Friday, June 19, 2015

PNP nabs NPA leader in Agusan del Sur

From the Manila Times (Jun 19): PNP nabs NPA leader in Agusan del Sur

A RANKING leader of the New People’s Army (NPA) was arrested on Thursday by joint police and army troops during an operation in a remote village in Bunawan town in Agusan del Sur, police reports said on Friday.

Reports reaching the PNP national operation center in Camp Crame identified the suspect as Randy Dapidran Subla, 30 and resident of Bunawan, Agusan del Sur.

Subla, based on an intelligence report was a platoon leader of the NPA’s Guerilla Front 14, was arrested by joint elements of the Regional Intelligence Unit, Agusan del Sur Provincial Police and of the army’s 75th Infantry Battalion based on a warrant of arrest arson charges.

US govt lists NPA, Abu Sayyaf, JI among foreign terrorist organizations in PHL

From GMA News (Jun 20): US govt lists NPA, Abu Sayyaf, JI among foreign terrorist organizations in PHL

The Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyah and Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army are among the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) operating in the Philippines, the US State Department said.

In its Country Reports on Terrorism 2014, the State Department said these groups may threaten the security of US nationals or the national security – national defense, foreign relations or economic interests – of the US.

Also, the State Department listed parts of southern Philippines as possible havens for such terrorist groups.

Abu Sayyaf

In its report, the US said the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) – designated as an FTO as early as October 8, 1997 – is the "most violent of the terrorist groups operating in the Philippines" as it claims to promote an independent Islamic state in western Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago.

The US noted ASG group split from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the early 1990s.

ASG "engages in kidnapping for ransom, bombings, ambushes of security personnel, public beheading, assassinations, and extortion," it said.

Also, the report said the ASG remained active in 2014, conducting numerous attacks on civilian and government targets in the southern Philippines.

Last July 28, 40 to 50 ASG militants with assault rifles fired at civilians traveling to celebrate the end of Ramadan, killing at least 21, including six children.

"In a July video, senior ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon, also an FBI most-wanted terrorist, swore allegiance to ISIL and ISIL’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi," it added.

According to the report, the ASG is estimated to have 400 members and operates mainly in Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi; and on the Zamboanga Peninsula and even in Malaysia.

It said the ASG is funded through kidnapping for ransom operations and extortion, "and may receive funding from external sources including remittances from supportive overseas Philippine workers and Middle East-based violent extremists."

Jemaah Islamiyah

JI, designated as an FTO on October 23, 2002, seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate spanning Indonesia, Malaysia, southern Thailand, Singapore, Brunei, and the southern Philippines.

In late 2012, the Philippine military said it had killed two JI members in separate incidents in the southern Philippines, including "one of the group’s senior-most representatives to the Philippines."

The US said JI's strength may "vary from 500 to several thousand."

It said that while JI is based in Indonesia, it is "believed to have elements in Malaysia and the Philippines" and gets funds via membership donations and criminal and business activities.


The Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA), designated an FTO on August 9, 2002, seeks to overthrow the government through protracted guerrilla warfare, the US said.

According to the State Department, the CPP-NPA primarily targeted "Philippine security forces, government officials, local infrastructure, and businesses that refused to pay extortion, or 'revolutionary taxes.'”

Also, it said the CPP-NPA charged some politicians in its influenced areas for “campaign permits.”

"Over the past few years, the communist group has continued to carry out killings, raids, kidnappings, acts of extortion, and other forms of violence which are directed mainly against domestic and security force targets," it said.

On July 10 last year, NPA fighters attacked a municipal police station in Surigao del Norte, and held four police officers captive. Two police officers were wounded.

On July 17 last year, at least two soldiers were killed and another wounded following an encounter with suspected NPA rebels in Negros Occidental.

Even during a holiday ceasefire in December 2014, NPA guerrillas staged multiple attacks, "including setting fire to construction equipment and a civilian’s vehicle, abducting a jail warden, and shooting and killing three military-affiliated individuals – all unarmed and in civilian clothes," the US said.

"The NPA continued to use explosive and improvised explosive devices to target police and security forces," it added.

But also last year, CPP-NPA leaders Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma were arrested in Aloguinsan, Cebu. Another suspected leader, Abraham Delejero Villanueva, was arrested July 20. Last August 5, Eduardo Almores Esteban was arrested in Iloilo.

The US cited Philippine government estimates that there are 4,000 CPP-NPA members. The NPA operates in rural Luzon, Visayas, and parts of northern and eastern Mindanao and is said to have cells in Manila and other metropolitan centers.

Moreover, it said the CPP/NPA gets funds "through extortion and theft."


The US State Department report noted some violent extremists "have been known to operate and hide in isolated littoral areas of the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas between Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines."

In 2014, it said militants allegedly from the Philippines and linked to the ASG conducted four cross-border kidnapping for ransom operations in Malaysia-controlled eastern Sabah.

A Chinese tourist and a Philippine hotel employee were kidnapped by armed men from a diving resort off the coast of Semporna in April 2014.

The following month, armed men abducted a Chinese manager of a fish farm from an island near Lahad Datu. In June, a Filipino and a Malaysian were kidnapped from another fish farm in Kunak.

In July, at a diving resort on Mabul Island, armed men killed a Royal Malaysian Police (RMP) officer and kidnapped another officer, who remained in captivity at end-2014.

Counter-terrorism cooperation

The State Department noted counter-terrorism cooperation between the Philippines and the US continued to improve in 2014.

It added terrorist groups, including the ASG, JI and CPP-NPA "were unable to conduct major attacks compared to previous years due to continuous pressure from Philippine counter-terrorism and law enforcement efforts."

But it said that while Philippine counter-terrorism efforts sustained pressure on terrorist organizations, members of these groups were suspected to have carried out attacks against government, public, and private facilities.

Such attacks occurred mainly in the central and western areas of Mindanao while others were linked to extortion operations in other parts of the country.

"In addition, terrorist and rebel groups in the southern Philippines retained the capability and intent to conduct bomb-making training, small-scale shootings, and ambushes," it said.

On the other hand, the State Department noted the Philippine government made progress in implementing its 2011–2016 Internal Peace and Security Plan that calls for the transition of internal security functions from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to the Philippine National Police (PNP).

"The increasing role and capability of the police in maintaining internal security in conflict-affected areas will permit the AFP to shift its focus to enhance the country’s maritime security and territorial defense capabilities," it said.

Yet, it said this transition continued to be "slow and ineffective" as continued violent extremist activity, as well as counter-terrorism capability gaps between the AFP and PNP, slowed this transition.

Mindanao peace process

Meanwhile, the US report said the Philippine government’s Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) with the MILF, seeking to create a new Bangsamoro autonomous government in Mindanao may pave the way for a peaceful solution to the 40-year-old conflict in Mindanao – "if successful."

Yet, after the signing ceremony of the CAB in March 2014, violent clashes with the MILF splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (IFF) continued in central Mindanao, "indicating that violent spoilers to a lasting peace remain."

