Saturday, January 5, 2013

6 more countries offer to sell warships to Philippines - DND

From InterAksyon (Jan 6): 6 more countries offer to sell warships to Philippines - DND

At least six foreign countries are offering frigates to the Philippines after the Department of National Defense (DND) expressed interest in purchasing at least two more warships to boost territorial defense amid the dispute at West Philippine Sea. Fernando Manalo, Defense Undersecretary for finance, munitions, installations and materiel, disclosed that aside from Italy, countries that are offering their frigates are South Korea, Spain, United States, Israel, Croatia, and Australia.

Manalo said that earlier, the Philippines is only eyeing the refurbished Maestrale-class frigates from the Italian navy worth over P11 billion, but more countries have made their offers in the latter part of 2012. “Other countries are now just being convinced that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is serious in its efforts to make itself stronger and more credible,” Manalo said.
Manalo further disclosed that some of the countries were offering brand new frigates. He added that the DND is still in the process of conducting studies to determine which type of frigate will be best for the country. He said the department hopes to come up with a decision by the end of January. “Within this month something must happen,” Manalo said. “Due diligence is being exercised here because we are talking of billions of pesos,” he added.
Meanwhile, the AFP’s Western Command has not monitored any Chinese vessels on disputed territories at West Philippine Sea. Air reconnaissance conducted Thursday showed no signs of Chinese warships, said Lieutenant General Juancho Sabban, Western Command commander. “As per information from my commanders, we conducted aerial recon (Thursday), we didn’t see any of the new vessels that China said they will deploy to West Philippine Sea, and I understand also that from reports (that) China already retracted its statement that they will board and search all vessels passing through West Philippine Sea. I think this is a good development,” Sabban said.

Another bomb attack foiled in Maguindanao

From Rappler (Jan 6): Another bomb attack foiled in Maguindanao

State security forces successfully recovered and disarmed a powerful improvised explosive device (IED) in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao on Saturday morning, January 5, a military spokesman said. Col Prudencio Asto, spokesman of the military’s 6th Infantry Division, said operatives of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Battalion spotted a suspicious-looking bag in the middle of the road in Sitio Malinis, Poblacion at around 4:30 am. Asto said the bag contained a bomb, which was fashioned from two 60-millimeter mortar rounds with an electronic detonator. He said government troops rushed to the area and defused the bomb. Authorities are still trying to identify the perpetrators.The incident came a day after an IED was disarmed at the entrance of Shariff Aguak's town hall.

NPAs abduct anew 2 civilians earlier released in Davao City

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 6): NPAs abduct anew 2 civilians earlier released in Davao City

Two civilians who were earlier reported to have been abducted but released after hours of captivity, were allegedly re-abducted by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Marilog district here. Lt. Col. Jerry Besana, spokesperson and executive officer of Task Force Davao, said Junjun Alonzo and Tata Pandian are now again in the hands of the rebel group led by a certain Ka Bobby.

Alonzo and Pandian along with Jun Lopez, all residents of sitio Luyan, Barangay Tambobong, Marilog district were kidnapped last December 30 but were later released. They were held captive from 5:30 a.m. and were released around 3:30 p.m. on the same day after undergoing rigid interrogation, Besana said. After reporting the incident to authorities, the two were abducted again at their respective houses in the afternoon of January 3, he said.

Another resident of Barangay Tambobong, Boy Betil was also abducted by the NPAs in Sitio Sayawan, Barangay Salaysay, Marilog District, this city on Dec. 23, 2012. He was suspected as a military informant, he added.

Besana said some witnesses reported that Betil was tortured, immersed on the Tuli River and remained to be still in the hands of the rebel group. “Until now, no one knows the whereabouts of Betil,” he said.

