Thursday, April 16, 2015

South Korean LCU arriving via commercial vessel

From Ang Malaya (Apr 16): South Korean LCU arriving via commercial vessel

Philippine Navy public affairs office chief Cmdr. Lued Lincuna confirms in a message to the state-owned news agency that the Landing Craft-Utility donated by the South Korean government for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions will arrive this year.

Cmdr. Lued Lincuna said, the LCU is targeted to be delivered via commercial shipping within this year. The donation was first announced June last year.

Landing crafts are used by amphibious forces to transport equipment and troops to the shore where large vessels are not able to reach.

Philippine Navy is also set to receive two Landing Craft-Heavy from Australia. These two Balikapapan-class LCH are expected to arrive this May. PN officers and enlisted personnel who will sail these landing crafts to Philippines are now in Australia for training.

Phl ready for substantive US support in sea row

From the Philippine Star (Apr 17): Phl ready for substantive US support in sea row

President Benigno Aquino III, aboard the BRP Emilio Jacinto, leads the Fleet Review en-route to the Philippine Navy Change of Command and Retirement Ceremony of Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano at the Capt. Salvo Pier in Sangley Point, Cavite . Gil Nartea/ Malacañang Photo Bureau

The Philippines is ready for substantive help from the United States to ensure peace and stability in the region amid China’s massive reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea, Malacañang said yesterday.

In a press briefing, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the Philippines has turned out to be not the only nation concerned with China’s growing aggressiveness.

In his state visit to the Philippines almost a year ago, US President Barack Obama – according to Coloma – emphasized the “pivot to Asia” foreign policy shift of the US.
“And the term he (Obama) used is ‘rebalancing of forces’,” Coloma noted.

Last week, Coloma said US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter again talked about the US strategy in the Asia Pacific and that – as Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario had pointed out – “we and other countries are waiting as to how this can be manifested.”

“In his (Del Rosario’s) view, the presence of the United States or the concrete manifestation as to how the United States is supporting the proposition that regional peace and stability is needed is important,” Coloma said.

Del Rosario said the US wanted to deploy advanced air and naval equipment to the Philippines, which was seeking “substantive support” from its long-time ally.

Last week, Obama accused China of using its “sheer size and muscle” to push around smaller nations after Beijing sketched out plans to use the Spratleys for military defense as well as to provide civilian services that would benefit other countries.

China claims most of the potentially energy rich South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.
Western and Asian naval officials have expressed fears that China could try to limit sea navigation once the reclaimed islands are fully established.

But Coloma said the Philippines is sticking to its rules-based approach to resolve the territorial dispute with China, reiterating that “right is might” and not “might is right.”

“We also saw that President Barack Obama himself spoke in Jamaica… and he had statements to the effect that China should not bully smaller countries in the region and specifically naming the Philippines and Vietnam,” Coloma said.

“That is why we and other countries, including the United States, expressed concern over this and had called the attention of China regarding its activities,” he said.

Problem not only Phl’s

He said China’s bullying in the region is a concern shared by other countries, including those outside the region. “We’re not the only ones paying attention to this, not only the countries with maritime entitlements, there are many other countries that already expressed concern,” Coloma said. “And in terms of foreign relations and diplomacy, (these) many voices (coming together) is a sign that points to the direction of the majority’s position.”

Coloma noted the Philippines has been pushing for a legally binding Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea as the absence of rules and regulations to guide the behavior of countries in the disputed seas has been causing anxieties.

On the coming Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ summit in Malaysia later this month, Coloma said he does not know yet what President Aquino and the Department of Foreign Affairs would discuss on the matter.

“This is always a topic with high level of interest and priority assigned by the ASEAN member-countries,” he said.

“And President Aquino is always pointing out the importance of South China Sea because a big part of international trade passes through this. ASEAN members are not the only ones involved but many other countries in the world,” Coloma said.

He said it was natural for Beijing to scoff at Aquino’s warning that China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea should “engender fear for the rest of the world.”

But despite the dispute, the President has been trying to improve relations with China and even attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing last year.

The President stressed that China stands to benefit immensely from its friendly relations with the Philippines, specifically in terms of trade and tourism.

Beijing’s Fait Accompli in the South China Sea

From The Diplomat (Apr 16): Beijing’s Fait Accompli in the South China Sea (by

China is achieving its foreign policy objectives without firing a shot.

Unprecedented? Or perhaps even refreshing? For the first time, Beijing has offered a more elaborate clarification about its recent activities in the South China Sea?

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying, in response to a question posed during the ministry press conference on April 9 about Chinese land reclamation around the Meiji Reef (or Mischief Reef, also claimed by the Philippines) said that the work conducted has “the main purposes of optimizing their functions, improving the living and working conditions of personnel stationed there, better safeguarding territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, as well as better performing China’s international responsibility and obligation in maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and mitigation, marine science and research, meteorological observation, environmental protection, navigation safety, fishery production service and other areas.” She added that following the construction China will be able “to provide all-round and comprehensive services to meet various civilian demands besides satisfying the need of necessary military defense. The maritime areas in the South China Sea, where shipping lanes criss-cross and fishing grounds scatter around, are far away from the landmass.”

In addition, a “common public goods” spin was offered, with Hua stating that “civilian functions and facilities will be included in the construction for ships to take shelter, and for navigation aid, search and rescue, marine meteorological observation and forecast, fishery service and administration, so as to provide services to ships of China, neighboring countries and other countries that sail across the South China Sea.”

A Positive Move?

Some commentators (for example, see here and here) regarded this official clarification in a positive light. Generally, the key points they raised can be summarized as follows.

First, the Chinese move to clarify the activities reflect increased transparency on the thorny South China Sea issue. What is noted is that China has not only officially admitted that the construction activities will be used for military purposes but it has also highlighted a humanitarian dimension as well.

Second, thess commentators argue that island construction does not reflect Beijing’s offensive intention toward other countries because it is deemed “unwise and even stupid for China to go around conquering other smaller nations like it is still the 19th century,” further pointing out that war offers significantly fewer benefits in the era of globalization, and other more effective means can be used to enhance one’s national power.

Third, attention is also drawn to the overall Chinese foreign policy. The old argument made by both the Chinese government and scholars is that Beijing would not risk its domestic developmental trajectory for limited foreign policy objectives.

Finally, it was pointed out that China is proceeding with the construction activities with speed and scale because it happens to possess the resources, manpower, and technology necessary for the job. It was argued that other countries, if they had similar resources, would do just the same.

These points deserve scrutiny.

#1: Looking beyond the humanitarian smokescreen… islands carry wider military-strategic ramifications.

Whether or not the “islands” can be used for military or civilian purposes is a moot point as far as China or other claimants are concerned. In fact, pre-existing features even without land reclamation already serve dual roles in varying degrees. But expanding small features such as reefs and shoals into large artificial islands is a game-changer. With larger terrestrial spaces, these reclaimed islands become more versatile – capable of accommodating a whole array of functions, promoting habitability and greater sustainability of presence. The military-strategic significance of the islands grows correspondingly. For example, the airstrip on the Malaysia-occupied Swallow Reef (which was expanded through land reclamation) facilitates tourism and military activities in times of peace and contingencies, respectively.