2014 terrorist incidents

In 2014, the State Department noted "dozens of small arms and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks, kidnappings for ransom, and extortion efforts by suspected members of terrorist groups in the Philippines." High-profile incidents included:

January 29: an eight-year-old girl and a pregnant woman were wounded after an explosion ripped through the public ferry terminal in Datu Piang, Maguindanao. The PNP said the bombing was an apparent attack by the BIFF to divert authorities involved in an operation to arrest senior group leaders.

March 2: 16 people, including 11 soldiers and five civilians, were hurt in a landmine explosion that hit a convoy of ambulances in Bansalan, Davao del Sur. The landmine was allegedly planted by NPAs in the area.

May 21: policemen foiled an attempt by as many as 100 NPA communist rebels to take over the town hall of President Roxas city in Cotabato. The Roxas police chief was wounded.

May 22: suspected members of the ASG group demanded US $670,194 in exchange for the release of a Chinese businesswoman and her daughter, kidnapped by at least 10 armed men in early May in Isabela City, Basilan.

December 9: five people were killed and 42 wounded in an explosion aboard a bus in Bukidnon, Mindanao. Authorities filed charges against Garnet Lintang, a commander of the BIFF operating in Central Mindanao.

Law enforcement

While the 2007 Human Security Act (HSA) is the principal counter-terrorism legislation of the Philippines, many aspects of the law have not been used due to strict procedural requirements.

Such requirements include notification to subjects of surveillance before activities can begin and damages of approximately $12,000 for every day of detention if an individual accused of terrorism is ultimately acquitted.

President Benigno Aquino III prioritized the adoption of amendments to the HSA in three main areas:
- revise the definition of terrorism to conform to international standards
- ease the strict monetary penalties and prison terms against law enforcement officials involved in cases where individuals are wrongly accused and later acquitted
- remove barriers to support investigations.

Passport security

The State Department noted the Philippines continued to improve the security of its passports in 2014.

It said three million machine-readable passports remained in circulation at year’s end.

Also, it said the first phase of the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) was completed in 2014, which included the build-out of the physical AFIS facility at NBI headquarters, and the digitization of 850,000 fingerprint records.

On transportation and port security, the Philippines has committed to align its priorities with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the US Coast Guard to increase security capabilities at its airports, seaports, and bus terminals.

Operation darkhorse, other operations

On January 27, “Operation Darkhorse” was supposed to end after two days but was extended until February 1 to allow government forces to seize more BIFF facilities, leading to the capture of four BIFF camps and a makeshift explosive factory in Maguindanao.

In the week-long offensive, 52 BIFF members and one soldier were killed, while 49 BIFF members and 20 soldiers were injured.

Eight civilians were also hurt and more than 35,000 were displaced during the operations.

On June 11, terrorist financier and high-ranking ASG member Khair Mundos was arrested by Philippine authorities near the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Mundos was on trial at year’s end, facing local bombing related charges.

On June 17, security forces captured two ASG militants in Zamboanga City, including one allegedly involved in the 2011 kidnappings of an American teenage boy and his mother, as well as a separate kidnapping of an Australian in 2011.

On July 11, authorities in Cebu arrested Australian citizen Musa Cerantonio, a popular pro-ISIL ideologue active on social media, for suspicion he was radicalizing Philippine citizens to join the group. Cerantonio was deported to Australia.

On October 7, authorities arrested Ricardo Ayeras, Andrescio Valdez, and Ricky Macapagal in Manila on suspicion of plotting to attack the U.S. Embassy in Manila. One of the three suspects, Ayeras, was implicated in the 2003 Maguindanao airport bombing.

On October 20, troops seized several suspected ASG camps in Patikul, Sulu. The AFP kept up the pressure on ASG following the 2013 kidnapping and subsequent release of two German hostages.

Problems with resources, corruption

Meanwhile, the State Department report said an "under-resourced and understaffed law enforcement and judicial system, coupled with widespread official corruption" led to "limited domestic investigations, unexecuted arrest warrants, few prosecutions, and lengthy trials of cases."

"Philippine investigators and prosecutors lacked necessary tools to build strong cases, including a lack of clear processes for requesting judicially-authorized interception of terrorist communications, entering into plea bargains with key witnesses, and seizing assets of those suspected in benefiting from terrorism," it said.

Brand new P1.4-B aircraft under repair

From the Manila Times (Jun 19): Brand new P1.4-B aircraft under repair

A P1.4-billion brand new aircraft bought by the Philippine Air Force in Spain is undergoing thorough safety check after an engine display light malfunctioned, causing a delay a scheduled maiden flight in Legazpi City.

The newly purchased medium lift aircraft of the Philippine Air Force, Spain made C295 was scheduled to land in at 8:00 in the morning Tactical Operations Group 5-Philippine Air Force but cancelled the flight due to fine tuning check.

Lt. Col. Luisito Angeles, TOG5 commanding officer, invited media practitioners to witness the maiden flight of one of the first three brand new aircrafts but later had to cancel the activity.

The newly acquired C-295 medium lift fixed-wing aircraft can bring 70 passengers, 50 paratroops, 24 stretchers with 5 to 7 attendants or up to about 20,000 pounds of cargo.

The Philippine Air Force C-295 will enhance the capability of the PAF in providing airlift requirements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and during Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) operations

Angeles said the C295 fleet is a multipurpose medium lift transport Aircraft. “The public is invited to witness this momentous event,” Angeles said.

The Aquino administration is modernizing the Armed Forces of the Philippines wherein the Department of National Defense (DND) entered into a contract on Dec. 23, 2013 with the joint venture of Rice Aircraft Services, Inc. and Eagle Copters, Ltd. for the acquisition of 21 UH-1 Huey helicopters, “including integrated logistics support or spare parts.

However, the P1.21 billion worth of UH-1H helicopters found defective and undergoing probe before the House of Representatives. The contract was approved by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin in 2013.

Chinas's 'Sun Tzu's strategy': preparing for winning without fighting

From Thanh Nien (Jun 19): Chinas's 'Sun Tzu's strategy': preparing for winning without fighting

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters

The following interview with Alexander Vuving[1] was carried out in Honolulu on March 27, 2015 by Patrick Renz and Frauke Heidemann. The main focus of the interview was on the South China Sea, ranging from the Chinese land reclamation activities to the legal case brought forward by the Philippines and Vietnam and the historic background of the territorial disputes, as well as on U.S.-China relations. All footnotes are remarks by Patrick Renz and Frauke Heidemann, aimed at giving some additional background knowledge and providing the links to the cited documents so that the reader can follow up on these issues easily.

South China Sea

The land reclamation activities by China are not a new phenomenon as other neighbors have built structures before as well. Yet some experts argue that while the land reclamation activities by China are happening on a different scale, they still don’t add strategic value in a conflict scenario that includes the U.S. Furthermore, from a legal perspective China cannot claim in a court of law that the rocks or reefs now constitute an island according to UNCLOS. Do you think there is a different rationale behind it or is it solely a power play by China?

