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.