Archive for January, 2018

FBI Urges White House Not to Release Contested Memo on 2016 Campaign

January 31, 2018

Law-enforcement officials express ‘grave concerns’ over accuracy of memo that details what Republicans allege were surveillance abuses


WASHINGTON—The FBI’s leadership on Wednesday urged the White House not to release a memo detailing what Republicans allege were surveillance abuses during the 2016 election campaign after President Donald Trump said he was inclined to make it public.

“The FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it,” the bureau said. “We have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

1-31-18 1:34 PM EST | Email Article

By Michael C. Bender and Byron Tau

FBI says it has ‘grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy’

WASHINGTON–The FBI on Wednesday urged the White House not to release a memo detailing what Republicans allege were surveillance abuses during the 2016 election campaign, a move that President Donald Trump has said he is inclined to do.

“With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it,” the bureau said in a statement. “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

Law enforcement officials had made a similar argument to the White House on Monday in a meeting with Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein about the memo, which was written by the Republican staff on the House Intelligence Committee. The memo is based on highly-classified material and alleges that an associate of Trump was surveilled improperly, according to people familiar with it.

But on Tuesday, Trump suggested he had already decided to approve the release. His assertion seemed to undermine White House chief of staff John Kelly’s assurance that no decision would be reached until the National Security Council and White House lawyers had time to vet the material before it is made public.

An expanded version of this story is available at (


Russia casts doubt over evidence of Iran-made missiles to Yemen — Russian propaganda?

January 31, 2018


US President Donald Trump, flanked by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, speaks during lunch with members of the United Nations Security Council in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP)
UNITED NATIONS: Russia on Wednesday dismissed evidence presented by the United States and UN experts that Iran had supplied missiles to Yemen’s Houthi rebels as inconclusive, signaling it would oppose a bid to slap sanctions on Tehran.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said it was unclear whether missiles and weaponry used by the rebels were Iranian-made or whether they were shipped before the arms embargo on Yemen was imposed in 2015, casting doubt over the findings of a UN panel of experts.
“Iran is vehemently denying it is supplying anything to Yemen,” Nebenzia told two reporters.
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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L), Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shake hands prior to the Syria meeting in Sochi, Russia on 22 November 2017 [Kayhan Özer/Anadolu Agency]
“Yemen hosts a pile of weapons from the old days. Many countries were competing to supply weapons to Yemen during the time of president Saleh, so I cannot give you anything conclusive,” he said.
Ali Abdullah Saleh was Yemen’s leader 1990-2012. He was killed in December by his erstwhile Houthi rebel allies.
Asked whether the case had been made for action against Iran, the ambassador answered “no.”
Nebenzia joined UN Security Council ambassadors on a visit to Washington this week to inspect debris from missiles that the United States says were supplied by Iran to the Houthis.
The ambassadors had lunch with President Donald Trump, who urged the council to take steps to counter “Iran’s destabilizing activities” in the Middle East.
A recent report by the panel of experts bolstered the US claims when it concluded that Iran had violated the arms embargo on Yemen by failing to block supplies of missiles to the rebels.
The Trump administration has said it will seek action at the Security Council against Iran, although it has yet to specify what those measures might be.
“If there is something we will see. How can we pass judgment prematurely before we know what it is about,” Nebenzia said.
Russia has the power to block sanctions by resorting to its veto power as one of the five permanent Security Council members along with Britain, France, China and the United States.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley last month presented the missile fragments as “undeniable” evidence that a ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels at Saudi Arabia in November was Iranian-made.


The new Iranian long range missile Khoramshahr (front) is displayed during the annual military parade on September 22, 2017 in Tehran. (AFP)

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Above: Iranian foreign minister Zarif shares some fun with his co-equal from Russia Mr. Lavrov.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley points to previously classified missile segments she says prove Iran violated UN Security Council Resolution 2231 by providing the Houthi rebels in Yemen with arms, during a press conference at Joint Base Anacostia in Washington, DC, on December 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley points to previously classified missile segments she says prove Iran violated UN Security Council Resolution 2231 by providing the Houthi rebels in Yemen with arms, during a press conference at Joint Base Anacostia in Washington, DC, on December 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley briefs the media in front of remains of Iranian “Qiam” ballistic missile provided by Pentagon at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington. (Reuters)


Part II: Philippines Stand-Off Over President Duterte’s Mysterious Wealth — Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV accused the Chief Executive of plunder

January 31, 2018
The showdown was triggered by Malacañang’s order for the immediate 90-day suspension of Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang for releasing bank records of President Duterte and his family, which Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV used as basis to accuse the Chief Executive of plunder.  File

Palace clashes with Morales, SC over deputy ombudsman

MANILA, Philippines — Battle lines are drawn as Malacañang insists on its authority to suspend a deputy ombudsman despite a Supreme Court (SC) rebuff and defiance from the ombudsman.

The showdown was triggered by Malacañang’s order for the immediate 90-day suspension of Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang for releasing bank records of President Duterte and his family, which Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV used as basis to accuse the Chief Executive of plunder.

Solicitor General Jose Calida defended the legality of the suspension order, saying the Constitution does not bar the President from disciplining a deputy ombudsman. Calida had expressed confidence that the SC would uphold the suspension order.

In a statement, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales declared she would “not enforce” the suspension issued through the Office of the Executive Secretary.

Reacting to Morales’ statement, chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo warned she could be held administratively and criminally liable – or even face another impeachment complaint.

