Sunday, June 30, 2013

Marines posted in lonely, rusty ship on shoal awarded

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 30): Marines posted in lonely, rusty ship on shoal awarded
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) awarded one of the highest military recognitions to the Marines and sailors who reported and monitored the presence of Chinese vessels at Ayungin Shoal in May, alerting the national government to another encroachment by China on Philippine territory.

The Philippines marks its ownership of the shoal with the Ayungin “detachment,” a rusty hospital ship named BRP Sierra Madre that ran aground on the reef in 1999.

Long-haired, sunburned and malnourished, the soldiers received the Bronze Cross medal from Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of the Western Command, last week, the Inquirer learned from a government source.

“The Bronze Cross is an award given to soldiers who risk their lives but are not in actual fighting, but their lives are in danger,” the source said.

The source, who also provided the photographs to the Inquirer, asked not to be named as the government wants to control information coming from Ayungin Shoal, citing national security.

But the source said the public should know the sacrifices soldiers make and the challenges they face when they are deployed to isolated detachments like the Kalayaan islands in the Spratlys to protect the country’s territory and sovereignty.

Dedication to duty
For the government, the troops led by Marine T/Sgt. Eddie Malate, the most senior of the soldiers, were heroes.
Guerrero has called them the “defenders and protectors of Ayungin Shoal.”
The source said that the citation for the Bronze Cross received by the troops highlighted their “high sense of responsibility and dedication to duty when they vigilantly monitored the persistent presence, movement and activities of another claimant country’s vessels.”
“The reports they dispatched to their commanders allowed our government to assess and respond to the situation,” the source said.
The Ayungin detachment sent reports to Western Command headquarters, which dispatched naval vessels and planes to verify and document the soldiers’ reports.
“This documentation was sent to the national government to support our diplomatic protest,” the source said.
In its protest, the government said the Chinese vessels encroached on the maritime borders of the Philippines.
Chinese harassment
Around the time Malate and the other soldiers spotted the Chinese vessels, Eugenio Bito-onon, mayor of Kalayaan town on Pag-asa Island, was traveling to Puerto Princesa with other islanders in a boat when two huge, unidentified vessels that looked like navy ships with large spotlights appeared and began to trail their vessel.
Bito-onon and his group were passing by Ayungin Shoal when the unidentified ships suddenly showed up.
A document given to the Inquirer quoted Malate as saying that they “saw the Chinese ships moving around their detachment but they did not confront them with hostility.”
“Although the Chinese did not harm them, the persistent display of intimidation from the Chinese maritime surveillance ships had not affected them,” the document said.
“They remained calm and focused on their task to monitor and report what the national government considers ‘illegal and provocative presence,’” it said.
‘We cannot be weak’
Malate said he and the other soldiers on Ayungin Shoal were not afraid of the Chinese in the area.
“Fear is no longer there … We just followed the orders given to us. We cannot be weak because Ayungin is ours,” Malate said.
He said that he and his fellow soldiers in the detachment kept their morale high by reminding one another of their duty to the country.
Malate said they knew the government would not abandon them.
The military last week sent fresh troops and supplies to Ayungin, relieving Malate and his men who were more than glad to set foot on the ground again.
They were treated to ice cream and donuts, the sweets that usually await Ayungin troops after their tour of duty.
Seafood every day
“At Ayungin we eat seafood every day that’s why we miss ice cream and donut. We just talk about these treats there and wait for the day we will eat them again,” Malate said.
The soldiers on Ayungin cook their own food. They grow spices like ginger in pots to have something to spike the flavor of their meals.
The document seen by the Inquirer has a military doctor saying that “most soldiers deployed [to the Kalayaan group on long tours of duty] like [the] Ayungin soldiers tend to suffer from malnutrition and other health-related risks because of the extreme conditions in their environment and the imbalance of nutrients from the food they eat.”
That report prompted Guerrero to order medical checkups for soldiers who had been deployed to Kalayaan.
Hard life
Malate said life on Ayungin was hard, but he had learned to love it.
“It is where I and my comrades found home while protecting our territory. I am proud that I have been assigned here because not everybody can have the honor to perform duties here,” Malate said in the document seen by the Inquirer.
Malate said that the fresh troops now on Ayungin would defend the Philippine territory with the same tenacity as every soldier who had been assigned there.
“Devotion to duty is a binding force among us in the military. We just hope that our countrymen will continue to include us in their prayers for the safety of our troops so we can continue performing our mandate in the [Kalayaan],” Malate said.

MILF: Editorial--The Growing Menace

Editorial from the MILF Website (Jul 1): The Growing Menace

There is little doubt the original Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) or Harakat Al-Islami founded by Ustadz Abdulrazak Janjalani had clear ideological lines that guided them during their early stage.
But today, after his demise, there is little way to doubt that the group had strayed off course beyond all bounds. We do not know whether there are still personalities within the ASG or its various factions who cling or pursue the original line of the founder. If there are, either they are too weak to assert their leadership or have already adopted the current ASG’s line which makes kidnapping as morally right and the main (or only) source of money.

Kidnapping is bad whoever the target is. Under no circumstances it can be justified. The MILF did not only abhor this, as a matter of principle and policy, but we also actively find ways to secure the release of the victims irrespective of beliefs and nationalities. More importantly, we also work hard to stop or at least neutralize this immoral activity.

A beast is always a beast but if it devours its own kind, then it becomes worse than a beast. It is a monster. Today, the ASGs are not only abducting foreigners but everybody who has money or anyone perceived to have the ability to pay ransom. The kidnapping of Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani, a devout Muslim, of Al-Arabiya TV in June 2012 and recently of Nadjoua and Linda Bansil, daughters of the late Sheikh Abdulbasset Bansil of Maguindanao by an Algerian mother proved this point. The group merely uses Islam to advance their false cause.

The growing menace must stop now. It destroys the very core of human dignity and puts to shame everyone who still has that sense of self-respect. Moreover, it is humiliating to every Moro leader and is a slap to those leaders in Manila that a small band of people pursues their evil trade at will and earn millions of dollars on the process.

In Central Mindanao, kidnapping is neutralized to a larger extent. The kidnappers cannot do their trade without thinking it several times. Through the mechanism of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), the MILF and the government have cooperated to address the menace of kidnapping. We salute the two AHJAGs for their jobs well done!

