Posts Tagged ‘Malaysia’

Rescued Singapore Shipbuilder Buckles Under Debt Woes — Otto Marine has $877 million in liabilities

February 23, 2018

Bloomberg

By Andrea Tan and  David Yong

  • Otto Marine has $877 million in liabilities, it tells court
  • Provider of offshore support vessels has potential investor

A Singapore shipping company rescued by its chairman just over a year ago faces collapse unless the courts step in, a sign that an earlier slump in oil prices is still reverberating.

 Image result for Otto Marine, singapore, photos

Saddled with $877 million in liabilities and creditors demanding payment, Otto Marine Ltd. is asking the Singapore High Court for protection. The shipbuilder wants to turn itself around under the court’s supervision and fend off creditors while it restructures its debt, according to its Feb. 20 application for judicial management, which was obtained by Bloomberg News.

“I cannot be expected to continue shouldering the financial burden and injecting fresh capital into the company,” Executive Chairman Yaw Chee Siew said in the application.

Yaw, took full control of the ailing firm in October 2016 and is the single biggest creditor with $208 million due to him and affiliates, the papers show. The financial collapse of the group is imminent unless the High Court provides breathing room, he said.

Otto Marine made its case for an interim judicial manager in a closed door hearing on Friday. “The company will release a statement after the outcome of the hearing is known,” Mark Ortega, legal counsel, said in an email on Thursday.

Oil and Gas Struggles

The shipping company is among many in the oil and gas services industry struggling to meet financial obligations after a plunge in crude prices caused contracts to dry up. At least $15 billion of bonds and loans have fallen into distress in Southeast Asia in the past five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, and Otto Marine and peers including Swiber Holdings Ltd., Ezion Holdings Ltd. and Ezra Holding Ltd. contributed almost half of the amount.

The tumble in oil prices has pushed at least 134 North American oil producers into bankruptcy since 2015, according to Dallas-based law firm Haynes & Boone LLP. That pace has slowed as prices rallied about 50 percent from a bottom in 2017.

Otto Marine had $869 million in assets at the end of last year, and most of them are unlikely to be recovered in full, according to the court papers. The firm will probably survive for another two months based on its cash reserves, Yaw said in the filing. It has hired law firm PRP Law LLC and intends to appoint a judicial manager from KordaMentha Pte, the filing shows.

Yaw is a scion of the family that controls Malaysian timber giant Samling Group and also runs luxury-car dealerships in Hong Kong and China. He is the founding chairman of Perdana Parkcity, a closely held developer of a sprawling township outside Kuala Lumpur, according to data on the company’s website.

Otto Marine, established in 1979, has secured a letter of intent from an unidentified party willing to invest in the firm if certain conditions are met, Yaw said in the court papers.

“There is a reasonable probability of rehabilitating the company,” Yaw said in the papers, adding that the oil and gas market is slowly recovering.

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Daesh militants waging fresh bid to set up Southeast Asian caliphate

February 23, 2018

 

Daesh-linked militants occupied Marawi City south of the Philippines for over five months before government forces retook control in October last year. (AFP)
MANILA: Months after being routed from the southern Philippine city of Marawi, militants are waging a fresh and deadly bid to set up a Southeast Asian caliphate in the same region, the military warned Friday.
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The gunmen have mustered a force of about 200 fighters and fought a series of skirmishes with the security forces this year after government forces retook Marawi last October, Col. Romeo Brawner said.
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“They have not abandoned their objective to create a caliphate in Southeast Asia,” said Brawner, the commander of a Marawi-based military task force.
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“Mindanao is the most fertile ground,” he said, referring to the country’s southern region.
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Struggling with widespread poverty and armed Muslim insurgencies seeking independence or self-rule, Mindanao must improve poor supervision of Islamic schools or madrasas where most young gunmen are recruited, he added.
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He said the armed forces are retooling to meet the challenge of the Maute group, which occupied Marawi over five months and has pledged allegiance to the Middle East-based Daesh group.
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Gunmen who escaped during the early days of the US-backed operation to recapture Marawi are leading the recruitment effort, flush with cash, guns and jewelry looted from the city’s banks and private homes, Brawner said.
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The recruits are mostly locals, but an unspecified number of Indonesians, some with bomb-making skills, have recently arrived there, he said.
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Mindanao military officials said the Maute gunmen murdered three traders in the town of Piagapo, near Marawi, in November last year.
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Three militants were killed in Pantar, another neighboring town, on February 8, while three of the Piagapo merchants’ suspected killers were arrested in that town last month.
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The military also reported skirmishes with the Maute gunmen in the towns of Masiu and Pagayawan near Marawi last month.
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The renewed fighting came after President Rodrigo Duterte and other political leaders in the Mindanao region warned of a potential repeat of the siege of Marawi which claimed more than 1,100 lives.
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Duterte has imposed martial law over Mindanao until the end of the year to curb the militants’ challenge.
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Ebrahim Murad, head of the Philippines’ main Muslim rebel group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which signed a peace treaty with Manila in 2014, also warned Tuesday that militants were recruiting and could seize another Filipino city.

