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Philippines’ Duterte declares martial law in Mindanao, cuts short visit to Russia

Soldiers are seen in Davao after the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

MANILA, May 23 — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday declared martial law in the entire island of Mindanao and nearby island provinces following clashes between government forces and armed Maute group.

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano also announced in Moscow that Duterte, who is on an official visit to Russia, has decided to cut short his visit, adding that Duterte’s face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin may not happen.

Duterte’s spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte declared martial law “in the entire island of Mindanao, including (the island provinces of) Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. The details will be forthcoming.”

Duterte imposed martial law on Mindanao island and nearby provinces as of 10 p.m. local time. “This is possible on the grounds of existence of rebellion because of what is happening in Mindanao. This is good for 60 days,” Abella said.

Duterte “has full confidence in the military and the police’s management of the situation,” he added.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who is also with Duterte in Moscow, said the military is in full control of the situation, adding that more troops will be sent there.

By declaring martial law, Lorenzana said the military can control the movement of the rebels, conduct searches, arrest people and suspend the habeas corpus.

The fighting broke out after a joint team of the military and police tried to serve a warrant of arrest on Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf group, around 2 p.m. local time, Lorenzana said.

The Maute Group started to occupy some establishments in the city, including a hospital, the city hall, the city jail and part of the Mindanao State University compound, he said.

Malawi City

The Maute Group “burned several facilities, including a Roman Catholic church, the city jail, and a school,” he said, adding that “the Maute fighters still occupy the main street of Malawi City and two bridges leading to the city.”

As of Tuesday night, he said three government troops were killed and 12 were wounded.

The whole of Malawi City is experiencing blackout. “There is no light and there are Maute snipers all around so the troops are still on holding and several groups elements have already joined them from other neighboring units, and tomorrow morning we are bringing in more troops,” he said.

According to the military, the Maute group was formed by the Maute family led by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute, former members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The group has declared loyalty to the Islamic State (IS), an international jihadist group.

But the military downplayed the group, saying it is a bunch of rebels that carry out bombings and kidnappings in the southern Mindanao region.

The group, which displays a black flag and insignia of IS, has attacked army troops and beheaded their kidnapped victims.

The group was also involved in a series of bombing and extortion activities in the province.

They were also notorious for raiding police jails to free their detained comrades.

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Duterte leaves for Russia to explore Philippines-Russia cooperation

MANILA, May 22 — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte left for Russia on Monday to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin to chart the future of Philippine-Russian relations.

In a speech before boarding his plane at the Davao City international airport, Duterte said he would meet Putin and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow “to discuss ways of charting the future direction of our partnership across many areas.”

“We will exchange views on regional and international issues to determine how we can best advance our shared interests,” he said.

Duterte said cooperation between Manila and Moscow opened 40 years ago but “it has opened ever so slightly.”

“There is much room to develop mutually beneficial cooperation. There are many opportunities that needed to be explored. Now we can work together to open those even wider,” Duterte said.

“This is a strategic oversight that has led to many missed opportunities for our country. I am determined to correct this,” Duterte said.

He said his administration will give Philippines-Russia relations the importance commensurate to its full potential.

“We will push for pragmatic engagement in the politico-security sphere, increased economic cooperation, and enhanced cultural and people-to-people exchanges,” he said.

Duterte expressed hope that this official visit to Russia from May 22 to 26 “will lay the firm foundation for a robust, comprehensive, and mutually-beneficial Philippines-Russia partnership.”

Aside from defense cooperation which will deal specifically on “military and technical cooperation,” Philippine foreign officials said other deals to be signed include a memorandum of understanding on cooperation between Russian and Philippine security councils, a treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, and an extradition treaty.

“The agreement on military and technical cooperation will pave the way for the Philippines to explore a possibility of military procurement from Russia,” officials said.

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Philippines, China vow closer ties, management of disputes

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping resolved to strengthen their countries’ friendship during their meeting in Beijing, with China pledging to speed up infrastructure projects it is funding in the Philippines.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L), and Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) pose for photographers prior to their bilateral meeting held on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Monday, May 15, 2017.

“We renewed our resolve to strengthen our friendship and mutually beneficial partnership on a broad range of areas,” Duterte said in southern Davao City on his return from Beijing. “We resolved to fully use the mechanisms we have established to dialogue openly, monitor progress and ensure implementation of projects.”

Duterte, who took office last June, has worked to repair relations with China that have been strained by territorial conflicts in the South China Sea and an international arbitration ruling on a case filed by his predecessor that invalidated Beijing’s claims to the disputed territory. Duterte met separately with Xi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang after attending last weekend’s “Belt and Road” trade initiative.

Duterte said both he and Xi were looking forward to officials from both countries meeting later this week for inaugural bilateral talks on the South China Sea. Philippine officials have said the meeting will be held Friday in southwestern China.

Duterte said he didn’t raise the arbitration ruling while in Beijing.

“There is a time for me to ask about the arbitral ruling, but it is not now,” Duterte said. The agenda, mechanics and “how to present our case to them” have to be ironed out first “because we agreed to talk and to have a dialogue,” he added.

Four agreements were signed during the visit, including a Chinese grant of 500 million yuan ($72.5 million) for feasibility studies of infrastructure projects in the Philippines and construction of a drug rehabilitation center.

Also signed were memorandums of understanding on cooperation in human resources development and personnel exchanges, energy cooperation, and enhancing government capabilities in communication and publishing.

Duterte thanked China for its generosity, including providing grants and loans, promising to build two bridges for free in metropolitan Manila and increasing imports of Philippine agricultural products.

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Philippine president says Belt and Road Initiative complements ASEAN integration

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L), along with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R).

