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Philippines moves closer to birth control law

Posted by arnon_k On December - 13 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

The Philippines moved closer to a controversial birth control law Thursday as lawmakers passed a version of the bill after a long debate over an issue that has deeply polarised the largely Catholic nation.

The bill paving the way for sex education in schools and the provision of free contraceptives in a country with one of Asia’s fastest-growing populations was passed by the lower house of parliament after a five-hour vote.

“Let us have children by choice, not by chance,” Edcel Lagman, a lawmaker who initiated the legislation, said after voting on the bill that passed with a narrow majority just before dawn.

His comment reflects the view of President Benigno Aquino who is pushing for the law that he hopes would help bring down poverty in a nation of nearly 100 million people as well as the high maternal mortality rate.

The move is supported by women’s groups and the United Nations but is vehemently opposed by the politically influential Catholic Church, which is against the use of contraceptives, including condoms and birth control pills.

The proposed legislation would come into force after both houses of parliament agree on a common version that would be signed into law by the president.

Aquino had urged legislators at a recent meeting to help get the law passed after more than a year of bitter debates on the issue.

But he stressed that while he was for “responsible parenthood”, he would leave it to the legislators to vote on the measure based on their conscience.

Singapore government under pressure over sex scandal

Posted by arnon_k On December - 13 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

Singapore opposition parties urged Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong Thursday to call a by-election after the parliamentary Speaker abruptly resigned due to an extramarital affair.

The calls came less than 24 hours after Michael Palmer, 44, publicly confessed and announced his resignation from his parliamentary seat and membership of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).

Confessing to “a serious error of judgment,” the married father of one — who was only sworn in as Speaker in October 2011 — said he quit “to avoid further embarrassment to the PAP and to Parliament”.

Local dailies on Thursday splashed pictures of Laura Ong, a 33-year-old married community worker fingered as Palmer’s lover, in the latest sex scandal to hit the city-state.

The resurgent political opposition immediately urged Premier Lee to call a by-election to fill Palmer’s seat in the Punggol East ward.

“We strongly urge the Prime Minister to call for a by-election as soon as possible, to ensure that the constituents of Punggol East are democratically represented hereafter,” Singapore People’s Party chairman Lina Chiam said in a statement.

The Workers’ Party echoed the call and announced its intention to run for the vacated seat.

Reform Party secretary-general Kenneth Jeyaretnam said in a statement it was “strongly considering contesting this seat if and when a by-election is called”.

Opposition politician Benjamin Pwee told the Straits Times daily he was also intending to contest the seat, possibly as an independent.

Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan said Thursday that Lee “cannot avoid calling for a by-election… without inflicting severe damage to his and his party’s political and moral standing”.

“Voters of Punggol East have been badly let down and they deserve the opportunity to elect another representative,” he added.

By law, the decision to call a by-election is made wholly at the prime minister’s discretion.

Lee however gave no indication of his intentions in a Facebook post.

“The Constitution does not require me to call a by-election within any fixed timeframe,” Lee said on his Facebook page late Wednesday.

“I will carefully consider whether to call a by-election in Punggol East and, if so, when. I assure Singaporeans that I will make my decision based on what is best for the constituents of Punggol East and the country.”

Netizens weighed in on calls for a vote.

“Who win(s) the by election is secondary, what is important is the democratic process. MP (Members of Parliament) are elected by the people for the people not appointed by the winning party,” Ben Teo posted on Lee’s Facebook page.

Opposition parties have been emboldened since last year’s general election in which the Workers’ Party won a total six seats in the 87-member parliament, riding on a wave of sentiment against PAP policies on a range of issues, including its open-door policy on foreign workers.

The PAP suffered its lowest share of the popular vote since coming to power more than 50 years ago.

CentralWorld arson teens win acquittals

Posted by arnon_k On December - 13 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

The Juvenile Court has acquitted two youths of carrying out an arson attack on CentralWorld and the Zen department store during the 2010 riots.

Their lawyer, Chokechai Angkaew, said the court acquitted them for lack of evidence.

Prosecutors filed the case on Sept 7, 2010 against the young men, then aged 16 and 17, accusing them of setting fire to CentralWorld on May 19 of that year during the military crackdown on red-shirt protesters.

“The arson charge was added afterward,” Mr Chokechai said. “Pathumwan police had laid only theft charges during their arrest. No arson materials were found.”

Prosecutors alleged the pair committed the crime together with two other men identified as Saichon Phaebua and Pinij Channarong, who are being tried on the arson charge in a separate court.

Warrants have been issued for another five suspects.

The two young men were also acquitted in October of the theft charge, along with seven other adults.

The fire and thefts caused damage of more than 8 billion baht.

One youth said after the ruling he was glad to see justice was done but would like authorities to be more careful before filing charges against innocent people.

“Our futures have been shattered and we’ve been stigmatised as arsonists, which is untrue,” he said.

The other juvenile defendant said he would not be happy until the prosecutor decides not to appeal against the theft and arson rulings. The prosecutor has sought an extension of the appeal deadline.

The youngsters said they wanted to lead normal lives with job and education possibilities. “It’s been quite difficult and we’ve been sort of begging [for help] throughout these years,” they said.

CentralWorld shopping centre was set on fire after leaders of the red-shirt protest surrendered to police on May 19, 2010.

1,200 South schools halt classes

Posted by arnon_k On December - 13 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

Fresh teacher killings by militants spur move

Teachers at 1,200 schools in the deep South have decided to suspend classes today and tomorrow following a spate of attacks by insurgents.

The Confederation of Teachers in the Southern Border Provinces (CTSBP) decided to suspend classes after meeting school administrators Wednesday.

The closure of all schools in 10 secondary educational service areas will allow security forces to review their performance, lay out plans to protect teachers, and hunt down the assailants, Boonsom Tongsriprai, the confederation chairman, said.

The confederation called an urgent meeting with school administrators in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat yesterday after a fresh insurgent attack on teachers earlier this week.

On Tuesday, five armed men entered Ban Ba-ngo school in Pattani’s Mayo district and opened fire, killing the school director and a teacher.

Last week, one female teacher was also killed and a male teacher seriously injured in attacks in Narathiwat.

Mr Boonsom said security plans to better protect teachers must be rolled out by Monday.

The group also called for the transfer of both Muslim and Buddhist teachers in high-risk areas to safer locations.

Schools are expected to resume class on Monday if the demands are met, Mr Boonsom said.

The teachers would take further action if nothing is done, he said, without elaborating.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she will travel to Pattani today to gather first-hand information as well as give support to people affected by the violence.

The government has approved the deployment of more police in the South but this was not sufficient to solve the shortage of security staff there.

State agencies must stand ready to provide manpower and equipment to ensure public safety, Ms Yingluck said.

The prime minister will be briefed on the situation on her arrival in the deep South at Pattani City Hall this morning.

She will meet members of the Women’s Development Fund and other groups at CS Pattani Hotel in the afternoon before travelling to Bang Lang Dam in Yala to preside over the inauguration of a bridge across the dam.

Paradorn Pattanathabutr, secretary-general of the National Security Council, said more than 4,000 police will be deployed gradually to the troubled region by April next year to help ease the shortage of manpower there.

Thongthong Chandrangsu, the permanent secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office, said a new working group will be created to work on education programmes for the far South.

Piya Kijthavorn, deputy secretary-general of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, said the agency will propose the Education Ministry encourage university graduates from the region to teach in the far South.

The Yala-based 12th Regional Education Office said 124 teachers and 34 education staff have been killed in the violence between Jan 7, 2004 and Dec 11 this year.

Meanwhile, a villager, Siteerohema Sama, 70, who was injured in a tea shop attack in Narathiwat’s Rangae district a couple of days ago, has died from his injuries, taking the death toll from Tuesday’s attack to six.

A combined force of 60 security officers yesterday combed Ba Ngoyare and Ba Ngolubo villages in Rangae district to hunt for the gunmen.

Sawawi Putae, 20, was caught during the raid after authorities discovered he was wanted for the theft of a pickup truck on Oct 18 in Yala’s Bannang Sata district.

Officials believe the vehicle was to be used to make a car bomb for an attack in the deep South.

In other news, a young man was found shot dead on a local road in tambon Na Tham, Muang district of Yala yesterday morning.

Police said Abdul-Hafiz Sueni, 24, was found lying face down under his motorcycle. He had been shot twice to the body.

They believe he was shot while riding a motorcycle from his friend’s house in the municipal area.