Marcos to promote Philippines as ‘gateway’ to Asia-Pacific in global meet

Special Marcos to promote Philippines as ‘gateway’ to Asia-Pacific in global meet
Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. during his inauguration ceremony as the 17th President of the Philippines at the National Museum in Manila, Philippines, June 30, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 January 2023

Marcos to promote Philippines as ‘gateway’ to Asia-Pacific in global meet

Marcos to promote Philippines as ‘gateway’ to Asia-Pacific in global meet
  • Philippines president is only ASEAN leader to attend this year’s WEF in Switzerland
  • Southeast Asian nation may also ‘soft launch’ its wealth fund plan at global forum

MANILA: President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will promote the Philippines as a gateway to the Asia-Pacific region at the World Economic Forum, as he departed for the annual event in Davos on Sunday with hopes to attract new investment in the country.

The Swiss town of Davos will host dozens of world leaders and hundreds of CEOs from Jan. 16-20 for the second in-person gathering of the forum after a two-year pandemic hiatus.

Speaking ahead of his flight, Marcos said that the Philippines will be the focus of a country strategy dialogue at WEF, where he will promote the nation “as leader and driver of growth, and a gateway to the Asia-Pacific region.”

He described the Philippines as “(a country) that is open for business — ever ready to complement regional and global expansion plans … anchored on the competent and well-educated Filipino workers, the managers and professionals.”

Marcos is the only leader from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, reportedly attending Davos this year, and the only other Asian leader besides South Korea’s Yoon Suk-yeol.

The Filipino leader, accompanied by a delegation of officials and business leaders, said that he will also share his country’s experience “as a model” for managing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Philippine Foreign Affairs Ministry said that Marcos may also use the forum to introduce the country’s sovereign wealth fund, which the president had said could spur growth and development in the archipelagic nation.

“The World Economic Forum is simply a great venue to do sort of a soft launch for our sovereign wealth fund given the prominence of the forum itself and the global and business leaders who will be there, and they will hear it directly from the president,” Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Carlos Sorreta said.

A draft law establishing the wealth fund is still being deliberated by the Philippine Congress.

The plan — which follows similar moves by neighbors Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia — could bring “added investment” to the Philippines, Marcos has said.

Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund was the focus of a multi-billion-dollar graft scandal, resulting in the country’s former premier Najib Razak going to prison.


China balloon, polls scramble script for Biden speech to Congress

China balloon, polls scramble script for Biden speech to Congress
Updated 41 min 43 sec ago

China balloon, polls scramble script for Biden speech to Congress

China balloon, polls scramble script for Biden speech to Congress
  • Inflation, which just a few months ago seemed a near existential threat to the Biden presidency, is steadily ticking downward

WASHINGTON: The US economy’s humming and President Joe Biden is optimistic, but brutal polls and the nation’s collective freak-out over a mysterious Chinese balloon will overshadow his State of the Union speech Tuesday.
The Democrat’s speechwriters certainly had their work cut out on the weekend as they huddled with the president at the Camp David retreat in the rural hills of Maryland, before flying back to Washington Monday.
A photo posted by Biden on Twitter showed a binder with the speech, a coffee mug and biscuits. “Getting ready,” he said.
On arrival back at the White House, Biden told reporters: “I want to talk to the American people and let them know the state of affairs — what’s going on, what I’m looking forward to working on.”
But the dramatic downing of a huge Chinese balloon by a US Air Force fighter jet Saturday left the dangerously unstable relationship with the communist superpower literally looming over the Biden administration.
And, as two polls published Sunday and Monday show, well under half of Democrats want 80-year-old Biden to seek a second term in 2024.
In other words, his personal sunniness, embodied by a constant refrain of never having “been more optimistic” about the country, is simply not penetrating.
Just last week, the script for Tuesday’s big set piece event — an address to a joint session of Congress, nearly the entire senior ranks of government, and a vast television audience — had been almost writing itself.
Inflation, which just a few months ago seemed a near existential threat to the Biden presidency, is steadily ticking downward. Hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars are starting to flow out into programs passed under Biden to spur high-tech manufacturing and repair infrastructure.
Then on Friday, new figures showed that a surge in job creation has driven unemployment to its lowest rate in 50 years.
In his own mini-preview of the so-called SOTU speech, Biden told journalists: “Next week, I’ll be reporting on the state of the union. But today, I’m happy to report that the state of the union and the state of our economy is strong.”
Even if Biden has yet to formally announce his 2024 candidacy, the SOTU — followed by two very campaign-like trips Wednesday and Thursday to Wisconsin and Florida — is expected to give him a big shove in that direction.
The question now is whether at his age, with an unenthusiastic party, ferociously aggressive Republican opponents, and increasingly Cold War-like confrontations with Russia and China, Biden can push hard enough.