MILF: Close to 17,000 Bangsamoro attend MILF advocacy on Framework Agreement

From the MILF Website (Jan 6): Close to 17,000 Bangsamoro attend MILF advocacy on Framework Agreement

Manifesting highest support could no better than the massive congregation of the Bangsamoro people during the peace advocacy drives of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on the GPH – MILF Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in Datu Paglas, Maguindanao and Maasim, Saranggani. Close to 14,000 Bangsamoro flocked in Dtau Paglas and almost 3,000 Maguindanaon, Biwangen and Bla’an converged in Maasim to graced the MILF advocacy to rally adequate understanding and strong support to the historic Government of the Philippines (GPH) – MILF Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed at Malacanang Palace last October 15, 2012.

MILF leaders in the political and military organs, Chief Executives of the local government units, leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), various Bangsamoro tribes both Islamized and non-Islamized, youth and women sectors, and grass roots communities assembled with the same motivation the faithful and successful implementation of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB). Sharing conviction that the successful implementation of FAB will result to peace, prosperity, justice and unity, and thereby ushering the resolution of the age-old armed conflict down south of Philippines and the Bangsamoro struggle for its legitimate aspiration for identity, homeland and self-governance, however, failure in the implementation will emboldened radicalization and options to support purely armed and violent means that would imperil the chances of achieving peace and security.

Participants, particularly those representing the MNLF, recalled what they called as “betrayals and blunders in the highest level committed by the government” with its deliberate failures to fulfill its commitment in the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, Jeddah Accord and 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the MNLF.

Utto Salem Cutan, a top brass of the MNLF who belong to the Batch 300 and currently the Vice Mayor of Maasim, committed its full support to the Framework Agreement, saying “I personally believe that the Framework Agreement is indeed worth supporting and investing because when faithfully implemented peace, development and justice will be realized with prejudice to none.”
Mayor Datu Tong Paglas of Datu Paglas said the Bangsamoro had been wrecked by the wars imposed upon them and with this peace agreement between the government and MILF, the prospects of socio-economic development especially for the Bansgamoro people will be very high.
Mayor Paglas appealed to donor countries and foreign investors to pour in more investments for peace and development in the Bangsamoro homeland. “I believe that the Bangsamoro are very hardworking and resilient and they can be very good productive workers in normal lives,” he said.

The Moro civil society and civilian expressed their gratitude to the Government of Malaysia for the successful facilitation of the peace talks leading to the forging of Framework Agreement, even as they asked the government and MILF to enhance the mandate of the Malaysian – led International Monitoring Team (IMT) in relation to the implementation of the FAB.

Gazmin tells AFP: Be apolitical during polls

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 5): Gazmin tells AFP: Be apolitical during polls
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin yesterday rallied the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to strictly abide by the chain of command and remain apolitical, especially during the upcoming May mid-term elections. In his message to the AFP top brass during the traditional New Year’s Call at Camp Aguinaldo, Gazmin urged all military personnel to “rededicate” themselves to public service. “This is the proper time for us to rededicate ourselves to the ideals of true public service, it is the time for us to renew our pledge to strictly follow the chain of command and exercise utmost prudence in the discharge of our security duties and functions,” Gazmin said.

The defense chief cited the role of the military in keeping the upcoming May mid-term elections peaceful and orderly. “It is the time for us to strictly observe the conduct of honest, orderly and peaceful elections and to remain apolitical and non-partisan at all times,” Gazmin said. The military is usually deputized in far-flung areas by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) before, during and after the conduct of elections.

However, the military was dragged into controversy after the 2004 presidential elections when the infamous “Hello Garci” recordings of alleged conversations between then Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and several personalities, including detained former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo. Arroyo, who was then a sitting president, ran for the presidency against then opposition standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. who filed electoral protest for alleged electoral fraud against Arroyo but died before the case was decided.

Several active military generals were also mentioned in the “Hello Garci” recordings, including then AFP deputy chief of staff for operations Hermogenes Esperon Jr. who rose to become AFP chief of staff during the Arroyo administration. The military leadership even conducted an investigation, led by then AFP Inspector General Mateo Mayuga, who was subsequently appointed Philippine Navy chief, of the alleged involvement of some of its officers but no one was sanctioned.

