December 2013

ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas

"Hope for the Filipinos" (Credit: Bernadette Jumpalad)

“Hope for the Filipinos” (Credit: Bernadette Jumpalad)

It should not surprise us anymore that despite the difficulties and corruption scandals of the past year, the Filipinos would remain as optimistic as ever of the coming year. Year after year, hope springs eternal for Filipinos as shown by surveys in the last few years. The surveys last year by both Pulse Asia and the Social Weather Station showed that 95% or more than nine of ten Filipinos faced the coming year with hope.

In 2009 and 2010, 89% of Filipinos showed the same optimism about the coming year, which was slightly lower than in the three previous years — 91% in 2006 and 2007, and 92% in 2008.

Hope surveys had customarily been at high levels, starting at 87% when the SWS first polled about hope in December 2000, and 88% in December 2001. In December 2002, New Year hope reached a record high of 95 percent before declining to 90 percent in December 2003. It slumped to 81 percent at the end of December 2004, but rebounded to 85 percent in 2005 and to 91 percent in 2006.

Except for that period following the Garci cheating scandal in 2004 when street protests nearly toppled Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from Malacanang, Filipinos have been traditionally hopeful of the coming year.

It may be worthwhile to note that in Germany, where the first survey about fear and hope was made in 1991, hope among Germans never topped 58% in any year from 1991 to the present. It is ironic that the Philippines, one of the poorest countries in the world, has a much higher hope rating than Germany, which is the world’s fifth largest economy, next only to the United States, China, Japan and India.

Analysts cite the resiliency and the traditionally happy disposition of Filipinos as the reason for their eternal optimism in the face of poverty, disasters, calamities, corruption and inefficiency of government, and the prolonged separation of families because of the export of labor. This was clearly shown during the typhoon Yolanda disaster in Central Visayas and was recognized by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, US State Secretary John Kerry, UN chief Kim Ban-moon and many others who witnessed how the Filipinos “dusted off the dirt” and went on with their lives in the midst of extreme deprivation, devastation and death.

That Filipinos remain hopeful despite all these negative factors is indeed a testament to the resiliency of Filipinos, which was first noted by the late President Manuel L. Quezon who described Filipinos as “pliant like a bamboo,” in reference to the bamboo tree, which bends with the wind and survives the storm. This inherent characteristic of the Filipino enables him to survive disasters and calamities that confront him, enabling him to adjust to life’s difficulties and move on.

But whether such eternal optimism and resiliency is good for the country or not is another thing.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer, for example, commented in an editorial in 2005 that “it may well be that Filipino optimism is actually what is holding the country back, rather than pushing it forward.”

The editorial added: “In a year marked by serious scandal, at a time when many of the nation’s institutions came under attack or (under) a pall of doubt, the Filipino seems ready to let bygones be bygones and – to use one of the catchphrases of the year – move on.

“This explanation (one of several, we hasten to add) is what makes the President and her defenders sleep better at night; the Filipino views what’s coming up with more hope than fear because he finds it easy to forgive and to forget what had gone before.”

In conclusion, the Inquirer said: “In other words, we may be incurable optimists because we expect too little of the future, or from ourselves. We let alleged crimes slide because we do not demand an accounting; we are happy to continue eating two square meals a day and call that progress. Enough already. If this is optimism, let’s all get real.”

In a blog, one Totie Mesia said about the Filipinos’ optimism: “We rightly laud our innate positive mentality which helps us cope with the economic crisis. But we have the temptation to look at reality in a blurry prism, sometimes with a tinge of “denial.” Our country is mired in a protracted “crisis” which makes it tempting to rest painful issues at the backburner. Perhaps, the survey should not bring us that much of hope if we understand our situation more.”

And that precisely is the problem with the Filipinos’ eternal optimism. Because we have set the bar too low, we tend to be satisfied with what we have even though it is clearly not enough, and in this situation, it is not difficult to be hopeful. And because of our ever-hopeful spirit, we tend to ignore the problems of the past and move on, only to encounter the same problems in the coming year.

The problem with these hope surveys is that they are usually conducted in the first week of December, when a festive atmosphere prevails over the Philippines because of the coming Christmas season. At this time of the year, Filipinos put their problems under the rug and put a happy face for the most festive of all Filipino celebrations. And besides, many of them enjoy a moment of satisfaction at this time of the year, having just received or about to receive 13th month pay, bonuses and other perks.

While hope is generally a good thing, too much of it can bring bad results. After all, isn’t it a fact of life that anything in excess is not a good thing?