But in Sulu, we do not understand why this group is not neutralized. The ASG’s lair is mainly in Patikul town, which is adjacent to the capital town of Jolo. Here, the strength of the military, both naval and infantry is huge. In addition, the MNLF claims this island province as their bastion. There are also many powerful politicians who are armed to the teeth especially the group of Governor Sakur Tan. Add these to the so-called Royal Army of the Sulu Sultanate, and the result would be a Goliath and David situation. But the ASG cannot be David, because David was not only an upright man but he was a prophet. Unless the ASG make amends, they are far from the blessings of Allah.

MILF: 'Release all kidnapped victims in Sulu; stop releasing high-valued ASG inmates from SICA jail'

Posted to the MILF Website (Jul 1): 'Release all kidnapped victims in Sulu; stop releasing high-valued ASG inmates from SICA jail'

Human rights organizations under the umbrella of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates and the Free Cocoy Tulawie Movement (FCTM) call for the immediate investigation over the suspicious release of high valued-ASG leaders from the Special Intensive Care Area of Camp Bagong Diwa last February 15, 2013 in the light of the recent spate of kidnapping of two independent film-makers and fellow human rights defenders, Linda and Nadjoua Bansil. 
“We share the anxiety and fears of the family and friends of the victims as we also desire to extend whatever possible assistance in order to secure the immediate, unconditional and safe release of the victims”, Sr. Maria Arnold Noel, spokesperson of the Free Cocoy Tulawie Movement said.

It boggles the mind of ordinary Filipinos and Moros why the ASG continues to commit kidnapping and acts of terrorism despite the massive counter-terrorism measures waged against them by the Philippine government.  One factor that the group cited is the recent experience during the March 6, 2013 hearing of the criminal case filed by Governor Abdusakur Tan against Cocoy Tulawie before RTC-Manila Branch 19. 

The statement revealed that the the private complainant Governor Tan presented in court as his witness, Sali Said, who admitted that he is an active Abu Sayyaf member and son of ASG leader Abu Maas.  He proudly admitted that he was involved in kidnapping Ces Drilon in 2008.  Sali Said also admitted in open court that the lawyer of the governor worked out his papers for his release from the Special Intensive Care Area (SICA) of Camp Bagong Diwa.  He was released from SICA last February 15, 2013 through the legal aide program of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos.  In exchange of the big favour from the Governor of Sulu, Sali Said agreed to testify against Cocoy Tulawie.  ASG inmates in SICA are allegedly lining up to testify against Cocoy Tulawie because if they do so, they will accordingly be released by Gov. Tan just like what happened to Sali Said.

Max de Mesa of PAHRA said that “It is quite ironic and extremely disturbing that our soldiers are risking their lives and limbs fighting against the Abu Sayyaf Group in Sulu and yet we have witnessed their own self-confessed member freely walking out of the courtroom just because they are under the cloak of a powerful politician.  While many of us pin our hopes on President Aquino’s “matuwid na daan” policy, it is depressing that the traditional politicians in Sulu continues to behave like they are above the law and act like sovereign kings who can command the release of even the most notorious terrorist and kidnapper like Sali Said.”

The ASG along with the traditional politicians and warlords in Sulu are the ones destroying the image of this once proud and thriving civilization of the Sultanate of Sulu.  As we approached the holy month of Qur’an, the month of Ramdahan, the group appeals to the conscience of the ASG, to release our sisters, Linda and Nadjoua Bansil, safely and unconditionally.

The FCTM strongly urge President Aquino to probe deeper into this matter and ensure that the politicians in Sulu cannot play mockery of justice in order to promote their own political interests at the expense of the blood and tears of our young men and women in uniform who are fighting against the ASG in Sulu.  Let the avowed “matuwid na daan” and reform of the ARMM finally reach the shore of Sulu, the statement concluded.

MILF: IMT, LMT pay tribute to Provincial Peace and Development Program Workers

From the MILF Website (Jul 1): IMT, LMT pay tribute to Provincial Peace and Development Program Workers


The Government of the Philippines (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) International and Local Monitoring Teams paid tribute to the staff of Kalinaw Sarangani Unit under the Office of the Governor of Sarangani as the program ends.
In a Peace Partners Gathering Program held in a beach resort in Glan, Sarangani Province on June 27, 2013, a Kanduli (thanksgiving) was held for the program implementers.

Lt Col Syed Islam bin Shahajam, from the Royal Malaysian Armed Forces and IMT Site 4 Team Leader expressed his appreciation to KSU for all its efforts to keep Sarangani generally peaceful.

KSU and IMT for the past couple of years have jointly conducted peace orientations in the barangays and informed the community members on the role of the IMT.

Pat Sol, from the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP), also thanked KSU for the assistance it gave to help educate the constituents of Sarangani about the duties and functions of peace monitors and monitoring peace and order situation of the province.

Local Monitoring Team members Ibrahim Macatimbol and Ustadz Abdulbayan Laguialam said KSU was instrumental in enjoining the community members to embrace and maintain peace.

The peace stakeholders which included the KSU staff also recalled their efforts that supported the GPH-MILF Peace Process.

Among those initiatives were the conduct of peace-based capacity building trainings, monitoring local peace and order situation, delivery of peace projects, and conduct of orientation on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) for 32 barangays spearheaded by KSU.

Local MILF personalities and other Moro organizations also helped educate the communities on the FAB orientations.

Established in 2006, Kalinaw Sarangani implemented the Provincial Peace and Development Program on which the component projects include conducting Culture of Peace Trainings in the communities, supporting the Madaris program and Moro cultural activities, and implementing projects that support peace and development of grassroots communities with development institutions.

Kalinaw Sarangani is coterminous with the stint of Sarangani Governor Miguel Rene A. Dominguez whose third consecutive term as governor ends on June 30, 2013.

The peace and development program gave the province its First Galing Pook Award, a national recognition for local government units that implement innovative and worth emulating projects that demonstrate good governance support to the constituents.

Jocelyn Lambac-Kanda, KSU Program Manager, said the Kalinaw Sarangani team may be dissolved but its members will continue their peace efforts in their capacity as private individuals or Non-Government Organization.

