14 Nov JUAN ROUND TABLE: November 12, 2015
1. PH, Vietnam plan to sign pact on strategic alliance
The Philippines and Vietnam plan to sign an accord next week to elevate their relationship to a strategic level, allowing them to deepen economic ties and maritime cooperation, a Philippine official said Tuesday.
Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said the accord may be signed on the sidelines of next week’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Manila in the presence of President Benigno Aquino III and his Vietnamese counterpart.
Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang is among 11 heads of state Aquino will meet with one-on-one in Manila, Jose said.
Vietnam and the Philippines are among five governments at odds with China over contested territories in the South China Sea. But both have not characterized the proposed alliance as targeting Beijing, which they have strongly criticized for its increasingly aggressive steps to assert its claims in the disputed waters.
Jose did not provide details when asked about the proposed accord at a news conference.
Last year, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said such a partnership aimed to improve trade, investment and maritime cooperation, including search and rescue work at sea.
Although a plan to sign the pact earlier did not push through due to a need to clarify some wordings, the proposal for the Southeast Asian neighbors to bolster their ties progressed rapidly. Both governments agreed to convene a joint committee to start talks on a strategic partnership only more than a year ago, Philippine officials said.
Aside from China, Vietnam and the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have also been involved in the disputes, which raged anew last year after China began transforming seven mostly submerged disputed reefs into islands that rival governments feared Beijing would use as military forward bases to reinforce its claims and presence far from the Chinese mainland.
Sisa: Let’s volt in!
2. Philippines studying prospects of joining TPP
Trade Undersecretary Adrian Cristobal said they will express their interest to join the group on the sidelines of the APEC summit and during bilateral meetings with TPP member-states.
Cristobal noted that targeted consultations may happen in the first quarter of 2016.
Twelve out of the 21 APEC member-economies in attendance next week are part of the TPP trade bloc, accounting for 40 percent of world trade.
With two of the world’s largest economies, the US and Japan, in the TPP, Cristobal said the Philippines stands to gain more from joining the group, including sustaining the country’s growth momentum.
“Our top markets and investors are in the TPP such as Japan and the US, so I guess we do have to engage with that group of countries to ensure our growth continues in the next few decades,” Cristobal said.
“We believe that the basic arguments of joining the TPP is sound and if we do not join, then we tend to lose market share to countries who are already in TPP and happen to produce the products we do and offer the same services,” he added.
While a more liberal economy would be more beneficial to Filipinos, Cristobal said it’s up to legislators to study the possibility and potential gains from adjusting constitutional limits to foreign ownership.
Sisa: Apec?! Canadian Prime Minister on my mind.
3. What will the Philippines gain from hosting APEC 2015?
As leaders from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)economies gather in Manila for the second time after 19 years, they will visit an economy that is about 3 times larger and to be hosted by a leader now seeking to spread the region’s prosperity to microentrepreneurs and poor farmers.(READ: Making region MSME-friendly could be APEC 2015’s major success)
Over the years, the Philippines took advantage of the freer markets around the region. The eagerness of booming economies to open up their markets to developing countries, like the Philippines, is somehow linked to the country’s major growth drivers – remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and the burgeoning business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.
Sisa: Yung gwapong Canadian Prime Minister, ulam na yon!
4. Tagle: We’re all to blame for lumad’s plight
Thus declared Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle as he called on everyone, particularly the military and the National Democratic Front (NDF), to leave the lumad in peace and to work together to help all those displaced by the ongoing violence in Mindanao recover.
“We’re all to blame for what’s happening to our lumad brethren in Mindanao,” Tagle said in a statement after visiting the lumad makeshift camp at the Liwasang Bonifacio.
Tagle described the indigenous people’s plight as very depressing and alarming.
He particularly highlighted how the violence between the military and members of the NDF had left many lumad dead and displaced, among others.
“What is happening to our indigenous brothers in Mindanao is very depressing and alarming. Some of them have died or were killed. Many were forced to evacuate and abandon their homes and their ancestral lands,” Tagle said.
