecessor, Marcos treads a nuanced political line as well. Distinguishing himself from Duterte’s in-your-face rule can benefit him at home and internationally, but Duterte’s popularity helped catapult him into office, and the former president’s daughter Sara is Marcos’ vice president.
The extrajudicial killings associated with Duterte’s yearslong crackdown provoked calls that his administration should be investigated from the outside, and he vowed not to rejoin the International Criminal Court — a precept that Marcos agrees with. After all, Marcos asked, why should a country with a functioning legal system be judged from elsewhere?
“We have a judiciary. It’s not perfect,” he said. “I do not understand why we need an outside adjudicator to tell us how to investigate, who to investigate, how to go about it.”
Marcos cast the coronavirus pandemic as many other leaders have — as a balancing act between keeping people safe and making sure life can push forward.
“We took a very extreme position in the Philippines, and we eventually had the longest lockdown in any country in the world,” he said. “That was the choice of the previous government. And now, we are now coming out of it.”
In recent days, he has both removed a national mandate to wear masks outdoors and extended a “state of calamity” — something he said he didn’t necessarily want to do, but keeping the declaration in place allows more people to continue getting help.
“It’s not very encouraging when people look at your country and they see, ‘Well, it’s under a state of calamity.’ That’s not good for tourists. It’s not good for visitors. It’s not good for business,” Marcos said.
Encouraging ties with China, particularly given Beijing’s aggressive maritime policies, might be a daunting prospect for a nation so closely and historically aligned with the United States. But, Marcos says, it’s possible — and necessary.
“It is a very fine line that we have to tread in the Philippines,” the president said. “We do not subscribe to the old Cold War ‘spheres of influence.’ ... So it’s really guided by national interest, number one. And second, the maintenance of peace.”
Peace comes in many flavors. Last week, Marcos traveled to the southern part of the nation — a predominantly Muslim area of a predominantly Catholic country — to express support for a multiyear effort to help a onetime rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, give up their guns and govern their autonomous region effectively.
While Moro has come into the government fold, smaller militant groups including the violent Abu Sayyaf have continued to fight the government and wage sporadic attacks, especially in impoverished rural regions with weak law enforcement. Marcos dismissed Abu Sayyaf as a group that no longer has a cause other than “banditry.”
“I don’t believe they are a movement anymore. They are not fighting for anything,” Marcos said. “They are just criminals.”
Marcos did not specify precisely why the Philippines needed to be reintroduced, though the country’s image took a hit from 2016 to 2022 under the Duterte administration.
“The purpose, really, that I have brought to this visit here in New York ... has been to try to reintroduce the Philippines to our American friends, both in the private sector and in the public sector,” he said.
And after the pandemic truly ends, he said, the nation needs to find a fruitful path and follow it.
“We have to position ourselves. We have to be clever about forecasting, being a bit prescient,” he said.
“We do not want to return to whatever it is we were doing pre-pandemic,” Marcos said. “We want to be able to be involved and be a vital part of the new global economy, of the new global political situation.”