Most of its team members are conveners of an organization of peace advocates known as Circle of Peacebuilders (COPs).

Sarangani Board Member Virgilio Clark Tobias said “The provincial government owes you a lot. KSU has done something in getting the support of the people to the province,” he pointed out.

90 Region 12 cops undergo counter insurgency training

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jun 28): 90 Region 12 cops undergo counter insurgency training

Some 90 police officers of Soccsksargen Region are currently undergoing counter insurgency training, an official of the Police Regional Office (PRO) 12 said. 

PSInsp. Benjamin Mauricio Jr., spokesperson of the PRO 12 told Philippine Information Agency 12 the training that started in June 19 is aimed at enhancing the police officers’ skills in responding to insurgency and similar incidents.

The present group of trainees, he added, comprised the 33rd batch of the Special Counter Insurgency Operations Unit Training (SCOUT) in Soccsksargen Region or Region 12. 

"SCOUT is a mandatory training to all PNP personnel to be equipped with skills in dealing with armed men and threat groups in our country,” Mauricio said.

In the 45-day course, the police trainees will be equipped with capabilities in first aid, rope courses, immediate action drills, water/seaborne tactics, terrain modeling, close quarter battle, survival, field training exercises. 

Most of the training sessions are being held at the Regional Service Training Unit (RSTU) 12. 

They will also undergo community immersion.

Mauricio added that the course assures physical and mental preparedness of the police officers as required in the counter insurgency operations.

At the course opening last week, Deputy Regional Director for Administration PSSupt Manolito Labador said the SCOUT training course is significant in making every police officer become efficient, responsible and effective public servants.

"It is better to sweat in training than to bleed in battle," he reminded the police officers.

Mauricio said the training course is in accordance with Police Director General Allan Purisima’s reform agenda for the Philippine National Police, particularly in upgrading their competence as police officers and able to defend, protect and serve the country and the communities where they are stationed.

KL ends offensive; Kiram forces staying in Sabah

From the Manila Standard Today (Jul 1): KL ends offensive; Kiram forces staying in Sabah

THE Sulu Sultanate said Sunday its men will stay put in Sabah despite the Malaysian government’s announcement that it has stopped its military operation against the followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

Abraham Idjirani, Kiram’s spokesman, said Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, the sultan’s brother who commands the remaining Royal Security Forces in Sabah, had no plans to go back to the Philippines.

He described as “propaganda” the statement of Malaysian State Security Council chairman Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman that “Ops Daulat,” the offensive operation to flush out Kiram’s followers in Sabah, officially ended on Saturday.

“That is a propaganda to counter the  confirmed clashes between Raja Muda’s men and Malaysian security units on June 16 and 18,” Idjirani said.

Idjirani was referring to the two encounters in Labbiyaw and Dangan Tungko in Sabah, where Agbimuddin’s men battled Malaysian forces, the first reported clashes since the armed hostilities in Sabah ceased on the last week of March.

Idjirani said the Malaysian forces suffered “numerous casualties” during the shootout as reported by the Sultanate’s volunteer forces in Sabah.

“Their forces are in low morale because we killed many of them,” Idjirani said.
“So what they do is announce the end of the military offensive so as to create the impression that they have restored order in Sabah.”

In an article in Malaysia’s Star Online, Musa said the National Security Council had ordered the Eastern Sabah Security Command or ESSCOM to secure Sabah.

Musa said ESSCOM would now spearhead all operations from northern Kudat to southeastern Tawau to make Sabah’s eastern sea borders safe from threats under a new operational codename “Ops Sanggah.”

With the cessation of the military offensive, Idjirani said, the Sultanate’s Royal Security Forces and its volunteer forces would keep a defensive posture.

He said Agbimuddin and his forces would not dare start hostilities with the Malaysian forces because they were still observing the unilateral ceasefire declared by Kiram.
Idjirani said the Royal Security Forces had about 166 men reinforced by more than 1,000 “volunteers,” and that at least 80 percent of the forces were armed with high-powered firearms.

In February, a 200-man RSF unit sailed to Sabah to stake the sultanate’s claim on the territory. And on March 1, the Malaysian armed forces launched a week-long active military campaign against the RSF, which resulted in the death of 68 RSF men and 10 Malaysian soldiers and policemen.

The Sulu Sultanate regards Sabah as part of its territory, claiming the territory was illegally turned over to the Malaysian government when it gained independence in 1963.

US joins Asia meeting marked by sea tensions

From InterAksyon (Jul 1): US joins Asia meeting marked by sea tensions

Fresh from tough Middle East talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry was due to touch down in Brunei Monday for meetings with Asia-Pacific nations bedevilled by divisive issues of their own.

Kerry will join foreign ministers from China, Japan, Russia, and across the Asia-Pacific for an annual security forum in which he will be keen to stress that Washington is sincere in its promised "pivot" toward Asia.

As expected, the meetings look to revolve in large part around regional concerns over China's rise.

During kick-off talks on Sunday between the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Philippines accused China of a "massive" military buildup in the disputed South China Sea, which it said threatened peace.

China, which claims virtually all of the strategic waterway, has been at odds with rival claimants, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam, leading to tense confrontations at sea and allegations of aggressive Chinese bullying.

"The Philippines views with serious concern the militarisation of the South China Sea," Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario told his ASEAN counterparts.

"The overwhelming presence of Chinese ships, including military and paramilitary ships, and the issuance of threats pose serious challenges for the region as a whole."

Temperatures have also risen in the East China Sea amid rival claims by Beijing and Tokyo to remote, uninhabited islands.

On Monday, Kerry was scheduled to meet with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts and hold talks with the ASEAN grouping, followed a day later by a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

However, Kerry is rushing to make it to Brunei, this year's forum host, after extending a Middle East stop in a marathon bid to revive direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians that yielded no signs of a breakthrough.

While putting a personal priority on peace in the Middle East, Kerry has insisted Washington is not ignoring Asia.

But even in Brunei, his focus will not be solely on Asia as he is also expected to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov amid tensions over the Syria war and the presence in Moscow of fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

The Snowden affair has put stress on US relations with Moscow and Beijing, which Washington accuses of letting Snowden slip out of Hong Kong en route to Moscow.