For his part, AFP chief of staff Gen. Jessie Dellosa vowed a better military performance in 2013. “We assure (the public) that we will never falter in our duties. We have a strong and focused national leadership. We have a decisive and a very supportive leadership at the national defense, the guidance they provide will certainly lead us to perform better and their support will enable us with the necessary assistance exceptionally do our duties,” Dellosa said.

Territorial dispute in South China Sea tops news of 2012

From the Asia-Pacific Defesne Forum Magazine (Dec 31): Territorial dispute in South China Sea tops news of 2012

The territorial dispute in the South China Sea created the biggest ripples in the Asia Pacific in a year that exposed the potential for hostilities and possible escalation of conflict not just among claimants, but also for many other countries. The issue will remain critical in 2013 as a new Chinese law will take effect on New Year’s Day against foreign ships that enter virtually the entire South China Sea under Beijing’s 9-dash line map.

Under the new regulation, police in the Southern province of Hainan can board, inspect, detain, confiscate, immobilize and expel foreign vessels that enter Chinese waters “illegally.” Chinese authorities have yet to clarify what qualifies as illegal. They also remain vague on how to reconcile jurisdiction over the area while maintaining freedom of navigation for other parties.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN] expressed concerns over the new law, as it would affect not just claimants, but also parties that need to pass through the vital sea lanes. Several countries, including the Philippines, have expressed worries that the implementation could further raise tensions in the area. Last April, the Philippines and China were locked in a standoff in Scarborough Reef after the Chinese prevented the arrest of Chinese poachers in the area.

Vietnam and China were likewise involved in similar skirmishes, with China accused of cutting cables of Vietnamese oil exploration ships that were conducting seismic surveys in the area. The Spratly Islands are being claimed wholly by China and in part by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines. The group of islands is believed to be rich in oil and natural gas, and also serves as a major fishing ground.

Code of conduct remains elusive

During the ASEAN and China summit this year, ASEAN attempted but failed to establish a system for resolving disputes in the South China Sea. China, along with its ally Cambodia, stalled plans to develop a code of conduct that would govern the actions of claimants in the disputed area. China twice appeared to have influenced Cambodia to arrive at an agreement on the issue. In July, ASEAN failed to issue an agreement among its foreign ministers after Cambodia, host of the conference, refused to allow mention of the South China Sea.

The Hainan proclamation is a complication to overlapping claims in the South China Sea, according to the Asia-based risk consultancy firm Pacific Strategies and Assessments [PSA].
“China will not go to war over its territorial claims, but it can be expected Beijing will test the waters in many ways to see how far they can intimidate other claimants,” PSA Managing Director Scott Harrison said.

South China Sea provides vital sea lanes

Many nations depend on the vital sea lanes of South China Sea. Any tension that could spark in these sea lanes could seriously affect global trade and disrupt the peace and security in the region. Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has said at least 50,000 ships pass through the disputed waters annually, many of which come from Europe. Because of the growing military assertiveness of China, other claimants are moving toward upgrading their own defense capabilities.

Vietnam People’s Navy recently completed its first locally manufactured warship. The Navy also bought two French helicopters. Built by Hong Ha shipbuilding plant, the ship is equipped with an AK 630 air defense gun, surface-to-air missiles, and radar and enemy recognition systems.

The Philippines, meanwhile, is moving toward establishing a credible defense system through the purchase and acquisition of equipment. The country also is moving toward establishing defense cooperation with other countries such as New Zealand and Canada. The Philippines recently ratified the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement [SOVFA] with Australia to boost military cooperation between the two countries.

