Friday, October 30, 2015

Australia confirms Philippines' acquisition of three ex-RAN landing craft

From IHS Janes Navy International (Oct 27): Australia confirms Philippines' acquisition of three ex-RAN landing craft


HMAS Balikpapan during a beach landing in the Comoro district of Timor-Leste while in service with the RAN. The vessel, along with two other LCHs, is to be acquired by the Philippines. Source: Commonwealth of Australia

Key Points
  • Australia and the Philippines are finalising the sale of three decommissioned RAN landing craft to the Philippines
  • The acquisition will bolster the Philippine Navy's HADR capabilities
The Australian Department of Defence (DoD) has confirmed to IHS Jane's that it is in the final stages of negotiations with the Philippines government over the acquisition of three former Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Balikpapan-class landing craft (LCH).

The vessels, formerly known as HMAS Wewak (L 130), HMAS Betano (L 133), and HMAS Balikpapan (L 126), were retired from RAN service in December 2012. Two other retired ships of the class, the former HMAS Brunei (L 127) and HMAS Tarakan (L 129), were donated to the Philippines government and recommissioned as BRP Ivatan (AT298) and BRP Batak (AT299) respectively in July 2015.

In his annual state of the nation address delivered on 27 July 2015, Philippines president Benigno Aquino reiterated his wish for the Philippine Navy (PN) to operate three more of the 45 m LCHs and indicated that his administration was moving ahead with the necessary paperwork for the transfer, although it was not immediately clear at that time if the vessels would be donated or sold by the Australian government.

"Defence can confirm that these are acquisitions", a DoD spokesperson told IHS Jane's on 28 October. However, the DoD has not given further details on the acquisition, including the contract value or the expected date of completion.

According to IHS Jane's Amphibious and Special Forces , the LCH has a military lift capacity for three medium tanks or equivalent and a range of 3,000 n miles at 10 kt. Each landing craft can accommodate 13 crew including two officers. While in RAN service, the vessels were each equipped with two 12.7 mm machine guns.

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IED, explosive components found in Sulu cemetery

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 31): IED, explosive components found in Sulu cemetery

Troopers from Joint Task Group Sulu, conducting paneling operations, have discovered a suspected improvised explosive device (IED) at the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Jolo Saturday.

Paneling refers to the search for bombs and explosive devices.

The IED and a 10-liter plastic container filled with ammonium nitrate along with a cellphone detonator was discovered 7 a.m. by K-9 and explosive ordnance disposal teams from the 2nd Marine Brigade.

Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, Joint Task Group Sulu commander, said the items were found inside a bag.

The items were exploded 8:20 a.m. and the shards brought to Kutang Heneral Teodulfo Bautista in Jolo for inspection.

Paneling operations are still ongoing as of this posting.

Opinion (Letter-to-the-Editor): Makabayan’s silence on Otaza killings

Letter-to-the editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct 31): Makabayan’s silence on Otaza killings

The rebel group New People’s Army (NPA) has owned up to the killing of Mayor Dario Otaza of Loreto town, Agusan del Sur, and his son. It was a brutal and merciless criminal violation of law, for which the NPA should be held liable and punished.

But one thing I noticed when this news came out, no one from the Makabayan bloc, especially Karapatan and Bayan Muna, condemned the crime and called for justice for the two lumad. Where are these groups and their leaders? They say they are fighting for people’s rights. They have been saying this for the past several months in the media, and even used the #stoplumadkillings on Twitter. But on the killing of the Otazas, we haven’t heard a word from them.

If these groups are really fighting for the lumad and their rights, why haven’t they stepped out and marched for justice for the lumad mayor and his son?

Here is a clear violation of the rights of two indigenous people. The NPA killed the mayor and his son simply because the former, himself a former rebel, was helping and supporting fellow lumad who want to lead peaceful lives. Mayor Otaza was a role model. He was an inspiration to many fellow lumad, espousing advocacies and pursuing projects that benefited lumad communities.

The NPA also killed the son who could have continued the mayor’s good works. The NPA stole the young Otaza’s future.

Is this what the NPA rebels want for our country? Blood and violence?

As a teacher, I have a big dream not only for my students but also for our society. I am striving hard to educate my students for them to have a better future. I don’t want their lives ruined or stained with blood, or destroyed by lies and a selfish ideology.


Army man shot dead while buying food in Camarines Sur town

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct 31): Army man shot dead while buying food in Camarines Sur town

NAGA CITY—An Army soldier has been shot dead at 9:40 a.m. Saturday by still unidentified assailant in Barangay (village) Pag-oring Nuevo in Libmanan town in Camarines Sur while he was buying food at the village center, police reports said.

Superintendent Jeff Araojo, chief of the Libamanan police, said the slain soldier, identified only as “Private First Class Caceres,” was dead on the spot.

The soldier belonged to the Charlie Company of the 42nd Infantry Battalion, 9th Infantry Division based in Tigaon, Camarines Sur.

Araojo said they have coordinated with the Philippine Army for the police investigation on the slaying.

No anti-China group, Washington declares

From The Standard (Oct 30): No anti-China group, Washington declares

The US said  Wednesday  there is no anti-China bloc despite the support from several countries in the region for its recent military maneuvers in the South China Sea.

In a press briefing, US State Department Press Secretary John Kirby noted that five out of the seven US treaty alliances are in the Asia-Pacific region.

“So we have serious commitments there, and they are not aimed at China. They are aimed at trying to decrease tensions and preserve stability, because that region is so vital to the rest of the world economically alone, but on other levels as well,” Kirby said.

Earlier this week, the USS Lassen, a guided missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of at least one of the land formations claimed by China in the disputed Spratly Islands chain early  Tuesday. The move infuriated Beijing, which denounced the move as a threat to its sovereignty.
US State Department Press Secretary John Kirby
But Kirby said the operation was not aimed at provoking China.

“Freedom of the seas is a fundamental principle which must be protected, and that is one of the reasons the US Navy exists,” he said. “They are operations in international waters and they are not meant to be nor should they be perceived to be by anybody as provocative.”

The US “rebalance” toward the Asia-Pacific region is not aimed against any one nation, he added.

