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Thursday, July 23, 2009

US in key environment meeting with Mekong countries

PHUKET, Thailand — The United States held an unprecedented meeting Thursday with countries from the lower Mekong basin in what Washington said showed its commitment to combating climate change in Asia.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with the foreign ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam in the Thai island of Phuket during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum.

Each country in the meetings pledged to set up working teams to discuss further cooperation on water resources, education and human resources development, Thai foreign ministry spokeswoman Vimon Kidchob said.

Low-lying areas around the Mekong, Southeast Asia's largest river, are considered some of the world's most vulnerable to climate change and there is concern over pollution levels in the water.
During their meeting, the five nations pledged to hold annual ministerial meetings to discuss progress.

"The US told Mekong countries it has had similar environmental problems with the Mississippi river, which resulted from natural and man-made causes," Vimon told reporters.

On Wednesday, Clinton said the meeting would discuss "our shared interests and our emerging partnership on issues related to water, health and the environment".

She also announced the US administration's "commitment to deepen our engagement in Asia on the critical issue of climate change".

They had asked Congress for a seven-fold increase in funding for climate change aid in the region, she said.

The Mekong is a vital source of protein for 60 million people who live along its lower basin and is the world's largest inland fishery.

The WWF said in June that pollution in the Mekong has pushed freshwater dolphins in Cambodia and Laos to the brink of extinction, sparking a furious Cambodian government denial.

The conservation group, which is investigating how environmental contaminants got into the Mekong, said it suspected that high levels of mercury found in some dead dolphins came from gold mining activities.

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Pinoy missionary preaches condom use in Cambodia

By David Dizon, abs-cbnNEWS

CAPE TOWN, South Africa - Filipino lay worker Arturo Ang has a mission in Cambodia - to help impoverished HIV sufferers in the country rebuild their lives as they suffer the ravages of the deadly disease.

To do that, Ang has resorted to both conventional and unconventional means. His program, Bridges of Hope, teaches HIV sufferers all about the usual modes of transmission of HIV and how to prevent it such as abstinence and being faithful to one partner.

He also teaches Cambodians to use condoms, a practice which may seem taboo to Catholic lay missionaries.

"The stand of our organization, of Maryknoll, which is a Catholic organization, is that we don't distribute condoms but our NGO gives education to people so we teach people about condoms for safe sex. Our program does have an element of family planning but it's more about positive prevention. We teach the ABCs of safe sex, which are abstinence, be faithful and condoms," he told

"We don't deny the people information about artificial family planning. We tell them where to get it and we teach them why it is important," he added.

The Philippine Catholic Lay Mission (PCLM) is a lay mission recognized by the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines'. It was founded by the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in 1977, an American missionary group in the United States.

PCLM traces its beginnings to the Maryknoll’s missionary charism and the growth of small Christian communities in the then Prelature of Tagum in Davao in the 1960s. The Maryknoll evolved a program for small Christian communities in the Tagum prelature, and as the communities matured, it became a natural consequence for them to become missionary by helping neighboring villages, parishes and dioceses form small Christian communities.

Ang, a native of Davao City, said the primary goal of the PCLM is to recruit, train and send missionaries to establish small Christian communities. After serving in the PCLM for several years in Davao, the Maryknoll order invited him and two others to go to Cambodia where the need for mission work was great.

Ang and two other lay missionaries arrived in Cambodia in late 2003 and immediately started work on helping HIV sufferers in the country. At the time, Cambodia had the highest HIV prevalence in Southeast Asia. The mode of transmission was usually through heterosexual transmission mostly through sex workers and husbands passing it on to their wives.

He said many of the HIV sufferers they helped during the early days of the Bridges of Hope project in Phnom Penh were sex workers and widows.

"Because of ignorance, a lot of these AIDS sufferers go to Phnom Penh to seek treatment. They sell their property to seek treatment. Maryknoll gives them care, we visit them in their homes and we also have a halfway house where they could stay and get food," he said.

He said the Cambodian government started giving anti-retroviral drugs to HIV patients in 2002. This led to a lot of formerly sick HIV patients finally getting well enough to work but not having jobs.

Ang said more than 500 HIV sufferers have "graduated" from the Bridges of Hope program since it launched more than five years ago. All of the graduates are Buddhists.

"Cambodia is a Buddhist country. The way of doing mission work in Cambodia is by helping the poorest of the poor and uplifting the dignity of the human being. We don't preach or proselytize. We only want to help them and uplift their status. Once they start earning an income, they are no longer in the program because they have the ability to take care of themselves and we can accept more people. All of them are Buddhists and we do not convert them," he said.

Ang said he finds satisfaction in the knowledge that they are finally changing the HIV situation in Cambodia.

"When I first arrived, people with HIV were just dying in the hospitals, mostly due to infections and other AIDS-related illnesses. There were no medicines. Now they still die because of illnesses but in a sense, it is getting better. They live longer because the Cambodian government did a good job rolling out ART for HIV patients. Unfortunately these people are still poor so the socioeconomic aspect of the illness still needs work," he said.

He also denies that teaching contraceptive use is a betrayal of Catholic teaching.

"Personally for me it is not a betrayal of my religion. People are dying so how do you protect them? Of course we teach them to abstain or be faithful but if you have a husband who is already infected and the wife is not infected, how can they have sex if they don't have protection? You cannot risk infecting your spouse with HIV just because the Church doesn't allow condoms," he said.

Instead of dictating what people should or should not do, Ang said people should be given all the information they need and let them decide their conscience.

He also said the Philippines should be more pro-active in curbing HIV despite the low HIV prevalence in the country.

"Remember, Filipinos are going out of the country and we also have a problem with prostitution. It's possible that there are still many people in the country who are HIV positive who don't know it yet because they haven't been tested. We need to be more proactive and do more on HIV testing and prevention," he said.

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Philippines alarmed over growing number of 'drug mules'

Manila - The Philippine government on Thursday warned Filipino women against international drug syndicates that trick women into becoming unsuspecting "drug mules" to transport narcotics in Vietnam, Cambodia and China. The Department of Foreign Affairs said it received a report from the Philippine embassy in Hanoi about a growing number of Filipino women being used as couriers in the drug trade in the Indo-China region.

According to the embassy report, international drug syndicates recruit Filipino women by enticing them with a job offer that involves a lot of travel and pays 2,000 dollars per trip - a huge salary by Philippine standards.

Their contact buys plane tickets for them from the Philippines to China via Vietnam, the report said.

"The contact, now supposedly a benefactor, asks the Filipino a favour which involves bringing to China a present or an item from a friend based in Cambodia," it added. "The unsuspecting Filipino, thinking that she is doing her benefactor a favour,

From Vietnam, the victims usually travel to Cambodia by bus to pick up the items they will carry and return to Hanoi for their flights to China.

"The victims were banking on the job promised them in China, and for them, bringing personal items to China for their benefactor is just a small favour in exchange for the job," the Embassy said.

The embassy discovered the scheme when a Filipino woman sought assistance after she was stranded in Vietnam for failing to bring the package she was supposed to deliver to China for a Nigerian drug syndicate.

"The Nigerian contact in Cambodia had a miscommunication with the Filipino and the Nigerian contact in China," the embassy said.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, 111 Filipinos, mostly women, were arrested for drug-related offences in China, Hong Kong and Macau in 2008. The figure was up from 16 Filipinos arrested in 2007.
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