Manila also has extended a modernization program of its armed forces by another 15 years in a bid to continue the upgrade of the military’s defense capabilities. In 1995, then-President Fidel V. Ramos signed the AFP Modernization Act with the aim of developing a self-reliant and credible strategic armed force. But what was envisioned as a modernization program turned out to be only a partial capability upgrade of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Aquino signed a law on Dec. 11 extending the act.

Tensions in Senkaku Islands

The region is closely watching the territorial dispute among Japan, China and Taiwan over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyutai in China and Tiaoyutai in Taiwan. Coast Guard ships from Japan and Taiwan blasted each other with water cannons near the islands in what Japan considers its territorial waters as several Taiwan fishing boats sailed nearby. In a separate incident, three Chinese surveillance ships also entered the waters in a move described by Chinese officials as a “rights defense” patrol, which has further stirred tensions. The dispute is determining the domestic political landscape and reshaping the foreign policy dynamics in the region.

Already, there are talks of rearming Japan. Manila’s Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Philippines will back the rearming of Japan to halt the growing military assertiveness of China.
Incoming Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to revise the nation’s pacifist constitution and beef up the military. Like the Spratlys, the Senkaku islands are believed to be rich in oil and mineral deposits. It also boasts of a rich source of marine resources.

Missile launches threaten region

North Korea’s attempts to launch a satellite into orbit remain a significant threat to security in the region. Following four unsuccessful attempts, Pyongyang succeeded on Dec. 12 in launching a satellite into orbit, boosting a bid to have ballistic missiles that threaten the region. The successful launch provided a major domestic boost for the country’s young new leader, Kim Jong-un. Many believe the launch demonstrates North Korea’s ability to send a nuclear warhead 4,000 to 6,000 kilometers [2,400 to 3,600 miles], putting Northeast Asia and potentially the northwest of the United States within range.

China, United States leadership remains steady

There are signs of stability following the selection of Xi Jinping to lead China’s Communist Party.
In 2012, Xi embarked on a highly successful five-day visit to Washington that signaled a renewed era of trade cooperation, especially in agriculture, and a wave of new export contracts for U.S. companies. Many have viewed the visit as favorable to both countries, a healthy contrast to beliefs portraying the two Pacific giants as competitors rather than partners. Xi has expressed positive statements toward the United States. He also wants to expand investment and mutual trade ties with the country.

U.S. President Barack Obama embarked on a three-day visit to Southeast Asia following his re-election in November, strengthening traditional relationships and building bold new ones and at the same time, defusing tensions with China. Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Burma, where he held talks on Nov. 19 with President Thein Sein. Obama publicly hugged the country’s leading human rights advocate, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and praised the country’s steps toward openness and democracy.

India’s emerging leadership in Asia

The emerging leadership of India in the region is undeniable. The country of 1.2 billion people is moving toward consolidation of its defense capabilities in the region. India recently asked Israel for a quicker delivery of bilateral defense projects, including two advanced surface-to-air missile systems, drones and helicopters. Last November, India successfully tested its missile shield using the Advanced Air Defense Interceptor Missile to destroy incoming ballistic missiles. The test shield is part of India’s emerging generation of strategic missiles.

In 2013, the Indian Navy is set to receive the P-8I following the successful first flight of the derivative of The Boeing Co.’s 737-800 long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft and anti-submarine warfare aircraft. As many as two dozen planes are expected to be delivered to the Navy. The plane is an Indian variant of the P-8A Poseidon that Boeing is developing for the U.S. Navy.

India on South China Sea issue

The South Asian country recently changed its policy on the territorial dispute in the South China Sea. While not a claimant, India has a stake in the three offshore oil blocks partly owned by Indian-government run Oil and Natural Gas Corp. off the coast of Vietnam.  India’s new Naval chief, Admiral Devendra Kumar Joshi, recently announced the Navy is ready to sail into the disputed waters to protect economic interests and oil and natural gas in the disputed waters, if necessary. Earlier this year, Admiral Nirmal Kumar Verma, Joshi’s predecessor, said the Indian Ocean Region is the primary area of interest for India.

