Thursday, January 18, 2018

Duterte unchecked - by Malcolm Cook

See -
"x x x.

Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Philippines, is a quarter of the way through his single six-year term under the current constitution. So far, he is changing the office of the president and the Philippine political system much more than it is changing him. The checks and balances that are supposed to constrain and channel executive power are being left unchecked and unbalanced. And the most fundamental change to the Philippine political system desired by Duterte – replacement of the current constitution with federalism – is only starting to take vague form on the horizon.

The list of measures under the Duterte administration is startling. Currently, they include:
Rappler, an influential news portal led by Maria Ressa attacked by the president and his supporters repeatedly, awaits a Securities and Exchange Commission decision to revoke its license.

The president is threatening not to renew the television franchise ABS-CBN, the leading television company that President Marcos seized when he invoked martial law in 1972.

The leading broadsheet newspaper, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, was sold to a business tycoon with close relations to the president.

The House of Representatives is conducting impeachment hearings against the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Duterte has established a new anti-corruption commission to investigatethe Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales.

The chairperson of the Commission on Higher Education, Patricia Licuanan, has resigned before the end of her term under pressure from the presidential palace.

Vice President Leni Robredo continues to be excluded from cabinet meetings.

Senator Leila de Lima remains incarcerated.

Local elections scheduled for October 2016 have not been held.

Mindanao island, which accounts for a fifth of the national population, remains under martial law, with Duterte not ruling out extending martial law to other regions. He has also suggested he might declare a revolutionary government.

As part of the early federalism discussions, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has publicly mused about cancelling the midterm electionsscheduled for October 2019.

As part of the early federalism discussions, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III has speculated about extending Dutertes term in office.x x x."

#2 - Martial Law Extension Cases Oral Arguments - January 17, 2018 [Supreme Court]

#1 - Martial Law Extension Cases Oral Arguments - January 16, 2018 [Supreme Court]

Senate hearing on Charter Change, 17 January 2018

Constitutional amendments; Senate hearing on Charter change, Jan. 17, 2018

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

South China Sea disputes: China arms island outposts

"China has apparently finished expanding its manmade island outposts in the South China Sea and has moved on to building military infractures on some of the larger islands, according to the Pentagon's annual assessment of military and security development of China.

The report states that China is currently focused on outfitting its three largest outposts — Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reefs in the Spratly Islands — with military infrastructures, including airfields with runways measuring at least 8,800 feet, water and fuel storage, port facilities, 24 fighter-sized hangars, communications facilities and barracks and administration buildings.

Once the facilities are complete, China can house up to three regiments of fighter jets in the Spratly Islands.

According to Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, the three air bases and another on Woody Island in the Paracels will give Chinese fighter jets the ability to operate over almost the entire South China Sea, as well as the radar surveillance coverage of almost the entire region from its facilities on the large and smaller outposts.

Parts of the South China Sea is claimed by China, Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The Hague international tribunal rejected China’s claims of historical ownership in the in the South China Sea last July. China, in response, has firmly rejected the ruling."

Migration scams

See - Douglas Todd: Explosive B.C. court case details seven migration scams

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"x x x.

A shocking B.C. Supreme Court case that pitted two rich families from China against each other provides grim revelations about the kind of migration, tax, and real-estate scams regularly occurring in Metro Vancouver and beyond.

Immigration and tax lawyers are stunned that the Fu and Zhu families became embroiled in a lengthy civil suit over three multi-million dollar houses they purchased together in Vancouver, since their case provides evidence of their illicit schemes around real estate, tax avoidance and immigration.

“This case provides unusually candid insight into what those who would abuse our immigration and real-estate systems really think in their own words about their true motives for seeking access to Canada and our real estate,” said Vancouver immigration lawyer Sam Hyman.

David Lesperance, a Toronto-based immigration and tax lawyer, said: “The fact that two different parties … would choose to fully expose their transgressions in a public forum shows either blinding ignorance, or complacency about the ramifications of that exposure, given the longtime lack of enforcement of immigration and tax laws in Canada.”

While both specialists believe the Fu versus Zhu case justifies investigation by the Canadian Revenue Agency, the Canada Border Services Agency and other enforcement bodies, they say the dispute between the families indirectly illustrates the range of common, mostly unpunished migration and real-estate scams occurring in Canada.

Ian Mulgrew: Following the real-estate money from China — almost impossible
Douglas Todd: Biggest immigration fraud ‘adversely impacts Canadian society:’ Judge
Douglas Todd: Is China popping Vancouver’s housing bubble?