We need to look at China’s land reclamation in the South China Sea from a different perspective than the conventional one where you focus on military and legal implications of these activities. China is pursuing a strategy that is based upon principles very different from the conventional Western thinking. The underlying philosophy behind the strategy can be found in Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”.[2] The idea is to win without fighting.[3] So while China obviously wants to win the game, it wants to achieve its objective without ever having to resort to military actions. The Chinese activities in the South China Sea, which range from the land reclamation to the use of People’s Liberation Army as well as non-military forces and lawfare, are all elements of this “winning without fighting” strategy. It is misleading if you look at what China is doing in the South China Sea from the perspective of military significance. It is similarly misleading to assess the land reclamation from a legal perspective given that the rocks China is building up are actually submerged rocks and not islands and therefore can not generate an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).[4]

What China is doing right now is setting up various positions in the South China Sea and building them into robust points of control. Starting from this, China wants to create a situation that will lead people to look at the propensity of things and think that China would eventually win the game. They might see it as beneficial not to provoke China, to avoid a clash and give up. So that is the underlying philosophy. China is reclaiming land and building dual-use facilities, which serve both military and civilian purposes. Harbors can be used by fishermen, but they can also be facilities for coast guards and military forces. Airstrips, which they can argue are needed to support the people on the island, are on Fiery Cross Reef about 3,000m long and thereby long enough for their fourth generation fighter jets.[5]

The argument often made is that if China puts military assets on those small islands, they are going to be very vulnerable in a war scenario. But China is not preparing for war. It is preparing for peace, it is preparing for winning without fighting. Nobody wants to go to war with China and China is not preparing for the moment when you have real fighting across the ocean between those islands and the mainland of Vietnam, the Philippines or Malaysia. From the standpoint of a country such as Vietnam, Malaysia or the Philippines, the Chinese military bases and logistics hubs will be just across the sea. This significantly increases the ability of China to control the South China Sea, even though they don’t engage in a military clash and it changes the calculus by other claimants due to China’s increased dominance. Thereby, China is setting up the field so that it will psychologically change the strategic calculus of the nations in the region. If people look at the situation in the South China Sea ten years from now, what they see is an area full of powerful Chinese bases, logistics hubs and points of control, they can come up with the assessment that China is already the dominant force in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, the U.S. is far away, it does not have any bases there so when it comes to real clashes, China will be able to overwhelm other claimants.

Another aspect are the legal implications of the island buildup. Obviously, if you look at Art. 121 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, it states that an island is a naturally formed area of land that is above water at high tide.[6] If you want to have a 200 nm EEZ extending from this feature, it has to classify as such an island. It further has to be able to sustain human habitation on this island and an economic life of its own. Now what China is doing is to transform those rocks, which were mostly submerged decades ago, into islands. While a court may argue that these are not naturally formed as they have been submerged, it is going to be a very complicated and prolonged process. China is not preparing for that, it has from the very beginning refused to go to the court.

Instead, it is creating facts on the ground so that it can claim that these are islands and generate a 200 nm EEZ. There are previous examples for that. The Japanese build-up of the Okinotori features is a precedent for the transformation of rocks into islands and the claim of the 200 nm EEZ around that feature, even though China and South Korea see it just as a rock.[7] I would not be surprised if China in the next few years would claim that these features are islands and that they have their 200 nm EEZ. It is not legal and other countries would be opposed to that and dispute it. However, until you get to a court you don’t have a final judgment on whether it is a rock or an island or whether they are entitled to the EEZ. So it is up to the most powerful player in the region to unilaterally enforce its claims. China is the most powerful nation and can theoretically do this.

This is very similar to the nine-dashed line.[8] The nine-dashed line is perhaps the most ridiculous issue in international legal affairs. But China says it is there, and it enforces it. The U.S. State Department recently published a study on the nine-dashed line.[9] One reason I see in that was to expose the inconsistency in China’s nine-dashed line as there are different versions of it. The comparison of those differing versions shows the world that this is even more ridiculous. But again it reflects a perspective, which is strictly legalistic. What China is doing is different and more practice and history oriented. It is also related to China’s argument about its historical rights and the historical waters in the South China Sea.[10]

In that context, for an outsider it is always interesting to see what little role ASEAN actually plays, compared to what role it could potentially play. Do you see any chance that the change of leadership within ASEAN and the Chinese behavior in the South China Sea lead to a more active ASEAN?

ASEAN is deeply divided over the issues of the South China Sea. Recently Cambodia embraced the Chinese perspective on the South China Sea saying that the dispute is a bilateral issue between the claimants, not involving ASEAN.[11] If you have member states such as Cambodia, Laos and Brunei that are increasingly influenced by China, then ASEAN is as a whole, as an organization that operates on the principle on consensus, unable to move an inch on these issue. With the increasing influence of China, ASEAN is going to be less and less relevant to the South China Sea issues. I can imagine some mini-ASEAN organized as a cooperation arrangement among some of the members of ASEAN like Vietnam, the Philippines and probably in the far future Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, which may have some impact on the disputes in the South China Sea. But ASEAN as an organization is going to be less relevant particularly because of this Division.

So the countries have two options: waiting for the tactic of China to materialize or they have to come closer to the U.S.?

The countries that are faced with the challenge of China in the South China Sea are not sitting idly by. Parallel with the Chinese salami-slicing in the South China Sea, we are also witnessing a similar incremental creeping rapprochement and coalition building among the states that are facing a similar Chinese challenge: Vietnam, the Philippines in Southeast Asia and the U.S., Japan and India outside of the region. But also countries such as Indonesia, Singapore and Australia, which share some interest with the core group in counteracting China’s expansion in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, are coming closer together. There is a general process of rapprochement among those countries, particularly the Philippines, Vietnam, the U.S., Japan and India.

Would you argue that there is any hope for the legal claims by the Philippines and Vietnam against China to have an impact or is it a more symbolic protest given that China is opposed to arbitration on these issues?

It will have some impact. Any legal challenge to China’s position in the South China Sea will have an impact, although we are not sure about the degree and timing of it. It is not just a symbolic gesture because it will influence the mainstream opinion in the world. It is important to count world opinion, meaning the mainstream opinion of the majority of people in the international media. If China is faced with a very unfavorable opinion, then that is putting pressure on China to react. As an example, in the legal process the Philippines has initiated, the court will decide on whether to make a verdict or not.[12] Even though a potential verdict of the court would not be implemented by China on the ground, it would have an impact on world opinion. Whatever the court would say would be regarded as the truth or at least as the most authoritative judgment of the situation. If the court says that the nine-dashed line is illegal, China will face heightened pressure from world opinion. So even though China does not accept the court’s verdict and criticizes the court, for the rest of the world, China is on the wrong side of history. The same goes for any legal actions other countries could initiate against China in the South China Sea.

When looking at the region and what the claims are about, things come to mind such as fisheries, sea lanes of communication and fossil fuels. What do you think is the driver for the main claimants Vietnam, the Philippines and China?

This is very complicated. The prevalent narrative in the international press is that it is all about oil or resources.[13] But I think this issue is highly complex because of the long history of dispute and because of the complexity of interests by the claimant states. Initially, the Philippines got interested in the Spratly Islands during the 1960s and 1970s. The initial primary interest of the Philippines was resource related, it was about oil. The story is similar for Malaysia, which also started to claim the Spratly Islands in the 1970s and 1980s after UNCLOS was signed and when the prospect for oil was good from Malaysia’s perspective.