(valabelgas@aol.com)

GLIMPSES
By Jose Ma. Montelibano

Newly elected Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina appears on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the VaticanWe are celebrating the Christmas Season still, Christmas Day has come and gone, but not the spirit, not at all the spirit. Most Filipinos are Christian, and even the Muslim minority, and the Communist Left, have traditionally accepted this season as very special to Christians.

Pope Francis, too, gives Christmas and the Catholic faith a renewed spark. His personal actuation that has consistently translated to Papal action and exhortation may be shocking to some Talibans in the Church hierarchy but is causing many more Catholics more than just a sigh of relief. I personally believe that it is the authentic love for humanity, and especially for the poor, that serves as an armor for Pope Francis, that keeps him largely irreproachable by rightists and fundamentalists in the Church.

And as Pope, Francis does not pretend that he can understand and speak for the limitless of God’s love for the mankind He created. By putting no boundaries, or partisanship, in God’s love, Pope Francis veers away from judging, and being judgmental. Accepting his own sinful state (in other words, his humanity), Pope Francis places on a pedestal the importance of forgiveness, God’s forgiveness of man, and man’s forgiveness towards one another.

More than just shunning away from pomp and gaudy protocol, Pope Francis takes the side of the poor and has become their primary spokesperson and defender. By distancing himself, and giving the example for the Church as an institution to follow, his moral ascendancy now allows Pope Francis to address the world of nations and leaders and appeal for the poor. The appeal, though, is not only for sympathy, it is for radical change against what contributes to poverty – greed and institutional values that nourish it.

The Pope has looked to the very institution and hierarchy that he leads yet firmly and clearly points out the attitudes and practices that have corroded its purity and noble purpose. Catholics and non-Catholics alike who have been victims of the hypocrisy so similar to the infamous Pharisees and Scribes of yore feel affirmed that their understanding of Christ and His teachings were, after all, sound. It had been a source of great puzzlement, and deep disappointment, that the very simplicity of the life of Jesus, His unwavering love for the poor, the sick, the oppressed, seemed to have been discarded for ornate churches and the authoritarianism these represent.

The evangelistic perspective so lovingly taught by Jesus Himself, exhorting all to love one another and using that love to draw each other towards a divine pathway had transformed itself to a grotesque application of conquest through fear and dictatorship. For so long, the challenge for conversion became the numbers game of recruitment. It is, therefore, quite understandable that the more developed societies who have become less fearful of a God painted as vindictive. But in doing so, these countries who had been the earliest Christians and Catholics, have also been denying their presence to many churches and masses in Western Europe.

In the Philippines, the same pattern of waning influence by the Catholic Church has been experienced. The percentage of Filipino Catholics has been reducing, and their solidarity alarmingly weakening, especially in a long-drawn and terribly divisive conflict over a reproductive health bill. The acerbic and belligerence image of high-profile bishops contrasted with the primary commandments of love and the Christian message of forgiveness, both of which define the heart of Pope Francis’ exhortations.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines, though, is most vulnerable when it comes to the massive poverty long afflicting tens of millions of Filipinos. Landlessness, or the theft of the land belonging to natives of the country by the same Spanish crown that awarded the Catholic Church with vast tracts of land, has been pinpointed as the root cause of this massive poverty. The wealth of a land considered among the richest in biodiversity and the creativity and talents of a people who have proven themselves in various fields around the world point out that poverty is not a natural state of the population. But most Filipinos still remain landless while the Church cannot even begin to make public how much land it still owns after already selling so much in the last several decades.

The papacy, then, of Pope Francis forces the Church to confront itself because he is going very visibly against poverty to a point that he questions the wealth and practices associated with Church rule. The Pope is confronting the very issue that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the Philippines has been turning a blind eye to – a poverty that it has directly and historically contributed to. The courage of a Pope to focus on reforming the Church has not weakened the institution but actually refreshes the faith of members. It may upset the more vociferous among bishops in the Philippines but promises a new dawn for Filipino Catholics seeking solace and peace from their spiritual pastors.

The Church hierarchy in the Philippines has long made pronouncements about being pro-poor but has never matched that intention with official behavior. It had indulged in more politics and rhetoric that have pitted Catholics against Catholics rather than inspire its flock to do battle against poverty. Anti-corruption and Pro-choice issues have been the preferred causes, almost a diversionary strategy to avoid issues of poverty and hunger. That posture will have to change with the leadership by example of Pope Francis, and poor Filipinos have found a powerful champion.

