The Friday Briefing: Burning bridges and building airports

It’s clear from the sheer output of stories this week that the newsrooms of the Philippines haven’t wound down for Christmas yet. As always, the words and actions of President Duterte have set the agenda, with insults and accusations flying in all directions. Here’s our executive summary of the week’s news:

Two tourists drowned

GMA News has reported that two people drowned in province’s  Casiguran town while swimming. The victims have been identified as Teresita Ramos, a Filipina turned US citizen, and Gerald Arthur Stephen, a Canadian. It is believed that Ms Ramos had first got into difficulty, and then Mr Stephen perished in an attempt to rescue her. Read the full report here

Peace on earth

As is traditional, the office of the president has declared a Christmas truce with the New People’s Army (NPA), Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Read The Philippine Star’s report here

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12-year-old girl shot in church

ABS-CBN has reported that a young girl was caught in the crossfire of a drug-related execution in Biñan, Laguna, while attending dawn mass with her mother. In my opinion, this should have been the top story of the week, but hardly any other news source has touched it. Does this imply that such tragedies are now considered normal, or maybe the story isn’t as it seems? Read the story here and judge for yourself.

“No biggie”

After seizing a US Navy underwater drone last week (as we reported here) China has now returned it with a seeming shrug of the shoulders. “It’s no big deal,” said a Beijing spokesman, “worse things happen at sea”. Read a report from Reuters here

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What? Militarisation? Us?

Meanwhile, China has begun daily charter flights to a disputed island in the South China Sea. Tankler News has reported that the service will run from Haikou, the capital of China’s island province of Hainan, to Woody Island in the Paracels, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. More details here

Jailed without trial

Aussie outlet 9News reports that a Queensland father arrested on suspicion of trafficking sex workers from the Philippines has languished in prison for more than three years without trial. Troy Russell Birthisel is facing a life sentence after he was detained at an airport in the Philippines along with seven women, all bound for Singapore. Read the full story here

Diplomatic ties

Duterte’s war of words with the USA is getting increasingly personal, as he accuses three out of five Americans of being “idiots”. “Just shut up,” he added, for clarity. Charming. Read more at ABS-CBN here

Voice of reason

Senate minority leader Ralph Recto has urged the government to assert an independent foreign policy without shunning old allies. Rebalancing ties with other countries, he said, should not mean that “we dump old friends for new suitors.” Read more on here

Independent judiciary

It seems even the chief law officer of the Philippines has difficulty understanding the difference between “allegations” and “convictions”. The Solicitor General said this week that former Justice Secretary and now Senator Leila De Lima is the country’s “public enemy number one” due to her alleged (and unproven) involvement in the drug trade. So much for an independent judiciary. Read more on Update Philippines here

Tit for tat?

Not to be outdone on the drug accusation front, De Lima has hit back, accusing the president of being maddened by his use of the powerful painkiller fentanyl. She also accused him of frothing at the mouth “like a rabid animal”. (Read Dave Bramovich’s take on this issue here). also has more on this war of words here


Daily executions

The president has revealed that not only does he want the reintroduction of the death penalty, but he wants it on an industrial scale. “There was death penalty before but nothing happened,” he said. “Return that to me and I would do it every day: five or six. That’s for real.” In a country with a notoriously corrupt police and judiciary, what could possibly go wrong? The UK’s Daily Mail reports on the issue here

Budget for the poor

President Duterte’s first budget promises to be an early Christmas present for the poor, with huge increases in infrastructure spending, free education at state universities and colleges, universal health care, rice allowances for the poor and free irrigation for farmers. The Manila Standard has the details here

Batten down the hatches

The entire province of Albay is under a state of imminent danger due to severe tropical storm “Nina”, which is expected to make a landfall in the Bicol on Christmas Day. Read The Inquirer’s report here

You’re (literally) fired!

I’m sure most of us have been threatened with the sack at some point, but I doubt if many of us have had a boss threaten to shoot us. This is what President Duterte appeared to do when he said to the members of his Anti Money Laundering Council: “You know, I’m going to charge all of you there, criminally. I’ll count one to three, and if you don’t resign, I will treat you as a drug addict.” Nice. The Inquirer has details here

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It was a fix!

Despite a clear consensus among the world’s bookmakers (as we reported here), Miss Philippines Catriona Gray failed in her bid to be crowned Miss World 2016. The honour went to Miss Puerto Rico Stephanie Del Valle despite (or perhaps because of) long odds against her victory. However, Catriona’s progression to the final five is still something to celebrate, as The Manila Standard reports here