Despite phenomenal growth in Chinese military and force projection capabilities, especially with the induction of new long-range platforms, Beijing continues to face constraints in certain areas, most importantly in long-range aerial maritime surveillance and patrol assets. Without the ability to project an appreciable force size for sustained durations far from mainland bases, it will be difficult to maintain a constant presence in the South China Sea. This is a prerequisite not just for the enforcement of sovereignty claims but also for unimpeded and unchallenged resource access in the disputed waters. The islands in effect constitute forward staging bases that allow the “shorter-legged” Chinese patrol assets to replenish and turnover with new crews so as to reduce the requirement to return to mainland bases.

Land reclamation and subsequent fortification of the islands present a fait accompli to the other claimants, akin to what James Cable in his seminal work Gunboat Diplomacy would classify as a form of definitive application of coercion at sea. True, no force has been applied akin to what happened between the Chinese and Vietnamese navies back in 1988. But that does not mean the move is any less destabilizing. In fact, non-violent means can also entail potentially far-ranging consequences.

In the past, whenever the Chinese erected sovereignty markers on the contested shoals or reefs, Philippine Navy frogmen could easily demolish them as a means to counter Beijing’s claims. But artificial islands are another matter altogether. There is no way the contending claimants can reverse the situation. One simply cannot demolish artificial islands in the same way one can remove stone markers. The only feasible way to physically overturn this fait accompli is to capture the islands. But no other claimant would dare risking this Falklands-style counterstroke.

#2: No war of conquest but an alternative means to undermine another actor’s interests?

In the present context, the overt use of force to territorially annex another country is foolhardy. But undermining another country’s interests does not necessarily have to involve launching a major invasion using military forces. A variety of non-violent and less overt alternative means can be used to achieve the same foreign policy outcomes.

In fact, on the day after the official elaboration of the Chinese intent behind the construction work, Hua responded to U.S. President Barack Obama’s concerns that China was using its “sheer size and muscle to force countries into subordinate positions.” The official line is nothing unusual, again a repetition of the same old premise: “China firmly upholds and promotes peace and stability of the South China Sea.” Ironically, one could argue that overall stability in the South China Sea has been maintained because the other claimants have by and large desisted from challenging Beijing’s destabilizing moves.

China is significantly stronger today than it was in the 1990s. Yet while it has evinced more willingness to contribute to public security goods and become more “open,” it has also become more assertive in recent years. Compared to the 1990s, China is less predisposed to exercise self-restraint, and is prepared to intensify its application of coercion using its growing array of resources at its disposal. Indeed, the Chinese military has largely receded to the background, providing “recessed deterrent” backup for the civilian maritime law enforcement agencies that are the mainstay workhorses for Beijing in the South China Sea.

#3: Reap limited foreign policy dividends while minimizing the potential consequences.

It is true that it would seem foolhardy to derail one’s socioeconomic development for the sake of limited foreign policy objectives. But a point to note is that the potential political and socioeconomic fallout of assertive behavior can be anticipated so that action can be calibrated to still attain those foreign policy objectives. This requires one to carefully choose the right target, the right time, and the right means. The Philippines (and in fact, any of the Southeast Asian claimants for that matter) is no Great Britain, which decided to contest the attempted fait accompli by Bueno Aires with its invasion of the Falklands Islands in 1982. Manila simply lacks the wherewithal to retaliate against or oppose Chinese transgressions. This also means that Beijing, unlike Argentina, can secure limited foreign policy objectives without any obvious repercussions.

From the 1990s until recently, Beijing has enjoyed consistent socioeconomic development while from time to time displaying belligerence. What Beijing has simply needed to do is target weaker claimants unlikely to respond vigorously, so that the fait accompli can be achieved without ever having to fire a single shot. It is a gamble, because no policymaker can ever fully anticipate a response, just as the Argentine military junta was unable to foresee Britain’s response in 1982. But at least as far as the Philippines is concerned, Beijing has managed to successfully pull off several advances – Mischief Reef in 1995 and 1998, Scarborough Shoal in 2012, and Second Thomas Shoal in 2014 – none of which brought much beyond diplomatic protests. The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement signed between Manila and Washington had little deterrent effect.

It is a risky gamble but so far Beijing appears comfortably confident that it can still bet on the power asymmetry in the South China Sea and on the cautious, prudent responses on the part of selected targets who choose not to further “rock the boat” by desisting from more vigorous countermeasures. Vietnam’s unanticipated, stern response to the oil rig incident off the Paracel Islands last May is a rare exception. Subtly, carefully timed aggression against the right target pays dividends, even in today’s globalized context.

#4: Does more power necessarily mean greater belligerence?

Would other claimants have done what China is doing if only they possessed similar resources? To be fair, enhancing physical control in disputed waters is not behavor exclusive to China. Some Southeast Asian claimants have also spruced up their occupied features. But the question really focuses on exploiting power advantages against weaker contenders. And there are examples to suggest that having more power at one’s disposal does not necessarily translate into greater belligerence.

Take India, a stronger country that chooses not to exploit the power asymmetry against its smaller neighbour, as seen in the successful international arbitration of the Bangladesh-India maritime boundary dispute by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2009-14. India’s evident self-restraint in the fishery dispute with another smaller neighbour – Sri Lanka – is another example. In fact, despite the power asymmetry Colombo appears more belligerent than New Delhithreatening to shoot transgressing foreign fishermen and having no qualms detaining any who cross the International Maritime Boundary Line.

The Chinese hovernment has the option to exercise its power advantage in whichever way it deems fit, for better or worse. In reality, Beijing has frequently elected to harness its unmatched resources to up the ante. It is not just one feature being reclaimed. To date, the systematic, large-scale reclamation and construction work carried out on multiple features by China is unprecedented and has no parallel with any other claimants. With the power advantage at its disposal, Beijing can carry out its activities virtually unopposed in the South China Sea.

Beijing has repeatedly attempted to assure neighbours of its peaceful development-based foreign policy and defensively oriented defense policy – with the express intent of assuring others that China’s accumulation of power does not translate into aggressive intentions. Yet Beijing’s activities so far suggest that its actions differ markedly from its rhetoric.

Overused Policy Lines

Without fully addressing the full extent of Beijing’s ambiguous claims in the South China Sea, including clarifications regarding inconsistences of the dashed line, repeated assurances that rehash overused policy lines from Beijing will most likely fall on deaf ears for some, or at best sustain the persistent unease and scepticism. Worse, the assurances might be a smokescreen while China’s strenthens its grip over the South China Sea. Only with the claims clarified is it possible for conflict management tools can the proposed Code of Conduct to progress meaningfully. Best of all, one may even see more hope for an eventual peaceful settlement, using China’s preferred bilateral approach or otherwise.