Politics and religion are mechanisms intended to promote well being on earth and beyond earthly life. Yet, these two fields of human endeavor have caused so much conflict everywhere, not just the Philippines. The example of a Catholic leader embracing simplicity and pleading for the poor of the world may just yet be the spark that can tilt global concern and action to effective pro-poor intervention. But in the Philippines, should Pope Francis inspire Catholics to follow his example, a new dawn will emerge, history will change its course, and the future will be full of hope.

By Roderick L. Abad
Business Mirror

Typhoon-Yolanda-Haiyan-2013.4NONGOVERNMENT group Gawad Kalinga (GK) is currently constructing around 300 houses as part of its goal to build 20,000 dwellings for the survivors of Supertyphoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan) that hit central Philippines last month.

With the initial batch of houses now being built in Ormoc City, GK Chairman and Founder Tony Meloto told the BusinessMirror that they expect them to be finished by February 2014.

“They will be completed in three months. So we’re now fast tracking the construction for their turnover next year. Others will follow soon. So we still need 1 million volunteers next year,” he said in Filipino.

Apart from Ormoc, the group is eyeing to build GK villages in over 300 barangays in areas affected by the storm, including Tacloban in Leyte; Sara, Estancia and Concepcion in Iloilo; Capiz and even Daan Bantayan in Cebu.

Meloto said the project requires P2.5 billion to build two-story concrete housing units for the beneficiaries left homeless by the devastating storm to ever hit the country. To date, various companies here and abroad have already pledged monetary support to GK. These include Mövenpick Resort, with a donation of P10 million; Credit Suisse, P15 million; and The Peninsula Group, $500,000 or roughly P22 million.

Social enterprise Human Nature, on the other hand, has committed in kind with 100 housing units.

“We don’t know whether [building all the 20,000 houses] will happen or not. The most important thing is at least we’ve tried [and already started]. We hope to build [all of] these with [the help of other private] corporations,” he said, citing other GK supporters as possible donors such as Toyota Motor Philippines Corp., San Miguel Corp., Hyundai Asia Resources Inc., and SM Group of Companies.

Even before Yolanda wrecked havoc in Central Visayas, GK has already established 400 villages in most of the hardly ruined areas.

Meloto said that they also need to provide about 5,000 roofings for those families affected by the super typhoon and fishing boats for their livelihood.

http://businessmirror.com.ph/index.php/en/business/companies/24853-gk-aims-to-build-20-000-houses-for-yolanda-victims

POSTSCRIPT
By Federico D. Pascual JR.
The Philippine Star

New-Year-2014THROW THE TRASH: Before a new year slips in at midnight, we still have time to dispose of last year’s garbage, especially the psychological trash weighing down heavily on our minds.

Sorting out personal problems, you will discover that except for physical difficulties and survival issues, many of our worries are only in the mind. Many times we fret and lose sleep over what people might think or say, or what someone dear to us might do.

These relationship and social complications are not a matter of life and death. As they fester mostly in the mind, they are usually solved by just making adjustments — or by ignoring them.

Imagined problems are our own creation. We think they are a problem and they become so. By the same process, we should be able to banish them from our mind, and our lives, at will.

So, will it! Right now! Gather and throw out the garbage of your mind, thereby making room for the joy and hope of a New Year!

* * *

ETERNAL OPTIMIST: The latest survey says that 94 percent of Filipinos, despite having been battered by human and natural calamities, still look forward to 2014 with hope rather than trepidation.

Siempre, what else will the fatalistic Filipino think or do? He did not die, right? So, bahala na, makaaahon din siya sa awa ng Dios. (He will survive, with God’s help.)

Having sunk that low in his economic situation, the Filipino cannot go anywhere but up. Or so he thinks — actually without empirical basis but by the sheer bounce of optimism.

Those who have much more in life and those who hold us by the neck humor Filipinos by telling them that they are resilient. Desperate as we are, we eternal optimists swallow the line.

And when the survey interviewers fielded by friends of the Palace come around to ask, we tell them back the same optimistic resilience line.

The administration kids us, and we kid it back —even if the bad joke hits us in the guts where it hurts.

* * *

UNREPRESENTATIVE SAMPLE: We assume in this discussion that the survey report quoted in the news is reliable and not one of those commissioned table surveys where the pollster tailors the results to what the client or patron wants.

Many people wonder if these surveys are reliable. It is said that there are two reports in a survey ­— just as the corner hardware store has two books, one for City Hall and the Bureau of Internal Revenue and another for the owner to have the correct business picture.

Until now I cannot understand why a tiny sample of 1,200 respondents can be used as the representative of a universe of a heterogeneous national population of more than 95 million scattered over 1,700 or so islands.