Japan's foreign minister was also expected to hold direct talks with his South Korean counterpart Monday for the first time since each country recently voted in new governments.

The meetings began with a gathering of ASEAN on Sunday, with China joining later in the day, and expand Monday to include the United States and others before wrapping up with an East Asia meeting bringing together foreign ministers from 26 countries and the European Union.

Muslim leaders urge release of filmmakers

From the Manila Times (Jun 30): Muslim leaders urge release of filmmakers

Tausug leaders on Sunday appealed for the release of two Muslim filmmakers who are being held captive by an armed group in Jolo, Sulu.

The said Muslim community leaders made the plea amid preparations for the observance of the holy month of Ramadan.

The appeals were made separately by Ustadhz Abdulbaqi Abubakar, grand mufti of Region 9 and a senior leader of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF); Jamalul Kiram 3rd and Muedzul-Lail Tan-Kiram, heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo; and Jadjurie Arasa, administrator of the Blue Mosque in Maharalika Village, Taguig City.

They coursed their plea through journalist Edd Usman, uncle of sisters Nadjoua and Linda Bansil, who have been held captive since June 22.

Abubakar, for one, said that the Bansil sisters should not have been put in such situation.

“I knew their father, Abdulbasit Bansil, as a poor man like many Moro people like us because he was my school mate at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt,” said Abubakar.

He said that the Bansil sisters should be freed as the Muslim world commemorates the holy month of Ramadan.

“I am appealing to anyone, or any group holding them to free them unharmed immediately as the holy month of Ramadan is about to start,” said Abubakar.

The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NMCF) will convene its Moon-sighting Committee on July 8 to look for the new crescent moon that signals the advent of Ramadan.

If the crescent is sighted, the NCMF said, the first day of fasting will be set on July 9; if not sighted, then Ramadan would start on July 10.

It is in this spirit of Islam’s message of peace and unity, particularly during the annual season of sacrifice and God-centeredness, that leaders of Sulu voiced their appeals for the helpless Bansil sisters’ freedom.

Several armed men seized Nadjoua and Linda from a jeepney while returning to Jolo town on June 22.

Before going to Sulu, Nadjoua said that she had spoken to some Tausug leaders who assured them their safety and access to coffee farmers in the area.

Sultanate decides to stay put in Sabah

From the Manila Times (Jun 30): Sultanate decides to stay put in Sabah

ARMED followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram 3rd have no plans to give up their fight to regain Sabah despite the Malaysian government’s announcement that it has stopped its military operation against Sulu Royal Forces (SRF).

Abraham Idjirani, spokesman of the Sultanate of Sulu, said Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, the sultan’s brother who commands the remaining SRF in Sabah, has no plans to withdraw and go back to the Philippines.

Malaysian State Security Council chairman Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman earlier said that “Ops Daulat,” the offensive operation to flush out Kiram’s followers in Sabah, has officially ended on Saturday. Idjirani, however, dismissed Datuk Musa’s statement as mere propaganda to counter the confirmed clashes between Raja Muda’s men and Malaysian security units on June 16 and 18 in Labbiyaw and Dangan Tungko in Sabah.

The spokesman added that the sultanate’s volunteer forces in Sabah confirmed that Malaysian forces suffered “numerous casualties” during the shootout.

“Their forces are in low morale because we killed many of them. So what they do is announce the end of the military operation to create an impression that they have restored order in Sabah,” Idjirani said. He maintained that the SRF and its volunteer forces would remain in their defensive positions despite the cessation of the military operation.

The spokesman also assured Agbimuddin and his forces would not dare start hostilities with the Malaysian forces because they are still observing the unilateral ceasefire declared by Kiram.

According to Malaysia’s Star Online, Musa said the National Security Council gives the Eastern Sabah Security Command full responsibility of securing Sabah.

Senators open to US troops access

From the Manila Times (Jun 30): Senators open to US troops access

SOME Senators have no objection to the Aquino administration’s plan to grant American and Japanese troops access to the country’s air and naval facilities as long as it doesn’t go beyond the scope of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

Sen. Gregorio Honasan said he is open to the idea of increasing the presence of foreign military allies in the country.

“Until such time that we can defend ourselves or can stand on our own when it comes to military capability, the idea of allowing our allies access to our facilities is acceptable,” Honasan, a former Army officer, said.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin last week announced that an agreement with the United States that will allow US troops access to Philippine military facilities, specifically Subic and Clark bases, is being studied.

Gazmin said the same agreement may also be applied to Japanese forces.

Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on foreign relations, said US forces can use Philippine military facilities as long as it is within the scope of the VFA.

“The VFA will continue to be enforced to ensure that US military presence remains within the bounds of the VFA framework. The same is true with Australia where we have an existing Status of Visiting Forces Agreement, which has already been ratified by the Senate,” Legarda said.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th, said he must first look at the details of the proposal before supporting it.

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile earlier said that if access means allowing foreign troops to resupply or temporarily stay, he will not object. But he added that allowing them to set up a facility for their refueling needs or for ammunition storage would be a violation of the Constitution.

Facts on sea dispute

From the Manila Times (Jun 30): Facts on sea dispute

The West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) covers more than three million square kilometers), ringed by southern China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Borneo island, and mainland Southeast Asia.

Most of its hundreds of small islands, islets and rocks are uninhabited. The Paracel and Spratly chains contain the biggest islands.

The sea is the main maritime link between the Pacific and Indian oceans, giving it enormous trade and military value. Its shipping lanes connect East Asia with Europe and the Middle East.

Major unexploited oil and gas deposits are believed to lie under the seabed.

The sea is home to some of the world’s biggest coral reefs and, with marine life being depleted close to coasts, it is important as a source of fish to feed growing populations.

China and Taiwan both claim nearly all of the sea, while Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei each have often-overlapping claims to parts of it.

Beijing’s argument is based largely on a decades-old Chinese map with a “nine-dash line” that approaches the coasts of other countries and outlines its claim.

Beijing and most other countries know it as the South China Sea. Hanoi calls it the East Sea and Manila officially refers to it as the West Philippine Sea.


 China has held all of the Paracel islands since a conflict with South Vietnam in 1974 that left 53 Vietnamese troops dead.

Vietnam is believed to occupy or control more than 20 of the Spratly islands and reefs, the most of any claimant.

