North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles on Monday, the South's military said, weeks after Pyongyang threatened to demonstrate a "new strategic weapon" and its deadline for Washington to offer sanctions relief expired.

North Korea fires ‘short-range ballistic missiles’

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by Sunghee Hwang

North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles on Monday, the South’s military said, weeks after Pyongyang threatened to demonstrate a “new strategic weapon” and its deadline for Washington to offer sanctions relief expired.

The launch was the nuclear-armed North’s first for more than three months and came as nuclear negotiations with the United States remain at a standstill.

The two devices were fired eastwards over the sea from the Wonsan area on the east coast and flew 240 kilometres (150 miles) at a maximum altitude of 35 kilometres, the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

They were “believed to be short-range ballistic missiles,” a JCS official said.

South Korea’s security ministers expressed “strong concern” the North was “carrying out actions giving rise to military tensions”, the presidential Blue House said.

Japan’s defence ministry said there was no indication of anything coming down in its waters or exclusive economic zone, but added: “Recent repeated launches of ballistic and other missiles by North Korea are a serious issue.”

The launch came as Pyongyang battles to prevent a coronavirus outbreak and days after the one-year anniversary of the collapsed Hanoi summit between leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump.

Negotiations have since been deadlocked over sanctions relief and what the North would be willing to give up in return, despite a high-profile June meeting in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula.

Pyongyang carried out a series of weapons tests late last year, the last of them in November, often describing them as multiple launch rocket systems. It also carried out static engine tests, most recently in December.

At a party meeting at the end of that month, Kim declared that Pyongyang no longer considered itself bound by its moratoriums on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, and threatened to demonstrate a “new strategic weapon” soon.

North Korea has a long history of seeking to demonstrate its military capability to try to obtain concessions.

“March is pretty reliably missile-testing season for North Korea,” tweeted Ankit Panda, senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists.

“Looks like COVID-19 hasn’t changed that (or Pyongyang is determined to make it appear as if it hasn’t),” he added.

Former State Department official Mintaro Oba said: “Coronavirus dominates our attention at the moment, but this is a reminder that North Korea continues to advance its nuclear and missile programmes.”

It would “look for ways to gain leverage and reclaim the initiative as we get closer to the US presidential election”, he added.

– Joint exercises –
North Korea has not reported a single case of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 3,000 people and infected over 88,000 in dozens of countries since it emerged in neighbouring China.

But state media have said around 7,000 people have been quarantined in three provinces alone.

Seoul and Washington last week said they will postpone forthcoming joint military exercises after South Korea — which has more than 4,000 infections — declared its highest “severe” alert level over the coronavirus.

The United States has 28,500 troops in South Korea to protect it against the nuclear-armed North, many of them based south of Seoul at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek — Washington’s biggest overseas military facility.

The security allies have previously scaled back annual joint military exercises significantly to facilitate nuclear talks with Pyongyang — which condemns such drills as preparations for an invasion — but a command coordination exercise had been planned for this spring.

In the past Pyongyang has fired missiles capable of reaching the entire US mainland and has carried out six nuclear tests, the last of them 16 times more powerful than the Hiroshima blast, according to the highest estimates.

It is under multiple sets of sanctions over its weapons programmes from the United Nations Security Council, US, the South and other bodies.

Heightened tensions in 2017 were followed by two years of nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington, including three meetings between Kim and US President Donald Trump, but little tangible progress was made.

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Na-high blood kay Bistek! Kris Aquino tells why she left QC home

Kris Aquino changed her address because of “high blood pressure” over her much talked about relationship with former Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista.

In an Instagram “mic drop” posted Monday (March 8), Aquino explained what she meant in her previous post that “the yellow brick road is starting to look very inviting now.” Some netizens took it to mean that the Queen of All Media will run for public office in 2022.

Aquino, however, said her “yellow brick road” reference was drawn from the children’s novel, “The Wizard of Oz.”

“In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy traveled the yellow brick road only to realize ‘there is no place like home…’ Have you not questioned why we no longer live in Greenmeadows, Quezon City?” she asked.

Without mentioning Bautista, Aquino said she left her Quezon City home because of the stress she experienced from her previous relationship.

“I shall now answer, in straightforward language, i was running away from love because High Blood pressure from 7 years of emotional stress is awful for my autoimmune conditions. Irrational as it may seem, had i not moved to QC, out paths would never have crossed,” she said.

Aquino ended her post by saying that the capitalization of certain letters in her explanation was intentional.

“I trust matalino kayo… kuhang kuha nyo kung bakit may mga naka CAPITAL LETTERS,” she said.

Aquino revealed in 2014 that Bautista asked her to marry him but the former mayor eventually broke up with her.

The Queen of All Media currently lives in a serviced apartment with her youngest son, James “Bimby” Yap Jr. They will be moving to a beach house soon as Aquino takes a break from city living for her health.

Para laging handa: Ruffy Biazon wants tourism workers trained in first aid

By Billy Begas

Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon has moved for the approval of the measure that will make first aid training mandatory for tourism workers to boost the safety and security of domestic and international travelers in the country.

Biazon said House Bill 8781 will make every worker in tourism establishments, tourism-oriented organizations and other persons providing tourism-related services a certified first-aiders capable of giving immediate assistance and care to tourists in need.

HB 8781 is pending for second reading approval.

“Many instances in my experience as a tourist, I have encountered tourism service providers who lack not only trained first aiders but even a basic first aid kit,” Biazon said.

Under the measure required employees will undergo basic first aid training provided by the Philippine Red Cross or other reputable training institutions that shall issue the appropriate training certification.

Biazon said that the passage of the bill into law will add to the “plus points” of Philippine tourism, providing more value to the country as a tourist destination.

“We are experiencing growth in our tourism industry because as the world has gotten smaller with social media, more and more people from other countries are seeing parts of the Philippines that attract them to visit the Pearl of the Orient,” Biazon said.

He said that if in the past, the government had to pour in resources to place ads, commercials, and other traditional means of drumming up publicity to entice tourists to include the Philippines in their travel plans, nowadays, anyone with a camera phone and a social media account can promote the country with an upload of a picture.

Negosyante lang makikinabang: Salceda opposes lower tariff for imported pork

By Billy Begas

The chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means opposed on Monday (March 8) the plan of the Department of Agriculture to reduce the tariff imposed on imported pork products.

Based on the study, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said lowering the tariff from 40% to 5% will only result in a 50-centavo decrease in the consumer pork prices.

“This is not worth the pain it will cause farmers, and it is certainly not worth the trouble of more inspections,” said Salceda.

He explained that with the current tariff of 40%, the price of imported pork product will be around P187 per kilo.

“Only the big supermarkets and importers will benefit from a tariff reduction. They will already make very big money at current tariff price,” Salceda added.

He also warned that the unnecessary tariff reduction could hurt the domestic swine industry, of which 71% is backyard production. “In a crisis like this, hurting a major source of revenues for household farms is unconscionable.”

In maintaining the tariff, Salceda suggested that the revenue generated should be used to solve the domestic supply problem of pork similar to the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).

Under RCEF, a portion of the tax collected from imported rice went to programs intended for farmers.

“The more sensible approach is to fix our Sanitary and Phytosanitary Import Clearance (SPSIC) system, our imports inspection and quarantine system, and to streamline imports processing. That’s why I am asking the DA and the Bureau of Customs to submit a flowchart of their processes, so we can study and make recommendations,” said Salceda.

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