On his side will be massive advantages: an economy defying multiple predictions of recession and the power of incumbency which means he can spend this year and the next traveling on Air Force One to tout his successes.
But the weekend’s news showed what he is up against, even before taking on whomever the Republicans choose as their candidate — Donald Trump or someone new.
The fighter jet ordered into the sky by Biden efficiently dispatched the Chinese balloon, but the White House faces swirling questions over why the craft — which China claims was studying weather — was first allowed to trace a leisurely path across the entire country, passing directly over ultra-sensitive military bases.
And polls show a very down-to-earth danger for Biden: his own side doesn’t seem to want him anymore.
In an AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, a paltry 37 percent of respondents said they back Biden running for a second term, which would end when he was 86 years old.
In an ABC News-Washington Post Poll, 58 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said the party should find someone else for 2024.
Pressed about the disconnect between Biden’s message, the macroeconomic data, and the apparent widespread dissatisfaction among ordinary Americans, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre acknowledged that many voters remain worried about economic insecurity.
“It’s an incredibly complicated time,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that the State of the Union will be an “important moment” in the battle to change Americans’ views.
“I think (at) the State of the Union he’ll have an opportunity to talk directly to the American people, not just Congress, to talk about what we have done,” she added.

 


’Loophole’ excuses WHO officials accused of misconduct

’Loophole’ excuses WHO officials accused of misconduct
Updated 07 February 2023

’Loophole’ excuses WHO officials accused of misconduct

’Loophole’ excuses WHO officials accused of misconduct
  • The investigators said Tedros was informed of the sexual misconduct allegations in 2019 and had been warned of worrying gaps in the WHO’s misconduct policies the previous year