Belying Calida’s claim, Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te e-mailed to reporters the entry of judgment in a 2014 final decision of the SC in the case of former deputy ombudsman for the military and other law enforcement offices (MOLEO) Emilio Gonzales III.

The case provided the jurisprudence that the Palace reportedly violated in ordering the suspension of Carandang.

The two-page order dated May 7, 2014 stated that the Jan. 28 ruling in the same year on the Gonzales case had become “final and executory.”

This means the decision was already recorded in the high court’s book of entries of judgments and can no longer be appealed or revised.

In the Gonzales case, the high tribunal took away the disciplinary power of the President over the deputy ombudsman post.

Voting 8-7, the high court ruled then that the administrative authority exercised by the Office of the President over the position of deputy ombudsman was unconstitutional.

The SC specifically voided Section 8 (2) of the Ombudsman Act of 1989, which granted the president the power to remove a deputy ombudsman.

It ruled that such provision diminished the authority and independence of the ombudsman’s office.

It held that of the appointed officials in the Office of the Ombudsman, only the special prosecutor was covered by the Palace’s power of discipline.

Morales – an appointee of the previous Aquino administration – was at the helm of the Office of the Ombudsman when Gonzalez was dismissed sometime in 2012.

She took over the place vacated by her predecessor Merceditas Gutierrez after the latter’s resignation.

Gonzales was dismissed in 2011 by then president Benigno Aquino III over the bloody hostage-taking incident in Rizal Park on Aug. 23, 2010, but was later reinstated by the SC.


In her statement, Morales slammed the suspension order as “unconstitutional” and an “impairment” of the Office of the Ombudsman’s constitutionally enshrined independence.

“Like any government official, the ombudsman has sworn to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land,” Morales said.

“The ombudsman cannot, therefore, seriously place at risk the independence of the very Office which she has pledged to protect on the strength of the constitutional guarantees which the high court has upheld,” she added.

Asked by reporters what Morales meant by this statement, the Public Information and Media Relations Bureau (PIMRB) of the ombudsman categorically answered that Morales “will not enforce” the suspension order.

The PIMRB, however, has yet to confirm if Morales’ office will file an appeal before the Office of the President or elevate the matter before the SC.

Carandang’s suspension was for administrative offenses of grave misconduct and grave dishonesty for allegedly disclosing false information about the bank transactions of Duterte and his family.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the suspension order is “immediately executory.”

The suspension stemmed from a complaint filed by lawyers Manolito Luna and Elijio Mallari, who accused Carandang of “falsely and maliciously claiming” that the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) had released a report on Duterte’s alleged bank deposits.

The AMLC denied releasing a report on the President’s bank accounts. The AMLC further said it has yet to evaluate if there is ground to initiate an investigation on Duterte’s bank transactions.

Carandang, in an interview in September last year, said that Morales had authorized him to probe Duterte’s bank transactions when the latter was still mayor of Davao City.

He claimed that his office had obtained bank documents from AMLC showing Duterte’s and his family’s over P1 billion worth of transactions in several banks from 2006 to 2016.

“It has become clear that the act of the Office of the President in taking cognizance of the complaints against the Overall Deputy Ombudsman and ordering his preventive suspension was not an inadvertent error but a clear affront to the Supreme Court and an impairment of the constitutionally enshrined independence of the Office of the Ombudsman,” Morales said in her statement.

Morales maintained that the SC, in a previous ruling, had already declared that the Office of the President has no administrative disciplinary jurisdiction over deputy ombudsmen.

She also cited the SC’s ruling on the case of Gonzales.

“The ombudsman will thus not allow herself to betray her sworn duty to uphold the Constitution by recognizing what is patently unconstitutional as ordained by the Supreme Court en banc in Gonzales III v. Office of the President,” Morales said.

“In Gonzales III, the Supreme Court categorically declared unconstitutional the administrative disciplinary jurisdiction of the President over deputy ombudsmen,” she pointed out.

Morales also took a swipe at Calida for voicing confidence “that the Supreme Court will reverse its 2014 ruling.”

“In a society founded on the rule of law, the arbitrary disregard of a clearly worded jurisprudence coupled with a confident stance that it will be changed should never be countenanced,” Morales maintained.

Presumed right

Panelo, meanwhile, said Morales should give the President the presumption of regularity.

“Until a competent court declares that such official act is in violation of the law and the Constitution, President Duterte’s order of preventive suspension from office of Deputy Ombudsman Carandang is presumed to be valid and legal,” Panelo said.

“It behooves therefore the public official authorized to implement the order to enforce the same against respondent Carandang. Any willful refusal to do so or any deliberate act impeding such enforcement may open the said official to administrative and criminal sanctions,”  Panelo said in a statement.

Roque, for his part, maintained that the President has jurisdiction over Carandang, a presidential appointee.

“The Office of the President has given Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang 10 days to file his answer on the ‘Resolution and Order’,” Roque said in a statement. He had earlier said the order was final and executory.

A lawyer like the President, Roque underscored the importance of Carandang being accorded due process.

“It is incumbent upon Mr. Carandang to submit his answer within the required period,” he said. “After the lapse of the period provided, the Office of the President shall decide on the matter.”

Panelo emphasized the President respects the independence of the judiciary.

“The President has no desire or intention to intrude upon the constitutionally enshrined independence of the Office of the Ombudsman,” he said.

In suspending Carandang, Panelo explained that the President was in fact protecting and preserving the constitutional provision on public accountability.

“Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives,” he said.

“Thus, the President is just adhering to his mandate to ensure that all laws are faithfully executed, including the Constitution,” Panelo said.