China Has Bought Brunei’s Silence in South China Sea Dispute

February 22, 2018
China’s takeover of the strategic South China Sea region is ‘steering the world toward war.’

In discussions about the South China Sea dispute, we often hear about China claiming nearly the entire resource-rich, strategic region. And we also often hear about rival claimants—nations such as Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines—who dispute China’s claims. International law says these smaller nations rightfully own the portions of the sea along their coasts, so they often cry foul of Beijing’s claims to their territory.

But there is one country with claims to part of the South China Sea that we no longer hear from in this context: Brunei.

Brunei lies on the northwest coast of the island of Borneo at the southern end of the South China Sea. Brunei can lawfully claim 200 nautical miles of the sea off its coast as its Exclusive Economic Zone (eez).

In previous decades, Brunei was clear about asserting its claims in the South China Sea. In the 1990s, its leadership launched a public objection after China had conducted unauthorized research off Brunei’s coasts. But more recently, Brunei has grown virtually silent about its claims.

In sharp contrast to the vocal governments in Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and elsewhere, Brunei has not openly contested China’s illegal claims that infringe on its eez.

Evidence indicates that Brunei’s reticence in this area is largely due to receiving billions of dollars in investments from China. “Total consolidated Chinese investment in Brunei is now estimated at around $6 billion and scheduled to rise,” the Asia Times recently reported.

For a nation as small as Brunei, this is a vast amount of money. And it is coming at a time when Brunei’s main economic lifeline, oil reserves, are dwindling.

Chinese investment in Brunei has helped build local infrastructure and a major oil refinery. China is also helping Brunei expand its manufacturing and improve its connectivity. China now also holds joint control of Brunei’s largest container terminal.

With these investments, China has essentially bought Brunei’s silence in the South China Sea dispute. Its government has even gone so far as to censor its own media from criticizing China.

Brunei is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (asean), an organization established largely to unify smaller nations in the region to stand up to China’s influence. China’s sway over Brunei erodes asean unity and complicates the ability of other member nations to challenge Beijing.

Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry has said that China’s takeover of the strategic South China Sea is “steering the world toward war.” In the July 2016 Trumpet issue, he wrote:

Since Japan’s defeat in World War ii, America has protected this vital trade route and brought peace to this part of the world. Now the American military is retreating, and other great powers are coming in to fill the vacuum. … China is intimidating the nations of Southeast Asia into submission to its will. It is forcing these countries to do what it wants. Everything is headed in the direction of war.

Mr. Flurry’s understanding of the South China Sea dynamic is based on Bible prophecy.

In Deuteronomy 28:52, God warns the nations of Israel that if they reject Him, He will hand control over the world’s strategic sea gates to their enemies:

And he shall besiege thee in all thy gates, until thy high and fenced walls come down, wherein thou trustedst, throughout all thy land: and he shall besiege thee in all thy gates throughout all thy land, which the Lord thy God hath given thee.

Mr. Flurry explained that this warning in Deuteronomy is not for ancient peoples. “It is a prophecy for the modern-day descendants of Israel,” he wrote. “Two nations in particular represent Israel in this end time: America and Britain. … This prophecy and several others show that He will send foreign enemies to punish America and Britain!”