LONDON: A confidential UN report into alleged missteps by senior World Health Organization staffers in the way they handled a sexual misconduct case during an Ebola outbreak in Congo found their response didn’t violate the agency’s policies because of what some officials described as a “loophole” in how the WHO defines victims of such behavior.
The report, which was submitted to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last month and wasn’t released publicly, was obtained by The Associated Press. The WHO did not respond to requests for comment.
The UN investigation comes after a 2021 review by a panel appointed by Tedros found that three WHO managers fumbled a sexual misconduct case first reported by the AP earlier that year, involving a UN health agency doctor signing a contract to buy land for a young woman he reportedly impregnated.
Last week, Tedros said UN investigators concluded the “managerial misconduct” charges were unsubstantiated and the three staffers returned to work after being on administrative leave. The WHO chief said the agency would seek advice from experts on how to handle the inconsistencies between the two reports.
The investigators said Tedros was informed of the sexual misconduct allegations in 2019 and had been warned of worrying gaps in the WHO’s misconduct policies the previous year.
“If these issues were brought to Tedros’ attention and no action was taken, (WHO) member states must demand accountability,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, a global health expert at Columbia University.
Tedros has previously said he became aware of sexual misconduct complaints in Congo only after media reports in September 2020 and learned of the specific case reported by the AP when it was published. He said anyone connected to sexual misconduct faced consequences including dismissal. To date, no senior WHO staffers linked to the abuse and exploitation have been fired.
In May 2021, an AP investigation revealed senior WHO management was told of sexual exploitation during the agency’s efforts to stop Ebola in eastern Congo from 2018-2020 but did little to stop it.
Among the cases WHO management were warned about was the allegation that Dr. Jean-Paul Ngandu, an infection control specialist sent to Beni, had impregnated a young woman. Ngandu met the woman at a restaurant one evening shortly after he arrived — and following mandatory WHO training on the prevention of sexual misconduct.
According to the UN report, the two had sex later that evening and Ngandu gave her some money the next morning. The relationship soured and the woman and her aunt later went to the WHO office in Beni to complain that Ngandu had impregnated her. AP obtained a notarized agreement Ngandu and the woman, in which he agreed to cover her health care costs and buy her land.
The deal, also signed by two WHO staffers, was meant to protect the WHO’s reputation, Ngandu said.
“After the allegations were made to WHO (headquarters), a decision was made not to investigate the complaint on the basis that it did not violate WHO’s (sexual exploitation and abuse) policy framework,” the UN report said.
The review explained that the decision was made by officials from the UN health agency’s legal, ethics and other departments and was due to the fact that the woman wasn’t a “beneficiary” of WHO assistance, meaning she didn’t receive any emergency or humanitarian aid from the agency, and thus, didn’t qualify as a victim under WHO policy.
WHO staffers interviewed by UN investigators said this might be considered a “loophole which had the potential to cause complaints to fall through the cracks.”
“Ngandu’s conduct did not violate any WHO (sexual exploitation and abuse) standards of conduct,” the report said, describing his agreement to pay off the woman as a “private financial settlement.”
UN investigators noted there were problems in the WHO’s sexual misconduct policies, describing those as “a collective responsibility.” In February 2018, several staffers sent a memorandum to Tedros warning of the policies’ shortcomings.
Experts slammed WHO’s defense, saying the agency should uphold the highest standards in handling sexual exploitation since it coordinates global responses to acute crises like COVID-19 and monkeypox.
“Escaping accountability based on weasel words and technical language, like not being a ‘beneficiary’ of WHO assistance is unacceptable,” said Larry Gostin, director of the WHO Collaborating Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights at Georgetown University. “That the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services excused this behavior based on this legal technicality shows the UN and WHO are not taking sexual abuse seriously.”
After the reports of sexual misconduct in Congo arose, the WHO created a new office to prevent such behavior, headed by Dr. Gaya Gamhewage. In her interview with UN investigators, Gamhewage said that prior to starting her new job, she had no knowledge of the WHO’s sexual misconduct policies and had not even read them.
“Sexual exploitation and abuse were not familiar terms to her,” the report said.
The UN investigation comes weeks after the AP published another story detailing sexual misconduct at the WHO, involving a Fijian doctor with a history of sexual assault allegations within the agency, who was preparing to run in an election for the WHO’s top director in the Western Pacific.
“These repeated instances of sexual assault, and arguably worse, its cover-up, are grossly intolerable,” said Columbia University’s Redlener. “It’s possible this Ngandu case didn’t technically break WHO’s policy, but there is policy and then there is morality and ethics,” he said. “There’s something deeply uncomfortable about what happened here.”
During the Ebola epidemic, Tedros traveled to Congo 14 times to personally oversee the WHO’s response.
“At a minimum, Tedros should promise and deliver a major overhaul on policies and accountability,” Redlener said. “There might even be an expectation that he failed in his responsibilities and should therefore resign.”

 


UN chief fears world is heading toward a wider war

UN chief fears world is heading toward a wider war
Updated 07 February 2023

UN chief fears world is heading toward a wider war

UN chief fears world is heading toward a wider war
  • Guterres fears likelihood of further escalation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict means the world is heading towards a "wider war”
  • World must work harder for peace not only in Ukraine but in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, UN chief says

