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Duterte visits Marawi as battle drags on
Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte on July 20 visited Marawi City to address troops fighting to win back control of the city from fighters linked to the Islamic State. The Marawi siege began on May 23 and has claimed nearly 600 lives so far. Duterte’s visit to Marawi followed his July 14 comment in Davao City acknowledging that the Armed Forces of the Philippines have received military assistance from the United States and China during the siege. The Philippine Congress on July 22 approved Duterte’s request to extend martial law for the southern island of Mindanao until the end of the year.
Jokowi signs decree limiting freedom of association
Indonesian president Joko Widodo on July 10 issued a decree amending a 2013 law on societal organizations to allow the minister of Law and Human Rights the authority to ban organizations that oppose the official state ideology of Pancasila. The decree has been criticized by human rights group as a threat to freedom of association, and must be approved by the Indonesian legislature in its next session, which begins on August 16. The government’s new powers were invoked for the first time on July 19 when the legal status of hardline Islamist group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) was revoked. HTI is seeking a to challenge the government’s action by requesting a review in the Constitutional Court. Pancasila includes five basic principles: belief in one God, Indonesian unity, humanism, democracy, and social justice for all.
Indonesian legislative leader named suspect in graft case
Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission on July 17 named Speaker of the House of Representatives Setya Novanto as a suspect in a $173 million scheme to embezzle money intended for a government project to issue electronic identity cards. Novanto, who is also chairman of the Golkar Party, is alleged to have played a key role in planning the embezzlement scheme. Novanto publicly denied the accusations and refused to resign from his positions as house speaker and party chairman. Novanto previously resigned as speaker in December 2015 after he was accused of soliciting a $1.8 billion bribe from mining company Freeport Indonesia, but was reinstated as speaker in November 2016.
Mahathir named chairman of Malaysian opposition coalition
Malaysia’s opposition political coalition Pakatan Harapan on July 14 announced former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamed (1981-2003) as its new chairman. Former opposition leader and longtime Mahathir nemesis Anwar Ibrahim, who is currently serving a five-year jail term for sodomy, was named de facto leader of the coalition. Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, will serve as the coalition’s president. The 92-year-old Mahathir on July 19 said that he is the “top dog” in the coalition despite its unique three-person leadership structure, and suggested he would be the opposition’s candidate for prime minister in the upcoming general election that must be held by August 2018.
Narrow victory for Fretilin in Timor-Leste parliamentary elections
Preliminary results from Timor-Leste’s July 22 parliamentary elections show the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin) party winning 30 percent of the vote, followed closely by the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party with 28 percent. Fretilin is expected to hold 23 seats out of 65 in the next parliament, while the CNRT is expected to hold 22. The results are a reversal of the previous parliamentary election result in 2012, when the CNRT won the majority. Both parties, which have formed a de facto ruling partnership since 2015, are expected to continue their coalition.
Aquino faces criminal charges over Mamasapano raid
The Philippine Office of the Ombudsman on July 14 filed criminal charges against former president Benigno Aquino over the botched 2015 raid at Mamasapano in the southern province of Mindanao that led to more than 60 deaths, including those of 44 police commandos. Aquino is charged with usurpation of authority and corruption for allowing then Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima—who was under suspension at the time for possible corruption—to help plan the raid. Aquino filed an appeal on July 19, claiming that his right to due process had been violated when the ombudsman charged him with unrelated crimes after dismissing complaints filed by relatives of the slain police officers that Aquino had engaged in reckless imprudence resulting in homicide.
Thai king given full control of royal assets
Thailand amended the Crown Property Act on July 17 to give King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who became monarch in October 2016 after his father died, full control over the Crown Property Bureau. The bureau manages the monarchy’s institutional assets, which are estimated at between $30 billion and $60 billion. The amendment was the first to crown property laws since 1948, and could undermine the previous distinction between the king’s personal property and crown property controlled by the nominally independent bureau. The king on July 18 named close aide Air Chief Marshal Satitpong Sukvimol—who also supervises the king’s private property—as the new chairman of the bureau, a role that has traditionally been held by the finance minister.
Thailand sentences 62 found guilty of human trafficking
A Thai court on July 19 convicted 62 defendants accused of human trafficking, including several military, police, and political officials. The defendants were accused of trafficking migrants through Thailand’s southern provinces, including Rohingya Muslim and Bangladeshi migrants whose graves were found at jungle camps near the border with Malaysia in 2015. The highest-ranking official to be convicted was Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan, the former head of internal security operations in southern Thailand, who was sentenced to 27 years in prison.
Indonesia latest country to rename portion of South China Sea
The Indonesian Ministry of Maritime Affairs on July 14 announced that it had renamed the northern section of its claimed exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea as the North Natuna Sea. Deputy minister for maritime sovereignty Arif Havas Oegroseno announced the new name at the unveiling of a new official map of Indonesia in Jakarta. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said the name change made “no sense at all” and was not conducive to efforts to standardize international place names.
Vietnam party chief visits Cambodia
Vietnamese Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong on July 20 met with Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh, where the two leaders issued a joint statement affirming close relations and cooperation on bilateral trade, border issues, greater sub-Mekong region initiatives, and the South China Sea. Trong also announced that Vietnam would donate $25 million to help construct a new building for the Cambodian National Assembly. Hun Sen’s government, which was installed following Vietnam’s ouster of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, has in recent years supported China’s positions against Vietnam in the South China Sea in ASEAN deliberations.
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