Philippine court defers Marcos arrest after her graft conviction

A protester holds a poster of former first lady Imelda Marcos calling for her arrest during a rally on Tuesday, November 13. (AP)
Updated 16 November 2018

Philippine court defers Marcos arrest after her graft conviction

  • The possibility of her arrest has captured domestic attention
  • Opponents have complained about what they see as special treatment for a politically influential family that has done no jail time

MANILA: Former Philippines first lady Imelda Marcos was granted bail on Friday after convincing a court to defer her arrest following her conviction a week ago for massive graft.
The move leaves Marcos free to prepare what could be a lengthy legal challenge, but will further fuel criticism of special treatment for a politically influential family.
Marcos, 89, famous for hoarding shoes, gems and valuable paintings, posted bail of 150,000 pesos ($2,846) a week after a being found guilty in absentia for seven counts of corruption involving use of Swiss bank accounts, collectively worth up to 77 years in prison.
The possibility of her arrest has captured domestic attention but the anti-graft court has given no explanation as to why it did not issue a warrant for her arrest in the week since the verdict.
Lawyers for the three-term sitting congresswoman have argued that Marcos was unable to attend because she was suffering from “multiple organ infirmities.”
On Friday she told the court that she was unaware the November 9 verdict was even being delivered and first learned of her jail sentence on television news that afternoon.
She confirmed that she then attended a birthday party that evening, images of which appeared on social media and on news websites.
Her late husband Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines for two decades, mostly under martial law during which thousands of opponents were persecuted, and billions of dollars were allegedly looted and funneled into real estate, artworks, offshore banks, and disbursed among a vast network of cronies.
The family was chased out in a 1986 popular uprising but returned from exile after Ferdinand’s death and re-entered politics in the 1990s.
Marcos intends to appeal the decision and if denied, she can challenge it at the Supreme Court.
Opponents have complained about what they see as special treatment for a politically influential family that has done no jail time, despite scores of graft cases and the recovery of tens of millions of dollars of assets ruled to be ill-gotten.
President Rodrigo Duterte enjoys good ties with the family and has often praised the late strongman and expressed a preference for his son and namesake, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos to be his vice president.
Duterte’s spokesman last week said the guilty verdict was proof that the executive does not interfere with the judicial branch.


Canadians vote in pandemic election that could cost Trudeau

Updated 12 sec ago

Canadians vote in pandemic election that could cost Trudeau

  • A combination of high expectations, scandal and calling the vote during the pandemic hurt the brand of the 49-year-old Trudeau
  • Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s campaign chair said holding Trudeau to a minority government would be a win for O’Toole.

