Peace & Advocacy –
Philippines-European Union partnership: Panel to be formed to implement tie-up deal

The Philippines and the European Union (EU) plan to establish a joint committee to follow up and implement its recently ratified Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA).

The PCA provides for the establishment of a joint committee composed of senior level officials from both sides to implement and promote its objectives.

This joint committee will be followed by the establishment of specialized sub-committees to deal with specific areas covered under the PCA.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Enrique Manalo said the Philippines is ready to bring its relations with the EU forward to a higher level on the basis of equality and mutual respect.

“The PCA allows the Philippines and the EU to address new challenges in a more coherent and sustainable manner through regular dialogue and cooperation,” Manalo said.

“The PCA will provide a platform for the Philippines and the EU to discuss candidly not only our common concerns, but equally important, to understand, to manage, if not transcend our differences,” Manalo said.

Retired EU ambassador James Moran said the next step of PCA implementation is to finalize the rules of procedure for the joint committee and its specialized sub-committees. Moran was the EU chief negotiator when Manalo was the ambassador to Belgium and to the EU from 2010 to 2011.

Moran said it would be helpful to take into account the experience of other PCAs in the region, such as in Indonesia where the agreement has been operational since 2016.

EU Ambassador to the Philippines Franz Jessen said the PCA should serve as the general framework of relations between the Philippines and the EU on areas such as political matters, human rights, justice and security, trade and investment, migration and development, and other economic development and sectoral issues.

“The entry into force of the PCA with the Philippines clearly illustrates the maturing of Philippines-EU relations between equal partners who share common values and interests,” Jessen said.

In the past, President Rodrigo Duterte had been critical toward the bloc following its statements against the human rights situation in the country.

Philippine Ambassador to Belgium Eduardo Jose de Vega said while the two parties can have different views on various issues, “we are of the same mind” that the EU and the Philippines will work for the benefit of all and the PCA will facilitate this.

Figures from the EU delegation in Manila showed that the EU is the Philippines’ third largest export partner, with exports in the first half of 2018 reaching USD4.6 billion.

This includes an increase in the agri-food, fisheries and footwear sectors, which can be attributed to the GSP+ preferential treatment.

EU foreign direct investments (FDIs) also represent the largest amount of FDIs in the Philippines. They represent more than 500,000 jobs in the country.

In the framework of a dedicated peace panel, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said the inter-government cooperation is vital in addressing violent extremism, stressing the importance of the EU commitment to peace.

“We hope that the work that we are doing now continues to get EU support because, to be honest with you, we need you,” Dureza said.

National Security Council chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the EU is now more important than ever in support to a resilient peace in Mindanao.

The EU-Philippines event was the first of its kind after the Senate gave its concurrence for the ratification of the PCA early this year.

Duterte-Trump meeting in Washington planned

A meeting between Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and United States President Donald Trump is being planned, US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim said.

“President Trump has already invited President Duterte to visit Washington. It’s a question of scheduling as to when President Duterte would make a visit to the US,” Kim said.

“There is strong interest in both sides in facilitating the visit to Washington. We will continue to work at it,” Kim said.

Kim said the two leaders have forged a “very strong relationship.” Trump met with Duterte in Manila on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in November 2017, where they discussed issues on drug menace, terrorism, and trade issues.

“The two gentlemen have shared much in common including on the importance of rule of law even as the Philippines continues to pursue the serious challenge of illegal drugs in the Philippines,” Kim said.

“We understand that the drug issue is a huge challenge for the Philippines, we understand that President Duterte is so focused on that big problem and we will continue to work with the Philippine government,” Kim said.

US has been providing Manila support in areas such as demand reduction and drug rehabilitation efforts.

Among others, US has also established law enforcement cooperation with the Philippine National Police and other agencies in the country.

“Our robust law enforcement cooperation will continue and it is important both sides agree on the importance of rule of law and respect for human rights as we proceed with efforts to deal with the drug problem,” Kim said.

Kim noted the two countries’ growing partnership from defeating terrorists in Marawi City to rebuilding it after its liberation in October 2017.

“We worked together to defeat the terrorist attack on Marawi City and now we’re supporting the government’s efforts to rebuild Marawi,” Kim said.

Kim also said the economic partnership between the two countries continues to be “very strong.”

“We welcome the Philippines interest in doing a free trade agreement with US and of course President Trump had a wonderful visit to the Philippine in November, so I think the relationship is in great shape and I think the future of the relationship is very bright,” Kim said.

DUTERTE-TRUMP MEETING. President Rodrigo R. Duterte and US President Donald Trump discuss matters during a bilateral meeting at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City on November 13, 2017. (Presidential Photo)

SAP Go leads “Marawi and Beyond” book launching

Special Assistant to the President (SAP) Sec. Christopher “Bong” Go graced the launching of a book series recognizing the heroic deeds of government troops who fought the five-month battle against the ISI-Maute Terrorist Group in Marawi City.

