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Hong Kong lawmakers double down on extradition bill following massive protest

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Monday, June 10th, 2019

Courtesy : Reuters

Lawmakers and activists on Monday (June 10) doubled down on their call for Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to scrap or to postpone a proposed extradition law that would allow suspects to be sent to mainland China to face trial.

Holding placards and chanting, “Remove evil law! Step down Carrie Lam!” the group of lawmakers and activists spoke to the media on Monday, after more than a million people, according to the organizers, took to the streets on Sunday (June 9) night to rally against the law.

Police put the figure at a more modest 240,000 at the march’s peak.

“Give Hong Kong some breathing space, for the time being, let’s all have a re-think,” implored Lawmaker, Claudia Mo.

“She (Carrie Lam) is really pushing Hong Kong towards the brink of a precipice and no one wants that,” Mo added.

Lam said the bill would be put for debate on Wednesday as planned in the city’s 70-seat Legislative Council which is now controlled by a pro-Beijing majority.

Lam and her officials stress the need for haste to prosecute a young Hong Kong man suspected of killing his girlfriend in Taiwan. But Taiwanese officials say they won’t agree to any transfer if the bill goes ahead, citing rights concerns. (REUTERS)

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SONA 2019 Highlights: Towards a ‘better’ Philippines

by Marje Pelayo   |   Posted on Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

No surprises, no fiascos. President Rodrigo Duterte’s fourth state of the nation address (SONA) has been smooth despite the more than one hour delay due to sudden rains.

Nevertheless, the annual event pushed through with the President starting his speech at 5:14 p.m. and ending it at 6:47 p.m., an almost expletive-free 93-minute talk.

President Duterte opened his fourth SONA with the usual pleasantries and his expression of gratitude “to all who kept faith with me in our most trying times.”

He noted that the landslide victory of administration candidates in the May 2019 polls as well as recent survey results just proved the Filipino people’s support to his presidency as compared to the only 3% disapproval rating, which he joked about with the members of Congress.

“I hope that the members of Congress – sana hindi kayo included sa 3%,” he said earning laughter from the audience.

This amount of support, the President said, inspires him with determination to pursue relentlessly what the government has started even at the beginning of his term as the highest leader of the country.

No matter how controversial, the President said his policies on the fight against illegal drugs and corruption will remain “whatever be the opposition.”

“For it is not the eagle in the fight but the fight in the eagle that matters,” he said.

“Believe me, I will end my term fighting,” the President said strongly to start his SONA.

For those who did not have the time to sit and watch the President’s SONA, here are some of the highlights.

Illegal Drugs, Corruption, Death Penalty

The President acknowledged that the government still has a long way to go to fight the social menace that is illegal drugs, which he believes is a by-product of corruption.

 “The drugs will not be crushed unless we continue to eliminate corruption that allows this social monster to survive,” he noted.

This is the reason, he said, why he advocates on the reinstatement of death penalty.

“I respectfully request Congress to reinstate the death penalty for heinous crimes related to drugs, as well as plunder,” the President said.

Ease of Doing Business

The President, likewise, emphasized the necessity to ensure a responsive government to the needs of the people.

Even after signing the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act, he said, much has yet to be done.

Thus, he ordered specific government agencies to simplify their transactions and impose the law “to improve service delivery and fight corruption.”

The agencies mentioned were the Land Transportation Office (LTO), the Social Security System (SSS), the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Land Registration Authority (LRA), and the Pag-IBIG Fund.

He also called the attention of local government units (LGU) to do the same.

“My directive to the government and instrumentalities, including the LGUs and the government corporations: simplify,” he said warning those concerned to suffer sanctions if they again fail.

“Simplify and make your services responsive to — client-friendly. Your client is the Filipino, our employer — from where the money in our pockets come from, from our salaries,” he stressed.

Priority Legislation

Aside from the revival of death penalty, the President directed Congress to pass the creation of new agencies vital to the accomplishments of the administration’s programs for development.

Noting natural disasters as ‘poverty creators,’ the President asked Congress to fast track the establishment of a Department of Disaster Resilience that would focus on programs that would mitigate the impact of natural hazards and climate change.

Recognizing the damaging effect of El Niño to the country’s agriculture sector and the inconveniences it caused brought about by water crisis, he urged lawmakers to pass a bill creating the Department of Water Resources and Water Regulatory Commission.

Similar to his appeal last year, the President called Congress to establish the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers to ensure Filipino workers abroad access to government services as well as protection from abuse in foreign lands.

The Chief Executive also urged lawmakers to enact the Magna Carta for Barangays and to postpone the May 2020 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections to October 2022 to provide sitting barangay officials ample time to finish their programs and projects.

To encourage the country’s MSME sector, the President urged Congress to immediately pass Package 2 of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program also known as Trabaho bill which he said would create more jobs for Filipinos.

In addition to these priority bills, President Duterte also asked Congress to pass a new Salary Standardization Law to increase salary for government workers, including public school teachers and public hospital nurses.

He also asked Congress to approve the National Defense Act, Uniformed Separation and Retirement Pension Bill, and the revival of the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

“Very important,” the President said referring to military training to re-instill the spirit of patriotism among Filipino students.