Ukraine detains 8 over Banksy mural theft

Ukraine detains 8 over Banksy mural theft
Updated 03 December 2022

Ukraine detains 8 over Banksy mural theft

Ukraine detains 8 over Banksy mural theft
  • The stencil image of a person in a nightgown and gas mask holding a fire extinguisher next to the charred remains of a window in the town of Gostomel went missing on Friday
  • The image is in good condition and in the hands of the authorities
KYIV: Ukraine has detained eight people over the theft from a wall in the Kyiv suburbs of a mural painted by elusive British street artist Banksy, the authorities said.
The stencil image of a person in a nightgown and gas mask holding a fire extinguisher next to the charred remains of a window in the town of Gostomel went missing on Friday, they said.
“A group of people tried to steal a Banksy mural. They cut out the work from the wall of a house destroyed by the Russians,” Kyiv governor Oleksiy Kuleba said in a post on Telegram late Friday.
He attached the image of a gaping hole in the wall where the image once stood.
“Several people were detained on the spot,” he said. “The image is in good condition and in the hands of the authorities.”
Other works in the area thought also to be the work of Banksy are under police protection, he said.
Kyiv police chief Andriy Nebitov said “eight people had been identified” as possibly involved, and a preliminary inquiry had been opened into the matter.
“All were aged between 27 and 60 years old. They are residents of Kyiv and Cherkasy” some 200 km (120 miles) southeast of the capital, he said.
Last month, Banksy posted an image of the stencil of a gymnast performing a handstand on the wall of a wrecked building in Borodyanka, another suburb of the capital.
He then posted a video of several more of his artworks, including the person in a gas mask holding the fire extinguisher.
Others included the portraits of a bearded man scrubbing up in a bathtub, and a young boy in a karate outfit slamming his adult opponent to the ground.
Together with towns such as Bucha and Irpin, Borodyanka and Gostomel were severely hit by Russian bombardment after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US
Updated 03 December 2022

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US
  • Estonia, which neighbors Russia, has increased defense spending since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine
  • The HIMARS systems delivered to Ukraine are widely seen as one of the most effective tools in its arsenal

Tallinn, Estonia: Estonia has agreed to buy six HIMARS rocket systems from the United States worth over $200 million, the state defense investment agency said on Saturday.
It is the largest arms purchase in the country’s history.
Estonia, which neighbors Russia, has increased defense spending since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, as has its Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Lithuania.
The HIMARS systems delivered to Ukraine are widely seen as one of the most effective tools in its arsenal, as the pro-Western country fights back against Russian troops.
Magnus-Valdemar Saar, director general of the Estonian Center for Defense Investments (ECDI), signed a contract on Friday with the United States’ Defense Security Cooperation Agency to boost the country’s indirect fire capability, the ECDI said in a statement.
Estonia will also “procure ammunition, communications solutions, as well as training, logistics, and life-cycle solutions,” said armament category manager Ramil Lipp.
The ECDI did not provide details on how many rockets were ordered but said the purchase included those which can strike targets at a distance of 300 kilometers (186 miles), and rockets of shorter range.
The first deliveries will arrive in 2024.
Lithuania last month said it would buy eight HIMARS rocket systems from the United States for $495 million.


UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan
Updated 03 December 2022

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan
  • New 2-tier system being considered to reduce country’s 150,000-person backlog
  • Syrian, Afghan applications have 98% success rate in UK: Home Office

LONDON: The UK is to establish a two-tier asylum system to speed up claims from people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, in plans set to be announced next week.

The country faces a significant backlog of 150,000 applications driven in part by mass migration of people from places such as Albania, which is considered a safe country. 

A huge number of people have taken to crossing the English Channel illegally in small boats to reach the UK, which has placed enormous burden on the state’s ability to house and support asylum-seekers.

The UK Home Office says by the end of the year it expects at least 50,000 people to have arrived in the country to claim asylum. 

Its figures also show that around 98 percent of applications from people fleeing Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea, 87 percent from people from Sudan and 82 percent of Iranians — who make up around a third of the backlogged asylum claims in total — end up being approved.

Under the proposals, those from the likes of Afghanistan and Syria will now be prioritized and their processes streamlined, removing things such as follow-up interviews after initial approval, and security and identity checks. 

It is thought that this will allow more deserving refugees to start their lives in the UK, as it will allow them to find work and their own accommodation.

Applications from Albanians, meanwhile, will also be dealt with quicker, with a deal to be struck between London and Tirana to expedite the process of deporting those whose applications are denied.

One source told The Times that the new scheme is being overseen directly by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has “completely taken control of the policy” from Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who had previously gone on record to say speeding up application processes based on nationality “wouldn’t be the right way to go.”

The source said: “He’s got teams of Home Office officials working directly to him, and Suella has been sidelined.”

A Home Office source told The Times that the department is looking at “focusing resources on very high grant rate cases.”


Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth

Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth
Updated 03 December 2022

Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth

Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth
  • Catering course gave Ismet Shehu chance to serve late monarch during Diamond Jubilee celebrations
  • ‘Can you imagine that? A poor boy from the countryside serving lunch to the queen of England?’

LONDON: An Albanian who traveled to Britain hidden in a truck has told the Daily Mail that he served lunch to the late Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip during Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Ismet Shehu, now 32, made the dangerous journey aged 17 after traveling to Italy and then France, where in Lille he entered the back of a truck heading for Britain.

Shehu entered the construction and hospitality industries after arriving in the UK, working low-wage jobs before signing up to a university course teaching high-end catering in London.

That course, as part of its training program, offered a small group of students — including Shehu — the opportunity to serve lunch to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip during the 2012 Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Now back in Tirana, the Albanian capital, Shehu has used his experience in hospitality to open a range of successful restaurants.

He told the Mail: “Can you imagine that? A poor boy from the countryside serving lunch to the queen of England?

“It was such an honor for me to do that and all just a couple of years after getting into the country hiding in the back of a lorry. It was the most frightening experience of my life.”


Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport

Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport
Updated 03 December 2022

Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport

Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport
  • Slight relaxation of COVID-19 testing requirements comes even as daily virus infections reach near-record highs

BEIJING: Local Chinese authorities on Saturday announced a further easing of COVID-19 curbs, with major cities such as Shenzhen and Beijing no longer requiring negative tests to take public transport.
The slight relaxation of COVID-19 testing requirements comes even as daily virus infections reach near-record highs, and follows weekend protests across the country by residents frustrated by the rigid enforcement of anti-virus restrictions that are now entering their fourth year, even as the rest of the world has opened up.
The southern technological manufacturing center of Shenzhen said Saturday that commuters no longer need to show a negative COVID-19 test result to use public transport or when entering pharmacies, parks and tourist attractions.
Meanwhile, the capital Beijing said Friday that negative test results are also no longer required for public transport from Dec. 5. However, a negative result obtained within the past 48 hours is still required to enter venues like shopping malls, which have gradually reopened with many restaurants and eateries providing takeout services.
The requirement has led to complaints from some Beijing residents that even though the city has shut many testing stations, most public venues still require COVID-19 tests.
The government reported 33,018 domestic infections found in the past 24 hours, including 29,085 with no symptoms.
As the rest of the world has learned to live with the virus, China remains the only major nation still sticking to a “zero-COVID” strategy which aims to isolate every infected person. The policy, which has been in place since the pandemic started, led to snap lockdowns and mass-testing across the country.
China still imposes mandatory quarantine for incoming travelers to the country, even as its infection numbers are low compared to its 1.4 billion population.
The recent demonstrations, the largest and most widely spread in decades, erupted Nov. 25 after a fire in an apartment building in the northwestern city of Urumqi killed at least 10 people.
That set off angry questions online about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other anti-virus controls. Authorities denied that, but the deaths became a focus of public frustration.
The country saw several days of protests across various cities, including Shanghai and Beijing, with protesters demanding an easing of COVID-19 curbs. Some demanded Chinese President Xi Jinping step down, an extraordinary show of public dissent in a society over which the ruling Communist Party exercises near total control.
Xi’s government has promised to reduce the cost and disruption of controls but says it will stick with “zero-COVID.” Health experts and economists expect it to stay in place at least until mid-2023 and possibly into 2024 while millions of older people are vaccinated in preparation for lifting controls that keep most visitors out of China.
While the government has conceded some mistakes, blamed mainly on overzealous officials, criticism of government policies can result in punishment. Former NBA star Jeremy Lin, who plays for a Chinese team, was recently fined 10,000 yuan ($1,400) for criticizing conditions in team quarantine facilities, according to local media reports.
On Friday, World Health Organization emergencies director Dr. Michael Ryan said that the UN agency was “pleased” to see China loosening some of its coronavirus restrictions, saying “it’s really important that governments listen to their people when the people are in pain.”