But for China and Vietnam the story is much more complex. Vietnam for example can look back several centuries on their interests in the South China Sea. If you look at the documents of the Vietnamese Nguyễn dynasty of the 19th century, which addresses issues related to the Paracel islands, then you can see that their primary interest is security. They considered the Paracel islands as critical in the defense of the coastline back in the 19th century. In the early 20th century, when China turned to the South China Sea and developed primary interests in the small islands there and dispatched vessels to survey them, it was also primarily for security reasons. It was back then when Japan was sailing south through the South China Sea, expanding territories along the way. So China felt it should take control of those areas to feel more secure vis-à-vis Japanese expansionism in the Western Pacific. For both China and Vietnam the initial issue was security.

Then you have the age of oil, the discovery of resources, technologies that can explore the seabed and UNCLOS which gives you 200 nm off your coast that you own economically and where you can explore the resources. That area is in some cases bigger than the mainland of the littoral states. Therefore, they developed an interest in the resources. Oil also is a factor in there, but for China in terms of resources something different than oil and gas is much more interesting: ice crystals containing gas.[14] With the current technology it cannot yet be commercially extracted, but in China there is the belief that methane hydrate can be the fuel source of the 21st century and the Chinese have discovered some areas in the South China Sea where they can mine this type of methane.[15] The picture becomes more complicated with the discovery of new hydrocarbons and the development of technology.

Another factor that also fuels regional tensions is nationalism. When the South China Sea becomes a hot spot for conflict, it arouses patriotic sentiments, and indeed even for nations like the Philippines that don’t have nationalism as strong as the Vietnamese and the Chinese, they also developed some patriotic sentiments related to the South China Sea. The Philippines for example renamed the South China Sea into West Philippine Sea[16] and for some Filipinos the Sea has become a symbol of their nation’s ability to stand up to China. It was already a symbol for the Vietnamese resistance to China. When you look at Vietnam’s long history of living with China, any kind of conflict with its neighbor easily became a symbol of nationalism and national identity, whereby the Vietnamese are very proud of being able to resist China. For China itself it is about territorial integrity, their ability to stand up to Western powers, to readdress the century of humiliation. So we have patriotic sentiments and symbolism that are being fueled by the South China Sea issue.

A fourth factor that is more pronounced for China is the strategic location of the South China Sea. There is a concentration of sea lanes of communication (SLOC) between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. 80% of the oil supplies to Japan and about the same to China, Taiwan and South Korea pass through the South China Sea, as does half of Asia’s commodity trade. For a global power such as the U.S., the South China Sea sits in the middle of the most critical SLOC between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. It is therefore not just about resources, nationalism and security or defense of the mainland. The South China Sea is very important for any country that aspires to become the main power in Asia. To paraphrase Mackinder, the father of geopolitics, whoever controls the South China Sea, will dominate East Asia.[17] With the rise of Asia and the concentration of wealth, manufacturing and economic power in East Asia, whoever dominates this region will rule the world during the 21st century.

U.S.-China Relations

Analyzing China-U.S. relations, how do you assess the new type of great power relations[18] that has been highlighted a lot in China?

I think this is a Chinese device to deceive the U.S. Initially it was proposed by China to reset and redefine the relationship with the U.S., to build an unprecedented relationship between the two most important powers in the world, different from the typical relationship between great powers during the past. The U.S. was lured to that device initially, but after a while it realized that this is just a trap. What China wants with this is not a new type of relationship, it is about the U.S. acknowledgement of China’s core interest. That is the idea behind the Chinese proposal. Obviously, China’s core interests as defined by China are something the U.S. cannot fully accept. The U.S. can accept some of it, but not all. Today, the U.S. no longer resorts to that narrative. You can hear Chinese leaders talk about it, but not any U.S. interrogators.

Thank you very much for the interview.

This article was originally published by IR.ASIA at


[1] More about Dr. Alexander Vuving at:

[2] Additionally, one can look to the game weiqi as a means to understand China’s grand strategy behind this island building, as Dr. Vuving further pointed out in his article “China’s Grand-Strategy Challenge: Creating Its Own Islands in the South China Sea” in The National Interest of December 8, 2014. The article is available here:

[3] Much of The Art of War is about how to outsmart the opponent without having to actually engage in war. To read more about this military strategy and how it is used today by China’s officials:

[4] The definition of an island and the resulting right to an EEZ according to Art. 121 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea will be the subject later on in this interview.

[5] More about the land reclamation on Fiery Cross Reef and an assessment of the situation at:

[6] Art. 121 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea can be accessed here:

[7] An overview over the current state of the Okinotori Islands and the corresponding claims is given at: .

[8] A first overview over the nine-dash line is given by the CFR here:

[9] The U.S. State Department publication on Limits in the Seas (No. 143) “China: Maritime Claims in the South China Sea” can be accessed here

[10] The issue of historic waters is also discussed in the previously mentioned State Department publication.

[11] More on Cambodia’s endorsement of China’s position that the South China Sea disputes cannot be solved through ASEAN:

[12] More on the arbitration case of the Philippines against China in this article:

[13] For an overview over the natural resource potential expected in the South China Sea, refer to the website of the Energy Information Administration:

[14] Methane hydrate presents as ice crystals with natural methane gas locked inside. They are found primarily on the edge of continental shelves where the seabed drops sharply into the ocean floor. For a map of potential reserves and additional information on this hydrocarbon, please go to:

[15] More about the methane hydrate potential in the South China Sea:

[16] After a standoff with China in the South China Sea, the Philippines renamed the waters off its coast into West Philippine Sea. More about this story:

[17] Halfort Mackinder wrote in his book “Democratic Ideals and Reality: A Study in the Politics of Reconstruction”: “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World.”

[18] The new type of great power relations (新型大国关系) was the issue of many discussions including: and

2 civilians dead in latest BIFF attack

From the Philippine Star (Jun 19): 2 civilians dead in latest BIFF attack

The military on Friday endorsed to the Maguindanao police for resolution Wednesday’s fatal ambush of two commuters by guerillas led by the son of the deceased Ameril Umbra Kato.

The fatalities were riding a White Toyota Innova en route to Cotabato City when they were attacked by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) while at Kapok area in Barangay Pamalian in Shariff Saidona town in the second district of Maguindanao.

Captain Joan Petinglay, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the incident is a typical case of “rido,” which means clan war in most Moro vernaculars, between the victims and their attackers.

Local folks have confirmed that the ambushers were led by Salah, son of BIFF founder Kato, who passed away two months ago after a long bout with diabetes and hypertension.

Members of the municipal peace and order councils in Shariff Saidona and nearby towns said witnesses saw Salah lead the gunmen that shot the victims’ car with assault rifles.

“It’s a case of 'rido’ so it’s a police matter. Even so, our intelligence units will help the police investigate on the incident,” Petinglay said.