The Belt and Road Initiative proposed by China complements the efforts of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to integrate as an economic community, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday.

The global trade projects under the Belt and Road Initiative “can be a parallel or platform for growth in the region,” Duterte said in Davao City in the southeastern region of The Philippines, upon his arrival from Beijing.

“We can look at ways to complement our integration efforts in Southeast Asia even as we seek to reinforce ASEAN centrality,” Duterte said.

He added that ASEAN can use the Belt and Road Initiative “to stimulate growth and improve market access as it facilitates connectivity and provides much-needed funding.”

Duterte visited Beijing and attended the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in Beijing on May 14 and May 15. It was his second visit to China since he took office in June last year.

With the initiative, there are opportunities to synergize our efforts to bring about progress and prosperity, as well as peace and stability that our peoples and our region deserve, he said.

“China wants a peaceful region because a peaceful region translates into more prosperity for China,” he said.

Duterte said he had the opportunity to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang separately. “I am very happy that they are sincere and they are to comply with their commitments to us,” he said.

“We renewed our resolve to strengthen our friendship and mutually beneficial partnership in a broad range of areas. We are resolved to fully use the mechanisms we have established to dialogue openly, monitor progress and ensure implementation of projects,” Duterte said.

“Growth and development ride on the back of peace, security and stability,” he said.

The Philippines chairs the ASEAN meeting this year which also coincides with its 50th anniversary.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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Two killed, four others injured in twin blasts in Manila

MANILA — Two people were killed and four others injured, including a policeman, in twin blasts that rocked Quiapo District in Manila on Saturday afternoon, police said.

Police said the explosion of the still unknown type occurred around 5:50 p.m. in Norzagaray Street in Manila City.

Policemen investigate the blast site in Manila, the Philippines, May 7, 2017.

Last Friday, 14 people were injured in a blast in the same district as the Philippines was hosting the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Manila.

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30th ASEAN Summit held in Pasay City, Philippines

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks at a press conference during the 30th Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) 2017 Summit at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City, the Philippines, April 29, 2017.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) greets Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith at the Reception Hall of the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) during the 30th Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) 2017 Summit in Pasay City, the Philippines, April 29, 2017.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) greets Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at the Reception Hall of the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) during the 30th Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) 2017 Summit in Pasay City, the Philippines, April 29, 2017.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) greets Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Reception Hall of the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) during the 30th Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) 2017 Summit in Pasay City, the Philippines, April 29, 2017.

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) hold hands for a family photo during the opening ceremony of the 30th ASEAN Summit at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City, the Philippines, April 29, 2017.

U.S., Philippines end exercises as local groups call on Duterte to scrap future drills

MANILA, May 19 — The 12-day joint military drills between the United States and the Philippines wrapped up on Friday, with officials of allied countries claiming the troops stand more prepared to respond to terror threats and natural disasters in the region.

Only 2,600 American troops and 2,800 Philippine troops, about half of the previous scale, participated in this year’s Balikatan or shoulder-to-shoulder exercises that were conducted in multiple locations in the Philippine main Luzon Island and the Visayan region in the central Philippines.

Unlike in the past years, Balikatan 2017 also skipped all combat-related exercises like live-fire drills and amphibious landings at the behest of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has threatened to scrap the exercises and drive away all U.S. troops on Philippine soil.

Duterte has ordered Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to focus on humanitarian and disaster response and drills that would hone the counter-terrorism skills of the participants.

During the period of their joint exercises, some Philippine local groups have called on Duterte to scrap the exercises with the Americans, saying it contradicts Duterte’s posture of an independent foreign policy.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan or Bayan held a protest rally on Wednesday to oppose the continued holding of the joint exercises, saying the scaling down of the drills this year does not change the nature and the political objectives of the U.S. war games.

“The exercises provide a venue for U.S. power projection in the region. The U.S. forces are flexing their muscles and sending a message to the countries of East Asia,” Bayan said in a statement.

Another local group called Karapatan that held a protest rally at the U.S. embassy on Wednesday also called on Philippine government “to walk the talk and decisively terminate one-sided agreements” with the United States, including the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

Duterte administration decided to scrap two other joint exercises with the United States and retain Balikatan or “shoulder-to-shoulder” only, Philippine military announced last November.

Philippine Navy commissions 2nd amphibious landing dock vessel

The BRP Davao Del Sur (LD-602) from the Philippine Navy docks during a welcome ceremony in Manila, the Philippines, May 10, 2017.

The Philippine Navy has commissioned the BRP Davao Del Sur, their second amphibious landing dock vessel which will be used for humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) and military sealift and transport vessel.

Port workers prepare during the welcome ceremony for the BRP Davao Del Sur (LD-602) in Manila, the Philippines, May 10, 2017.

Members of the Philippine Navy stand in attention on board the BRP davao Del Sur (LD-602) during a welcome ceremony in Manila, the Philippines, May 10, 2017.

Philippine president says Belt and Road initiative good for region

MANILA, April 29–Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Saturday that China-proposed Belt and Road initiative is good for Southeast Asia, noting that the initiative will help China’s neighbors like the Philippines.

Proposed by China in 2013, the Belt and Road initiative refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, aiming at building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes of Silk Road.

“It (the Belt and Road initiative) is important because it starts here in the region … It is helping neighbors and at the same time broadens the market,” Duterte told a news conference at the end of the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit which was held here in Manila.

Again, the Philippine president thanked China for the help it is extending to the country.

Duterte had earlier said that he is looking forward to his second trip to China this May to attend the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing.

Not wanting to be left out, the Philippines has said it intends to hit the road with China in pursuing its own economic strategy which focuses on building the country’s infrastructure.