Here are seven migration-related subterfuges the case exposes:

1. Not declaring full worldwide income to Canadian tax officials

Judge Susan Griffin scoffed at one family’s breadwinner, Guoqing Fu, for declaring to the Canadian Revenue Agency he had a worldwide income of only $97.11.

“This was an incredible assertion, given the fact he owns one of the top 10 textile manufacturing and distribution companies” in China’s biggest production zone, said Griffin.

The immigration specialists say it’s commonplace for wealthy foreign real-estate investors to falsely claim to tax authorities they earn much less than they do. It’s typically done in an attempt, they say, to avoid income taxes in Canada, and to make one’s family eligible for welfare and other taxpayer-financed subsidies.

But the Fu family may have gone too far, says Lesperance. “I think that clearly an investigation by Canada Revenue Agency is in order. (Depending on the results) the CRA could definitely ask the Crown to proceed with a criminal tax evasion charge, which could result in a 200-per-cent-of-tax-evaded penalty, plus up to five years imprisonment.”

2. Pretending to spend time in Canada to meet residency requirements

Chunqin Zhou referred to spending time in one of her Vancouver luxury houses as “immigration jail,” a term often adopted by well-off would-be migrants.

She used the phrase in reference to what she considered the hardship inherent in Ottawa’s residency requirements, which ask would-be immigrants to physically spend two years out of five in Canada to retain their permanent residency status.

The judge also found her son, Xiao Feng Fu, was “sophisticated in lying, including in scheming to deceive Canadians immigration authorities that he could maintain permanent residency status without spending the necessary days residing in Canada.”

The family members’ attempts to pretend they were living in Canada while spending time offshore echo a technique used in a widespread scam orchestrated up until 2015 by Richmond resident Xun Wang, who hauled in $10 million over eight years by producing altered Chinese passports and fraudulent identities for up to 1,200 clients.

3. Hiding real real-estate ownership

The Fu and Zhu families were well versed in how to avoid taxes on the sale of their houses by making false claims about the actual owners.

One common technique that wealthy foreign nationals use to avoid or evade paying capital gains tax in Canada is by putting dwellings in the names of children or spouses who appear to be permanent residents of Canada, and who appear, at least on paper, to occupy the houses.

4. Lack of regulation of real-estate agents

The son’s phoney claims about spending time in Canada were coordinated by the families’ realtor, identified only as “Mr. Gu.” The realtor assisted the son by helping provide false pay cheques, false employment records and false verbal claims about losing his permanent-resident card while in China.

“The new B.C. real estate regulator may want to invite Mr. Gu to a session over his behaviour,” said Hyman, referring to the way B.C.’s real-estate regulation was recently reformed following persistent complaints it was failing to discipline rogue realtors.

5. Illicitly laundering money out of China

The Fu versus Zhu case baldly highlights the two families’ efforts to break the laws of China, which is increasingly placing tighter restrictions on the amount of money it allows to leave the economic powerhouse.

The Fu family, to avoid detection, used their employees on 21 occasions to transfer lump sums just under China’s restriction against removing more than $50,000 US a year from the country.

The judge noted the parties acknowledged the steps were taken to evade China’s currency controls, as well as its restrictions on how many dwellings they could own.

The Fu and Zhu families’ efforts to illegally remove at least $1 million US from China corresponds to similar attempts made by Anita Wang and other families from China, who the B.C. Supreme Court found in early January illicitly laundered $750,000 to buy a property in Port Coquitlam.

According to another case, “Wang v. Wang,” the Chinese investor bought into this Port Coquitlam property by smuggling $750,000 to her B.C.-based partner ‘by effecting a series of transfers through nine individuals who brought in $50,000 each for tourist purposes.’

6. Misusing provincial migration programs

The two families from China initially started their application process to move to and invest in Canada by going through the provincial nominee programs of Prince Edward Island and Manitoba, jurisdictions which lack the popularity of Metro Vancouver and Toronto for migrants.

Neither family showed any intention of settling in those provinces, since they immediately put all their efforts into investing in residential real estate on the west side of Vancouver.

7. Exploiting Canadian courts, with costly trials

Postmedia reporter Sam Cooper is among the journalists who are increasingly covering lengthy cases involving foreign nationals who use Canadian civil courts to solve their own trans-national legal wrangles.

But, as Hyman says, it costs Canadian taxpayers a great deal to provide the judges, buildings and legal staff to run the court system, even when the losing side sometimes has to contribute to opponents’ lawyers’ fees.