Panelo explained that the circumstances behind Carandang’s suspension were different from the case involving Gonzales.

“As to the validity of the suspension of ODO Carandang, while the Supreme Court may have previously ruled on the circumstances of Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzales III in 2014, the circumstances of ODO Carandang differ,” Panelo said.

He also called on Carandang to contest his dismissal before the proper courts.

“Thus, prior to any determination by a court of competent jurisdiction as regards the suspension of ODO Carandang, such suspension should be treated as a lawful and operative act,” Panelo added.

“Anyone who disagrees with the suspension is free to question the same before the courts,” he said. “In the meantime, the suspension should be implemented by the Office of the Ombudsman. Otherwise, its officials risk violating the same legal process that they assume to adhere to.”

Meanwhile, senators called on Malacañang and the ombudsman to work on breaking the impasse as soon as possible to avert a constitutional crisis.

“The SC, as the final arbiter of all questions of law, has the power to decide between the competing interests/interpretations of the government and an independent constitutional body,” Sen. Francis Escudero said.

He said bringing the matter to the SC is the legal, peaceful and best course of action on the part of either or both the government and the ombudsman “instead of sending the police to serve and effect the suspension order, given the ombudsman’s divergent interpretation of the law from that of government.”

“This is the best course of action on the part of either or both the government and the ombudsman to avert a standoff or constitutional crisis,” Escudero said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, a member of the minority bloc, said Morales was simply enforcing an SC decision that says the president cannot suspend the ombudsman nor his or her deputies.

He said Supreme Court rulings form part of the law of the land.

“She (Morales) is upholding the rule of law and for this she has our support,” Pangilinan said. – Delon Porcalla, Paolo Romero


Part I:

Philippines Finds Previously Unknown Increased Chinese Presence at Scarborough Shoal — At Least Nine Chinese Vessels Inside the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone

January 31, 2018


The air patrol mission of the Navy’s King Air surveillance C90 aircraft was its first since its delivery and commissioning late last year.  File

MANILA, Philippines — On its maiden patrol mission in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, a Philippine Navy aircraft donated by Japan has monitored increased presence of Chinese vessels in the area now under China’s control despite being within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The air patrol mission of the Navy’s King Air surveillance C90 aircraft was its first since its delivery and commissioning late last year.

It was the second such mission to be launched within a two-week period at Panatag Shoal by the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Northern Luzon Command (AFP-Nolcom) amid growing concerns over Chinese military buildup in the West Philippine Sea.

Wielding de facto control over Panatag, the Chinese might build an island on the shoal just like it did on other land features in the disputed waters so that it could strengthen its hold on a seized territory, security experts say.

Flying 800 feet above the rich fishing ground, the Navy surveillance plane reported the presence of nine Chinese vessels – four coast guard vessels, four unmarked Chinese ships and a Chinese fishing vessel.

Last week, a Philippine Air Force (PAF) C295 plane also circled over Panatag and spotted four Chinese coast guard ships and a fishing vessel in the area. Filipino fishing boasts were also present.

The Chinese ships in Panatag did not challenge the Filipino patrols.

Located 120 nautical miles from mainland Zambales, Panatag Shoal used to be a target range for live fire exercise of the US and Philippine militaries in 1970s to 1980s.

The dismantling of the US bases in the country in the early ‘90s, observers say, may have given China opportunity to assert its South China Sea nine-dash line maritime claim, initially by establishing its presence in Panganiban (Mischief) Reef off Palawan in 1995.

Meanwhile, a Japanese destroyer is set to arrive in Manila tomorrow for a three-day goodwill visit. The destroyer JS AMAGIRI (DD-154), which has a DH-60J patrol helicopter, will dock at Pier 13 in South Harbor.

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JS Amagiri

The visit is part of the continuing initiatives of the Philippine Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) to further improve relations.

In November 2017, an anti-submarine destroyer of the JMSDF also made a goodwill port call in Manila.




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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, February 1, 2018 — Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two — no food, no sack, no money in their belts

January 31, 2018

Thursday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 326

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Reading 1  1 KGS 2:1-4, 10-12

When the time of David’s death drew near,
he gave these instructions to his son Solomon:
“I am going the way of all flesh.
Take courage and be a man.
Keep the mandate of the LORD, your God, following his ways
and observing his statutes, commands, ordinances, and decrees
as they are written in the law of Moses,
that you may succeed in whatever you do,
wherever you turn, and the LORD may fulfill
the promise he made on my behalf when he said,
‘If your sons so conduct themselves
that they remain faithful to me with their whole heart
and with their whole soul,
you shall always have someone of your line
on the throne of Israel.'”David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David.
The length of David’s reign over Israel was forty years:
he reigned seven years in Hebron
and thirty-three years in Jerusalem.

Solomon was seated on the throne of his father David,
with his sovereignty firmly established.

Responsorial Psalm  1 CHRONICLES 29:10, 11AB, 11D-12A, 12BCD

R. (12b) Lord, you are exalted over all.
“Blessed may you be, O LORD,
God of Israel our father,
from eternity to eternity.”
R. Lord, you are exalted over all.
“Yours, O LORD, are grandeur and power,
majesty, splendor, and glory.”
R. Lord, you are exalted over all.
“LORD, you are exalted over all.
Yours, O LORD, is the sovereignty;
you are exalted as head over all.
Riches and honor are from you.”
R. Lord, you are exalted over all.
“In your hand are power and might;
it is yours to give grandeur and strength to all.”
R. Lord, you are exalted over all.

