Monday, March 31, 2014

Reds hiring out-of-school youth – military

From the Philippine Star (Apr 1): Reds hiring out-of-school youth – military

The New People’s Army (NPA) in South Cotabato is reportedly hiring out-of-school youth and training them to fight the government, an Army official said yesterday.

Lt. Abel Fortu, civil military officer of the 27th Infantry Battalion (IB) based in Tupi town, said the NPA is strengthening its ranks by enticing out-of-school youth to join their cause.

“We are worried about it,” Fortu said as he expressed concerns on the reported recruitment in the province, particularly in the towns of Lake Sebu and T’boli.

The towns have a history of atrocities between the NPA rebels and the government forces.

“Parents were complaining that their children were recruited by the communist insurgents,” Fortu said.

He said two mothers from Lake Sebu sought their help after their sons joined the NPA in November last year. “The mothers said their sons have not returned home to this day,” Fortu said.

Several parents from T’boli also had similar complaints.

Fortu urged the rebels to spare the out-of-school youth in their fight against the government.

Several parents from T’boli also had similar complaints.

Fortu urged the rebels to spare the out-of-school youth in their fight against the government.

China: Ayungin trip betrays PH intent

From Rappler (Apr 1): China: Ayungin trip betrays PH intent

China on Monday, March 31, denounced the trip by Filipino journalists to the disputed Ayungin Shoal as a “provocation” that betrays Manila's purpose in bringing Beijing to court.

Speaking to Chinese reporters, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei also questioned the timing of the trip on Saturday, March 29, a day before the Philippines filed a 4,000-page written pleading against China's expansive claims over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). (READ: PH strikes back, files pleading vs China)

“It fully demonstrates that the purpose for the Philippines' willful pursuit of the international arbitration is to cover up its illegal occupation of China's territory and trouble-making in the South China Sea. It is a political provocation by abusing international legal means,” Hong said.

He added this “provocation” shows that disputes over land, not water, lie at the core of the West Philippine Sea issue. The connection is unclear.

Hong said: “The Philippines' provocation on the Ren'ai Reef (Ayungin Shoal) shows once again that at the heart of the South China Sea disputes between China and the Philippines are the disputes on the sovereignty over islands and reefs, which have been excluded from arbitration procedures provided for under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”

China, after all, insists on two basic arguments in seeking to demolish the Philippines' case:

The disputes involve land, which is not covered by UNCLOS; and

The disputes involve the delimitation of maritime boundaries, over which it rejected arbitral proceedings in a declaration under UNCLOS in 2006

By raising these points, China questions the right of the arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration to hear the Philippines' case. (READ: China rejects PH case, invokes int'l law and PH faces major hurdle in China case)

The Philippines, for its part, says the case is not about land but water. It also keeps it hands off the disputes that China excluded from arbitration. This means the tribunal has jurisdiction. (READ: What's at stake in our case vs China)

DAVID VS GOLIATH. A Chinese coast guard ship (top) and a Philippine supply boat engage in a standoff as the Philippine boat attempts to reach Ayungin Shoal, a reef claimed by both countries, on March 29, 2014. Photo by Jay Directo/AFP

DAVID VS GOLIATH. A Chinese coast guard ship (top) and a Philippine supply boat engage in a standoff as the Philippine boat attempts to reach Ayungin Shoal, a reef claimed by both countries, on March 29, 2014. Photo by Jay Directo/AFP

In the media conference on Monday, Hong also criticized the trip as a build up to the Philippines' filing of a 10-volume memorial against China on Sunday, March 30.

He called it a “deliberately schemed activity with the purpose of further hyping up the issue of the Ren'ai Reef, building momentum for its promotion of the international arbitration and serving its attempt to illegally snatch the Ren'ai Reef which is China's territory.”

"The Philippine side will have to take the consequences caused by its provocative actions," Hong said. (READ: PH warned about backlash from China)

Philippine military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala, on the other hand, said the trip aimed to resupply the Philippines' personnel aboard the country's stranded ship in Ayungin, the BRP Sierra Madre.

"Media was invited to observe for transparency," Zagala said in a statement quoted by Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda. Zagala invited at least 18 members of local and foreign media to the trip.

On Saturday, China ended up harassing a Philippine vessel again in Ayungin – for at least the 11th time since 2013.

