Syria: Russia Calls US, UK Remarks “Unacceptable” — Russian media hail defiant diplomats, says US arming jihadists

September 27, 2016

BBC News

A man walks on the rubble of damaged buildings after an air strike on the rebel held Qaterji district of Aleppo, Syria (25 September 2016)

A monitoring group has documented 162 deaths in rebel-held Aleppo in the past week. Reuters photo

Russia has criticised the US and UK for using “unacceptable” tone and rhetoric in speeches on Syria at the UN, after being accused of “barbarism”.

On Sunday, US permanent representative Samantha Power said Russian and Syrian forces were “laying waste” to besieged rebel-held areas of the city of Aleppo.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that such language might damage efforts to end the five-year civil war.

Activists meanwhile reported dozens of fresh air strikes on Aleppo overnight.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said at least two civilians had been killed and many wounded.

At least 162 people are believed to have died in rebel-held Aleppo since last Monday, when a truce brokered by the US and Russia collapsed.

The US, UK and France, which back the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, openly accused Russia of lying about its involvement in the assault on Aleppo at an emergency session of the UN Security Council.

Residents of rebel-held Tariq al-Bab district inspect water-filled crater that activists say was caused by bunker-busting bomb (23 September 2016)

Activists said they believed a bunker-busting bomb hit Aleppo’s Tariq al-Bab district on Friday. Reuters photo

British permanent representative Matthew Rycroft said Mr Assad’s forces and Moscow had “plunged to new depths and unleashed a new hell on Aleppo”, which was once Syria’s largest city and the country’s industrial and commercial hub.

He alleged that they were committing war crimes by using bunker-busting bombs to destroy underground shelters, dropping incendiary weapons indiscriminately on civilian areas, and targeting the city’s water supplies.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pose for a photo at the United Nations in Manhattan, New York, on Sept 23, 2016. PHOTO by REUTERS

Ms Power told the meeting: “Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and Assad make war. Instead of helping get life-saving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals, and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive.”

“What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counterterrorism; it is barbarism,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power added.

Samantha Power. AP photo Virginia Mayo

BBC Monitoring: Russian media hail defiant diplomats

Pro-Kremlin media in Russia have been gripped by the discussions on Syria at the UN Security Council, but they offered little comment on the accusations levelled against Moscow.

Syrian soldiers at Handarat camp, north of Aleppo (24 September 2016)

Troops captured the Palestinian refugee camp of Handarat, north of Aleppo, on Saturday EPA Photo

Instead, they dismissed the charges as “groundless” and hailed the response of Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin. “Both US and UK permanent representatives were lavish in criticising Moscow and Damascus, but received a firm response,” said Gazprom-owned NTV.

State-owned newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta accused the US and its allies of trying to “exert pressure on Damascus and Moscow, while doing nothing to meet their own obligations”.

Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin blamed the unravelling of the truce deal on the US, saying it had failed to convince mainstream rebels to distance themselves from “terrorist” groups, especially the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.

Mr Peskov also rejected the Western criticism at a news conference on Monday.

“We note that the tone and rhetoric used by official representatives from the UK and US is generally unacceptable and it can seriously damage the settlement process and our bilateral relations,” he said.

Mr Peskov acknowledged that the truce deal had been “not very effective”, but insisted that Moscow “definitely remains hopeful”.

He also warned that “terrorists” had used the truce to “regroup, replenish their arsenals and obviously prepare for offensive actions”.

Empty market stalls in rebel-held district of Aleppo (19 September 2016)

Food is becoming increasingly hard to find in Aleppo, three weeks into the government’s siege. AFP photo

Meanwhile, a medical source in rebel-held Aleppo told the AFP news agency that a shortage of blood meant hospitals were struggling to deal with the huge number of casualties caused by air strikes over the past four days.

There was also no water supply in many areas after pumping stations were damaged at the weekend, and several charity kitchens were forced to close because of the violence.

Aleppo and surrounding area map


‘Americans are on our side’: Al-Nusra commander says US arming jihadists via 3rd countries

Still from Facebook video. © Jürgen Todenhöfer
US weapons are being delivered to Jabhat Al-Nusra by governments that Washington supports, a militant commander told the German media, adding that American instructors were in Syria to teach how to use the new equipment.

“Yes, the US supports the opposition [in Syria], but not directly. They support the countries that support us. But we are not yet satisfied with this support,” Jabhat al-Nusra unit commander Abu Al Ezz said in an interview with Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper from the devastated Syrian city of Aleppo.

According to the commander, the militants should be receiving more “sophisticated weapons” from their backers to succeed against the Syrian government.

The fight is difficult. The regime is strong and gets support from Russia,” he explained.

Al Ezz said that Jabhat Al-Nusra “won battles thanks to TOW rockets. Due to these rockets, we reached a balance with the regime. Our tanks came from Libya via Turkey, joined by the [BM-21] multiple rocket launchers,” he said.

The government forces have an advantage because of aircraft and missile launchers, but “we have the American-made TOW missiles, and the situation in some areas is under control,” Al Ezz added.

When asked if the TOW missiles were initially intended for Jabhat Al-Nusra or if the group obtained them from the moderate Free Syrian Army, the jihadist clarified: “No, the missiles were given to us directly.”

He also said that when Jabhat Al-Nusra was “besieged, we had officers from Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel and America here… Experts in the use of satellites, rockets, reconnaissance and thermal security cameras.”

The journalist asked specifically if the US instructors were really present among the jihadists’ ranks and Al Ezz replied: “The Americans are on our side.”

He also said that Jabhat Al-Nusra has been paid for achieving specific military goals during the Syrian conflict.

“We got 500 million Syrian pounds (around $2.3 million) from Saudi Arabia. To capture the Infantry School in Al Muslimiya years ago we received 1.5 million Kuwaiti dinars (around $500,000) and Saudi Arabia’s $5 million,” Al Ezz said.

The money came from the “governments” of those states, not private individuals, he said.

“Israel is now giving us support because Israel is at war with Syria and with Hezbollah,” Al Ezz said.

The West also “paved the way” for jihadists coming to Syria, saying that “we have many fighters from Germany, France, Britain, America, from all the Western countries,” the commander said.