Alleluia MK 1:15

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Kingdom of God is at hand;
repent and believe in the Gospel.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  MK 6:7-13


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Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two
and gave them authority over unclean spirits.
He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick
–no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.
He said to them,
“Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there.
Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet
in testimony against them.”
So they went off and preached repentance.
The Twelve drove out many demons,
and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
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Jesus Casts Out The Demon from the Possessed Boy at the Foot of Mount Tabor by James Tissot


Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
01 FEBRUARY, 2018, Thursday, 4th Week, Ordinary Time

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 KINGS 2:1-410-121 CHR 29:10-12MK 6:7-13 ]

What is common to both scripture readings is the giving of the final instructions to those who had been given the task of continuing the work that their leader had begun.  Both David and Jesus sought to share with those who had been entrusted the responsibility, the secret to leadership and success in their mission.  Such instructions and advice were certainly helpful because they summarize the vast experience and wisdom learnt from their trials, mistakes and endeavors.   Instead of repeating history again and again, we can always learn from the wisdom of our forefathers so that we can spare ourselves the pains that they had to pay for their folly.   That is why it is always wise for newcomers and new leaders to sit down with the previous leadership and older leaders to understand the what and why of what they did, before dismissing them as inept and irrelevant for our times.  “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom for the future.”  (Prv 19:20)  Tobit gave a similar advice to his son, Tobias, “Seek advice from every wise person and do not despise any useful counsel.  At all times bless the Lord God, and ask him that your ways may be made straight and that all your paths and plans may prosper.”  (Tobit 4:18f)

The first principle that all Godly people would teach is this, “Observe the injunctions of the Lord your God, following his ways and keeping his laws, his commandments, his customs and his decrees, as it stands written in the Law of Moses, that so you may be successful in all you do and undertake.”  This is the constant teaching of the Bible.  Moses also instructed the people the same thing before they entered the Promised Land.  “See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’”  (Dt 4:5f)

Fidelity and obedience to God was the most important lesson David had learnt throughout his life and as a king.  He knew from his mistakes that whenever he failed to listen to the Lord and went his own ways, he caused problems and sufferings both for himself and for his loved ones.  On hindsight, he knew that it was his self-will and selfishness that caused his house and kingdom to suffer.  We can be sure that if David were to live his life all over again, he would to be more obedient to His holy will and walk in His ways.  God is always faithful.  He showed His fidelity to King David by ensuring his dynasty would last forever, which would be fulfilled in Christ, the descendant of David.  But that he and his sons would reign forever was dependent on whether they would walk in the ways of God.  The Lord would fulfil the promise of putting his sons to reign in Israel provided, “your sons are careful how they behave, and walk loyally before me with all their heart and soul, you shall never lack for a man on the throne of Israel.”

Secondly, we are called to rely on the power and grace of God.  In sending out the Twelve, Jesus “instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no haversack, no coppers for their purses.”  This was to make the apostles rely on divine providence and to live by faith, not by sight or by might.   When we can no longer depend on our own strength and resources, then we start relying on God.  This is the great disadvantage for those of us who are capable, intelligent, self-sufficient, have plenty of money and resources, because we never know what it is to live in faith with open hands waiting for the next meal.  When we are strong, we do not understand the meaning of faith and of course, we will never experience the power of God at work in our lives, unlike those who are sick, weak and desperate. This made St Paul remark, “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Cor 12:10)

Thirdly, Jesus sent “them out in pairs giving them authority over the unclean spirits.”  The authority over unclean spirits is an authority given by God.  The authority we exercise as leaders is always exercised on behalf of God and in the name of God.  “Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve, the Lord Christ.”  (Col 3:23f)  Indeed, Jesus as the Lord, chose the Twelve and gave them authority, so we leaders are also chosen by God.  It is Christ who summons us to serve Him and His people.  He calls us to specific tasks.  Even Solomon’s brother, Adonijah who tried to steal the throne from him acknowledged this fact.  He said, “You know that the kingdom was mine, and that all Israel fully expected me to reign; however the kingdom has turned about and become my brother’s, for it was his from the Lord.”  (1 Kg 2:15)  So it is important that we do not abuse our authority to serve our interests.   Authority is given not to be used for evil but for good.

Fourthly, this authority is also exercised in collegiality.  It must be noted that Jesus sent them out in pairs.  We cannot accomplish the mission alone.   We need to walk with others and work with others.  Alone, we cannot accomplish much, and even if we could, we would not be able to last for long.  But when we have good collaborators to journey with us, they will give us the necessary encouragement during times of trial and difficulties.  The mission of the apostles was assigned them as a college, with St Peter as the head.  This is how the Church continues to be structured with the Pope as the head of the apostolic college of bishops.  When we exercise our authority in collegiality with the others, we can be more confident of the will of God for us.

Fifthly, there must be no coercion or imposition on others.  When we use force, we will only receive negative reaction.  Rather, as leaders, we must do all we can to persuade and convince.  As leaders, we must do all within our power that which is good and right.  Beyond that, we should allow freedom to respond.  Knowing that we have done all in our power the right thing, we should be clear that our responsibilities are limited to that extent.  Hence, Jesus in the gospel advised the disciples how to respond to those who reject the gospel.  He said to them, “If you enter a house anywhere, stay there until you leave the district.  And if any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake of the dust from under your feet as a sign to them.”  In other words, so long as we have done our part, the failure to respond is not our failure but that of the recipients.  We need not feel responsible when people reject the message or the good we do.  We entrust them into the hands of the Lord.  Success at the end of the day, is the work of the Holy Spirit.  It is not within our control and that is why we must allow the grace of God to work in its own ways.