At the book launch of “Marawi and Beyond: The JTF Marawi Story” in Bonifacio Global City on March 19, Go saluted soldiers and policemen who braved the battle in Mindanao in order to protect Filipinos from Islamic State-inspired extremists.

(From left to right) Lt Gen Rolly Bautista, Commanding General of the Philippine Army; Sec Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, Special Assistant to the President; Dr. Isabel Suntay, co-founder of Tarlac Heritage Foundation; Lt Col Jo-ar Herrera, Director of Operations Research Center of the Philippine Army

“Although winning the battle cost us numerous lives of our troops, their deeds during the five-month-long battle have allowed us to liberate not only the city but the entire country from the clutches of violence and terror,” Go said in his speech.

Go gave assurance that the Duterte administration would continue to provide support and assistance to the families of slain and wounded soldiers.

Go also lauded the members of Joint Task Force Marawi for successfully liberating Marawi City. “The book we are launching today exhorts the formation of the Joint Task Force Marawi and their efforts to liberate the City of Marawi from the hands of terrorists,” Go said.

The book also narrates the sacrifices and support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.

“This book will not only immortalize the exploits of our men and women in uniform but will also serve as a reminder to future generations of the sacrifices of our soldiers and policemen in retaking Marawi City.” -SAP Bong Go

Go said he personally witnessed the hardships of the Philippines’ troops, “And for that reason, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to all of you.”

Go also called the Filipino public to show support to the current administration’s fight against criminal activities.

“Let us unite to defeat terrorism as well as illegal drugs, corruption and criminality,” Go said.

Gov’t recognizes contribution of Filipinas in PH development

As March symbolizes National Women’s Month, the government has promised that it would continue to protect Filipinas’ dignity and rights.

In a Palace briefing on March 1, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Duterte administration recognizes the Filipino women’s role at home as well as in nation building.

“We celebrate the accomplishments of Filipino women and honor their contributions in the home, in the workplace, in the community and in nation-building,” he said.

“As Women’s Month commences, the government underscores the commitment to protect the Filipino woman’s dignity, upholding women’s rights and giving the women the recognition they properly deserve not only as ‘ilaw ng tahanan’ but ‘haligi’ as well,” he added.

Roque even noted that the government is eager to pass the bill increasing budget for health services including maternal health.

The spokesman said the House Bill No. 4757 seeks to allot the 12 percent of annual internal revenue to provide further financial assistance to the government’s health programs.

“Our goal is to create the Philippines that puts forward the Philippine women as an equal partner in nation-building. Inclusive development can only be realized with equality and genuine collaboration between men and women,” he said.

Sinulog Unites Pinoys in UAE

Filipinos in United Arab Emirates (UAE) continued to showcase the rich culture of the Philippines through the famous Cebuano tradition Sinulog.

Already on its sixth year, the “Sinulog sa UAE 2018″ recently drew a record of more than 2,000 attendees,” Pamela Ovano Magallon, president of United Cebuanos in the UAE, said.

She shared that this event does not only promote camaraderie between Filipinos, but also with different nationalities.

“Ang event na ito ay fiesta ng Cebu kaya lang dahil hindi kami makakauwi talaga yearly, dinala na lang namin ‘yung fiesta dito sa UAE. At lagi siyang nagiging successful, kaya every year inaabangan talaga ito ng mga tao,” Magallon added.

The celebration was held at AHDAAF Sports Club in Al Quoz in Dubai, where Filipinos and foreigners flocked to witness the Sinulog grand parade as well as the dance presentations from various emirates.

Meanwhile, a news report said that many Filipinos working in the UAE “will skip work” as President Rodrigo Duterte plans to visit the region this year.

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) there target to have a venue which can accommodate over 50, 000 attendees for the President’s planned visit.

The government earlier said that Duterte will fly to UAE as his administration seeks to open the Overseas Filipino Bank (OFB) in Dubai and Abu Dhabi aimed at providing OFWs with banks services, such as loans, deposits, investments, remitances, among others.

This initiative was one of the President’s promises to support and improve financial assistance for Filipinos working abroad.

Bahrain vowed to protect OFWs rights

Amidst the controversy involving Filipinos working in the Middle East, the Kingdom of Bahrain has vowed to protect Overseas Filipino Workers’ (OFW).

On February 13, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Bahrain’s Prime Minister HRH Prince Khalifa bin Salam Al Khalifa met with Philippine Ambassador Alfonso Ver on February 11.

DFA noted Khalifa “expressed concern over the welfare of Filipino workers in Bahrain and assured that the government of Bahrain is committed to protect their rights while they are here in the Kingdom.”

