ASEAN leaders push for cessation of Myanmar coup crisis

Robie de Guzman   •   April 26, 2021   •   231

The leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have reached a five-point consensus on the Myanmar coup crisis during their meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia over the weekend.

In a joint statement, ASEAN leaders demanded, “immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and (that) all parties shall exercise utmost restraint.”

“Constructive dialogue among all parties shall commence to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people,” the statement read.

A special envoy of the ASEAN chair shall “facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, with the assistance of the Secretary-General of ASEAN,” in Myanmar, the Southeast Asian bloc added.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah from Brunei is the current chair of the regional bloc.

“The special envoy and delegation shall visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned,” it said.

“ASEAN shall provide humanitarian assistance through the AHA Center,” it added.

More than 700 people have been killed since the military coup in Myanmar began on February 1.

In a separate statement, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the five-point consensus reached by the ASEAN leaders seek to improve the situation in Myanmar.

Locsin stressed that Brunei’s role as ASEAN chairperson “puts it in a strong position to lead ASEAN as it offers assistance to Myanmar in ending violence, restoring peace, and facilitating its return to political normalcy.”

The regional bloc also reiterated calls for the immediate release of political prisoners in Myanmar, as well as the importance of Myanmar’s continued efforts to address the situation in Rakhine State, including the repatriation of Rohingya Muslim minority group.

Some one million Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh, and the ASEAN leaders said their repatriation should be done in a safe and dignified manner in accordance with its bilateral agreements with Bangladesh.

In response to the ASEAN leaders’ call, Myanmar’s newly former National Unity Government welcomed the five-point consensus on the coup crisis, and stressed that they are waiting for a firm action by ASEAN to de-escalate the conflict.

“We eagerly await the engagement by the ASEAN Secretary General as mandated by this meeting. We look forward to a firm action by ASEAN to follow up it decisions and restore our democracy for our people and for the region,” it said.

Myanmar’s Chairman of the State Administration Council, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, also said that his country is focused on restoring peace and stability to improve the current situation, and that they would consider ASEAN’s positive and sound proposals, taking into account their domestic situation.

The ASEAN leaders’ meeting held on April 24 was presided by Bolkiah, and attended by Hlaing, ASEAN Secretary-General Dato Lim Jock Hoi, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, and Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.

President Rodrigo Duterte skipped the summit but he designated Locsin as his Special Envoy to the meeting. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Rosalie Coz)

DOF orders tighter watch on rice imports following tariff cuts

Robie de Guzman   •   June 7, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Finance (DOF) on Monday ordered the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to keep a tighter watch on incoming rice imports to ensure the proper collection of taxes following the implementation of tariff rate cuts.

In a statement, the DOF said Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III issued the directive pursuant to President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order 135, which mandates the temporary adjustment of tariff rates on rice imports to offset the effect on consumers of the continuous increase in the price of rice from other countries, particularly those coming from ASEAN countries, and thereby reduce inflationary pressures.

The DOF said the EO 135 would enable the country to diversify its market sources for rice and maintain the stable supply and affordable price of the cereal for Filipino consumers.

Dominguez cited India as a possible source of cheap rice imports.

“I think there will be a shift in the imports of Thai and Vietnamese rice, and Burmese (Myanmar) rice, to rice from other countries where the value is much lower. Just keep an eye on that,” Dominguez told Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero during a recent executive committee meeting.

During the meeting, Guerrero said the BOC is currently reviewing the valuation of rice shipments from Vietnam, noting that most of the imports from there were “declared with values lower than the published prevailing prices for such exports from that country.”

“We discovered that many of these importations are under a tentative assessment so we are reviewing the payments,” Guerrero said.

He said the average value of rice imports, coming mostly from Vietnam, dropped 12.7 percent to P19,312 per metric ton (MT) in May 2021, compared to P22,119 per MT in the same month last year.