Taiwan has a garrison controlled by its coastguard on Itu Aba island, which is called Taiping in Chinese and is the largest in the Spratlys.

The Philippines occupies nine of the Spratlys, including Thitu island, the second largest. The Philippines has a military presence and civilians living on Thitu, which it calls Pagasa.

China occupies at least seven of the Spratlys including Johnson Reef, which it gained after a naval battle with Vietnam in 1988.

Malaysia occupies three of the Spratlys. The most significant presence is on Swallow Reef, called Layang Layang Island in Malaysia, where it has a naval post and a diving resort.

Brunei claims a submerged reef and a submerged bank in the Spratlys.

Tensions: China-Vietnam

 Aside from the 1974 battle for the Paracels, the only other major conflict occurred when Vietnam and China fought a naval battle on Johnson Reef in the Spratlys in 1988 that left 70 Vietnamese military personnel dead.

However, Chinese naval vessels have fired at other times on Vietnamese fishing boats in the area.

In June last year Vietnam passed a law proclaiming its jurisdiction over all of the Paracel and Spratly islands, triggering Chinese protests.

At about the same time China announced it had created a new city, Sansha, on one of the Paracel islands, to administer Chinese rule over its South China Sea domain.


 In 1995, China began building structures on Mischief Reef, within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Tensions between the two nations rose in 2011 when Chinese vessels harassed a Philippine-chartered gas exploration vessel at Reed Bank.

The Philippines then accused Chinese military and paramilitary vessels of a campaign of intimidation within the country’s exclusive economic zone, including the occupation of Scarborough Shoal.

In January this year Manila asked a United Nations tribunal to rule that China’s claims were invalid. China refused to participate in the legal proceedings, which could take years.

In May, the Philippines said it had made an official protest at Chinese military vessels circling Filipino-occupied Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratlys.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and China adopted a non-binding “declaration of conduct” in 2002 to discourage hostile acts. All sides agreed not to use threats or force to assert claims.

But China has since refused to turn it into a legally binding “code of conduct”.

The dispute exposed divisions at a gathering of Asean foreign ministers last year when the meeting host Cambodia, a China ally, rejected a Philippine push for the bloc to take a tough line against the Chinese.

With Brunei as host of Asean events in 2013, a sense of unity has been restored within the group. Asean foreign ministers issued a joint communique after their meeting on Sunday reaffirming their commitment to the 2002 declaration.

MILF: Moros holds prayer rally in Mendiola in pursuit of peace

From the MILF Website (Jun 30): Moros holds prayer rally in Mendiola in pursuit of peace

At least 250 Bangsamoros in Metro Manila conducted prayer rally in Mendiola on Friday, June 28, to voice out their frustrations in the slow pace of the GPH–MILF peace negotiation. 
Dats Magon of  Mindanao Peoples' Caucus who led the prayer rally said this is the only way we could show to the whole nation that we are not happy with what is happening in the negotiation.

At 12:00 pm the prayer started with the calling of azan by Akmad Kumayog followed by Ustadz Norodin Tasil who delivered sermon (khutba) on the importance of negotiation in Islam to address the Moro Question in Mindanao.

Negotiation is very important as the Holy Qur'an in Surah Al Anfal verse 61 commanded Muslims that, "If they (non Muslims) inclined to peace, they (Muslims) are inclined with it [also] and rely upon Allah. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing.”

Formal program started after the prayer.

Hadja Amerah Ibrahim of the Filipino–Muslim Foundation appealed to Pinoy to settle the annexes immediately.

"We are afraid that war will happen again in Mindanao, so please please instruct government peace panel not to backtrack and be serious in the negotiation,” she stressed.

Badrudin Ali of UNYPAD – NCR said: "Now is the right time for Pinoy to show his sincerity. The FAB signing brought us new hope, but time is running out so fast. Our hopes are slowly turning in to frustration.

"We blame the GPH panel for this frustration", he added.

Some of placards had these writings: “GPH – MILF finish the Annexes now!!!” “GPH Panel no more backtracking in the negotiation”, “GPH–MILF sign Comprehensive Peace Agreement to finally put the Mindanao Conflict into total closure”, and “PINOY prioritize the Bangsamoro issue as your primary agenda and major accomplishment and be included in your upcoming State of the Nation Address.”

Magon told Luwaran that their next move would be a rally at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) in Ortigas, Pasig City on July 02, 2013.

NPA 'spokesman' admits attack on unarmed policemen jogging in Tadian

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): NPA 'spokesman' admits attack on unarmed policemen jogging in Tadian

An alleged spokesman of the New People's Army (NPA) operating in Mountain Province admitted Saturday that it was his group who staged the ambush to some 100 unarmed policemen in training in Cabunagan, Tadian, Mountain Province last Friday.

This was learned from Harley Palangchao, president of the Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club (BCBC). The newsman was able to talk to the alleged communist rebel over the phone and the latter owned up the ambush on police trainees.

The alleged NPA spokesman gave his name to selected mediamen here as one “Magno Udiao” of the “Leonardo Pacsi Command”. The same also admitted carrying out the ambush to several reporters.

Government forces were still on the pursuit of the perpetrators of the ambush.

Last Friday morning, a band of NPA rebels fired upon the policemen who were jogging not so far from their training site. The policemen are members of the Police Regional Office Cordillera (PROCOR).

One policemen was killed and nine were injured. The injured are still being treated at the Luis Hora Memorial Hospital in Bauko, Mountain Province.

PROCOR condemned the treacherous attack of their members who were just wearing their jogging uniforms.

PROCOR discovered not far from the ambush site personal effects of NPA rebels which included a stove.

Army official learning organic farming techniques

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): Army official learning organic farming techniques

A top official of the Philippine Army in Negros Occidental is learning organic farming techniques by visiting two modern-integrated farms in the province.

Capt. Leo Christopher Cunanan, civil military operations of the 303rd Infantry Brigade (IB) based in Murcia town, said brigade commander Col. Jon Aying is studying and learning farm methods that can be applied in the 303rd IB Integrated Farming System.

Cunanan said that Aying, being an environmentalist, actively promotes organic farming.

Aying recently visited the Fresh Start Organic Farm in Hacienda Maquina, Silay City and the Peñalosa Farm in Quirino St., Victorias City.