The fact that China has now essentially bought Brunei’s silence and compliance in the South China Sea, allowing Beijing’s ongoing takeover of the whole region, shows that the era of America ensuring peace to this part of the world is rapidly ending. It shows that this prophecy is now in the process of being fulfilled.

But Mr. Flurry made plain that this approaching war is closely linked to the best imaginable news. “All this prophesied destruction is what it will take for God to reach this world!” he wrote in that article. “After this, people will be ashamed—and they will get to know God! Ezekiel repeatedly talked about that inspiring conclusion (e.g. Ezekiel 6:7; 7:4; 11:10; 12:20; 13:9; 23:48-49; etc). Yes, there is a lot of bad news when you consider what it takes to get people to the point of knowing God. But ultimately, the outcome is spectacularly good news!”

To understand the details of these prophecies, and the profound hope that is tied to them, please request a free copy of Mr. Flurry’s book Ezekiel: The End-Time Prophet.

https://www.thetrumpet.com/16927-china-has-bought-bruneis-silence-in-south-china-sea-dispute

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We’ve heard 白痴國家 (Means “Idiot Nation”)
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China has long had its eye on James Shoal and may move toward the island unless Malaysia or Indonesia protest…

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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.

South China Sea turning into signals hub for Chinese military

February 21, 2018

Throughout the ages, wars have been waged over territory. From nation states and warring factions, to gangs and real estate developers everyone knows location is key.  The more land you control, the more territory you lord over – the more power you wield.

Generally the acreage and borders  in question are based on the land as nature intended it to be. But what if your strategic interests required creating land out of thin air, or in this case, deep blue ocean?  Enter the People’s Republic of China and their man-made islands in the Spratly island chain, in the hotly disputed South China Sea.

The United States and its allies have been watching the construction of these man made islands for some time. China began the projects under the auspices of navigational necessity but analysis of their chosen locations quickly revealed there was another strategic motivation at work. In fact, they were building new military bases.

In early 2017 the DC based think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)released a report– having analyzed recent satellite photos –and concluded that runways, aircraft hangers, radar sites and hardened surface-to-air missile shelters had either been finished or were nearing completion.

The report also stated that the satellite images appeared to be the most conclusive indication yet that China is using its island-building project to bolster its claim over almost the entire South China Sea and its islands and reefs–bases that will give China the ability to deploy combat aircraft and other military assets with efficiency across the disputed region.

The U.S. and its allies raised ref flags and held press conferences to express disapproval but effectively the Chinese continued their projects unabated.

Fast forward to February 2018, when new satellite imagery shows China’s new military lily pads in the South China Sea may have an even more nefarious purpose in the form of full on intelligence communications nodes. On Saturday CSIS released another report, this time comparing its own satellite images and aerial photos released by the Philippine Daily Inquirer earlier this month.

CSIS says the photos add more detail than previously available but do not show new capabilities so much as reinforcing their earlier point that “these artificial islands now host substantial, largely complete, air and naval bases, and new construction continues apace despite diplomatic overtures between China and its fellow claimants.”

The report finds the northeastern corner of Fiery Cross Reef is now equipped with a communications or sensor array bigger than those found on other artificial islands in the Spratlys. Fiery Cross is one of the seven reefs Beijing turned into islands in the Spratlys. It is the smallest and the southermost of the “Big Three”, which also includes Subi, or Zhubi in Chinese, and Mischief, or Meiji.

Construction on Fiery Cross Reef:

Image courtesy of CSIS/Philippine Inquirer

Specific construction on Fiery Cross according the CSIS:

  1. The northern end of the base’s 3,000-meter runway, which was completed in late 2015.
  2. Hangars to accommodate four combat aircraft. Hangar space for another 20 combat aircraft and four larger hangars, capable of housing bombers, refueling tankers, and large transport aircraft, have been built farther south along the runway. All the hangars were completed in early 2017.
  3. A tall tower housing a sensor/communications facility topped by a radome, completed in late 2016.
  4. A field of upright poles erected in 2017. The original notations on the aerial photos identify this only as a communication facility, but it is most likely a high frequency radar array like the one built on Cuarteron Reef two years earlier.
  5. One of the four point defense facilities built around the base in 2016. Similar point defenses exist on all of China’s artificial islands, sporting a combination of large guns (identified in one of the aerial photos of Johnson Reef as having 100-mm barrels) and probable close-in weapons systems (CIWS) emplacements.
  6. A large communications/sensor array completed during 2017. None of the other bases in the Spratlys so far has a comparable array, though smaller ones have been built on Subi and Mischief, suggesting that Fiery Cross might be serving as a signals intelligence/communications hub for Chinese forces in the area.
  7. Three towers housing sensor/communications facilities topped by radomes, completed in 2017.

Additional Construction of Concern

Subi Reef, just 12 nautical miles from Philippine-occupied Thitu Island: China has built a large lighthouse, a 3,000-metre airstrip, a high-frequency radar array and underground storage tunnels that could be used for ammunition.

 

Mischief Reef: Three towers housing sensor or communications facilities topped by a dome to protect radar equipment were completed in 2017.

Gaven Reef: a solar panel array was built in 2015, along with other facilities such as wind turbines, a tall tower housing a communications facility and an administrative center.

Fiery Cross was the site of the most construction in 2017 with work on buildings covering an estimated 100,000 square metres (27 acres).

What Say you China?

Beijing has been accused of militarizing the South China Sea, which is also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam but has repeatedly rejected those accusations. Their actions continue to say otherwise.

In order to wield power over this region–to create a sphere of influence–China needs to dissuade all others concerned from any further resistance. Strategic locations like Fiery Cross have been talked about as potential command and control centers for Chinese activity in the Spratlys since the early 1980’s – it appears once again that while the world was involved in other things, the Chinese made their plans into reality.

 

Malaysia arrests Filipinos seeking to set up extremist cell

February 21, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File | Philippine soldiers prepare for an operation against the Abu Sayyaf in 2016: the group is now suspected of trying to set up a Malaysian cell

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Ten suspected Islamic militants who were trying to establish a Malaysian cell of a Philippine kidnap-for-ransom group have been arrested in Borneo island, police said Wednesday.

Image result for Borneo island, map

The alleged extremists, mostly Filipinos, are also accused of trying to help fighters linked to the Islamic State (IS) group travel to the Philippines to join up with militants there, they said.

The southern Philippines has long been a pocket of Islamic militancy in the largely Catholic country. A long siege in Marawi, the country’s main Muslim centre, sparked fears IS was seeking to establish a foothold in the region.

Malaysian police made the arrests in January and early February in Sabah state on the Malaysian part of Borneo, not far from the southern Philippines. Borneo is a vast island shared between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

Seven of those detained were Filipinos, including several senior members of Philippine extremist group Abu Sayyaf which has been behind the kidnappings of numerous foreigners, Malaysian national police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement.

“Early information obtained from the 10 suspects caught in Sabah revealed an attempt by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group to set up a cell in Sabah,” he said.

One of those arrested was a 39-year-old believed to have received orders from a senior militant leader in the southern Philippines to bring IS members from the city of Sandakan in Sabah to join militant groups.

Another suspect was a 27-year-old identified as a senior member of the Abu Sayyaf leadership based in the Philippines.

The other three detained were Malaysians, police said. Officials did not disclose the suspects’ identities.

Malaysia has rounded up numerous suspected militants in recent times as fears grow that the influence of the IS group could encourage extremists to launch attacks in the Muslim-majority country.

Abu Sayyaf, originally a loose network of militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network, has splintered into factions, with some continuing to engage in banditry and kidnappings.

One faction pledged allegiance to IS and joined militants in the siege of Marawi, which claimed more than 1,100 lives.

‘Marawi attackers set sights on 2nd city’

February 20, 2018

 

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front said the plot to attack either Iligan or Cotabato city fell apart after the Marawi siege ended, but the extremists have continued to recruit new fighters to recover from their battle defeats.  Credit KJ Rosales

(Associated Press) – February 21, 2018 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Islamic State (IS) group-linked militants planned but failed to attack another southern Philippine city shortly after troops crushed their siege of Marawi last year, the leader of the country’s largest Muslim rebel group said yesterday.

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front said the plot to attack either Iligan or Cotabato city fell apart after the Marawi siege ended, but the extremists have continued to recruit new fighters to recover from their battle defeats.

Murad said his group relayed intelligence about the planned attacks on the two cities, which are bustling commercial hubs, to government forces through ceasefire channels established during years of peace talks. He made the comments at a forum with foreign news correspondents, stressing how his group has helped battle terrorism.

President Duterte and military officials have also said that remnants of the radical groups behind the five-month siege that devastated Marawi were hunting for new recruits and plotting new attacks.

Duterte mentioned the threats in a speech late Monday in which he criticized Canada for imposing restrictions on the use of combat helicopters the Philippines has sought to buy. He has ordered the military to cancel the purchase.

“They are about to retake another city in the Philippines or to take another geographical unit but I couldn’t use the helicopters,” Duterte said, explaining that the Bell helicopters could not be employed in combat assaults.

Duterte has not elaborated on the nature of post-Marawi attack threats.

Murad’s group, which the military estimates has about 10,000 fighters scattered mostly in the marshy south, hopes Congress will pass legislation this year implementing a 2014 autonomy pact with the government.

He said the prospects appear bright, but added that the rebels are aware that the government failed to enforce peace pacts in the past, prompting disgruntled rebels to form breakaway groups.

The rebel leader warned that restive young Muslims in the southern Mindanao region, homeland of Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation, may be drawn to extremism if the peace efforts fail.

As IS group militants lose bases in the Middle East, “we will increasingly find them in our midst as they seek new strategic grounds where the hold of government is weak such as in Mindanao,” Murad said.

Last year, Murad said his group lost 24 fighters who were defending rural communities from breakaway militants who have aligned with the IS. “We know we cannot decisively win the war against extremism if we cannot win the peace in the halls of Congress,” Murad said.

The new Muslim autonomous zone, which generally covers five poor provinces, is to replace an existing one that is seen as a dismal failure. The new plan grants much more autonomy, power and guaranteed resources to the region.

The rebels have been fighting since the 1970s for Muslim self-rule in Mindanao in an insurrection that has killed about 150,000 combatants and civilians. The United States and other Western governments have backed the autonomy deal, partly to prevent the insurgency from breeding extremists.

Read more at https://beta.philstar.com/headlines/2018/02/21/1789910/marawi-attackers-set-sights-2nd-city#TMKuVgfiM2cuKfkH.99

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Philippines: Islamic group warns of heightened extremism if Congress does not pass law

February 20, 2018

Murad Ebrahim, chairman of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), gestures as he speaks during a Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) forum in Manila on February 20, 2018. (AFP)
MANILA: If the Philippines Congress does not pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), extremism could rise in Mindanao, the chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) warned on Tuesday. The BBL follows the peace agreement signed by the government and the MILF in 2014.
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Foreign fighters continue to arrive in Mindanao, said MILF Chairman Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim.
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“They’re coming in from the porous borders in the south (Mindanao), from Malaysia, Indonesia,” he added.
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“And it’s not only Malaysians and Indonesians… There are some Middle Eastern people coming in.”
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The MILF received information that a Canadian of Arab origin, not older than 25, entered recently and went to Patikul in Sulu to join the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Ebrahim said.
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“So this challenge with extremism is really very high, and… we really need to cooperate, everybody, in order to counter extremism,” he added.
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Daesh continues to be a threat to the Philippines because it is being displaced in the Middle East, he said.
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“We’re all aware of what happened in the Middle East. I think nobody wants it to happen here,” he added.
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The chances of another Marawi siege cannot be ruled out because extremists “can still partner with many other small groups, like Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF),” Ebrahim said.
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“We’ve seen the destruction in Marawi. In more than 40 years of conflict in Mindanao, this never happened,” he added.
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“There has been no city or community that was turned into rubble completely. And this happened… when we’re already in the final stage of the peace process.”
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While the MILF is doing its part to prevent terrorists from gaining ground on the island, “the best and most effective counter to them is when the peace process will succeed,” he said.
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“We can’t decisively win the war against extremism if we can’t win the peace in the halls of Congress.”
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The assistant secretary for peace and security, Dickson Hermoso, told Arab News that the BBL “will be passed based on the reaction of the majority of the people on the ground.”
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He added: “They want the BBL, based on consultations by the Senate and congressional committees. There’s overwhelming support from the Bangsamoro people.”
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The Senate plans to pass the bill by March 22, before it goes on recess, Hermoso said, expressing hope that it will be signed into law by the president before the end of next month.
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Political analyst Ramon Casiple said he expects the BBL to be passed soon, but warned that if not, another Marawi siege is possible.
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The president may call for a special session of Congress just to see the bill passed, Casiple added.
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Malaysian court jails, fines artist for clown caricature of Najib Razak

February 20, 2018

Malaysian artist Fahmi Reza with one of the versions of his caricatures of Prime Minister Najib Razak looking like a clown. (Courtesy Fahmi Reza Facebook)
KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian artist and prominent opposition activist was jailed for a month on Tuesday for publishing a caricature of Prime Minister Najib Razak looking like a clown, a ruling likely to exacerbate concern about free speech.
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Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy recently announced plans to amend a law to stamp out fake news, the latest step to broaden enforcement powers and penalties against online posts or content deemed detrimental to public order and security.
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Artist Fahmi Reza was found guilty under a communications law for spreading online content deemed “obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person.”
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Artist Fahmi Reza
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Fahmi was also fined 30,000 ringgit ($7,700). His lawyer, Syahredzan Johan, said the judge did not give any grounds for the ruling.
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“We are appealing the decision,” Syahredzan said, adding that they will post a 10,000 ringgit bond to release Fahmi from custody pending the appeal.
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Fahmi faces a second similar charge in a separate court.
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Fahmi was among anti-government and opposition leaders and activists rounded up after protests against Najib over his handling of a multi-billion dollar scandal tied to state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
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The government blocked several websites and news portals carrying reports critical of 1MDB and Najib, despite a longstanding government pledge not to censor the Internet.
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Najib, who faced a leadership challenge following the 1MDB scandal, is preparing to call general elections that must be held by August. The fund and Najib denied all wrongdoing.
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1MDB has been the subject of money-laundering investigations in countries including the US, Switzerland and Singapore.
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In civil lawsuits, the US Justice Department has alleged that about $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB.

Another Marawi possible, Philippine rebel chief warns

February 20, 2018

AFP

© AFP / by Cecil MORELLA | Murad warns that another Marawi is possible
MANILA (AFP) – The chief of the Philippines’ main Muslim rebel group warned Tuesday that jihadists loyal to the Islamic State group, flush with looted guns and cash, could seize another Filipino city after Marawi last year.Murad Ebrahim has billed his Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has made peace with the government, as a rival to IS for the hearts and minds of angry young Muslims in the impoverished south of the mainly Catholic nation.

Murad said the MILF was battling pro-IS groups for influence in schools as the jihadists worked to infiltrate madrasas (Islamic religious schools) and secular universities.

At the same time IS gunmen were making their way into the southern Philippines from Malaysia and Indonesia, he added, but gave no estimates.

A five-month siege flattened the city of Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao, the Philippines’ main Islamic centre, and claimed more than 1,100 lives.

Murad told reporters conditions on the ground were still ripe for another Marawi-style siege.

“This ISIS group continues to penetrate us because they are being displaced in the Middle East and they want to have another place,” Murad said, using an another name for IS.

“The chances of having another Marawi cannot be overruled.”

The Marawi attackers found and looted stockpiles of munitions, cash and jewellery from homes — some owned by MILF members — before the city was retaken by US-backed Filipino troops in October, he said.

“When they (MILF members) fled from Marawi they (could) not bring their vaults. That is where the ISIS was also able to get so much money and now they’re using it for recruitment,” he added.

“It’s very sad. In our country some people say buying weapons and ammunition is just like buying fish in the market.”

The combination of weak central government authority, the presence of rebel groups and long-running blood feuds means Mindanao is awash with weapons, he added.

Manila signed a peace deal with the 10,000-member MILF in 2014 after decades of Muslim rebellion in Mindanao for independence or self-rule that had claimed more than 100,000 lives.

Murad urged President Rodrigo Duterte’s government to speed up the passage of a Muslim self-rule law to flesh out the peace accord, warning pro-IS militants were recruiting for a new attack.

“If the (self-rule law) will not be passed now I think it will develop a situation where these extremist groups can recruit more adherents, because it will prove their theory that there is no hope in the peace process,” he said.

“Since they have the capability also to supply money and then they also have the ability to make explosives, bombs, they can just use these young recruits to work out their plan.”

by Cecil MORELLA

Philippines: Risks rising with China challenging US at sea

February 19, 2018

Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) – February 20, 2018 – 12:01am

MANILA, Philippines — The risks of a “miscalculation” and armed conflict have risen in the disputed South China Sea with a militarily stronger China now able to challenge the United States, which used to be the dominant power in the strategic waterway, the Philippine envoy to Beijing said yesterday.

Ambassador Chito Sta. Romana said the balance of power was shifting with the two global powers vying for control of the waters, adding the Philippines should not get entangled in the increasingly tense maritime rivalry.

Image result for Ambassador Chito Sta. Romana, photo

Ambassador Chito Sta. Romana

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea, where the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims, and it has built seven mostly submerged reefs into islands that reportedly could be used as forward air naval bases and have been installed with a missile defense system.

The US Navy has sailed warships on “freedom of navigation” operations near the artificial islands, actions China has protested as US intervention in an Asian conflict.

“Whereas before the South China Sea was dominated by the US 7th Fleet, now the Chinese navy is starting to challenge the dominance,” Sta. Romana told a news forum in Manila. “I think we will see a shift in the balance of power.”

“It is not the case that the South China Sea is now a Chinese lake, not at all,” Sta. Romana said. “Look at the US aircraft carrier, it’s still going through the South China Sea,” he added, referring to the USS Carl Vinson that recently patrolled the disputed waters and is currently on a visit to the Philippines.

He compared the two powers to elephants fighting and trampling on the grass and said: “What we don’t want is for us to be the grass.”

President Duterte’s policy of befriending China has worked, Sta. Romana said, citing Beijing’s decision to lift its blockade around the Philippine-occupied Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, where the Philippine military could now freely send new supplies to Filipino Marines guarding the disputed area.

China has also allowed Filipino fishermen into another disputed area, the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, after Duterte visited Beijing and raised the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Xi reportedly told Duterte: “Give me a few days, I‘ll take care of this,” Sta. Romana quoted Duterte as saying about the meeting with his Chinese counterpart a few months after he won the Philippine presidency in 2016.

China took control of the uninhabited atoll off the northwestern Philippines after a tense standoff in 2012.

In January, China accused the US of trespassing when the guided missile destroyer USS Hopper sailed near Panatag.

President Donald Trump’s administration has outlined a security strategy that emphasized countering China’s rise and reinforcing US presence in the Indo-Pacific region, where Beijing and Washington have accused each other of stoking a dangerous military buildup and fought for wider influence.

Washington has no claim in the South China Sea but has declared a peaceful resolution and freedom of navigation are in its national interest.

US Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins told The Associated Press on board the USS Carl Vinson on Saturday that the Navy has carried out routine patrols at sea and in the air in the region for 70 years to promote security and guarantee the unimpeded flow of trade and would continue to do so.

‘Be more vigilant’

On the Philippine Rise (Benham Rise) issue, University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea director Jay Batongbacal recommended that the country be more vigilant after China named five undersea features, calling the failure to object to it earlier as a clear sign of neglect.

He noted during an interview on ANC’s Headstart that the subcommittee of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), which approved the names proposed by China last year, might consider the Philippines’ protest as “too late.”

Under international rules and law, the IHO is the agency that can name underwater features but after complying with requirements.

“We need to be more vigilant and really much more active in participating in the international organization that is concerned with this matter, the International Hydrographic Organization,” Batongbacal said. – AP

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Read more at https://beta.philstar.com/headlines/2018/02/20/1789590/philippines-risks-rising-china-challenging-us-sea#VQ4FMgjbdkLki2tG.99