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Won’t be different from Trump: US likely to uphold PH arbitral award under Biden – envoy

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MANILA – The United States, under newly sworn-in President Joe Biden, is likely to maintain its position in the South China Sea by continuing to uphold the 2016 arbitral award, Philippine Ambassador to Washington D.C. Jose Manuel Romualdez said Thursday.

Under the previous administration of former US President Donald Trump, Washington endorsed the landmark decision that ruled against Beijing’s vast nine-dash line claim in the disputed region.

Romualdez said State Secretary-designate Antony Blinken himself affirmed that China will remain a priority in the US foreign policy.

“Sinabi niya na ‘yong kanilang policy sa China will be more or less the same as what the Trump administration had kaya lang iba ‘yong kanilang approach (He said that their policy on China will be more or less the same as what the Trump administration had but the approach will be different), there would be cooperation in many other areas but in terms of, for instance, South China Sea they recognize… The US recognizes the arbitral award so they will continue with that policy,” he said in an interview over GMA. “Lahat yan is the overall picture of what the Biden administration will be doing in our part of the world (That would be the overall picture of what the Biden administration will be doing in this part of the world),” he added.

Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, meanwhile, hoped to see Washington continue its freedom of navigation and overflight operations in the South China Sea, saying this serves as the “most robust enforcement of the arbitral award.”

“Whenever the US Navy sails in the West Philippine Sea and conduct naval drills, they’re saying that we can do this because this is an EEZ of a coastal state, and there’s only one coastal state in the West Philippine Sea and that’s the Philippines,” he said during a Foreign Service Institute-organized Mangrove Forum on Thursday. “I hope that continues and I hope that the US will not disengage because that will leave the South China Sea for the taking by China,” he added.

Biden was officially sworn in as the 46th president of the US in a heavily-guarded ceremony at the US Capitol on Wednesday. (PNA)

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Chinese cyber-espionage unit on US hacking spree: report

At least 30,000 US organizations including local governments have been hacked in recent days by an “unusually aggressive” Chinese cyber-espionage campaign, according to a computer security specialist.

The campaign has exploited recently discovered flaws in Microsoft Exchange software, stealing email and infecting computer servers with tools that let attackers take control remotely, Brian Krebs said in a post at his cyber security news website.

“This is an active threat,” White House spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said when asked about the situation during a press briefing.

“Everyone running these servers needs to act now to patch them. We are concerned that there are a large number of victims,” she added.

After Microsoft released patches for the vulnerabilities on Tuesday, attacks “dramatically stepped up” on servers not yet updated with security fixes, said Krebs, who cited unnamed sources familiar with the situation.

“At least 30,000 organizations across the United States — including a significant number of small businesses, towns, cities and local governments — have over the past few days been hacked by an unusually aggressive Chinese cyber espionage unit that’s focused on stealing email from victim organizations,” Krebs wrote in the post.

He reported that insiders said hackers have “seized control” of thousands of computer systems around the world using password-protected software tools slipped into systems.

Microsoft said early this week that a state-sponsored hacking group operating out of China is exploiting previously unknown security flaws in its Exchange email services to steal data from business users.

The company said the hacking group, which it has named “Hafnium,” is a “highly skilled and sophisticated actor.”

Hafnium has in the past targeted US-based companies including infectious disease researchers, law firms, universities, defense contractors, think tanks, and NGOs.

In a blog post on Tuesday, Microsoft executive Tom Burt said the company had released updates to fix the security flaws, which apply to on-premises versions of the software rather than cloud-based versions, and urged customers to apply them.

“We know that many nation-state actors and criminal groups will move quickly to take advantage of any unpatched systems,” he added at the time.

Microsoft said the group was based in China but operated through leased virtual private servers in the United States, and that it had briefed the US government.

Beijing has previously hit back at US accusations of state-sponsored cyber theft. Last year it accused Washington of smears following allegations that Chinese hackers were attempting to steal coronavirus research.

In January, US intelligence and law enforcement agencies said Russia was probably behind the massive SolarWinds hack that shook the government and corporate security, contradicting then-president Donald Trump, who had suggested China could be to blame.

Microsoft said Tuesday the Hafnium attacks “were in no way connected to the separate SolarWinds-related attacks.” (AFP)

Werpa si Eba! Lord Velasco recognizes women’s role in nation building

By Billy Begas

Speaker Lord Allan Jay Velasco pays tribute to all Filipina for their pivotal role in nation-building even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Allow me to recognize all the strong, empowered and empowering women of the House. Kinaya at kinakaya natin ang laban sa pandemya because you kept everything steady here at work even as you faced the challenges with your families at home,” said Velasco.

At present, women make up 48 percent of the House workforce.

Records from the chamber’s Human Resource Management Service show that out of the 4,037 members and employees of the House, 1,941 are women. Of which, 85 are legislators, 649 are Secretariat employees, 940 are congressional staff members, and 267 are co-terminus and contractual workers.

The House has eight female deputy speakers namely Evelina Escudero (Sorsogon), Loren Legarda (Antique), Bernadette Herrera (Bagong Henerasyon party-list), Kristine Singson-Meehan (Ilocos Sur), Divina Grace Yu (Zamboanga del Sur), Camille Villar (Las Piñas City), Rose Marie Arenas (Pangasinan), and Vilma Santos-Recto (Batangas).

After Velasco’s election as Speaker in October 2020, the House elected a female Secretary General—Atty. Jocelia Bighani Sipin.

Sipin spearheaded the House Secretariat through a period of transition from October 12 to November 18 last year. She is currently the Deputy Secretary General assigned at the Office of the Speaker.

On March 8, female lawmakers will take full control of the plenary session as part of the annual tradition in the legislative chamber to mark the National Women’s Month and the International Women’s Day.

The all-women session will be led by Deputy Speaker Arenas, president of the Association of Women Legislators Foundation Inc. of the 18th Congress.

The plenary is set to adopt resolutions congratulating two Filipino-American appointees of United States President Joe Biden—Gloria Steele and Camille Calimlim Touton.

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