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations chief warned Monday that the world is facing a convergence of challenges “unlike any in our lifetimes” and expressed fear of a wider war as the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approaches.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said experts who surveyed the state of the world in 2023 set the Doomsday Clock at 90 seconds to midnight — the closest ever to “total global catastrophe,”
He pointed to the war in Ukraine, “runaway climate catastrophe, rising nuclear threats,” the widening gulf between the world’s haves and have-nots, and the “epic geopolitical divisions” undermining “global solidarity and trust.”
In a wide-ranging address Guterres urged the General Assembly’s 193 member nations to change their mindset on decision-making from near-term thinking, which he called “irresponsible” and “immoral,” to looking “at what will happen to all of us tomorrow — and act.”
He said this year’s 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should serve as a reminder that the foundation of the inalienable rights of all people is “freedom, justice and peace.”
Guterres said the transformation needed today must start with peace, beginning in Ukraine — where unfortunately, he said, peace prospects “keep diminishing” and “the chances of further escalation and bloodshed keep growing.”
“I fear the world is not sleepwalking into a wider war. It is doing so with its eyes wide open,” he said.
The world must work harder for peace, Guterres said, not only in Ukraine but in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict “where the two-state solution is growing more distant by the day,” in Afghanistan where the rights of women and girls “are being trampled and deadly terrorist attacks continue” and in Africa’s Sahel region where security is deteriorating “at an alarming rate.”
He also called for stepped up peace efforts in military-ruled Myanmar which is facing new violence and repression, in Haiti where gangs are holding the country hostage, “and elsewhere around the world for the two billion people who live in countries affected by conflict and humanitarian crises.”
The secretary-general said it is time for all countries to recommit to the UN Charter, which calls for peaceful settlement of disputes, and for a new focus on conflict prevention and reconciliation.
The proposed new UN Agenda for Peace, he said, calls for “a new generation of peace enforcement missions and counter-terrorist operations, led by regional forces,” with a UN Security Council mandate that can be enforced militarily and guaranteed funding. “The African Union is an obvious partner in this regard,” he added.
Guterres also said it is time for nuclear-armed countries to renounce the first use of all nuclear weapons, including tactical nuclear weapons, a possible use that Russia has raised in Ukraine.
“The so-called `tactical’ use of nuclear weapons is absurd,” he said. “We are at the highest risk in decades of a nuclear war that could start by accident or design. We need to end the threat posed by 13,000 nuclear weapons held in arsenals around the world.”
As for the global financial system, Guterres called for “radical transformation” to put the needs of developing countries at the center of every decision.
He pointed to rising poverty and hunger around the world, developing countries forced to pay five times more to borrow money than advanced economies, vulnerable middle-income countries denied concessional funding and debt relief, and the richest 1 percent of the world’s people capturing “almost half of all new wealth over the past decade.”
Multilateral development banks must change their business model, Guterres said.
Guterres told diplomats that 2023 must also be “a year of game-changing climate action,” not of excuses or baby steps — and there must be “no more bottomless greed of the fossil fuel industry and its enablers.”
The world must focus on cutting global-warming greenhouse gas emissions by half this decade, which means far more ambitious action to cut carbon pollution by speeding the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, especially in the world’s 20 richest global economies, he said.
It also means cutting emissions from the highest emitting industrial sectors — steel, cement, shipping and aviation, he said.
Guterres had a special message for fossil fuel producers who he said are scrambling to expand production “and raking in monster profits.”
“If you cannot set a credible course for net-zero, with 2025 and 2040 targets covering all your operations, you should not be in business,” he said.
The secretary-general invited any leader in government, business or civil society to the Climate Ambition Summit he is convening in September — with a condition.
“Show us accelerated action in this decade and renewed ambitious net zero plans — or please don’t show up,” Guterres said.


US imposes security zone in search for Chinese balloon remnants

US imposes security zone in search for Chinese balloon remnants
Updated 07 February 2023

US imposes security zone in search for Chinese balloon remnants

US imposes security zone in search for Chinese balloon remnants
  • China called the shooting down of the balloon an “obvious overreaction”