TORONTO: Canadians voted Monday in a pandemic election that could weaken Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or reward his government’s handling of the pandemic.
Trudeau gambled on an early election to try to capitalize on the fact that Canada is now among the most fully vaccinated countries in the world. But the opposition has been relentless in accusing him of calling an unnecessary early vote — two years before the deadline — for his own personal ambition.
Polls before the election showed Trudeau’s Liberal Party in a neck-and-neck race with the rival Conservatives. The Liberals appeared likely to win the most seats in Parliament, but not a majority, forcing the party to rely on an opposition partner to pass legislation. However, an extremely close outcome could raise questions about Trudeau’s judgment in calling the vote and whether he should continue to lead the party long-term. A majority win would cement his legacy and leave him in power for another four years.
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s campaign chair said holding Trudeau to a minority government would be a win for O’Toole.
“Even without a plurality (of seats) today, we will have achieved our objective,” Walied Soliman told the Toronto Star on Monday. “At the start of this race, nobody would’ve expected that we’d be in a knife fight in strongly held Liberal (districts). And today we are. And we are very proud of Erin O’Toole and the incredible campaign that has been run here.”
Jenni Byrne, who served as campaign manager and deputy chief of staff to former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, told The Associated Press she was “stunned” by Soliman’s comments and said Soliman made a big mistake when Canadians are still voting.
Soliman later tried to clarify. “My comments in the Star are being misrepresented unfortunately. Let me be very clear: this election is too close to call. We may not know the result for days. Every vote will count,” he tweeted.
Polls have closed in Atlantic Canada. Early results have begun to trickle in, with the Liberals appearing poised to hang on to most of their seats in the four easternmost provinces but the Conservatives making some gains.
A combination of high expectations, scandal and calling the vote during the pandemic hurt the brand of the 49-year-old Trudeau, who channeled the star power of his father, the Liberal icon and late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, when he first won election in 2015.
Still, Trudeau is betting that Canadians don’t want a Conservative government during a pandemic. Trudeau’s government spent hundreds of billions of dollars to prop up the economy amid lockdowns and he argues that the Conservatives’ approach, which has been skeptical of lockdowns and vaccine mandates, would be dangerous and says Canadians need a government that follows science.
O’Toole hasn’t required his party’s candidates to be vaccinated and won’t say how many are unvaccinated. O’Toole describes vaccination as a personal health decision, but a growing number of vaccinated Canadians are becoming increasingly upset with those who refuse to get vaccinated.
“We do not need a Conservative government that won’t be able to show the leadership on vaccinations and on science that we need to end this,” Trudeau said at a campaign stop in Montreal on Sunday.
Trudeau supports making vaccines mandatory for Canadians to travel by air or rail, something the Conservatives oppose. And Trudeau has pointed out that Alberta, run by a Conservative provincial government, is in crisis.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, an ally of O’Toole, said the province might run out of beds and staff for intensive care units within days. Kenney has apologized for the dire situation and is now reluctantly introducing a vaccine passport and imposing a mandatory work-from-home order two months after lifting nearly all restrictions.
A Conservative win would represent a rebuke of Trudeau against a politician with a fraction of his name recognition. O’Toole, 47, is a military veteran, former lawyer and a member of Parliament for nine years.
O’Toole advertised himself a year ago as a “true-blue Conservative.” He became Conservative Party leader with a pledge to “take back Canada,” but immediately started working to push the party toward the political center.
O’Toole’s strategy, which included disavowing positions held dear by his party’s base on issues such as climate change, guns and balanced budgets, was designed to appeal to a broader cross section of voters in a country that tends to be far more liberal than its southern neighbor.
The son of a long-time politician has faced criticism he will say and do anything to get elected.
Whether moderate Canadians believe O’Toole is the progressive conservative he claims to be and whether he has alienated traditional Conservatives have become central questions of the campaign.
Byrne, the campaign manager for Conservative Prime Minister Harper, said there is a lack of enthusiasm among Conservatives across the country.
“We will know on Tuesday morning whether the Erin O’Toole version of the Conservative Party is connecting with voters, but if there is any truth to the polls, it’s something that I don’t think is connecting in numbers that we have connected with in the past, including in the last election,” Byrne said.
The wild card could be a politician who narrowly lost the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2017 but who now leads a far-right party that opposes vaccines and lockdowns. Polls suggest as many as 5 percent to 10 percent support for Maxime Bernier and the People’s Party of Canada — potentially bleeding support from O’Toole’s Conservatives and helping the Liberals retain power.
Adrian Archambault, a 53-year-old Vancouver resident, voted Liberal and said he didn’t mind the election was held during a pandemic. He noted provincial elections have also happened during the pandemic.
“Everybody has been so preoccupied with COVID the last few years it wasn’t maybe a bad thing to sort of do a re-check,” he said.
Trudeau’s legacy includes embracing immigration at a time when the US and other countries closed their doors. He also legalized cannabis nationwide and brought in a carbon tax to fight climate change. And he preserved free trade deal with the US and Mexico amid threats by former US President Donald Trump to scrap the agreement.
Former US President Barack Obama and ex-Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton tweeted support for Trudeau.
There won’t be a Trump endorsement of O’Toole. Soliman, the Conservative co-chair of the campaign, said there is no alignment whatsoever between O’Toole and Trumpism.
But if O’Toole wins, he has promised to take a tougher stand against China, including banning Chinese technology giant Huawei from Canada’s next generation of telecommunication networks.
O’Toole has also said he’ll move the Canadian Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem just as Trump moved the US Embassy, upending decades of policy.