“The bitterest irony in all this is that those who would so brazenly thwart our laws with such perceived impunity, for personal gain, would turn to our taxpayer-funded legal system for recourse. Chutzpah doesn’t begin to describe the parties’ conduct,” said Hyman.

Despite the conclusion of the Fu versus Zhu civil case, Hyman noted the family members involved “appear to continue to have access to Canada.”

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Beijing's Hungry Cow's Tongue in the South China Sea

Chinese Assertiveness in the South China Sea

The South China Sea and Asia Pacific in Transition: Exploring Options

Daniel Schaeffer “Why China Wants the South China Sea For Itself Alone”

"An international conference at Yale exploring the history of the ongoing dispute in the South China Sea, featuring speakers from universities and research institutions in Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, the Philippines, and across the United States. The two-day event was hosted by Yale’s Council on Southeast Asian Studies, with additional support from the Council on East Asian Studies, and the Institute for Vietnamese Culture and Education  For the full list of speakers, please visit: To view all the videos from this conference, follow this link:"

Pushing the boundaries: Beijing dismisses South China Sea Dispute (part 1)

Pushing the boundaries: Beijing dismisses South China Sea Dispute (part 2)

Duterte’s war on drugs -- "Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on drugs in the Philippines is proving popular with voters at home, however, international rights groups are alarmed by the use of extra-judicial killings as a tactic. The president has been especially candid about the police’s shoot to kill policy and recently called the killings ‘beautiful’."

When the town square is online, power lies with the people

See - When the town square is online, power lies with the people: Research brief 

"x x x.

When the town square is online, power lies with the people: Research brief
By The Conversation

From The Conversation, written by Vincent F. Hendricks, University of Copenhagen

In the age of information, we no longer need to leave the house to shape democracy. We’re heading towards a world in which the traditional sites of protest are sitting alongside online forums, which are becoming an extremely powerful democratic tool.

During the Tiananmen Square protests, the Chinese regime was acutely aware of the threat posed by thousands of unarmed students and workers occupying a public space, so it sent in soldiers and tanks to take them on. The most powerful image from the time was taken on June 5, 1989, when a young student, later nicknamed the Tank Man or Unknown Protester, armed only with two plastic bags was able to stop a column of Chinese tanks.

He was able to do it because common knowledge is an extremely potent weapon: everybody was watching, and everyone knew that everyone was watching, and everyone knew that everyone knew that everyone was watching and so on. That left the Chinese government exposed. When public space meets common knowledge, power can shift from established authority to the people.

While the public space is an important political tool, it only works as such if the political power is in the crowd — the foundation of democracy. Without that crowd, Tiananmen and Tahrir are just squares. A ruler’s power naturally consists only of the power he or she can invoke, and when this is done in the presence of the crowd, the crowd becomes an unstable reactor core with its own dynamics, determined by the public space’s inherent laws.

In the information age, public space is different. Protesters still meet in symbolic locations but activism is happening in the public space of the internet far more frequently. It is practically a daily event these days. Public space must now be understood as a special information structurerather than a physical place. In this sense the blogosphere, social media such as Facebook and media platforms like YouTube are the public spaces of the 21st century — for better or for worse,as with the physical public spaces of old.

Unlike Tiananmen square, or the Berlin Wall or Tahrir Square, anyone can access the centrally located public space on equal terms at any time and from almost any place. They can then communicate information and views in such a way that they become an inevitable part of society’s common consciousness. On a basic level, that’s how memes spread but it’s also how important political messages and powerful misinformation spreads too. Add the speed and global reach of information technology and social media to the already potent mix of public space and information, and you have a very commanding weapon that makes missiles and warships look somewhat clumsy.

If these common channels of information are turned into target packages so as to hit, say, a financial market, traffic control systems or power supply, then any power structure can be toppled, or at least seriously undermined, in an instant. The common value and raison d’être of the public space is the opportunity it gives each individual to demonstrate almost infinite powers and knowledge to the society that surrounds them. That’s how one person is able to stop a column of tanks — they combine common knowledge with public space.

During the 2011 Arab Spring, the mob’s annexation of central public spaces and squares worked as the root that nurtured rebellion. Modern information technology then played off that public space to fuel the uprising. That collision between common knowledge and public space perhaps accounts for one of the most important differences between the rebellions in Egypt and Syria. The Syrians had public spaces in the traditional sense but lacked access to the modern kind, or at least the regime tried to prevent or limit access to information about what was really going on.

Those who are able to control the information considered common knowledge among citizens are the ones holding real power. In the case of Egypt, the state ultimately lost the battle to contain information as it leaked out from the country via social media and underground networks. Perhaps mindful of this power, Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently banned Twitter in the country.

Everyday democracy

The common value of communication, which only public spaces can provide, is, however, not limited to fighting despots and regimes. In modern democracy, public spaces, the blogosphere, crowd opinion aggregators and social media platforms play a constant and fundamental democratic role if they are used correctly — not to stimulate bias, echo-chambers, lemming effects and other unfortunate irrational group behavior, but to allow users and citizens to freely, and on informed basis, deliberate, decide and act.

In these public spaces, citizens recognize each other simply by existing in the same place. The simple representation in public space of all society’s citizens in all their shapes and sizes establishes a public signal, which inscribes itself in our common consciousness. Everyone has a voice to the public now, everyone is on that score equal on Twitter, but of course, a voice to the public should always be used thoughtfully and with great care.

Upper-crust and famous figures, homeless people, religious minorities, the elderly, school teachers, white-collar workers, account managers and students all have a right to a place in democratic consciousness. If we are not all represented, then we have removed the basic prerequisites for democratic debate — equality, freedom and mutual respect.

The common value of the public space is therefore a fundamental value for our democracy, whether speaking of Tiananmen Square, Brandenburger Tor or Liberation Square in Baghdad. And modern democracies are perhaps even more sensitive to the power of the modern public space than they were to the uprisings that used to only happen on the street.

From The Conversation website, where this article originally appeared.
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When is it wise to argue with a judge? Only sometimes

See - When is it wise to argue with a judge? Only sometimes

"x x x.

This brings us to a few pertinent questions. The first has an easy answer. When should you fight with the judge over a nonissue? Almost never. However, there may be times when you have to argue with the judge about a pressing issue. I asked several lawyers: “When does something matter enough to argue with the judge about it?” Their responses were interesting.• Ohio civil lawyer: “Generally, you aren’t going to change the judge’s mind. So unless the client needs a show, preserve the record and move on.”

• Indiana criminal defense lawyer: “A big part of litigation is making the record. If it’s not in writing and/or not said, you might be hosed. So even if the judge is clearly not going your way, you request time to make a record for appeal. Most judges have no problem with that. But I don’t hesitate to argue with a judge frequently. My client is paying me to advocate for them, so I do it. [Judges] rarely take it personally. Luckily, I rarely have to do it because judges like my personable demeanor. I think those subtle nuances that comprise someone’s charisma can take you surprisingly far. But If I know a client’s about to get hosed, like on a suppression issue, I’ll argue a point to preserve the issue. Only time you back off is if a) judge has a fragile ego or is otherwise easily set off, and b) your client has something immediately at stake at that moment. This way you can always assert strategy if the client is ever trying to make an ineffective assistance of counsel claim against you.”

• Canadian civil lawyer: “It’s almost never worth arguing directly with a judge. If they think the fact or rule of law is X, you’re never going to do particularly well just saying that it’s not X. That said, some judges leap quite quickly to their conclusions without spending a lot of time thinking about how they got there. Arguing respectfully and somewhat indirectly with them can be helpful. In one of my first appearances at a trial, I had a judge make a ridiculous math error right near the beginning of my submissions; he yelled at me about how my math was wrong. I got on with my submissions on the other uncontroversial points, and at the end (once he’d had time to cool down, because he was famously hot-tempered), went back to the math. I took him through the calculation (which was really just a sum of four items, but yeah, I was yelled at for daring to disagree with him), and tried to treat it as a way of helping him get to the right reasons. That time, it worked. Other times in front of that judge haven’t always been so successful, but respectfully disagreeing with a judge’s conclusion and explaining why is the only sort of arguing with a judge that I’ve ever seen succeed.”

• Indiana in-house counsel: “I would imagine in a civil context never worth it to ‘argue’ in person. Respectfully disagree and present a counterpoint, yes, but not become argumentative. There’s almost always an opportunity to express your disagreement in a later motion.”

• Canadian government lawyer: “When the judge invites your [arguments]. Beyond that, it’s like arguing with a cop by the side of the road.”

x x x."

Philippines Most Dangerous Country in Southeast Asia for Journalists | Inter Press Service

See - Philippines Most Dangerous Country in Southeast Asia for Journalists | Inter Press Service

"x x x.

"It’s not just suspected drug users and dealers at risk of targeted killing in the Philippines. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) reported last week that the Philippines is the most dangerous country in Southeast Asia for journalists. Globally, the island nation came sixth on the list of most murderous countries.
Joaquin Brinoes, Rudy Alicaway, Leodoro Diaz and Crisenciano Ibon Lozada. These are new names to be added to a tragic roster of killed journalists. In August, a gunman shot columnist Crisenciano Ibon in the back and seriously wounded his driver. The police speculate the attack may have been in retaliation for his columns criticizing illegal gambling. He had received many death threats.

Broadcaster Rudy Alicaway and columnist Leodoro Diaz were attacked within two days time. They were both riding motorcycles when gunmen came up behind and shot them dead. Their murders are likely linked to their reports on political corruption, underground gambling and the drug trade. Journalist Joaquin Briones was killed the same way. He was known for his hard-hitting radio program.

There is a fifth killing, not included in the statistics of IFJ. In August, Michael Marasigan, a respected former newspaper editor, was shot dead in a Manila suburb. Rodrigo Duterte’s administration says it is doing all it can to apprehend those responsible. But so far, no arrests have been made.

President Duterte is a vocal critic of the press. Even before he took office, as president-elect, he sent a chilling message to the press corps: “Just because you’re a journalist, you’re not exempted from assassination if you are a son of a bitch,” he said at a press conference. “Free speech won’t save you, my dear.”
Need for independent reporting

The numbers of journalists being killed are dropping in recent years. But there is no room for complacency, says IFJ. Only a year ago, the Philippines was reported to be the second most dangerous country for journalists in the past 25 years. Only Iraq had more deaths. And in the Philippines, the IFJ warned, unprecedented numbers of journalists were jailed or forced to flee, self-censorship was widespread and impunity for the killings, harassment, attacks and threats against independent journalism was running at epidemic levels.

In September, Edito Mapayo, the editor-in-chief of Diaryo Balita, a local newspaper on the Mindanao island, was choked and punched by Surigao del Norte Vice Mayor Francisco Matugas Gonzales. And in August, a government official filed a libel case against ABS-CBN’s broadcast journalist Ted Failon and three members of his staff. They were looking into the “allegedly irregular purchase of secondhand motorcycles for Pope Francis’ visit to Manila in 2014”.

The country is in great need of independent journalists to report on human rights abuses, like the continuing war on drugs and the extended martial law in Mindanao. According to Human Rights Watch, the war on drugs has claimed 12,000 lives since president Rodrigo Duterte decided to purify his people from the evil of cheap drugs. Critics say he doesn’t let the law get in the way of his mission.
Last month, Congress approved Duterte’s request to extend martial law on the southern island of Mindanao until Dec. 31, 2018. UN special rapporteurs Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Cecilia Jimenez-Damary released a statement on Jan. 3 saying that the Lumads, the non-Muslim indigenous people living on Mindanao, are suffering from the island’s ongoing militarisation.

“Thousands of Lumads have already been forcibly displaced by the conflict and have seen their houses and livelihoods destroyed,” the experts said in their statement. There were also reports indicating that military forces had killed local farmers in early December.

The restive island of Mindanao is also the location of the single deadliest event for journalists in history. The Maguindanao massacre is named after the town where mass graves where found in November 2009. A convoy was on route to file a candidacy for local elections when it was attacked. Fifty-eight people were killed, including at least 34 journalists.

‘End impunity’

“We welcome the reduction for the third year in a row in the loss of life suffered by journalists and media staff during 2017,” says IFJ President Philippe Leruth. “While this represents a downward trend, the levels of violence in journalism remain unacceptably high. We find it most disturbing that governments refuse to tackle the impunity for these crimes targeting journalists. Instead, the patterns don’t change in the most violent countries.”

While Mexico and India are extremely dangerous places for journalists, no region was spared the scourge of violence, including Western democracies. Investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia of Malta paid for her pursuit of the truth with her life. She was killed by a car bomb after she reported on government corruption, nepotism, patronage and allegations of money laundering.

“There is a safety crisis in journalism,” added IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger. “There is a desperate need for a new instrument that finally would make it possible to implement a numerous of existing resolutions on media protection. We urge the adoption of this new convention to sustain other ongoing efforts to further promote the safety of journalists.”

In anticipation of such a guarantee for the safety of journalists, a few brave Philippinos are working hard to maintain an independent press."

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