The Fresh Start Organic Farm is into vermi-composting and waste segregation, produces high-quality organic fertilizers and organic products such as black rice, brown rice and organic coffee.

The Peñalosa Farm is known for its odourless and relatively fly-free hog farm, unconventional way of waste management, pro-biotic spraying to prevent the multiplication of flies, plots of medicinal and aromatic herbs, integrated organic farm with its own windmill that powers the water pump.

The 303rd IB Integrated Farming System is designed to ensure food security, basic income and sustainability to identified beneficiaries, especially for former rebels, threatened witnesses, CAFGU Active Auxiliary (CAA) members, Army personnel, and displaced civilians in the hinterlands.

Cunanan said the farming program is being adopted by the 303rd IB as its main tool for the socio-economic enhancement of individuals and communities highly-involved, affected and vulnerable to armed conflict.

It is one of the many non-traditional innovations of the military towards winning the peace in Negros Occidental, he added.

The farming program is designed to support of the initiatives under the Negros First Agenda of Gov. Alfredo Marañon and its Three-Year Strategic Development Plan Objectives, the Social Integration Program of the National Government, and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

The Negros First peace and development initiatives seek to optimize the potentials of Negros Occidental as an agricultural province to ensure food sufficiency and agricultural productivity, and generate livelihood especially for the poor and marginalized.

Soldiers, Rotarians turn over books, computer to NegOcc school

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): Soldiers, Rotarians turn over books, computer to NegOcc school

Pupils of Don Esteban de la Rama Elementary School in Barangay Jonob-Jonob, Escalante City in Negros Occidental received 68 books and a computer set from Philippine Army units and the Rotary International of Loyola Heights (RILH) on June 27.

The project was a joint effort of the RILH with the Army’s 62nd Infantry Battalion, 3rd Civil Military Operations (CMO) Battalion, and 3rd Infantry Division together with the city government of Escalante.

“The school items will improve the learning of pupils and will give them the courage (to learn more) for their future,” school principal Jeolito Nemenzo said.

Restituto Aligato Jr., president of Parent Teachers Association (PTA), thanked the donors and encouraged the pupils to enhance their learning so they can have a better future.

Lt. Col. Patrick Cinco, commander of the 3rd CMO Battalion, said the distribution of books and computer set is part of the efforts to promote and win the peace in Escalante through the support of the local government unit and various stakeholders.

Meanwhile, soldiers of the 62nd IB and the 3rd CMO Battalion also participated in the coastal clean-up drive in Old Poblacion, Escalante on June 28.

The activity, themed “One Earth, One Chance, One Choice,” was held in line with the program of Department of Environment and Natural Resources to protect coastal areas.

Other participants were from the Provincial Environment Management Office (PEMO), City Environment and Natural Resources Office, LGU-Escalante, and Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

President Aquino to lead 66th Philippine Air Force Anniversary in Pampanga Monday

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): President Aquino to lead 66th Philippine Air Force Anniversary in Pampanga Monday

President Benigno S. Aquino III will lead rites commemorating the 66th Anniversary of the Philippine Air Force that will be held at the Clark Air Base in Angeles, Pampanga on Monday, July 1.

Joining the President will be Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista.

The PAF, according to Col. Miguel Ernesto Okol, PAF spokesperson, will mark this momentous occasion with a flyby of the 66 PAF planes over the CAB airfield.

The flyby will consist of nine T-41D Mescaleros, three S-211 jet aircraft, two OV-10 Broncos, two Aermacchi SF-260TP, three NOMADs, three Fokker F-27, three Lockheed C-130s, six UH-1Hs, one Sikorsky S-76A, one Bell B-205 helicopter, one Huey II, six W-3A Sokols, and four MG-520 attack choppers.

This year's flyby is larger by 23 aircraft than the 43 participating planes in last year's 65th anniversary of Philippine Air Force.

The PAF was founded on July 1, 1947, two years after the end of World War II.

The PAF traces its lineage to the Philippine Army Air Corp which was established in 1941.

ASEAN urges engagement with China in South China Sea disputes

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): ASEAN urges engagement with China in South China Sea disputes

The foreign ministers of the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said on Sunday that they saw the need to maintain the positive momentum in the interaction between ASEAN countries and China over the disputes in the South China Sea.

The statement encouraging China-ASEAN engagement was included in a joint communique issued after a meeting of the ASEAN foreign ministers in Bandar Seri Begawan, where Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario launched a surprising, if not deliberately bizarre, accusation of militarization of the South China Sea.

Rosario voiced "serious concern over the increasing militarization of the South China Sea," despite the fact that about 1,000 soldiers from the Philippines and the United States are staging a joint exercise in the South China Sea.

The joint communique mainly focused on the efforts of the ASEAN to push for the building of an ASEAN Community by the end of 2015 and improve interconnectivity among the member states, including a plan for a common visa.

It also touched on some of the hot issues including the South China Sea disputes.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Singapore's Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam described the closed-door discussions as being positive and constructive.

The issuance of the joint communique helped avoid a repeat of the embarrassing failure to produce a joint statement at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' meeting in Phnom Penh last year as the Philippines tried to force contents related to its island disputes with China into the joint statement.

Shanmugam said that what the ASEAN wants is for the competing sovereign claims to be dealt with in a manner that is peaceful and in accordance with international law.

"The specific claims, who owns what, whether it's Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, that is not something that non-claimant states like Singapore can get involved," he said.

The ASEAN said in the joint communique that it "appreciated the exchange of views on the issues including initiatives and approaches to enhance trust, confidence and dialogue, and address incidents in the South China Sea."

"We underscored the importance of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), ASEAN's Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea, and the ASEAN-China Joint Statement on the 10th anniversary of the DOC," it said.

China and ASEAN concluded the DOC in 2002 and have been pushing for efforts to start talks on a Code of Conduct.

Shanmugam said China has told its ASEAN neighbors that it believes in peaceful co-existence and development and being a partner in peace.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is in Brunei for a meeting with ASEAN counterparts, said later Sunday that China's new leadership is committed to continuously consolidate and deepen the strategic partnership with the ASEAN and adheres to friendly consultations to properly handle its problems with some ASEAN countries.