British PM urges developed world to ‘step up to the plate’ on climate action

Updated 21 September 2021

British PM urges developed world to ‘step up to the plate’ on climate action

  • Developing countries will pay the price of 200 years of economic growth in the developed world, says Boris Johnson after UN meeting
  • Egypt’s president outlines development plan designed to meet aims of UN Sustainable Development Goals while prioritizing needs of Egyptians

NEW YORK: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the developed world to take urgent action on climate change. He warned that countries that played the least part in causing the climate crisis are the ones now facing the prospect of paying the steepest price.

Speaking on Monday at the UN headquarters in New York, where the 76th session of the General Assembly is taking place, Johnson said a number of world leaders who attended a behind-closed-doors meeting he convened had presented “very powerful” arguments suggesting the developed world must take urgent action on climate change.

“We heard from some of the countries staring down the barrel — the Maldives, Bangladesh, the Marshall Islands — countries pleading with the developed world to step up to the plate and supply the finance needed to make the changes necessary to fight climate change in the developing world,” he said.

“It is the developing world that is bearing the brunt of catastrophic climate change in the form of hurricanes and fires and floods, and the real, long-term economic damage they face. Yet it is the developed world that, over 200 years, has put the carbon in the atmosphere that is causing the acceleration of this climate change.”

The British PM said there are “faint signs of progress” from some developed countries that are beginning to take action, but that the US is in the best position to send out a clear signal that developed, Western nations are willing to act.

Long-term financing to help countries to grow without further contributing to harmful climate change is one of the cornerstones of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Developed countries pledged as part of that deal to contribute $100 billion a year toward funding for this until 2025.

That target was missed in 2019 and 2020 — and, according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, this year’s fundraising effort looks likely to fall about $20 billion short.

Johnson said that there has been some progress toward achieving this financial goal, however, and that the US could make a “huge difference” to the efforts. An American contribution would send a “massively powerful signal to the world, to the developing countries, that we in the industrialized West do take this seriously,” he said.

Both Johnson and Guterres emphasized the key role that creative and sustainable financing — by those wealthy countries that can best afford it — can play in tackling climate change.

“Developed nations need to step up,” said Guterres. “Many asset owners and managers and other financial institutions are now shifting their investments toward a decarbonized, sustainable and resilient economy.

“But these private-finance flows will not cover the immediate needs of the many countries that need support now, or who cannot borrow money because of their debt burden.”

Therefore “increased support from international financial institutions is also crucial,” he added.

Earlier, leaders from a number of countries provided details of their plans to address climate change, while also developing their economies and civil societies.

They included Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who said Monday’s meeting came at a “crucial time for the world.”

He reiterated Egypt’s support for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, a collection of interlinked global targets relating to issues such as climate, poverty, education, healthcare and gender equality that are designed to be a blueprint for a better and more sustainable future.

“In addition to sustainable development we need to increase growth and eliminate poverty and unemployment,” El-Sisi said. “But we also have the complex political situation in very many areas of the world, and we also have climate change and its devastating impact on water and food security.”

These challenges must be addressed in a “comprehensive and sustainable” way, he said, adding that he will prioritize “the interests of the Egyptian citizen” — but that this approach is also in line with the aims of the SDGs.

He cautioned, however, that African countries have been struggling with a decline in the flow of international development aid throughout the pandemic.

“In that context, we hope to see a continuance of this important international effort, so that we can achieve our common goals and create a better future for future generations,” said El-Sisi.