It was "a provocative and destabilizing action" on the part of China, US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

The Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs has not issued a comment on China's remarks as of posting time.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on Monday said his country is "not here to challenge China, to provoke them into any action, but I do believe that they should recognize we have the right to defend our own interests."

Marines guarding Ayungin get award for bravery

From ABS-CBN (Mar 31): Marines guarding Ayungin get award for bravery

Philippine Marines who were deployed for almost five months aboard the BRP Sierra Madre, a military detachment on Ayungin Shoal, get Bronze Cross medals from Western Command chief Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda at a naval forces camp in Palawan on Monday. Photo by Erik De Castro, Reuters

A Philippine government vessel successfully delivered fresh troops, food, and water to a military outpost on a disputed shoal in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) on Saturday, after evading two Chinese coastguard ships trying to block its path.

The new troops raised the flag on Sunday, replacing Marines who had been stationed for almost five months at the outpost on Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal).
The outpost is BRP Sierra Madre, a huge, rusting World War Two transport vessel that the Philippine navy intentionally ran aground in 1999 to mark its claim to the reef.

There, around nine Filipino soldiers live for three months at a time in harsh conditions on a reef that Manila says is within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). China, which claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, says the shoal is part of its territory.


"I hope the troops will not be removed from here, and will always be supported," said one of the newly-arrived Marines, Technical Sergeant Albert Villanueva said, after taking his post on the Sierra Madre.

The soldiers who had been replaced over the weekend stayed longer than planned, with limited food and supplies, due to a flare-up with Chinese vessels in the area.

They had been scheduled to go home three weeks ago but Chinese ships blocked two Philippine supply vessels from reaching them on March 9, a move protested by Manila and which the United States described as "provocative".

The Philippine navy resorted to air dropping food and water instead.

On Saturday, tensions simmered again as the Philippine ship with fresh troops and supplies was moving smoothly until it was spotted by a Chinese coastguard ship about an hour away from Ayungin.

The Chinese boat picked up speed to come closer to the Philippine ship, honking its horn at least three times.

After a few minutes, the Chinese ship slowed down, but then a bigger coastguard vessel emerged, moving fast to block the path of the Philippine boat. The Chinese sent a radio message to the Filipinos, saying they were entering Chinese territory.

Instead of stopping or reversing, the Philippine vessel picked up speed and eventually maneuvered away from the Chinese, entering waters that were too shallow for the bigger coastguard ships.

Philippine Marines who were deployed for almost five months aboard the BRP Sierra Madre, a military detachment on Ayungin Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, pledge allegiance to the Philippine flag during a ceremony upon their arrival at a naval forces camp in Palawan on Monday. Photo by Erik De Castro, Reuters

In a military headquarters in Palawan province on Monday, the nine Marines who were stationed for almost five months on Ayungin received Bronze Cross medals for bravery.

The Bronze Cross is one of the highest military awards in the country.

Nineteen journalists who were onboard a supply ship that evaded a Chinese naval blockade of Ayungin also received citations from the Armed Forces.

"We are just hoping that a resolution may be found for this issue regarding territorial disputes. We are hoping that it will be peaceful. We are hoping," First Lieutenant Mike Pelotera said.

Raising the stakes over the South China Sea, the Philippines filed a case against China on Sunday at an arbitration tribunal in The Hague, subjecting Beijing to international legal scrutiny over the waters for the first time.

China reiterated on Sunday that it would not accept international arbitration, saying the only way to resolve the dispute was through bilateral negotiations.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the potentially energy-rich waters.

AFP: Guns in alleged US firearms smuggling did not come from us

From GMA News (Apr 1): AFP: Guns in alleged US firearms smuggling did not come from us

The Armed Forces of the Philippines said it is looking into an allegation that one of its officers may have been involved in a supposed plan to smuggle firearms into the United States, but stressed the guns would not have come from its arsenal.

“Kahit na wala pa kaming hawak na pangalan (of the military officer), kahit na wala pa kaming hawak na dokumento o anumang request, tinitignan na rin namin itong allegation na ito,” Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, AFP spokesman, said in an interview on GMA News' “24 Oras” aired Monday evening.

Zagala however said that it seemed impossible that the smuggled firearms would come from the AFP's inventory.

“Meron at merong mga instances na may baril na mawawala, but someone will be accountable for it. Pero hindi yung madamihan... Kung may mawala, isa or dalawa, investigation kaagad yan,” Zagala said.

California state senator Leland Yee was arrested by US authorities on Wednesday (Thursday in the Philippines) on charges of corruption and alleged conspiracy to smuggle and trade in firearms from the Philippines.

According to a Federal Bureau of Investigation affidavit, Yee was in touch with a certain Wilson Lim, who used to be based in Mindanao but now living in Bailey City, California. Lim allegedly had a contact in the Philippine military for the high-powered firearms that would be smuggled to the US.

According to the affidavit, Yee also told an FBI undercover agent that Lim's source for the weapons was a Philippine citizen who previously sold guns to individuals, and had managed to bring guns from Cagayan de Oro to the US.

It is not clear whether the “Philippine citizen” and the “Philippine military official with the rank of captain” are the same person.

Zagala said the AFP is ready to work with the FBI on the case, though they have yet to receive a formal request on the matter.

The FBI affidavit also said Yee told an undercover agent that there were some factions of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who were not in favor of the peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF, though Yee did not directly say that the smuggled firearms would come from members of the MILF.

Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chairman for political affairs, has already denied the allegation.

“Wala kaming alam na ganyan, na involve sa'min. Wala kaming alam na may MILF na involve sa ganyang transaction, yung gun-running, o kaya pagbili ng armas. At saka yung sinasabing faction ng MILF, walang faction ang MILF,” he said.

Government peace panel chairperson Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, on the other hand, refused to give a statement on the issue as she has yet to read the FBI report.

“It will be unfair to point a finger at this point to the MILF or even a faction of the MILF,” Ferrer said.

Last Thursday, the government and the MILF signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), a product of 17 years of negotiations, which both parties hope will pave way for the creation of a new territory in Mindanao to be called the Bangsamoro political entity.

US accuses China of provoking PHL

From GMA News (Apr 1): US accuses China of provoking PHL

The United States criticized China as provocative Monday after its coast guard tried to block a Philippine vessel that was rotating troops in the tense West Philippine Sea.

The attempted Chinese blockade, which led to a two-hour standoff with the Philippine ship, is "a provocative and destabilizing action," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.

Harf said that the Philippines had permission to resupply troops to the remote reef, Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal), because it has kept a naval presence there since before a 2002 declaration of conduct in the South China Sea.

"As a treaty ally of the Republic of the Philippines, the United States urges China to refrain from further provocative behavior by allowing the Philippines to continue to maintain its presence at Second Thomas Shoal," she said.

The incident was the latest in the South China Sea, where China claims a vast area that overlaps with several neighbors' claims. Manila refers to parts of the South China Sea as West Philippine Sea.

On March 9, China successfully turned away a similar resupply boat from the Philippines.

The United States has been warning China against taking more drastic action in the South China Sea after it declared an air defense identification zone in November over much of the East China Sea, including islands administered by Japan.

Camp Aguinaldo’s ‘cat chaser’ is Central Luzon Army commander

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 31): Camp Aguinaldo’s ‘cat chaser’ is Central Luzon Army commander

Brigadier General Glorioso Mirand (left). Photo from the Philippine Army

Brigadier General Glorioso Miranda is the new commander of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division, a document obtained by revealed.

He will replace the post vacated by Lieutenant General Hernando Iriberri, who was named as the Army chief last February. Both are members of the Philippine Military Academy “Matikas” Class of 1983.

Miranda was previously the commander of the General Headquarters and Headquarters Support Command at Camp Aguinaldo. He was also previously assigned to the 1002nd Infantry Brigade AFP Command and General Staff College.

Last December, the military police under his leadership renewed its crackdown against stray animals inside the camp prior the visit of President Benigno Aquino III for the Armed Forces of the Philippines anniversary. He said there were reports that the stray animals were only being run over by vehicles. He also assured the public that the pets are under their care.

Housed at Fort Magsaysay in the province of Nueva Ecija, the biggest military camp in the Philippines, the 7th Infantry Division operates in the regions of Ilocos and Central Luzon.

Miranda will be replaced by Colonel Arthur Ang as commander of GHQ and HSC.

The orders signed by President Benigno Aquino III effective March 28.

Some of the designations included in the order were of Major General Benito Antonio de Leon as the 5th Infantry Division commander, Brigadier General Ivan Samarita as commander of Training and Doctrine Command, Brigadier General Victor Bayani as deputy chief of staff for Logistics, Colonel Angelito de Leon as chief of the AFP Command Center.

501 IB invites media groups to join defense press corps

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 31): 501 IB invites  media groups to join  defense press corps

The 501st Infantry Brigade is inviting media organizations in the region to  be part of the Armed  Forces of the Philippines (AFP)- Cordillera   Defense Press Corps it is  set to organize.    

Brigadier General Roger Salvador, commanding officer (CO) the 501st IB, said they are targeting to include  at least two members of each  media organizations  become members of the  AFP Cordillera Defense Press Corps (ACDPC).

The commanding officer explained that the setting-up of the defense press corps is in line with their efforts to inform the people of the Cordillera of the AFP’s peace and development programs in the region.

“Your support will be a part of our accomplishment as the brigade continuously delivers its services to the community in the area of responsibility,” Salvador stated’

For further inquires and coordination regarding the ACDPC,  interested media groups may contact  0926-6641-520 or  send  e-mail  to :

Philippines China Rivalry: Geopolitics of the South China Sea

From Liberty Voice (Mar 30): Philippines China Rivalry: Geopolitics of the South China Sea

On Sunday, the Republic of the Philippines filed with the UN for arbitration on its ongoing territorial dispute with the People’s Republic of China. At issue is the control of the tiny Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The Filipino filing comes right after an incident that occurred Saturday, wherein a pair of Chinese coastguard ships attempted to stop a Filipino vessel from provisioning a tiny outpost on Second Thomas Shoal. Understanding why China and the Philippines would clash over a collection of seemingly insignificant rocks is a lesson in the geopolitical rivalries of the South China Sea, rivalries in which the long hand of history can be discerned.

The Filipino outpost on Second Thomas Shoal consists of the rusted hulk of a World War II transport vessel, the Sierra Madre, which was grounded on the reef by the Philippine navy in 1999 as a way of establishing Filipino sovereignty. Second Thomas Shoal is a tiny reef islet, one of about 150 or so such features that comprise the Spratly Islands. Despite their diminutive size, the Spratlys are contested territory, with China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all claiming them in whole or in part. Other tiny islands in the South China Sea are also claimed by more than one country. The Paracels, for example, are occupied by the People’s Republic of China, but are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.


The islands may seem trivial, but their location in the South China Sea makes them strategic in a game of geopolitical rivalries between China, the Philippines, and the other state actors in the area. Nearly a third of the world’s maritime shipping passes through the South China Sea, and it is believed to have deposits of oil and gas as well. Additionally, there are many rich fisheries, notably Scarborough Shoal, a feature that is claimed by China, Taiwan, and the Philippines. China has invoked a long history of Chinese fishermen in the waters around Scarborough Shoal and other tiny islands in the region to justify the validity of its claims.

Fundamentally, this provides a material basis for the rivalries, but consideration should also be given to the importance of the ideology of nationalism and national sovereignty. Both the Philippines and China, to say nothing of the other state actors involved in various disputes, portray the dispute in terms of perceived national “rights’” to occupy a particular space. One of the more seminal works on the study of nationalism is Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, which argues for a construction of the whole concept of the nation through the printed word, systems of administration, and mapping of territory. This conception of national sovereignty is clearly at work in the South China Sea geopolitical rivalry between the Philippines and China, with both parties claiming particular islets under the doctrine.

China currently claims the majority of the South China Sea, everything delimited by its “nine-dash line.” This boundary is based on the “eleven-dash line” drawn up by the Kuomintang in 1947, so called because it utilized eleven literal dashes on the map. Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) eliminated two of the dashes on the map in 1953, yielding some of the claimed area to Vietnam. China’s strategy in the region de-emphasized territorial claims for decades thereafter, but recently China’s growing power has given it the capacity to press claims in the South China Sea, igniting the geopolitical rivalry with the Philippines and other state actors. In a testament to the power of the map, the nine-dash line has now become so ingrained in Chinese nationalist thinking that the Chinese leadership is under public pressure to assert China’s rights of national sovereignty.

The rivalry between China and the Philippines is a very unequal one, given that China’s military budget is 47 times that of the Philippines. Still, the Philippines is backed by Washington, and there is little in the way of international support for China’s nine-dash line. For the Philippines, the defense of Second Thomas Shoal and other outposts in the Spratlys is every bit as much a matter of national sovereignty as it is for China. Compounding the problem of settling the disputes is a lack of agreement over how, precisely, this should be achieved. The Philippines and the other Southeast Asian nations want multilateral negotiations between all parties, conducted by rules of international statecraft. China wants bilateral negotiations between itself and each separate state actor.

China’s strategy is also comprehensible in the light of its own long-standing traditions of diplomacy and statecraft. As the controversial U.S. diplomat and political scientist Henry Kissinger noted in his book on China, historically China’s immense size, centralized state structure, and cultural preeminence meant that it was very much the default superpower in a Sinocentric world order. A variety of Chinese dynasties often treated the neighboring kingdoms of Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar (Burma) as vassals. In addition to sending tribute at different points in history, the smaller kingdoms also absorbed a great deal of Chinese culture. Not for nothing did China conceive of itself as the Middle Kingdom, the logical hegemon in East and Southeast Asia.

This style of Chinese statecraft assumed a particularly dramatic form with the fabled voyages of the Ming Treasure Fleets in the early 15th century. The Chinese Muslim Admiral Zheng He led a total of seven voyages through the South China Sea and even the Indian Ocean, reaching the Middle East and even the eastern shores of the African continent. It was a short-lived experiment, but China’s cultural and political dominance over its tributaries in East and Southeast Asia remained.

Far more than an argument over some inconsequential rocks in the South China Sea, the rivalry between China and the Philippines is an object lesson in the imagining of national communities and the making of geopolitical disputes. Both China and the Philippines claim to have rights of national sovereignty that trump those of the other party, and both invoke history. However, China’s unwillingness to engage in multilateral, rules-based negotiations points to a deeper conflict between differing models of international relations. The long hand of history can be seen in China’s assertiveness on this issue, and its insistence on bilateral negotiations. Fundamentally, China’s actions and pronouncements are well in accord with the long-standing historic model of Chinese statecraft and diplomacy, a model in which China as the Middle Kingdom was the center of the world.

[By Michael Schultheiss]

US Reaffirms Support for PHL arbitration

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 31): US Reaffirms Support for PHL arbitration

The United States has renewed its support to the Philippines’ move to bring its territorial disputes with China before an international tribunal, calling it a “peaceful means” to resolving maritime row.

Washington’s statement of support issued by the U.S. State Department came after the Philippines submitted on March 30 a 4,000-page document or memorial containing an array of legal evidence and maps that will bolster its case against China.

“The United States reaffirms its support for the exercise of peaceful means to resolve maritime disputes without fear of any form of retaliation, including intimidation or coercion,” the State Department statement said.

All countries, it added, “should respect the right of any States Party, including the Republic of the Philippines, to avail themselves of the dispute resolution mechanisms provided for under the Law of the Sea Convention.”

“We hope that this case serves to provide greater legal certainty and compliance with the international law of the sea,” it said.

China claims the South China Sea nearly in its entirety, including areas that are within Manila’s territorial waters that have been renamed West Philippine Sea.

Manila took a bold step on January 2013 when it filed a case against China before a United Nations-linked international tribunal in a bid to declare Beijing’s sea claims excessive. A five-man court that was assembled to hear the case ordered the Philippines to submit a memorial on or before March 30 to substantiate its complaint.

The U.S., a Philippine defense ally, maintains it does not take sides in the disputes but has declared that it is in its national interest to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and that the disputes are resolved peacefully in accordance with international law, particularly the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are also claimants to the resource-rich waters, a major trade route where oil and gas deposits have recently been discovered.

It is expected of China to submit a counter memorial under international arbitration procedures. However, Beijing stated that it will not participate in the legal process.

Army chief gets third star

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 31): Army chief gets third star

Philippine Army (PA) commander Major Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri was awarded his third star in a simple donning of rank ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on Monday.

This took place two months after his appointment as Army commander.

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Voltaire Gazmin personally pinned the third star to Iriberri effectively promoting him to lieutenant general.

Upon his return at PA headquarters, Lt. Gen. Iriberri was accorded arrival honors attended by officers, enlisted personnel and civilian employees of his command.

A member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) "Matikas" Class of 1983, Iriberri was designated as Army commander on Feb. 7.

In his assumption speech, he reminded the soldiers of their "duty to defend and the responsibility to deliver".

Upon taking the helm of the PA, Iriberri emphasized that he will sustain the Army's campaign for peace and development through the continuous implementation of the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) "Bayanihan", and pursue genuine transformation through the Army Transformation Roadmap (ATR).

Meanwhile, two senior officers of the PA were also promoted to brigadier generals.

Donned with their first star were Brig. Generals Inocencio M. Mayangao and Carlito G. Galvez Jr.

Mayangao is the 502nd Infantry Brigade Commander, 5th Infantry Division.

Prior to this, he served as the Division Inspector General of the 5th Infantry Division; Executive Officer of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, OJ2; and Battalion Commander of the 54th Infantry Battalion, 5th Infantry Division.

Galvez, on the other hand, is the 104th Brigade Commander, 1st Infantry Division.

He became part of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, OJ3, where he served as Chief of the Operations Division.

In the year 2000 to 2002, he commanded the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion of the First Scout Ranger Regiment, wherein he led his troops in the offensive against the Abu Sayyaf Group that are responsible for the Sipadan and Dos Palmas kidnappings.

"While rank has its own privileges, it also conveys greater responsibilities that must be fully embraced. Wearing it means more than just prestige; it also means venturing into a future of more intricate challenges," Iriberri concluded.

Comelec urges MILF members to register to be able to participate in the May 2016 poll

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 31): Comelec urges MILF members to register to be able to participate in the May 2016 poll

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) urged members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to register so that they can participate in the May 2016 national and local elections.

“The Comelec is greatly heartened by the MILF’s thrust towards joining the political arena, moving from bullets to ballots,” said Comelec Spokesman James Jimenez in an interview.

He added, “For this move to achieve its maximum potential, it is now necessary for the members of the MILF to register as voters."

The poll body official is reacting to the statement of MILF officials that they are planning to register as a political party to enable them to join in the forthcoming polls.

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes said that the MILF is welcome to register as long as they are able to meet the requirements set by law.

Jimenez noted that it is the perfect time for MILF members to register after the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) last week.

“The first steps to peace have been taken. Now is the time for our brothers to move farther down that road as ever more significant partners in our democracy,” he said.

The voter registration is set to resume on May 6 until October 31, 2015 in all Offices of the Election Officer (OEOs) at the city/municipality where the applicant resides.

WELCOME TO CHINA! | Over SMS and cyberspace, Beijing sends a message over disputed territories

From InterAksyon (Mar 31): WELCOME TO CHINA! | Over SMS and cyberspace, Beijing sends a message over disputed territories

China appears to be bolstering its claims to disputed islands in the South China Sea, besides regularly deploying sea patrols. In cyberspace and in telecommunications, Beijing seems to have found a subtle way to “virtually” expand Chinese territory.

In 2013, a special report by showed that on Google Earth, China has outsmarted the Philippines by planting its virtual flags on those various islands that dot the coveted, resource-rich archipelago in the West Philippine Sea (how Manila refers to the South China Sea).

A cursory look at photos uploaded by Internet users to the 3D map program Google Earth revealed that citizens from China, Vietnam and Taiwan had “invaded” the islands in question, with a glaring absence of Philippine contributions to the online mapping service.

The photos, uploaded through photo-sharing service Panoramio, dot several locations in the highly disputed Spratly Islands — more commonly referred to as the Kalayaan Group of Islands — and Panatag Shoal just West of Luzon island.

Mobile phone at Ayungin

The scramble to tag the islets - at least on the cybermap - as their possession comes to mind amid the furor triggered by journalist Raissa Robles’ posting of a photo in her blog of an SMS that appeared in the mobile phone of a colleague riding a plane that recently flew over the Ayungin Shoal, scene of the March 29 standoff between a Philippine re-supply boat and two Chinese coastguard vessels.

The civilian fishing boat was bearing food and other supplies for a Marine contingent on the abandoned BRP Sierra Madre, an old Navy ship placed by the Philippines in a strategic spot on Ayungin Shoal to stake its presence in an area it calls part of its continental shelf. The civilian boat, also carrying some mediamen and soldiers who were to relieve the Marines who had finished a five-month tour on the BRP Sierra Madre, was harassed by the Chinese coastguard but eventually evaded the blockade and got near to the Sierra Madre, completing its mission.

As this was happening on the ground, up in the air Robles’ journalist-friend – a subscriber of Philippine telco Globe - was shocked to see an SMS that began with the surreal greeting, Welcome to China!” flashing on the screen of his mobile phone.

Robles wrote: “The plane passengers were monitoring a supply ship that was en route to bringing provisions to marines guarding Ayungin Shoal from being taken over by China. China claims the Philippines is “illegally” occupying Ayungin. A Chinese coast guard vessel was trying to block the supply ship for hours last Saturday.

“In the Globe Telecom statement, the company’s lead lawyer Froilan Castelo, said it is investigating the incident. Castelo went on to say that: ‘Technically speaking, cellular phones are able to pick up a dominant signal in the area where they are. At a certain altitude, cellular signals could be as strong as radio frequencies emitted by cell sites because they are unimpeded by buildings or other on-ground infrastructure. In the case of the Ayungin Shoal, it is quite possible that the mobile phone could pick up the signal of another network since the area is within territorial borders.’

But, Robles pointed out, Atty. Castelo, “does not explain whose territorial borders he’s referring to. Also, how come mobile phones can pick up China Mobile’s but not Globe’s network? Why is China Mobile’s signal dominant in an area claimed by the Philippines as part of its territory when China’s nearest land mass is miles and miles away? Where is China Mobile’s signal coming from?”

Digital landgrabbing

The Ayungin Shoal incident may seem surreal to Filipinos who wonder how territory so near to Palawan’s mainland, and so far from China, could be owned by Beijing; but to those who have tried the Paronamio service on Google Earth, it is not surprising: cyberspace shows numerous islands and islets in the maritime dispute zone littered with “claims”.

 In Parola Island, for example, the farthest Philippine-occupied territory in the island chain, the Vietnamese had uploaded a number of photos depicting structures erected by the Vietnamese government in the island they call Dao Song Tu Dong, or the Southwest Cay.

Further South, the Vietnamese claim could not be more assertive as users uploaded a photo of Dao Da Nam island, part of the disputed Paracel Islands, with the caption: “Belong to Vietnam.”

In Panatag Shoal off Zambales in western Luzon, where Chinese and Philippine governments have been in a standoff since April 2012, the virtual tension is more apparent: while one photo depicting the Philippine flag perched atop one of the rocky atolls in the area is clearly labeled “Panatag Shoal,” another photo — this time a Chinese flag waving atop a small rock — shouts: Huangyan Island – Chinese inherent territory.

Chinese and Philippine naval forces were locked in a standoff last year along Panatag Shoal (also referred to as Scarborough Shoal) as the latter accused the emerging superpower of a “de facto occupation” of the disputed shoal after China dispatched government vessels along the area.

The Philippines insists that the shoal is well within the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone as defined by international law, but China has included the shoal as part of the territories it is claiming in almost all of the West Philippine Sea as part of its 9-dash-line claim in the area.

Kalayaan islands ours

Though Vietnam and China had made their virtual claims to these islands more apparent than the Philippines, not all islands are, so to speak, “reserved” by these nations. In Pag-Asa Island, for example, where the seat of government of the Kalayaan Group of Islands is located, most contributed photos were that of detachment units and structures that were built by Filipinos on the island. Though there were still Chinese and Vietnamese photo uploads on the island, the Philippine-contributed photos clearly outnumber them all.

The scarcity of Philippine-uploaded photos on the Google Earth application, however, may not be attributed entirely to a more vigorous claim by other countries. The photos, sourced from Google-owned service Panoramio, are user-generated — which means Filipinos would have to contribute their own photos so that it will show up in the service.

The real battle

Meanwhile, the real battle unfolds on two fronts: first physically, in the waters where Beijing’s substantially increased maritime fleet has been deployed for regular “patrols” of Chinese-claimed territory, routinely harassing boats of other nations like the Philippines; and second, in the United Nations court, where Manila infuriated Beijing last Sunday (March 30) by proceeding to file, despite warnings, its Memorial or summary of arguments in its complaint against China’s “excessive” nine-dash-line claim.

Beyond the physical and legal battle fronts, the war for people’s hearts and minds could also be fairly expected to proceed apace in cyberspace and in telecommunications, underscoring the weird texture of today’s messages: to Filipinos preparing to commemorate in April the worst episodes of their three-year misery under foreign occupiers during World War II, nothing can be as chilling as the short, chirpy phrase: “Welcome to China!”