He assured his office would be open to all Filipino workers reporting cases of abuses whether by employers or agencies in Bahrain.

Khalifa also said the Kingdom has always been welcoming to overseas workers, but he prefers Filipinos as he admire them for being “efficient and very good workers.” He even added that there are Filipinos who work in his office and palace.

Ver, on the other hand, showed appreciation for the Bahrain leader’s “genuine concern for Filipino Workers” and stressed that “Filipinos in Bahrain have, in general, received good treatment from their employers.”

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Secretary Jesus G. Dureza expressed his optimism that the peace process will move forward this year through other means despite the setbacks in talks with the communist rebels.

“The work of OPAPP is to look for ways and means to move the peace process forward,” Dureza said. “You have to deal with a culture of peace in the communities. You have to work for social healing of broken relationships because of conflict. You have to take care of victims of conflict. There are many ways,” he added.

Secretary Dureza said that OPAPP has been actively pursuing a sustainable and lasting peace through its “Six Paths to Peace” that comprised the comprehensive peace process that include: 1.) Pursuit of social, economic and political reforms. 2.) Consensus-building and empowerment for peace. 3.) Peaceful negotiated settlement with different rebel groups. 4.) Programs for reconciliation, reintegration into mainstream society and rehabilitation. 5.) Addressing concerns arising from continuing armed hostilities. 6.) Building and nurturing a climate conducive to peace.

Dureza welcomes the public reading that the omission of NDF as a terrorist group is an indication that there is still hope for the resumption of talks. “If that is the reading of the public, then we can affirm that the doors have not been totally shut. But we have to take the clear directive from the President right now,” Dureza said.

PH-Indonesia maritime cooperation to “intensify” to fight extremism

In the light of the recent Marawi City crisis in Mindanao, Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte the President of the Republic of the Philippines seeks to intensify maritime cooperation with Indonesia especially for preventing the spread of extremism in the country.

Indonesia Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi paid President Duterte a courtesy call at the Presidential guest house in Davao City. According to a statement by President Duterte’s office, during the meeting of Duterte and Marsudi agreed on elevating cooperation on trade, maritime security, education, and eradicating terrorism.

President Duterte also told Marsudi that “he wants to intensify maritime security cooperation with Indonesia as foreign and local terrorists continue to enter and exit the country despite the military efforts made to go after these elements.”

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in a separate statement that the Philippines welcomes Indonesia’s offer to help fight violent extremism in the region.

“The Philippines welcomed Indonesia’s offer to share its best practices in Islamic education as part of the efforts to address and prevent extremism not just in the country but also in the rest of Southeast Asia,” Cayetano said.

Malacanang Palace has stated that President Duterte has again expressed his interest in the resumption of the Philippines-Indonesia routes to further strengthen the trade between the two countries.

Marsudi, on the other hand, has expressed her interest in pursuing the Philippine-Indonesian joint education program. She said that the Indonesian government wants to confer 300 passports for Indonesia descents living in Mindanao.

After the five-month Marawi City siege, Indonesia and the Philippines have started joint patrols in the seas bordering the three countries to counter efforts of Islamists extremists to establish a base in Southeast Asia.

Filipinos remain happy, optimistic despite crisis — Gallup survey

Amid country risk issues, such as the Marawi conflict as well as recent calamities, the Philippines remains to mark its status as one of the happiest and optimistic countries in the world, a survey from an international polling firm showed.

In the 41st global annual survey conducted by Gallup International, the country retained its rank as the third happiest country with a +84 net happiness score in 2017, up by 5 points compared to the +79 net score recorded in 2016.

Subsequently, Fiji grabbed the first spot with a net score of +92, while Colombia was second with a net score of +87.

The Philippines also landed fifth in the economic index of the said global polling firm, with the country recording a net score of +32.

It noted more Filipinos remain optimistic with the local economy growth in 2018.

For the hope index, the country also entered the top 10 countries who believe 2018 would be prosperous than 2017, posting a score of +40.

On a global scale, however, Gallup stressed the happiness, economic optimism, and hope indices plunged.

In happiness index, only 59 percent of the survey respondents said they were happy in 2017, a dropped by a tenth versus the result in 2016.

“2017 was a tough year with terrorist attacks over almost each week and it may have influenced personal lives all around the world. Nevertheless, a majority in all polled countries are happy,” Gallup said.

It showed that while 28 percent of the world was optimistic for the economy this year, economic pessimism was at 30 percent, with a net score of -2 for 2017.

The hope index also saw a decrease of 13 points with only 40 percent of the respondents believing the new year would be better than 2017.

Gallup polled 53,769 persons around the world through face-to-face, via telephone, or online interviews from October to December last year. It said it had around 1, 000 respondents, a combination of men and women, from each country.

The polling body said the margin of error is +3-5 percent at 95 confidence level.