Coercion and threats will not work on the Taliban, says Pakistani envoy

Updated 21 September 2021

Coercion and threats will not work on the Taliban, says Pakistani envoy

  • In an exclusive interview, Munir Akram says we must engage with Afghanistan’s new leaders and convince them of the benefits of an open society
  • He warns that stoking a “climate of fear” will only help to fuel a refugee crisis on a scale the international community is desperate to avoid

NEW YORK: As nations scramble to find ways to deal with the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan, a leading Pakistani diplomat on Monday warned that threats and coercion do not sit well with the Afghan mentality and are not an effective strategy.
To get the country “back to normality,” Munir Akram, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, called for engagement with the Taliban in an effort to show them the “benefits of modernity, technology, education and the values of an open society.”
The situation in Afghanistan is likely to dominate high-level discussions during the 76th session of the UN General Assembly, which began on Sept. 14 and continues until the end of the month.
In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with Arab News ahead of this week’s annual General Assembly gathering of world leaders, Akram urged the international community to avoid “an attitude of coercion and threats, of attempting to leverage money in order to get a certain conduct.”

Instead he called for a better understanding of the complexities of Afghanistan, its culture, and the beliefs and character of its people.
Akram’s US counterpart, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, was asked recently how US authorities intend to champion the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan now that American troops have withdrawn from the country and leverage has therefore been lost.
“I would argue the opposite,” she said. “We are one of the largest contributors to humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan and that gives us tremendous leverage.”
Understanding the reality of the situation in Afghanistan is increasingly important as the world witnesses the fallout from the crisis affecting not only neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Iran, but also Europe and even the US.
Pakistan has been hosting Afghan refugees for more than 40 years, since the Soviet invasion drove millions to flee across the border. The close relationship between the two countries goes back hundreds of years, during which marriages and migrations created “a natural affinity” between two peoples who share similar ethnic and tribal identities.
“Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic state,” said Akram. “Unless there is peace within all the sections of Afghanistan there will continue to be some form of conflict. And if there is a conflict or a humanitarian crisis, there’s likely to be more outflows of refugees (engulfing) not only Pakistan and Iran as neighboring countries but also Europe and maybe even the US.

“It is not very clear whether they will be welcomed. It has been said that (other countries) are willing to take many of those Afghan people who worked with US and NATO in the past 20 years, but what about the rest of the Afghan people? People who really need assistance, really are destitute, really are hungry and poor? We must not forget them.”
Akram’s road map for responding to the challenges in Afghanistan includes an immediate relief effort to address the severe humanitarian crisis in the country. Levels of poverty and hunger have risen since the Taliban took over last month, and foreign aid has dwindled, raising fears of a mass exodus. According to the UN, 18 million Afghans, half of the population, are food insecure.
During a UN conference last week, organized to galvanize an international aid effort, donors pledged more than $1.1 billion to Afghanistan.
Akram described this as “a positive” and added: “I hope that those pledges will be fulfilled as quickly as possible.”
Any lasting peace in Afghanistan will also require the formation of an inclusive government in Kabul. However the post-takeover authority excludes women and minorities, fueling fears of a return to the hard-line Taliban attitudes and practices of the past.
Last Friday, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution calling for Taliban leaders to establish an inclusive government that guarantees the “full, equal and meaningful participation of women” and upholds human rights.
Akram believes that the current interim government is only “a first step,” talks are continuing among Afghans, and the Taliban’s desire to establish an inclusive government “is still there.” He also cautioned against failing to take into account what he called “ground realities.”
“The Taliban have fought a war for 20 years and they have been successful in that war, therefore they will wish to have adequate representation,” he said. “But this should also include other groups so that there is peace throughout Afghanistan.”
Deborah Lyons, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special representative for Afghanistan, has warned of the deteriorating humanitarian situation. She called for a “modus vivendi,” or compromise agreement, to prevent a total breakdown by allowing money to continue to flow into the country.
Some members of the new government are on the Security Council’s sanctions list, and therefore subject to economic, trading and diplomatic restrictions.
Akram said the Taliban expect the Security Council to begin the process of lifting these sanctions. This was part of the agreement the group reached with Washington in February, in return for which it pledged not to attack US or NATO forces during their withdrawal from Afghanistan.
In the weeks since the Taliban took over, there have been increasing reports from Kabul of grave human rights abuses. According to Human Rights Watch, the new authorities have raided the homes of journalists and activists, apparently searching for individuals who criticized them. In addition, restrictions have been imposed on the education of girls and the right of women to work.
Akram acknowledged these concerns but warned of the danger of what he called the “fake news” that is circulating. In particular he highlighted reports of a crackdown on a demonstration by Afghan women, saying that the very fact such a protest was allowed to go ahead reveals a change of behavior by the Taliban.
The envoy said he understands why some Afghans fear for their personal safety, and that Pakistani authorities have arranged for 12,000 Afghans and foreign nationals who felt threatened to leave country.
But he denounced what he described as attempts to create “a climate of fear” that might push Afghans to flee their country at a time when it needs them to “stay and build.”
“Creating a climate of fear will (lead to) the very results that we fear, which is an outflow of refugees,” he added.