Until that happens, Beijing’s latest clarification will not likely quell the scepticism. Instead, more questions may arise. Many will ask whether and when Beijing will put a halt to its activities in the South China Sea, and what its military and coastguard will do following the consolidation of their logistical positions to sustain physical presence in the area.

But the question should be: Will we witness the intensification of China’s coercive behaviour at sea with its ever-growing forces? Recent instances of Beijing’s gunboat diplomacy, such as the case of the Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal, do not augur well for its future behavior, especially if emboldened by strengthened physical leverage in the South China Sea and the relative self-restraint of other claimants.

And until China truly clarifies its claims in the South China Sea, it is difficult to be sanguine about the future. Notwithstanding Beijing’s call to exclude external interference in the disputes, concerned claimants that can never hope to stand up to China’s overwhelming power will continue to seek external countervailing assistance in the South China Sea. Any optimism that Beijing may moderate its behavior in the South China Sea is at best tentative and shrouded with uncertainty. Meanwhile, some of the claimants that have been on the receiving end of Chinese coercion are facing domestic pressure to reciprocate, for instance with major land reclamation and construction activities of their own. This potential for escalation is the worrisome part, and is certainly nothing to relax about, not only for the claimants but also for the wider international community.

[Koh Swee Lean Collin is associate research fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, a constituent unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies based in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.]

Chinook, Black Hawks used for combined air assault training

From Ang Malaya (Apr 17): Chinook, Black Hawks used for combined air assault training

US forces and Philippine Army troopers conducted an air assault training as “part of the combined field training exercise between the US forces and Philippine Army troopers,” Philippine Army 7th Infantry Division based at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija reports.

Combined exercises aims to enhance interoperability and capacity of both forces in the conduct of joint and combined operations in responding to natural disasters, crisis and enhance the war fighting capability of the Filipino forces.

Air assault is one of the exercises conducted as part of the Field Training Exercises (FTX) and Combined Live Fire Exercise (CALFEX) under Balikatan 2015 which will be held on April 20-30 2015. Air assault is the movement of ground-based military forces by vertical take-off and landing aircraft such as helicopters to seize and hold key terrain.

One Boeing CH-47 Chinook and two Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters of US were used during the said training conducted Tuesday, April 14.

Leadership summit empowers youth in Lanao del Norte

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 16): Leadership summit empowers youth in Lanao del Norte

TUBOD, Lanao del Norte — Some 70 youth leaders from the three municipalities this province, joined the 3-day activity, dubbed Youth Leadership Summit 2015 which ran from April 13 to 15, 2015 at the Mindanao Civic Center stadium, Tubod, Lanao del Norte.

Capping the theme, “Shaping the Youth through Leadership and Advocacy,” the Youth Leadership Summit is an event of the 41st Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army, in partnership with the Y4D-Lanao del Norte (Youth for Development) and the Provincial Population Office (PPO) in collaboration with the Provincial Government of Lanao del Norte, the Department of Education and vast support of JCI Panguil Bay Chapter, as one of the stakeholders.

Youth participants, who were in their secondary and tertiary level, were all from the towns of Lala, Salvador and Kapatagan.

Ananette B. Daniel, PPO head, said the event aimed at promoting nationalism, patriotism, civic consciousness, value formation, youth empowerment and peace building among different youth organizations through the Bayanihan concept, the bedrock and the heart of all Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) activities.

We have invited speakers/competent personalities from the academe, religious group, local government unit, national government agencies, non-government organizations and AFP personnel from this unit, thereby giving the participants advocacy presentations that would enhance their capabilities, awaken their mind set and would contribute an impact on their lives, added Daniel.

While Lordleos Lavv L. Ladonga, PPO staff and Y4D coordinator said the YLS program core group has lined up activities entailed to strengthen the participants’ faith; build their character; develop their social and leadership skills; and to aware them in matters that would help them become good citizen of our country.

On the first day, a Self-Awareness Session was introduced by Y4D coordinator. The day’s activity also includes HIV-AIDS Awareness by the Red Cross representative.

The participants experienced on the second day the Paugnat sa Kusog (Zumba) and morning shower led by personnel from 41st IB, joined by the facilitators of the day.

Spiritual engagement and a talk on Living Effectively with Parents added gesture to the participants' interests, a 'quality time' needed for a family to engage.

Other presentations for the day were on Drug Abuse Prevention for the Youth and other drug-related situationer in the region and in the province per see, handled by Rosemarie A. Bajao of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA-10), coupled with IEC Drug Awareness campaign (Information Education Communication).  Lecture on Advocacy on Human Rights Laws concerning Youth & Women followed. Prevention of Criminality and Drug Addiction was discussed by the Philippine National Police representative, this province.

The Philippine Information Agency (PIA)-Lanao del Norte Information Center representative discussed on Climate Change Adaptation, a campaign for the Youth to be advocates on environment preservation and climate change resiliency.

Likewise, Environmental Care and Global Warming were shared by Forester Ben-Ali Decampong, chief, Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office-Department of Environment and Natural Resource (PENRO-DENR), Lanao del Norte Office.

Part of the summit was the audio visual presentation of AFP’s Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP Bayanihan) by 2Lt Virgil Thomas A. Visabella.

IPSP highlights the importance of increased involvement of stakeholders, the national and local government agencies, non-government entities and the entire citizenry in addressing peace and security concerns. It gives equal emphasis to combat and non-combat dimensions of military operations.

On the other hand, the IPSP departs from the old parameters and explores non-combat parameters of success in addressing the country’s peace and security problem. Under the said Plan, the AFP’s desired end state is that “capabilities of internal armed threats are reduced to a level that they can no longer threaten the stability of the state and civil authorities can ensure the safety and well-being of the Filipino people,” Visabella explained.

Static Display of armor assets and Mechanized Infantry Squad Capability Demonstration at the MCC sports complex ground, and photo opportunity of the participants with the armored facility, highlighted the second day activity.

On the last day was the creation of Youth Organization and the induction of set of officers, and were made to formulate the Youth Action Plan, their role in nation-building, as what has been pointed out by Capt Junmar M. Tutoy, civil military officer, 41st IB 5ID, PA.

Moreover, the participants couldn’t forget the boodlefight-lunch prepared for them by the 41st IB.

Vice Governor Cristina Atay graced the closing program, and enthusiastically applauded the participation of the youth in this 3-day activity of which they prioritized to join this event instead of taking vacation after having been through lately with their studies as the school year ended in March.

The activity earned lasting and positive impressions from the youth sector and to other stakeholders. Indeed, the participants learned the knowledge that would somehow make them become a tremendous force in nation and peace building.

The 41st played a significant role in terms of community relations within their area of operation. It’s one of the many opportunities that the unit was able to work hand in hand with other stakeholders showing generous concern over the civilian populace particularly the youth sector.

NPA kills former comrade in Sorsogon

From the Philippine News Agency posted to InterAksyon (Apr 17): NPA kills former comrade in Sorsogon


New People's Army guerrillas ambushed and killed a former comrade who had reportedly refused to rejoin their ranks in Sorsogon province, police said.