 “Kapag mag giyera, 10 out of 10 hindi marunong maghawak ng baril (If war breaks out, 10 out of 10 do not even know how to hold a gun) to defend even his father and mother and brothers and sisters. Itong mga bata ngayon (youth nowadays,) they are bereft of the patriotism and the love of country. Balik sila dito (Let’s encourage them on this),” he said.

Traffic woes

President Duterte specifically directed Interior Secretary Eduardo Año to suspend mayors or governors who refuse to heed his order to “reclaim all public roads that are being used for private ends.”

With the help of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the President wants immediate action “to ensure speedy and smooth flow of vehicular traffic” in Metro Manila.

On China

True to his promise, the President did ‘educate’ the Filipinos regarding the West Philippine Sea issue, how it started and why his administration cannot drive away China from Philippine waters.

Again, he reiterated that war is not an option as it leaves “widows and orphans in its wake.”

“More and better results can be reached in the privacy of a conference room than in a squabble in public. That is why I will do in the peaceful way,” he said.

Amid criticisms, the President still promised that he would assert the country’s sovereign rights over West Philippine Sea “in due time.”

A better Philippines ahead

Through the end of his SONA, the President assured the Filipino people that his government will continue to propel towards a better Philippines.

“Our goal for the next three years is clear: a comfortable life for everybody, all Filipinos,” he promised.

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World’s longest electric vehicle trip ends in New Zealand

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Sunday, July 21st, 2019

Dutch adventurer Wiebe Wakker posing beside his vehicle the ‘Blue Bandit’, to celebrate the completion of his three-year drive across more than 30 countries in an electric vehicle. | Courtesy: Reuters

A Dutch sustainability advocate completed the longest ever journey in an electric vehicle in New Zealand on Friday (July 19) after a three-year drive that took him through more than 30 countries.

Wiebe Wakker set off from the Netherlands in March 2016 in his “Blue Bandit” to showcase the potential of sustainable transport, funded by donations from those following his trip on social media.

“So I wanted to do my bit to promote this technology and show that sustainability is a viable way of transport. So I wanted really to do something that really speaks to the imagination which is driving an electric car from Amsterdam to literally the other side of the world to show that it can be done,” he said.

The 101,000 kilometers (62,800 miles) trip took Wakker through Eastern Europe, Iran, India, Southeast Asia, before traveling around much of Australia and across to New Zealand.

Wakker gave regular updates on his blog and social media throughout the journey, detailing visiting Iran’s biggest car manufacturer in Tehran, a breakdown on the Indonesian island of Java and visits to Australia’s outback and world-famous Uluru.

The drive had relied on the support of strangers across the globe who offered the traveler food, a place to stay and the essential means to charge his car along the way. (REUTERS)

(Production: James Redmayne)

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South Koreans boycott Japanese brands and cancel trips as diplomatic row intensifies

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Saturday, July 20th, 2019

Angry South Korean consumers are taking action after Tokyo imposed curbs on exports to South Korea, promoting a widespread boycott of Japanese products and services, from beer to clothes and travel.

“We decided to cancel (the trip to Japan) because it went against our beliefs. I’m actually feeling relieved,” said Lee Sang-won, a 29-year-old designer, who canceled his Japan trip for a 130,000 won ($110.15) fee.

Screenshots of Japan trip cancellations are trending on social media. Lee and his friends, who have changed their holiday destination to Taiwan, ‘proudly’ presented their canceled ticket to Japan on his social media account.

“I believe it is very significant for South Korean citizens to show them (the Japanese government) their thoughts and actions. These boycotts are not about how much economic damage we can inflict, but about how we can raise their awareness,” said Lee, scheduling his trip to Taiwan with his friend.

Diplomatic tensions have been simmering again since a South Korean court last year ordered Japanese companies to compensate South Koreans who were forced to work during the war. Then on July 4, Japan restricted exports of high-tech materials to South Korea, denying the move was related to the compensation issue. Tokyo cited “inadequate management” of sensitive exports, with Japanese media reporting some items ended up in North Korea. Seoul has denied that.

Meanwhile, some local supermarkets pulled Japanese beers off the shelves, which was their way of taking a stance against Japan as a quickly worsening political and economic dispute between the two East Asian neighbors rekindles lingering animosity since Japan’s World War Two occupation of Korea.

“Of course we should (boycott Japanese products). There are so many good, tasty products, domestic and overseas alike, so why bother (consuming Japanese products) when we have this problem with Japan?” said a 55-year-old South Korean customer at a local market where he can’t find Japanese beers, said he has plenty of other options which can replace Japanese products.

Economists say the tech export curbs could shave 0.4% off South Korea’s gross domestic product this year. The boycott – if it proves to be more than just a brief burst of nationalistic fervor – could marginally add to that, unless consumers spend on something else.

“We are pleased to see this has turned consumers’ favor towards our pens,” said Park Seol, assistant manager at stationery maker Monami, whose online sales have risen five-fold since the curbs.

Japan’s Fast Retailing fashion brand Uniqlo, which sells clothes worth around 140 billion yen – 6.6% of its revenue – in 186 Korean stores, is also feeling the anger as its chief financial officer said last week there was a certain impact on sales. (REUTERS)

(Production: Daewoung Kim & Heejung Jung)

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