Another concern among many people is that Afghanistan might once again become a haven for terrorists. Akram responded to this fear by considering the lessons he believes have been learned in the past 20 years.
“What we needed to do against Al-Qaeda was to use a pick to find them and extract them from where they were,” he said. “Instead, we used a hammer. We went in and invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and killed hundreds of thousands of people.
“When you bomb people and kill their children, you recruit people into terrorism. And that is what has happened.”
As a result, he added, the threat of terrorism has spread and become much more complex.
“It is no longer in Afghanistan alone; it is in Yemen, Syria, the Western Sahara and all over the world,” said Akram.
“At the same time, because of the equation of terrorists with Muslims, Islamophobia rose and today you have terrorist organizations that target Muslims. So we have to learn from those mistakes.”
Taking all of this into account, Akram urged the international community to adopt a comprehensive, coordinated strategy and work with the Taliban in an effort to address all forms of terrorism.
“If we adopt competitive strategies — ‘I can deal only with my terrorist threat but not yours’ — I think we will lose,” he added.


Indonesia mulls reopening Bali for foreign tourists, but with caution

Updated 21 September 2021

Indonesia mulls reopening Bali for foreign tourists, but with caution

  • ‘Don’t want to let our guard down,’ officials say amid measures to curb new variants of virus from entering archipelago

JAKARTA: Indonesia is looking to welcome back foreign tourists to its resort island of Bali in October after a 98 percent drop in the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country since its worst peak in July, officials said.

Last week, authorities eased COVID-19 restrictions on the tourist island, but international visitors will still face stricter health protocols on arrival to curb the spread of new variants.

Some measures include providing vaccination certificates, undergoing an eight-day quarantine and taking three PCR tests before entering the island.

“We are preparing Bali for (hosting) the G20, so we will have the trial by reopening Bali for foreigners,” Sandiaga Uno, the tourism and creative economy minister, told a press briefing on Monday.

“We don’t want to let our guard down; that would enable other new variants to enter Indonesia like the delta,” he said.

Officials said that some of the countries to be welcomed back could include France, Ukraine, Russia, Austria, Poland, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore and Japan.

The government assesses the outbreak situation every week, and Uno said that authorities were approaching the reopening very carefully to avoid a third wave of the pandemic after the second wave — triggered by the highly contagious delta variant — ravaged Indonesia, especially its most populated island of Java and Bali, in July and August.

Indonesia is set to take over the G20 chairmanship in 2022 from this year’s host, Italy.

It is a year earlier than the initial schedule, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi, after India — which was set to hold the 2022 presidency — agreed to swap the schedule with Indonesia for 2023.

One of the optional locations in Bali to host the G20 main events would be in Nusa Dua, Uno said, responding to a question from Arab News.

Bali’s Nusa Dua resort cluster, where numerous luxury hotels are located, has hosted other international summits for Indonesia in the past as well.

However, Uno said that the government remained cautious and would reopen Bali and other tourist destinations in stages based on how the situation developed.