China protested against two of the blocks in Phu Khanh Basin and said they are not within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone [EEZ] of Vietnam. India backs Hanoi and cites the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas [UNCLOS] to work on the blocks. India imports some 70 percent of its natural gas and crude oil, competing with China in the energy market.

India, along with Vietnam and the Philippines, recently protested China’s newly launched e-passports that showed disputed areas like Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin and the Spratlys as parts of China. Meanwhile, Indonesia is moving forward with a three-year plan to strengthen and modernize the country’s military arsenal.

Indonesia’s defense modernization, armed with a $16.7 billion budget, is likely to position the country as the region’s chief military spender. Many believe that because of the Southeast Asian country’s path of reforms toward democratic consolidation, emerging military power of the country should be of no concern for potential destabilization.

Philippines enhances alliances with Japan, US

From the Asia-Pacific Defense Forum Magazine (Dec 30): Philippines enhances alliances with Japan, US


Philippines Gen. Jessie D. Dellosa, right, and U.S. Pacific Command Commander Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III receive an honor guard as they arrive for the Philippine-U.S. Mutual Defense Board/Security Engagement Board meetings Dec. 13, 2012, at Camp Aguinaldo. [AFP]
The Philippines is forging strategic alliances and advancing diplomacy with regional allies to strengthen security capabilities. A recent agreement to expand the presence of allied forces in the country is expected to build capacity for security and military confidence.

One act of strategic alliance is the Philippines’ support of Japan’s military enhancements. Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines will strongly back the rearming of Japan to deal with China’s growing military assertiveness. “We are looking for balancing factors in the region and Japan could be a significant balancing factor,” he told Financial Times.

Following World War II, Japan was barred from maintaining an Army, Navy or Air Force. The Japanese Constitution, instead, provides for Self Defense Forces, which are basically extensions of the national police force. Japan is forbidden from using force to settle international disputes.

Analysts report that Japan’s enhancement is not headed to a “full-fledged” military build-up. More importantly, Japan’s strategy appears for it to become a fuller military partner of the United States, which maintains 50,000 troops in Japan, according to Yuichi Hosoya, a professor of international politics at Keio University in Tokyo, quoted in the “1913 Intel” blog.

Japanese military strategists have discussed a “division of labor between the two militaries.” In a shared scenario, an enhanced Japanese military would shoulder a greater load with responsibility for areas like anti-submarine warfare. This would allow American forces to focus elsewhere. Current guidelines indicate work toward “integrating” Japanese and American forces by sharing command centers and intelligence.

The movement towards build-up is linked to a territorial dispute with Beijing over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyutai in China. The disagreement has also influenced Japan’s local politics. Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party [LPD] saw a landslide victory in elections held Dec. 16. Many observers predict the LDP win will usher in a government committed to a tougher stance in the territorial dispute with China. The party leader, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has vowed to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution and rearm its military. Predictably, China criticized Del Rosario’s declaration of support.

In a Dec. 12 editorial, state-run China Daily described as “pathetic” the foreign secretary’s statement, saying such remarks “only play into the hands of Japanese right-wingers,” who have been clamoring to break the limits of the country’s pacifist constitution. China Daily said that for Asian countries victimized by Japanese aggression in World War II, normal ties with Japan are possible only under the condition that the country sticks to a pacifist road. “History shows us small countries tend to get the worst of it if they seek to hijack regional peace and stability as a bargaining chip. If Manila insists on playing more tricks in this regard, sooner or later it will have to pay a dear price and lose its own credibility in the region. “On the South China Sea issue, Manila is deceiving itself and miscalculating the situation if it believes it can count on support from countries like the United States and Japan. And it is apparently underestimating China’s resolve to defend its sovereignty and core interests,” the China Daily editorial added.

