The Lenten season is almost here, but before everyone goes on a retreat mode, the presidential candidates have another debate yesterday, this time in Cebu.
The Commission on Elections promised a shorter time for advertisements and longer time for the candidates to expound on their agendas. Unfortunately, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago opted out of the debate due to health reasons.
Whoever wins the race might be facing a tough time with some very important issues such as the US military bases, money laundering, and threat of climate change.
Five Military Bases for US on Philippine Soil
In 2014, the Philippines and the US strengthened their alliance by the signing of the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement or ECA.
The said agreement is a result of the tension between the Philippines and China due to disputes in the West Philippine Sea also known as the South China Sea.
US Department Spokesperson, John Kirby, made it clear that the action is for the Philippines and not for any other country in the region. It is not offensive or provocative.
EDCA allows the US to “increase military presence… through rotation of ships and planes for humanitarian and maritime security operations. It allows US soldiers, warships and planes to temporarily base in Filipino military locations.”
EDCA is valid for 10 years. US ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg said that this is ““a pretty big deal” that would allow for a greater US presence as part of the US rebalance to Asia….”
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Amy Searight said that “the Pentagon had told the US congress of its intention to provide $50 million to help build maritime security in the region and that the Philippines would get “the lion’s share.”
The money would go to improvement of radar and other monitoring capabilities.
Secretary General of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), Renato Reyes, believes that EDCA is unnecessary as the solution to the tension with China does not lie in US military presence in the country. According to Mr. Reyes “Standing up to China requires developing our domestic economy, industrializing our country, and developing our country for external defense.” The group said that they will bring the issue of EDCA to the next president and have it scrapped.
On the other hand, US military believes that the timing is perfect. US Admiral John Richardson is concerned that China might declare an “exclusive zone” in one of the world’s busiest trading routes once the Hague ruling comes out.
The five military bases are in:
Antonio Bautista air base, Palawan
Basa air base, Pampanga
Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija
Lubia airport, Cagayan de Oro
Mactan-Benito Ebuen air base, Mactan
Aside from defense purposes, Assistant Secretary of State, Daniel Russel believes that the military bases will also help in making “response to natural disasters faster and facilitate modernization of the Philippine armed forces.”
Climate Woes for the Philippines
Former US vice president and 2007 Nobel Peace Prize awardee Al Gore was in the Philippines last week to talk about climate change.
He visited Tacloban in Leyte, the province that was severely hit by super-typhoon Haiyan in 2013 before his conference in Manila.
Al Gore wanted to remind the Philippine public, especially the government, that the “Filipinos are in the front line of this perfect storm of rising tides and bigger typhoons.”
Data from the World Meteorological Organization revealed the influence of trade winds makes the water levels in the country rise three times faster than the world average. In addition the 2007 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects placed the Philippines as the fourth most vulnerable nation in the world with 16 regions at risk of submerging underwater.
Studies point Manila, Davao, Suu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, the coastal areas of Zamboanga and Maguindanao as places in imminent danger if nothing is done to change climate change.
Mr. Gore warned about coal plants, industrial technologies that emits greenhouse gases as contributors to global warming. He said that the Philippines is one of the countries that “bear a disproportionate amount of the burden when it comes to climate change.” He encouraged the government to continue “to pursue vital reforms to address climate change” and also “to make interventions that might mitigate the impacts of climate change.”
It should be noted that, despite President Aquino’s moving speech at the COP21 in Paris last December 2015, he opened a new coal-powered plant in Davao along with similar other projects.
$81 Million Stolen Money Deposited in Philippine Bank
The Philippines is caught in an international heist worthy of a fiction novel or maybe even a Hollywood movie.
Still unknown hackers stole a whopping $81 million from the Bangladesh Central Bank last month. The money taken from American accounts disappeared in an instant after it was sent via electronic transfer to the Philippines.
The money were deposited into four counterfeited accounts in Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) Makati branch and then were withdrawn and used in Casinos were the money were exchanged into chips.
Now, the money is gone, the mastermind is still a mystery and the whole thing left a big scandal complete with death threats, bribes, escape goats, suspicious businessmen and a senate inquiry.
While the Philippines has one of the world’s strictest secrecy laws placed to protect account holders, casinos are the opposite. These rules are thought to be enough to protect money from being laundered in the country. Money laundering has serious implications in the international scene.
Still, Senator Sergio Osmena said that the country is experiencing this problem because of the law’s “gaping holes.” He believes that the country is attractive for dirty money and that it is “easy to maunder money here.” That is why he wants stronger anti-money laundering laws to prevent activities like this to happen again.
Sen. Osmena believes that this is just the tip of an iceberg. “This could have happened hundreds of times already… we discovered this one only because someone complained….”
In the meantime, the senators are questioning RCBC bank officials including manage Maia Deguito who maintained her innocence. Other names dragged into the issue are RCBC President Lorenzo Tan, Chinese businessman William Go and a mysterious Weikang Xu.
Although no one’s name is cleared, Senator Ralf Recto said that “It’s a big operation. This could not have been done out of the Philippines alone.
The hackers actually stole $101 million from Bangladesh’s Cental bank. According to reports, there is evidence that this crime group stalked the bank’s system for two weeks before finally attacking.
Using a malware, the bank’s own system did not recognize that it was being robbed as payments seemed genuine. The attack cost the job of Bangladesh central bank governor, Atiur Rahman.
The money was then sent the $81 million to the Philippines and $20 million to Sri Lanka. While the Philippines investigate the missing money, Sri Lanka was able to stop the transaction and return the money. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York was able to stop the transaction worth $850 million.
The report said that the “malware was specifically designed for a targeted attack on Bangladesh Bank to operate on SWIFT Alliance Access servers.” A representative of SWIFT, Charlie Booth, maintained that the “SWIFT network itself is not breached.” A full investigation is underway although he assured users that the “core messaging services were not impacted by the issue and continued to work as normal.”
Although the Philippines is in danger of being sanctioned by international banks due to this issue, the bigger issue however is the security of the banks worldwide. One commentator said that this could not have happened if there were better systems used by the Bangladesh Central Bank.
Still, it seems that these criminal groups can hack into most any system. The FireEye team investigating the robbery said that “complex malware have been identified with advanced features of command and control communication, harvesting credentials and to securely erase all traces of activity after accomplishing its task.” It is the sort of operation done by “nation-state hackers” this particular group seem to be “financially motivated, and well organized.”