“It’s about preserving our own national security interests in that part of the world, the national security interests of our allies and partners,” Kirby said.

The White House reiterated that its military operation in the South China Sea was in accordance with international law.

“Our policies are intended to advance our strategic objectives in the Asia-Pacific region, including on maritime issues. This includes protecting the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law,” said White House Deputy Secretary Eric Schultz.

“As the President stated, I believe in front of all of you that the United States is going to fly, sail, and operate anywhere where international law allows,” he added.

In Manila, militant groups scored President Benigno Aquino III for his inaction in the arms race between China and the United States, and promised mass protest actions against the two superpowers when they arrive in the Philippines for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in November.

“The Aquino government has shown itself to be unreliable when it comes to defending national sovereignty as its plans revolve around seeking US support and bringing back US bases to the country in exchange for false promises of support under a questionable Mutual Defense Treaty,” Renato Reyes Jr., secretary-general of Bayan, said in a statement.

Reyes also slammed the two superpowers for their continuous incursions over the disputed Philippine territory.

“We oppose in no uncertain terms the illegal occupation and reclamation activities of China in the West Philippine Sea. We condemn their continuing incursions in our country’s exclusive economic zone and their harassment of Filipino fishermen. We denounce their absurd claims over 90 percent of the South China Sea,” Reyes said.

“We likewise oppose the continuing military intervention of the US in the West Philippine Sea dispute. The US is using the dispute to justify its military pivot to Asia. The US wants to assert itself as a Pacific power and use its military might as leverage for economic dictates. It is no coincidence that the US maneuvers in the West Philippine Sea come less than a month before the Apec meeting in Manila where other claimants in the maritime dispute will be present. The maneuvers are a pre-Apec show of force by the US.”

The disputed waters of the South China Sea—claimed in part by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and others—have become the stage for a burgeoning tussle between the world’s two largest economic and military powers as they struggle for regional dominance.

Australia’s Defense Minister Marise Payne said after  Tuesday’s  incident she supported the Americans’ right to freedom of navigation under international law, but added that Canberra was not involved in the US action.

A spokesman for Payne  on Thursday  said that contrary to reports, two Royal Australian Navy ships would still take part in exercises with their Chinese counterparts off the southeastern Chinese coast near the disputed Spratly Islands.

“HMAS ships Stuart and Arunta will visit Zhanjiang, in Guangdong province, China, soon during their North Asia deployment,” the spokesman said in a statement.

The exercises are expected to start in the coming days, although no precise dates were given.

The Australian Navy last conducted live-fire naval exercises with China in 2010.
Australia is a key Pacific ally of the United States and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said this month after talks in Washington the two nations were “on the same page” over the issue of freedom of navigation in the seas and skies.

Recently appointed Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in September China should ease off island construction in the South China Sea if it wanted a reduced US presence in the region.

Sea dispute also raises question of air zone

From the Business World (Oct 29): Sea dispute also raises question of air zone

AS THE BATTLE for control of the South China Sea heats up, Beijing’s struggle to assert its authority over another disputed waterway may prove instructive.
China has been warning planes away from reefs it reclaimed in the South China Sea, and has said it reserves the right to announce an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the area. It’s expected to boost its military presence after the United States this week sailed a warship into the 12-nautical mile zone around China’s man-made islands. But controlling the seas may prove easier for China than controlling the air, according to observers, even after the US incursion and with further patrols expected. The US warship did not venture far inside the 12-mile zone, where China’s coast guard is practiced in providing a ring of deterrence.

China has already faced difficulty enforcing an air defense identification zone it set up two years back covering islands disputed with Japan in the East China Sea, which is closer to the Chinese mainland. Setting up and maintaining a zone over the much larger South China Sea -- which stretches along the coast of Vietnam, across to the Philippines and down to Singapore and Indonesia -- would be even harder.
“The South China Sea is a completely different beast,” said Li Jie, a senior researcher at the Chinese Naval Research Institute in Beijing. “The territorial disputes there involve many more countries, and if you take out a map, the topographic features are much more complex. It’d be more provocative in the eyes of the Americans.”


Since setting up the East China Sea air zone -- through which the United States swiftly flew B-52 bombers -- China has quietly stopped seeking to actively enforce it, according to military officials and policy advisers who have followed the issue. That’s despite initial warnings the military might use force against planes that failed to follow rules including the requirement to file flight plans.
The air zone is technically in operation in the sense China’s air force patrols it, but it has never taken “defensive emergency measures” set out in the initial announcement, which could include interceptions of planes.

The People’s Liberation Army lacks the ground-based air surveillance and a detailed joint operational plan between the air force and navy to “fully and effectively” administer the entire zone, according to a former senior PLA officer who spoke on condition of anonymity.
There are also strategic considerations: If China were to intercept aircraft that didn’t follow its rules, it could potentially risk a clash with a country like Japan, which has a well-trained, efficient air force, or the United States.

“It is my understanding that China has never sought to fully enforce the ADIZ as it pertains to military aircraft,” said Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “This is partly a function of insufficient capability,” she said. “It is also because China does not want a military confrontation with Japan.”

The initial announcement of the air zone brought some confusion. While the rules were supposed to apply to all aircraft entering the area, the defense ministry later said commercial flights by foreign airlines would not be affected.

Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways don’t report flight plans to China and haven’t done so for almost two years. They only reported their plans for several days in the aftermath of the zone’s announcement. JAL is not aware of any issues related to the non-filing of such plans, said Tokyo-based spokesman Jian Yang.


The ADIZ could have been conducted “in a more mature manner,” said Shen Dingli, associate dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. Beijing could have learned from the United States, the first country to set up an air defense zone in 1950 over North America, he said. The United States carried out a three-month pilot program beforehand.

The East China Sea zone only served to strengthen ties between Japan and the United States. Visiting Japan in April 2014, US President Barack H. Obama said the islands were covered by the US-Japan security treaty and the United States would oppose any attempt to undermine Japan’s control of them.
“This was a direct reaction to the Chinese announcement of the zone, and the Americans were effectively telling the Chinese: don’t do your zone, because I’m still no. 1 in the region,” said Mr. Shen.