Abelardo Blanco, 48, a former who used to be known as “Ka Enteng,” was gunned down in Sitio Bacolod, Barangay Esperanza in Pilar town as he walked home from a store where he had bought breakfast around 8:30 a.m.

Police quoted Blanco’s common-law wife as saying the killers, described as “young-looking” and armed with M16 rifles, had hidden behind coconut trees and emerged to shoot Blanco before casually walking away.

She said the rebels had earlier talked to Blanco and asked him to rejoin them because he had an important role to play. However, Blanco refused, telling them he was enjoying his peaceful life.

3 soldiers wounded in IED blast in Ilocos Sur

From GMA News (Apr 17): 3 soldiers wounded in IED blast in Ilocos Sur

At least three soldiers were wounded as an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded when their Army truck passed by a road section in Sta. Cruz town in Ilocos Sur on Thursday.

Police said the three wounded soldiers were members of the Army's 71st Infantry Division, GMA Ilocos reported Friday.

An initial investigation showed the truck came from Narvacan town and was heading for the camp of the 81st Infantry Battalion at the time of the incident that occurred in Barangay Bacsayan in Sta. Cruz town.

Recovered from the scene were parts of an IED. Police theorized the device was placed on a tree branch and rigged to explode once the Army truck passes by.

"May... pagsabog habang bumibyahe sila (soldiers)," said Sta. Cruz police head Chief Inspector Simon Damolkins.

The three wounded soldiers are recovering, as police continue gathering leads on who could be behind the attack.

On Tuesday, armed men fired at the camp of the 81st Infantry Battalion though no one was initially reported hurt.

Police are looking into the possibility communist New People's Army guerrillas were behind Tuesday's attack also in Ilocos Sur.

Sabah’s east coast curfew again extended, to enter 18th phase

From the Malay Mail Online (Apr 14): Sabah’s east coast curfew again extended, to enter 18th phase

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman (right) says the Sabah’s east coast curfew is extended to keep tabs on the ongoing security needs in the area. ― File pic

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman (right) says the Sabah’s east coast curfew is extended to keep tabs on the ongoing security needs in the area.

Sabah's curfew order in the coastal waters of the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone) will again be extended, with the latest phase of the 7pm-5am travel embargo to run from April 16 to 30.

Sabah Police Commissioner, Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman said the decision to extend the curfew order covering six districts in eastern Sabah’s coastal area was in order to keep tabs on the ongoing security needs in the area.

“Based on several considerations, we feel compelled to extend the curfew order after the end of the current phase tomorrow,” he told reporters, here, today.

The first phase of the curfew order in the Esszone was enforced on July 19 last year, following several kidnapping incidents in various locations in eastern Sabah, with the victims being locals and foreigners.

The curfew has since been extended every two weeks, although authorities said they have no plans to make it permanent.

It was reported that the curfew has been effective in thwarting at least five other kidnapping attempts as well as reducing other cross-border crime.

Jalaluddin said that several parties, especially tourism operators, have been supportive of the curfew because of added security personnel.

Bukit Aman unit deployed to arrest intrusion suspects

From the Borneo Post (Apr 15): Bukit Aman unit deployed to arrest intrusion suspects

KOTA KINABALU: The High Court here yesterday was told that a Bukit Aman Special Action Unit (UTK) was ordered to assist the Special Branch (SB) police officers in any operations to arrest and trace suspected individuals linked to the skirmishes at Kampung Tanduo in Lahad Datu and Kampung Sri Jaya in Simunul, Semporna.

Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCom) deputy chief of staff of UTK, ACP Hazani Ghazali, who testified before Justice Stephen Chung, said that the UTK team was deployed to Semporna on March 4, 2013, and ASP Wan Kamal Rizal of the SB team had acted as liaison officer between the UTK and SB in carrying out any operation.

“I, together with my officers, was also mobilized to Semporna on March 4, 2013, and when we reached Semporna, I converted the marine police base into a UTK operation room,” said the witness under examination-in-chief by deputy public prosecutor Mohd Dusuki Mokhtar.

Hazani was the 93rd witness called by the prosecution to give oral evidence in the trial of 29 men and a woman, including a nephew of the late self-styled Sulu Sultanate III, Datu Jamalul Kiram, who were arrested for allegedly committing terrorism acts at several places in Lahad Datu, Semporna, Kunak and Sandakan between February 12 and April 10, 2013.

If found guilty, the accused would be liable to the mandatory death sentence while the rest face imprisonment for life and a fine.

To a question by Mohd Dusuki, the witness testified that on March 10, 2013 at about 5.45 am, he received a call from ASP Wan Kamal asking to see him.

“I went to the Semporna police station to see ASP Wan Kamal, who informed me that the UTK would be assisting to arrest a suspected individual named Panglima Tani,” the witness testified.

The witness further explained that ASP Wan Kamal had briefed him on the description of Panglima Tani, the suspect’s alleged hiding place at Kampung Perigi in Semporna, aerial photos and Google maps of the village and was also given videos that were recorded by ASP Wan Kamal’s team.

“I then went back to our operation room and called DSP Nasaruddin and briefed him on those details of Panglima Tani and instructed UTK team to be on standby for the arrest operation,” the witness further testified.

The trial, held at a hall that has been converted as an open court at the Kepayan prisons here under tight security by police and prison personnel, will continue on April 20.

Evolving security threats in PHL

From the Business World Weekender (Apr 16): Evolving security threats in PHL

THERE is no monitored activity on the ground, direct contact, financial support, instructions, or any established link between the dreaded terror group Islamic State and our local terror groups, according to Police Chief Superintendent Generoso R. Cerbo Jr., acting chief of the Public Information Office of the Philippine National Police.

“What we have [seen are] pledges of allegiance [by] some personalities like Radullan Sahiron, the [Abu Sayyaf Group] leader operating in Sulu, [which we monitored through] Facebook or YouTube,” Mr. Cerbo said, adding that they continue to monitor this.

The international terror group that remains a threat to our country, Mr. Cerbo said, is the Jemaah Islamiyah, as well as groups operating in Indonesia and Malaysia, amid what he called the “porous borders in the southern part of the Philippines.”

Apart from the foreign terrorists monitored in the country before, only two high-value targets remain in the government’s lookout following the death of Malaysian terrorist and bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, a.k.a Marwan, in the highly controversial Jan. 25 operation that led to the deaths of 44 members of the PNP’s Special Action Force in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

These two targets are Abdul Basit Usman, the other target in that operation, and a Malaysian suspect whom Mr. Cerbo didn’t name.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has confirmed Marwan’s death and removed his name from its list of Most Wanted Terrorists.


The three groups that Mr. Cerbo identified as threats to Philippine security are the New People’s Army of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP-NPA), and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) operating in parts of Mindanao.

The BIFF is a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, whose peace agreement with the government is threatened by the fallout from Mamasapano amid the public and congressional scrutiny over the MILF’s role in the killing of the Fallen 44.

