Philippine lawmakers reject leftist cabinet minister in latest cabinet exit


MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine lawmakers rejected the appointment of the social welfare minister on Wednesday after more than a year in office, marking the fourth exit from President Rodrigo Duterte’s cabinet this year.

Judy Taguiwalo, a left-wing activist who was jailed during the 1970s martial law era of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, failed to acquire the 13 votes needed to get approval by the 24 member Commission on Appointments in Congress.

In the Philippines, all cabinet ministers must be approved by the panel and hearings can take place long after they start work. Taguiwalo’s appointment had been bypassed five times.

It was not immediately clear why she was rejected, but speculation had been rife that Taguiwalo’s future was in doubt after the near-collapse of Duterte’s peace process with Communist rebels, which was one of his top objectives when he took office.

Duterte is furious at what he sees as repeated attacks by rebels and duplicity by exiled political leaders to whom he says he has made numerous concessions.

Taguiwalo was nominated to the post by the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and Duterte hoped to show inclusivity and demonstrate his commitment to peace talks by giving two leftists cabinet positions.

Judy Taguiwalo, a left-wing activist who was jailed during the 1970s martial law era of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, clenches her fist while walking past anti-riot police officers, after Philippine lawmakers rejected the appointment of her as social welfare minister during a Commission on Appointment hearing at the Senate headquarters in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines August 16, 2017.Romeo Ranoco

Taguiwalo suffered the same fate as former foreign secretary Perfecto Yasay, who was found to have lied about holding U.S. citizenship, and environment and natural resources secretary Regina Lopez, who was deemed unsuitable over her widespread suspensions and closures of mines.

Ismael Sueno was sacked by Duterte as interior and local government secretary over corruption allegations.

Judy Taguiwalo, a left-wing activist who was jailed during the 1970s martial law era of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, gestures during a news conference after Philippine lawmakers rejected the appointment of her as social welfare minister during a Commission on Appointment hearing at the Senate headquarters in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines August 16, 2017.Romeo Ranoco

Four senators took to the floor of the chamber on Wednesday to defend Taguiwalo, among them Ralph Recto, who said the Philippines “can never ask for a package as complete as her”.

“She holds the post by virtue of her ability, not by her affiliation,” he said. “If she’s an ideologue, then the ideology she subscribes to is the same one we believe in and that ideology is to serve the people.”

Duterte has insisted he does not try to influence the commission, even though he has a legislative supermarjority.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella expressed sadness at the rejection of Taguiwalo, who he said had impacted the lives of many Filipinos and served the Duterte administration with passion, professionalism and integrity.

Reporting By Manuel Mogato and Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie


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South Africa’s Zuma says ANC lawmakers who voted against him must be punished


JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma wants the African National Congress to identify and punish party members who voted against him in a no-confidence motion in parliament last week.

Some 30 ANC lawmakers supported the opposition motion in a secret ballot on Aug. 8, not enough for it to pass but the defection exposed rifts within the ANC that could weaken Zuma’s ability to influence the choice of next party leader at elections in December.

Addressing an ANC meeting late on Sunday, Zuma called the defectors “people who have double hearts, one for the ANC and one for other parties,” and said they “must be taken to the (ANC) disciplinary committee,” South African media reported.

“What our enemies (opposition members of parliament) were doing was to say: ‘How can we destroy the ANC and weaken it, so that we can take control of the country?’ … We should never do it again,” Zuma was quoted as saying.

It was unclear how the party would be able to determine who had voted against Zuma or what action could be taken against them. The president said he would discuss the issue of dissenters at a meeting of the ANC on Monday.

ANC communications officials were unavailable to comment.

Critics say Zuma’s priority is to ensure he retains sufficient control over the party to ensure that his chosen candidate succeeds him as leader so he can avoid scrutiny over corruption allegations that have dogged his eight years in power. Zuma has denied wrongdoing.

The opposition sought to oust Zuma after he removed finance minister Pravin Gordhan in March, a move that hit the financial markets and prompted two credit ratings agencies to downgrade South Africa’s debt rating to junk status.

Following the failure of the no-confidence motion, the main opposition Democratic Alliance party said it would bring a motion to dissolve parliament and call a general election. The ANC, which has a strong majority in the assembly, dismissed the DA’s call as “dreams and hallucinations”.

Reporting by James Macharia; Editing by Robin Pomeroy


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Iran lawmakers vote to boost spending on missile program


By a huge majority, members of Iran’s parliament voted Sunday to increase spending on the nation’s ballistic missile program and finance its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

Members of Parliament chanted “Death to America” during the session, the Associated Press reported.

The vote was viewed as a response to recently announced U.S. sanctions against the Muslim country.

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported that 247 lawmakers attended the vote session, with 240 approving the spending plan and one lawmaker abstaining.

No specifics were available about how the new funds would be used.

The bill now heads to an oversight committee called the Guardian Council, which is expected to approve it. 

Abbas Araghchi, a deputy foreign minister and senior nuclear negotiator on hand for the vote, said moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s government would support the bill.

“The bill has very wisely tried not to violate the (nuclear deal) and also gives no chance to the other party to manipulate it,” he said in comments reported by IRNA.

Under terms of the bill, some $800 million will be put toward several projects, including the Defense Ministry and its intelligence agencies. Among the agencies receiving money would be the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds force, an expeditionary force run by Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who has been in Syria and Iraq.

The Guard, separate from Iran’s conventional military forces, answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The bill also imposes a visa and travel ban on U.S. military and security organizations and their commanders who have provided financial, intelligence, military, logistic and training support to terrorists in the region, naming the Islamic State group and the Syrian branch of al Qaeda.

Iranian officials often accuse the U.S. of being involved with both groups. The U.S. is actively involved in a massive military campaign against the Islamic State group and has struck the al-Qaida affiliate as well.

Perhaps more relevantly, the bill also includes banning visas for American officials involved with the Iranian exile group called the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. Prominent U.S. lawmakers and politicians have met with the group and spoken at its rallies. The MEK has paid one of Trump’s Cabinet members and at least one adviser in the past for giving such speeches.

IRNA also referred to the money also being used to develop nuclear propellers. In December, Rouhani ordered officials to draw up plans on building nuclear-powered ships, something that appears to be allowed under the nuclear deal, over an earlier dispute on U.S. sanctions under the Obama administration.

Trump signed a sanctions bill earlier this month that included new measures imposed on Iran. That sparked new outrage in Iran, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accusing Trump of trying to “kill” the nuclear deal.

Earlier this month, Iran reiterated a previous assertion that new U.S. sanctions against it would constitute a “breach” of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and a group of Western powers.

Araghchi said the country had prepared a list of 16 measures to take against the U.S. in response to the sanctions, but would not elaborate.

The U.S. sanctions impose penalties on people involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program, enforce an arms embargo and apply terrorism sanctions to Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard.

In remarks aimed at Trump earlier this month, Rouhani issued a warning for anyone looking to discard the 2015 deal.

Those who intend to tear down the deal should know that they are tearing down their political life,” Rouhani said during a swearing-in ceremony to launch his second term.

Trump has repeatedly criticized the 2015 negotiated by the Obama administration, calling it “bad” and vowing to come up with a better plan for discouraging Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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Republican lawmakers encourage Trump to specifically call out white nationalists


A growing number of Republican lawmakers are urging President Trump to specifically call out the white nationalists involved in the violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday.

“Mr. President – we must call evil by its name,” Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner tweeted. “These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.”

Trump didn’t single out the white nationalists when he addressed the unrest on Saturday evening. He blamed “many sides” for the violence.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides – on many sides,” the president said.

Other Republicans in Congress took issue with Trump’s remarks.

“Very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists,” tweeted Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Another Florida Republican, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, tweeted that
“White supremacists, Neo-Nazis and anti-Semites are the antithesis of our American values. There are no other ‘sides’ to hatred and bigotry.”

“We should call evil by its name,” tweeted Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch. “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott tweeted: “Domestic terror in #Charlottesville must be condemned by . Otherwise hate is simply emboldened.”

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, posted a Facebook statement that said, in part:

“The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred that they propagate.

“Having watched the horrifying video of the car deliberately crashing into a crowd of protesters, I urge the Department of Justice to immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism.”

Later Saturday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that a federal civil rights investigation would be launched into the fatal car incident in Charlottesville that authorities said left one woman dead and 19 other people injured.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., alluded to President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in his statement.

“Our Founders fought a revolution for the idea that all men are created equal,” McCain wrote. “The heirs of that revolution fought a Civil War to save our nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to that revolutionary proposition.”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich issued a series of tweets condemning Saturday’s violence.

“This violence and hate must stop,” Kasich wrote in one message.

Speaking at his New Jersey golf club, Trump condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence” in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white nationalists upset over the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue violently clashed with counter-protesters.


On Saturday evening, a White House aide issued a statement clarifying why the president used the phrase “on many sides.”

“The president was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides,” a White House official said. “There was violence between protesters and counter protesters today.”


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