23 January 2015

Malacañang expresses condolences on the passing of Saudi King Abdullah
The Palace on Friday expressed condolences to the people of Saudi Arabia on the passing of King Abdullah.

“The death of King Abdullah marks the passing of an important figure in international and regional affairs. We extend our condolences to the Royal Family and to the people of Saudi Arabia,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a press statement.

Valte said King Abdullah’s receptiveness to the concerns of the Filipino government helped improve the welfare and prospects of Filipinos working or staying in Saudi Arabia.

In particular, she said, the king granted clemency to Filipinos under trial; reached into his own coffers to assist in the case of Rodelio Celestino Lanuza; and provided migrant workers in Saudi Arabia the opportunity to correct their status.

The Saudi Arabian government in 2013 directed the payment of the balance of 2.3 million Saudi Riyals for the heirs of the victim of Lanuza, who was sentenced to death in 2002 for stabbing an Arab out of self-defense.

Valte further said that during the reign of King Abdullah, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia agreed on a Standard Employment Contract, which governs the employment of Filipino domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.

This agreement, she said, was followed by the signing of an agreement on domestic worker recruitment, which aims to protect the welfare of Filipino household service workers in Saudi Arabia.

“These actions will be remembered by our government, and by those who were positively affected by his decisions and efforts,” Valte added.

King Abdullah, an ally of the United States and an influential figure in the Middle East, died at 1 a.m. Friday, according to Saudi state TV. The 90-year old monarch was hospitalized last month for pneumonia.

The king supported the US’ fight against al-Qaeda and sought to modernize the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom with such reforms as including women in the Shura Council, an advisory body.

The Royal Court has announced King Abdullah’s successor as his 79-year-old half-brother, Prince Salman, who had recently taken on some of the ailing king’s responsibilities. PND (as)

Philippines to host first APEC Senior Officials’ Meeting in Clark
The Philippines will host the first Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Senior Officials’ Meeting and Related Meetings or SOM1 from January 26 to February 7 at the Clark and Subic Freeport Zones, it was announced on Friday.

Assistant Secretary Charles Jose of the Department of Foreign Affairs said SOM1 is the year’s first comprehensive Senior Officials’ Meeting.

It begins with a series of more than 30 working group and committee level meetings, covering such topics as trade and investment, economic and technical cooperation, anti-corruption, counterterrorism, competition policy, ocean and fisheries, customs, e-commerce, life sciences, health, illegal logging and services, Jose said.

“Building on the outcomes of the APEC Informal Senior Officials’ Meeting (ISOM) held on December 8 and 9, 2014 in Manila, the 21 APEC member economies will once again meet to discuss policies and programs that advance and pursue APEC’s pillars of trade and investment liberalization, business facilitation, and economic and technical cooperation,” he said.

The Clark meeting will also tackle how each APEC working group can advance the APEC 2015 priorities under the overall theme of “Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World.”

As host, the Philippines will also hold on February 3 a public-private dialogue on information technology and business process management, creative industries, and research and development services, he said.

“The public-private dialogue on services is the first in a dialogue series and aims to guide the APEC Senior Officials and the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) in promoting trade and services in the Asia-Pacific region,” Jose added. PND (as)

Palace eyes further reduction in average hunger rate
With a significant drop in the number of Filipinos experiencing hunger in the fourth quarter of last year, as a recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed, Malacañang said it hopes to lift more people out of poverty.

In a press briefing at the Palace on Friday, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said she has yet to study the factors that contributed to the one million decline in the number of people who experienced hunger in the last quarter of 2014.

Valte however expressed hope that the figure would continue to decrease through the government’s poverty alleviation programs.

“Hopefully, this will continue to go down. I think everyone is united in that particular hope that the numbers continue to go down. If you study, at least the past surveys, they do tend to fluctuate and hopefully it will start a downward trend,” she said.

The SWS survey, conducted nationwide from November 27 to December 1 last year, showed that 17.2 percent of the 1,800 adults interviewed said they experienced hunger at least once in the past three months.

The survey estimated that 3.8 million families experienced hunger in the last quarter of 2014, compared to 4.8 million families, or 22 percent, in the third quarter of that year. PND (as)

Philippines concerned about China’s reclamation but sticking to legal, diplomatic tracks, says Palace official
The Philippines will stick to the legal and diplomatic tracks it has chosen to pursue to resolve its territorial row with China over the West Philippine Sea, a Palace official said Friday.

“It is a serious concern, obviously, for us, which is why we are taking the tracks that we have long ago chosen,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said when asked by reporters if the country is worried over the extensive reclamation work being done by China in the disputed territory.

“We have chosen the legal and the diplomatic tracks and we will stick to that. We will exhaust all means under those two tracks to address the problem,” she said.

The Philippines has filed an arbitration case in the international tribunal to clarify overlapping claims in the West Philippine Sea.

It is also aggressively pushing for the immediate conclusion of a binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has denounced Beijing’s construction work in disputed reefs as a “blatant violation” of agreements of the ASEAN with China, calling it a threat to the entire ASEAN.

He said he wants to raise China’s “massive reclamation” in the West Philippine Sea during an upcoming meeting of the regional bloc’s foreign affairs ministers in Malaysia.

China and the ASEAN in 2002 signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), a non-binding agreement that asks parties to refrain from actions that will “complicate or escalate disputes.”

Among the ASEAN members also laying claim to the disputed waters are Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei.

The West Philippine Sea is a major shipping lane and a rich fishing ground, and is believed to hold vast deposits of oil and gas. PND (as)