In the final analysis, it is not so much what we say but what we do.  We read that “they set off to preach repentance; and they cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them.”  Preaching and words alone cannot change hearts.  It is the work of charity and miracles of healing that testify to the power of God.  So as leaders, it is when people see us doing good for them, serving them and their interests instead of ours that will move them to respect us and believe in us.  It is when we live out our faith in love that we impart the best legacy to those whom we serve.

When we impart to others a living faith, we give them everything.  Just as King David did not tell Solomon how to rule the kingdom, but gave him the most important foundation of leadership, which is to have faith in God and walk in His ways, the best legacy we can leave to our children too is the gift of faith.  But many parents are short-sighted.  They think that giving their children a good education or finding them a good career is everything, failing to realize that all these things, whilst good, are not sufficient to help them find happiness unless they use their knowledge, skills and resources for the service of God and their fellowmen.  Giving them the heart of God, is what will make them truly happy in whatever they do in life.  Only faith in God can assure that we will be strong and show ourselves as men of God, men for others.

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




U.S. State Department designates Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh as terrorist

January 31, 2018


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday it had designated Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the Islamist Palestinian group Hamas, as a terrorist.

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Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh gestures as he delivers a speech in Gaza City January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The State Department said in a statement that Haniyeh, along with two Islamist groups active in Egypt and one in the Palestinian territories, were listed as specially designated global terrorists.

It quoted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as saying the designations “target key terrorist groups and leaders – including two sponsored and directed by Iran – who are threatening the stability of the Middle East, undermining the peace process, and attacking our allies Egypt and Israel.”

In Gaza, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters: ”We reject and condemn the decision and we see it as a reflection of the domination by a gang of Zionists of the American decision.“The decision is worthless,” he added.

Hamas, which dominates the Gaza Strip, advocates Israel’s destruction and is designated as a terrorist group by the United States and some other Western countries.

In December, after U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Haniyeh told a rally in Gaza marking the 30th anniversary of Hamas’s founding: “We will knock down Trump’s decision. No superpower is capable of offering Jerusalem to Israel, there is no Israel that it should have a capital named Jerusalem.”

The three groups designated by the State Department are:

– Harakat al-Sabireen, which the statement said is backed by Iran, operates primarily in Gaza and the West Bank, and fired rockets into Israel;

– Liwa al-Thawra, which it said has claimed responsibility for killing an Egyptian army general in Cairo in 2016 and a bombing in 2017;

– Harakat Sawa’d Misr (HASM), which it said claimed responsibility for killing an Egyptian security officer and other attacks.

The State Department designations deny Haniyeh and the three groups access to the U.S. financial system.

Reporting by Mohammad Zargham; Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by James Dalgleish

Russia’s Syria peace strategy in question after Sochi talks — All of the 1,400 delegates at the Syria talks in Sochi were pro-Assad regime — “This is a failed Moscow project”

January 31, 2018


© AFP/File / by Ola CICHOWLAS | Almost all of the 1,400 delegates at the Syria talks in Sochi were pro-regime


Hastily organised, snubbed by the Syrian opposition and the Kurds, Russia’s Syria peace talks achieved little and exposed the limits of Moscow’s efforts to find a solution to the seven year Syrian conflict, analysts say.

Regime backer Russia hosted the so-called Syria congress in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Tuesday in which participants agreed on creating a commission to rewrite the war-torn country’s constitution.

But despite Moscow insisting Syrian society would be fully represented at the meeting, almost all of the 1,400 delegates were pro-regime.

“This was a failed Moscow project with the aim of creating an instrument to keep (Bashar al) Assad (in power),” said Alexei Malashenko, head of research at Moscow’s Institute for the Dialogue of Civilisations.

“All talk of a new constitution has the intent of keeping Assad and therefore Russian presence in Syria,” he added.

Malashenko said the Sochi talks were “badly organised” and that “the most important thing is who did not turn up.”

On the eve of the talks, the main opposition group – the Syrian Negotiations Committee (SCN) – and the Kurdish minority said they would boycott the event.

Some rebel representatives who had flown in from Turkey said they would go no further than Sochi’s airport because the conference logo featured only regime flags, eventually going directly back to Turkey.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova however said this “did not dampen the atmosphere” of the talks.

– ‘Ridiculous’ –

“In terms of credibility of the people represented, it was quite ridiculous,” said Thomas Pierret, an analyst at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris.

He said that the Damascus regime and its allies never envisaged the peace process as a “solution of negotiation and compromise.”

But Pierret said the presence of the UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura “saved” the Sochi talks.

“Russia’s success was to have de Mistura on board,” he said. “He reminded them that the talks should stay in the UN format but he also spoke a lot about the issue of constitutional reform.”

In his closing remarks, de Misutra said the UN would lead efforts to form the constitutional committee, but did not specify how this would happen. A ninth round of UN-backed talks ended in Vienna last week without the warring sides having met face to face.

Hasni Abidi, director of Geneva’s Center of Research on the Arab World, said Sochi showed “the limits of Russian diplomacy” while demonstrating the centrality of the UN-led Geneva talks.

“It showed that the multilateral approach followed by Geneva is the only format to engage in serious discussion,” said Abidi.

The UN, he said, is demanding that Russia and Iran put pressure on the regime to take part in future negotiations. This, he said, puts the West in an “embarrassing” position at times.

“They know they can’t diverge from Moscow too much because they need them for the Geneva process to succeed,” Abidi said.

