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US, Philippines to hold drills – 3,000 ‘legal ghosts’ get nationality

MANILA, Philippines, Nov 15, (Agencies): US and Philippine special forces will begin annual combat exercises on Wednesday in a sign such joint drills are continuing despite vocal opposition by the Philippine president. Philippine army spokesman Col Benjamin Hao said the Balance Piston exercises will start in the western province of Palawan. Both sides have agreed to forego live-fire drills in the field during the monthlong exercises, he said Tuesday. Hao didn’t give a reason for dropping the live-fire maneuvers, traditionally one of the highlights of the exercises, but the Philippine defense department has said President Rodrigo Duterte wants such overt assault drills to be discontinued. Markmanship events will proceed but will be confined to a camp, Hao said.

The drills will also include mock sea interdictions, care for combat casualties and “combat” swimming drills, he said. About 40 elite Filipino troops will participate in the exercises, Hao said. He declined to say how many Americans will take part. “This is an annual training event to test the basic warfighting skills of our soldiers and to foster an improved relationship of our armed forces,” Hao told reporters. Duterte, who has been antagonistic toward the US for its criticism of his deadly anti-drug crackdown, publicly declared that he would halt all joint combat exercises with the Americans, but later walked back on the threat, sparking uncertainty among Philippine and US officials. Duterte has said that only the American side benefits from the war games, and that China may become upset by the military maneuvers.

The US and the Philippines are treaty allies, but Duterte has expressed his desire to expand security ties with China and Russia. Philippine defense officials said last week that Duterte agreed to allow a smaller number of exercises with the US military to proceed after they explained to him the benefits the Philippines gains from the drills, which include civic actions and disaster- response exercises in one of the most catastrophe-prone countries in the world

After years of living in legal limbo, nearly 3,000 stateless people in the southern Philippines have been granted nationality by Manila and Jakarta this year, UN officials said on Monday. The 2,957 people — including 1,226 children — are part of a group of some 9,000 people of Indonesian descent who have for generations lived in southern Mindanao in the Philippines.

Seafaring communities have crisscrossed the seas between the Indonesian part of Borneo island and the southern Philippines for centuries. The group was given Philippine or Indonesian nationality this year in a move welcomed by the UN refugee agency UNHCR as a step toward an ambitious global goal to end statelessness by 2024. “The cooperation between Indonesia and the Philippines is a good example of how states can work together to resolve this global problem,” UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner for protection Volker Türk said. UNHCR estimates there are about 10 million stateless people worldwide, with large populations in Myanmar, Thailand, Zimbabwe and the Ivory Coast.

About 40 percent of them live in Southeast Asia, according to the UN agency. Sometimes referred to as “legal ghosts”, stateless people are not recognised as nationals by any country and as such, they are deprived of the basic rights most people take for granted. Many of the stateless Indonesia descendants living in southern Mindanao interviewed in a 2014 UNHCR mapping study said they struggle with daily challenges including access to employment, livelihoods, education and clean water. Under an old law, Indonesians would lose their citizenship if they lived abroad for over five years without registering with the Indonesian authorities.

Although the law was reformed later and Indonesians can reacquire their citizenship, many people do not formally apply for it and remain stateless, according to the UNHCR. Meanwhile, in Thailand, which has one of the world’s largest stateless populations, UNHCR said 23,000 people have been given Thai nationality over the last four years. Many of Thailand’s stateless are from hill tribes, with ancestral ties to their territory and are ethnically different from the Thai majority. Others are children of illegal migrants who fl ed to Thailand, particularly from Myanmar.

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