‘Al-Nusra using ceasefire to regroup, prepare for new attacks’In the interview, he confirmed claims made by Moscow and the Syrian government that the militants were using the Syrian ceasefire, agreed by Russia and US on September 9, to prepare for a new offensive.

“We do not recognize the ceasefire. We will regroup our groups. We will carry out the next overwhelming attack against the regime in a few days. We have regrouped our forces in all provinces, including Homs, Aleppo, Idlib and Hama,” Al Ezz said.

He said that Jabhat Al-Nusa would not let trucks with humanitarian aid enter Aleppo “as long as the regime [forces] are along the Castello Road, in Al Malah and in the northern regions.”

“The regime must withdraw from all the territories, and we will let the trucks in. If a truck is going in anyway, we will detain the driver,” he said.

The idea of a transitional government in Syria is also not supported by Jabhat Al-Nusra, the commander said.

“We accept no one from the Assad regime or of the Free Syrian Army, which is described as moderate. Our goal is to overthrow the regime, and establish an Islamic state in accordance with the Islamic Sharia,” he said.

As for the people who represent the Syrian opposition at the Geneva

talks, Al Ezz said that “these people are weak, they’ve got a lot of money. They’ve sold themselves.”

“There are mercenaries in Syria, Alloush fights with Al Nusra-Front,” he said talking about Mohammed Alloush, a leader in the Jaysh al-Islam group, part of the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC) in the peace talks. “The group that was housed in Turkey and which was turned into the Free Syrian Army, used to be part of Al Nusra-Front.”

The commander openly confirmed that Jabhat Al-Nusra “are part of Al Qaeda,” the terrorist network responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

“Actually, we were inside one group together with the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). But the Islamic State has been used in accordance with the interests and political purposes of the big powers like America, and the group has drifted away from our principles. Most of the IS leaders are working with intelligence services, and it’s now clear for us. We, the Jabhat Al-Nusra, have our own way,” Al Ezz said.

The interview with Jabhat al-Nusra’s commander was taken at a stone quarry in Aleppo on September 17 by Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger journalist Jurgen Todenhofer on his seventh trip to war-torn Syria.

Severe health warning for young and old as serious levels of air pollution chokes Hong Kong

September 27, 2016

Bad air said to be caused by passage of tropical cyclone Megi, which is disrupting air traffic between Hong Kong and Taiwan


By Elizabeth Cheung
South China Morning Post
Tuesday, September 27, 2016, 8:27 a.m.

There was something in the air on Monday as parts of the city saw a return to “serious” levels of air pollution, particularly to the west, with the haze expected to remain until Wednesday.

The Environmental Protection Department said the condition was caused by a nearby tropical cyclone which created favourable conditions for the formation of air pollutants.

The department warned the pollution levels would remain high on Tuesday but said cloudier weather and a few showers ­on Wednesday may see it ease.

At 4pm on Monday, the air quality health index in Yuen Long and Tuen Mun soared to 10+, the most severe warning on the scale, meaning a “serious” health risk.

During a serious health risk, children, the elderly and people suffering from heart or respiratory illnesses are advised to stay indoors as much as possible.

Tung Chung, also to the west of the city, recorded an index of 10, bearing a “very high” health risk.

On Monday morning, the air pollution level hovered between three and five on the index, meaning a low to moderate health risk, at all air monitoring stations, but turned worse in the afternoon.

The high levels started to drop at around 6pm.

The department said the hot weather and afternoon haze was caused by the outer subsiding air of the Taiwan-bound tropical cyclone Megi, which created favourable conditions for the formation of photochemical smog activity and ozone – leading to high pollution in the region. Light winds hindered the dispersion of pollutants.

Meanwhile, the passage of the storm disrupted air traffic between Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Cathay Pacific and Dragonair cancelled nine flights to and from Taipei and four flights to and from Kaohsiung on Tuesday.

They also announced a number of delays on Tuesday and Wednesday involving four flights between Hong Kong and Kaohsiung and three between Hong Kong and Taichung,

Dozens of China Airlines, Mandarin Airlines and Eva Air flights between Hong Kong and Taiwan were also suspended.

Over 90% of world breathing bad air, World Health Organization says

September 27, 2016


Nine out of 10 people globally are breathing poor quality air, the World Health Organization says. AFP photo

GENEVA (AFP) – Nine out of 10 people globally are breathing poor quality air, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, calling for dramatic action against pollution that is blamed for more than six million deaths a year.

“It is a public health emergency,” said Maria Neira, head of the WHO’s department of public health and environment, adding that urgent action to tackle air pollution “can’t come soon enough”.

China’s economic slow down and huge debt are now global fears

September 27, 2016

By David Taylor

There are renewed calls for China to rein in its extraordinary mountain of debt or risk what Australia has been worried about for years — a “hard landing” for China’s economy.

Key Points:

  • Economists warn the Chinese government to step in or risk causing another global debt crisis
  • China’s debt load is currently 250 per cent of its GDP and growing at 30 per cent per annum
  • Australia is largely completely dependent on a healthy Chinese economy.

The Bank for International Settlements warns China’s debt load is far too heavy and, worse still, it is growing at an eye-watering pace.

National Australia Bank (NAB) is nervous about China’s ballooning debt.

NAB chief economist Alan Oster said if the Chinese Government does not step in soon the world, and indeed Australia, will face another debt crisis within years.

“I think everybody’s on the hook,” he said.

The latest official global economic data shows China is sitting on a debt time-bomb, and the list of countries and global financial institutions that have pinned their hopes on a strong Chinese economy is impressive.

Australia is largely completely dependent on a healthy Chinese economy.

British banks alone have $695 billion worth of lending and business in China, including Hong Kong, meaning about 16 per cent of all foreign assets are held by UK banks.

Mr Oster warns if China does not pull back from its debt binge, it will drag Australia and China’s major trading partners through the economic mud.

“China these days is big enough that it would basically, in just direct flow-on effects, cause the global economy to slowdown.”

China’s debt mountain is currently 250 per cent of its GDP, or in layman’s terms, it is up to its eyeballs in credit.

But something even more sinister is at play.

Research from the NAB and the Bank for International Settlements show China’s debt load is growing at 30 per cent per annum.

That only means something when you realise economists get very nervous with a 10 per cent yearly increase in debt.

“What it means is they’re borrowing up to their eyeballs, to use your terminology, and putting it into enterprises that essentially you would normally close down,” Mr Oster said.

“In other words they’re not making any profit.”

No plan B for Australian economy

Not only is China’s insatiable appetite for debt raising alarm bells, the credit itself is being fed to state-owned companies that do not make any money and in some cases are making a loss.

“What the Chinese government’s got to do is essentially face facts, close down some of these loss-making enterprises and get the credit to parts of the economy that’s doing well,” Mr Oster said.

Former International Monetary Fund chief economist Ken Rogoff warns a calamitous “hard landing” for one of the main engines of global growth cannot be ruled out, as has been done by some of the world’s top economists in recent years.

“If you want to look at a part of the world that has a debt problem, look at China,” he told the BBC.

He also cautions against the notion of resting on the growth of other emerging economies if China’s economy fails.

“There isn’t really a substitute for China,” he said.

“I think India may come along some day, it’s doing better, but it’s fallen so far behind in size it’s not going to compensate.”

Mr Rogoff said the solution is for European economies and the US to ensure they are “on their feet” before any slowdown starts to bite.

That will be an even bigger challenge for the Australian economy because there is simply no plan B if China’s economy stalls.


BBC News

China’s economic down is my biggest fear, says Rogoff

26 September 2016 Last updated at 01:04 BST

US to hold joint drills with Philippines despite Duterte’s talk — “We have a longstanding security alliance that provides a cornerstone for security and stability in the region, and has for decades”

September 27, 2016


Filipino and U.S. marine soldiers take their position during a boat raid exercise at Ternate beach in Cavite province south of Manila on February 10, 2003. © Romeo Ranoco
The Philippines military will hold its first military drills with US forces under President Rodrigo Duterte, who earlier made offensive remarks about Barack Obama and called for American Special Forces to be kicked out from the country.

The exercise is scheduled to take place from October 4 -12 on the Filipino islands of Luzon and Palawan, with the latter located near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

According to the US embassy in Manila, the initiative to invite the US troops to take part in the 33rd Philippines Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX 33) came from the military of the Philippines and was welcomed by the American side.

“The opportunity to train and build mutually beneficial capabilities with our Armed Forces of the Philippines partners is essential for sharpening our bilateral amphibious and humanitarian assistance capabilities, both hallmarks of the US Marine Corps” Brig. Gen. John M. Jansen, commander of the US 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, said.

“Exchanging expertise and cultivating our longstanding security alliance provides a cornerstone for security and stability in the region, and has for decades,” he added.

A total of 1,400 US soldiers stationed in Okinawa in Japan, and 500 Philippine troops will take part in an amphibious landing exercise, live-fire training and humanitarian assistance efforts as part of PHIBLEX 33.

The humanitarian part of the drills will begin in September and include projects aimed at boosting infrastructure and health care in the Philippines.

Earlier in September, Duterte called Barack Obama a “son of a b****,” warning the US president against lecturing him over the Philippines’ human rights record in its brutal war on drugs that allegedly claimed around 3,000 lives. However, he later denied having made that statement.

He has not backed down regarding his calls for US Special Forces to be removed from the Filipino island of Mindanao where Washington has been helping the country’s government to fight Islamist militants.

That statement, however, was later downplayed by a presidential spokesman, who said the policy was not set in stone.

US Special Forces have remained on the island from 2002, while the number of troops reached 1,200 at one point. However, only a small contingent remains, with the vast majority of soldiers having already been removed.

READ MORE: ‘We’ll never have peace’: Philippines leader Duterte wants to boot US troops out of country’s south

Last week, Duterte also said that he seeks peace and not confrontation with Beijing over the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The US and its regional allies, including Japan and the Philippines, strongly object Beijing’s claims that it controls around 90 percent of the South China Sea. The area is economically important and sees more than $5 trillion in trade pass through its waters every year.

In July, an arbitration court in The Hague ruled in favor of a Philippines petition against China’s claim on a large part of the sea. However, Beijing decried the ruling “null and void”.

READ MORE: Philippines leader calls Obama ‘son of a b****,’ rejects lecturing from US on human rights

Washington has opted to largely ignore Duterte’s outbursts, with Obama saying that the Philippines remain an important US ally.


3 more US ships arrive at Subic for Philippine – US military exercises

By September 26th, 2016

USNS Washington Chambers. USNS Washington Chambers (T-AKE-11) docks at the Alava Pier inside the Subic Bay Freeport for a routine port call. Three more US ships- USNS Millinocket (T-EPF-3), USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) and USS Frank Cable (AS-40) - arrived in Subic Bay ahead of the scheduled military exercise called Philippines Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex 33). between American and Filipino troops. (PHOTO BY ALLAN MACATUNO/ INQUIRER CENTRAL LUZON)

USNS Washington Chambers (T-AKE-11) docks at the Alava Pier inside the Subic Bay Freeport for a routine port call. Three more US ships- USNS Millinocket (T-EPF-3), USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) and USS Frank Cable (AS-40) – are in Subic Bay ahead of the scheduled military exercise called Philippines Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex 33). between American and Filipino troops. (PHOTO BY ALLAN MACATUNO/ INQUIRER CENTRAL LUZON)

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT —  Three United States vessels arrived in Subic Bay on Monday (Sept. 26) for a routine port visit ahead of the scheduled military exercise between American and Filipino troops.

USNS Washington Chambers (T-AKE-11), USNS Millinocket (T-EPF-3), and USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) docked at the Alava Pier here at 9 a.m.

The three ships joined another US vessel, USS Frank Cable (AS-40), which arrived at this free port on Sept. 10, officials of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, said.

BRP Tarlac, the newest Philippine navy amphibious ship

According to the US Embassy in Manila in a statement on Sept. 24, a total of 1,400 U.S. service members based in Okinawa, Japan and 500 Philippine Armed Forces personnel will participate in the annual bilateral war games called the Philippines Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex 33).

Phiblex is a ship-to-shore exercise between the two ally countries and is slated to take place from Oct. 4 to October 12 in various locations in Luzon.

The US and Filipino troops would be “working side-by-side to grow capabilities and better prepare to operate together during a natural disaster or armed conflict,” the embassy said in a statement.
Subic Bay serves as a drop-off point for US troops participating in various war games between the US and Philippine troops.

Among the US vessels participating in the war exercise are USS BHR (LHD-6), the USS Green Bay (LPD-20), and the USS Germantown (LSD-48).

The Philippines will also send its new Strategic Sealift Vessel, the BRP Tarlac, for the training.  SFM

USS Frank Cable.USS Frank Cable (AS-40) is at the Alava Pier inside the Subic Bay Freeport for a routine port call. It arrived in the country last Sept. 10., Three more US ships- USNS Millinocket (T-EPF-3), USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) and USNS Washington Chambers – arrived in Subic Bay, on Sept. 26, 2016, ahead of the scheduled military exercise called Philippines Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex 33) between American and Filipino troops. (PHOTO BY ALLAN MACATUNO/ INQUIRER CENTRAL LUZON)

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The Philippines has one of the fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world — And President Duterte’s “war on drugs” might be making it worse

September 27, 2016
By David Doyle
Tue Sep 27, 2016 | 1:07am EDT

CEBU, Philippines (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As Rosita leaves Jose’s small office in downtown Cebu in the central Philippines, he passes her a handful of biscuits and six clean needles. What Jose has just done could land him in jail.

Rosita is a pregnant, HIV-infected injecting drug user – and Jose is a social worker. Amidst Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs – in which nearly 3,000 people have been killed, according to police – it is safer to be anonymous. Neither wants to give their real name.

Clean needles have been distributed in Cebu City for years, sometimes illegally, in order to prevent the spread of HIV. Under the new government, which took office at the end of June, pressure is increasing for such clandestine activities to stop.

The Philippines has one of the fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world, according to the United Nations.

“HIV cases have sharply increased from maybe one new infection a day back in 2007 to what we have now which is more than 24 new cases a day,” said Teresita Bagasao, country manager for UNAIDS in the Philippines.

The latest Department of Health figures showed there were 841 newly diagnosed HIV cases in the Philippines in June – the biggest monthly total since records began in 1984 and higher than the annual total for 2009.

Most new cases were from sexual contact, particularly among men who have sex with men (MSM), according to the government’s figures, but in Cebu it is sharing dirty needles that is the driver.

Rosita, a former sex worker, explained: “Sometimes my friends don’t have needles so we share.”

Since finding out she had HIV two years ago, Rosita says she has stopped sharing needles but adds that a lack of clean syringes means she is scared more people are going to contract the virus.

Rosita, 35, lives in Kamagayan neighborhood – the historic epicenter of the drugs problem in Cebu, the Philippines’ second city.

In a dark rabbit warren of wood and corrugated iron, the most commonly used drugs – shabu (crystal meth) and nubain (a morphine-like opiate) – are sold in “shooting galleries” for 300 pesos ($6) per syringe.

For those who can’t afford a full syringe, it can be divided between up to 10 people. Prices have almost doubled since Duterte was elected by a landslide in May after vowing to wipe out drugs and crime.


Efforts to protect drug users, including the distribution of clean needles, began in Cebu, particularly in Kamagayan, in 1993 but were halted by city officials in 2009.

“The following year prevalence of HIV amongst people who inject drugs went from less than 0.5 percent to 53 percent,” said Ilya Tac-an, who leads the STD/AIDS detection unit at Cebu City Health Department.

The World Health Organisation says there is “compelling evidence” that needle programs substantially reduce the spread of HIV among injecting drug users without increasing drug use, but in the Philippines possession of “paraphernalia for dangerous drugs” is illegal and carries a prison sentence of between six months to four years.

Since 2009, research programs – under which clean needles can be legally distributed – have been repeatedly given the green light by the Philippines’ Dangerous Drugs Board but then stopped under pressure from anti-drugs groups and politicians.

In 2015, the programs were finally terminated, and under Duterte’s government pressure to not distribute needles has increased.

“It is very hard for us to work with the new administration as they have a very strong program for drugs and there have been a lot of killings going on,” said one healthcare source in Cebu. “They are really quite serious about it.”

Jerson See, founder and president of Cebu Plus, an HIV care organization that has in the past been involved in clean needle programs but does not distribute any more, said the organization was being watched by the government.

“It came to our attention that the name of our organization is already under the radar of the National Bureau of Investigation,” he said.

He urged the government to reconsider its position on needle programs.

“The police and drug enforcement agency’s mandates are a supply and demand reduction program but we just hope the government will reconsider the harm reduction program because it is also a way of halting the spread of HIV,” See said.


Jose, the social worker, also says he was “called by Manila” a month ago and advised to stop distributing clean needles. He says he has drastically reduced the amount of needles he hands out.

“In some special cases I hand out needles – when it is really needed such as in the case of a person living with HIV who is in the company of those not living with HIV,” he said.

Cebu Plus and Cebu City Health Department offer other services to people with HIV including counseling and HIV testing, but Dr Tac-an says it is not enough.

“The needle and syringe program was one of getting them (injecting drug users) to come in for the other services,” she said. “We are not really reaching that many injecting drug users (now).”

But not everyone in Cebu is supportive of clean needle initiatives. Alice Uttlang is the head of COSAP, the city government’s Cebu Organisation for Substance Abuse Prevention.

The veterinarian-by-trade was given the COSAP job in 2014 in the office next door to Cebu Plus at a time when clean needles were being distributed as a part of a research program.

“I saw a lot of people outside my office with the typical ‘users’ look,” she said. “I asked myself what these people are doing here, were they lining up to get the syringes?

“Is this not a slap in our face? Our office is here preventing and here they are condoning, even encouraging them to continue to use drugs, to inject drugs, as long as you use a clean syringe.”

Uttlang says some of those getting free needles would go on to sell them. She adds that she would potentially accept a clean needles program as long as there were other conditions, such as police being given data about the locations of drug users.

The Department of Health did not respond to questions on clean needle programs in Cebu, but said it was implementing a “behavior modification program” which included community members teaching others about the dangers of drugs, as well as HIV testing.

For Jose, the government’s efforts are helping: “Everybody is trying to think of what is best and there is no perfect remedy.”

But he says he will continue to distribute needles in special cases.

“I have a different understanding. Others (the government, churches and NGOs) are doing something good but they are not on the frontline – I know these people.”

(Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit


 (Includes “Duterte says Drug users aren’t human.”

Philippines — Duterte administration says killings are legitimate — Let The UN Investigate — Allay public concern over abuses in the use of state power to fight the drug menace

September 26, 2016

Addressing the United Nations over the weekend, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said the war on drugs in the Philippines had been misunderstood, as he insisted that the Duterte administration did not condone extrajudicial killings. Many of the fatalities in the bloody campaign were killed in legitimate law enforcement operations, Yasay told the UN.

A good way to prove this is to conduct a credible investigation of the deaths, whether attributed to the Philippine National Police or to vigilantes. The PNP, however, is already stretched thin. Sustaining this war on drugs and criminality in general should be complemented by a boost in the capability of the state to conduct such probes.

As of mid-September, according to the Commission on Human Rights, 2,035 deaths believed linked to the drug war were being investigated by the PNP. Over 1,100 other drug deaths were attributed to police operations, the CHR declared in a statement.

Every weapon-inflicted death, including suspected suicide, must be investigated by the police. But this process, under present circumstances, is just as slow and inefficient as the administration of justice. If the government wants to allay public concern over abuses in the use of state power to fight the drug menace, more resources must be given to those involved in ferreting out the truth, including the PNP Internal Affairs team and forensics units.

Public concerns will not go away simply because administration officials say the drug killings are legitimate. The PNP did not change its members with the change in national leadership. And the PNP has always had problems with rogue elements who plant evidence and engage in “salvaging” or summary execution.

There are indications that the administration has not exaggerated the drug menace. This can be reinforced by speeding up the probe of at least the most controversial killings, and punishing any PNP member found to have abused his authority. The war on drugs will enjoy greater support if people feel reassured that safeguards are in place against the abuse of state power and overkill.


Israel-US consortium signs $10 bn gas deal with Jordan

September 26, 2016


© AFP/File | Leviathan is the largest of Israel’s offshore gas fields, with enough reserves to turn the previously resource-poor country into a significant exporter

JERUSALEM (AFP) – The US-led consortium leading the development of Israel’s offshore gas reserves on Monday announced a first deal to sell natural gas from its Leviathan field to neighbouring Jordan.

US firm Noble Energy, the lead partner, said in a statement that the contract signed Monday with the National Electric Power Company of Jordan (NEPCO) was for “300 million cubic feet per day over a 15-year term”.

It includes an option to purchase a further 50 million cubic feet up to a total of 350 million daily.

“Gross contract revenues are estimated to be approximately $10 billion,” it said.

Delivery to NEPCO is expected to begin at the same time as the estimated 22 trillion cubic foot field goes online to domestic clients in 2019 “subject to regulatory approvals from Israel and Jordan”, Noble said.

Israel’s government only ratified the consortium’s plans for Leviathan on May 22, after long legal and political wrangling.

Noble is in partnership with Israeli energy firms Delek Drilling, Avner Oil Exploration and Ratio Oil Exploration.

“The signing of the export agreement between the Leviathan project and… NEPCO is an historic day and positions the Leviathan Project in the centre of the regional energy map,” Delek Drilling and Avner CEO Yossi Abu said in a statement.

The project was previously blocked by Israel’s supreme court as unconstitutional, with critics saying it gave overly favourable terms to the energy companies.

The agreement was then revised to reflect the court’s objections and the government subsequently gave it the green light.

Leviathan is the largest of Israel’s offshore gas fields, with enough reserves to turn the previously resource-poor country into a significant exporter.

“The partners in the Leviathan project will continue to pursue long-term agreements with other customers in the eastern Mediterranean, including in Egypt, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority,” Abu said.

The consortium has already contracted to sell natural gas from the smaller Tamar field to the Jordan Bromine Company and the Arab Potash Company, starting “in late 2016”, Noble’s statement said.

Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, September 27, 2016 — Those whose path is hidden from them — The pain of rejection

September 26, 2016

Memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul, Priest
Lectionary: 456

“The human race has nothing to boast about to God … If anyone wants to boast, let him boast about the Lord.”

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan (Rétire-toi, Satan), by James Tissot


Reading 1 JB 3:1-3, 11-17, 20-23

Job opened his mouth and cursed his day.
Job spoke out and said:Perish the day on which I was born,
the night when they said, “The child is a boy!”Why did I not perish at birth,
come forth from the womb and expire?
Or why was I not buried away like an untimely birth,
like babes that have never seen the light?
Wherefore did the knees receive me?
or why did I suck at the breasts?

For then I should have lain down and been tranquil;
had I slept, I should then have been at rest
With kings and counselors of the earth
who built where now there are ruins
Or with princes who had gold
and filled their houses with silver.

There the wicked cease from troubling,
there the weary are at rest.

Why is light given to the toilers,
and life to the bitter in spirit?
They wait for death and it comes not;
they search for it rather than for hidden treasures,
Rejoice in it exultingly,
and are glad when they reach the grave:
Those whose path is hidden from them,
and whom God has hemmed in!

Responsorial Psalm PS 88:2-3, 4-5, 6, 7-8

R. (3) Let my prayer come before you, Lord.
O LORD, my God, by day I cry out;
at night I clamor in your presence.
Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my call for help.
R. Let my prayer come before you, Lord.
For my soul is surfeited with troubles
and my life draws near to the nether world.
I am numbered with those who go down into the pit;
I am a man without strength.
R. Let my prayer come before you, Lord.
My couch is among the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
Whom you remember no longer
and who are cut off from your care.
R. Let my prayer come before you, Lord.
You have plunged me into the bottom of the pit,
into the dark abyss.
Upon me your wrath lies heavy,
and with all your billows you overwhelm me.
R. Let my prayer come before you, Lord.

Alleluia MK 10:45

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Son of Man came to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 9:51-56

When the days for Jesus to be taken up were fulfilled,
he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,
and he sent messengers ahead of him.
On the way they entered a Samaritan village
to prepare for his reception there,
but they would not welcome him
because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem.
When the disciples James and John saw this they asked,
“Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven
to consume them?”
Jesus turned and rebuked them,
and they journeyed to another village.


Gospel Reading: Luke 9:51-56

By Rev. Dr. Kenneth L. Samuel

Sermon Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

My brothers and sisters, make no mistake about it. There is no pain like the pain of rejection. There is no pain like the pain of offering your heart in sincerity to someone only to have your heart returned back to you broken and abandoned by the indifference or the disinterest or the disloyalty of the person in whom you have invested your affections. There is no pain like the pain of working hard to prove yourself capable and qualified to do a job only to discover that your capabilities have been surpassed by someone else and your qualifications have not been accepted. Rejection not only hurts. Rejection often harms and hinders us from trusting again, believing again, and sometimes even trying again. Most of us have had to deal with rejection at some time and in some way, but not many of us have dealt with rejection wisely and successfully.

Maybe the reason why our lives and our loves are often stifled and stymied by our fear of rejection is because we have not paid close enough attention to how Jesus Christ himself handled the pain of rejection in his own life. Contrary to what many may believe, the life of Jesus was not just filled with benefits and bountiful blessings because of his faithfulness. The life of Jesus was also colored by ostracism and rejection in spite of his faithfulness. According to Luke chapter 9, the rejection of Jesus comes about precisely because of Jesus’ determination to fulfill his destiny. And somewhere in between our determination and our destiny there awaits the prospect of rejection for all of us. The destiny of Jesus had already been appointed and ordained by God. The crucifixion at Calvary and the resurrection on the third day were already a part of the divine design for Jesus’ life. But in order to reach his divine destination and achieve his divine purpose, Jesus had to utilize his own determination. He had a destiny that was foreordained, but he also had a determination to reach his destiny and to arrive at his destination. Divine destiny does not preclude, prevent, or lessen the need for human determination. God may prepare and ordain a place and a purpose for us, but we still must make the effort, exercise the will, and do the work necessary to accomplish our divine aim and to fulfill our divine destinies.

Jesus would not be dissuaded from his divine purpose. Jesus had been in his home region of Galilee, located in northern Palestine, present-day Israel, when he determined to fulfill his divine destiny in Jerusalem, located in the southern portion of Palestine called Judea. Right in between the Jews who lived in northern Galilee and southern Judea, there was a region called Samaria, populated by people who despised the Jews. The Samaritans were a hybrid group, a mixed race of people that had settled in Palestine while many of the Jews were in exile and had inter-married with the native Canaanites. Adding to the bitter divide between the Jews and the Samaritans was the fact that the Samaritans had formulated their own religion, which was a mixture of Judaism and various other cultic theologies. The antagonism and rivalry between the Jews and the Samaritans were so deep that the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans-did not like them, did not trust them, would not eat with them, refused to touch anything that a Samaritan had touched. The breach between the Samaritans and the Jews was so acute that the Jews in the north would take a circuitous route east of the Jordan River in order to get to Jerusalem, causing them to travel miles out of their way in their efforts to avoid their rivals in Samaria.

Jesus was in Galilee, but he was determined to get to Jerusalem, and instead of taking the long way around to avoid the Samaritans, Jesus decided to take the direct route straight through Samaria. Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him into a Samaritan village in order to secure lodging and food, probably for an overnight rest stop. However, verse 53 tells us that the Samaritans did not receive him because his face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. They did not receive him because they could see that Jesus was a Jew, and the Samaritans resented the Jews who passed through their territory on their way to Jerusalem. The village people rejected Jesus. Exactly how they rejected Jesus we do not know. Maybe they were rude to Jesus. Maybe they cursed and sneered at Jesus. Maybe they hung placards outside their doors that said, “The Only Good Jew is a Dead Jew.” We do not know just how they insulted Jesus. We do know that they denied him and his company their presence in the village.

When James and John, two of Jesus’ closest disciples, saw the way that Jesus was treated, they became incensed and enraged. These two sons of thunder wanted to strike out against the Samaritans for their blatant disregard and utter disrespect of Jesus. They turned to Jesus in a rage and said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and burn up the village and all the people in it like Elijah did?” They looked at Jesus, expecting Jesus to give the nod to their sanctimonious assessment and let the judgment of God upon the unjust begin. But instead of rebuking those whom the disciples thought were the enemies of Jesus, Jesus turned around and rebuked his own disciples. Jesus said to them; and Jesus is saying to us, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.” The disciples had the right religion, but they were operating with the wrong spirit, and it is always a dangerous thing to try to read and interpret and apply the Word of God with the wrong spirit. James and John attempted to justify their intent to destroy the Samaritans by appealing to what they had found in the Bible. In the first chapter of II Kings, James and John had read the story of how the prophet Elijah had called down fire from heaven to consume those who questioned the authority of God. They based their request to annihilate the Samaritans on the basis of their understanding of the Bible.

Jesus had to correct and to rebuke them, because they made the same mistake back then that many Bible believers make today. They attempted to make an uncritical, superficial, literal application of the Word of God without carefully and prayerfully discerning the Spirit of God. Jesus said to them, “You do not know what spirit you are of.”

o Because the Word of God without the Spirit of God is dangerous and deadly.
o The Word of God without the Spirit of God gave religious sanction to slavery in America for almost one hundred years.
o The Word of God without the Spirit of God has caused women down through the decades to be regarded as mere appendages and properties of men.
o The Word of God without the Spirit of God provides moral justification for those who want to slash spending for vital social services in order to provide unlimited funding for military buildup and righteous retaliation against the supposed enemies of our nation.
o The Word of God without the Spirit of God has enlisted many Christians in a crusade against Muslims.
o The Word of God without the Spirit of God is giving religious sanction to the denial of civil rights of many people based upon their sexual orientation.

We do have, as the children of God, the right Word, but many times we read and interpret the right word with the wrong spirit. We have forgotten that the Bible is not our God; the Bible is our guide to God. The ultimate aim of the Bible is not to provide us with the biblical mandate or a moral justification to destroy one another. The ultimate aim of the Bible is to guide each of us into a loving relationship with God and into loving relationships with one another.

o God is not the contextual law of the Bible; God is love.
o God is not the wrath of Elijah or any of the other prophets. God is love.
o God is not the religious pride of the Israelites. God is love.
o God is not the limited understanding and expressions of any of the biblical writers. God is everlasting, transcendent love.
o God is not just Word. God is Word made flesh.