* * *

DEMOGRAPHICS: There were 1,490 towns and 144 cities in our 81 provinces as of the last gerrymandering. Polling 1,200 respondents means there are some towns and cities without even one adult who was interviewed face to face.

Complicating the demographic picture is the fact that the population is stratified and subdivided horizontally and vertically into various sets of economic, educational, ethnic and other groups.

Still, even without a survey I can believe that the Filipino, his precious cellphone in hand, is liable to exude unbridled optimism despite being hounded by natural disasters and the man-made calamities of unemployment, poverty, hunger and lack of security.

* * *

FOREIGN INVESTMENTS: Who would not force himself to be optimistic in the face of overwhelming yearend statistics being showered on the masses by the Aquino administration?

Somebody who looked like Press Secretary Sonny Coloma said over the weekend that President Noynoy Aquino has lured foreign investors into plunking in fresh capital of P334 billion in response to his sales pitch during trips and meetings in 26 countries since 2010.

Where are all those billions in terms of visible direct investments in factories and such businesses churning out products or providing services and contributing to the gross national product?

Counting the chicks even before they are hatched, Coloma said more than P611 billion in fresh investments have also been promised to the Philippines by China, Japan, the United States and Great Britain. This is expected to generate some 100,000 more jobs, he added.

* * *

PREVENTIVE STEPS: We are again going through the bloody business of counting the people killed or maimed by firecrackers and other devices being exploded in a wild sendoff for the outgoing year and the joyous welcome for a new, hopefully better, year.

We even have a running score of the fatalities and those injured, comparing the number with those of the previous year.

Has anybody in government thought that prevention would be cheaper and less maddening? It is a lot easier to assign policemen and inspectors to check daily all fireworks factories and thus prevent the manufacture — and sale — of outsized bombs and murderous explosives.

At the same time, Customs and the police must keep a tight watch on the smuggling of prohibited firecrackers and pyrotechnics products. This is cheaper and saner preemptive action than saving or treating victims of runaway New Year revelry.

The Philippine National Police do not have to go through the ridiculous rites of taping the barrel of service firearms to prevent, kuno, their unauthorized firing.

We think that the better thing to do is to issue a stern order for policemen and agents not to fire their guns. Has discipline so deteriorated in the PNP that a mere order is not enough?

* * *

RESEARCH: Access past POSTSCRIPTs at www.manilamail.com. Follow us via Twitter.com/@FDPascual. Send feedback to dikpascual@gmail.com

Sourve: SciDev.Net

 

Flickr/Fotos Govba

Flickr/Fotos Govba

Speed read

A retired scientist from Australian university got his anti-dengue drug tested in Indonesia

Results of clinical trials reportedly show ability to cure all four strains of dengue

But experts criticise tests’ lack of transparency and reject drug’s reported claims

[JAKARTA] A controversial herbal drug for dengue has been claimed by its inventor to have passed the third phase of clinical trial in Indonesia, and the claims about ‘cure for dengue’ have been making rounds on the internet, but some scientists have questioned any such claims as unsubstantiated.

The alleged drug was invented by Max Reynolds, a retired Australian scientist from Griffith University, using the concentrate of Melaleuca alternifolia, also known as tea tree, a shrub native to Australia. The plant reportedly has antiviral characteristics and is said to cure all four strains of dengue.

The claims have reached Kenya this month, with The Star reporting that “Local medics have welcomed development of a drug that can completely cure dengue fever” (16 December).

But doctors and scientists in Australia doubt the drug’s reported ability to cure dengue.

Cameron Webb, scientist and clinical lecturer at Marie Bashir Institute of Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity, University of Sydney, says results of the trials have not been published yet and Reynolds’ report on his new drug is not in any peer-reviewed journals and, therefore, could not be validated.

“It is impossible to make a judgement on the effectiveness of any drug, or the manner in which clinical trials were undertaken, without seeing the work — ideally through publication in an internationally recognised peer-reviewed publication,” Webb tells SciDev.Net.

Reynolds says he conducted the first stage of his clinical trial on animals in University of Gajah Mada, Yogyakarta, in 2006. The reported success of the trial led to a second stage, where Reynolds says he administered the drug to a group of healthy humans at the University of Indonesia. He then approached the research division of Indonesia’s Ministry of Health to get their permission in conducting the third stage of the trial, where he applied the drug to 504 people with dengue fever in hospitals and government’s clinic in Indonesia.

Siswanto, head of the Centre for Applied Health Technology and Epidemiology Clinic in Indonesia’s Ministry of Health, says his office is supportive of Reynolds’ invention because Indonesia has a large prevalence of dengue — about 10,000 cases each year — so it is interested in research on a cure for the disease.