“They lost their livelihood. Their children stopped schooling. The elderly, the sick, the children and women suffered even more. The environment was damaged. What is prevailing is chaos, violence, injustice and lack of peace and order in their communities, ” he added.
In a statement written in Filipino which he read in front of the lumad, Tagle called on the government to pull out its military forces from lumad communities and disband and disarm all paramilitary groups.
He also urged both the military and the NDF to declare the home of the lumad in Mindanao as “peace zones.”
“We are calling on both the military and the NDF to leave the lands of our lumad brothers as ‘peace zones,’” Tagle said.
Sisa: Buti pa Aldub Nation may pakialam sa Lumad.
5. Alleged investment scam leader nabbed in Bacolod
Nabbed was Jorge Obenita III of San Mateo, Rizal, the alleged chairman of Juan Pinoy Marketing Ventures, Incorporated which is operating in the cities of Manila, Cebu, and Bacolod.
According to its website, Juan Pinoy is engaged in online business, direct selling, and relational marketing. It aims to help its “networkers” and the economy as well.
Obenita was arrested at Island Spoon, along Lacson Street in Bacolod City, after he received the P4,000 ($84.92) grease money from the NBI operative.
NBI investigator Aries Bañares said the operation stemmed from the complaints lodged by 5 individuals (who asked not to be named), against the suspect.
The complainants reportedly invested a total of P431,700 ($9,165.68) to the company. They were promised big earnings if they started investing P1,000 ($21.24) for soaps and other beauty products and if they recruit other members, he said.
The complainants, however, said they were never paid with their supposed earnings, Bañares said.
He added that Juan Pinoy, which is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), is not authorized to engage in solicitation and investment-taking activity from public investors.
Obenita was also slapped with large scale estafa and violations of the Republic Act 8799 or the Securities Regulation Code before the City Prosecutor’s Office, Wednesday, November 11.
Also facing estafa raps are:
Jonathan Jesus Navea of Cubao, Quezon City
Lorena Caronan of Marikina City
Susan Aquino of Caloocan City
Evelyn Gudio of Caloocan City
Obenita, who is now at the NBI detention cell, denied the complaints against him.
Authorities have repeatedly warned the public not to fall prey to such investment scams.
On November 6, SEC issued a cease and desist order (CDO) against EmGgoldex, an apparent Dubai-based firm that recruits investors to buy gold online with the promise of hefty bonuses for referring friends and acquaintances. (READ: SEC issues cease and desist order vs EmGoldex)
SEC also filed on that date two cases before the Department of Justice against related entities EmGoldex, Global Intergold (GIG), and Prosperous Infinite Philippines Holdings, Corporation (PIPHC).
The companies are accused of violating Section 8 and 28 of the Securities and Regulation Code (SRC), for selling or offering for sale or distribution unregistered securities to the public and without a license, respectively. –Rappler.com
Sisa: Hirap satin gusto natin biglang yaman. Anything above 1.5% returns per month should SCARE US!
6. Environmentalists question pruning of roadside trees
This cropped up here after a contractor of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) chopped off branches of several trees along the Manila North Road (MNR) in Barangay Rosario in Pozorrubio town on Saturday and Monday.
Emmanuel Diaz, head of the DPWH’s engineering district, said the trees were being pruned of dead branches and those close to power transmission lines. But environmentalists and village residents thought otherwise.
In a post on Facebook, Ben Samalan, a resident of Rosario, said the DPWH contractor, Pahati Construction, left bald a 47-year-old mango tree fronting his house using a backhoe and chainsaw.
Samalan also posted a picture of at least three trees as they were being pruned by the contractor that day.
In a statement, Virginia Pasalo, founding executive director of the Women in Development Foundation, said the contractor’s way of pruning trees was to prepare them for cutting.
“[The contractor] cut away huge branches of flowering mango trees, and the pruned ones were hacked without mercy, that no one would think it was meant to be pruned, but prepared for its final end on the same day,” Pasalo said.
The pruned trees were among 770 trees that were left standing along the MNR after the DPWH’s tree cutting permit, issued in November 2013, expired in February 2014.