Mr. Cerbo, formerly deputy director of the PNP Directorate for Intelligence, said the ASG and its ilk are engaged in such terror activities as bombings, assassinations, extortion, and periodic clashes with government troops.

But Mr. Cerbo said there have been significant developments over the years in the fight against terror.

For instance, the NPA -- which he described as “communist terrorists” -- is limited now in its operations, in such areas as Region 11, Region 13, and some areas in the Bicol Region and Northern Luzon, compared with 20 to 30 years ago when the NPA was truly a nationwide threat.

These terror groups are here for various reasons, Mr. Cerbo said.

For instance, the ASG operates in the pretext of their extremism views, but their activities, largely limited now to kidnap for ransom, are “purely for financial gain,” Mr. Cerbo said.

The NPA has also been associated with extortion activities, razing buses, factories, plantations.

“So is that a war against capitalism or simply for extortion purposes?” Mr. Cerbo said.

He further cited politically motivated attacks, targeting government troops, officers of the police and military, and local officials like the governors and mayors.

“Although [they are] very selective [in their targets], in addition to [their] terror activities, [there must be] political gain,” Mr. Cerbo said.

He also pointed out that terror activities such as bombings with minimal to zero casualties are “simply for propaganda purposes.” It’s a message, he said to “the whole nation…that we’re still here.”

Social media has also become a channel for terrorists to communicate their objectives and recruit members. “The use of social media by terrorists is perhaps the latest and most convenient platform for terrorists to promote their ideology and to deliver their message more effectively to a wider audience,” he said.


 The Anti-Terrorism Council-Program Management Center (ATC-PMC) is the highest body addressing terrorism in the country, according to Mr. Cerbo. The council sets guidance and overall direction, defines national strategy, and formulates policies for implementation of ground units such as PNP and AFP.

The Philippine Center on Transnational Crime (PCTC), on the other hand, is the agency formulating and implementing “a concerted program of action of all law enforcement, intelligence and other government agencies for the prevention and control of transnational crime,” Mr. Cerbo said.

To be sure, the council has been placed in the harsh spotlight of Mamasapano, with one senator questioning its absence in that operation which had been confined to the since-relieved SAF chief and the now-resigned PNP chief.

For this story, this writer repeatedly tried to interview anyone representing these agencies, but a staff member of the ATC-PMC said in an email that she was “advised by Acting Executive Director Oscar Valenzuela that the ATC-PMC has no authority from the Council to engage in media interviews,” and instead recommended the PNP, being “the lead agency on Anti-Terrorism efforts of the Council.” As for the PCTC and LESIO, this writer was told that Undersecretary Felizardo Serapio Jr. had a full schedule in March. An interview with any other representative of the PCTC was sought for this story but this writer was told in a text exchange that the other one advised to answer was still in Indonesia.

As for the PNP, Mr. Cerbo described this institution as the “workhorse” or “legs and arms” of the ATC-PMC.

Coordination with foreign intelligence is also an integral part of counter-terrorism, especially where it involves global terrorism, and Mr. Cerbo said this is a legal recourse.

“We…can share intelligence assets,” he said, citing too the “information sharing protocol with other countries.”

For instance, there is the ASEANAPOL, the collective police force of the 10 ASEAN countries including the Philippines. “Likewise, we have that kind of arrangement with the U.S. FBI, the Australian Federal Police, and other allied countries,” Mr. Cerbo said.

Intercepting the financing of these terrorist groups is also crucial to the anti-terror campaign, he said. “Without…money, [they will be crippled, they won’t be able to move], so we have to check [their] sources of funds.”

Mr. Cerbo noted that many of these terror groups make a living through kidnapping and extortion of business establishments.

Despite the controversy that spiraled out of Mamasapano, Mr. Cerbo said the government was able to show to the global community their efforts to fight terrorism.

He likened the accomplished mission of Marwan’s death to the successful security for Pope Francis, saying it showed the world that “we can protect our guests.”

Mr. Cerbo challenged criticisms that the Philippine government’s counter-terrorism efforts are weak and inefficient. “I will totally disagree with that observation. We’re gaining grounds against these terror groups,” he said.

Mr. Cerbo again cited the NPA, which he said reached its peak in 1986-1987 with a guerrilla force of 20,000 to 25,000, but now has only about 4,000 nationwide.

“To say [that our] counter-terrorism effort [is weak]…would be unfair to the PNP, AFP, and other security forces. [We are winning.]”

'Americans used plane, not drone in Mamasapano'

From the Philippine Star posted to ABS=CBN (Apr 16): 'Americans used plane, not drone in Mamasapano'

The Americans who helped the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) monitor its operation against three suspected terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25 used a manned surveillance airplane and not a drone.

Relieved SAF chief Director Getulio Napeñas made this clarification during Tuesday’s final closed-door House hearing on the Mamasapano carnage that left 44 SAF troopers, 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrillas and five civilians dead.

Responding to questions, Napeñas confirmed that several Americans monitored the operation that resulted in the death of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.

He said the Americans provided them with real-time information on the progress of the operation.

Asked what specific aircraft the US nationals used, Napeñas told congressmen that contrary to popular impression that it was a drone or an unmanned aerial vehicle, it was actually an “airplane manned by Americans.”

He said the Americans were working for the joint US-Philippine special operations task force based in Zamboanga City.

While SAF troopers killed Marwan, their two other targets, Amin Baco, also a Malaysian, and Marwan’s Filipino deputy, Abdul Basit Usman, escaped.

Based on Napeñas’ statement in the closed-door hearing, it now appears that more than six Americans had apparently helped SAF in its Mamasapano operation.

The Senate and the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI) have established the presence of six Americans in Mamasapano.

In a sworn statement he gave the BOI, Supt. Michael John Catindig Mangahis, one of Napeñas’ ground commanders, said he saw the six at the SAF tactical command post (TCP) in Sharif Aguak town on the eve of the operation.

The TCP was about 10 kilometers from the SAF target area in Mamasapano.

Asked who was with him at TCP, Mangahis said he saw Napeñas, deputy SAF chief Supt. Noli Taliño, Supt. Richard dela Rosa, Supt. Abraham Abayari, Sr. Insp. Lyndon Espe, a Police Officer 2 Belmes, “and six American nationals.”

“Do you know these American nationals?” was the next question.

“I met them only at the TCP during the operation, but I do not know them. I saw them the following day as pilots of the helicopter that helped in evacuating our wounded personnel in the hospital,” he said.

On Jan. 25, Americans in civilian clothes were photographed airlifting wounded SAF troopers using their green-and-white helicopter.

According to a Washington Post report, the Americans who helped SAF were “contract personnel” or civilian military contractors assigned with a US anti-terrorism task force based in Zamboanga City. Military contractors are mostly former members of the US armed forces.

Despite the confirmed assistance provided by the Americans on the day of the SAF operation, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg has insisted that the SAF mission was “Philippine-planned and executed.”

For his part, Foreign Affairs Usec. Evan Garcia claimed that the Mamasapano operation was “100-percent” planned and carried out by Filipinos.

Court junks kidnap case vs CPP-NPA-NDF leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon - Karapatan

From InterAksyon (Apr 16): Court junks kidnap case vs CPP-NPA-NDF leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon - Karapatan

The Tiamzon couple being taken to attend inquest. File photograph by Krisken Jones.

The judge of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 81 has dismissed a kidnapping case lodged against detained couple Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, top leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

The dismissal was due to the absence of the complainant-witness, Sergeant John Jacob, during Wednesday's pre-trial hearing, Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of Karapatan, said Thursday.

The hearing was held at the Training Service of the Philippine National Police (PNP) General Headquarters in Camp Crame instead of the usual Quezon City Hall of Justice.

"The court transferred the venue of the trial, purportedly due to 'security reasons', within Camp Crame, meters away from the Custodial Center where the two are detained," Palabay said.

But the Tiamzons have to contend with other charges, such as illegal possession of firearms and explosives in Toledo, Cebu, a multiple-murder case being heard at the Manila Regional Trial Court, and still another kidnapping charge.

The second kidnapping case stemmed from four other complaints, including one from a certain Lt. Abraham Casis who was among those taken "prisoners of war" by the NPA in 1989 in Tiaong, Quezon. They were later released by the rebels.

"We are wondering why this Lt. Casis, after 28 years of not attending any of the court proceedings on this case that led to the dismissal of the case for the other co-accused, attended this hearing for the Tiamzons," Palabay said.

The Tiamzon couple and five other companions have been detained for more than a year.

"Numerous criminal cases have been logged against them because the Aquino regime detests their beliefs and the work that the Tiamzons do for just and lasting peace," Palabay said.

At the end of the hearing, Wilma Austria Tiamzon came out of the courtroom of Camp Crame, angry and in pain for the handcuffs on both wrists. "I have a back problem. I can't hold both my wrists together because it is too painful. My only request is to handcuff me in one wrist," Tiamzon shouted.

"How could her guards be so inconsiderate to a woman with a medical condition? What security risk would they face when they just travel within the premises of the Camp Crame?" Palabay asked.

AFP Procurement Service now ISO certified

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 16): AFP Procurement Service now ISO certified

The Armed Forces of the Philippines Procurement Service (AFPPS) has earned its International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9001:2008 Certificate this month, per AFPPS Commander, Colonel Alvin Francis Javier.

“The AFPPS officially obtained ISO 9001:2008 Certificate on April 6, 2015 from TUV Rheinland Philippines, Inc., a well-respected international audit body which specializes in evaluating management systems based on international standards. We are so proud of this feat,” said Javier.

According to Javier, the AFPPS is the first procurement office in the government to earn the coveted certification from an international audit body.

This statement was seconded by the President of the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP), Antonio D. Kalaw Jr. when he said, “AFPPS is the first procurement office in the government bureaucracy to be ISO 9001:2008 Certified.”

The ISO 9001:2008 is an international standard that specifies requirements for a Quality Management System (QMS). Its goal is to evaluate an organization’s QMS, or the coordinated activities that direct and control an organization’s performance efficiency, effectiveness, and continuous improvement.

ISO 9001:2008 refers to documented policies, processes and procedures required for planning and execution of an organization’s core business process which impacts its ability to meet customer requirements.

A good QMS sets direction and meets customers’ expectations, improves process control, reduces wastage, lowers operating costs, involves staff, and raises morale of employees.

Notably, the institutionalization of QMS is one of the objectives of the on-going Government Quality Management Program espoused by Administrative Order No. 161, s. 2006 of former president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

BIFF's Kato declined offer for medical treatment

From the Philippine Star posted to ABS-CBN (Apr 16): BIFF's Kato declined offer for medical treatment

Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) founder Ameril Umbra Kato might have lived longer had he agreed to undergo sustained therapy for his illnesses at an Army hospital.

Kato succumbed Tuesday to pneumonia and other complications at his lair in Datu Hofer, Maguindanao, more than two years after he suffered a hypertensive stroke that left half of his body paralyzed.

The Army’s 6th Infantry Division then led by Maj. Gen. Rey Ardo offered medical help to Kato in 2012.

Ardo’s offer was even announced over Catholic station dxMS in Cotabato City, which pioneered ''peace journalism'' in Central Mindanao, after learning of Kato's deteriorating health condition.

Ardo had said the 6th ID’s offer of free medication for Kato was meant to show to the BIFF that the military was sincere in pushing forward the government’s peace overture with Moro communities.

Kato rejected the offer, saying it was a ploy intended to hasten his arrest for having led bloody attacks in North Cotabato and Maguindanao after the aborted Aug. 8, 2008 crafting of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Kato was booted out of the MILF for insubordination and founded the BIFF in 2010.

Kato opposed the MILF talking peace with the government, vowing to derail the peace process and establish an Islamic state.

Ardo again tried to convince Kato, through local officials in Maguindanao, to undergo medication when he became chief of the Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City following his stint as 6th ID commander.

Ardo was to let Army Islamic theologians fetch Kato in a bilaterally designated site had he accepted the offer.

Ardo’s successor in the 6th ID’s top post, now retired Major Gen. Romeo Gapuz, also thrice urged the BIFF chieftain to undergo treatment at the Camp Siongco Hospital.

Instead of responding favorably to the offers of Ardo and Gapuz, Kato’s group staged bloody attacks in Maguindanao during the Islamic Ramadan fasting season in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

“Kato did not accept the offer of the 6th ID because there was possibility the MILF would criticize him for bolting out, with a vow to fight for an Islamic state, only to become a friend of the military,” a cousin of Kato said.

Kato’s successor as BIFF’s top leader, Sheik Esmael Abubakar, is just as extreme in his religious practices.

Abubakar, known as “Bongos,” assumed as BIFF chieftain noontime of Tuesday, in the presence of followers gathered in the hinterlands of Datu Saudi town.

NPA kills two, ransacks mayor's house in Compostela Valley – military

From GMA News (Apr 16): NPA kills two, ransacks mayor's house in Compostela Valley – military

Suspected New People's Army rebels on Tuesday ransacked the home of Monkayo, Compostela Valley Mayor Joselito Brillantes Jr. and killed a security guard, the military said on Thursday.
In a statement released on Thursday, Eastern Mindanao Command public affairs chief Captain Alberto Caber said the rebels ransacked Brillantes' home at around 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, and carted away eight high-powered firearms.
He added that a civilian security guard, Roberto Baysa, was killed in the attack while defending his post.
Meanwhile, Eastern Mindanao Command commander Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad condemned the attack.
"This incident has strengthened our resolve to further enhance security measures to protect the civilian communities and other possible targets against treacherous attacks from the NPA bandit group," Baladad said.
A few minutes before the incident, another group of heavily-armed NPA members attacked the patrol base of the AFP's 25th Infantry Battalion in Brgy. Banlag.
One Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit was killed in the attack. 
The NPA also established a road block along the national highway of Bankerohan Sur, Montevista and Brgys. Olaycon and Banlag both of Monkayo.
The AFP said this was a counterattack by the NPA after successive encounters with authorities. Authorities are conducting pursuit operations against the armed men.

Cayetano: Mohagher Iqbal is Datucan Abas

From GMA News (Apr 16): Cayetano: Mohagher Iqbal is Datucan Abas

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal’s real name is Datucan Abas, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said Thursday.

In a slide presentation sent to reporters, Cayetano showed documents which he claimed states the name of Iqbal.

He said documents from a Davao City regional trial court showed that Datucan Abas Mohagher Iqbal was facing multiple murder charges for the bombing of Davao International Airport and Sasa Wharf both in 2003 and asked the court for a reinvestigation of the case.

The senator also showed a memorandum circular issued in July 18, 2003 and signed by then Interior Secretary Jose Lina Jr for the suspension of monetary rewards for the arrest of most wanted persons including Datucan Abas Mohagher Iqbal.

There was also a document granting safe conduct and free passage for MILF officials including Datucan Abas Mohagher Iqbal which was signed by then presidential adviser on the peace process and government peace panel chairman Eduardo Ermita.

Cayetano also secured documents from Manuel L. Quezon University showing that Datucan M. Abas graduated with a degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1969 and Master of Arts major in political science in 1972.

The senator said that the issue is not  just Iqbal’s identity but trust.

“Ang gusto kasi  nila ipakita sa publiko e he is the peaceful face, sa academe siya, ito yung naniniwala sa Bangsamoro…wala kasing transparency, hindi tuloy natin alam ang kausap natin,” he said in a television interview.

“Why not open all of this to everyone para makilatis natin kung sino ba ang nandyan (sa MILF peace panel), saan tayo pupunta once they become governor or chief minister. Would they go for cessation or not?” he said.

Cayetano belied the statement of government chief peace negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer that MILF is a nationalist organization which only wants a separate state.

“The MILF separated from the Moro National Liberation Front precisely because they want an Islamic state at sinuportahan ng some Malaysian groups. That is why the name is MILF, Islamic, and their armed forces is Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces,” he said.

Iqbal has repeatedly refused to divulge his real identity for the protection of his family.

MILF fighters did not commit any crime during Mamasapano clash, Jaafar insists

From GMA News (Apr 16): MILF fighters did not commit any crime during Mamasapano clash, Jaafar insists

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members did not commit any crime during the January 25 Mamasapano clash, the group's vice chairman said Thursday, following Justice Secretary Leila de Lima's statement that 90 people will be charged in connection with the infamous incident.

“That is the official decision of the MILF. They did not commit a crime,” said Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF's vice chairman for political affairs, referring to the results of its own investigation on the same incident.

The clash that marred a covert police operation to neutralize suspected terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, last January 25 resulted in the deaths of 44 elite policemen and cast a shadow on the peace deal between the government and the MILF. Eighteen MILF fighters and five civilians were also killed.

Jaafar's statement came after De Lima, citing the results of the Department of Justice's investigation, said 90 members of the MILF, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and private armed groups were recommended to be criminally charged for the clash.

Jaafar said he still needs to read the DOJ report and hear De Lima's exact statements before he could further comment on the matter.

"My initial reaction is let me hear first what she said. Allow me first to get the news first-hand… I will have to get it first-hand before I react," he said.

Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said it expects the MILF to cooperate with the government in filing of charges against the involved fighters.

De Lima, meanwhile, appealed to the MILF to cooperate with he completion of the findings of the National Bureau of Investigation and the National Prosecution Service joint probe.

BIFF stages first attack under new leader Bungos

From ABS-CBN (Apr 16): BIFF stages first attack under new leader Bungos

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Wednesday evening attacked the military's headquarters in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

According to Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, public affairs officer of the Army's 6th Infantry Division, an undetermined number of BIFF members fired shots at the headquarters of the 1st Mechanized Brigade in Barangay Kabingi at around 10 p.m.

Petinglay said the BIFF and government forces exchanged fires for at least 10 minutes, until the renegade group withdrew.

No one from the military was hurt. Also, no armored vehicle was damaged.

This is the first attack launched by the BIFF after the death of its leader, Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato. The BIFF is currently under the leadership of Esmael Abubakar alias Commander Bungos.

"The purpose is to create fear, sow fear. They are making their presence felt," Armed Forces public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said.

According to Cabunoc, the military facility attacked is near a civilian community, which made it difficult for the soldiers to go all-out in the firefight against the BIFF.

Cabunoc said the military is anticipating more attacks that may be perpetrated by the BIFF with its new leader, who is known to have led attacks on civilians and harassment along highways over the past years.

MILF: BIAF only defended themselves

From ABS-CBN (Apr 16): MILF: BIAF only defended themselves

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) First Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar said it is the right of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to conduct an investigation on the Mamasapano clash.

He added that this is why they do not question whatever the probe's results may be.

As part of the initial result of the DOJ's investigation, 90 members will be charged from the MILF, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and other private armed groups.

In a phone interview, Jaafar defended the MILF's Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) members, saying they only defended themselves.

He also insisted that the MILF combatants are innocent.

In earlier interviews, the MILF expressed its position that it will not surrender its troops.

Meanwhile, Jaafar said they have ways on how the group can help DOJ in its investigation.

Justice Secretary Leila De Lima said they have asked the MILF to cooperate by letting them talk with the witnesses and families of those MILF combatants allegedly shot by the SAF survivor PO2 Christian Lalan.

China building airstrip on Kagitingan Reef

From ABS-CBN (Apr 17): China building airstrip on Kagitingan Reef

Dredgers deposit sand on the northern rim of the Mischief Reef, located 216 km west of Palawan, in this Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative satellite image taken on February 1, 2015 and released to Reuters on April 9, 2015. REUTERS/CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Digital Globe/Handout

Recent satellite images show China has begun building its first airstrip in contested territory in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea and may be working on another, a leading defense publication reported on Thursday.

IHS Jane's Defense Weekly said the images provided by Airbus Defence and Space taken on March 23 showed the construction work on reclaimed parts of Fiery Cross Reef (Kagitingan Reef) in the archipelago, territory China contests with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

It said images from earlier in March also showed reclamation work on Subu Reef in the Spratlys creating landmasses that, if joined together, could create enough space for another 3,000 meter (3281 yards) airstrip.

The report said satellite imagery suggested China was also working to extend another airstrip to that length in the Paracel Islands further north in the South China Sea.

Images of Fiery Cross Reef showed a paved section of runway 505 meters (552 yards) by 53 meters (58 yards) on the northeastern side of the reef, which China began turning into an island with extensive dredging last year, the report said.

Preparation of other runway sections had also begun further along the island and workers had paved an apron area of about 400 meters (437 yards) by 20 meters (22 yards).

The report said Fiery Cross was capable of housing a runway about 3,000 meters, well within the parameters of Chinese air force runways.

It said the photos showed further dredging work on the southwestern side of the island and floating cranes consolidating a harbor.


The report comes a day after the U.S. military commander for Asia, Admiral Samuel Locklear, said China could eventually deploy radar and missile systems on outposts it is building in the South China Sea that could be used to enforce an exclusion zone should China move to declare one over the disputed territory.

Last week, the United States warned against militarization of contested territory in Asia and President Barack Obama accused China of using its "sheer size and muscle" to push around smaller nations after Beijing sketched out plans to use the Spratlys for military defense as well as to provide civilian services that would benefit other countries.

Speaking at an seminar in Washington on Thursday, China's ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, said it was "natural" the work would include military defense facilities.

He said there "should be no illusion that anyone could impose on China a unilateral status quo" or "repeatedly violate China's sovereignty without consequences."

In an apparent reference to U.S. air activity, Cui added that the U.N. Convention on Law of the Sea, to which the United States is not a signatory, did not give anyone the right to "conduct intensive and close-range reconnaissance in other countries' exclusive economic zone."

The United States said it does not take sides in the South China Sea but has called for a freeze on provocative acts.

China claims most of the potentially energy-rich sea, through which $5 trillion of maritime trade passes every year. Western and Asian naval officials have expressed fears that China could try to limit both sea and air navigation once its reclaimed islands are fully established.

Secession not the goal of BBL, Moro rebs say

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 16): Secession not the goal of BBL, Moro rebs say

A MEMBER of the negotiating panel of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) denied Wednesday that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) was a step toward secession as some critics fear, noting that separatists would not need a law to break away from the republic.

“If we wanted that (secession) we could always do that. We do not need a BBL in order to assert whatever form of self-determination that we would want. But clearly, the plan is to have an autonomous region that is allowed even within the framework,” said Raissa Jajurie, a member of the MILF peace panel, during yesterday’s first The Standard Talks forum at the Manila Golf and Country Club, in Makati City.
The Standard Talks. From left,  Abdullah Camlian, Raissa Jajurie,
Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and government peace panel member Senen
Bacani share their insights on the Bangsamoro Basic Law as
The Standard’s Jojo Robles looks on at right during Wednesday’s
The Standard Talks news forum at the Manila Golf Club in Makati City.
Ey Acasio
“Even self determination is a right already recognized for all people. Internationally, it is found in the international covenant of human rights, and also in the other covenants of economic, social and cultural rights, of indigenous peoples. So it’s not something extraordianry,” said Jajurie.

She described the draft law to create a Bangsamoro entity as a compromise.

“The BBL still states the Bangsamoro is still part of the Philippines. While the original position of the MNLF [Moro National Liberation Front] and the MILF was independence, we have agreed to a compromise position. And that compromise is less than independence. So what we find in the BBL is that compromise position,” Jajurie said.

Panelists during Wednesday’s forum were chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, peace panel member Senen Bacani, MILF peace panel member Abdullah Camlian; Jajurie, Abakada and party-list Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz.

Camlian said as a founding member of the MNLF, they thought at that time they should separate the Moro nation from the Republic of the Philippines.

“At that time we were young, we felt that this country could not serve us, and this country could not take care of us,” he said.

The Bangsamoro Transition Commission was organized out of the negotiations in the past, he said.

“The BBL is not solely the product of the MILF but it is a joint undertaking of both of the MILF and [the government]. I cannot understand why the Mamasapano incident is equated with the BBL. There were so many lies. There were not only 44 persons who died in this struggle. There were thousands of people that died in the struggle,” said Camlian.

Ferrer said after the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed on March 27, 2014, it became crucial to pass the law that would carry it out.

“The most important matter is the legislating of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. It is the law that would make political institutions be able to govern and see through the process of building peace and development, and bringing to life as well the concept of autonomy as defined in the Constitution,” she said.

Ferrer said it is not only about legislating the BBL, but also about bringing about socio-economic development in the region that has been left behind.

She also said Palawan was not included in the Bangsamoro.

“Palawan is not in the list of the places, or provinces who would participate in the plebiscite. The MILF agreed to a much scaled down geographic area. That was a major compromise on the part of the MILF,” she said.

Bacani said the BBL was not aimed at taking power away from the national government.

“There is no intent whatsoever in any manner to take away power, duty, function or authority of Commission on Audit (COA), Civil Service, Comelec, Commission on Human Rights and the Ombudsman,” Bacani said in reaction to criticism that the BBL would give the Bangsamoro its own equivalent agencies.

Dela Cruz, on the other hand, said the public needed assurances on what would happen if the current peace talks fail.

Chito Avecilla, a university professor and lawyer, said the BBL as presented to Congress was unconstitutional.

“Even the Transition Commission’s creation is unconstitutional because the President does not have the power to create a public office. The creation of the Transition Commission is not by legislative fiat, but pure executive discretion. Therefore the creation from the very beginning is not only unlawful, but unconstituional,” said Avecilla.

“The creation of a territory is unconstitutional. So if part of the country is to be divided into certain areas, it must follow the concept of regions, not territory,” he added.
Ferrer said there were still many issues to discuss whtn the BBL is debated in Congress.

She acknowledged that this would not be easy, since the lawmakers were not in on the negotiations from the start.

“But at the end of the day, we do need a good law. We need a law that could not be interpreted a hundred different ways,” she said.

The MILF’s Camilian also rejected the notion that a rejection or watering down of the BBL would lead to war.

“Regardless of what form the BBL comes, we will always pursue peace,” he said.
Also on Wednesday, the Palace said the comprehensive peace agreement with the MILF remained valid despite the use by its chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal of an alias.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda disputed the opinion of some lawmakers and lawmakers that Iqbal’s use of a pseudonym to sign the document rendered it invalid.

“MILF has already stood by the agreements that Mr. Iqbal has signed specifically, the Framework on the Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the annexes, and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda also maintained that those documents were signed before the public with members of the international community as witnesses.

Earlier, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who is leading a review in the Senate of the BBL, questioned Iqbal’s use of an alias in signing the peace documents.

He said in other countries, once rebels come out in the open and they’re no longer fighting the government, they delare who they really are and sign peace agreements using their true names.

Marcos noted that Moro National Liberation Front chairman Nur Misuari did not use an alias when he entered into peace talks with the Cory Aquino government, which led to the creation of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, on the other hand, confirmed that Iqbal was a Filipino, as shown by his Philippine passport.

But he admitted he was not certain what the real name of the chief negotiator was, since Iqbal uses two other aliases, Lubis Abas and Salah Jubair.

Iqbal has earlier admitted that the name he is using was a nom de guerre.
Del Rosario, in a television interview, said Iqbal carries a valid Philippine passport and presented valid personal records when he applied for it.

“I think that as long as your passport is valid and it appears valid, regardless of your public name, the authorities will have to honor that,” Del Rosario said.

Iqbal said his use of an alias was for security purposes and to protect his family.