Video appeal for kidnapped filmmakers

From Rappler (Jun 30): Video appeal for kidnapped filmmakers

The family of two Muslim women filmmakers allegedly kidnapped by Islamic extremists in the country's south have made a heartfelt video plea on YouTube for their release.

Nadjoua Bansil, 39, and younger sister Linda, 36, were abducted on of Jolo on June 22 while working on a movie about its impoverished residents, officials and their friends said.

"We implore your help, as fellow Muslims, to release them. They are not your enemies," the victims' brother Mohammed Bansil said in the YouTube clip, which was uploaded on Friday.

"Have pity on our sisters. They are women. You must have taken them to the mountains and we are worried that they may be going hungry and unable to observe proper hygiene," he added, as pictures of the two women were shown.

Mohammed told AFP on Sunday that they uploaded the three-minute video in the hope of establishing contact with the kidnappers.

"We are at the stage of initiating negotiations," he said.

"It's very difficult. There are a lot of people that we have to go through. They (the kidnappers) have not initiated any contact with us."

He said the family did not know which group was holding the sisters, though military and police authorities in Jolo have blamed Abu Sayyaf.

The extremist group was founded with seed money from Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. The US government has officially designated it a terrorist organisation.

The YouTube video, in which Mohammed speaks calmly alongside his brother Zackaria, identifies the victims as children of a deceased Muslim sharia court judge, and ends with the two brothers reciting a prayer.

Zackaria said he hoped the kidnappers would free his sisters before Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month which starts in early July.

The appeal was addressed to the kidnappers, as well as to other guerrilla groups in the area, local Muslim officials and politicians, and President Benigno Aquino.

Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history as well as many kidnappings of foreigners and Filipinos, often demanding hefty ransoms.

Other Abu Sayyaf factions are believed to be holding hostages, including two European bird watchers.

Mohammed Bansil said the family has asked the authorities to be circumspect about releasing information to the public that might lead the sisters to be harmed.

Military turns to private sector for help in search for downed plane

From InterAksyon (Jun 30): Military turns to private sector for help in search for downed plane

Task Force Bronco commander Brig Gen Condrado Parra Jr. briefs journalists on the continuing search for the Air Force OV-10 Bronco aircraft that crashed off Palawan last week. (photo by Elmer Badilla,

More than a week after an Air Force OV-10 Bronco 630 crashed off Palawan, the military has turned to the private sector for help to find the downed aircraft and its two pilots.

Brigadier General Condrado Parra Jr., commander of Task Force Bronco, told a press briefing Sunday that they have requested Pilipinas Shell for the use of the oil company’s Remote Operated Vehicle.

“We already requested the ROV from Shell’s Malampaya Gas Project. Hopefully, it will be here next week, parang Tuesday yata ang alis sa Batangas (it might leave Batangas Tuesday),” Parra said.

Last week, the Air Force contracted the sonar-equipped MY Sakura from a Cebu-based firm. It was the Sakura’s sonar that detected what appeared to be a wreck on the seabed that authorities have been hoping is the crashed plane’s fuselage.

The task force also commissioned an underwater camera from the Department of Science and Technology to help in the search, which involves the Navy’s BRP Lumibao (PG393) and BRP Mangyan (AS71), and the Coast Guard’s BRP Romblon (3503).

Parra also said land and aerial reconnaissance operations are also conducted simultaneously with the maritime search.

“We have already searched over almost the entirety of the eastern shoreline of Palawan. We will expand the search in the coming days” he said.

Still search and rescue

At the same time, Parra clarified that their operations are still on search and rescue mode, not retrieval.

“We are now on our eighth day. Up to now, search and rescue pa rin because we are still hoping na buhay pa ‘yung mga piloto (Up to now, we are still in search and rescue because we are still hoping the pilots are alive). We will never stop until we find them,” he said.

“We only do retrieval when we already have identified the exact location of the wreckage and if we are already sure about the condition of the pilots. So for now, search and rescue pa rin (it’s still search and rescue). Rescue with high hopes na buhay pa ‘yung mga pilots” explained Western Command spokesperson Lieutenant Cheryl Tindog.

Telltale signs

Although the search and rescue teams have already recovered the cargo bay door, nose wheel and a life raft of the ill-fated OV-10, the task force said this was not enough to determine the cause of the crash.

“Although debris has been found, it is still not enough to conclude,” Parra said.
Parra also said the investigation by the 15th Strike Wing of the Philippine Air Force is still continuing.

3 hurt as twin blasts rock Maguindanao capital on inauguration day of provincial execs

From InterAksyon (Jun 30): 3 hurt as twin blasts rock Maguindanao capital on inauguration day of provincial execs

Soldiers man a checkpoint on a highway in Maguindanao province, where two bombs went off in front of the abandoned capitol in the capital Shariff Aguak Sunday, the day elected officials of the province took their oaths of office. The first of the explosions wounded two soldiers and a civilian woman. (photo by Dennis Arcon, News5)

Notwithstanding tight security, two soldiers and a civilian woman were wounded in one of two explosions that rocked Shariff Aguak, capital town of Maguindanao province, on Sunday, the day elected officials of the province took their oaths of office.

The first explosion happened in front of the abandoned provincial capitol, now used as the base of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Brigade, around 9:30 a.m. just as the convoy of 603rd Brigade commander, Colonel Manolito Orense, who was on his way to attend the mass oath-taking of the province’s officials, passed by.

The blast wounded one of Orense’s men, Corporal Reynaldo Sotto, a Marine who was passing the place on a motorcycle but whose name was not immediately available, and Fatima Kunakon, 35, who was walking by.

Orense said his vehicle had just driven past the spot where the improvised explosive device was planted when it went off, hitting the vehicle his escorts were in.

Colonel Manolito Orense (video by Dennis Arcon, News5)
Another bomb reportedly went off around noon near the site of the first explosion. However the second explosion caused no casualties.

Although authorities have yet to determine the perpetrators and their motives, they believe the explosives were meant for the military.

Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu condemned the incidents, which he said appeared to have been timed for their oath taking.

Security forces, backed by armor, have turned out in force on the highways of the province in the wake of the blasts.

Soldiers, backed up by an armored personnel carrier, guard a highway in Maguindanao province. (video by Dennis Arcon, News5)

8 police trainees, hurt in NPA ambush in Cordillera, given ‘Purple Hearts’

From the Business Mirror (Jun 30): 8 police trainees, hurt in NPA ambush in Cordillera, given ‘Purple Hearts’

CHIEF Supt. Benjamin Magalong, Cordillera police commander, awarded on Friday the Wounded Personnel Medal to the eight trainees who were injured in an ambush staged by New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas against a group of 99 trainees who were on a physical fitness run in Kabunagan, Tadian, Mountain Province.
The group’s assistant trainer, Insp. Melinium Bantas, was also wounded in the incident and awarded the medal.
Supt. Dave Limmong, spokesman for the Cordillera police, said the award was given to Alexander Dulnuan, Junete Ngalawen, Jasmine Salve, Jefferson Sari, Edison Waguis, Mitchell Malubon, Pawas Daketan and Robin Benito.
Police Officer 1 Denver Balabag was killed in the ambush.
The wounded policemen are recuperating at the Luis Hora Hospital in Abatan, Bauko town.
The group of trainees was waylaid by NPA rebels belonging to the Leonardo Pacsi Command.
Limmong said the policemen were training to qualify for the Regional Public Safety Battalion.
He said inspection of the ambush site showed the NPA guerrillas waited for the trainees in the area for sometime as proven by recovered items like assorted food stuff and two portable gas stoves. The disturbed portion of the foliage in the area where the rebels hid, Limmong said, was about 50 meters above the road.
Other recovered items that included a radio transceiver, assorted batteries, suspected emulite (commercial explosive), a meter of detonating cord and plastic pipe fragment showed the NPA rebels used an improvised bomb and fired at the trainees using rifle grenades and assault weapons.
“The method used by the NPA rebels showed they don’t select their target and that even unarmed personnel can be targeted. Of the 95 trainees, 70 were female who all came from ordinary families and most if not all were the sole breadwinners of their families,” said Limmong.
Magno Udyaw, spokesman for the NPA Mountain Province Provincial Operations Command (Leonardo Pacsi Command), said the rebels seized 14 high-powered rifles (11 M-16s and three M-14s) from the trainees of the police’s Second Company, Regional Public Safety Battalion.

‘China’s militarization of SCS threatens peace’

From the Business Mirror (Jun 30): ‘China’s militarization of SCS threatens peace’

FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario on Sunday expressed serious concern over the increasing militarization of the South China Sea, calling the massive presence of Chinese military and paramilitary ships in Scarborough Shoal and around Ayungin Shoal, which are integral parts of Philippine territory, as threats to efforts to maintain maritime peace and stability in the region.
Speaking at the 46th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Ministerial Meeting in Brunei Darussalam, del Rosario said the “persistence of destabilizing actions in the West Philippine Sea continues to pose serious challenges for the whole region.”
Del Rosario pointed to China’s increased militarization of the South China Sea, noting a “massive presence of Chinese military and paramilitary ships” at two groups of islets within the Philippines’s exclusive economic zone—Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas or Ayungin Shoal.
The Philippines had named West Philippine Sea the area encompassed by its 200-nautical- mile exclusive economic zone to distinguish it from the South China Sea.
Del Rosario said the Chinese actions violated the Declaration of Conduct forged in Manila and signed by China, agreeing to maintain a status quo in the area.
The declaration, also signed by Asean member-countries, also committed rival claimants to resolve their disputes “without resorting to threats or use of force.”
Asean members the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia, as well as Taiwan, also have competing claims to parts of the sea.
In 2012 China occupied Scarborough Shoal, which the Philippines calls Bajo de Masinloc, some 105 nautical miles away from Zambales and 700 kilometers from the Chinese mainland. Manila says China has effectively occupied Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground far closer to Philippine land than Chinese, for more than a year.
On Saturday China set the tone of the Brunei event when its state-run media warned the Philippines that its defiance could lead to aggressive Chinese action.
“If the Philippines continues to provoke China...a counterstrike will be hard to avoid,” said a commentary run by the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party.
MALACAÑANG said over the weekend that anxiety over the impact of a reported return of military bases on business locators in former US facilities-turned-economic zones is premature.
Deputy Presidential Spokesman Abigail Valte allayed concerns aired in the wake of reports that Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base, that have been converted by law into economic zones after US military facilities shut down in 1991, may be the subject of yet another transformation—this time, to allow them to grant “increased access” to US, even Japanese, forces as America pivots to Asia and tensions grow on the South China Sea.
Asked if the shift to grant increased access to US troops could shake business confidence among the zone locators about the safety of their businesses, Valte indicated that the Aquino administration has not made any firm commitment on this despite increasing tension with China over conflicting territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea.
“At this point, we don’t want to discuss any details primarily because the details are still being studied,” Valte said, adding, “So, perhaps it its better to have that discussion when the defense department has a firmer proposal.”
She confirmed that Department of National Defense (DND) officials are “still discussing...what we loosely call now the ‘access agreement.’ I think that is what everybody loosely refers to as the access agreement; the details are still studied.”
She noted that the assurance from the DND is that whatever comes out of the study, the arrangement will follow the Constitution and the Visiting Forces Agreement. But she also admitted in Pilipino that they do not know at this time if this will be covered by a separate treaty because the defense department is still discussing its “shape and form.”
Talk of granting “increased access” grew last week after Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin met separately with US officials and Japan’s defense minister. He said Manila was seriously studying the possibility of granting increased “access” to American military forces as its way of cooperating in the “US rebalance strategy” and, impliedly, getting US assurance of support should Chinese aggression heighten in the maritime dispute with the Philippines.
In addition, Gazmin said Manila was open to granting greater access to Japanese military forces, as well.
Defense authorities used the phrase “rotational presence” to stress that no permanent basing setup is contemplated.
Under the Bases Conversion Development Act, passed by Congress years after the Senate voted not to extend the RP-US Military Bases Treaty in 1991, the former sprawling baselands were converted into economic zones.
Clark in Pampanga was the home of the US 13th Air Force, and now hosts the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport while Subic was the largest US Navy installation outside the continental US.
Although Subic Free Port hosts a wide range of global and local businesses, Subic Bay has been hosting an increasing number of US warships that making stops for reprovisioning and rest and recreation of personnel in the country the past few years.