Jesus said, “I did not come to destroy lives. I came to save lives. I did not come to destroy. I came to deliver. I did not come to take life. I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”

There’s more:

Lectio Divina from the Carmelites


• The Gospel today narrates and tells us how Jesus decides to go to Jerusalem. It also describes the first difficulties which he finds along this road. He presents us the beginning of the long and hard way of the periphery toward the capital city. Jesus leaves Galilee and goes toward Jerusalem. Not all can understand him. Many abandon him, because the demands are enormous. Today, the same thing happens. Along the way of our community there are misunderstandings and abandonment.

• “Jesus decides to go to Jerusalem”. This decision marks the hard and long way of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, from the periphery to the capital city. This journey occupies more than one third part of the Gospel of Luke (Lk 9, 51 to 19, 28). This is a sign that the voyage to Jerusalem was of great importance in the life of Jesus. The long walk is the symbol, at the same time, of the journey that the community is making. They seek to go through a difficult passage from the Jewish world toward the world of the Greek culture. This also symbolized the tension between the New and the Ancient which was closing more and more in itself. It also symbolizes the conversion which each one of us has to carry out, trying to follow Jesus. During the journey, the disciples try to follow Jesus, without returning back; but they do not always succeed. Jesus dedicates much time to instruct those who follow him closely. We have a concrete example of this instruction in today’s Gospel. At the beginning of the journey, Jesus leaves Galilee and takes with him the disciples to the territory of the Samaritans. He tries to form them in order that they may be ready to understand the openness to the New, toward the other, toward what is different.

• Luke 9, 51: Jesus decides to go to Jerusalem. The Greek text says literally: “Now it happened that as the time drew near for him to be taken up, he resolutely turned his face towards Jerusalem”. The expression assumption or being snatched recalls the Prophet Elijah snatched to heaven (2 K 2, 9-11). The expression turned his face recalls the Servant of Yahweh who said: “I have set my face like flint and I know I shall not be put to shame” (Is 50, 7). It also recalls an order which the Prophet Ezekiel received from God: “Turn your face toward Jerusalem!” (Ez 21, 7). In using these expressions Luke suggests that while they were walking toward Jerusalem, the most open opposition of Jesus began against the project of the official ideology of the Temple of Jerusalem. The ideology of the Temple wanted a glorious and nationalistic Messiah. Jesus wants to be a Messiah Servant. During the long journey, this opposition will increase and finally, it will end in the getting hold of Jesus. The snatching of Jesus is his death on the Cross, followed by his Resurrection.

• Luke 9, 52-53: The mission in Samaria failed. During the journey, the horizon of the mission is extended. After the beginning, Jesus goes beyond the frontiers of the territory and of the race. He sends his disciples to go and prepare his arrival in a town of Samaria. But the mission together with the Samaritans fails. Luke says that the Samaritans did not receive Jesus because he was going to Jerusalem. But if the disciples would have said to the Samaritans: “Jesus is going to Jerusalem to criticize the project of the Temple and to demand a greater openness”, Jesus would have been accepted, because the Samaritans were of the same opinion. The failure of the mission is, probably, due to the disciples. They did not understand why Jesus “turned the face toward Jerusalem”. The official propaganda of the glorious and nationalistic Messiah prevented them from perceiving… The disciples did not understand the openness of Jesus and the mission failed!

• Luke 9, 54-55: Jesus does not accept the request of vengeance.James and John do not want to take home the defeat. They do not accept that some one is not in agreement with their ideas. They want to imitate Elijah and use fire to revenge (2 K 1, 10). Jesus rejects the proposal. He does not want the fire. Some Bibles add: “You do not know what spirit is moving you!” This means that the reaction of the disciples was not according to the Spirit of Jesus. When Peter suggests to Jesus not to follow the path of the Messiah Servant, Jesus turns to Peter calling him Satan (Mk 8, 33). Satan is the evil spirit who wants to change the course or route of the mission of Jesus. The Message of Luke for the communities: those who want to hinder the mission among the pagans are moved by the evil spirit!

• In the ten chapters which describe the journey up to Jerusalem (Lk 9, 51 to 19, 28), Luke constantly reminds us that Jesus is on the way toward Jerusalem (Lk 9, 51.53.57; 10, 1.38; 11, 1; 13, 22.33; 14, 25; 17,11; 18, 31; 18, 37; 19, 1.11.28). He rarely says through where Jesus passed. Only at the beginning of the journey (Lk 9, 51), in the middle (Lk 17, 11), and at the end (Lk 18, 35; 19, 1), something is known concerning the place where Jesus was going by. This refers to the communities of Luke and also for all of us. The only thing that is sure is that we have to continue to walk. We cannot stop. But it is not always clear and definite the place where we have to pass by. What is sure, certain, is the objective: Jerusalem.


Personal questions


• Which are the problems which you have to face in your life, because of the decision which you have taken to follow Jesus?
• What can we learn from the pedagogy of Jesus with his disciples who wanted to revenge of the Samaritans?


Concluding Prayer


All the kings of the earth give thanks to you, Yahweh,
when they hear the promises you make;
they sing of Yahweh’s ways,
‘Great is the glory of Yahweh!’ (Ps 138,4-5)





Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
27 SEPTEMBER 2016, Tuesday, St Vincent De Paul
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  1 COR 1:26-31; PS 111:1-9. R/V.1; MT 9:35-37  ]

Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.” Indeed, the works of charity are many.  There are many who are in need today.  We still have the poor with us and they will always be with us till the end of time.  Although in Singapore the poor are much better off compared to the poor in developing countries who suffer abject poverty; without proper food, lighting, water and accommodation, much less a roof over their heads, medical help and education, still, we cannot turn a blind eye to them, especially when some of us are living in mansions, driving big cars and go for luxury holidays.  We must be careful that we do not end up being condemned like the rich man who was oblivious of the sufferings of Lazarus who was just outside the door of his house.

Indeed, we must remember that in the first place, the goods of this world are never meant for ourselves. God blessed us with riches, which include health and talents, so that we can use them for the service of God and humanity.  We do not have a right to the exclusive use of these as if there is no social responsibility on our part.  Doing charity is not an option but an obligation for us all, particularly for those of us who have received much.  Many think that charitable works or giving to the poor is something they do out of their own generosity.  On the contrary, in failing to help the poor, we fail in our duties, not just as Christians but as human beings.