Reynolds’ company Neumedix, which funded all the clinical trials, has applied for an approval from Indonesia’s National Agency for Food and Drugs Control (BPOM) to manufacture the drug. If the company gets a licence, it plans to release the drug in tablet form to the local market sometime in 2014 at US$50 per bottle.

But Webb criticised the definition of “success” in the clinical trials that Reynolds and the Indonesian scientists’ claim.

“What was the measure of success in the treatment of human cases?” he asks, adding that it is not clear what claims about decrease in viral load mean in “relation to human disease unless full details of the result are made available and can be reviewed”.

Steven Donohue, a physician from Queensland Public Health, told ABC Radio Australia (28 September) that he would not recommend anyone use the drug.

“All they have done is show that the well-known antiseptic properties of tea tree are able to kill dengue which we already knew,” he said.

Tarik Jasarevic, WHO’s media relations officer, tells SciDev.Net: “We haven’t seen research from the clinical trials so we cannot comment on the effectiveness of the product.”

Jasaveric adds: “It is not our practice to comment on new medical products before it is approved by a national regulatory agency.”

Both Siswanto and Nasronudin, head of the Institute of Tropical Diseases at the University of Airlangga, say they are not aware of the criticisms against Reynolds’ drug and defend their research collaboration with Reynolds.

“Our task as scientists is to do research. It is up to the public whether they want to accept the result of our research or not,” Nasronudin asserts.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.

http://www.scidev.net/asia-pacific/health/news/alleged-cure-for-dengue-in-indonesia-stirs-debate.html

Staff Reporter
Want China Times

The Liaoning anchors at its home port in Qingdao, Shandong province. (Photo/CNS)

The Liaoning anchors at its home port in Qingdao, Shandong province. (Photo/CNS)

China is constructing a 110,000-tonne nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with the capability to challenge the USS Gerald R Ford — the largest carrier in the United States Navy — either on Shanghai’s Changxing island or in Dalian in northeast China’s Liaoning province, according to the Moscow-based Russia Today.

According to a Dec. 23 report by New Delhi-based Business Standard, China’s new domestic aircraft carrier is based on the blueprint of a 80,000-tonne carrier constructed in the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, which was designed to carry 60 aircraft.

Concerning the rumors, Li Jie, a senior colonel in the PLA Navy, told the state-run Global Times that China is capable of constructing such an aircraft carrier but added that it is doubtful that the country will look to do so at present as the PLA Navy does not presently need such a big ship.

He said that operating a 110,000-tonne nuclear-powered carrier in open waters would be more complicated than constructing one and that the PLA Navy will need time to prepare and study the possibilities before starting construction.

“We have to know how many aircraft we want to operate with the carrier,” said Li. “It is also crucial to know how the aircraft will take off from and land on the carrier and what kind of power we need to operate the ship before building it.” Li added that it is also important to consider what kind of challenges the ship will face once operating in the open sea.

Before China starts to think about building its next-generation aircraft carrier, the Global Times said that it is important for the PLA Navy to fully understand the Liaoning, the nation’s first aircraft carrier, a refitted conventional Soviet-era carrier purchased from the Ukraine. Operating an aircraft carrier is even a difficult task for the United States Navy which has had almost 100 years of experience with the vessel, the paper said, adding that it will not be easy for China as a beginner.

http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20131225000138&cid=1101

The potential remains for mishaps involving naval vessels and military aircraft in the South China Sea.
 
By Carl Thayer
The Diplomat

Image Credit: Flickr/U.S. Navy

Image Credit: Flickr/U.S. Navy

On November 26, the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning left its homeport of Qindao, Shandong province for its first deployment to the South China Sea. The Liaoning was accompanied by two destroyers, the Shenyang and Shijiazhuang, and two missile frigates, Yantai and Weifang. The Chinese navy website reported that the carrier group would carry out “scientific research, tests and military drills.”

The Liaoning’s deployment was closely monitored in international waters by the USS Cowpens (CG-63), a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser.

On December 5, a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ship made radio contact with the Cowpens and asked it to leave the area. The USS Cowpens replied that it was in international waters and declined to change course.

The Cowpens was then shouldered by a PLAN Amphibious Dock Ship that suddenly crossed its bow at a distance of less than 500 meters and stopped in the water. The USS Cowpens was forced to take evasive action to avoid a collision.

The two ships made bridge-to-bridge contact to ensure safety of navigation. There were no further incidents.

A report in the Global Times provided a different account of this incident. A Chinese source “familiar with this confrontation” stated that the USS Cowpens had entered within a forty-five kilometer inner defense layer of the Liaoning carrier group. The Chinese source further charged that, “the USS Cowpens was tailing after and harassing the Liaoning formation. It took offensive actions at first towards the Liaoning formation on the day of the confrontation.”

A State Department official revealed that the incident was raised at a high level with the Chinese government.

A statement issued by the U.S. Pacific Fleet stated, “this incident underscores the need to ensure the highest standards of professional seamanship, including communications between vessels, to mitigate the risk of an unintended incident or mishap.”

An unnamed US defense official noted, “U.S. leaders have been clear about our commitment to develop a stable and continuous military-to-military relationship with China. Whether it is a tactical at-sea encounter, or strategic dialogue, sustained and reliable communication mitigates the risk of mishaps, which is in the interest of both the U.S. and China.”

Sixteen years ago the United States first proposed to China an agreement on maritime and air safety. This proposal was pursued by General John Shalikasvili, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he met his counterpart General Fu Quanyou, Chief of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) General Staff, in Beijing in May 1997.

The matter of a maritime and air safety agreement was raised again in October 1997 at the summit meeting between President Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin. One outcome of this summit was an agreement to hold regular Defense Consultative Talks (DCT) and to conclude an agreement on military maritime and air safety.

The first U.S.-China DCT was held at the Pentagon three months later and both sides initialed a draft agreement on military maritime and air safety. In January 1998, the two sides formally adopted the Agreement Between the Department of Defense of the United States of America and the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China on Establishing a Consultation Mechanism to Strengthen Military Maritime Safety.

This agreement is usually referred to as the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA). It was intended to set up a framework for dialogue to minimize the chances of accidents between U.S. and PLA forces operating in the sea and air. The first plenary meeting of the MMCA was held in Washington in July 1998.

The DCT were suspended by China following the NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in May 1999 and were not resumed until January 2000.

Defense Consultative Talks were suspended again for two years by the United States following the April 2001 incident in which a PLA Navy F-8 fighter collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3 reconnaissance plane in international airspace over the South China Sea. The damaged EP-3 was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island.

The EP-3 incident resulted in the U.S. and China convening their first special meeting under the MMCA on Guam in September 2001 to discuss how to prevent similar incidents.

The U.S. raised the following issues: principles of safe flight and navigation for military services conducted on the high seas, international air space and Exclusive Economic Zone, and safety of ships and aircraft exercising the right of distressed entry. The matter was then placed in the hands of an MMCA working group. No results were forthcoming over the next twelve years that might have prevented the USS Cowpens incident.

Because the MMCA talks stalled, the U.S. and China set up a Special Policy Dialogue in early 2005 to address defense policy issues not covered by the MMCA. The Security Policy Dialogue led to the establishment of formal Defense Policy Coordination Talks (DPCT) in December 2006.

U.S.-China military-to-military relations were set back again after the USNS Impeccable incident in March 2009. Since then China began tabling a demand that the United States address three obstacles in order for military-to-military relations to progress. The three obstacles include: ending arms sales to Taiwan, repealing provisions of the FY2000 National Defense Authorization Act prohibiting twelve areas of military cooperation, and a halt to close-in reconnaissance by U.S. aircraft and ships in China’s Exclusive Economic Zone. China also downgraded the DPCT to working level.

The informal summit meeting between Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping in Sunnylands in June 2013 set the stage for an improvement in bilateral military-to-military relations.

The fourteenth DCT were held in Beijing on September 9. The two sides discussed how to develop strategic trust, build on areas of cooperation including maritime safety, and enhance communications to avoid misperception. The DCT concluded by placing these issues in the hands of maritime legal experts and by agreeing to sustain bilateral dialogue.

The USS Cowpens incident reveals that after sixteen years of efforts to negotiate an agreement on maritime and air safety there is little evidence that military-to-military consultations and strategic dialogue have reduced strategic mistrust and raised transparency. A wide gulf continues to separate China and the United States and future encounters of naval vessels and military aircraft in and over the South China Sea could result in further mishaps.

http://thediplomat.com/2013/12/uss-cowpens-incident-reveals-strategic-mistrust-between-u-s-and-china/

Top Israeli defense official allegedly resigns over transfer approval for military equipment move to China; US fears Chinese sale to Iran.
 
By Tova Dvorin
Israel National News

Phalcon (illustrative)

Phalcon (illustrative)

A top Israeli defense official was forced to step down last week, according to Maariv Sunday, after the United States expressed fury at Israel’s decision to sell military equipment to China.

Meir Shalit, the Department Head for Defense Exports at the Defense Ministry, announced his resignation last week. While Shalit did not announce the reasons behind his resignation, the report claims that he voluntary resigned after US official investigations last month over the transfer revealed that the move took place with his approval. Shalit apologized to the US in a visit late last week.

The conflict, according to the daily, stems from different interpretations of the military weapon support contract between the US and Israel.

Israel explained to US officials that sensitive components of the equipment had been removed before the transfer and were being held in Europe.

However, the US insisted that the fact that equipment eventually made its way to China at all presents a security risk to the Middle East.

The US is concerned that the advanced technology could trickle from China to Iran, according to the report. Iran tried to buy equipment from China at least once to boost its nuclear weapons production, according to a report published earlier this year.

The specific technology in question includes a miniature refrigeration system manufactured by Ricor, which is used for missiles and in electro-optic equipment.

The US and Israel have clashed over weapons and air force transfers before. Between 2000-2003, the US forced Israel to cancel sale of the Phalcon airborne radar system to China, at a steep price of over $300 million in compensation fees.

China and Israel have strengthened their political and economic ties considerably over the past year.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Jerusalem last week to discuss the economic possibilities, several months after both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett made successful trips to the Far Eastern country.

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/175404#.UrqM0PYZzJy

ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas

CREDIT: MICHAEL W. DOUGLAS/The Lufkin News

CREDIT: MICHAEL W. DOUGLAS/The Lufkin News

For Filipinos who have been outside of the Philippines for years, Christmas is both a time for rejoicing and a time for remembering. Even as the Filipino in America begins to feel the holiday mood immediately after Thanksgiving when people start shopping for gifts and Christmas decors, he feels at the same time a longing for home. For nothing beats Christmas in the Philippines!

After living on a distant shore all these years, I can truly say that nothing beats the way Filipinos celebrate Christmas. The genuine joy that the season brings to millions of Filipinos in the Philippines is the same reason why the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos living outside the Philippines yearn for home at this time of the year.

For even just during those few days that Christmas is celebrated in the Philippines, many Filipinos feel they can share the blessings that the world brings. Because of the mandatory 13th month pay and the bonuses paid by nearly all companies, big and small alike, many people are able to afford what they can only dream about the rest of the year.

For the children of the poor, the Christmas season is only one of two instances when their parents can afford to buy them new set of clothes and new pairs of shoes, the other being the school opening. Christmas is also the only time for many of these children to own a brand new toy, often as a gift from their parents or from their ninong or ninang.

The Christmas season is also their chance to earn some money to buy candies or toys. As early as December, young boys and girls prepare their instruments for their traditional carolling, making drums out of empty cans covered by plastic, tambourine out of bottle caps, and even just a pair of sticks to provide percussion. At dusk, they form into groups of three or four, and make their rounds starting on the night of Dec. 16 until Christmas eve. At the end of each night, the carolers count their earnings and divide them equally among themselves.

While the kids look forward to the advent of dusk during those nine days to earn some money, the teenagers await with anticipation the coming of dawn during that same period. For these teenagers, it is a chance to be with their crushes, girlfriends or boyfriends as they walk to the church in the biting cold. As early as three in the morning, from Dec. 16 to Dec. 24, they wake up and wear their best sweaters or jackets, have fun with their barkadas on the way to church, only to sleep while the mass is going on.

After the mass, they bounce back to life to join their friends again, feast on bibingkas and puto bungbong on their way home, and hang around a bit before being called home by their parents.

Towards midnight on Christmas Eve, parents and their children don their Christmas clothes and trek back to church for the Midnight Mass. The church becomes a venue for both solemn celebration of Christmas and a chance to mingle with friends again.

From the church, families retreat to their homes for the traditional noche buena, a minor preview of the grand celebration at lunchtime the next day. The noche buena often consists of pan amerikano (bread loaf) or pan de sal, keso (queso de bola for those who can afford), hot dog, coffee or hot chocolate, etc. Noche buenas are usually only for the family.

But the grand Christmas celebration, usually at midday of Christmas Day, is for the entire clan. It is an occasion for children and grandchildren to gather together in the house of the patriarch or matriarch of the clan. Family members exchange gifts, catch up on each other’s lives, and partake of the sumptuous meal. Children play games, the male family members drink beer or liquor, everybody participates in a singing session (using karaoke or otherwise), and the female members engage in endless banter.

Towards the afternoon, children, accompanied by their parents, visit their ninong and ninang to get their Christmas presents. Others visit friends, watch movies, and drink with friends. The merrymaking goes on till late at night. But the fun does not end there, because in six days, everybody gears up for a noisy New Year’s Eve revelry.