Bali is heavily reliant on tourism for its economy, and its regional GDP severely contracted during the pandemic last year following Indonesia’s suspension of visa-free travel for foreign tourists.

In neighboring Lombok Island, adjacent to Bali’s east, its main tourist destinations have also become sleepy towns due to the absence of international visitors.

Some resort hotels on Lombok’s picturesque Senggigi Beach have been shut for months, with very few open as quarantine facilities or those providing heavily discounted prices for domestic tourists.

Meanwhile, Senaru village in the northern part of Lombok, where one of the tracks to hike up Indonesia’s second-highest volcano, Mount Rinjani, starts, is also empty with homestays that were earlier bustling with tourists.

“I could hike up to the peak of Rinjani two or three times a week with guests before the pandemic,” said a village native and mountain guide, Surya, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

On Monday, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, a senior minister for investment affairs handling the pandemic in Java and Bali, said that the pandemic’s severity status in all major cities on the two islands had been lowered to level two and three, from the most severe level of four.

“The daily number of new cases has dropped 98 percent from its worst in mid-July,” he said.

The downgrade in outbreak severity level means that some restrictions have been eased, with malls, restaurants, tourism destinations, and public places can welcome customers again with a limited capacity.

In a press briefing on Friday, Pandjaitan said given the current trend, including the case reproduction rate in Java and Bali that lowered on Friday to below 1 at 0.98 and is the lowest since the pandemic hit Indonesia in March 2020, the government is “very confident” that they can reopen Bali for foreign visitors in October.

International arrivals to Indonesia currently have to undergo an eight-day quarantine in Jakarta and Manado, North Sulawesi, where the airports are open for international flights, while the other international airports, including Bali, are still closed for international flights.

“We will review in October to see if it can be reduced to five days,” Pandjaitan said.


Aid reaches Mozambique’s insurgent-hit Palma after 6 month hiatus

Updated 20 September 2021

Aid reaches Mozambique’s insurgent-hit Palma after 6 month hiatus

  • Palma — the operational hub of a multi-billion-dollar gas project — had been off bounds since it was attacked by Daesh-linked militants
  • Locally referred to as Al-Shabab, Mozambique’s insurgents have been troubling the gas-rich Cabo Delgado province since 2017

MAPUTO: Aid has reached Mozambique’s northern coastal town of Palma for the first time since it was overrun by extremists in March, the United Nations said on Monday, even as beheadings were reported in another area.

Palma — the operational hub of a multi-billion-dollar gas project of France’s TotalEnergies — had been off bounds since it was attacked by Daesh-linked militants earlier this year.

Dozens of people were killed, some beheaded, and thousands fled through surrounding forests, joining hundreds of thousands already displaced by the violence.

Humanitarian access to the town remained difficult as local troops worked alongside soldiers sent by several other African countries to stem the insurgency.

“For the first time since March, humanitarian aid reached people in Palma,” tweeted the UN’s Word Food Programme (WFP) in Mozambique, adding that 2,150 families had received emergency food, hygiene and shelter kits.

Many of those displaced from Palma had sought refuge in the nearby village of Quitunda, close to the gas project, where rights groups say they were trapped by troops and ongoing fighting.

WFP’s announcement was made days after suspected militants beheaded five civilians in the village of Namaluco, around 150 kilometers (about 90 miles) south of Palma, military and local sources told AFP.

The victims were reportedly brewing a traditional alcoholic beverage when they were murdered.

Locally referred to as Al-Shabab, Mozambique’s insurgents have been troubling the gas-rich Cabo Delgado province since 2017 in a bid to establish a caliphate.

The goup grew bolder last year, escalating attacks that culminated with the raid on Palma on March 24, which forced Total to evacuate its staff and suspend operations.

But they have lost ground since several African countries deployed troops to help overwhelmed local forces.

They suffered a major defeat in August, when Mozambican troops backed by Rwandan soldiers drove them out of their de-facto headquarters in Mocimboa da Praia.