WASHINGTON: The US Coast Guard on Monday imposed a temporary security zone in waters off South Carolina during the military’s search and recovery of debris from a suspected Chinese spy balloon that a US fighter jet shot down.
The White House said the balloon’s flight over the United States had done nothing to improve already tense relations with China and its national security spokesperson dismissed Beijing’s contention that the balloon was for meteorological purposes as straining credulity.
Beijing condemned the shooting down of the balloon and urged Washington to show restraint over the episode. White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters: “Nobody wants to see conflict here.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a planned Feb.5-6 visit to China because of the balloon’s flight into US airspace last week. It was shot down off the Atlantic Coast on Saturday.
Kirby said Blinken would seek to reschedule the trip when the time is right.
The trip to Beijing would have been the first by a US secretary of state since 2018 as the United States and China have sought to mend ties that have been under severe strain over a range of disagreements, including US attempts to block Chinese access to some cutting-edge technologies.
INTELLIGENCE GATHERING
The United States was able to study the balloon while it was aloft and officials hope to glean valuable intelligence on its operations by retrieving as many components as possible, Kirby said.
China called the shooting down of the balloon an “obvious overreaction.”
“China firmly opposes and strongly protests against this,” Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng said in remarks to the US embassy in Beijing posted on the ministry’s website.
US officials have played down the balloon’s impact on national security, although a successful recovery could potentially give the United States insight into China’s spying capabilities.
Senior US officials have offered to brief former Trump administration officials on the details of what the White House said was three China balloon overflights when Donald Trump was president. US officials said those balloons came to light after Trump left office in January 2021 and was succeeded by President Joe Biden.
A senior US general responsible for bringing down the balloon said on Monday the military had not detected previous spy balloons before the one that appeared on Jan. 28 over the United States and called it an “awareness gap.”
However, Air Force General Glen VanHerck, head of US North American Aerospace Defense Command and Northern Command said US intelligence determined the previous flights after the fact based on “additional means of collection” of intelligence without offering further details on whether that might be cyber espionage, telephone intercepts or human sources.
On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said China learned that its balloon had drifted over the United States after being notified by Washington.
“The unintended entry of this airship (into the US) is entirely an isolated, accidental incident. It tests the sincerity the US has in improving and stabilizing bilateral relations and the way it handles crises,” she said.
Mao said another balloon, spotted over Latin America, was an unmanned civilian airship on a test flight that “severely deviated and unintendedly entered the space above Latin America because it was affected by the weather and because it has limited self-steering capability.”
On Sunday, Colombia’s military said it sighted an airborne object similar to a balloon after the Pentagon said on Friday that another Chinese balloon was flying over Latin America.
POSSIBLE REPERCUSSIONS
While calling for US restraint, China has warned of “serious repercussions” and said it will use the necessary means to deal with “similar situations,” without elaborating. Some policy analysts said they expect any response to be finely calibrated, however, to prevent diplomatic ties becoming even worse.
Brokerage ING said in a Monday note that the incident could exacerbate the “tech war” and would have a negative near-term impact on China’s yuan currency.
“Both sides will likely impose more export bans on technology in different industries. This is a new threat to supply chain disruption, although the risk of logistical disruption from COVID restrictions has now disappeared,” it said.
“This new risk is more of a long-term risk than an imminent one,” ING said.


Blinken tells Turkiye to ‘let us know’ what US can do after earthquake

Blinken tells Turkiye to ‘let us know’ what US can do after earthquake
Updated 07 February 2023

Blinken tells Turkiye to ‘let us know’ what US can do after earthquake

Blinken tells Turkiye to ‘let us know’ what US can do after earthquake
  • Blinken asked his senior staff to identify available funding to help Turkiye and NGOs in Syria

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Turkish counterpart to “pick up the phone and let us know” what the United States can do to help after a huge earthquake hit the country on Monday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.
The Biden administration’s top diplomat spoke to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu by phone following the earthquake that killed more than 2,700 people across a swathe of Turkiye and northwest Syria.
“It was so important for the secretary to speak to his foreign minister counterpart, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu, in the first instance to offer condolences and to make clear...that anything Turkiye needed that we could provide, they should pick up the phone and let us know,” Price said.
Blinken asked his senior staff on Monday morning to identify what funding might be available to help Turkiye and NGOs working on the ground in Syria, Price said.
Washington has deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team and is in the process of deploying two urban search and rescue teams from Virginia and California that are expected to comprise 79 people each, the US Agency for International Development said.
The US consulate in the southern Turkish city of Adana would also host others working on rescue efforts, Price added.