Philippine president bolsters security, defense ties with Malaysia

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is welcomed by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. (AP Photo)
Updated 16 July 2018

Philippine president bolsters security, defense ties with Malaysia

  • Both Southeast Asian leaders have a dented human rights reputation globally although Mahathir has softened his strongman outlook
  • Piracy and armed robbery against ships remains an ongoing issue for leaders in Southeast Asia as oil and supplies worth billions are lost at sea each year

KUALA LUMPUR: President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reaffirmed to strengthen bilateral defense cooperation when they met for the first time in Putrajaya on Monday.

The meeting took place at the Malaysian Prime Minister’s office, where both strongmen “renewed and reaffirmed the long-standing brotherhood and friendship between the Philippines and Malaysia.”

“President Duterte likewise renewed the commitment to further strengthen defense and security cooperation at the bilateral and regional level,” according to a statement from Duterte’s office.

The two neighbors have enjoyed a good relationship despite the change of government in Malaysia, as the over-60-year rule by the National Front coalition ended abruptly during Malaysia’s elections on May 9.

Both Southeast Asian leaders have a dented human rights reputation globally, although Mahathir has softened his strongman outlook since he was put in power for the second time in May.

The newly formed government led by the world’s oldest leader, Mahathir Mohamad, has vowed to restore the “rule of law” in Malaysia.

Duterte pointed out in his statement “the need to address terrorism and violent extremism in the region, as well as transnational crime such as piracy and armed robbery at sea and the illegal drug trade.”

Piracy and armed robbery against ships in the region remains an ongoing issue for leaders in Southeast Asia as oil and supplies worth billions are lost at sea each year.

Southeast Asia has become a hotbed for Daesh-inspired terrorist activities and threats, and Duterte and Mahathir reaffirmed the need to boost the security and defense ties of both nations in the Southeast Asia region.

Malaysia’s state of Sabah is facing kidnapping threats from the Mindanao-based Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.

In 2017, a large-scale kidnapping plan in Sabah and Central Philippines was uncovered by military intelligence.

The same year, Marawi was under siege from Daesh-inspired militants. The Philippines declared Marawi “liberated” from terrorism. The aftermath cost 1,000 lives with more than 350,000 people in the city displaced.

Meanwhile, Malaysia played an important role when it became the third-party broker of a long-awaited peace deal between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2014.

“President Duterte expressed appreciation for Malaysia’s sustained support for the quest for the just and lasting peace and development in Mindanao,” his official statement said.

Both leaders stressed the need toward “working closely together bilaterally and at ASEAN” in a region of more than 500 million where “greater stability and security in the region” is of the utmost importance.

The two countries are quietly in a land-lock over an 1878 land lease agreement on Sabah since the Federation of Malaysia was officially formed in 1963. Nevertheless, the Philippines’ long-standing claims over Sabah were off the plate during the bilateral discussion between Duterte and Mahathir.

On Sunday night before the meeting, both strongmen enjoyed watching the fight between Philippines’ world-renowned boxer Manny Pacquiao and Argentina’s fighter Lucas Matthysse.


Sanders attacked for past praise of communist regimes

Updated 1 min 17 sec ago

Sanders attacked for past praise of communist regimes

WASHINGTON: Bernie Sanders’ past praise of communist regimes like Cuba and the Soviet Union has come back to haunt him, his rivals for the Democratic White House nomination seeking to paint the frontrunner as a friend of left-wing dictators.
Fellow Democratic hopefuls Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg all seized on visits Sanders made to the USSR, the Sandinista-controlled Nicaragua and Fidel Castro’s Cuba in the 1980s as evidence he is a threat to the US democratic and capitalist system.
Sanders, who describes himself as a “democratic socialist,” was pressed on CBS’s “60 Minutes” program on Sunday about positive comments he made three decades ago about communist states, particularly his statement that Castro had vastly improved education and health care in Cuba.
“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad,” the 78-year-old politician said.
“When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?“
Biden, who Sanders has edged out as the 2020 Democratic frontrunner, fired back:
“Make no mistake: Bernie Sanders’ comments on Fidel Castro are a part of a larger pattern throughout his life to embrace autocratic leaders and governments across the globe,” the centrist former vice president said in a statement.
“He seems to have found more inspiration in the Soviets, Sandinistas, Chavistas, and Castro than in America.”
Buttigieg compared Sanders to President Donald Trump who he said has “cozied up to dictators,” adding the country needs a leader “who will be extremely clear in standing against regimes that violate human rights abroad.”
With Sanders in pole position heading into South Carolina’s primary this weekend, the controversy offers his rivals a precious chance to halt his momentum when they clash on the debate stage later on Tuesday.
Sanders’ alignment with the far left in US politics has always left him vulnerable to attack; Trump and other Republicans have branded him a “communist.”
But his Cuba comments have come to the forefront in the fight for voter support in Florida, home to a large Cuban-American population strongly opposed to Castro’s regime and holding substantial political sway in the southern state.
Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York mayor, targeted that electorate as he tweeted that Castro “left a dark legacy of forced labor camps, religious repression, widespread poverty, firing squads, and the murder of thousands of his own people.”
“But sure, Bernie, let’s talk about his literacy program,” Bloomberg said.
Sanders’ denies any support for dictators. Critics say his record suggests otherwise.
As mayor of the small city of Burlington, Vermont, he visited Nicaragua in 1985 and afterward hailed Daniel Ortega’s revolution against the Central American country’s landowner elite.
That was a view commonly held among the American left, especially as the administration of Ronald Reagan supported the right-wing Nicaraguan Contra fighters accused of numerous terror-like atrocities.
In 1988 Sanders visited Russia seeking to establish a sister-city pact with Yaroslavl, northeast of Moscow.
It was hardly unique: there were several dozen US-USSR sister city relationships at the time, according to Sister Cities International.
Upon his return, Sanders applauded Russian gains in health care, while adding they were 10 years behind the United States.
He said his hosts were friendly and spoke honestly about problems, especially in housing and struggling industries.
He offered no praise of the government and communist system, and noted Russians very much liked Reagan, who had just days earlier held a summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which Sanders called “a major step forward for humanity.”
Likewise after visiting Cuba in 1989, Sanders praised its achievements in education and health care, calling Castro’s revolution “profound,” but also noting the lack of political freedoms.
“The question is how you bring both economic and political freedom together in one society,” he said at the time, according to the Rutland Daily Herald.
Sanders’ position echoes that of president Barack Obama, who reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015, with Biden as his vice president.
Obama said on a landmark 2016 Havana visit that the government “should be congratulated” for its achievements in education and health care — while criticizing its human rights violations and communist-rooted economy which he said was “not working.”
Sanders told “60 Minutes” that his support for certain achievements in communist countries did not make him a friend of repressive leaders.
“I don’t trade love letters with a murdering dictator,” he said, referring to Trump’s friendship with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
Whether that carries with Cuban voters in Florida remains an open question.