Friday, October 31, 2014

AFP exec: No Halloween break for military offensive vs Abus

From the Daily Tribune (Nov 1): AFP exec: No Halloween break for military offensive vs Abus

Military troops operating in Sulu will not have their Halloween break as Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin ordered them to sustain the pressure against the terrorist Abu Sayyaf group.

Col. Allan Arrojado, military commander in Sulu, said that Gazmin gave the marching order for government security forces to continuously pursue the terrorists.

“Continues (operation), that’s the marching orders to us by the secretary of national defense, to keep up the lawless elements running. So that they cannot flank out, they cannot rest,” Arrojado said.

The military launched its all-out law enforcement operation against the Abu sayyaf last Oct. 17, hours before the Abu Sayyaf group released German hostages Stefan Viktor Okonek, 71, and Herike Diesen, 55.

However, since launching the offensive, the military has not engaged the Abu Sayyaf and managed only to recover three abandoned encampments used by the terrorists in holding their captives.

Arrojado said that the troops have no problem with the order to keep up with the operation.

“It’s really understandable. Because of our current situation, they have to endure…we really need to do our job here in Sulu,” Arrojado said.

“We should be prepared for possibilities,” he added.

According to Arrojado, the operating troops are still in the mountainous areas of Sulu tracking down the Abu Sayyaf.

Arrojado said that alert status remains normal in Sulu.

“Our troops are still in the mountains…we are just monitoring now, we have our intelligence units…the monitoring is good,” Arrojado said.

The Abu Sayyaf group still holds at least nine hostages, including the two European birdwatchers kidnapped in February 2012 in Tawi Tawi and a Japanese.

Think tank assails VFA, other RP-US pacts

From the Daily Tribune (Nov 1): Think tank assails VFA, other RP-US pacts

Ibon Foundation yesterday objected to the continuing prevalence of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and other “unequal” military agreements between the Philippines and the United States, saying that Washington’s primary goal for the agreement is to invade, intervene and deploy its armed forces in military operations across its network of states.

According to its research, the US has 265 bases in 41 countries. It said that Washington also has logistics agreements with 76 countries, and status of forces agreements with 121 counties, where there are 164,227 active military personnel deployed in 152 foreign states.

In a statement, the think tank illustrated the effects of the VFA to the Philippines, saying that it has been the key toward the slaying of transgender Jeffrey Laude by US Marine First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton.

Ibon said that the VFA, also called the Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA) established by the United States, is a rule on the US troop operations in the Philippines to the extent which domestic laws apply to US personnel.

“VFA is vital part of US military aggression: The killing of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude by United States Marine Scott Pemberton has raised questions regarding the Visiting Forces Agreement between the US and the Philippines,” Ibon said in a statement.

Ibon foundation said foreign criminal jurisdiction over US troops in such countries remains the subject of debate to date, in countries where US has established SOFAs.

“SOFAs are essential for enabling US military deployments overseas and are a vital part of US military aggression against tens of millions of civilians around the world,” Ibon Foundation said.

The think tank denounced the effects of US military aggression across the world, to which the Philippines remains a victim due to the prevalence of the VFA and other agreements with the US.

“The US has used its global network of bases and military agreements to invade, intervene, and deploy its armed forces in military operations in 64 countries since after 1945,” it said.

“The most violent of these acts of aggression has already resulted in some 17-28 million civilian deaths in 37 nations. Direct US military actions in 13 countries have caused 7-13 million deaths while US-supported or instigated armed conflicts in 24 other countries have resulted in another 10-15 million deaths,” Ibon Foundation said.

Earlier, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario admitted that there are flaws in the VFA between the Philippines and United States, but said abrogating it at this time would interrupt the two allies’ ongoing defense cooperation.

A GMAonline report quoting Del Rosario, said “It’s not a perfect agreement. It’s an imperfect agreement but given that, it’s not plausible for us to amend at this time.”

The VFA was ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999, allows American troops to take part in large-scale military exercises with their Philippine counterparts in the country.

Anti-US sentiments, including calls for the termination of the VFA, have been revived following the Oct. 11 killing of Filipino transgender Jeffrey Laude in Olongapo City.
A US Marine, Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, is facing a murder complaint in connection with Laude’s killing.

The VFA states that the Philippines has jurisdiction over the case, but the primary custody of the accused lies with the US “from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”

Compared to the US VFA, Del Rosario said, the provision on custody under the accord with Australia “is more balanced.”

But renegotiating the VFA with the US means the Philippine government would have to terminate it first, Del Rosario explained.

“We need to abrogate and if we abrogate, it interrupts the benefit of the mutual defense treaty with regards to joint exercise between our two armed forces,” he said. “It consequences the modernization, the joint training, the inter-operability.

“I think the Visiting Forces Agreement is a necessary element of the Mutual Defense Treaty because as I said it defines the behavior of the visiting forces,” Del Rosario said, referring to the 1951 agreement between the Philippines and the US, which obliges Washington to come to Manila’s aid in the event of an armed foreign attack.

 The killing of Laude occurred months after the two long-time allies signed a new defense accord, called the Enhanced Cooperation Agreement or Edca, in April this year. Edca would allow greater US troops’ access to Philippine bases and presence in the country, but it can not be enforced until questions on its legality is resolved in the Supreme Court.

Both nations’ desire to bolster military cooperation came as Manila confronts Asian military giant China over disputed territories in the South China Sea and America’s planned “pivot” to the Asian region after years of military pre-occupation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ranking defense officials announced Friday that the Philippines is militarily benefiting a lot from the VFA and Edca.

“Edca is beneficial to the AFP and the Philippine Navy in particular both in terms of training and information sharing,” Philippine Navy (PN) spokesman Col. Edgar Arevalo said.

He also said that the interoperability training, obtained through the VFA by Filipino sailors and Marines with their American counterparts, afford them capability and capacity in maritime operations to better secure the country’s maritime domain.

“With the use of their modern equipment and military assets, the US Armed Forces shares vital information to their AFP counterparts that they help monitor, analyze, and utilize to boost its limited capability in attaining maritime situational awareness,” he added.

Arevalo said that these are some of the gains of the Philippines derive from the US so far as strengthening the Armed Forces in protecting the country’s maritime domain is concerned.

Major Emmanuel Garcia, 1st Civil Relations Group commander, also stressed that the Edca and the VFA is very beneficial to the Philippines and its defense program.

“These agreements on joint exercises and enhanced cooperation are necessary tools for the improvement of our defense capability,” he added.

Garcia stressed the VFA and Edca is not unique only to the Philippines as even advanced and militarily strong countries undertake such agreements and conduct joint military exercises to further improve their respective Armed Forces.

“The joint exercises, not only with the US but all foreign allied forces is beneficial to the host country and the visiting troops,” he pointed out.

Garcia said that joint exercises specifically improve the Armed Forces’ combat and non-combat readiness as a country and upgrade the knowledge skill of our military units and individual soldiers.

He said the Philippines is particularly benefiting from the following:

1. Joint exercises on maritime security and protection of maritime resources;
2. Community humanitarian assistance projects which includes construction of school buildings, farm-to-market roads and other infrastructures;
3. Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises and cooperation;
4. Community health engagements which include medical and dental missions to people and veterinary care to livestock in far communities;
5. Counter and anti-counter terrorism exercises;
6. Anti-smuggling and anti-illegal drugs exercises and cooperation; and
7. Joint and combined land, air and naval exercises in protecting our territorial integrity and national integrity.

“Our people benefit in a lot more endeavors involving the activities in these bilateral and multi-bilateral engagements including economic gains,” Garcia stressed.

And since we are living in a community of nations and such international military engagements based on bilateral and multilateral agreements are a healthy and necessary activities for our country to get involved in for the benefit of the greater number of Filipinos, he added.

“In line with our economic and national interest in protecting our vast natural resources, and national patrimony and territorial integrity,” the 1st Civil Relations Group commander stated.

While Philippine Navy public affairs office chief Lt. Cmdr. Marineth Domingo stated that bilateral exercises being conducted through the VFA, helps the PN to carry out its mandate, and its distinct military and diplomatic roles serve as a training opportunity for all participants.

“Second, interoperability exercises provide us an avenue to be adept to the new and new emerging technologies that will make us a strong and credible force,” he added.
Likewise, these exercises are designed to promote regional peace and stability and enhance maritime security and intelligence operations, she added.

Furthermore, Domingo said these agreements enhance Philippine capability in the conduct of persistent surface and air patrols in the high seas and maritime areas of interest to establish naval presence and a robust command and control to sustain all deployed Fleet and Marine forces.

Earlier, Department of National (DND) Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that scrapping the VFA could hurt Philippine military efforts to achieve a “minimum credible defense posture.”

He added that the country has gained a lot militarily from the VFA since its enactment in 1999.

Troops complete disaster training

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Oct 31): Troops complete disaster training

A TOTAL of 40 personnel from the Zamboanga del Sur-based Army’s 53rd Infantry Battalion have completed a 20-day Disaster Response Operations Training (DROT) training, an official announced.

Army’s 53rd Infantry Battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Alvin Luzon said those who completed the training held from October 6 - 27 comprised of four officers and 36 enlisted personnel.

The training were held in separate areas such as in Camp David that houses the Army’s 53rd Infantry Battalion Headquarters in the town of Guipos; Tukuran beach; and, selected high rise building in Pagadian City.

Luzon, who acted as the course director, said the training covered topics like first aid and basic life support, actual rescue and disaster relief operations.

Luzon said they conducted the training to capacitate the troops with the knowledge on disaster response operations and management aside from combat operations.

He said they have “to prepare our troops to be the first responders because the disasters are now happening everywhere, as the world has changed because of climate change.”

The training was conducted in partnership with the Zamboanga del Sur provincial government through the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management council (PDRRMC); Bureau of fire Protection (BFP); Office of Civil Defense (OCD); and, the Philippine National Red Cross (PRC)-Pagadian City-Zamboanga del Sur Council.

MILF: Editorial -- There is always measure for everything

Editorial posted to the MILF Website (Nov 1): There is always measure for everything

When the MILF started its revolutionary struggle 42 years ago, its leaders had never thought of reaping the fruits for themselves.  They threw themselves into the life-and-death struggle without thinking whether they survive or they perish along the way. It was a selfless journey all the way.
Today, the chance of the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress seems gaining ground. Thanks to the great efforts of both the Senate and House leaders! Of course, there are still hard blocks ahead, which require vigilance and continuing assertion. Complacency is never an option even if the journey is smooth, because no one knows what lies ahead. Remember that the flipside of smooth is rough. The spoilers will always look for the opportunity to spew their venom. They are not yet downed; they are still struggling in many ways, sometimes, bizarre.

In case, the Bangsamoro government is established after the BBL’s passage in Congress and ratified by the people in a plebiscite and upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional, what awaits those in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)?

Frankly, this is a very sensitive and highly emotional issue to handle, because those working in ARMM are like us, they have families to look after, many of them are our relatives, and they are also serving the people, some exceptionally well.

However, we have to understand that there are times odd or strange situation happens to people. This is the nature of life. It is either you are there or you are here. No one can control his or her destiny.  We can plan and plan, but the outcome can only be partly predicted or anticipated or never at all. Accidents happen in a flash even for those who are cautious.

The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and the proposed BBL all speak for the abolition of the ARMM. But it is not a single stroke act; it happens in phases with due regard to needs of the new Bangsamoro entity. Moreover, the rights, privileges, and benefits of the employees are guaranteed in the BBL. Furthermore, the MILF sincerely believes that there is always space for everyone who is willing to serve the people and government wholeheartedly --- and is competent.  The truth is that theory and practice are not the same thing. The first is idea and the second is implementation. It is in the operational part that creativity or flexibility has a greater billing.

But there is always measure for everything. The MILF has already told its leaders and members that not too many can work or be accommodated even in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) where the MILF will lead. The greatest good is over and above individual consideration.

MILF: Bangsamoro Youth holds peace fora in Maguindanao

Posted to the MILF Website (Nov 1): Bangsamoro Youth holds peace fora in Maguindanao

On October 27, 2014, the Muslim Youth Brotherhood conducted an Islamic Symposium at Daladagan, Mangudadatu , Maguindanao attended by about 300 participants. Professor Esmael A. Abdula, member of the BLMI Steering Committee and KDFI Program Consultant lectured on the GPH-MILF Peace Process and the Status of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Ustadz Alimodin Kanda, lectured on the role of Muslim Youth in reconstruction of Muslim Communities, while Moidjoddin K. Talusob, Executive Director of Kalilintad Development Foundation Inc. shared some Islamic words of Wisdom.

A Youth Peace Forum was also held on October 28 at Lumpingan Center, Buluan, Maguindanao spearheaded by the  Coordinating Office on Bangsamoro Youth Affairs (CDO-BYA) attended by 60 representative of youth organizations from the different municipalities of Maguindanao.

Three Teduray representatives from UPI, Maguindanao also attended the activity. Abdula was also the main speaker. Topics on BBL, Role of the Youth in the upcoming Bangsamoro Government, and youth awareness on the transition from ARMM to Bangsamoro were discussed.

The program started with an Islamic Prayer and acknowledgment of the participants by Alimodin Sapi, Provincial Youth Coordinator and the Welcome Address by Monina K. Macarongon, OSRC-PESO Manager.  Engr. Abdulwahab V. Tunga, the Administrative Officer of Province of Maguindanao delivered an inspirational message and Isa Tom Delmonte, Executive Director of CDO-BYA presented the CDO-BYA programs on Youth Peace Forum of ARMM. 

Abdula spoke on the GPH-MILF Peace Process and the status of BBL.     

As in the previous forum, Abdula stressed the vital role played by the youth in the Moro struggle for right to self-determination. He related the story pertaining to the the early days of the Bangsamoro struggle that started in Cairo Egypt where Sheik Salamat Hashim (Allah Yarkamo) organized the students studying at the Al Azhar University as a way of opposing the Philippine colonial regime of Manila.

In late 1960’s,  Moro students in Manila led by Professor Nur Misuari, organized mass actions in Manila as a form of protest against government’s oppressive regime.

Abdula challenged the youth to strengthen their efforts and continue supporting the peace process and the BBL. 

The open forum was facilitated by Manager Macarongon with all issues and concerns raised by the participants answered intelligently by the speakers with the support fromDr. Benjamin P. Dumato and Engr.Tunga.

Dr. Dumato, the President of Regional Madrasha Graduate Academy delivered an inspirational message. Engr. Abdulrahman K. Asim, Maguindanao Provincial Engineer made the closing remarks.

AFP sends air assets for Abu Sayyaf hunt

From ABS-CBN (Nov 1): AFP sends air assets for Abu Sayyaf hunt

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has deployed its air assets in Sulu in support of the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf.

Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, AFP-Public Affairs Office chief, said helicopter gunships are ready for action as ground troops hunt for the bandits headed by Radullan Sahiron, who kidnapped German couple Stefan Victor Okonek and Herike Deiken.

Cabunoc said patrol gunboats are also on standby for a naval blockade.

“This is to prevent their escape and deny them of any outside help,” he said.

He said members of the Negros-based 1st Scout Ranger battalion were also redeployed in Sulu to serve as reinforcement.

“The Scout Rangers pulled out from their anti-insurgency duties in Negros Island to help crush the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu. They are adept in reconnaissance and sniper operations. They will play a vital role in tracking the bandits,” Cabunoc said.

Sulu Army island commander, Col. Allan Arrojado said there would be no letup in the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf even during the holidays.

UK warns of heightened terror threat, reiterates caution on travel to parts of Mindanao

From GMA News (Nov 1): UK warns of heightened terror threat, reiterates caution on travel to parts of Mindanao

The United Kingdom over the weekend reiterated its advice to its nationals in the Philippines against travel to some parts of Mindanao as it warned of a heightened threat of terrorist attack "globally."

In an Oct. 31 update to its travel advice on the Philippines, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office maintained its advice against travel to southwest Mindanao and Sulu.

FCO cited "ongoing terrorist activity and clashes between the military and insurgent groups" in these areas.

"The FCO advise(s) against all but essential travel to the remainder of Mindanao for the same reasons," it added.

Earlier, the FCO warned terrorist groups "continue to plan attacks and have the capacity and the intent to carry out attacks at anytime and anywhere in the country."

It listed the "terrorist groups operating in the Philippines that continue to pose a threat" as:
- New People’s Army (NPA)
- Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)
- Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)

"Although there is hope that the 2013 framework peace agreement will bring the 40 year insurgency in the south of the country to an end, extreme elements within the two main insurgent groups, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), continue to pose a security threat. A splinter group of the MILF, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), has been responsible for a number of attacks on the Philippine military and security services over the last year," it added.

Around 122,759 British nationals visited the Philippines in 2013. Most visits are trouble-free.

WATCH: NPA shows 2 abducted soldiers anew

From ABS-CBN (Oct 31): WATCH: NPA shows 2 abducted soldiers anew

The communist New People's Army (NPA) has released another video of two government soldiers the rebels abducted two months ago.

The 6-minute video showed NPA rebels with abducted soldiers PFC Marnel Cinches and PFC Jerrel Yorong, in a camp located in the mountains.

[Video report]

Yorong and Cinches did not speak in front of the camera in the latest video.

Allan Juanito, spokesperson of the North Central Mindanao Region, also gave a statement in the video.

Juanito said the government refused to grant the NPA's demand for a 10-day suspension of military operations (SOMO) in exchange for the safe release of the soldiers.

He said that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has launched operations to rescue the soldiers. He claimed that 7 armed encounters have resulted in 11 casualties on the side of the military.

He said clashes could have been prevented, and the soldiers freed, if the government granted their request.

Juanito said the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) reduced its request from a 10-day SOMO to 7 days.

He said that they will turn over the two soldiers to religious groups and peace negotiators if they get a release order from the NDFP.

Juanito said the soldiers are safe, and the NPA respects their rights.

"Most importantly, we hope the Aquino government will reciprocate to the National Democratic Front's gesture of sincerity for the resumption of peace talks through the release of the two POWs," he added.

Localized peace talks won’t solve conflict

Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Oct 31): Localized peace talks won’t solve conflict

LOCALIZED peace talks are not the best way to attain a lasting truce between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Philippine government (GPH).

This was the call of Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) Supreme Bishop Ephraim Fajutagana and the 15 other IFI bishops from Visayas and Mindanao as they urge for the resumption of peace talks between the two parties.

For the peace talks to work, Fajutagana said it must not be localized, but must be national in scope.

During the IFI church leaders’ meeting in Barangay Bulua Thursday, the bishops have reiterated its stand to hold a nationalized peace talks so both parties could move on to the next level.

Fajutagana said now is the best time to continue with the dialogue, as its second phase would focus on the socio-economic reforms.

He said the second round would be very vital since it would impact the people, especially those living in the countryside.

With this agenda in mind, the IFI bishops believed that a localized peace talk would not bring the best result.

“A localized peace talk will only promote regionalism and would have a very limited effect,” Fajutagana said.

Bishop Antonio Ablon, of the IFI in Mindanao, said the localized peace dialogue could also mean an exclusive, and not inclusive, means of resolving issues.

For instance, if the Maoist rebels in Bukidnon and the GPH will sit down to come up with a win-win solution to the conflict in the area, there is a possibility that other insurgent units in other parts of Mindanao can engage the government soldiers since they are not covered by the peace agreement forged in that province.

“What we want is for everyone, wherever you are in the Philippines, to benefit from the peace talk and not just a few people, since the NDFP and the GPH are both national in scope and jurisdiction,” Ablon told Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro Thursday.

Active role

Ablon said that the IFI has been playing an active role in ensuring the success of the peace talk as it would prevent bloodshed and would propel the country to progress and development.

Some of the IFI bishops had even acted as “third-party depository” during the series of dialogues between the NDFP and the GPH in the past years.

Although their participation is different from the negotiators, the depositories act as keepers of documents from both parties that are essential to the completion of the peace discussion.

“But even if the IFI will no longer be given an important role like a negotiator or a depository, we will still help to ensure that the peace talk will continue by calling on the parties involved to take the time out to sit down and find a common ground needed for the success of this dialogue,” he added.

Also, the IFI was one of the main conveners of the Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao (SSPM), which advocated a peaceful solution to the ongoing armed conflict between the New People’s Army and the state’s military and police.

Cessation of hostilities

Bishop Felixberto Calang, in a previous interview with this paper, said the cessation of hostilities between the two parties is vital to the attainment of the lasting peace.

Calang said the continued skirmishes happening in the countryside between the NPA and the soldiers would only result to more bloodshed and the displacement of rural residents.

Large-Scale Reclamation Projects In South China Sea: China And International Law – Analysis

From the Eurasia Review (Oct 30): Large-Scale Reclamation Projects In South China Sea: China And International Law – Analysis (by RSIS/Robert Beckman)

South China Sea
South China Sea
Several of the reefs occupied by China in the Spratly Islands are being greatly expanded through land reclamation. China’s reclamation activities cannot enhance its claim to sovereignty over the reefs or change the legal status of the reefs under international law.
THE INTERNATIONAL media has reported that China is undertaking large-scale reclamation works on several of the seven reefs it occupies in the Spratly Islands. The 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea states that the parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate the disputes in the area. Although reclamation works and the construction of installations and structures on occupied features would seem to be inconsistent with this provision, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have all undertaken such activities on the features they occupy and control in the Spratly Islands.

What is new is the scale of the reclamation works currently being undertaken by China. It has been reported that China is expanding Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef) so that it will be two square kilometres in size. This would be a very significant change, as that reef would then be as large as the combined size of the thirteen largest islands in the Spratly Islands.

Reefs occupied by China

China occupies and controls seven reefs in the Spratly Islands, the legal status of which are at issue in the case between the Philippines and China that is currently before an international arbitral tribunal established under the dispute settlement provisions in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Although China has decided not to participate in that case, the matter is proceeding without China’s participation as provided in UNCLOS.

In the arbitration case, the Philippines admits that three of the seven reefs meet the definition of an island, that is, they are naturally formed areas of land surrounded by and above water at high tide. If so, they are capable of a claim to sovereignty and to maritime zones of their own. However, the islands on the three reefs occupied by China are very small and contain little vegetation. Therefore, the Philippines maintains that they should be classified as “rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own”. If so, they would be entitled to a 12 nautical mile (nm) territorial sea, but not to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or continental shelf of their own.

With regard to the remaining four reefs occupied by China, the Philippines maintains that they are not islands under UNCLOS as they are submerged at high tide. Therefore, they are not subject to a claim of sovereignty and are not entitled to any maritime zones of their own.

Issues of international law on the status of the reefs

If the scale of China’s recent reclamation works is correct, this raises interesting issues of international law.

Firstly, will the reclamation works strengthen China’s sovereignty claim to the Spratly Islands under international law? The answer is no. Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan also claim sovereignty over the islands/features occupied by China. Once there is a dispute over sovereignty, the State that occupies and controls the islands/features cannot strengthen its sovereignty claim by undertaking reclamation or building installations and structures.

Secondly, can China use reclamation to convert submerged reefs into islands capable of supporting human habitation or economic life of their own that are entitled to maritime zones of their own? Again, the answer is no. This is because an “island” is defined as a “naturally formed” area of land surrounded by and above water at high tide. If a feature is above water at high tide because of reclamation works, it is an “artificial island”. Under UNCLOS, an artificial island is not entitled to any maritime zones of its own, not even a 12 nm territorial sea. Therefore, the reclamation works on features that are submerged at high tide will not change their legal status.

Thirdly, can China use reclamation to convert a “rock which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of its own” into an island that would be entitled to an EEZ and continental shelf of its own? There is no clear answer to this question. However, since an island is defined as a “naturally formed area of land” surrounded by and above water at high tide, it seems reasonable to conclude that it should not be permissible to use artificial means to change a rock into an island entitled to an EEZ and continental shelf of its own.

Other issues of international law

Questions also arise on whether UNCLOS and international law impose any other restraints on China in conducting reclamation works on the features it occupies and controls.

One issue is whether China’s large-scale reclamation works are consistent with its obligation under UNCLOS to protect and preserve the marine environment. If a State is planning activities in an area under its jurisdiction and control that may have significant harmful effects on the marine environment of other States, it has a ‘duty to cooperate’ with those States. It must consult the States that might be affected in advance and in good faith.
It may also have to undertake an environmental impact assessment and share the results with the potentially affected States. In this case, the Philippines is a potentially affected State because three of the features on which China is undertaking reclamation works are either just inside or just outside its 200 nm EEZ. Vietnam is also a potentially affected State because it occupies reefs very close to those occupied by China.

In addition, given that the geographic features in question are in the middle of an area that is the subject of highly contentious sovereignty and maritime disputes, China is under an obligation under international law to exercise restraint and not take unilateral actions that would permanently change the status quo regarding the features in question. This is especially so in this case because the status of the very features on which China is doing major reclamation works are the subject of an ongoing case before an international arbitral tribunal.

Robert Beckman is Director of the Centre for International Law and an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law of the National University of Singapore (NUS). He is also an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

RSIS Commentaries are intended to provide timely and, where appropriate, policy relevant background and analysis of contemporary developments. The views of the author/s are their own and do not represent the official position of the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), NTU, which produces the Commentaries.

Philippine Defense chief, military commanders inspect troops battling Abu Sayyaf in frontline

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Oct 31): Philippine Defense chief, military commanders inspect troops battling Abu Sayyaf in frontline

A Philippine military photo shows Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin with Filipino troops in Sulu province. Gazmin inspected military forces battling Abu Sayyaf militants in the province. (Mindanao Examiner)

Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin inspected troops deployed in the southern Sulu province where security forces are battling Abu Sayyaf militants tied to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya, officials said Friday.

Gazmin arrived on Thursday and spoke with soldiers inside a military base in the capital town of Jolo. He was accompanied by Armed Forces’ Chief-of-Staff General Gregorio Catapang and Western Mindanao military commander General Rustico Guererro, and Rear Admiral Reynaldo Yoma, who are in-charge of the operations against the Abu Sayyaf, according to Ensign Chester Ian Ramos, a spokesman for the naval forces in western Mindanao.

“It was routine visit by the Secretary of National Defense and our troops are in high morale because of the visit of Defense Secretary Gazmin and Chief of Staff Catapang and other high-ranking military officials, including Western Mindanao Command chief General Rustico Guererro and Rear Admiral Reynaldo Yoma,” he told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

Marine Captain Maria Rowena Muyuela, a spokesperson for the Western Mindanao Command, also said that Gazmin and Catapang inspected the troops in Sulu. “They inspected and spoke to our troops in Sulu,” she said in a separate interview without further elaborating.

Gazmin was also briefed by military commanders on the ongoing operations against the militants who recently freed two German yachters Stefan Viktor Okonek, 71, and Henrike Diesen, 55, in exchange for P250 million ransoms.

The duo was heading to Sabah in Malaysia on a private yacht from a holiday in Palawan province when militants who were returning to the southern Philippines from a failed kidnapping in Sabah spotted the Germans and seized them on April 25.

Now, the militants are also threatening to behead a kidnapped Malaysian fish breeder Chan Sai Chuin, 32, if ransom is not paid by his family this November. The militants are demanding 3 million ringgits (P41 million) for the safe release of the fish breeder, who was kidnapped along with a Filipino worker on June 16 this year from a fish farm in the town of Kunak in Tawau District in Sabah.

The Abu Sayyaf is also holding a Malaysian policeman Kons Zakiah Aleip, 26, who was seized on June 12 also this year following a clash in Sabah that killed another policeman. The militants are demanding 5 million ringgits (P68.3 million).

Aside from the Malaysians, the militants are still holding hostage a 64-year old Japanese treasure hunter Katayama Mamaito, who was kidnapped from Pangutaran Island in July 2010; and two European wildlife photographers Ewold Horn, 52, from Holland; and Lorenzo Vinciguerre, 47, from Switzerland, who were taken captive in the coastal village of Parangan in Panglima Sugala town in the southern Tawi-Tawi province in 2012. And several Filipinos kidnapped in other provinces and brought to Sulu.

The militants also freed an eight-year old girl on October 29 after her father paid an undetermined ransom to the Abu Sayyaf in Jolo town. The girl was kidnapped in July 25 in Zamboanga Sibugay’s Olutanga town and brought to Sulu, one of five provinces under the restive Muslim autonomous region.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Two gunned down by cops in Penampang believed to be Sulu army recruiters

From the Star Online (Oct 31): Two gunned down by cops in Penampang believed to be Sulu army recruiters

KUALA LUMPUR: Two men shot dead by police in the vicinity of a shophouse in Penampang Baru, Sabah Thursday evening are suspected to be members of the Sulu Rebel Army and the "driving force" behind the recruitment of new members.

Initial police investigations revealed that the duo, in their 30s and 50s, had arrived from Kota Kinabalu and attempted an armed robbery in the area.

In the 5pm incident, a police team intercepted a vehicle in which the two men were travelling. At that juncture, the duo tried to resist and the police were forced to open fire, killing them on the spot.

According to a police source, police surveillance on the two men about a few weeks ago had revealed that they tried to recruit new members, spread the so-called Sulu Sultanate ideology in Sabah, as well as preached elements of violence.

"The suspects, who came from Kota Kinabalu, were also attempting to commit an armed robbery in the area.

"The police are now tracking down the remnants of this group and they are also believed to be getting active off the east coast of Sabah," he said when contacted.

In February last year, the country was stunned when armed Sulu rebels from southern Philippines intruded into Lahad Datu and Semporna in Sabah's east coast, which saw 10 members of the national security forces killed.

However, through a joint army and police operation, dubbed Operasi Daulat, the rebels were routed. More than 100 rebels were killed and hundreds of their followers captured in the state.

Following the incident, the Government set up a security shield to thwart violations, kidnapping and smuggling in Sabah, named Esszone (Eastern Sabah Security Zone) and Esscom (Eastern Sabah Security Command).

Meanwhile in Penampang, residents panicked when they heard gunshots in the business district of Penampang Baru.

A man in his 30s, who declined to be identified, said he was busy at work in a food store when he heard a loud thud.

"I rushed out of the shop and saw a group of armed men wearing ski-masks and firing shots in the direction of some occupants in a four-wheel drive vehicle," he said.

The food store employee, who was hiding in the vicinity, said he also spotted a group of policemen arriving at the scene about 15 minutes later and inspecting the bodies of two men who were earlier, gunned down in the vehicle.

He said he also saw the police take the bodies away in two black plastic bags.

A survey found that the police had cordoned off two business blocks to prevent the public from entering the area. – Bernama

ASEAN Update: Understanding the Geopolitics of the South China Sea Dispute

From ASEAN Briefing (Oct 27): ASEAN Update: Understanding the Geopolitics of the South China Sea Dispute

In recent years, the South China Sea has become a key area of concern for the ASEAN organization. In the face of an increasingly expansionary China, ASEAN has often seemed slow to react and unsure of what strategy it should pursue. While there are options in place, such as the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), there has been little unity in the actions of the ten member nations.

The DOC  was established in 2002 between ASEAN and China in order to help ensure peace and stability in the maritime territory. Over recent years, however, tension has escalated with China accused of repeatedly breaching the terms of the DOC.

While the South China Sea dispute has far-reaching consequences for international diplomacy, not least because of America’s conflicting ties to both Taiwan and China, this prolonged territorial dispute also poses grave threats to the ASEAN alliance.

China expansion

A key event in the recent South China Sea disputes was the Vietnamese and Chinese standoff in May – the most aggressive showdown of recent maritime confrontations. In early May, China placed the sizeable oilrig HYSY-981 in the Vietnamese Exclusive Economic Zone leading to a three-month skirmish between Vietnamese enforcement vessels and Chinese naval vessels. As well as disrupting trade routes, the venture also triggered violent anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam during which Chinese and Taiwanese-owned factories were torched and many other multinational businesses were forced to temporarily close.

Though the oilrig was moved to Hainan Island in July, the event typifies the Chinese pattern of encroachment and withdrawal, constantly jostling to throw cumulative doubt on the status quo established by the DOC. The visit of a Vietnamese military delegation to China last weekend seems to have smoothed ruffled feathers with both nations agreeing to resume military ties but this is by no means a lasting solution. China still intends to construct reinforced military bases and five lighthouses on disputed islets in order to facilitate their claims to the surrounding waters.

At the 47th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting this August, the South China Sea disputes clearly remained a pressing issue with the final communiqué stressing, “We remained seriously concerned over recent developments which had increased tensions in the South China Sea and reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability, maritime security as well as freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea.”

Despite this reassurance, however, ASEAN remained silent on any definitive moratorium on all activities in the disputed territory; though noted, both the proposals from the US’ “FREEZE” and the Philippines’ “Triple Action Plan” were rejected despite claims from all sides that the DOC has not been respected by China.

Typically, China attempted to downplay this issue with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi claiming, “someone has been exaggerating or even playing up the so-called tension in the South China Sea.” In a noticeably tenacious reply, the Philippines Foreign Minister, Albert del Rosario criticized China of playing “deaf and blind.”
RELATED: Outlook on ASEAN Investment 2015

ASEAN confusion

ASEAN has been unable to agree on a unified response to China’s perceived infringement leaving their commitment to regional coordinated support looking weak. Economically speaking, not only is the South China Sea resource rich, the protracted maritime standoffs have also disrupted several of ASEAN’s key trade routes which run through the territory.

During the 2012 ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, four member nations – Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Brunei – all declared there were conflicting territorial claims with China in the South China Sea. This did not include ongoing disputes with Taiwan, whose claims are generally excluded from ASEAN dialogue. Yet, the ASEAN states were unable to agree on an appropriate response. Internal squabbling reached new heights when, for the first time in the group’s 45-year history, they were not even able to agree on a language for the summit’s concluding communiqué.

Aside from creating antagonism internally, ASEAN’s response – or lack thereof – clearly signaled to China the alliance’s key shortcoming: the incompatibility of individual interests with regional loyalty. Indeed, in addition to diluting US influence, China’s insistence on bilateral resolution of the South China Sea disputes deliberately takes advantage of this vulnerability.

As Dan Blumenthal, director of Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, commented, “Southeast Asian nations have to come up with a common position.
Anytime they don’t, it’s a victory for China.” The then Secretary-General of ASEAN, Surin Pitsuwan, also stressed this point saying, “ASEAN will need to learn how to consolidate and coordinate positions if it wants to take on the global community.” And the advice is as apt now as it was then.

China’s strategy of assertive land reclamation proceeded by bilateral de-escalation operates on the old tenet of divide and conquer. China is capitalizing on the reluctance of certain ASEAN member nations to identify the disputes as a group problem, shifting accountability to individual countries. Yet it is clear that if ASEAN is to realize its full potential, threatened resources and trade routes in the South China Sea can no longer be considered Vietnamese, Malaysian, or Bruneian, but must be regarded as ASEAN. For now, without an ASEAN moratorium, China’s strategy appears to be working.

Asia Briefing Ltd. is a subsidiary of Dezan Shira & Associates. Dezan Shira is a specialist foreign direct investment practice, providing corporate establishment, business advisory, tax advisory and compliance, accounting, payroll, due diligence and financial review services to multinationals investing in China, Hong Kong, India, Vietnam, Singapore and the rest of ASEAN. For further information, please email or visit

Terrorist Threats to Singapore from the Sea

Posted to The Establishment Post (Oct 31): Terrorist Threats to Singapore from the Sea

The Islamic State’s successes in Iraq and Syria appear to have inspired resurgence among other jihadist groups. Al Qaeda Central sought to reassert its authority with the ‘Organisation of The Base of Jihad in the Indian Sub-Continent’ (AQIS) made public by Ayman al-Zawahiri on 3 September 2014. The genesis of AQIS, while a competitive response to the rise of IS in the global jihadist movement, is also an outgrowth of Al Qaeda’s long-term ambitions for expansion in South Asia since the early 2000s.
Al-Zawahiri’s pronouncement was followed three days later by a failed attack on a Pakistani naval frigate in Karachi for which the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the recently formed AQIS both claimed responsibility. The attack involved AQIS fighters who were former Pakistani naval officers, who sought to hijack the Pakistani frigate PNS Zulfiqar to launch missiles at US Navy vessels in the Indian Ocean. Local media reported that the attackers had pre-positioned their weapons in lockers on the dock, and these were used to take control of Zulfiqar. Looking beyond the AQIS tactics, the Karachi attack also demonstrated how maritime assets can be an attractive target for groups seeking to demonstrate their resolve.

Current threats from Southeast Asia’s maritime domain

A Republic of Singapore Navy Chinook helicopter deploys a rescue diver team and raft
U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Lara Bollinger
A Republic of Singapore Navy Chinook helicopter deploys a rescue diver team and raft
Southeast Asian states are no strangers to terrorism-related incidents either emanating from or exploiting the maritime domain. The innate predisposition to use the seas as an attack vector has long been significant among terrorist groups based in Southeast Asia, quite apart from the influence of extra-regional attack tactics. For example, the coast of Eastern Sabah, Malaysia, has been recently experiencing a spike in kidnappings attributed to the Mindanao-based Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
Violence in the maritime region bracketed by Mindanao, Borneo, and Sulawesi existed long before Islamist militants. The cross-border raids result from the combination of various dysfunctions such as loose border controls and illicit small arms proliferation in Mindanao.
The recent arrests of 19 IS-associated militants in Peninsular Malaysia further underscore the salience of the maritime domain for attack planning. One Sri Lankan suspect who was arrested reportedly had experience in human trafficking. He was believed to have been involved in a plot to transport two militants from the Maldives via small boat to the coastal state of Kerala in southern India to attack the US and Israel consulates further inland in Chennai and Bangalore.

Recent Singaporean responses to the potential threats

Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, in response to a recent question in Parliament on how Singapore enhances its maritime security, explained that the country’s maritime security agencies have adopted a “co-ordinated and multi-layered security regime”. Terrorist threats to Singapore, including those that straddle both land and maritime domains, illumine the rationale for the setting up of agencies like the Singapore Maritime Crisis Centre (SMCC).
Recently, the SMCC through its National Maritime Sense-making Group (NMSG) detected an individual who was listed as a crew member on two different vessels intending to enter Singapore on the same day. In light of the alleged plot by the IS-associated Sri Lankan, this crew anomaly could well have been a precursor to a terrorist-related attack, or an attempt to infiltrate Singapore’s territorial waters. NMSG immediately shared this information with the appropriate maritime security agency, which went on to undertake regulatory actions against the shipping agent involved.
This incident highlights the importance of a proactive stance of agencies like the SMCC to detect threats as early and as far away from Singapore as possible, and to coordinate operational responses to deter and prevent an attack from occurring. This critical task cannot be overstated, given the importance of sea-borne trade to Singapore.
SMCC, established in 2011 as a whole-of-government (WOG) entity, draws upon the expertise of its national maritime security partner agencies. The SMCC makes possible through its sense-making systems a national maritime common operating picture that is shared by the five maritime security partners and related national security agencies. This allows threat assessments to be harmonised across agencies and operational responses to be coordinated.
SMCC’s WOG activities fit in well with the broader effort by the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) to enhance inter-service and inter-agency collaboration and interoperability. The ninth instalment of Exercise Apex will be held next month and involve more than 1,000 personnel from across the national maritime security agencies. These agencies, along with their maritime assets and vessels, will exercise multiple scenarios related to the terrorist threats to Singapore.
In sum, effort by both WOG and community (i.e. shipping agencies) to deter and prevent the maritime terrorist threat to Singapore demonstrates the necessity for Singapore to harness the power of all relevant stakeholders to deny terrorists the operating space to launch attacks against or through the maritime domain. Given the borderless, networked nature of the threat, a co-ordinated networked response is fully warranted.
This article was written by Joseph Franco and Romain Quivooij, Associate Research Fellows with CENS at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. It was originally published on the RSIS site and reproduced here with their kind permission.

Abu Sayyaf gunmen threaten send back Malaysian captive's head to wife if ransom not paid

From the Star Online (Oct 31): Abu Sayyaf gunmen threaten send back Malaysian captive's head to wife if ransom not paid

KOTA KINABALU: Abu Sayyaf militants are threatening to behead Kunak fish breeder Chan Sai Chuin if the RM3mil ransom is not paid in November.

Chan’s wife Chin Pek Nyen said the militants had not set any particular day for their November deadline but warned her they would kill him if the full ransom was not paid.

"They (Abu Sayyaf) told me that they will send back Chan's head if I fail to pay the ransom," Chin, 42, told a press conference here as she appealed to the state and federal governments to do more to secure her husband’s freedom.

She said the Abu Sayyaf gunmen made the threat during a call on Thursday night.
"I just do not know what to do. I tried raising the ransom by borrowing from friends and family.

"There no way I can raise it, how much can people lend me, I need the help of the Government," she said, adding that gunmen were sticking to RM3mil demand after reducing it from RM15mil to RM10mil over the past months.

Chan, who is from Perak, was abducted by Filipino gunmen from his fish farm on June 16 and is currently being held by Abu Sayyaf militants in an undisclosed location in the notorious southern Philippines island of Jolo.

Chin said the gunmen had refused to allow her to speak to her husband since July 27 and she could not say for certain if he was safe and unhurt.

"They tell me he is all right. They refused to let me speak to him. They call me at least once every two days.

"They ask me if I have raised the money. Asked me if I have raised RM1mil. When I say no, they get angry and threatened to kill my husband. They call me up to 17 times a day, until I answer the call," she said.

In her frustration, she said she had offered herself as hostage so she could be with husband and not "worry" about raising the ransom amount.

Chin hoped that Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak would help secure Chan's release through various channels in Manila.

"I am a Malaysian, my husband is Malaysian, why is nobody helping us," she said.

"I really don't know what do now, I hope our Government will help," she added.

Abu Sayyaf gunmen are also holding a marine policemen, Kpl Zakiah Aleip, 26, who was abducted from Mabul island on July 12.

MILF: Moro-IP kinship council issues position paper on BBL

Posted to the MILF Website (Oct 31): Moro-IP kinship council issues position paper on BBL

Moro-Ip Kinship Council, through Bai Nanapnay Saway of the Talaandig Tribe, and Chairperson of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) issued a position paper on the Bangsamoro Basic Law dated October 29, 2014.

In their position paper they stressed the following important issues:

1. The sacredness of the Peace Compact:  Last March 27, 2014, we had the opportunity to witness the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in Malacañan Palace.   Much has been reported about that historic event which brought hundreds of leaders and dignitaries from all over the country and the international community. 

What is not known to many is that right after the signing in Malacañan, traditional leaders from the indigenous and Bangsamoro people gathered at the Peace Arc along Mendiola to perform a very important ritual which we call in Talaandig as Tampuda Hu Balagon.  For the Maguindanao it is called Sapa or Dyandi, in Tausug Janji, or Budung for our indigenous kins in the North.  

This particular ritual has been performed hundreds of years ago by Apu Datu Mamalu and Apu Rajah Tabunaway whom we refer to as our ancestors.  Mamalu and Tabunaway are brothers and when Islam arrived, one of the brothers embraced Islam while the other decided to remain with his indigenous faith.  Since Apu Tabunaway was already going to follow a new way of life which is Islam, they entered into a peace pact wherein they promised to each other that they will remain as brothers and will protect each other from common enemies and invaders. 

The covenant between Mamalu and Tabunaway are what we refer to as the five pillars of kinship namely, Kilalaha (mutual recognition and respect), Sayuda (exchange of information), Buliga (cooperation), Uyaga (Mutual Protection of Life) and Pabatun-batuna (Help for those who are in need). 

This ritual is what we refer to as the traditional peace pact which up to now the descendants of Apu Mamalu like me and the descendants of Apu Tabunaway, like my Bangsamoro brothers and sisters still believe as a sacred covenant.   This is a living tradition which we still believe up to today because whoever will break the kinship will be cursed.  

2.   Following the pillars of kinship, we, indigenous peoples fully support the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) because this is a product of a long struggle for self-determination and human security for our Moro kins.   Following the ritual that we did on March 27, 2014 which offered the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro to Magbabaya – this piece of document becomes a sacred covenant for us. 

This is not only an agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front but a sacred covenant among the tri-peoples of Mindanao.  That is why it is very important for us to regard the peace agreement as a sacred covenant with the obligation to implement its provisions to the letter and spirit.   In the crafting of the law, we should bear in mind the sacredness of the covenant itself because this is not only an ordinary piece of legislation but a peace formula that will unlock so many potentials for peace and prosperity not only for the Bangsamoro but also for the indigenous peoples and our Christian brothers and sisters.  We appeal to you to remain faithful, compliant and consistent with the peace agreement.

3.   I wish to invite your attention to the provisions in the BBL which not only embodies the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, the United Nations  Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) but more importantly the five pillars of kinship, as follows:

Article IX, Section 5 Indigenous Peoples Rights  --

This particular provision offers a bundle of rights and protection for the indigenous peoples such as the recognition of the right to native titles and/or “fusaka inged”, For us in the Talaandig, our claim on ancestral domain is not based on CADT but based on native title which is more solid and lasting than a piece of paper offered by the CADT. 

There can never be any contest that by native title, Kitanglad is the domain of the Talaandig in the same manner that Sulu Seas by native title belongs to our Tao Sug brothers and sisters; in the same manner that Mt.  Apo by native title belongs to the Manuvu and Bagobo; and Lake Lanao for the Maranaos; and Lake Sebu for the Tiboli; and Aruman River for the Arumanen Manuvu.

Equitable sharing in revenues from the utilization of resources in their ancestral lands – I would like to highlight that for us indigenous peoples, when we read the term equitable-sharing in the revenues, we do not put emphasis on the how much but more importantly on the value of sharing.   If we genuinely put our minds and hearts into the value of sharing, we will be able to look at the proposed BBL from the point of view of compassion and generosity.

Free and prior Informed consent

Right to freedom of choice as to their identity

Recognition of the traditional or tribal justice system

Reserved seats in the Council of Elders, Parliament, Establishment of a Ministry for Indigenous Peoples etc. – this for me is an affirmative action to ensure that the indigenous peoples who will be minority in the Bangsamoro will be assured of representation in the government. 

I wish to end by recalling that when the Christian settlers from Luzon and Visayas came to Mindanao almost a hundred years ago, they were welcomed by the elders of the Bangsamoro and indigenous peoples to their homes, communities and even gave them lands to till and develop. 

Many of them have their dreams fulfilled in the land of promise.  As you deliberate on the BBL, think about your fathers and grandfathers who were welcomed by the elders of the Moro and indigenous people when they arrived for the first time in Mindanao.  Remember their good stories of warm welcome, generosity and friendships offered by the natives of Mindanao

As you craft the Basic Law, craft it with that deep sense of gratitude and thanksgiving on their behalf and give back to us the same level of compassion, generosity and friendship. 

2 suspected Kiram followers shot dead in Sabah —report

From GMA News (Oct 31): 2 suspected Kiram followers shot dead in Sabah —report

Two men believed to be followers of the late Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III were gunned down in Sabah on Thursday, Malaysia's Bernama news agency reported.

Bernama said police shot the two suspected members of the "Sulu Rebel Army," described as in their 30s and 50s, in Penampang Baru in Sabah.

Both were also reportedly involved in recruiting new members to their group, the report said.

Citing initial police findings, the report said the two had arrived from Kota Kinabalu and attempted an armed robbery.

The report said a police team intercepted the vehicle the two were riding, and the two tried to resist arrest, prompting police to fire.

Bernama quoted a police source as saying authorities are now tracking the remnants of this group, adding they are "believed to be getting active off the east coast of Sabah."

Last year, Kiram's followers entered Semporna in Sabah's east coast and engaged local authorities in a standoff. The standoff led to a series of bloody clashes.

Kiram died in late 2013 but told his followers to continue efforts to reclaim Sabah.

Govt admits military pact with US ‘flawed’

From the Manila Standard Today (Oct 31): Govt admits military pact with US ‘flawed’

THE country’s Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States is indeed flawed, but renegotiating it at this time will be troublesome and may mean that Manila will have to forgo its benefits, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Thursday.

“It’s not a perfect agreement. It’s an imperfect agreement but given that, it’s not plausible for us to amend (it) at this time,” Del Rosario said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.

Besides, Del Rosario said re-negotiating the VFA will mean the government would have to terminate it first and that will affect not only national security, but also the modernization of the Armed Forces as well as the interoperability training of Filipino servicemen.

“We need to abrogate and if we abrogate, it interrupts the benefit of the mutual defense treaty with regards to joint exercise between our two armed forces. It consequences the modernization, the joint training, the inter-operability,” the foreign secretary said.

“I think the Visiting Forces Agreement is a necessary element of the Mutual Defense Treaty because as I said it defines the behavior of the visiting forces,” Del Rosario said, referring to the 1951 agreement which obliges both countries to come to each other’s aid in event of armed foreign attack.

Del Rosario admitted that the country’s State of Visiting Forces Agreement with Australia was more balanced in terms of jurisdiction and custody of erring personnel, but the agreement with Canberra was ratified in 2012 while the one with Washington was ratified in 1999.

The foreign secretary made the admission amid calls for the termination of the VFA after the killing of Filipino transgender Jeffrey Laude in Olongapo City. US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton is suspected of involvement in the killing.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and Rep. Walden Bello filed a measure seeking a joint congressional resolution urging the termination of the VFA because of the killing of Laude.

Santiago and Bello also wanted the VFA abrogated because of what they claimed of its one-sided effects in favor of the US and against the Philippines sovereignty, environment and human rights.

Santiago, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee and the Legislative Oversight Committee on the VFA, said the agreement was being used to shield transgressions made by US military on Philippine soil, which she said seriously infringe on the country’s ability to prosecute these criminal acts.

But President Benigno S. Aquino III rejected calls for the abrogation of the VFA and Malacañang officials stressed that the government stands firm in upholding its defense cooperation agreement with the United States.

“The President has already stated that the Philippines needs the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which forms an integral part of our national defense strategy,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said in a statement.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin also vouched for the VFA, saying that it remains an important strategy for the Philippines, particularly its defense capabilities.

“Its (VFA) abrogation now will have an adverse effect on the minimum credible defense posture that we are working hard to achieve,” Gazmin said.

China absorbing disputed areas

From the Manila Times (Oct 30): China absorbing disputed areas

Roger Baker

CHINA can slowly acquire more territory through its expansionist stance in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and later “absorb the region,” a geopolitics expert said.

Rodger Baker, vice president for East Asia and the Pacific of Stratfor, said Beijing’s expansionism is “political, not military,” since none of the countries claiming ownership of small islands in the region will risk military action.

“So China can slowly absorb the region,” Baker said during the Business Forum organized by The Manila Times.

“Certainly, building structure on the islands prevents others from doing the same, and in time of relative peace may give China slightly easier and more robust capabilities for maritime surveillance,” the Stratfor analyst explained.

“But the main purpose of occupying the islands is not military. It is political,” he said. Beijing’s “ownership” of the islands is further bolstered by the fact that it faces no concrete challenge.

“This strengthens the reality of Chinese possession,” Baker pointed out.

China’s highly dynamic movements in the disputed territories, he further explained, changes the political reality there by easily redirecting attention when tensions arise.

“When tensions rise too high with a particular country, China can ease off, shift attention to a different country, or just use the perception of heightened tensions to drive a desire for an easing of stress,” Baker said.

While the United States and other “extra-regional allies” have expressed the desire for a legal settlement of the maritime disputes, these countries “are not going to intervene on behalf of Southeast Asian nations,” he added.

“In China’s perspective, [it] will lead to a realignment of political relations where the Southeast Asian nations will find accommodation with China more beneficial than attempts to oppose Chinese expansion,” Baker said.

He observed that while China’s unprecedented growth has pushed it to become a world economic superpower, it lags behind in terms of “soft power expansion.”

“The disconnect between China’s economic strength and the security role assumed by others—namely the United States—highlights the imbalance of power in the region. In some ways, it has benefited Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] countries, giving Asean states the ability to play off the big power competition for their own benefit,” the Stratfor official said.

Baker asserted that China will not “dominate” its smaller neighbors as colonial powers did in the past.

“China is hoping to simply draw in their cooperation and concessions, a recreation of the ages-old Chinese system of regional political management,” he said.

Also, according to Baker, Beijing cannot afford to have a confrontation with the Philippines because it would run counter to its maritime interests in the region.

“The Philippines is a US treaty ally, and thus seen as part of a US containment strategy to hold China in. There is plenty of room for expanded economic cooperation with China, despite the political speed bumps.”

Burgos disappearance trial finally gets off the ground

From Malaya (Oct 31): Burgos disappearance trial finally gets off the ground

ALMOST a year after Army Major Harry Baliaga Jr. was arraigned on charges of arbitrary detention for the disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos in 2007, the presentation of evidence against him finally began.
During yesterday’s hearing before the QC Regional Trial Court Branch 216, the prosecution panel presented Edita Burgos, mother of the missing activist, as its first witness.
When asked about the monetary equivalent of the damages incurred due to her son’s disappearance, Edita said: “It is not quantifiable.”
However, Edita admitted their family spent millions, including her retirement fund, to find her missing son.
She added their family loses P100,000 per year, following the abduction of Jonas, who was managing their farm.
Outside the courtroom, Baliaga, who was out on bail, maintained his innocence and claimed he understands what the Burgos family feels.
However, he stressed the case against him has taken him away from his mother and family, who he said are experiencing emotional hardships due to allegations lodged against him.
Baliaga added the hoped the truth will come out soon as he expressed disappointment on how the case has taken away his chances of pursuing his life goals.
Alleged military officers reportedly abducted Jonas on April 28, 2007.
The case against Baliaga was filed before the court following the issuance of a 14-page review resolution of the Department of Justice on Sept. 3, 2013.
He was arraigned in November 12 last year.
During his arraignment, Baliaga refused to enter a plea, and the court entered a “not guilty” plea for him.

Esszone safer compared to

From the Rakyat Post (Oct 30): Esszone safer compared to
Kuala Lumpur, says Shahidan

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim said the area was fully secured by officers on duty at Sabah’s east coast, making it safe zone.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim today said that the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone) districts were far safer compared to Kuala Lumpur.
According to him, the area was fully secured by officers on duty at Sabah’s east coast, making it safe.
“I feel that in the Esszone areas, we are moving about in conditions where we are constantly being watched by security teams.
“In fact being in Kuala Lumpur, I feel the Eszone is safer because we are being watched,” he said in response to a question by Putatan Member of Parliament Datuk Makin @ Marcus Majigoh in Parliament today.
Shahidan added that Malaysia was a country that was always the attention of outsiders who want to enter the country.

However, the intrusion into the country was not something to be taken lightly by the government, he said.

“This should not happen in this modern era, whereby a group of criminals attack a country.
“And the government has made the decision to ensure this was a safe zone because the area was also one where the economic activities were important,” he said.
Shahidan added that the state was also seen as one of the most beautiful places in the world and it was important to take care of it so that it was safe not only to those there, but everyone.
He was replying to Batu Sapi MP Linda Tsen Thau Lin who asked the prime minister to state the impact of the curfew at the Esscom that was imposed since July involving the tourism and fishing sectors.
“It doesn’t affect the people, in fact the people rather enjoy it because if we go to the shores along the Esszone area, we can see no movements anywhere.
“If there is any, it’s those who have obtained permits to fish,” he further explained.
Shahidan admitted there were those who attempted to invade, but it was at a controlled level.
“Apart from controlling the intrusion, we also focus on crime from within,” answered the Arau MP.

Bukit Aman team investigating kidnap-for-ransom groups in Semporna

From the Star Online (Oct 30): Bukit Aman team investigating kidnap-for-ransom groups in Semporna

KOTA KINABALU: A special team from Bukit Aman is questioning suspects detained following the shooting of a suspected kidnap for ransom (KFR) scout in Semporna on Oct 26.

Sabah Police Commisisoner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman said the team was conducting investigations and would leave it to them to probe further the involvement of those arrested and their connections to the KFR groups.

He was commenting after Wahab Atab @ Botak, a 34-year-old from Kg Balimbang Semporna surrendered himself to police on Oct 27 after he was named as one of six wanted men to assist in their cross border crime investigations.

Earlier this month, police arrested three suspected scouts of the KFR group while on Saturday police shot dead a suspected intruder on a speedboat in waters off Pulau Bangau-Bangau in Semporna, 
This was followed by the arrest of seven men and two women in the Semporna area.

The eastern coast of Sabah is considered to be volatile, with frequent kidnappings by KFR groups from the Southern Philippines.

Jalaluddin, meanwhile, said that all 10 police districts under the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZONE) are holding exercises codenamed Ops Gempar where they would be testing the efficiency of the police in combating various threats including incursion, kidnappings and other criminal activities.

``I urge the public not to be alarmed over large scale movements and roadblocks that will be in place during the current operations over the next few days,’’ he said, adding that the operations started late Wednesday.

Negotiations For PAF site in Silay on

From the Visayan Daily Star (Oct 27): Negotiations For PAF site in Silay on

The negotiations for the acquisition of a four-hectare lot for the Philippine Air Force tactical operation center in Western Visayas, near the Bacolod-Silay airport are still ongoing, Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. said yesterday.
Marañon said the purchase has been delayed because they are dealing with several owners of the property.
The Philippine Air Force plans to set up its regional tactical operation group headquarters at the Bacolod-Silay Airport in Negros Occidental. Presently, its Tactical Operation Group-6 headquarters is in Iloilo.
Marañon said the property is located at the northern part of the Bacolod Silay airport.
The move to transfer the Air Force tactical operation center to Negros Occidental started during the stint of retired Gen. Victor Ibrado then chief of the AFP Central Command.
The MOA stipulates that the provincial government will acquire four hectares of land within or near the vicinity of the Bacolod-Silay Airport in Brgy. Bagtic, Silay City, while the PAF will undertake its development, construction and maintenance of structures, and facilities.
The MOA also states that the PAF will give Negros Occidental priority in extending assistance, or preference to the needs of the province in times of emergency, calamity and similar circumstances, when its services may be needed.
In times of natural calamities or armed engagement between government troops and local armed insurgents, the Army’s 302nd and 303rd Infantry Brigade in Negros island have to request air support, either from Iloilo or Cebu.