But 181 dead and dying trees were eventually felled in September. The trees did not survive after they were girdled, a process where a patch of bark around the tree trunk was removed to prevent nutrients from circulating within the tree.
The DPWH had applied for a new cutting permit but nongovernment organizations asked a court in Urdaneta City to issue a temporary environmental protection order to save the trees. The court is still hearing the case.
“We tried the next best measures to stop the carnage, but little could be done to a determined assassin riding on the power of his superiors, blatantly defying the law and the right of citizens to clean air and sustainable coexistence with the natural habitat,” Pasalo said.
Sisa: Hindi pa tayo natuto sa nangyari sa mga unggoy sa Indonesia. Ay wait, madaming unggoy sa gobyerno. Bwisit!
7. McCain calls on Pentagon to clarify South China Sea patrol
The chairman of the influential U.S. Senate Armed Services committee has called on the Pentagon to clarify publicly the legal intent of a U.S. patrol last month within 12 nautical miles of an island China has built in the South China Sea.
U.S. officials said last week that the U.S. Navy avoided military drills that could have further inflamed tensions with Beijing during the Oct. 27 patrol by the destroyer USS Lassen in the Spratly islands, an approach experts said could reinforce rather than challenge China’s sovereignty claims.
Senator John McCain, the Republican head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a Nov. 9 letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter it was vital there should be no misunderstanding about U.S. objectives.
“I believe it is critical that the Department of Defense publicly clarify … the legal intent behind this operation and any future operations of a similar nature,” McCain wrote in the letter seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
Washington argues that islands China has built up in the South China Sea are not entitled to a territorial limit under international law as they used to be under water at high tide.
China reacted angrily to the patrol near Subi Reef, which followed months of U.S. preparation, despite its lack of military drills.
But analysts said that if the Lassen failed to conduct military drills, the operation would have resembled what is known as “innocent passage,” and could have reinforced China’s claim to a territorial limit around the reef.
McCain called on Carter to clarify what excessive claims the Lassen was intending to challenge and whether the warship operated under the rules of innocent passage.
Innocent passage occurs when a ship quickly transits another country’s territorial waters, and can only take place in waters belonging to another country.
Pentagon officials have given conflicting descriptions of the Lassen’s maneuver.
A U.S. official speaking to Reuters at the time described it as an “innocent-passage” operation but later said that had been a mistake.
Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said on Nov. 4 the patrol was not an “innocent passage,” but when pressed further the following day, he declined to explicitly restate that position or elaborate.
The Pentagon has yet to respond to McCain’s letter, a spokesman said. — Reuters
Sisa: Ex presidentiable McCain? Hindi ka pa pala retired.
8. SC court administrator looks into Pampanga inmates’ complaints
SC Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, who supervises trial court judges nationwide, on Wednesday said he has received a hand-written letter signed by hundreds of detainees whose cases are pending with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branches 41 to 48, and 54 and 55.
“I have already instructed our Legal Office to look into the veracity of the allegations,” Marquez told reporters in a text message.
Marquez stressed the need to check the inmates’ complaint “more so now that the Supreme Court has come out with the Guidelines on Continuous Trial, which is being pilot tested in some first- and second-level courts in the National Capital Judicial Region.”
In their three-page letter to Marquez, the prisoners from 10 different detention cells lamented the “very slow setting of hearings in various courts and judges” handling their criminal cases.
“[The setting of hearings] takes a long time and most of us have almost only one hearing per year. There are those whose cases have run for 10 to 15 years and still have no resolution up to this day,” read the letter.
In their letter, the detainees said they have already asked help from San Fernando, Pampanga RTC Executive Judge Divina Luz Simbulan “about our sorry condition here.”
“But she had no action. We told her about our concerns but she just ignored us,” read the letter.
The detainees told the SC that they are still hoping to be cleared from their cases. “Even if we are detainees, we still hope to start a brand new life with our families. But because of the slow justice system here, our hopes have been destroyed,” they lamented.
“We are hoping for your attention and immediate action, for the sake of our families,” they added.
Simbulan is already in hot water after property developer Delfin Lee, who is a detainee at the provincial jail, filed administrative and criminal charges against her also before the Office of the Court Administrator for alleged extortion and gross ignorance of the law.
In 2013, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno described as “dysfunctional” the current jail system in the Philippines, a system that forces inmates to take turns in sleeping inside cramped detention cells.
Sereno had said that the SC was also thinking of assigning some judges to help areas where court dockets are heavily clogged. That same year, the SC conducted simultaneous hearings and decision-making in the five most populated jail facilities in the country. — BM, GMA News
Sisa: Justice delayed is justice denied.
9. Human trafficking survivor: I was raped 43,200 times
She looks straight into my eyes, her voice cracking slightly, as she tells me the number she wants me to remember — 43,200.
By her own estimate, 43,200 is the number of times she was raped after falling into the hands of human traffickers.
She says up to 30 men a day, seven days a week, for the best part of four years — 43,200.
Her story highlights the brutal realities of human trafficking in Mexico and the United States, an underworld that has destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of Mexican girls like Karla.
Human trafficking has become a trade so lucrative and prevalent, that it knows no borders and links towns in central Mexico with cities like Atlanta and New York.
U.S. and Mexican officials both point to a town in central Mexico that for years has been a major source of human trafficking rings and a place where victims are taken before being eventually forced into prostitution. The town is called Tenancingo.
Karla says she was abused for as long as she can remember and felt rejected by her mother. “I came from a dysfunctional family. I was sexually abused and mistreated from the age of 5 by a relative,’ she says.
When she was 12 she was targeted by a trafficker who lured her away using kind words and a fast car.
She says she was waiting for some friends near a subway station in Mexico City, when a little boy selling sweets came up to her, telling her somebody was sending her a piece of candy as a gift.
Five minutes later, Karla says, an older man was talking to her, telling her that he was a used car salesman.
The initial awkwardness disappeared as soon as the man started telling her that he was also abused as a boy. He was also very affectionate and quite a gentleman, she says.
They exchanged phone numbers and when he called a week later, Karla says she got excited. He asked her to go on a trip to nearby Puebla with him and dazzled her by showing up driving a bright red Firebird Trans Am.
Sisa: I am sure may ganito din sa Pinas.
10. Starbucks’ plain red holiday cups stir up controversy
When the cups rolled out in late October, Starbucks (SBUX) vice president Jeffrey Fields said the company “wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.”
Joshua Feuerstein, a former pastor who calls himself a “social media personality,” took exception.
He posted a video to Facebook on November 5 that went viral. Feuerstein criticizes Starbucks for removing “Christmas from their cups because they hate Jesus.”
Feuerstein encouraged customers to say “Merry Christmas” instead of their names in order to “trick” baristas into writing the phrase on the cup. He said to use “#MerryChristmasStarbucks” to post photos online.
In an email with CNNMoney on Sunday, Feuerstein noted that his video has had more than 10 million views.
“I think Starbucks has gotten the message that the Christian majority in this country has awakened and are demanding that our voice be heard,” he wrote.
Sisa: It’s just a cup. Matutuloy ang pasko kahit magrally pa kayo diyan. Bwisit!
11. Operator denials: Baseless, unfair
A Small Town Lottery (STL) franchise holder in Quezon province has denied a National Bureau of Investigation report that operators of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO)-sponsored lottery have been defrauding the government.
“That report was baseless and unfair,” Jose Gonzales, operations manager of Pirouette Corp., the licensed STL operator in Quezon, said on Wednesday.
Gonzales stressed that Pirouette had been diligently paying taxes due the government. “Our record is open for scrutiny and we are ready to face any investigation to clear this issue.”
He said Pirouette’s “operation has been aboveboard and being regularly subjected to examinations by concerned government agencies, like the PCSO and the COA (Commission on Audit).”
According to the NBI report, STL operators have defrauded the government of at least P50 billion yearly through nondeclaration of actual sales.
The NBI based its report on investigations of selected STL operations in the provinces of Bulacan, Zambales, Olongapo, Laguna, Batangas, Nueva Ecija and Quezon.
The NBI finding was confirmed by PCSO Chair Erineo “Ayong” Maliksi, who said he had asked the agency to investigate STL operations following reports that some franchise holders were using their licenses to conduct jueteng operations and not declaring actual sales to the PCSO.
Maliksi said the PCSO had estimated that the potential income of all illegal games, including the illegal declaration from STL, could reach P100 billion a year.
Lady Elaine Gatdula, head of PCSO-Quezon, noted that Pirouette had no records of illegal practices in its operations.
Sisa: Lakas maka-singil ng buwis, kinukurakot naman ng ilan!
12. The rise of the killer robots — and why we need to stop them
Lethal autonomous weapons (or as the media like to call them, “killer robots”) were back on the agenda at the U.N. last week. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robotslaunched in 2013, and pleasingly the issue was quickly taken up by the U.N. Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva.
I’ve spent my life working on artificial intelligence (AI), and there are many reasons why I am fearful of the development of killer robots. Here’s five of them.
1. Killer robots are near
You might be thinking of “Terminator” — a robot which, if you believe the movie, will be available in 2029. But the reality is that killer robots will be much simpler to begin with and are, at best, only a few years away. Think Predator drone and its aptly named Hellfire missiles, but with the human controller replaced by a computer program. This is technically possible today.
2. There will be an arms race
Once this genie is out of the bottle, there will be an arms race to improve on the initially rather crude robots. And the end point of such an arms race is precisely the sort of terrifying technology you see in “Terminator.” Hollywood got that part right.
Moore’s Law predicts that computer chips double in size every two years. We’re likely to see similar exponential growth with killer robots. I vote to call this “Schwarzenegger’s Law” to remind us of where it will end.
3. Killer robots will proliferate
Killer robots will be cheap. And they’ll only get cheaper. Just look at the speed with which drones have dropped in price over the last few years. They’ll also be easy to make, at least crudely.
Get yourself a quadcopter, and add a smartphone and a gun or a small bomb. Then all you need is someone like me to write you some AI software. And the military will love them, at least at first, as they don’t need sleep or rest, long and expensive training, or evacuation from the battlefield when damaged.
However, once the military start having to defend themselves against killer robots, they might change their mind.
4. Killer robots will be killing lots of civilians
According to The Intercept, during a five-month stretch of a 2011-3 U.S. military operation against the Taliban and al Qaeda in the Hindu Kush, “nearly nine out of 10 people” who died in drone strikes”were not the Americans’ direct targets.”
This is when we still have a human in the loop, making that final life or death decision. The current state of the art in AI does not approach the situational awareness, or decision-making of a human drone pilot.
The statistics for a fully autonomous drone will therefore likely be even worse.
Over time, they’ll get better and I fully expect them to equal if not exceed human pilots. Different arguments then come into play. For example, killer robots will surely fall into wrong hands, including people who have no qualms at using them against civilians. They are a perfect weapon of terror. Killer robots will also lower the barriers to war. By further distancing us from the battlefield, they’ll turn war into a very real video game.
5. Killer robots will be hard to regulate
Tesla updates their Model S car to drive autonomously on the highway with a simple software update delivered over the air. We have to expect therefore that simple software updates will in the future be able to turn systems that are either not autonomous or not lethal into lethal autonomous weapons. This is going to make it very hard to control killer robots.
And we are going to want the technologies that go into killer robots. They are much the same technologies that go into autonomous cars, most of which already exist. Each year, roughly 30,000 people die on the roads of the United States, and 1.2 million worldwide. This statistic will plummet once autonomous cars are common.
But just because something is going to be hard, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. And even a ban that is partially effective, like that for anti-personnel mines, is going to be worth having.
My view that we need to regulate killer robots to prevent an arms race — and the view that we need to act quickly is shared by many others in the know. An open letter calling for such a ban was released in July this year.
The signatures include many leading researchers in AI and robotics, the CEOs of Google’s DeepMind, Facebook’s AI Research Lab, and the Allen Institute for AI, as well as thousands of others from around the world.
In November, the U.N. Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons meets again in Geneva to decide whether to continue with this issue, and whether to take the next step forwards towards a ban. For the world’s sake, I hope they do.
Sisa: Apocalypse is coming!