At least once a year, during the Christmas season, Filipinos are able to let off steam from the pressures of trying to survive, the poor are able to enjoy a bit of material happiness, families renew their bonds, and everyone has fun.

Christmas brings pure and genuine happiness to many Filipinos. It is this kind of joy that a Filipino living in a foreign land misses sorely about Christmas. It is this kind of Christmas celebration that Filipinos living on distant shores can only reminisce about.

(valabelgas@aol.com)

 

By Fr. Shay Cullen

Christmas-PREDAWhen I was growing up, Christmas was a lovely childhood story of the baby Jesus born in a clean looking stable surrounded by his loving parents in clean robes, singing angels, adoring shepherds, kings holding gifts and harmless adoring animals. Yet in reality, it was a hard, cold, miserable time for this impoverished couple, who were like refugees and soon became such, with almost nothing in the world as they fled the killer King Herod to Egypt. They were most likely overwhelmed by the cold bitter weather and hunger like the refugees from the conflict in Syria today, fleeing the cruel “King” Assad. They have only hovels and nowhere else to live. No singing angels for them.

In the Philippines, hundreds of thousands are suffering deprivation like that of Jesus and his parents as they struggle to survive in the ruins caused by the greatest typhoon ever to hit the Philippines. It will be a tough and hungry Christmas for them who still survive under plastic sheets and with relief handouts. With the wind, rains and devastation came another storm – human exploitation and trafficking of the victims and orphaned children.

In the evacuation centers that I visit with a Preda relief team, we see posters showing the photos of 3 to 15 year-olds mysteriously gone missing, most likely stolen and sold. Five children were rescued from traffickers by government social workers. A team of foreigners were bringing the children to Manila for so called “good jobs” but likely for sexual exploitation.

Reggie is a teenage boy whose village was wiped out, flattened by that storm named Haiyan (Yolanda in the Philippines). He and five others were offered jobs on a big fishing boat by a rich merchant. They took the chance and they worked for weeks on the fishing boat and were then dropped off on land, unpaid and abandoned. They lost their dignity and wages. Reggie lost his freedom too. He was found wandering the Manila streets and imprisoned with youth accused of crimes. That’s where we found him and got him freed. He will have a happier Christmas at Preda but over a million will not.

For many true Christians, Christmas is the most important feast of the year. It celebrates the inalienable rights and dignity of all humans. Jesus of Nazareth brought these rights into the world, lived them and taught them. His birth, life, and death were a turning point in the history of the world. The human rights of the poor, the oppressed, the victims of violations, the landless, and the hungry were proclaimed in his sermon on the mount.

The rights of children were established when he said that children were the most important in the Kingdom of God, whoever accepts them accepts Him. He introduced a new era but it has taken two thousand years for these rights to be truly respected, implemented, and defended. Christmas is the time to re-establish these values and rights in our hearts and minds, in our families and society.

Christmas is time too for family reunions, sharing of gifts, symbols of life and friendship. It is a time for renewing bonds and strengthening our spiritual values, and reflecting on the mystery of life.

Easter is equally important, it celebrates the triumph of good over evil, life over death, the weak over the powerful, death and resurrection; it also has the painful story of the suffering, torture and execution of Jesus of Nazareth, a good and loving man, Son of God, Son of Man, friend to all, Messiah of the downtrodden and the oppressed. That is a painful, but powerfully inspiring story.

Yet the Christmas story of His birth, the outcast family, poor and homeless, a child born in a cave or a hovel with animals and impoverished peasants, is for many people, more special. It celebrates caring and love, friendship and family. It’s inspiring too that in such poverty, God brought  about the birth of a great spiritual leader and teacher and prophet destined to challenge the ruling elites, defy the oppressors of the poor and bring values into the world that would change it and turn it inside out.

Jesus from Nazareth, a child from nowhere, became the greatest teacher the world has never forgotten despite many trying to deny, ignore and quash those values and rights. We must defend them to the end. Each of us can rediscover this great truth and experience the meaning of Christmas by renewing our faith and finding our spiritual strength to act to save the exploited, the abused and the hungry.

I thank all the good people who have supported the work at the Preda center here in Olongapo city and have donated generously to the appeal for the survivors of the typhoon whom we are helping by bringing relief directly to them. May all have a blessed and holy Christmas.

See photos on www.preda.org, photo gallery
Email: shaycullen@preda.org
Donations for Preda/ typhoon victims.
COLUMBAN FATHERS c/o St.Columban’s, Widney Manor Road, Solihull  B93 9AB.
or Columban Fathers, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath