MANILA, December 17 -- Rogelio Reyes has learned to be a patient man.
The 58-year-old economist is one of the longest-serving inmates in Manila City Jail. He has spent more than 14 years there but has never been convicted of a crime. I met Reyes inside the jail in October. Even in a crowd of more than 6,000 inmates, he's hard to miss. He's usually marching through Dorm 7, organising the prisoners, announcing the day's activities, and shouting for his deputy, 'Mamu'. With his round belly and booming laugh, Reyes is popular among the inmates. In fact, they elected him to be their 'mayor'. All 14 dorms in the jail have mayors, who appoint their own deputies and 'marshals' to guard the dorms. "We have a system where we share the governance," said Jayrex Bustinera, the jail's chief records officer. "We delegate some of the authority to the inmate leaders where inmates can police co-inmates … They help us institute peace and order."
Mayors like Reyes do more than just keep the peace. They prevent the jail from being overrun. Prisons in the Philippines are the most congested in the world. Manila City Jail, for example, is operating almost 600 percent over capacity. "Our ideal capacity should be around 1,100 inmates. But the actual jail population is up to 6,300 inmates," said Bustinera. Conditions are so cramped that inmates sleep side-by-side on every inch of floor space. The unlucky ones sleep sitting up. Illnesses like tuberculosis and skin diseases are rampant. After spending two weeks inside the prison, every member of our crew fell ill.In such extreme conditions, it doesn't take much for tempers to boil over. "We should be scared, because we can be outnumbered anytime," Bustinera admitted. International guidelines recommend one guard for every seven inmates, but here the ratio is one to about 200.
It's the job of mayors like Reyes to keep a lid on this potentially volatile situation. He advocates for inmates with the prison authorities and ensures that all the new arrivals respect the rules. "If you are angry, you will not survive," he said. "If your heart is full of anger, most probably you will be in the stockroom … because you will quarrel with the many inmates. Here you have to control yourself."
BANGKOK, December 13 -- The sentiment across broader Asia seemed less pessimistic about the trade deal, with MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edging up 0.8%.
Optimism about improving relations between the two superpowers grew after China made its first major US soybean purchases in more than six months on Wednesday, two US traders said, and its first since US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping struck a trade war truce in early December.
The SET index closed 19.89 points or 1.22% lower to 1,614.99, in trade worth 52.5 billion baht. The market hit their lowest since Nov 22. Shares of PTT Plc plunged to their lowest in more than four months at 47.50 baht, while those of PTT Exploration and Production PCL fell 6.7% to 125 baht. Oil prices were flat on Thursday under pressure from high inventories but buoyed by a drawdown in US crude stockpiles.
Indonesia's benchmark index climbed to a more than seven-month high, aided by consumer staples and telecom stocks. Shares of cigarette maker Gudang Garam Tbk PT added 1.8%, while those of Telekomunikasi Indonesia (Persero) Tbk Perusahaan Perseroan PT rose to its highest in more than a week.
However, the Southeast Asia's largest economy is expecting foreign direct investment to the country to be around $11 billion to $13 billion this year, less than the average in recent years of $20 billion per year. Philippines benchmark index eked out their third straight sessions of gains, rising to one-week high.
Meanwhile, the Philippine central bank held its benchmark interest rate steady on Thursday, as expected, in line with the outlook for the inflation rate to cool. The apex bank had raised rates by a total 175 basis points so far this year, at the past five consecutive meetings to tame inflation.
Singapore benchmark index climbed a near one-week high, while that of Malaysia added 0.8%.
MANILLA, November 9 -- A Philippine court found former first lady Imelda Marcos guilty of graft and ordered her arrest on Friday in a rare conviction among many corruption cases that she is likely to appeal to avoid jail and losing her seat in Congress.
The special anti-graft Sandiganbayan court sentenced Marcos, 89, to serve 6 to 11 years in prison for each of the seven counts of violating an anti-corruption law when she illegally funneled about $200m to Swiss foundations in the 1970s as Metropolitan Manila governor. Neither Marcos nor anyone representing her attended Friday's court hearing. During the US-backed dictatorship of Imelda's husband, Ferdinand Marcos, the family is said to have amassed an estimated $5bn to $10bn in hidden wealth.
No one has issued any reaction on her behalf, although her lawyers were expected to appeal the ruling, which anti-Marcos activists and human rights victims welcomed as long overdue. The court disqualified Marcos from holding public office, but she can remain a member of the House of Representatives while appealing the decision. Her congressional term will end next year but she has registered to run to replace her daughter as governor of northern Ilocos Norte province. "I was jumping up and down in joy in disbelief," said former Commission on Human Rights chairwoman Loretta Ann Rosales, who was among many activists locked up after Imelda's husband, former President Ferdinand Marcos, declared martial law in the Philippines in 1972.
Government prosecutor Ryan Quilala told reporters that Marcos and her husband opened and managed Swiss foundations in violation of the Philippine Constitution, using aliases in a bid to hide stolen funds. Marcos' rule was often referred to as a "conjugal dictatorship", because of his wife, Imelda's political influence.
The Marcoses have been accused of plundering the government's coffers amid crushing poverty. They have denied any wrongdoing and have successfully fought many other corruption cases.
Imelda Marcos was acquitted on Friday in three other cases, which were filed in 1991 and took nearly three decades of trial by several judges and prosecutors. She was once convicted of a graft case in 1993, but the Supreme Court later cleared her of any wrongdoing.
President Rodrigo Duterte, an ally of the Marcoses, said last year the Marcos family had indicated a willingness to return a still-unspecified amount of money and "a few gold bars" to help ease budget deficits.
Duterte indicated the family still denied that the assets had been stolen as alleged by political opponents, and has often praised the dictator.
Ferdinand Marcos had placed the Philippines under martial rule a year before his term was to expire. He padlocked Congress, ordered the arrest of political rivals and left-wing activists and ruled by decree.
A Hawaii court found Marcos liable for human rights violations and awarded $2bn from his estate to compensate more than 9,000 Filipinos who filed a lawsuit against him for torture, incarceration, extrajudicial killings and disappearances.
Duterte has acknowledged that Imee Marcos, the couple's daughter and a provincial governor, backed his presidential candidacy, and she is running for senator under Duterte's political alliance. He has also allowed the late dictator's body to be buried in the country's heroes' cemetery in 2016.
Phuong Khanh Nguyen of Vietnam is greeted by other contestants during the coronation night of the Miss Earth 2018 in Pasay City, the Philippines, on Nov. 3, 2018. Phuong Khanh Nguyen of Vietnam won the crown of Miss Earth 2018, beating other contestants from across the world.
MANILLA, October 17 -- The Philippine rebel group Abu Sayyaf has extended the deadline by two hours for the beheading of a German hostage, who is being held for ransom in southern Philippines.
The Muslim rebel group, which recently expressed allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), told a local radio station that Stefan Okonek, 71, will be killed at 5pm local time (09:00 GMT) unless their demands were met, Al Jazeera's Harry Fawcett, who is in Zamboanga City, reported.
The Abu Sayyaf group demanded a $5.6 million ransom in exchange for Okonek's release. The German doctor was seized together with his partner Henrite Dielen, also a German national, by the Abu Sayyaf rebels in April when their yacht broke down near the southern island of Palawan en route to Sabah in eastern Malaysia.
They are being held on Jolo island, a hotbed of separatist rebellion, in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic Philippines.
A video released on Wednesday showed Okonek being held in a hole in the ground, which he had been told would be his grave if ransom is not paid. The rebel group also demanded that Germany halt its support for US-led air strikes in Syria and Iraq against ISIS.
"They told me on Friday they will kill me," the doctor said in a radio interview monitored in Zamboanga City. "I'm here in a hole. It's a big hole, three metres (by) five metres. They told me this is my grave. They push me inside the hole. "I hope I will still get out from here ... but I have not seen anyone from the government to get into the situation that tries to get us out."
He said he was losing weight because there was not enough food and 10 gunmen were watching over him 24 hours a day. He was separated from the woman on Monday. This was the second time the German has spoken to commercial radio since last Friday's deadline passed.
The Abu Sayyaf also sent a video to a radio station late on Tuesday showing a group of men manhandling a handcuffed foreigner who was apparently the captured German man. The man in the video was saying that his handcuffs were too tight as armed men made him sit in front of black flag, which appeared to be the flag used by ISIS.
Earlier, the group called on Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario to negotiate, offering hope for a possible solution.
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