During the Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN] and China summit in November 2012, the regional body attempted but still failed to establish a new Code of Conduct that would guide the actions of claimant states in the area. China, along with its ally Cambodia, again stalled plans by Southeast Asian nations to develop a system for resolving disputes in the South China Sea. Beijing has refused to bring the issue before international bodies, preferring to engage other claimants individually in bilateral discussions. Aside from China and the Philippines, the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea are being claimed by Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam. Believed to be located in a portion of the sea rich in oil and natural gas, the group of islands also serves as a major fishing ground.

Philippines agrees to expanded presence of US

The Philippines recently moved closer to strategic alliances with an arrangement to expand international cooperation in several areas, one of which is to have more “rotational presence” of United States forces in the country. Philippines and U.S. security officials held their Third Bilateral Strategic Dialogue Dec. 11 and 12, 2012, at the Manila Diamond Hotel, where they agreed to increase the presence of U.S. forces in the country.

At the same time, Rosario expressed strong support for rearming Japan to curb China’s increasingly forceful military posturing and balance factors in the region. During the bilateral meeting between the Philippines and the United States, Foreign Assistant Secretary for American Affairs Carlos Sorreta said, “what we are discussing right now is increasing the rotational presence of U.S. forces.”

In a statement after the two-day event, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said the two countries held the dialogue at a very critical time for the Philippines. Among the issues discussed were cooperative efforts at building the capacity of the Armed Forces of the Philippines [AFP] through training, exercises and other activities.

Foreign Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio, the new Philippine envoy to China, said the results of the meeting reflect the depth of the countries’ relationship and the great potential for even greater cooperation. “This dialogue also comes at a time when the Philippines is facing great challenges in the West Philippine Sea. We are exerting every effort to resolve these issues through diplomacy and the rule of law. But it is important that we give our armed forces every available tool to defend and preserve our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Basilio said. Basilio co-chaired the Philippine delegation, along with Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino. The U.S. co-chairmen were Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell and Assistant Secretary of Defense Mark W. Lippert.

Philippines engages partnership to bolster security

During the meeting, each country finalized action plans for continued engagements for 2013. Among the cooperative activities identified were in the areas of maritime security, disaster response, cyber security, law enforcement, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and inclusive economic growth.  The dialogue reviewed the ongoing deepening of defense and security relations between the Philippines and the United States in the context of U.S. rebalance in the Asia Pacific.

Undersecretaries Basilio and Batino hailed the meeting as “a reaffirmation of the two countries’ commitment to work closely on current and emerging issues that are mutually important and mutually actionable,” and stressed that “both sides are working to ensure that the fruits of these discussions are translated into tangible and lasting results.” On the second day of the meetings, the countries met again to forge agreement between the countries’ militaries. 

AFP chief of staff Gen. Jessie Dellosa and U.S. Pacific Command Commander Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III presided over the Philippine-U.S. Mutual Defense Board/Security Engagement Board meeting Dec. 13, 2012, at Camp Aguinaldo. They agreed to five terms of reference in the Philippine-U.S. Mutual Defense Board/Security Engagement Board [MDB/SEB] meetings:

• transfer of the Philippine National Police [PNP] from the MDB to the SEB

• designation of the SEB to deal with non-traditional threats such as piracy, cyber security, and disasters

• creation of a technology and experimentation subcommittee on civil-military operations, and

• creation of a humanitarian and disaster response working group; and activation of a counter-terrorism working group.

During the meeting, Locklear reiterated the U.S. concern for freedom of navigation and peace and stability in the region. He stressed that the United States is not taking sides in the maritime dispute at the South China Sea, but noted that Washington is concerned about anything that creates potential disruption to security.

The meeting is the final gathering of the boards for the 2012 cycle after the Standing Committee Meetings and the Executive Committee Meeting. It covers a strategic dialogue between Dellosa and Locklear as co-chairmen of the board on defense and security matters, and on the strengthening of their military ties.

The meetings are part of the regular consultations between the Philippines and the United States under their treaty obligations pursuant to the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement.