Sunday, June 8, 2014

Photos confirm China reclamation; experts hit reef degradation in Spratly

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 7): Photos confirm China reclamation; experts hit reef degradation in Spratly

‘EARTHMOVING ACTIVITIES’ A backhoe attached to a Chinese vessel is apparently scooping up some filling materials in a reclamation project while at the same time harvesting endangered species, giant clams. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES

China has reclaimed land in one of the contested reefs in the Spratly Islands, and this time, the defense department is not the only one expressing concern, but Filipino scientists as well.

They have expressed alarm over China’s activities on the contested reefs in Spratly Islands, citing environmental degradation that could adversely affect the country’s population, with “diseases, scarcity of resources and conflict.”

The military has taken photographs of China’s ongoing reclamation activity on Malvar Reef in February, with the pictures showing a backhoe attached to a Chinese vessel that, scientists said, was presumably used to gather filling materials and harvest giant clams.

On Thursday, President Benigno Aquino III said Chinese ships had been monitored moving around other reefs in the West Philippine Sea, possibly to reclaim land in  Gavin Reef (Gaven Reef) and Calderon Reef (Cuarteron Reef).

Defense spokesperson Peter Galvez confirmed that China had reclaimed land on Malvar Reef (Eldad Reef), which lies northeast of Mabini Reef (Johnson South Reef), where China had previously reclaimed land.

“It’s called ‘earthmoving activities’ and there’s quite a lot going on in the [West Philippine Sea] that we are monitoring,” Galvez told the Inquirer on the phone.

The defense spokesperson said China’s reclamation activities were especially worrisome not only because of the ongoing territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea, but also because of its impact on the environment.

“The environment is an integral component of a state,” so environmental issues are considered security issues, according to professor Charithie Joaquin of the National Defense College of the Philippines.

“A state must be able to protect its territory and ensure that its citizens enjoy the benefits of the natural resources within its territory,” Joaquin told the Inquirer in an e-mail.

Environmental degradation could adversely affect the population, with “diseases, scarcity of resources and conflict,” she added.

“A sickly population impedes economic growth and drains much-needed resources.  Scarce resources, such as water or strategic minerals, could also lead to conflict or exacerbate existing tensions,” Joaquin said, adding that “the consequences of nonsustainable use of natural resources could be irreversible, impacting not just the current generation but generations to come.”

“Because of interconnected ecosystems, the impact oftentimes transcends borders,” she added.

Scientists at the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) are just as alarmed at China’s relentless harvesting of giant clams, considered endangered species, and corals in the West Philippine Sea.

Fish feed on reefs

One of the country’s foremost experts in marine life conservation, professor emeritus Edgardo Gomez of UP MSI, noted that one-fifth of the fish that Filipinos consume come from the West Philippine Sea, and move around or feed on reefs. Without the reefs, depleted fish productivity is a possibility, he added.

“If you destroy everything, there won’t be any source of food [for the fish],” Gomez explained.

Based on the February 2014 photograph of Malvar Reef, MSI deputy director for research professor Perry Aliño said the backhoe apparently served a dual purpose: to get filling materials for the reclamation and to harvest giant clams.

“[China was] not only collecting the shells but the substrate as well,” he said. A substrate is the base where an organism lives.

Land reclamation effectively destroys the reef and its surroundings, which would have a long-term impact on the environment, said Aliño, who coauthored one of the most definitive books on Kalayaan Islands, a result of an in-depth research conducted by UP MSI.

Reefs play an important role in maintaining biodiversity in the West Philippine Sea, the scientist said, adding that dredging in the reefs would eventually destroy and weaken their framework.

Natural breakwaters

The destruction of the reefs near Pagasa Island in Palawan province could bring bigger waves to the only island in the Kalayaan Island Group, where a small community lives, because reefs serve as ripraps or natural breakwaters that could reduce the force of incoming waves, Gomez said.

The Philippine military has monitored Chinese poachers using dinghies to routinely harvest giant clams (Tridacna gigas), an endangered species of clams, as well as corals and other clam species.

Some 30 to 45 dinghies trawl for giant clams and corals in areas in the West Philippine Sea, like Ayungin Shoal, Pagasa Island, Tizard Bank and reefs, Union Banks and reefs and Hasa-Hasa Shoal, and store their catch in the vessels’ huge cargo hold.

The clams, used for food or decorative purposes, are reportedly sold in the black market in  Hainan province in China, with clam shells fetching from
$13 (P567) to $750 (P33,000).

Aliño explained that clams grow on top of each other, such that when they are harvested by dredging, even the fossilized clams are collected.

“They are getting depleted, which would make them more valuable,” he said.  “The clams need to be restocked. [But] if they are restocked clams, then they are more valuable because there is already an investment in terms of putting them back.”

Restocking program

The UP MSI has a restocking program for cultured clams for the past 30 years, a brainchild of Gomez who hand-carried the microscopic specimens of giant clams from Solomon Islands that the UP MSI laboratory used for their first cultured giant clams.

The cultured clams are then distributed to different parts of the country, although not a substantial number has been sent to Kalayaan Island Group.

Clams cultured at  UP MSI Bolinao Marine Laboratory in Pangasinan province have been brought to Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc in Zambales—and most likely already harvested by the Chinese.

Gomez said it was about time that the government had a “game plan” that would not only protect the territory but also conserve natural resources.

Gomez said it was time for the government to “support blue water oceanography that will help our scientists do research on our [Exclusive Economic Zone] and show the [Philippine] flag.”

“If we have research vessels going out to [Kalayaan Island Group], Scarborough Shoal, the east coast of the Philippines … we are [at least] showing our presence,” he added.

Communist rebel leader arrested in Philippines

From the World Bulletin (Jun 8): Communist rebel leader arrested in Philippines

A suspected female member of a communist insurgent group has been arrested in the southern Philippines.

Inspector Dahlan Tidal Samuddin, the officer-in-charge of Regional Police Information Office 9, said Sunday that Maris Munoz Y Bejec – a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) - was charged with rebellion after being captured in a joint operation by security and intelligence forces.

"The suspected person was arrested by virtue of an arrest warrant … with no bail recommended,” Samuddin said. He added that she is temporarily being detained at a police station in Zamboanga Del Sur province.

The arrest follows that of a suspected high-ranking NPA leader - known as “Pediong” or “Nasyo” - at a checkpoint in central Negros Oriental province late Friday.

Maj. Ray Tiongson, spokesman for the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division based in Capiz, said the suspect had led NPA operations in Negros Island’s southeast that had resulted in the death and injury of innocent civilians. He was reportedly involved in the killing of farmer Narciso Bantoto Jr. in Siaton town earlier this year.

A hand grenade, an ATM card and identification cards bearing different names were recovered from the suspect's possession.

Meanwhile, 54 NPA members led by 34-year-old Emboy Casalgayaw surrendered Friday to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the Northern Mindanao region.

Casalgayaw, who had risen through the NPA’s ranks during his 17 years in the group, said he had surrendered so he could send his children to school.

AFP Chief of Staff Emmanuel Bautista said those who had surrendered would receive financial and livelihood assistance.

Since March 1969, the NPA- the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines - has been waging one of Asia’s longest running insurgencies in the country.

The CPP refers to the NPA as "the tax enforcement agency of the people’s revolutionary government" as it collects "revolutionary taxes" – especially from foreign-owned enterprises - in the regions where it operates.

The communist insurgency has claimed more than 3,000 lives over the past eight years, according to the military.

The government signed a landmark deal with the country’s largest rebel outfit - the Moro Islamic Liberation Front - in March, however formal talks with the communist party and the NPA have stalled amid mutual disagreement.

NPA, military troops clash in Surigao

From the Sun Star (Jun 8): NPA, military troops clash in Surigao

GOVERNMENT troops clashed with some 20 members of the New People's Army (NPA) around 10:40 a.m. Sunday in the village of Cambuayon, Surigao del Norte.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said the encounter involved soldiers from Scout Platoon of the Army’s 30th Infantry Battalion and communist rebels belonging to SPP 16, Guerrilla Front 16.

The firefight, which lasted for 30 minutes, had no casualties from the AFP side. Authorities are still identifying if the NPA suffered from any casualty.

Recovered from the encounter site were four AK 47 rifles and other personal belongings of the rebels.

“Operations are still on-going as of this time. Elements from the 30IB and the Army’s 4th Infantry Division are currently scouring the area to hunt down fleeing rebels while two companies were deployed to conduct blocking operations in the area,” Zagala said.

Humphrey Hawksley: Vietnam is no easy target for China

Interesting article from the Nikkei Asian Review (May 29): Humphrey Hawksley: Vietnam is no easy target for China

Officers of the Vietnamese Marine Guard monitor a Chinese coast guard vessel, top, on the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) offshore of Vietnam. © Reuters

China's recent decision to force a showdown with Vietnam in waters around the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea tempers an argument that has gained momentum in recent months -- that is, with the growing assertiveness of Russia in Ukraine and China in East Asia, a weakening U.S. is being challenged by increasingly confident authoritarian governments.

     Since late last year, Russia has annexed Crimea and encouraged separatism in eastern Ukraine. China meanwhile has tested the resolve of Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines and now Vietnam with its territorial claims in the East and South China seas.

     The latest and most serious confrontation began in early May, when China brought an oil drilling platform inside Vietnam's 200-mile (321km) Exclusive Economic Zone and moored it about 240km off the country's coastline, roughly midway between Vietnam and the Paracel Islands. The islands are claimed by Hanoi but controlled by Beijing. China's refusal to remove the rig caused outrage in Vietnam, with mobs targeting Chinese factories and workers. The riots clearly had some level of state endorsement -- although analysts believe it unlikely the widening of protests to include non-Chinese workers and factories was part of the plan.

     The oil rig is protected by a cordon of Chinese vessels, including naval warships, which is being challenged by the Vietnamese. Tensions increased with the recent collision of a Chinese vessel and a Vietnamese fishing boat. The fishing boat sank and Hanoi blames the Chinese. What exactly happened is difficult to ascertain, but China maintains that drilling will continue because, in its words, it "cannot afford to lose an inch of territory."

Diversionary tactic

     China's claim to the South China Sea forms a horseshoe that follows the coastlines of Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan. It covers some 90% of the 10 million sq. km through which half the world's shipping tonnage passes. Beijing's strong-arm policy to bolster its territorial claims roughly coincides with Washington's 2011 announcement of an "Asian pivot" to shift more U.S. military focus toward the Asia-Pacific.

     Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent visit to Shanghai, meanwhile, comes amid rising tensions between Russia and the West, conjuring up the prospect of new and troubling alliances between China and like-minded powers on the global stage. With such reinforcement, China could more rapidly develop its blue-water navy to balance American power in the region -- and possibly beyond.

     But if that is the thinking in Beijing, why take on Vietnam, the only other significant authoritarian government in Southeast Asia?

     The answer may lie in China's short-term need to satisfy its nationalistic urges. This overrides the longer-term and more difficult task of becoming a responsible superpower -- and it sees Vietnam as an easy target.

     While almost all other regional contenders have military alliances with the U.S., Vietnam has none with any government. No country is obliged to come to its aid if attacked, and it is highly unlikely that any would. Beijing can show it means business in the South China Sea by flexing its military muscle to intimidate Vietnam, while avoiding direct, high-level confrontations with Japan and the U.S.

     To many in Beijing, Vietnam is merely a troublesome vassal state that on occasion has repelled Chinese incursions on its northern border, but has yet to learn how to live in the shadow of its much stronger neighbor.

     The Chinese may have a point.

     In recent years, China's development has forged ahead, in contrast to Vietnam's more lackluster performance. According to the World Bank, between 2009 and 2012 China's per-capita gross domestic product rose from $3,749 to $6,091, while Vietnam's spluttered along, rising from $1,232 to just $1,755. Likewise, China's infant mortality improved from 15 to 12 per 1,000 live births, while Vietnam's barely moved from 19 to 18 over the same period.

     Vietnam also relies heavily on Chinese trade, which is worth some $40 billion a year. The relative stability and growth of East Asia have made both countries richer. But China -- partly through sheer numbers -- has emerged as an impatient, turbocharged power that can shake the world stage, while Vietnam has barely made a ripple.

     The last Sino-Vietnamese alliance was forged between two revolutionary stalwarts, Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh, and lasted from France's humiliating 1954 defeat at Dien Bien Phu through America's flight from Saigon in 1975.

     But a year earlier, in 1974, China seized the Paracel Islands from South Vietnam, and refused to return them after the North Vietnamese victory.

Beijing has now set up the Sansha prefecture on Woody Island, or Yongxing Dao, in the Paracels, from which the islands of the South China Sea are technically governed.

     In 1988, China attacked Vietnamese positions on the Spratly Islands, 710km to the southeast, killing 60 sailors.

     Bilateral relations deteriorated further due to China's support for the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. As well as carrying out genocidal policies, the regime led by Pol Pot launched cross-border raids into Vietnam. Much to China's fury, Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978, ending Khmer Rouge rule. The next year, China sent its troops across Vietnam's northern border. But it was badly beaten by an army with decades of experience fighting and winning against stronger, richer powers.

     That same famously stubborn Vietnamese determination may again be coming into play.

     In 2009, Vietnam placed a $3.2 billion order with Russia for six Kilo class diesel-electric submarines equipped with with 275-kilometer range cruise missiles. The first has already been delivered, with the remainder due by 2016, together with 12 Su-30 fighter jets.

Pride vs. economics

In Vietnamese military academies, the South China Sea remains at the top of the conflict syllabus and if it comes to a choice between the economy and protecting its territory and independence, the government's track record regarding which it will sacrifice is clear.

     Vietnam's navy remains minuscule compared with China's. But, on paper, Vietnam's army was similarly outmatched against the firepower of France and the U.S. -- and for that matter, China itself. Its greatest asset, as American troops discovered, is a formidable fighting spirit: Vietnam has been prepared to fight invaders to every last man and woman.

     "The South China Sea may prove to be China's Dien Bien Phu," warns one Vietnamese diplomat. "And it will be us, not the Americans, who stop Beijing's bullying in East Asia."

[Humphrey Hawksley, a BBC correspondent and Asia specialist, is the author of Dragon Strike: The Millenium War (Macmillan) -- a hypothetical account of a conflict between Vietnam and China in the South China Sea.]

China mulls over new base near PH

Posted to the Manila Standard Today (Jun 8): China mulls over new base near PH

The South China Morning Post based in Hong Kong reported on Saturday that China plans to create a military base in the Kalayaan Island Group, a move that is seen to further increase the tension in the ongoing territorial dispute between China and the Philippines.

The KIG is located near Palawan, and has been declared as part of  Philippine territory as early as 1946. The government has always maintained that the KIG is an integral part of Kalayaan town in Palawan, a municipality created by Presidential Decree 1596 in June 11, 1978.

China, however, claims the islands as its own, as part of a larger territory it calls Nansha (Spratlys).

The SCMP report said a military base will be built after the planned expansion of an artificial island located on the Fiery Cross Reef, which the Philippines calls Kagitingan Reef.

Chinese Naval Research Institute expert Li Jie told SCMP that the military base will feature an airstrip and a port. The base will also have storage for military supplies.

China has already constructed an observation post on the reef, the report said.

If the construction of a military base pushes through, China will have a strategic outpost in the heart of disputed territories in the South China Sea including the Spratlys and the KIG.

According to Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations in Renmin University in Beijing, the artificial island will be at least double the size of the US military base in Diego Garcia, which occupies an area of 44 square kilometers in the Indian Ocean.

Jin also said the proposal to construct the artificial island was submitted to the Chinese central government and approval will depend on the progress of Chinese reclamation at Johnson South Reef (Mabini Reef).

“It’s a very complicated oceanic engineering project, so we need to learn from the experience [on Johnson South Reef],” he told SCMP.

In an earlier report, supposed images of the planned military base were released by the blog Tiananmen’s Tremendous Achievements. The blog also said that the base will include an airstrip.

As this developed, a Chinese maritime security expert brushed off allegations that China has violated provisions of the United Nation on Law of the Sea, saying that the Unclos “does not properly address the issue of his country’s historic rights and sovereignty over the entire South China Sea.

In a statement posted in the state-owned China Daily, East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai professor Zheng Zhihua cited two provisions from the Unclos that he said do not clearly define the issue on historic rights.

“Some countries view China’s maritime claim in the South China Sea as ambiguous because of certain historic reasons. The first reason is that the Unclos does not properly address the issue of historic rights,” he said.

“Despite the reference to historic title in Article 15 and 298 (1)(a), the provision on historic bays in Article 15 (6), and the recognition of traditional fishing rights in Article 51, it does not have any provision for the definition of historic rights or their specific connotation and denotation,” Zheng said.

Citing provisions from the Unclos, the Philippines has filed a case before the Arbitral Tribunal challenging China’s nine-dash line claim, even as Vietnam, which had clashed with China over Beijing’s move to build an oil rig in the Paracels island, is also considering to file its own case before the tribunal.

“A few international observers also accuse China of deliberately obscuring its territorial claims in the South China Sea by using terms not found in the Unclos, such as “adjacent waters” and “relevant waters”. And some countries keep demanding that China “clarify” its nine-dash line map,” he said.

“The fact is that, if these countries do not change their mindset and attitude, the nine-dash line will continue to be vague for them irrespective of how clearly China defines it,” Zheng added.

He said that Beijing has full sovereign rights over Manila’s West Philippine Sea, Tokyo’s Senkaku island, and Vietnam’s waters, citing so-called “three official documents”.

Zheng said they have evidence such as the 1947 Location Map of the South China Sea Islands released by the Kuomingtang government in Nanking; the 1958 Declaration of the Government of New China on the Territorial Sea; and the 1992 Law on Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone.

“These documents state that the Dongsha Islands, Xisha Islands, Zhongsha Islands, Nansha Islands and other islands are part of the sovereign territory of China,” he said.

Zheng also argued that there is also no “consistent understanding” that has been reached in international law on historical rights.

Israeli professor of law and diplomat Yehuda Blum said that the term “historical rights” denotes the possession by a state, over certain land or maritime areas, of rights  that would not normally accrue to it under the general rules of international law”.

“Historic rights are a product of a lengthy process comprising a long series of acts, omissions and patterns of behavior which, in their entirety, and through their cumulative effect, bring such rights into being and consolidate them into rights valid in international law,” Zheng explained.

Japan, Australia eye closer military ties

Posted to the Manila Times (Jun 8): Japan, Australia eye closer military ties

A huge submarine deal is on the table this week when Japan and Australia meet to shore up their military relationship, as the security architecture of the Asia-Pacific shifts to meet the challenge of a rising China.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera will play hosts in Tokyo on Wednesday to Julie Bishop and David Johnston, their respective opposite numbers, for the fifth round of so-called “2+2” talks.

High on the agenda will be discussions on the transfer of Japanese submarine technology to Australia, with Canberra needing to replace its fleet of stealth subs over the coming years at a reported cost of up to $37 billion.

This could see Tokyo’s technology—or even entire Japanese-built vessels—used in the fleet, in a deal that would yoke the two nations together for several decades, binding their militaries with shared know-how.

The expected step comes as China’s relentless rise alters the balance of power in a region long dominated by the United States, with Beijing ever-more willing to use its might to push territorial and maritime claims.

A rash of confrontations in the South China Sea has set off ripples of disquiet in the region, as has the festering stand-off with Japan over islands in the East China Sea.

The worries have encouraged a relationship-building drive across Asia, with Australia and Japan—both key US allies—a notable pairing.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe signed a free trade pact and a security deal in April.

Following an Australian request, Tokyo will let Johnston see Japanese submarines during his stay, Onodera said.

The Japanese defense chief also stressed that various “frameworks”—military pacts—grouping Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the United States are vital in ensuring security in East Asia.

Abe’s military push

 Abe looks to nudge long-pacifist Japan towards a more active role on the global stage, including loosening restrictions on when its well-equipped armed forces can act.

He has also relaxed a self-imposed ban on weapons exports, giving its high-tech weapons makers a leg-up in the global marketplace.

Japan Inc. has hailed Abe’s promotion of the nation’s military industry, which some see as just another plank in his economic push to boost the nation’s heavy manufacturers and exporters.

However, some analysts suggest it is more nuanced.

Koichi Nakano, political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, said Abe’s beefing up of the military industry shows the prime minister marrying his twin aims of economic and diplomatic rejuvenation.

“The Abe government may be hoping that they can have a tacit understanding with the Abbott government which is also a conservative regime,” and raise pressure on China, he said.

Observers point out that a more competitive arms industry would be more able to meet future domestic demand in the event that Japan’s military finds itself in need of more firepower.

China’s military has received double-digit budget increases for several years, and analysts say its capacity is building towards its ambition of having a blue-seas navy—one that is able to push the US out of the western Pacific.

The US, in response, has looked to bolster its military capacity in the Asia-Pacific, placing or realigning troops in Australia, Japan, the Philippines, Hawaii and Guam, and trying to thread its friends together.

Abe, for his part, has courted members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, offering coastguard vessels to Vietnam and the Philippines. Both have proved willing to push back against Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

Increasingly, the outlines of a nascent coalition are becoming visible, said Takehiko Yamamoto, a security expert and emeritus professor at Waseda University.

“Naturally, Australia finds Japanese technology attractive,” he said, adding that the nation’s prowess in precision-manufacturing for the highly sophisticated submarine kit was enviable.

Three dead, 2 hurt in Cotabato clashes

From the Manila Times (Jun 8): Three dead, 2 hurt in Cotabato clashes

Three dead, 2 hurt in Cotabato clashes

KIDAPAWAN CITY: Amid peace dialogues in North Cotabato, at least three civilians were killed and two policemen were wounded when armed Christian villagers and ethnic Muslims clashed anew over the weekend in Barangay Amas. The fatalities were identified as Bonny Vicente, member of the Amas Barangay Peace Action Team (BFAT), his son Nonoy Kalugmaton and another civilian Ramboy Balimba.

The victims are all Visayan settlers who were attacked by a group of armed Maguindanaon villagers from adjacent Patadon village allegedly avenging the beheading last week of Kenti Matalam-Diagao, 44, a fellow ethnic Muslim farmer.

SPO2 Edwin Maguate and Police Inspector Randy Apostle were also wounded in the firefight at Sitio Nazarette. The latest incident forced the evacuation of 60 families from Christian-dominated Sitio Nazarette and 40 households from the other side Muslim-populated Patadon village.

North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza did not attend the peace dialogues in Pikit town and Cotabato City as speaker and rushed to Patadon village to pacify the warring groups.

Army officials and rights groups including representatives from the Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (GPH-MILF) panels who were supposed to attend the dialogue in Pikit, also proceeded to Barangay Amas for a meeting with Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista.

During the meeting, Evangelista formed a crisis management committee and made some proposals such as asking the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Office of the President to distribute equally the disputed parcels of DA-owned land at the Central Mindanao Integrated Agricultural Center (CEMIARC) here.

“The creation of crisis committee is looking for quick fix solutions to the rising conflict two farming communities, and we are looking at a sustainable solution to the problem,” Evangelista told The Manila Times.

He said “the Sangguniang Panlalawigan already submitted a letter to President Benigno Aquino 3rd through Department of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala to immediately solve the problem.”

Evangelista said the proposal is contained in a Sangguniang Panlalawigan resolution passed at the beginning of the land dispute between the Visayan settlers and the ethnic Muslim villagers.

Tension in Barangay Amas escalated after the beheading of Diagao by vigilant Visayan settlers, who reportedly avenged the shooting and wounding of a fellow Antiqueño settler, named as Jerry Eusibio, two days earlier.

Residents have evacuated three times and almost a dozen of casualties were reported due to the land dispute that began late last year.

NPA official falls

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Jun 8): NPA official falls

COMBINED police and military operatives have arrested an Amazon of the New People’s Army (NPA) charged for the crime of rebellion in the province of Zamboanga del Sur, the police reported Sunday.

Police Regional Office-Zamboanga Peninsula (PRO-9) Spokesman Senior Inspector Joseph Ortega identified the arrested NPA Amazon as Maris Muñoz, a resident of Sitio Boundary in the village of Anonang, Aurora, Zamboanga del Sur.

Ortega said Muñoz was arrested Saturday in the village of Poblacion, Aurora Municipality.

Ortega said Muñoz has standing warrant of arrest issued by a Court in Pagadian City with no bail recommended for the crime of rebellion.

Muñoz is a finance staff of the NPA’s Western Mindanao Revolutionary Peoples Command, Ortega said.

MILF: BTC Chairman Iqbal clarifies purpose of human resource mapping program

From the MILF Website (Jun 8): BTC Chairman Iqbal clarifies purpose of human resource mapping program

In his speech during the launching of the BTC-JICA Human Resource Mapping on June 4, 2014 at the Al Nor Convention Hall, BTC Chairman Mohagher Iqbal clarified that the program is designed to gather data on Bangsamoro professionals; a resource mobilization and capacity building for everyone, “not a promise for jobs nor positions”.
“The registration is designed to store files of professionals so that in the event the future Bangsamoro Government requires workers, they would be easily accessible data base, Chairman Iqbal also said.

His statement came in the light of concerns by some individuals that it may be misconstrued as an opportunity for jobs for everyone once the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) replaces the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in July 2015 or when Bangsamoro is in place by July 2016.

In the same message, he emphasized that over and above the trainings and competence of Moro Professionals is to put in place a new value system that gives premium to accountability.

Iqbal noted that it’s the value system that determines the kind of people running a government.

“The MILF envisions that accountability is not only to people but more so to Allah,” Iqbal told the audience comprising Moro professionals, Shari’ah Lawyers, asatidz (madrasah teachers), BDA, BLMI and BTC staff, media, representatives from international and local non-government organizations who attended the program being funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) with the support of the United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD), Mindanao Action for Peace and Development (MAPAD), etc.

He also allayed fears of ARMM employees of being out rightly removed from their current jobs saying that there is a phase and gradual disposition of members of the bureaucracy. The draft basic law contains a provision on this regard and it also says that a separation scheme may be formulated for those who are in their 60’s or those who may want to be separated.

Atty. Johnny Balawag, Administrative Officer of Dep-Ed Cotabato City Division underscored the importance of the program that aims to gather accurate data on Bangsamoro professionals inside and outside of the Bangsamoro core territory. 

On her part, Dr. Armia Usman-Ebrahim, currently the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of the Cotabato City State Polytechnic College (CCSPC) expressed her thanks to the Moro Front and its hierarchy and recognized their untiring efforts for the Bangsamoro. She said ”We won’t be here today without them”.

The almost two decades of peace negotiations embarked on by the MILF with the government led to the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its four annexes on October 15, 2012, and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014 will finally put an end to bloody conflict in Mindanao.  Under the agreement the tri-people of Mindanao can govern themselves under a strong and expanded autonomy and shape their own destiny.

Dr. Ebrahim also took note of the leadership and significant role of the late MILF Founder Sheikh Salamat Hashim who while still alive emphasized the value of engaging the enemy in peace talks when they initiate for it.

Sheikh Salamat Hashim was still the Moro Front’s chairman when the peace negotiations with the government started in January 1997 and after 17 years the CAB was finally signed giving a light of hope for the Moro people.

Praising the BTC and its partners for coming up with the human resource mapping program, Dr. Ebrahim also stressed the importance of “iman” (Faith) and Ikhlas” (Purity of intention)  for Muslims  or those that runs a government. These are requisites in public governance so that leaders are divinely guided; government programs and projects are implemented up to the last centavo.

The program is considered the first of its kind with no government administration in the past has ever conducted such an undertaking. The Japanese Government and its people are credited for this timely and noble program.

MILF: Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces organizes capacity building seminar

From the MILF Website (Jun 8): Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces organizes capacity building seminar

The Central Mindanao Front (CMF) of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (MILF-BIAF) held its two-day capacity building seminar on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and Ministerial form of Government from June 4-5, 2014 at JP Garden restaurant, Rarangay Rebuken, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.
The MILF CMF-BIAF organized and facilitated the 2-day program attended by more than 400 MILF-BIAF military top brass from the 118th, 105th, 116th and Interim Base Commands that comprises 213 Brigade Commanders, 189 Deputy Base commanders and base Staff Officers in Central Mindanao and other bases in mainland Mindanao and Western Mindanao. 

The program aims to enhance the awareness of the participants on the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB), the basic law and the upcoming Bangsamoro Region with a ministerial form of government.

Resource Lecturers from the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) lectured on crucial topics related to GPH-MILF Peace process and its gains.

This writer, Research Unit officer and Steering Committee member of BLMI lectured on the Ministerial form of Government, Political Party and Electoral system for the Bangsamoro New Political Entity (NPE) emphasized its salient points, their comparisons and advantages over presidential form of government.

Professor Esmael Abdula, BLMI Training Officer and BLMI Steering Committee member talked on the GPH-MILF signed agreements from day One (1) of the negotiations; the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB)and the CAB. 

During the open forum some participants related their experience and observations on the issue of registration saying that, “There were instances during registration period that COMELEC personnel don’t allow people to register; they were so strict and meticulous”.  “This time, we hope that COMELEC shall not prevent us from registering as it is our constitutional right”.

Other important issues were also raised that were responded well by the speakers.

At the end of the program, the participants expressed their gratitude to speakers and to the BLMI Management for providing updates that enhanced their knowledge on vital issues on the Bangsamoro. They as well manifested their unprecedented support to GPH-MILF peace deal and continue supporting and upholding the chain of command.

 The BLMI has been intensifying its capacity building, advocacy, research programs and community engagements as their mandates.

Trinidad appointed as new Northern Luzon Command chief

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 8): Trinidad appointed as new Northern Luzon Command chief

Major Gen. Felicito Virgilio M. Trinadad Jr. has been appointed to head the Northern Luzon Command effective on Monday.

This was disclosed on Sunday by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, who said that Trinidad will formally assume his new post in a change-of-command ceremony to be held in Camp Aquino, Tarlac City.

He will be replacing Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio P. Catapang Jr., who was appointed as the AFP vice-chief-of-staff last May 22.

During Catapang's tenure at Northern Luzon Command, he was able to successfully facilitate the Cordillera People's Liberation Army (CPLA) Closure-integration component under Executive Order 49 and Administrative Order 18, and declared the provinces of Central and Northern Luzon insurgency-free.

Northern Luzon Command's role in territorial defense likewise got a needed boost through Catapang’s efforts to push for the construction of littoral observation stations to increase maritime domain awareness.

Trinidad, on the other hand. has been serving the AFP for more than 30 years now since he graduated from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in 1982.

He previously held the position of commander, 1st Infantry Division, the Army’s primary anti-guerrilla unit based in Camp Sang-an, Zamboanga del Sur.

Prior to this, Trinidad also served as the Battalion commander of 14th Infantry Battalion of the 8th Infantry Division initially based in Eastern Samar but was redeployed to Sulu Province from 2002-2003 at the height of the AFP’s campaign against the Abu Sayyaf Group and rogue Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) elements.

He later became the director of the Directorate for AFP Modernization, OJ9, GHQ and director, Army Modernization Program Management Office, from 2005 to 2007 in charge of the implementation of the Modernization Projects.

Among the significant responsibilities he held during his stint as 1st Infantry Division commander was being the overall ground commander of AFP and police units during the successful defense of Zamboanga City in last year’s siege.

On Dec. 20, 2013, during the celebration of the AFP’s 78th Anniversary Day, Trinidad received the Philippine Legion of Honor (Degree of Commander) in recognition of his efforts during the Defense of Zamboanga City.

He took specialization courses and military training here and abroad.

Trinidad finished the Executive Course on National Security Administration at the National Defense College of the Philippines, and the UN Peacekeeping Operations Course at Rhode Island, USA.

He also took Masters in Business Administration at the De La Salle University.

First PN, VPN Personnel Interaction held in Southwest Cay Island

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 8): First PN, VPN Personnel Interaction held in Southwest Cay Island

As part of the effort to improve relations and cooperation between the Philippine Navy (PN) and the Vietnamese People’s Navy (VPN), the VPN hosted the First PN-VPN Personnel Interaction at Southwest Cay Island Sunday.

PN public affairs office chief Cmdr. Gregory Fabic said that for the past years, the ASEAN navies have been conducting personnel interactions among member states as part of the confidence building measures within the region.

Fabic said that for this year, the interaction between the PN and VPN focused on the discussion of interoperability and best practices in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

He added that the discussion was very timely as the Asian Region is now entering the southwest monsoon season.

The First PN-VPN Personnel Interaction included cultural presentations and sports activities to better understand the different cultures and to foster camaraderie and friendly relations between the two nations.

Both the PN and the VPN deem that this activity serves as a proof that disputes do not hinder development of practical and tangible cooperation between the two navies.

Conversely, this also serves as a model of cooperation for the other navies to emulate.

The PN is expected to host the next PN-VPN Personnel Interaction in 2015.

Army troops repel NPA band in Surigao Del Norte, four AK-47 recovered

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 8): Army troops repel NPA band in Surigao Del Norte, four AK-47 recovered

Troopers from the 30th Infantry Battalion, on routine security patrol, engaged 20 New People's Army (NPA) fighters in a 30-minute firefight inflicting undetermined number of casualties to the rebel force in Barangay Cambuayon, Bacuag town, Surigao Del Norte Sunday morning.

Four AK-47 rifles were captured from the fleeing rebels alongside with other war material and personal belongings.

Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief, said the firefight took place around 10:40 a.m.

He added that the rebels belong to the NPA's "SPP 16, Guerrilla Front 16".

No losses were sustained by government forces.

"Operations are still on-going as of this time. Elements from the 30th Infantry Battalion and the Army’s 4th Infantry Division are currently scouring the area to hunt down fleeing rebels while two companies were deployed to conduct blocking operations in the area," Zagala stressed.

He added that the AFP is continuously intensifying its efforts to neutralize armed rebels in the South through focused-military operations while maintaining its peace and development operations for the people to address the root causes of insurgency.

China defends oil rig in dispute with Vietnam

From Rappler (Jun 8): China defends oil rig in dispute with Vietnam

China says the drilling operations are within China's jurisdiction and accuses Vietnamese vessels of 'illegally and forcefully disrupting' work there

China late Sunday, June 8, issued a lengthy defense of its use of an oil rig in contested waters that is at the center of a bitter dispute with Vietnam.

A statement on the foreign ministry website, relayed in full by the official news agency Xinhua, said the drilling operations near the Paracel Islands fell within China's "sovereignty and jurisdiction."

It also accused Vietnam of acting aggressively towards Chinese personnel, accusing Vietnamese vessels of "illegally and forcefully disrupting" work there and of ramming Chinese boats.

The oil rig is in the vicinity of the contested Paracel Islands, which are known as Hoang Sa in Vietnam and called Xisha by Beijing.

Relations between Vietnam and China have plummeted over the oil rig's presence, which has worsened an increasingly heated dispute over territorial claims in the area.

On Friday, Vietnam released dramatic footage showing a large Chinese ship chasing and ramming one of its fishing boats which then sank near the rig.

The video images, shot from a nearby Vietnamese vessel, showed a much larger Chinese ship racing after a small wooden Vietnamese fishing boat, ploughing into it and causing it to tip over and sink.

The communist neighbors have traded accusations over the May 26 sinking incident, with Hanoi decrying an "inhuman act" by China, which blamed intrusion by the Vietnamese vessel.

Tensions over the oil rig sparked violent anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam last month. Beijing says 4 Chinese citizens died in the unrest, while Vietnam says there were 3 Chinese fatalities.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters approaching the coasts of its neighbors, and has become increasingly assertive in staking those claims.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan have competing claims to parts of the sea.

Deles optimistic on the passage of Bangsamoro law‎

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Jun 8): Deles optimistic on the passage of Bangsamoro law‎

 "Peace is ultimately about coexistence and inclusion,” said Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles. “Peace is for all of us and thus requires a shared commitment from all of us as well." Deles gave her remarks during the International Conference of Cotabato themed "Peace is Living Together: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue for Peace and Reconciliation in Mindanao” at the Notre Dame University, Cotabato City, organized by the Community of San't Egidio, and the Archdiocese of Cotabato, in cooperation with Muhammadiyah.

"I want to see that YES for the Bangsamoro in Cotabato City," said Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal B. Quevedo, fondly called "Cardinal Peace." He enjoined Cotabateños to support and vote for the inclusion of Cotabato City as the seat and center of the Bangsamoro government for it to regain its prestige and economic status in the history of Mindanao and the Bangsamoro people during the International Conference of Cotabato. The conference, themed "Peace is Living Together: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue for Peace and Reconciliation in Mindanao," was held at the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City and organized by the Community of Sant' Egidio and the Archdiocese of Cotabato in cooperation with Muhammadiyah.

COTABATO CITY — Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Quintos Deles on Friday evening expressed optimism anew on the enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by Congress before a historic international conference on interreligious and intercultural dialogue for peace here.

“Our political roadmap is firmly in place and we are fully confident that we are installing a process which will ensure, within an acceptable and doable timeframe, that the BBL which will be enacted by Congress, will live up to the people’s expectations as a measure worthy of broad-based support, and one that is faithful to our Constitution,” she said.

Deles issued these remarks at the opening of the International Conference of Cotabato themed “Peace is Living Together: Religion and Cultures in Dialogue for Peace and Reconciliation in Mindanao.” The two-day conference is organized by the Archdiocese of Cotabato, the Community of Sant’ Egidio, and the Muhammadiyah, with the support of the European Union, the Italian government, and Notre Dame University.

She lauded the organizers for holding the event that seeks to foster interreligious and intercultural dialogues as tools for peace to take root and last for the benefit of everybody.

“Peace is about coexistence and inclusion. In no way is it a one-way street. Peace is for all of us and, thus, requires a shared commitment from all of us as well,” Deles said.

“Today, this commitment is fully fleshed out in this diverse assembly. I see men and women of varying levels of experience and expertise, of divergent faiths and ethnicities coming together yet again to secure the peace that we all thought would elude this and future generations,” she added.

Stressing that “we cannot simply talk peace forever,” Deles noted the need “to build the structures for it, and prepare the communities for the transition from conflict to peace, while bringing down the barriers that have kept it away.”

“With the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) last March, all of these components are not only possible, but very much within our reach,” she said.

The CAB, the final peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), envisions the creation of the new Bangsamoro region, which will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao after the BBL is passed by Congress and ratified in a plebiscite.

BBL updates

Giving updates on the BBL, Deles said all the parties concerned are striving to meet the standards set by President Benigno Aquino III during the CAB signing.

“The BBL will be a law that is equitable, practical, and empowering and which serves the interests of the entire nation,” she said.

Deles said the nation waited for 17 long years for a mutually binding and acceptable peace process with the MILF, and was achieved within just three years of the Aquino administration.

“We can be bold in taking a few more days, if not weeks, to ensure a more refined and strengthened draft BBL to be stewarded by the leadership of both Houses of Congress through a legislative process and thereafter for ratification through plebiscite,” she said.

Deles said the President is determined to wield the democratic process to install the Bangsamoro as a partner in ensuring common prosperity, collective security, and good governance in the four corners of the Philippine archipelago.

“We in the government take our shared journey to peace through the Bangsamoro very seriously,” she said.

Philippines and Vietnam hold friendship games in Spratlys

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Jun 8): Philippines and Vietnam hold friendship games in Spratlys

The Philippines and Vietnam on Sunday held a friendship games in the Spratly Islands which are being claimed in part or whole by both countries, and Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and China.

Government spokesman Herminio Coloma said the holding of the friendship games is aimed at strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries and camaraderie among Filipino and Vietnamese troops in the Spratly Islands which is believed to be rich in minerals and oil.

“Sila ay hindi naman maglalaban sa isa’t isa sa idaraos na mga palaro na kung saan magkakasama ang mga Pilipino at Vietnamese sa mga pangkat na maglalaro. Hindi ito Philippines versus Vietnam. Joint teams po ang lalahok sa palaro para mas maging mainam ang kanilang pakikipag-kaibigan,” he said, adding, Filipino and Vietnamese troops will compete in football, volleyball and tug-of-war matches.

They will be playing at the Vietnamese occupied island of Pugad (Southwest Cay).

“Ginawa po ang inisyatibang ito para maitaguyod ang pakikipagkaibigan at mainam na pagtutulungan ng mga Pilipino at ng mga Vietnamese na naatasang magbantay sa mga lugar na iyan,” Coloma said.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung was in Manila in May during the World Economic Forum on East Asia. And he and President Benigno Aquino forged stronger ties and reaffirmed the strong bonds between their countries.

The two leaders had discussed how the Philippines and Vietnam can enhance confidence building, defense capabilities, and interoperability in addressing security challenges, particularly on issues involving China provocative actions in the South China Sea.

Matters pertaining to exchanges in intelligence and naval technology, and others, were tackled in the meeting. Collaborative activities between the Philippine Coast Guard and the Vietnam Coast Guard have increased over the years, including information exchange and Hotline Communication Mechanisms between the the two countries which is aimed at protecting marine resources and suppressing illegal activities in the adjacent sea area.

Aquino said the continued cooperation between the Philippines and Vietnam will enable them to better protect their maritime resources, as they pursue strategies for regional growth and progress. He said the two countries must remain steadfast in their shared aspiration and by working together they can build a more stable Southeast Asia.