The average value of rice in May was also lower than the P21,066 per MT recorded in April and P22,119 per MT in March.

Guerrero previously reported increasing tariff collections despite lower import volumes because of a steady improvement in the BOC’s valuation system.

Preliminary data showed that from January 1 to April 30, a total of 804,360MT of rice shipments worth P17 billion entered the country, representing a 9.2-percent decline from the 885,645MT valued at P16.4 billion that were imported during the same period last year.

Duterte to skip April 24 ASEAN Leaders’ meeting in Jakarta – Palace

Robie de Guzman   •   April 22, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte will not be attending a summit of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which will be held in Jakarta, Indonesia on April 24, Malacañang said Thursday.

“Ang president po, hindi personally mag-a-attend. But I’m sure that our Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will be there,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a media briefing.

Roque did not say why Duterte would be skipping the meeting but the DFA said in a statement that the president “decided to remain in the country to attend to pressing domestic concerns in light of the surge of COVID-19 cases.”

“President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has designated Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. as his Special Envoy to the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting to be held on 24 April 2021 at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia,” the DFA said.

“The Philippines strongly supported the convening of the Meeting even without the full attendance of all ASEAN Leaders,” it added.

The department said the special leaders’ meeting will “address urgent matters in the region, including recovery efforts, the situation in Myanmar, ASEAN community building efforts, external relations, and regional and international issues.”

“The President, through Secretary Locsin, will convey the Philippines’ commitment to ASEAN’s collective efforts in addressing threats and challenges to peace and stability in the region,” the DFA said.

“Secretary Locsin will also express the Philippines’ strong support to the initiative of Brunei Darussalam and the Secretary-General of ASEAN to use their good offices, in accordance with the ASEAN Charter, to visit Myanmar and spearhead ASEAN’s response to the crisis in Myanmar,” it added.

PH COVID-19 vaccination rollout ranks third in ASEAN – DOH

Robie de Guzman   •   April 20, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines ranks third among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the number of doses of COVID-19 vaccines that were so far administered, the Department of Health (DOH) said.

Data presented by Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje on Monday showed that the Philippines has already used a total of 1,456,793 COVID-19 vaccine doses, following Indonesia with 15.8 million and Singapore with 1.6 million doses.

The information presented by Cabotaje during an online briefing was based on April 14 Bloomberg data and other reports from Foreign Service Posts.

The health official said the Philippines was able to administer many of the doses delivered despite vaccine supply problems.

“Ang ating comparison ay number of administered doses kasi that will tell us gaano karami ang nakukuha nating doses at gaano tayo kabilis magbigay ng doses,” she said.

“One million out of 100 million is about 1% of the total population, but we are targeting 70 million,” she added.

Cabotaje, however, said that the vaccination rank on data presented was not based on the number of vaccinated individuals per population.

She explained that the data shows the speed of vaccination in the country as compared to other nations.

“Yung Bloomberg na yan ang kinuha niya – the number of jabs – and then nag-supply lang tayo ng data. But we can look later kung ano ang pwedeng denominator, ano yung total population na gusto nilang bakunahan,” she said.

The Philippine government rolled out its COVID-19 vaccination program on March 1 following the delivery of Sinovac Biotech’s CoronaVac vaccines donated by the Chinese government.

The country has so far received over 3 million COVID-19 vaccines.

More vaccine doses are expected to arrive this month including 1 million doses from Sinovac, 500,000 from Russia’s Gamaleya Institute, and 194,000 doses from Pfizer.

“500,000 on April 22 and another on April 29. May indication, you know it can always change that we may have Pfizer vaccines that are arriving end of April and also Gamaleya Sputnik V, may kaunting initial… 20,000 doses,” Cabotaje said.

“In May, we are expecting another 2.5 Million of Sinovac and we are expecting the AstraZeneca from COVAX, hopefully by May or at the least very early part of June to cover iyong second dose natin,” she added.

The national government is targeting to inoculate 70 million people this year.

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