– ‘Propaganda success’ –

Despite “not moving (towards) the settlement by an inch,” Russian independent analyst Vladimir Frolov said the Sochi talks were a “success in propaganda terms” for both Moscow and Damascus.

“They seek to legitimise a substitute for the real talks with a fake opposition that has no following on the ground,” he said.

On Thursday, an editorial in Syria’s pro-Assad paper Al-Baath said the Sochi talks “confirmed that the Russian-led political process is the best way to put an end to the bloodshed” in Syria. It added that Syrians “had lost faith in the UN-led” talks.

Meanwhile, Syrian opposition spokesman Yehia al-Aridi, said the Sochi congress “unveiled the Russian intention of rehabilitating the regime.”

“The constitutional question is one of the essential points, but there is also the electoral process and political transition that the Russians ignored with arrogance,” al-Aridi said.


Separatists pin down Yemen govt in Aden

January 31, 2018

People gather outside a car parts store hit by shells during the conflict in the port city of Aden on Wednesday. (Reuters)
ADEN: Yemeni ministers were holed up in Aden’s presidential palace on Wednesday after separatist forces seized effective control of the southern port city.
Pro-separatist forces fanned out across the city — the country’s de facto capital — after three days of fighting that left 38 people dead.
In the wake of these developments, the Arab coalition supporting the legitimate government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has urged the separatists to exercise restraint and called on the government to weigh up the demands of its rivals.
While Yemen’s president resides in the Saudi capital, the infighting in the anti-Houthi camp has left Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher and a number of senior government figures holed up in the Aden presidential palace.
A high-ranking military source said the separatists had also taken over the prime minister’s office chief overnight. By Wednesday morning, the clashes appeared to subside.
The UN raised alarm bells on Wednesday over the impact of the violent standoff on more than 40,000 Yemenis recently displaced to Aden, and now cut off from aid.
“UNHCR emergency aid distributions and humanitarian assessments planned this week for vulnerable, displaced Yemenis have now been postponed and UNHCR humanitarian cargo remains at Aden port unable to be released,” the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said via Twitter.
“We are also particularly concerned for those newly displaced in Aden who have fled other areas in Yemen. More than 40,000 people fled to Aden and nearby governorates since December and we anticipate more displacement as people continue to flee from hostilities in the west coast.”
At least 38 people have been killed and 222 wounded in Aden since Sunday, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The separatists, who for months have pushed for the reinstatement of South Yemen as an independent country, now control most of the city.
Since 2015, Aden had served as a refuge for tens of thousands of Yemenis fleeing conflict in their hometowns across the country, as the government battled Houthi  rebels allied with Iran.
Separatists, mainly based in Aden, have gained traction since April in their push for self-rule, demanding the reinstatement of South Yemen under a self-proclaimed Southern Transitional Council (STC).
Before the fighting broke out, the STC had called on Hadi to make changes to his government, accusing it of corruption and mismanagement.
The clashes have sparked fears of a repeat of South Yemen’s 1986 civil war, a failed socialist coup which killed thousands in just six days and helped pave the way for the 1991 unification of South and North Yemen.
The separatists, who enjoy popular support and are backed by some regular troops, have rapidly gained control over all but one district in Aden since Sunday.
The Arab coalition said it would take “all necessary steps to restore security” in Aden but has not intervened on the government’s behalf.

Poland set to vote on Holocaust bill despite agreeing with Israel to hold off — “Nazi death camps should be called Jewish.”

January 31, 2018

Polish Senate adds controversial legislation to Wednesday’s agenda, as Jerusalem continues to raise concerns

Times of Israel
January 31, 2018

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland speaks in Budapest on January 26, 2018 (AFP/Attila KISBENEDEK)

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland speaks in Budapest on January 26, 2018 (AFP/Attila KISBENEDEK)

The Polish Senate said it would vote Wednesday on a controversial Holocaust bill, despite assurances from the country’s prime minister that Israeli concerns would be addressed before steps were taken to pass it into law.

The Polish Senate confirmed in a post to its official Twitter account that the bill, which criminalizes the blaming of Poles for Nazi atrocities committed on Polish soil during the Holocaust, was on the agenda.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki, Sunday night, as the two attempted to set aside a diplomatic spat over the legislation.

Netanyahu has pilloried the law — which prescribes prison time for referring to “Polish death camps” and forbids any mention of Polish complicity in Nazi crimes — as “distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust.”

zebrał się na 55. posiedzeniu. Marszałek zapowiedział, że porządek obrad zostanie uzupełniony o nowelizację ustawy o . rozpatrzą także projekt zmian w regulaminie znoszący tajne . w sprawach personalnych.

Netanyahu and Morawiecki “agreed to immediately open a dialogue between staffs of the two countries, in order to try and reach an understanding over the legislation,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office read on Sunday.

The bill, passed by the lower house of the Polish parliament last week, still needs approval from Poland’s Senate and the country’s president, Andrzej Duda.

Duda on Sunday sought to defuse the crisis by promising “a careful analysis of the final shape of the act” focused on provisions that have alarmed Israel.

However, the next day Duda told public broadcaster TVP that he was “flabbergasted” by Israel’s “violent and very unfavorable reaction” to the bill.

“We absolutely can’t back down, we have the right to defend the historical truth,” he said.

Polish President Andrzej Duda at the presidential palace, Warsaw, Poland, April 10, 2016. (Mateusz Wlodarczyk/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images/JTA)

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party says the law is meant to fight expressions like “Polish death camps” to refer to the wartime camps that Nazi Germany operated in occupied Poland, but its provisions are wider, criminalizing talk of Polish complicity in the Holocaust.

Poles were among those imprisoned, tortured and killed in the camps, and many today feel that Poles are being unfairly depicted as perpetrators of the Holocaust.

Germany occupied Poland in 1939, annexing part of it to Germany and directly governing the rest. Unlike other countries occupied by Germany at the time, there was no collaborationist government in Poland. The prewar Polish government and military fled into exile, except for an underground resistance army that fought the Nazis inside the country.

The infamous German inscription that reads ‘Work Makes Free’ at the main gate of the Auschwitz I extermination camp on November 15, 2014 in Oswiecim, Poland. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images via JTA)

However, there were many cases of Poles killing Jews or denouncing them to the Germans, with deadly anti-Semitic pogroms continuing during and in one case even after World War II.

The Israeli government in the past has supported the campaign against the phrase “Polish death camps,” but it has strongly criticized the new legislation.

Israel, along with several international Holocaust organizations and many critics in Poland, argues that the law could have a chilling effect on debating history, harming freedom of expression and leading to a whitewashing of Poland’s wartime history.

On Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry said it was increasingly concerned about a spate of anti-Semitic expressions in Polish media amid the disagreement between the two governments.

“The Foreign Ministry is monitoring with concern the rising anti-Semitic feelings expressed through the Polish media and we are considering making an appeal via our embassy in Warsaw,” the ministry said.

In one instance, the head of a state-run channel suggested referring to Auschwitz as a “Jewish death camp,” in response to an outcry over use of the term “Polish death camp” to describe the Nazi killing site in German-occupied Poland.

The director of the state-run television station TVP 2, Marcin Wolski, said Monday on air that the Nazi death camps should be called Jewish. “Who managed the crematoria there?” he asked — a reference to the fact that death camp prisoners, usually Jews, were forced to help dispose of gas chamber victims.


War and peace strategies leave Afghanistan in a deadly muddle

January 31, 2018


© Noor Mohammad, AFP (archives) | The Afghan capital has been hit by a series of attacks since the start of 2018.

Text by Leela JACINTO 

Latest update : 2018-01-31

The war was not yet over when peace was given a chance in Afghanistan. But after a brutal start to the year, it’s time for a strategic rethink.

Over the past 16 years, Afghanistan has been a laboratory for a dizzying number of policy experiments to help secure the country. US troop levels have surged and ebbed, Taliban militants have been bombed and wooed to the negotiating table, Pakistan has been admonished and coddled to behave in its neighbouring state, and the international community has cooperated and competed in the desperate bid to find a lasting solution to the Afghan problem.

None of them have worked and the situation on the ground for ordinary Afghans only gets worse.

The policy muddle and its brutal consequences have been particularly stark this year, raising questions over whether US President Donald Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy can solve or worsen the problem – or not make any difference at all.

On Wednesday, January 24, just days after Taliban fighters killed more than 40 people in Kabul’s landmark Hotel Intercontinental, the militant group issued a statement confirming a recent peace meeting between a Taliban delegation and Pakistani officials.

The statement, issued in the local Pashto language, said a five-member Taliban team had travelled to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad to explain their position on a “political solution” to the crisis. “The Islamic Emirate [the Taliban] wants to emphasise that it desires a durable solution to the Afghan problem so all causes of the fighting are ended and the people live in peace and stability.”

But peace was not in their sights three days later, when the Islamist militant group disguised a minivan as an ambulance, packed it with explosives, and detonated the vehicle at a busy thoroughfare in the Afghan capital, killing more than 100 people and wounding over 200 others.

The Taliban “peace and stability” announcement, issued as Afghans were reeling from the recent attacks, incensed a populace growing weary of the cycle of hypocrisy and violence in their country. On Twitter and other social media sites, Afghans slammed politicians and analysts who have, in the past, advocated negotiations with the Taliban.

High Peace Council kicks off with an assassination

The “talking to the Taliban” solution surfaced shortly after Barack Obama took office, when the US president inherited two unfinished conflicts – in Afghanistan and Iraq – from his predecessor. As the Obama policy on Afghanistan lurched from troop drawbacks to surges, the message to the Taliban was unequivocal: Washington and its allies were losing the will to fight.

Peace initiatives meanwhile were picking up pace, backed by international funding. But shortly after former Afghan President Hamid Karzai set up a High Peace Council (HPC), the Taliban killed the council’s chief, former Afghan PM Burhanuddin Rabbani, in September 2011.

Last week’s brutal ambulance attack in Kabul was conducted barely 200 yards away from the HPC offices.

Despite Rabbani’s assassination and the lack of progress on the peace track, the Taliban were nevertheless granted a political office — which they unsuccessfully tried to call “the embassy of the Islamic Emirate” – in the Qatari capital of Doha. From their luxury base in the Gulf, Taliban representatives have traveled to Norway and Pakistan for talks that have yielded no results, prompting the Afghan government to contemplate closing down the Qatar office last year. But the closure was held off amid concerns that it would undermine peace efforts.

Where guns, not flowers, bloom

In their message claiming the ambulance attack, the Taliban blamed Trump’s decision to increase US troop levels and targeted strikes against militant commanders in Afghanistan. “The Islamic Emirate has a clear message for Trump and his hand kissers that if you go ahead with a policy of aggression and speak from the barrel of a gun, don’t expect Afghans to grow flowers in response,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement.

The Taliban are not the only ones speaking from the barrel of a gun. The Islamic State (IS) group has also set up operations in Afghanistan, attracting disgruntled Taliban fighters and conducting increasingly audacious attacks such as the January 24 assault on the Save the Children offices in the southeastern city of Jalalabad.

The new entrant is increasing the competition between jihadist groups and changing their modus operandi, according to some experts. “The Taliban and the Islamic State are shifting the battle from the rural areas to the cities, so we’re seeing an urbanisation of the conflict,” explained Bilal Sarwary, reporting for FRANCE 24 from Kabul. “We’re also seeing the American military and the Afghan government go after mid and high level commanders and so, in some ways, this latest uptick in violence is a revenge for those attacks.”

Taliban and Trump stage Twitter war

On August 21, when Trump announced his “new” policy to boost the US troop presence in Afghanistan, it was widely viewed as a bid to convince the Taliban that they cannot win on the battlefield.

While the new US troop figures have not been released, an estimated 8,400 American troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan, most assigned to an approximately 13,000-strong international force that is training and advising the Afghan military.

The Taliban however has maintained that as long as there are international troops in Afghanistan, the group will not engage in peace negotiations, leading some experts, such as a Karim Pakzad from the Paris-based IRIS (Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques), to conclude that, “As long as this country [Afghanistan] remains the staple of US foreign policy, I think Afghans will know no peace.”

Others however believe that the prospect of a total US withdrawal will not spell peace either – especially for a populace living in fear of a Taliban return. “Without the engagement of the US, the conflict will continue,” said Haroun Mir from the Kabul-based Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies. “Only the international community has the capacity, the financial, and the military means necessary to put pressure on all actors to bring an end to the conflict.”

Trump however has shown no interest in getting the different parties in the Afghan conflict to the negotiating table. “When you see what they [the Taliban] are doing and the atrocities that they’re committing…it is horrible,” Trump told a UN Security Council briefing in the White House on Monday. “We don’t want to talk to the Taliban. We’re going to finish what we have to finish, what nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it,” he said.

Taking a page from the Trump diplomatic book, the Taliban promptly tweeted its response; “To: @realDonaldTrump Let us know when you’re ready to talk to discuss your exit. Soon is better before it becomes very ugly for you in Afghanistan. You know how to reach us through our office in Doha.”

To: @realDonaldTrump
Let us know when you’re ready to talk to discuss your exit.
Soon is better before it becomes very ugly for you in Afghanistan.
You know how to reach us through our office in Doha.👍 

‘The Taliban is afraid of democracy’

Beyond the Twitter one-upmanship though, there has been little clarity on Trump’s new strategy. A day after the US president said there would be no talks, US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan was telling reporters in Kabul that there was no change in Washington’s policy of forcing the Taliban through military pressure into talks.

Sullivan’s message echoed that of top US commander for the Middle East (CENTCOM) Gen. Jospeh Votel earlier this year, leaving journalists scrambling to decipher the implications of Washington’s latest policy update. “WTF? We just spent two nights in Afghanistan w @CENTCOM’s Gen Votel this weekend where US commander after commander said they were GLAD they had a new S. Asia strategy SPECIFICALLY w the mission goal to pressure the Taliban to reconciliation talks,” tweeted Kevin Baron, a Pentagon reporter and executive editor of Defense One.

WTF? We just spent two nights in Afghanistan w @CENTCOM’s Gen Votel this weekend where US commander after commander said they were GLAD they had a new S. Asia strategy SPECIFICALLY w the mission goal to pressure the Taliban to reconciliation talks. 

While the US has been providing mixed signals on its Afghanistan strategy, in many Afghan circles, particularly in Kabul, patience is running out for the militant negotiations track.

“The strategy was to prove to the Taliban that they will not win militarily and that they should join the democratic process. But the Taliban is afraid of democracy. Right now, we have free speech, women’s rights, civil society institutions and Afghans are not willing to give it all up. If the Taliban joins the political process, they don’t have a message for the people. They know they will lose elections,” explained Mir.

War, not peace, is the answer

War then is the Taliban’s best bet. But with every attempt to display their strength via brazen attacks in urban areas, the militant group is losing support among Afghans who are witnessing a flight of capital and international investments as the post-war recovery mission in their country slows to a crawl.

For the US-led international coalition to defeat the Taliban though, policy framers have to take on an old bugbear: Pakistan’s support for the Islamist group.

Afghan and US authorities have long blamed parts of the Pakistani military intelligence establishment of aiding jihadist groups. Trump’s recent decision to suspend security aid to Pakistan reflects Washington’s frustration over Islamabad’s “lies & deceit,” but most analysts believe it will do little to change Pakistan’s behaviour.

Given Islamabad’s intransigence, some experts such as Mir says China – a key Pakistani ally which shares a 90-kilometer border with Afghanistan – “could play a major role in building a regional consensus”.

But international and regional talks on Afghanistan have often been working at cross-purposes amid rivalries between key players. A Quadrilateral Coordinating Group (QCG) comprising Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the US has failed to attract Taliban participation.

Russia meanwhile has been opening a dialogue with the Taliban. But the US has skipped out on Russia-backed six party talks amid mounting suspicions between Moscow and Washington.

With the peace track making no progress, some US policy makers are circling back to the old war plan – without Pakistan on board. Many experts note that the US staged a unilateral military assault against al Qaeda inside Pakistan with some success, including the 2011 US killing of Osama bin Laden. If Pakistan is unable or unwilling to crack down on jihadist groups, the US should undertake a unilateral military operation against the Taliban on Pakistani soil. If that’s the case, the US strategy for Afghanistan would spin back to square one – 16 years later and after a loss of thousands of Afghan and American lives.