The wRap


Your World in 10 - November 20, 2012 Edition

Obama in Asia

1. Obama returns to Asia, dives into disputed sea issues



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US President Barack Obama attends a summit dominated by issues on the rival claims to the South China Sea. The newly re-elected US president's return to Asia (he lived in Indonesia) is then expected to include diving into the tumultuous diplomatic waters in strategically vital area. Obama is widely expected to express concerns about the disputes between Beijing and its Southeast Asian neighbors, which have stoked tensions across the region this year and hampered efforts to foster economic co-operation. The US president is on the final leg of a three-nation trip to Asia aimed at deepening Washington's influence in the region and countering the rise of China, which claims sovereignty over virtually all of the sea. While China prefers to negotiate directly with its neighbors from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Obama and ASEAN leaders, including the Philippines, agreed to support a regional code of conduct to manage disputes over claims in the area.


Read more on Rappler here and here and here.




ASEAN meeting

2. Philippines pushes ASEAN unity over disputed sea



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At the ongoing Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Cambodia, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III continued to speak out about the tense territorial row in the South China Sea and urged member nations to forge a united stance. This stands against the stand of Cambodia--a China ally and the host of the meeting--that all 10 members of the bloc had agreed at a leaders' summit not to "internationalize" their disputes over rival claims. Aquino spoke about following the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to enhance maritime security and ensure freedom of navigation in the disputed sea. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, have claims to parts of the sea, which is home to some of the world's most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in fossil fuels, but China insists it has sovereign rights to virtually all of the sea.


Read more on Rappler.




Legislation

3. Sin tax bill still in limbo in Senate



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Senate has yet to approve the sin tax reform bill but agreed in principle to raise an additional P40 billion in revenues from cigarettes and alcohol. The P40 billion target is dubbed as “the crux of the bill,” which was expected to be passed on November 19 after President Aquino certified this as a priority measure and wants it passed by yearend. The Reproductive Health (RH) bill took up most of the chamber's time, resulting in senators lacking the time to tackle amendments and pass the sin tax bill on second and third reading.


Read more in Rappler here and here.




OFW security

4. Filipinos caught in conflict-torn Gaza



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Nearly 100 Filipinos trying to leave conflict-torn Gaza are being prevented from leaving the area, the Israeli Embassy in Manila said. To extricate the Filipinos, the Philippine government should use a third party negotiator to talk to Hamas since Israel, where Filipinos will be safer, "won't be able to negotiate" with the militant group. Many Filipinos in Gaza who are married to Palestinians and may be reluctant to leave, noted Foreign Affairs officials. The government is still readying "contingency plans" to evacuate them, either via the border with Egypt or through Jordan. The death toll in 6-days of multiple raids in Israel's bombing campaign have risen to 80 Palestinians and over 700 injuries.


Read more on Rappler.




Bad bet?

5. Bribery raps haunt Philippines' casino plans



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The Philippine authorities are finally digging into the reported US$40-million bribery allegations that Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada's firms paid off former regulatory officials of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) for incentives for its approved casino operations in Manila. A Reuters report followed the trail of some $5 million funds from a unit of Okada-led Universal Entertainment in Nevada, to a firm led by former Pagcor consultant Rodolfo "Boysee" Soriano. The fund transfers were made during the remaining months of the term of former President Gloria Arroyo, a close friend of former Pagcor chair Ephraim Genuino. Malacañang and current Pagcor officials said that if the allegations are proven true, they will revoke the license granted to Okada who leads one of the 4 groups awarded to develop a sprawling property meant to put the Philippines in the world gambling map.


Read more on Rappler here and here.




India reforms

6. How India is attracting foreign investors with aggressive reforms



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India, long wary of foreign investment, has readied the most aggressive reforms in decades meant to attract foreigners to take advantage of the various industries in the world's second most populous country. Restrictions have been lifted on mega-retailers, as well as barriers to investment in the aviation and broadcast media industries, and soon in the insurance and pension schemes. The changes follow long-time debates in the US that focus on how large retailers will force the closure of small, family-owned shops. Reformers hailed these reforms as an end of policy stagnation. While foreign operators are still required to partner with Indian companies and limited to cities with over 1 million people, the reforms have clinched the interest of Starbucks, Diageo, and other global brands.


Read more on CNN.




Philex fines

7. Verdict on P1-B Philex mine spill fine coming soon



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The final decision on the massive P1.034 billion fine the government has slapped on gold producer Philex Mining Corp for the tailings pond spill at its Padcal mine is expected to be announced this week. Philex is contesting the fine, citing force majeur, not negligence, as the cause of the tailings pond leakage, which resulted in spilling of mine wastage into river systems in Luzon starting August. The Padcal incident has put into question Philex's mark as the poster firm for responsible mining in the Philippines, pitting it against Marcopper, the country's biggest mining disaster in terms of toxicity.


Read more on Rappler.

Read the #WhyMining conversation on the different and similarities of the Philex and Marcopper disasters.




Peace plans

8. Colombia gov't, FARC rebels start peace talks again



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Colombia's leftist FARC rebels declared a unilateral two-month ceasefire on November 19 as they began talks in Cuba with the Bogota government on ending Latin America's longest-running insurgency. But the government of President Juan Manuel Santos immediately made clear it would not be bound by the ceasefire and military operations against the FARC would continue. Here in the Philippines, the government has just signed a peace plan with a major rebel group in the south, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Work and negotiations toward a final peace agreement and legislative measure the Aquino government is aiming to pass before 2016 are underway.


Read more on Rappler.




Media intelligence

9. How Petraeus mastered the art of media engagement



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Before his fall from grace, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) David Petraeus was considered by the American media as a master in the art of media cultivation. In an insightful column by Willy Stern on Forbes, the military journalist described Petraeus as a first-rate commander who knows how to use the engage with the press. The former CIA chief returned the calls and personally answered emailed questions of journalists and didn't rely solely on public relations handlers, among others. "There's no fundamental difference in leading troops where you want them to go, and influencing the media to your advantage," Stern wrote. He also showed how Petraeus's media strategy fared better than another disgraced general, Stanley A. McChrystal, who made "rookie mistakes," like trusting the 'wrong scribe."


Read more on Forbes.




Toilet

10. Japan's hi-tech toilets seek global domination



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Japan's high-tech toilets are aiming to rule the world, but cultural taboo is making that goal difficult to realize. TOTO, which sold over 30 million high-tech toilets, commonly known as "Washlets," is seeking global lavatory domination, but elusive markets, including shy US consumers, find that the fervor is not shared internationally. Washlets have heated seats, posterior shower jets, odor-masking function, computerized control panel with pictograms, hot-air bottom dryers and ambient background music. For a nation that claims globally recognized brand names such as Sony and Toyota, the Washlet's relative lack of overseas presence comes as a surprise to many foreign visitors, even if they're initially baffled by its dizzying array of functions and Japanese signage. Despite the challenges in reaching foreign consumers, tapping the hotel market has met with some success, executives said, while China and other East Asian nations have seen growing demand "because they have cultures similar to Japan."


Read more on Rappler here and here.