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Duterte reacts to threat of impeachment, international human rights trial
Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte on March 19 said he would not be deterred in waging a “brutal” war on drugs by threats of impeachment or a trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC). An opposition lawmaker in the Philippine House filed an impeachment complaint against Duterte on March 16, accusing him of crimes against humanity and corruption. While the impeachment attempt is unlikely to succeed, it could aid attempts to bring human rights charges against Duterte at the ICC, which a self-confessed former member of an alleged “death squad” led by Duterte threatened to file on March 14.
Manila reacts to Chinese survey activity in waters east of the Philippines
Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte on March 13 ordered the navy to build “structures” and increase naval patrols to assert sovereignty over Benham Rise, an undersea feature east of the Philippines. Duterte was responding to claims by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that a Chinese ship had surveyed the area last year. The Chinese Foreign Ministry on March 10 responded to a diplomatic protest from Manila, saying that the ship had engaged in "normal freedom of navigation and right of innocent passage." Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio on March 14 clarified that the Philippines cannot exercise sovereignty over Benham Rise, but that certain types of Chinese survey activities in the area would violate the Philippines’ rights under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Philippine lawmakers reject appointment of Yasay as foreign secretary
The Philippine Commission on Appointments on March 8 rejected the confirmation of Perfecto Yasay as secretary of foreign affairs in a unanimous vote after grilling him over inconsistent statements regarding his possession of U.S. citizenship. Yasay, who admitted to being granted U.S. citizenship in 1986, was unable to prove that this citizenship was “null and void” at the time of his appointment. Following the rejection, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte appointed Undersecretary Enrique Manalo as acting secretary of foreign affairs.
Dozens of Indonesian politicians implicated in identity card graft scheme
Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) will investigate allegations that dozens of politicians, including Justice Minister Yasonna Laoly and House Speaker Setya Novanto, embezzled over $170 million allocated for the procurement of electronic identity cards. President Joko Widodo on March 11 called for an investigation into the alleged graft scheme two days after two senior Home Ministry officials implicated 12 of their counterparts and officials from nine political parties in what could be the largest-ever corruption case involving Indonesia’s legislature.
Malaysia arrests seven with Islamic State links after foiled plot on Saudi king
Malaysian police on March 14 announced that they had arrested an immigration officer and six others linked to the Islamic State. The suspects, two Malaysians and five Filipinos, were arrested in Sabah and Kuala Lumpur March 8-12, with the immigration officer allegedly arranging for militants to travel via Sabah to join up with Islamic State-linked groups in the southern Philippines. The arrests followed a March 7 announcement that the Malaysian police had foiled an attempt by four suspects linked to Yemen’s Houthi movement to attack the Saudi king during his February visit to Malaysia. Malaysian authorities had initially claimed the arrested suspects, which also included an Indonesian and a Malaysian, were linked to the Islamic State.
Timor-Leste holds presidential election
Timor-Leste held presidential elections on March 20, the fourth since the nation achieved independence in 2002. Former guerilla leader Francisco “Lú-Olo” Guterres is the projected winner in his third attempt, beating out seven other candidates. Early counts show Guterres securing an estimated 57 percent of the vote, more than enough to clear the 50 percent threshold for a runoff. Guterres is the leader of Fretilin, the nation’s second-largest political party with roots in the resistance movement against Portugal and Indonesia. Guterres also received the endorsement of former president and fellow resistance leader Xanana Gusmão. The presidency is a largely ceremonial position, as the prime minister heads the government.
Sok An, deputy prime minister of Cambodia, dies at 66
Cambodian deputy prime minister Sok An, loyal ally of Prime Minister Hun Sen, died in Beijing on March 15 after months of hospitalization for an unspecified illness. He was cremated in an elaborate ceremony on March 20. Sok An held many leadership positions throughout his decades-long government tenure and was often described as Hun Sen’s right-hand man. Sok An served as a key negotiator during the peace talks leading to the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991 and led negotiations with the United Nations to establish the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Annan-led advisory commission on Rakhine State releases interim findings
The advisory commission on Rakhine State led by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan presented its interim findings on March 16 and recommended that the Myanmar government close camps for internally displaced persons and allow the safe and immediate return of Rohingya Muslims to their homes. While the full report and recommendations are forthcoming, the interim recommendations may increase pressure on State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar government to improve conditions for the Rohingya. However, China and Russia on March 17 blocked a proposed UN Security Council statement expressing concern over the situation in Rakhine State.
Continued fighting in northern Myanmar
Fighting in Myanmar’s Kokang region in the northeast part of Shan State has continued, displacing more civilians and leading about 20,000 to cross the border into China seeking refuge. The town of Laukkai has been especially hard-hit with attacks on military outposts, police stations, casinos, and hotels. In recent clashes, hotel employees and police personnel have reportedly been taken hostage. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has called for the cessation of fighting and invited the armed ethnic groups to join in peace negotiations. Members of the Northern Alliance, a grouping of four ethnic armed groups, met with Chinese officials who also urged a cessation of fighting.
Renewed Philippine Drug War Unlikely to Address Human Rights Concerns
By Geoffrey Hartman
The Philippine National Police (PNP) is back in action in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, a little over a month after the president ordered the police to stand down. Police chief Ronald dela Rosa on March 6 announced that the PNP has “reloaded” and is ready to rejoin the drug war, but said he hoped the renewed campaign—which has killed over 7,000 people so far—would be “less bloody”...Read more>>>
CogitAsia Podcast: Cloudy Horizon in U.S.-Philippine Relations
By Gregory Poling
Ties between Washington and Manila have been on a downward trajectory since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in June 2016. In this joint podcast with the CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, we assess how these two allies will get on in the era of President Donald Trump. What about Manila’s efforts to (potentially) cozy up to Beijing and Moscow? AMTI Director Gregory Poling stops by to discuss the implications for the alliance and maritime security, fallout from Duterte’s drug war, and the decisions facing both sides...Listen here>>>
Nowhere to Go but up: Expectations for ASEAN in Its 50th Year
By Victor Andres "Dindo" Manhit
The Philippines has consistently played an active role in the growth and development of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), dating back to its birth in 1967. ASEAN has persisted through political and economic crises, from the challenges of the Cold War to the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis...Read more>>>
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