Local officials said Salah is an emerging leader of a new faction in the BIFF, which fragmented into different smaller blocs, due to differences among its commanders, even before Kato’s demise.

Soldier shot dead, 2 others hurt in Maguindanao

From the Philippine Star (Jun 19): Soldier shot dead, 2 others hurt in Maguindanao

Moro bandits on Friday shot dead a soldier and wounded two of his companions in Datu Piang, Maguindanao.

The incident was preceded by the fatal ambush a day earlier of two civilians in Barangay Pamalian in Shariff Saidona town, about 6 kilometers away.

The slain soldier belongs to the Army’s 22nd Mechanized Company, a unit the 2nd Mechanized Battalion, which has jurisdiction over the adjoining Datu Piang, Salibo and Datu Saudi towns in the second district of Maguindanao.

The victims were riding motorcycles on their way to their roadside detachment in Barangay Magaslong southeast of Datu Piang from the town market when they were attacked by gunmen that emerged from one side of the road and opened fire with pistols and assault rifles.

One of the four soldiers attacked died on the spot while two others who sustained gunshot wounds in different parts of their bodies managed to escape and ask help from companions guarding an Army outpost nearby.

Local officials said BIFF bandits were behind the attack.

Sayyaf demands P17-M ransom for captive Sibugay mayor?

From the Philippine Star (Jun 20): Sayyaf demands P17-M ransom for captive Sibugay mayor?

Police are verifying reports the Abu Sayyaf has demanded a multimillion-peso ransom for the release of the mayor of Naga town in Zamboanga Sibugay.

Senior Superintendent Jose Bayani Gucela said they received various reports that the kidnappers have demanded between P10 million and P17 million from the family of Gemma Adana.

“It is unclear whether the demand is confirmed because various groups were calling the victim’s family,” Gucela said.

He said the victim’s family has also limited the release of information, citing the sensitivity of the case.

Gucela said he was not aware if negotiations for Adana’s release are underway.

Adana was seized at her house in Barangay Taytay Manubo on April 6.

Authorities said Adana is being held by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.

Visaya, others get promoted

The Standard (Jun 20): Visaya, others get promoted

Southern Luzon Command commander Major General Ricardo Visaya will receive his three-star rank of lieutenant general this weekend or early next week, after President Benigno Aquino III approved his promotion along with those of other senior officers.

Aquino signed Visaya’s promotion Thursday despite alleged efforts to stop his promotion because of reports that he was going to replace outgoing Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr.

Catapang is set to reach the mandatory retirement age of 56 on the third week of July.

Also promoted to the next higher rank are Intelligence Services of the AFP chief Brigadier General Arnold Quiapo and 1st Infantry Division Commander Gerry Barrientos, both classmates of Visaya at the Philippine Military Academy’s Class “Matikas” of 1983.

Two other classmates of Visaya, Colonels Bobet Moog and Joel Celino, were promoted to brigadier general.

Aside from Visaya, other contenders for the military top post are Philippine Air Force chief Lieutenant General Jeffrey Delgado (PMA “Sandigan” Class of 1982) and Army chief Lt. Gen. Hernando Irriberi (PMA 1983).

Both Visaya and Delgado have personal ties with Aquino, having been presidential security aides before.

Irriberi is believed to be close to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

Irriberi was facing criminal and administrative charges before the Office of the Ombudsman for delaying the delivery of three ammunition contracts worth P97.8 million of a supplier, who has been seeking for his preventive suspension.

There is also talk that Irriberi will be kicked upstairs and named AFP vice chief of staff when Lt. Gen. John Bonafos retires this August.

3 provinces want out of Bangsamoro area

From The Standard (Jun 20): 3 provinces want out of Bangsamoro area

THREE provinces and four cities want out of the Bangsamoro territory as they are being “compelled to be part of it against their will,” officials of the Philippine Constitution Association and two administration lawmakers said Friday.

The provinces of Palawan, Zamboanga and Lanao del Norte and the cities of Palawan, Zamboanga, Cotabato and Isabela had already voted No four times to reject their inclusion in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Philconsa president and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said.

Palawan Rep. Frederick Abueg and Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat have demanded that the House plenary declare in the controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law the explicit exclusion of the province and city of Palawan and the province and city of Zamboanga from the Bangsamoro political entity.

Philconsa officials also denounced the government’s decision to “expand the core territories by compelling these areas to be part of the Bangsamoro territory against their will.”

“The BBL also expanded the core territories that included the cities of Cotabato and Isabela and the province of Lanao del Norte against their will,” Romualdez said.

Abueg and Lobregat claim that their provinces and cities have already voted an overwhelming No in the plebiscites for the ARMM.

“These provinces and cities all voted No four times but the results of the voting were not included in the BBL,” said Romualdez, the leader of the House Independent Minority Bloc.

“The people of Palawan vehemently oppose the inclusion of the Province of Palawan and the City of Puerto Princesa in the Bangsamoro Entity,” said Abueg, the author of House Resolution 2130 seeking the province’s exclusion from the Bangsamoro political entity.

Abueg and Lobregat have been listed among the 33 lawmakers that will interpellate the sponsors, led by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the House special ad hoc committee on the BBL.

Abueg also said that in the past committee meetings of the Ad Hoc panel, he had already moved and raised the deletion of the phrase “including Palawan” in the definition of “Bangsamoro people” in Section 1, Article II of the BBL, originally House Bill 4994 that is now HB 5811, the substitute bill.

Just like Abueg, Lobregat wants to insert the provision “except Zamboanga City,” but his motion was lost in the 75-member and Liberal Party-dominated panel.

Romualdez and Philconsa chairman and former Justice Manuel Lazaro came out with a 74-page study that found some of the provisions in the BBL to be “legally infirm.”

“We have done so in the past and we shall do so again: the people of Palawan consistently resist the inclusion of the province in any entity, such as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, in four successive plebiscites held during the time of then Presidents Marcos, Aquino and Ramos, wherein the negative votes there from cast were more than eighty-five percent of the total voters,” Abueg insisted.

 “Considering the recent developments on the BBL, it is surprising when particular provisions, which have already been amended during the previous deliberations, were reflected in the latest working draft of the Bangsamoro bill,” the Palawan lawmaker said.

 In the Philconsa study, Romualdez and Lazaro said the municipalities of Balai, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan, and Tangkal in the province of Lanao del Norrte and all other barangays in the municipalities of Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit and Midsayap voted No to ARMM inclusion.

PHL won’t allow dispute to turn into a war with China —Palace

From GMA News (Jun 19): PHL won’t allow dispute to turn into a war with China —Palace

Malacañang on Friday sought to allay the fear voiced out by most Filipinos in a recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) that the dispute over territories in the South China Sea will result in a war with China.

At a press briefing, deputy presidential spokesperson Usec. Abigail Valte said the government will not let the sea row escalate into a full-blown armed conflict.

"Iyon din ang iniingatan ng pamahalaan na ayaw nating magkakaroon ng insidenteng magkakaroon ng tendency to escalate,” Valte told reporters.

"Kapag nag-escalate iyan, paano na ang magiging epekto niyan hindi lang sa mga sundalong humaharap sa panganib kundi pati na rin sa mga ordinaryong taong tulad natin?” she added.

Valte said that it is but “natural” for Filipinos to fear war.

"It will be unnatural if you don’t worry about armed conflict because in an armed conflict, no one wins,” she said.

On Thursday, an SWS survey conducted in March showed that 84 percent of Filipinos are worried "about armed conflict with China in the disputed islands of Scarborough Shoal.”

The Scarborough Shoal off the coast of Zambales, known locally as Panatag Shoal, was the site of an incident involving the Chinese Coast Guard and Filipino fishermen in April.

In 2012, Chinese and Philippine vessels were engaged in a standoff in the same shoal when the Philippine Navy tried to apprehend Chinese vessels fishing in the area.

‘PHL pursuing right tracks'

The same poll also showed that 49 percent strongly or somewhat approve of Philippine government’s actions to address its territorial dispute with China.

The administration still believes it is pursuing the right approach to the sea row.

"Sa ating paniniwala, tama pa rin po ang mga track na kinukuha natin,” Valte said.

The Palace official added that the Philippines cannot resort to “direct action” to solve its territorial spat with China.

"It is not unknown to us that there are some who favor direct action. When I say kapag nagkakaroon ng incident, ng harapan, gusto nila parang ituloy na or maging agresibo,” Valte said.

"Sa paniniwala naman ng ating pangulo at ng ating administrasyon, it is in the nation’s best interest if we continue to adopt a peaceful manner of addressing the disputes that we have,” she added.

Manila and Beijing have been locked in a territorial dispute over resource-rich parts of the South China Sea over the past years.

China uses its so-called “nine-dash line” theory to assert ownership of almost the entire South China Sea, while the Philippines uses the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as its basis for its claim.

The Philippines, which calls the disputed areas the “West Philippine Sea,” has already sought international arbitration before a Netherlands-based tribunal to nullify China’s massive claims over South China Sea. Oral arguments on the case will begin next month.

Beijing, however, has refused to participate in the arbitration proceedings, insisting instead on bilateral talks to settle the dispute.

SC asked to junk peace deal with MILF

From Business World (Jun 19): SC asked to junk peace deal with MILF

TWO SEPARATE petitions were filed on Friday before the Supreme Court challenging the legal standing of the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The Philippine Constitution Association and former Negros Oriental 1st District Rep. Jacinto V. Paras separately asked the high court to declare the 2012 Framework Agreeement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) unconstitutional.

The FAB and the CAB were the peace deals struck with the MILF paving the way for the replacement of the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with the proposed Bangsamoro political entity, which has greater devolved governing powers and revenue share from the use of its resources.

The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which enacts the agreements’ provisions, is itself currently mired in controversy as it faces constitutional questions during Congress deliberations.

In its 30-page petition for certiorari, Philconsa also asked the high court to stop the Department of Budget and Management from releasing funds to implement FAB, CAB and related acts, including the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The group also asked that the Commission on Audit be ordered to disallow the expenses of the government peace panel.

They added that the peace panel should be admonished “to be more prudent and cautious in dealing with the amorphous, self-styled entity (referring to the MILF), exclusively to the exclusion of other Muslims, Christians and Lumads.”

Philconsa was led by its President, Leyte 1st District Rep. Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez, and former Senator Francisco S. Tatad. Joining the petition were former national security adviser Norberto B. Gonzales, and Archbishops Ramon C. Arguelles (Lipa), Fernando R. Capalla (Davao) and Romulo T. de la Cruz (Zamboanga).

The petitioners said that the “conduct of the peace process itself is flawed” because it violated the Executive Order No. 125 provision for the negotiators to be assisted by a panel of advisers.

The chief negotiators, now-Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen and his successor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, were also accused of “usurping a power they did not have” by committing to provisions that would cause amendments in the 1987 Constitution and in existing laws.

Apart from flagging several provisions violating the Constitution, the petition noted only the First Congress had the power to create the ARMM.

“In agreeing to replace the ARMM with the Bangsamoro, in violation of the Constitution and existing laws, without first amending the Constitution and pertinent laws, the FAB and the CAB have caused undue injury to the Government and inflicted a fatal wound upon the Constitution,” it added.

“Constitutionally, it is nothing but a band of amorphous rebels,” read the petition.

Since the FAB and CAB should be declared unconstitutional, all subsequent acts and issuance arising from them, like the draft BBL, are “odious and treacherous violations of the 1987 Constitution, the group said.

Mr. Romualdez, who leads Philconsa, is the cousin of Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr., who leads the Senate committee tackling its version of the BBL.

The petition impleaded the Philippine government peace panel, led by Mr. Leonen, who executed the FAB, and current chief negotiator Ms. Coronel-Ferrer, who executed the CAB.

Also named as respondents were: the MILF as represented by chief negotiator Mohagher Q. Iqbal, DBM Secretary Florencio B. Abad, and CoA.


Mr. Paras, for his part, named only Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Q. Deles and the four government peace panel members -- Ms. Coronel-Ferrer, Senen C. Bacani, Yasmin Busran-Lao, and Mehol K. Sadain -- as respondents in his separate 35-page petition for certiorari.

Although he did not implead Mr. Leonen, he said the justice should voluntary inhibit from the case “considering that prior to his appointment to the Supreme Court, [he] signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which is one of the official documents assailed in this case.”

Mr. Paras’ petition similarly argued the peace panel abused its discretion by usurping the “sole discretionary power” of the Congress to propose constitutional amendments.

He also said the negotiators failed to conduct consultations with the people affected by the agreement.

He argued that the agreements also contained provisions similar to that of the 2008 Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which was forged by the previous administration with the MILF but was junked by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

Mr. Paras said the agreements should be ripe for judgment since the Supreme Court entertained numerous petitions against the MOA-AD in 2008 even if it was not yet signed.

Asked if the bill’s progress will be hampered by the legal challenges, House Speaker Feliciano R. Belmonte, Jr., said: “Not at all, unless SC rules against it.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail F. Valte said the “government will be ready to answer once the Supreme Court directs us to do so.”

“It is interesting that these challenges to the FAB and CAB come at this time, more than a year after both were signed,” said Ms. Valte.

Apart from the two new petitions, the International Ministries for Perfect and Party Against Communism and Terrorism Inc. (Imppact) -- led by lawyer Elly V. Pamatong -- lodged a petition against FAB in December 2012, even as the government and the MILF had yet to come out with the annexes of the October 2012 framework agreement.

Army intensifies drive vs NPA rebels in Davao City

From Business Mirror (Jun 19): Army intensifies drive vs NPA rebels in Davao City

TWO New People’s Army guerrillas were killed, while five others were wounded in a firefight between rebels and government troops in Davao City on Thursday.
The gun battle on Thursday was the fourth in Manga, Paquibato District, Davao City, since Monday. Five soldiers were wounded in Thursday’s encounter.
The troops recovered ammunition for high-powered firearms and backpacks after the encounter, the Armed Forces Eastern Mindanao Command chief, Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, said.
Baladad said troops from the Army’s 69th Infantry Battalion were on security patrol at Manga, Paquibato District, Davao City, when they were fired upon by the rebels at around 3:45 p.m.
During the firefight, two rebels were killed, while five others were wounded.
Five soldiers were also wounded.  “The soldiers suffered minor shrapnel wounds and are now in stable condition,” Baladad said, adding that the identities of the killed rebels were still being determined.
Lt. Col. Rodney Intal, 69th Infantry Battalion commander, said he ordered more security patrols in Paquibato District following reports of regular sightings of communist rebels in the area.

3 Abu Sayyaf members arrested in Palawan

From ABS-CBN (Jun 19): 3 Abu Sayyaf members arrested in Palawan

Three suspected members of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) operating in the Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-tawi (BASULTA) area were arrested in Sitio Bagong Buhay, Barangay Sumbiling in Bataraza, Palawan Thursday.

Colonel Alan Arrojado, commander of Joint Task Group Sulu, identified the three suspected bandits as Alnaser Sawadjaan, Jardin Hajuli, and Alig Pandah. All three are from Sulu.

The three were invited for questioning during a joint patrol of policemen and soldiers in Barangay Sumbiling after they acted suspiciously.

After further investigation, it was revealed that the three are allegedly active members of ASG, under the command of ASG sub-commander Muammar Askali.

Askali has been involved in some kidnapping incidents in Zamboanga and Sulu, including the abduction of two German nationals, Stefan Viktor Okonek, and Henrite Dielen in 2014.

He was also tagged in the twin explosions in Sulu police headquarters last month, where at least 17 policemen and civilians were wounded.

Sawadjaan is the son of former ASG sub-commander Jul Asman Sawadjaan, who was involved in the abduction of Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani and his Filipino crew in June 2012. Atyani was released after 18 months in captivity.

Arrojado said a caliber .45 pistol was recovered from one of the three suspects.

He added that the three may have been planning to abduct a certain individual in Palawan, monitoring the target's daily routine when they were arrested.

The three suspects are currently under the custody of the police for further interrogation.

Philippine Islamists reject BBL

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jun 18): Philippine Islamists reject BBL

LANAO DEL SUR – Alleged Filipino supporters and sympathizers of the Islamic State or ISIS in southern Philippines have flatly rejected the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law or BBL that would replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

An influential Muslim preacher, Jamil Yahya, along with dozens of his followers, also said they will not support the BBL which is part of the peace agreement signed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Aquino government last year.

Yahya said the Shari’ah laws should be fully sourced and implemented based on the teachings and practices of Prophet Mohammad called Sunnah and the interpretations of the Islamic holy Qur’an, and not the provisions in the BBL.

The elderly preacher is reported to have the support of many MILF commanders who are pursuing Muslim independence in Mindanao.

MILF’s spokesperson Von Al Haq denied the reports and said it was meant to discredit and break the BBL to derail the peace process. Al Haq said he had met with MILF field commanders and all expressed their loyalty to the former rebel group, their leaders headed by Murad Ebrahim and the peace process.

Abdullah Macapaar alias Commander Bravo, a senior MILF leader, said their current “Amerul Mujahideen” is Ebrahim and they will support him whatever the outcome of the peace process.

The MILF has been pushing for the approval and ratification of the BBL and other provisions stipulated in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro, including the establishment of the new Bangsamoro autonomous region.

According to field members of the MILF in Munai town of Lanao del Norte, two of their “sub-leaders” identified only as Abu Ansari and Abu Arafat had attended a clandestine meeting in Marawi City in Lanao del Sur province allegedly called by Yahya, a popular cleric there.

Yahya was originally a member of the MILF’s board of committee based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and left the organization before returning back to the country. Aside from being a member of pro-Osama Bin Laden organizations such as Maradeka and the Bangsamoro Supreme Council of the Ulama, he is also affiliated with a shadowy Filipino-Muslim organization abroad called Bangsamoro Labor Organization.

Last year, Yahya along with masked men identified later as members of the another shadowy group called Khilafah Islamiyah Movement, locally known as Ghuraba, were able to lure some 100 civilians, including women and children, and reportedly pledged their allegiance to ISIS.

The reports on Yahya could not be independently confirmed, although various independent sources claimed the issue on the controversial BBL was the main reason for the disillusionment of many Muslim tribes in the restive South.

CARAT 2015 formally opens on Monday; 600 American and Filipino military personnel to participate

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 19): CARAT 2015 formally opens on Monday; 600 American and Filipino military personnel to participate

This year's Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises, which take place off Palawan waters, will formally open Monday afternoon with 600 American and Filipino military personnel slated to take part in the bilateral naval maneuvers.

CARAT 2015 public affairs office chief Lt. Liezl Vidallon said the opening ceremonies will take place at 1:30 p.m. at Naval Station Apolinario Jalandoni in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.

Three-hundred Philippine Navy (PN) sailors will be taking part in the drills along with another 300 from the United States Navy.

CARAT 2015 had its soft-opening last June 18. It is expected to last until June 30.

Filipino ships participating in the 12-day activity include the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15) and the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), one AW-109 "Power" helicopter, an Islander aircraft, a Naval Special Operations team, one Marine company and a naval mobile construction battalion.

The American side will be fielding the USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), USS Safeguard (ARS-50), a Lockheed P-3 "Orion" maritime patrol aircraft, a naval expeditionary combat training command, training teams, riverine, EODs and Seabees.

Meanwhile, the latest class of American warship, the USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), a "littoral combat ship," will be making its first appearance at CARAT 2015.

The LCS-3 is a class of relatively small surface vessels intended for operations in the littoral zone (close to shore) by the United States Navy.

It was "envisioned to be a networked, agile, stealthy surface combatant capable of defeating anti-access and asymmetric threats in the littorals."

The USS Fort Worth, along with the PN's BRP Gregorio Del Pilar and BRP Ramon Alcaraz, two ex-Hamilton class cutters acquired in 2011 and 2012, respectively, will be conducting gunnery exercises this coming June 21 or 22 in the east side of Palawan.

Littoral combat ships (LCSs) have the capabilities of a small assault transport, including a flight deck and hangar for housing two SH-60 or MH-60 Seahawk helicopters, a stern ramp for operating small boats, and the cargo volume and payload to deliver a small assault force with fighting vehicles to a roll-on/roll-off port facility.

Standard armaments include Mark 110 57 mm guns and "rolling airframe missiles" (the American RIM 116 small, lightweight, infrared homing surface-to-air missile.)

The USS Fort Worth was commissioned on Sept. 22, 2012.

Vidallon said the maneuvers have nothing to do with the ongoing tensions between the Philippines and China at the West Philippine Sea.

Aside from the gunnery exercises, Filipino and American sailors will also conduct helicopter crash and salvage drills, deck-landing qualifications, visit, board, search-and-seizure and weapon system training.

Vidallon added that Filipino naval personnel will also get a chance to see first-hand a "rolling, airframe missile".

"They will be introducing the weapon to our sailors for familiarization purposes," she stressed.

Vidallon said the 12-day exercise aims to enhance the inter-operability between the USN and the PN.

"Furthermore, it will strengthen both navies’ combined capabilities in amphibious operations, special operations, surface warfare, and modern naval warfare; enhance information sharing; and will promote relationship and goodwill," she added.

(Special Report) PN remains committed to fulfilling mandate despite challenges in WPS

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 19): (Special Report) PN remains committed to fulfilling mandate despite challenges in WPS

Despite increasing incidents of Chinese assertiveness at the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), the country's naval force remains committed to fulfilling its security mandate and sovereignty in the disputed waterways.

This was stressed by Philippine Navy (PN) flag-officer-in-charge Vice Admiral Jesus C. Millan in reply to the Philippines News Agency when asked whether the Navy intends to continue its sovereignty patrols in the wake of continued Chinese aggressiveness in the WPS as proven by their ongoing reclamation activities and incidents of aircraft challenge.

"The Navy will continue to perform our security mandates to protect the Philippine sovereignty and (territorial) integrity," Millan said.

"And our units are fully aware of the challenges in the maritime environment. We are continuously sending our aircraft and ships to perform their regular missions," he stressed.

However, the PN chief said that all of their units are directed to avoid actions/miscalculations that would affect stability in the area.

"Our troops were told to exercise diligent actions to support Philippine (track) to peacefully resolve (the) issues. We will sustain our deployed fleet and marine units in the WPS," Millan added.

In support of this, Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson Dr. Peter Paul Galvez earlier said that the country is committed in maintaining its "moral high ground" despite ongoing Chinese reclamations and other construction activities at disputed portions of the West Philippine Sea.

This means that the Philippines will not conduct activities that are detrimental to the 2002 Declaration of Conduct between ASEAN and China which prohibits parties from constructing new facilities in disputed areas.

Galvez said that the Philippines will continue to be transparent in all its actions at the disputed territory.

He added that China will have the capability to maintain and sustain large military aircraft once it completes its airstrip at Fiery Cross (Kagitingan Reef).

"I'm not so sure (on the state of the airstrip's completion), they were saying that it's like 75 percent, I'm not so sure on how long it is but its already more than halfway, they were saying that it is three kilometers long approximately, (with that length), it can (handle) large aircraft, like cargo and military ones," he added.

Once they had that kind of facility, the DND spokesperson said China will have the capability to maintain and sustain such aircraft which will be likely a cause of concern for all nations having overlapping claims in the West Philippine Sea.

"If they can sustain maintain (that) airfield they can put there a jet anytime and you know it can be (used) in enforcing (an) ADIZ (air defense identification zone) anytime," Galvez stressed.

The DND spokesperson earlier said that Chinese continued and aggressive action is creating a lot of speculations among nations having overlapping claims in the above-mentioned waterways.

China is conducting reclamation and building activities in seven locations in the West Philippine Sea.

To ease down the tensions, Galvez said China should stop all construction activities and dismantle all facilities it has set up on the disputed areas.

Army official welcomes probe into massacre incident in Davao village

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 18):  Army official welcomes probe into massacre incident in Davao village

The commanding general of the Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division is ready for the City Council investigation on the alleged massacre of three civilians in Barangay Paradise Embac, Paquibato District last Sunday as it would ferret out the truth on the relations of the New People’s Army (NPA) and the legal fronts.

“Ako ay tuwang-tuwa sa imbestigasyon (I am very happy). I am happy,” 10th ID chief Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año said during the AFP-PNP Press Corps at the Royal Mandaya Hotel on Wednesday.

The Davao City Council on Tuesday declared it will investigate the incident which the Karapatan human rights group claimed as massacre that killed three civilians and wounding of a 12-year old child of peasant leader, Aida Seisa. Año insisted it was a legitimate encounter.

He also disclosed that they are also filing charges against Seisa, the owner of the house where the rebels stayed, for obstruction of justice and possession of explosives and firearms.

Año said Seisa, who is the secretary-general of Paquibato District Peasant Alliance (PADIPA), has been facilitating needs of the NPA including medical treatment of the wounded rebels.

Año was amused why the militant groups easily claim that NPA rebels killed in encounter are identified as civilians as he stood firm that the incident was a legitimate encounter.

He said they even recovered M14 rifles, two Improvised Explosive Device (IED), two grenades and other materials in the encounter site. He added that in the investigation of the Scene of the Crime Operation (SOCO) the slain rebels identified as Ruben Enlog, Randy Carnasa and Garyo Quimbo have gun powder burns indicating they also fired their arms.

Año said Enlog was no longer an IP datu after he was replaced by the lumads there due to his involvement in the activities of the NPA. He said Enlog was instrumental to the joining of seven lumads to the NPA rebels.

Año welcomed the investigation so the truth will come out. He said it will be a venue for them to prove that the persons slain in the encounter with the 69th Infantry Battalion were really regular members of the NPA.

Karapatan however wanted to probe the incident which they claimed as an attack on Aida Seisa. It was learned that Seisa, a peasant leader was also one of the targets of the military. Karapatan reported that one of Seisa's children was wounded and not provided immediate medical aid.

The 10th ID reported that the troops recovered at the encounter site one M14 Rifle, two landmines, two hand grenades, three backpacks, empty shells of cal 5.56mm and 7.62mm ammunitions and subversive documents. No one was hurt among the government troops.

Hanimay Suazo of KARAPATAN-SMR, claimed that after strafing the bodies of the three victims they were brought to the central area of the community and were photographed with guns and explosives by their side to falsely show that they were members of the NPA.

Suazo said the incident happened only a few days after a fact-finding mission was conducted in Paquibato by several concerned organizations.

“We have just wrapped up a fact-finding mission in Sitio Quimotod in Paquibato, where we documented bombings and harassments of the populace by the 69th IB. A few days after, state forces massacre civilians, adding up to their already long list of human rights violations,” Suazo said.

Año denied the accusation. He stressed that the army troop went to the area after receiving information from the civilians on the presence of Leonardo Pitao alias kumander Parago in the house of Aida Seisa. He said the troop wanted to serve the warrants of arrest for Parago and Nelson Algo alias "Upaw, who are both facing a string of cases, but they were met with gun shots.

He further claimed that Randy Carnasa was a member of Bayan Militia, while the other two were party members of the NPA.

“Gusto namin na mag imbestiga ang city council para malaman ng lahat kung bakit nasa bahay ni Aida Seisa ang grupo ni Kumander Parago, They are not civilians, they are armed and they are NPA, alam ng grupong Karapatan yan (We wanted the city council to investigate for everybody to know why they the group of Kumander Parago were in the house of Aida Seisa,” Año said.

When asked if it was a legitimate function of the military to serve the warrants of arrest, Año said it was a citizen’s army and it was the call of time since there was presence of the rebels wanted by law.

Año said there was also coordination with the police under the joint security conference.

Davao City Police Office (DCPO) spokesperson, Sr. Inspector Milgrace Driz said the army is allowed to serve the warrants of arrest because they are also law enforcers. Driz said they can return the warrants of arrest to the court.

Driz confirmed there was prior joint coordinating conference between the army and the Philippine National Police (PNP) prior to the operation.