That is why St Paul wrote, “Take yourselves, brothers, at the time when you were called: how many of you were wise in the ordinary sense of the word, how many were influential people, or came from noble families?”  These words of St Paul give us the motivation for the work of mercy.  Indeed, when we look at our lives, we are what we are today because of God’s mercy on us.  There is nothing for us to boast about except God’s mercy. “The human race has nothing to boast about to God … If anyone wants to boast, let him boast about the Lord.”  God has blessed us with people who were willing to suffer for us.  Our parents and our forefathers sacrificed much for us and the country.  No one must ever live as if he has made it on his own.  Without the help of many people and the opportunities provided to us by the State and the Church, our family and friends, we would never have been able to afford the lifestyle we enjoy today.  That is why we must be thankful and grateful.  This is the beginning of the work of mercy.  Gratitude is always a human response to God’s mercy.  If people lack generosity and compassion, it means that they lack gratitude for what they have.  Such people are inward-looking and they can never be truly happy in life.

In reaching out to the poor, let us give special preference to those whom the world counts useless and hopeless.  St Paul wrote, “No, it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, and to shame what is strong that he chose what is weak by human reckoning; those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything.” The greatness of God is revealed when He bestows His mercy on those the world considers useless.  When we think of the many truly successful and generous people who are doing well in life today and have become great philanthropists, it was because there was a time in their lives when they were without anything and they had practically no hope in life, but some people came to their help.  In the early days, most of our Catholic schools catered to the poor, the orphans and the dropouts.  Many of those who went on to become successful in life have in turn contributed much back to society, never forgetting who they were.

We are called to be like the psalmist who praised the just man who is generous and merciful towards the poor: “Riches and wealth are in his house; his justice stands firm forever.  His is a light in the darkness for the upright: he is generous, merciful and just.  The good man takes pity and lends, he conducts his affairs with honour. The just man will never waiver: he will be remembered for ever.  Open-handed, he gives to the poor; his justice stands firm forever. His head will be raised in glory.”   We can consider ourselves to be the just man in the bible if we too serve and care for the poor.  The real riches and wealth in our house are realized when we give them away.  As Jesus in the gospel warns us, ““Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt 6:19-21)

Jesus is a good example of one who was rich but became poor for our sake.  “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Cor 9:8)  He went “through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness,” because He knew what it was like to be deprived, to be sick, to be in pain and without hope.  “And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus was able to give Himself to the poor only because the Father gave Him the Holy Spirit to work miracles and to proclaim the gospel in both words and deeds.

Jesus did not keep His talents or riches for Himself.  In fact, He never worked any miracles for His own needs but He always did so for those who were sick or poor to reveal the mercy and compassion of God.  Even when He was hungry in the desert and tempted by the Devil, He refused to use His power to transform stones to bread.  In the same way, whatever the Lord has given to us, we must use them for the good of others and not limit their use to ourselves and our loved ones. For those of us who are involved in works of mercy, let us be grateful that we are given this opportunity to be of service to the poor.  We must never think that we are better than them.  We serve only because we have been blessed by the Lord.  For us it must be seen as a privilege, not as a duty only.  So even in reaching out to them, let us remain humble, selfless and never serve in a condescending manner.  We serve not only with our deeds but with our hearts, with love, gentleness, respect and with a big smile.  By so doing, we receive the reward of joy and peace.

Finally, for those of us who engaged in serving the poor, we must never forget to pray.  Jesus did not tell us to have a big promotion campaign to get more labourers to help us in the harvest.  He tells us to pray.  We must pray and contemplate on the face of Christ and His mercy for us.  The day we forget to look at His love and mercy for us in the Eucharist or in His passion, we will lose our passion for the poor.  Our works of charity will become another project and another chore to be accomplished.  It will not be done with a personal touch and with the love of Jesus in our hearts.  Only the love of Christ in us will give us the strength and capacity to love like Him, and be gentle, sensitive and patient towards those whom we serve.  We must never forget that they are persons, not cases that we deal with, as if they have no feelings.  Rather, we regard them as persons and identify them with our Lord who lives in them.  Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mt 25:40)  The heart and the source of Christian charity is Christ’s love for us and our love for Him.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore


Philippines, Duterte Should Allow A Fully Open and Complete Human Rights Assessment from The U.N., Unhampered — If There’s Nothing To Hide

September 26, 2016


The continuing killings related to the drug war are extensively covered by mass media, so the administration should see no problem in the arrival of an 18-member team from the United Nations to assess the human rights situation in the Philippines. The UN team will be here for only two days next week, so its members won’t be able to cover much more than what has already been reported.

Their conclusions or findings, however, may turn out to be more nuanced than those of the mass media. The administration should see the visit as a chance to explain to the world what President Duterte is trying to achieve, and why. The President may not care what the UN and other countries think of him, but there are Filipinos who do, including the more than 10 million who are working all over the world, plus those in the Philippines whose jobs, businesses or livelihoods may be affected by global perceptions about the country and its leader.

In 2007 the United Nations sent a special rapporteur on human rights, Philip Alston, to the Philippines amid reports of extrajudicial killings. After 10 days of visiting several places in the country, Alston concluded that both the Armed Forces of the Philippines and communist rebels were guilty of human rights violations including killings, but the AFP was “in almost total denial.”

The AFP said at the time that killings attributed to its members were part of legitimate counterinsurgency operations. A similar line is currently being used by the Philippine National Police in the bloody war on drugs. The PNP has echoed President Duterte’s position that about half of the nearly 3,000 drug suspects killed so far were slain in legitimate law enforcement operations.

Alston’s probe did not hinder military operations before, during or after his visit. The Arroyo administration, for its part, largely gave Alston free rein in conducting his inquiry. The Duterte administration should have nothing to worry about in the upcoming visit by the UN team.

Administration officials have often said that the government has nothing to hide in the relentless campaign to neutralize the drug menace. Allowing the UN to send an assessment team is a positive development. The government can go one step further by ensuring that the team will be unhampered in carrying out its mission.