Similarly, in the South China Sea, the United States might be compelled to assist another regional ally, the Philippines. Other Southeast Asian nation claimants to the South China Sea like Vietnam have drawn closer to the United States in recent years.

While the Chinese military has made advances in building its naval force in the last decade, including rolling out its first aircraft carrier, it also suffers serious weaknesses, according to a Rand Corp. report released earlier this year. The military has not fought a major war since a border fight with Vietnam in 1979.

That may not deter China given President Xi Jinping’s eagerness for the country to become a military power, something he has spoken of as a return to China’s natural state.

“The escalation in the South China Sea might be a blessing in disguise, and it can actually turn into a good thing,” said Colonel Liu Mingfu, a professor at China’s National Defense University. “It would help boost solidarity in the military, adding an extra sense of urgency to put in more effort to strengthen the navy, and drive home the point that economic development is not enough if China wants to become a true power.”

Both sides are likely to move carefully for the next few months, said June Teufel Dreyer, a University of Miami political science professor.
“But then China will push forward again, perhaps saying it was ‘forced’ to do so by some action, either by one of the claimants, perhaps Vietnam or the Philippines,” she said. “And the US will feel it has to do something in response. That’s when things could get dangerous.”

Lumads to AFP, NPA: Leave us alone

From the Philippine Star (Oct 30): Lumads to AFP, NPA: Leave us alone

A group claiming to represent 33 lumad (indigenous people) tribes in Mindanao on Friday urged the military and the rebel group New People's Army (NPA) to stop dragging them into their conflict and to respect their human rights and ancestral domain.

Jimid Mansayagan, a datu of the Aromanon Manobo tribe and a member of Lumad Mindanao, said indigenous peoples have suffered because of the clashes and the propaganda war between the armed forces and communist rebels.

"We are being used in a conflict that we do not know about," Mansayagan said in a press conference on Friday in Quezon City.

"We would like to inform the public about our plight. The system of divide and rule is being used not just by the military and the NPA but also by miners and local politicians. We are being treated as give-away’s," he added.

Mansayagan said the human rights of lumads are being violated because of the clashes. He said indigenous peoples are being labeled as "NPA member" or "military informant."

"Leave us alone. Do not use us in your (military and rebels) propaganda," he said.

"Both sides are committing abuses. We are not siding with anyone."

Mansayagan lamented that lumads are being manipulated in their own land.

"We are the owner of the house. We have visitors. Now the visitors are acting as if they are the owner of the house," he said.

"First you discriminate against us. Then you destroy us without killing us."

Fr. Albert Alejo, a Jesuit priest who advocates lumad rights, confirmed that indigenous peoples have been recruited by both the NPA and the military as combatants. He said lumads are being tapped as combatants because of their knowledge of the terrain.

"We should just let their culture and political structure flourish. The military and the NPA should not kill or recruit them."

Despite allegations that soldiers and paramilitary groups are killing lumads as part of the anti-insurgency drive, Mansayagan is not in favor of calls to pull out government troops in Mindanao.

"Our ancestral domain is part of the Philippine territory so the government has the right to put them there," he said, adding that he has observed positive changes in the military after the Marcos dictatorship.

Activists have accused the armed forces and paramilitary units of killing lumads believed to be sympathizers of the NPA. The military has denied the allegation and claimed that it was the NPA who are executing lumads who supported the government’s peace and development programs.

No ransom demand for Samal hostages

From the Philippine Star (Oct 31): No ransom demand for Samal hostages

The kidnappers of three foreigners and a Filipina taken from a resort in Samal Island, Davao del Norte have yet to ask for ransom in exchange for their freedom.

Philippine National Police chief Director General Ricardo Marquez said he was not aware of any negotiation between the families of the victims and the kidnappers.

“I believe they are still alive,” Marquez told a media briefing at the Police Regional Office on Thursday afternoon.

Canadian tourists John Ridsdel, 68, and Robert Hall, 50, as well as Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad and Hall’s Filipina girlfriend, Maritess Flor, were seized from a yacht club in Barangay Camudmud last month.

A video posted online by the kidnappers showed hooded gunmen and the three foreign hostages calling on the government to stop military operations to pave the way for the negotiations.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said the victims have been brought to Sulu.

Marquez, however, said they are still investigating if the hostages are really in Sulu.

AFP scores int’l group for probing Lumad slays sans DFA permission

From the Daily Tribune (Oct 31): AFP scores int’l group for probing Lumad slays sans DFA permission

The military yesterday accused members of an international fact-finding mission, composed of foreigners from various countries, of disrespecting the country’s sovereignty for conducting inquiry into the killing of three tribal leaders in Surigao del Sur province.

Col. Isidro Purisima, commander of the Army’s 402nd Brigade, scored the foreigners for intruding into the country’s internal affairs by pushing an inquiry even without permission from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

“Tourists have no right to intervene into our country’s internal affairs. They are already making a mockery on our laws and disrepute our government institution. They should know their ground,” said Purisima.

The military identified the foreigners supposedly involved in the “uncoordinated” fact-finding mission as Jonas Straetsman from Belgium; Dalkiran Metin and Hans Schaap for The Netherlands; Gill Boehringer, of the International Association of People’s Lawyer from Syney, Australia; Henry Langston and Philip Calles, both of the Vice News London.

“Despite the fact that these tourists were not given authority by the DFA, they still insisted to push their unsolicited inquiry,” Purisima said.

“They even violated the Lumad Free and Prior Informed Consent thus desecrating the Indigenous People’s Rights Act,” he added.

The foreigners were supposedly invited in the country by Fr. Fortunato Estillore; Bishop Rhee Timbang of IFI; Sis Estella Matutina, a Benedictine nun; Fr Modesto Villasanta of the UCCP, and Rosanilla Consad.

The fact-finding group is reportedly conducting an inquiry into the killing of three tribal leaders at the Alcadev compound in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur. The killing was blamed to paramilitary group Magahat Bagani, allegedly backed by the military.

Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, 4th ID public affairs officer, noted that those who invited the foreigners were the same people who accused the military of being responsible in the Lianga killing.

Marinez also lamented that the fact-finding mission was not investigating the killings of other Lumads.

“It can be noted that the said church and school personalities who invited these tourists are the accusers and now conducting investigation and later on will give their bias result,” Martinez said.

According to Martinez, the group did not touch the killings of 357 other Lumads through the atrocities conducted by the New People’s Army (NPA) in some parts of Mindanao, including the recent brutal murder of Loreto Mayor Dario Otaza and his son Daryl in Agusan del Sur.

The NPA admitted responsibility to the killing of the Otazas. The elder Otaza is a Manobo leader and a former NPA member but returned to the folds of the law and became a politician.

PHL ready for ‘scenarios’ as China protests US presence in disputed sea —DND

From GMA News (Oct 30): PHL ready for ‘scenarios’ as China protests US presence in disputed sea —DND

The Philippines is prepared for "several scenarios" if the US patrols in the South China Sea results in a minor incident that China warned could lead to war, the Department of National Defense said on Friday.

DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez indicated that the country was somehow prepared for any eventuality if the US presence causes an incident in the disputed waters.

"At this point, I can't really go into operational details. We are always prepared for several scenarios," Galvez said.

The Philippine government has repeatedly admitted that much still needs to be done to make the Armed Forces of the Philippines to be at par with other countries' armed forces.

Also on Friday, China's naval commander told his US counterpart in a teleconference that there was a risk of "a minor incident that sparks war" if the United States continued with its "provocative acts" in the South China Sea.

Admiral Wu Shengli made the comments to US chief of naval operations Admiral John Richardson during a video teleconference on Thursday, according to a Chinese naval statement.

The two officers held talks after a US warship challenged China's territorial assertions in the South China Sea on Tuesday by sailing within 12 nautical miles of one of Beijing's man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago.

"If the United States continues with these kinds of dangerous, provocative acts, there could well be a seriously pressing situation between frontline forces from both sides on the sea and in the air, or even a minor incident that sparks war," the statement paraphrased Wu as saying.

"(I) hope the US side cherishes the good situation between the Chinese and US navies that has not come easily and avoids these kinds of incidents from happening again," Wu said.

Freedom of navigation

Galvez said that the government will always fight for the country's sovereignty and support freedom of navigation especially in the South China Sea.

“We will just continue what we have been doing before, to support all our troops there, our regular activities in the area. So we will just maintain what we have been doing,” Galvez said.

“As long as freedom of navigation and flight in the area is sustained, secured, we believe that is for the stability of the region,” he added.

Still, Galvez said the DND was hopeful that China would remain calm.

Galvez also welcomed the initial ruling of the international tribunal which sided with the Philippines.

“'Yung decision that it has jurisdiction over the case natin it's a very good dev't 'di lang para sa Pilipinas kundi pati sa mga ibang bansa na naniniwala sa UNCLOS. Titingnan natin sa hinaharap kung saan pupunta ito,” Galvez said.

“We are always hopeful at naniniwala tayo sa international laws na susundan ito ng iba't ibang bansa para sa kapakanan ng mundo for peace and stability,” he added.

US-China agreements on encounters

In 2013, a U.S. guided-missile ship veered sharply to avoid a Chinese navy vessel that tried to block its path in the disputed South China Sea, according to the U.S. account.

The next year, the United States said a Chinese fighter jet buzzed within 30 feet (9 meters) of one of its Navy planes, in what the White House called a "deeply concerning provocation."

They are the types of risky encounters that Beijing and Washington have sought to avoid by stepping up efforts to implement a web of military communications agreements.

But the protocols in place are mostly non-binding, contain exceptions, and at times are interpreted differently by the two sides, highlighting the risk of an unwanted escalation of tensions as the United States asserts its naval power more forcefully to counter China's maritime claims.

Washington made its most significant challenge yet to China's claims on Tuesday by sending the USS Lassen guided-missile destroyer through territorial limits China asserts around artificial islands. U.S. officials said it would be the first of regular "freedom of navigation" patrols in the area.

The agreements include the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), signed in 2014 by China, the United States, and other Western Pacific nations, which sets out rules such as safe speeds and distances, the language to be used in communications, and actions in case a ship becomes disabled.

U.S. military officials say they have helped ensure there have been no further incidents as severe as those involving the USS Cowpens in December 2013 and the August 2014 jet encounter.

No enforcement mechanisms

Chinese state media accused the U.S. ship of deliberately provocative behavior while China dismissed U.S. criticism over the warplane incident, saying its fighter pilot kept a safe distance.

But the protocols have no enforcement mechanisms and contain loopholes, military experts say. The CUES does not, for example, cover coast guard or other civilian vessels that China has increasingly used to back its vast territorial claims.

Some experts also say there is doubt in practice over whether the rules apply to all waters, or only to those recognized by both sides as international -- a potential gray area highlighted by Tuesday's U.S. operation.

"I don't think we could expect these guidelines ... to suffice as an antidote to the potential for danger," said Michael O'Hanlon, a national security expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, referring to the CUES.

"They're only designed to really avert accidents that might be caused by reckless or somewhat overly assertive navy captains in open waters," O'Hanlon said.

Further to the CUES, the United States and China last year signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) laying out rules of behavior in air and sea encounters. A supplement to that agreement signed by both sides last month addressed everything from the correct radio frequencies to use during distress calls to the wrong physical behaviors to use during crises.

Another agreement created formal rules to govern use of a military crisis hot line, a move that aims to speed top-level communication.

Bonnie Glaser, a senior advisor for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the 2014 MOU applies anywhere U.S. and Chinese military naval and air assets might encounter each other.

"Of course, an aggressive operator could fail to implement them and cause an accident. There is no consequence outlined in the agreement for violating its terms," she said.

The 2014 MOU refers to military vessels' actions "at sea," implying territorial and international waters. CUES also refers to events "at sea."

"The CUES agreement addresses unplanned encounters at sea, regardless of any territorial claims," said Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

China's defense ministry declined to comment on the issue on Thursday.

5 NPA rebels surrender in Sultan Kudarat

From GMA News (Oct 31): 5 NPA rebels surrender in Sultan Kudarat

Five communist guerillas operating in the provinces in Southern Mindanao yielded to authorities Friday.
Senior Inspector Bernard Francia, chief of the police station in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat, identified the returnees as Filo Capion, squad leader of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) Front 72; Jomar Capion, Rom Capion, Jomar Laguayan, and Ricky Wata, all B’laan natives from Sitio Bong-Mal, Barangay Datal-Blao.
Francia said the rebels first sought the help of Barangay Datal-Blao chairwoman Naila Mamalinta when they decided to return to the folds of the law.
They said they could no longer bear the difficulties in their guerilla struggle in the mountains and wanted to live peaceful lives with their families, said Francia.
Mamalinta immediately turned over the rebels to the regional intelligence division of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Region 12.
The rebels also surrendered two Garand rifles, one Carbine, one shotgun, and two improvised explosive devices.
They will receive livelihood projects under the Comprehensive Livelihood Integration Program of the Philippine government.
On Friday, the surrenderees were turned over to the PNP-12 regional headquarters in General Santos City for their safety, according to Francia.
Francia has expressed fears that these returnees will be the subjects of "liquidation" of their former comrades in the communist movement.
Two weeks ago, in the hinterlands of Magpet town in North Cotabato, a former rebel returnee identified as Marco Via was summarily executed by suspected members of the NPA.
Via’s death came months after he yielded to the Philippine Army, reports said.

China urges PHL to resume talks on maritime dispute

From GMA News (Oct 30): China urges PHL to resume talks on maritime dispute

(Updated 4:01 p.m.) BEIJING—China's Foreign Ministry on Friday urged the Philippines to return to the "correct path" of talks to resolve their dispute over the South China Sea.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on Thursday ruled that it has immediate jurisdiction over seven out of 15 issues raised against China by the Philippines, which is asking the tribunal to declare Beijing’s sweeping claims over the disputed areas in the South China Sea illegal and excessive.

In an initial legal setback for China and a victory for the Philippines, which filed the case in January 2013, the tribunal has set hearings and said that it expects to hand down a ruling on the case next year.

The tribunal also rejected China’s contention that The Hague-based tribunal did not have authority to rule on the case.

Filipino government officials and diplomats said the Philippines ran into a "dead end" when it tried to resolve territorial disputes with China through nearly two decades of bilateral talks, prompting the country to eventually decide to bring the long-simmering conflicts to international arbitration.

In its ruling on Oct. 29, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said its jurisdiction with respect to seven other issues, or “submissions” in arbitration parlance, by the Philippines remain pending and “will need to be considered in conjunction with the merits.”

These include a move by the Philippine government to invalidate China’s nine-dash line, the country's basis to claim almost all of the South China Sea.

Another Philippine submission, on the other hand, needs to be clarified and narrowed by the court. - See more at:
This was after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled Thursday that it has immediate jurisdiction over seven out of 15 issues raised against China by the Philippines, which is asking the tribunal to declare Beijing’s sweeping claims over the disputed areas in the South China Sea illegal and excessive.

"China urges the Philippines to honor its own commitments, respect China's rights under international law, change its course and return to the right track of resolving relevant disputes in the South China Sea through negotiations and consultations," China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

China has said repeatedly it will neither recognize nor participate in the case.

In a press briefing, Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said the case will not affect China's sovereign claims in the seas.

"The result of this arbitration will not impact China's sovereignty, rights or jurisdiction over the South China Sea under historical facts and international law," he said.
"From this ruling you can see the Philippines' aim in presenting the case is not to resolve the dispute. Its aim is to deny China's rights in the South China Sea and confirm its own rights in the South China Sea," Liu added.

PHL to pursue case

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), meanwhile, said it will pursue its case before the international court.

"We are determined to pursue the arbitration case to its logical conclusion," DFA spokesman Charles Jose told GMA News Online on Friday.

He added that the Philippinesy is bound to the court's final decision on the case regardless of the outcome.

"The Tribunal stated that its ruling is binding on both the Philippines and China," Jose said. "We will await advice from the Tribunal as to the schedule of next oral hearings on the merits of the case."

In MalacaƱang, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said the position of the Philippines remains the same, and that is to peacefully resolve territorial disputes in accordance with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“Our basic position is to promote the freedom of navigation recognizing that the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea is one of the most important arteries for global commerce,” he said.

“We have always maintained that all disputes pertaining to maritime entitlements in body of water will have to be resolved peacefully in accordance with the rules such as those contained in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Coloma added.

Victory for PHL

In an initial legal setback for China and a victory for the Philippines, which filed the case in January 2013, the tribunal has set hearings and said that it expects to hand down a ruling on the case next year.

The tribunal rejected China’s position that the court cannot assume jurisdiction over the case because it deals with sovereignty over the features in the resource-rich waters, which it says is beyond its scope under the UNCLOS.

Filipino government officials and diplomats said the Philippines ran into a "dead end" when it tried to resolve territorial disputes with China through nearly two decades of bilateral talks, prompting the country to eventually decide to bring the long-simmering conflicts to international arbitration.

The seven issues include a move by the Philippine government to invalidate China’s nine-dash line, the country's basis to claim almost all of the South China Sea.

Another Philippine submission, on the other hand, needs to be clarified and narrowed by the court.

China, which insists on its “indisputable” and “historical” claim over virtually the entire waters in the South China Sea, did not participate in the proceedings, saying it does not recognize the Philippines’ case.

After assuming jurisdiction on the Philippine case, a hearing on the merits of the Philippines’ claims will be convened by the tribunal soon.

“In consultation with the parties, the tribunal has provisionally set the dates for the merits hearing,” a statement issued by the tribunal said, adding that it will not be open to the public.

However, it said the tribunal will consider requests from interested states to send small delegations of observers.

Road to Nowhere? Peace Efforts in the Southern Philippines

From The Diplomat (Oct 29): Road to Nowhere? Peace Efforts in the Southern Philippines

The derailing of the work of peace makers is raising the odds of renewed conflict in Mindanao.

The plight of the southern Philippines is a lesson in how not to undertake a peace process. It especially illuminates the pitfalls of negotiating without the wholehearted commitment of the stakeholders, especially the central government. Successive regimes in Manila have made feints at achieving a settlement in Mindanao, but the national leadership has been in turns half-hearted, dilatory and insincere. So the south remains in turmoil despite the best intentions and unflagging efforts of peace advocates. Whatever else, the so-called Mindanao problem has much to teach the international community about intractable warfare. Hard-won lessons in this southernmost and second largest island of the Philippines can undoubtedly contribute to understanding civil unrest and the challenges of peace-building in general.

Often dismissed as a religious war, the conflict in Mindanao is far too complicated for simplistic labels. Centuries ago, when Spanish (and then American) invaders established control across the archipelago, the southern region was already part of a tide of Malay Islam which resisted Manila-based incursions vigorously. But mainly the Moros – the indigenous Muslims – thrived in an atmosphere of benign neglect. After independence, however, the central power became more assertive and Mindanao fell subject to a form of internal imperialism. The centrifugal impulse towards separatism grew ever stronger among increasingly alienated clans and tribes. It remains difficult for a largely Islamic and fiercely independent bangsamoro homeland to identify with a Catholicized, neo-colonial Philippine nationalism. Economic exploitation and rapacious development have compounded feelings of exclusion and powerlessness among Moros, lumads (indigenous peoples), and the landless poor.

This Mindanao imbroglio permits the enemies of peace to manipulate complex issues for their own purposes. In such cases, academe, the media, and other opinion makers have a special responsibility to speak truth to power and provide some much-needed analysis. This sort of rigor has been absent in Philippine public life, allowing the worst rogues to reinvent themselves at will and even to interfere with peace initiatives ostensibly to protect the constitution and the sovereignty of the state, thus revealing the difficulties of a weak polity in achieving a political settlement with a disgruntled, rebellious, and distant territory.

During decades of vicious fighting between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and a series of secessionist groups, Mindanao has occasionally appeared to be poised on the brink of peace as various political settlements moved towards fruition. The fate of these initiatives explains the nature of the turmoil in the south. Peace efforts since the 1976 Tripoli Agreement reveal a process which insiders appear unable to put into perspective and outsiders simply do not comprehend.

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under its charismatic leader Nur Misuari led the modern struggle for Muslim independence until surrendering to the administration of Fidel Ramos in 1996 (the so-called Davao Consensus). Such arrangements invariably work in favor of the central government, itself too corrupt and cash-strapped to honor its commitments. Development funds go astray and in the 1996 case Ramos even appears to have introduced the dreaded Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) into the volatile equation as a means of compromising the Moro cause and linking it to Islamic extremism. And by 2001, Washington had branded Mindanao the Second Front in the new War on Terror. The southern Philippines was dragged into a global predicament and its problems became ever more complicated.

Bangsamoro Basic Law

Most recently, a Memorandum of Agreement – Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) achieved widespread acceptance, only to be knocked down by the Supreme Court in 2008 as unconstitutional. This in turn led to renewed fighting and the formation of the ruthless Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters (BFF). The latest incarnation of the peace process is the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), an initiative which comes after further drawn out negotiations between the GPH and the MILF. It is intended to put in place a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR), thereby replacing the existing Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which has not lived up to expectations or quieted secessionist rumblings in the south. But the BBL has serious problems.

The impetus for talks emerged largely from a realization by the warring parties that nothing more could be achieved from the fighting other than the peace of the graveyard. But such a shared perception is not in or of itself a sound basis for a settlement of fundamental differences. Something more than exhaustion is required, especially if flare-ups and misunderstandings are to be avoided. On January 25, 2015, a contingent of the Philippine National Police (PNP) was ambushed near the township of Mamasapano and 44 commandos were killed along with a number of Moro fighters and civilians.

In the aftermath of this Mamasapano Massacre and with the BBL looking moribund, the Aquino administration convened a group of luminaries to examine the troubled proposal and create a popular consensus around it. Both the government and the various dignitaries who accepted the invitation to serve on this Peace Council showed extraordinary hubris, but a National Peace Summit was duly held in April to seek views and recommendations. The Peace Council ultimately declared: “While imperfect, [the BBL] is a significant document that should serve as catalyst for building national consensus.” Less clear was the impact of these “responsible and respected leaders” on the general public.

Above all, efforts were being made to endorse the package while conceding that there was need for repairs. A new form of government for the Islamic communities of Mindanao was being appraised on behalf of an extremely suspicious national polity. Various features of the BBL, it was decided, should be defined or refined – or declined. Much of the 196-page report is loquacious, dense, and legalistically abstruse, but its particular failing was that it could not convince a skeptical populace about the value of the BBL. Time is running out for this peace settlement.


Meanwhile, the burdens of the conflict allow some useful comparisons with civil unrest elsewhere, including Africa and places like Sri Lanka and Burma. There are many lessons to be learned, some of which are very depressing. How a deeply riven polity can overcome entrenched socio-cultural divisions is a case in point. Mindanao’s painful journey into (or away from) the Philippine nation provides some pointers. That nothing can be done without honest brokers would seem to be especially instructive. On the other hand, the scrutiny of players by reputable and reliable non-players has succeeded only at a superficial level. And the modern habit of describing everyone as stakeholders is especially deceptive, undermining as it does the fact that some people have infinitely more at stake than others. And a few so-called spoilers (foremost among which are splinter groups on both sides) wield far too much power.

Many critics assert, for example, that the part of the armed forces in Mindanao has been consistently disruptive and bellicose. Officers actively seek appointments there, balancing personal risk against valor awards and rapid promotion. Apart from the moral issue of receiving medals for killing one’s countrymen (and women and children), the military elite serves too many functions and asserts too much power in the present situation. With its impunity and immunity, the AFP in Mindanao has become a parallel government, imposing its will on a countryside enduring quasi-martial law. This situation provides an opportunity to evaluate the role of armed forces in civil unrest, which is essential to understanding the militarization of peace. All that appears to have been offered to the bangsamoro people is a means to comply with the ambitions of Imperial Manila and “return to the fold of the law.”

Potential gains from a successful agreement are high, but not as high as anticipated by those who tend to link such an achievement with improved governance, public services, development, and tourism. Such returns are possible, but the outcomes of a peace deal and the establishment of a new autonomous region in the south simply cannot – and should not? – be quantified in such a way. In particular, too many stakeholders emphasize a form of developmentalism and economic transition which threaten indigenous interests and would drive many Moros back to armed resistance. Indeed, a major stumbling block for peace in Mindanao is a fundamental lack of agreement about what that actually means!

The current autonomy proposal is itself a compromised compromise. It was not the end point for Muslim separatists and any thwarting of modified Moro aspirations will put independence back on the agenda, along with renewed fighting and a deepening of the insurgent struggle. At present the impulse to independence is contained within breakaway groups like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which lack either clear goals or capable leaders. They comprise mainly old men, but their message has begun to resonate within youth assemblies. With the BBL’s downward trajectory, Manila’s machinations, and the general anti-Moro sentiments of so many Filipinos will likely condemn any and all moves towards a workable new autonomy agreement and leave Mindanao wracked by another generation of unrest.

“The implementation of all peace agreements and legislation of any Basic Law must be inclusive,” the influential Cotabato-based Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) concluded in a recent study. “An autonomy arrangement ‘franchised’ by a group or individual is bound to fail. Processes and structures moving forward must involve and be supported by all key stakeholders including minority groups”. In its upbeat and positivist report, the IAG emphasized four main considerations. First, it argues that agreements between the Philippine government and successive Moro fronts have been “good roadmaps for the evolving development of meaningful autonomy.” But such a claim needs to be based upon some successful outcome; the IAG has chosen to ignore the fact that Mindanao may be further away from a settlement than ever.

Second, the IAG warns that full adoption of the BBL (or any other peace agreement) is not possible in current circumstances. Yet the BBL is an organic document and it is difficult to imagine what a partial implementation might look like. It would certainly have little support.

Third, the BBL remains mired in a legacy “of weaknesses in the national bureaucracy … and the timidity and lack of capacity of the autonomous government.” So the IAG insists that capacities must be increased and reforms achieved, but this sort of challenge should surely have been resolved earlier in the negotiations. Fourth, the BBL must be inclusive and take into account previous agreements. Pre-existing promises made to the MNLF should be recognized. But such high-minded fiats fail to acknowledge that there has been a centrifugal force at work all along, a path in negotiations marked by defections, factionalism, and disagreements. Many parties do not want to participate and reject inclusivity as a form of compulsion. By the IAG’s own admission, the BBL is in a state of “suspended animation.” Ideas about moving forward assume that the direction is clear and accepted by all, yet at the moment the players in the Mindanao drama seem to lack even a reliable compass.

In the mass of self-serving criticism, the constitutional shortcomings of the BBL have become paramount. A similar device was previously used to destroy the MOA-AD. An obsessive emphasis on legalities simply provides a place for spoilers of whatever ilk to hide, bide their time, then ultimately derail the agreement. The persistent damage caused by an immense lack of goodwill, an extraordinary amount of fear and suspicion, failure of leadership, and eye-watering corruption and duplicity on the part of official agencies and various other parties goes largely unrecognized.

Many observers point to the BBL as being aspirational in nature, but this rather misses the point. To argue, as the IAG does, that it is a “roadmap document” ignores the depth of ill-will waiting on this particular highway to hell. Build on incremental gains, the IAG concludes; a phalanx of weary peace advocates thought they were essentially doing that in order to progress beyond the debacle of the MOA-AD and all that had gone before.

Death Knell

The congressional process will probably be the death knell for the BBL. While the chair of a 75-member ad hoc committee boasted about arranging 32 public hearings and “the most comprehensive and inclusive consultations in the history of the House of Representatives,” he was also pronouncing the demise of the BBL in a fractious and debilitating gabfest. After much contrived delay, the BBL finally went before the two houses of Congress, where it literally fell among thieves (sadly, this is no metaphor; an embarrassing number of legislators have been caught up in the so-called Pork Barrel scandal, including Senator Ferdinand [BongBong] Marcos, Jr, the son of the dictator, who has done much to damage the BBL. If it should even survive parliamentary review, the Supreme Court has indicated serious constitutional concerns. And a plebiscite must follow these interminable considerations. The BBL is being talked to death!

While the rest of the country deals with the shameful news that BongBong Marcos is running for vice-president in next year’s elections, the senator traduces those who fought and died to rid the Philippines of his father’s dictatorship – even as he destroys any chance for peace in the south by imposing impossible constraints on the BBL. Now a clutch of Mindanao groups under the leadership of Orlando Quevedo, Cardinal Archbishop of Cotabato, is fighting back with a public appeal for a workable peace. They seek acceptance of the original BBL, pointing out that the Marcos version is unconstitutional, misleading, and counter-productive. The stakes are high: If Quevedo and his desperate allies do not prevail, the future is certain to be as violent as the past.

But Marcos is not alone. Few stakeholders have treated the peace negotiations openly and honestly; the BBL will surely now disappear under the barrage of fearful Islamophobia, cynical partisanship, vested interest, and massive inertia. Not enough people outside of local communities, those directly affected by the fighting, even want a new autonomous entity in Mindanao. The island of seems to be in the grip of an intractable conflict between successive administrations in Manila and the insurgent forces fighting for a bangsamoro homeland in the south. But if there is any prospect for peace at all, it lies with unpacking the past and challenging perceptions of archipelagic history which maintain and strengthen the ruinous status quo. The only way forward is to recognize that the Mindanao predicament has been fashioned by entrenched elites and powerful economic interests, which use historical imperatives as a weapon against any consensus for peace.

A political process cannot be carried forward without an immense amount of goodwill and enthusiasm. Yet the BBL has been beaten into its present shape on an anvil of distrust and dissembling. Such rough diplomacy should not be allowed to compromise a reasonable outcome, which can only be achieved through a formula recognizing what is achievable and what is necessary. At this stage the BBL simply has not fired the popular imagination; the need for peace must be more generally appreciated. When the powers-that-be seek only immediate political gains and are not wholly committed to the overall endeavor, failure is certain. The outgoing Aquino administration bears much of the blame for the current impasse, but there is little reward in criticizing a do-nothing regime for doing nothing, especially in regard to confronting the forces arrayed against any accommodation with the Moros.

The passage of the latest peace initiative, along with the establishment of a new sub-state in the south, has fallen behind schedule. The Mamasapano Massacre at the beginning of 2015 led to the suspension of the BBL amidst a veritable tsunami of Islamophobia, finger-pointing, and accusation. Sadly, the eclipse of Moro dreams and the derailing of endeavors by peace advocates raise the likelihood of renewed conflict in Mindanao. The resolution of the crisis lies in its past; solving the crisis would require an overhaul of the prevailing perception of Philippine history and, ipso facto, a reworking of ideas about nation and nationalism. Is the Philippine experience inclusive or exclusive? This dilemma is not likely to be resolved any time soon. Hence Mindanao’s current impasse; hence its misery.

The not so invisible hand of the US

Posted to the pro-CPP online publication Bulatlat (Oct 30): The not so invisible hand of the US

Paramilitary groups, particularly the Magahat-Bagani, the Alamara, and the Alsa Lumad in Mindanao, are fast gaining notoriety, not only for their brutality but also with the impunity that these groups enjoy under the Aquino government. They have committed killings, nay massacres, and they do not bother to hide their evil deeds, killing in broad daylight for all community members to see.

The last time paramilitary groups gained as much notoriety was in the late 80s, during the administration of the late Cory Aquino, current Pres. Benigno Aquino III’s mother. The context was the Total War against the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front launched by the first Aquino administration. The Total War was implemented under Oplan Lambat Bitag 1 and 2.

Coming off from the Marcos dictatorship, the first Aquino administration could not appear to be reprising the militarist approach of its predecessor. At the same time, the US, after supporting military dictatorships during the 70s and suffering politically for it, wanted to make it appear that it had shifted to promoting democracies in pushing for its geopolitical and economic interests. And to blunt, at least publicly, the sharp edge of its counterinsurgency, counter-terror operations – conceived as the Low Intensity Conflict strategy – the US prescribed the formation and use of paramilitary groups to do the “dirty work.”

Manilakbayan file photo
Thus, came to being cult groups called by different colors – pulahan (red), greenan (green) – the Tadtad (literally translated as chop repeatedly), the Alsa Masa, among others. A photo of members of Tadtad holding a decapitated head of a suspected NPA supporter gained international infamy. As expected, the paramilitary cult groups were known for their brutality, brazenness and impunity. The purpose, as US counter-insurgency, counter-terror manuals revealed, was to generate enough terror and fear so that communities, which were suspected of supporting the armed revolutionaries, would be forced to shift loyalties to the government side. It is based on the assumption that communities support armed rebel groups out of fear and thus, the need to employ counter-terror so that the people would fear the government more than the rebel groups.

An international fact finding mission, headed by former US attorney general Ramsey Clark, was held to look into the operations of and human rights violations being committed by paramilitary cults. The first Aquino administration was forced to disband the paramilitary cults due to strong local and international pressure. In its place, the first Aquino administration organized the Citizens Armed Geographical Unit (CAFGU), promising that the paramilitary group would be closely supervised by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

And now the administration of the son Benigno Aquino III is reprising the formation of paramilitary groups, in line with its counterinsurgency campaign Oplan Bayanihan. This is still in line with US counterinsurgency strategy. But in the case of US wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US Armed Forces uses private military contractors to do the “dirty work” for them.

What is worse now is that the second Aquino administration has been pitting Lumad vs. Lumad. It has been arming groups of Lumad, promising bribes and privileges once mining companies are able to begin their operations in Lumad lands.

The US has been doing this in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya with disastrous results. Not only did it instigate violent factional strife, it resulted in chaos and a total breakdown of political and social structures. The US has been reprising it here in the Philippines, as part of its pivot to Asia, to push for its geopolitical and economic interests.

The arming of groups of Lumad to kill their own kin to push for mining interests and as part of the Aquino administration’s counter-insurgency strategy has got to stop. And only a strong local and international public pressure could put a stop to this, just like during the first Aquino administration.

Lumad denounce probe

From The Standard (Oct 30): Lumad denounce probe

OVER 250 Manobo tribesmen in Lianga, Surigao del Sur denounced the Catholic Church-backed International Fact Finding Mission that is currently conducting an investigation into alleged military abuses against indigenous people, called lumad, the military said on Thursday.

According to a statement issued by the Army’s Fourth Infantry Division, the IFFM violated their “free and prior consent process” which supposedly requires that non-tribesmen who wish to enter a tribe’s ancestral domain should have the approval of the tribe concerned.

The military statement quoted Manobo Datu Ceasar Bat-ao as saying such approval should be determined according to the tribe’s customary laws and practices.

“They [IFFM] clearly do not respect our tribe. They cannot just intrude [into] our land and conduct an unsolicited investigation on our tribal conflict,” the military quoted Bat-ao as saying.

“We have our husayan [tribal justice system] which is recognized by the government thru Republic Act No. 8371 [Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997],” he said.

“We are begging them [IFFM] to let us settle our tribal conflict thru our customary laws and stop interfering. They are making it worst,” the statement added.

Sources in Surigao del Norte said Bat-ao was part of a group of Manobo leaders that has been dunning a mining company in the province for royalties although the mining firm’s claim covered an area that is supposedly the ancestral domain of the Mamanwa tribe.

The military statement also quoted one Datu Nahikyad, also known as Marcos Bocales, who described himself as a commander of the Bagani Tribal Territorial Forces, which is the group accused of executing three tribal leaders in Lianga town.

The killing of Manobo leader Emerito Samarca, head of a tribal school in the village of Diatagon in Lianga, sparked the exodus of lumad from their ancestral domain.

“Since the [Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army] entered our land, the tribal conflict began,” the military statement quoted Datu Nahikyad as saying.

“They have deceived our people to join the revolutionary movement and killed the ones who refused to. This have been happening for decades and no one wants to hear our voice as we cry for justice for all the victims of lumad killings perpetrated by the NPA.”

Makati Med holds nursing summit, signs MOA with AFP

From The Standard (Oct 28): Makati Med holds nursing summit, signs MOA with AFP

In a bid to improve and expand the services of the AFP Medical Center – the country’s prime hospital for soldiers – the Makati Medical Center Foundation (MakatiMed Foundation) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines recently renewed their public-private partnership for the organizational strengthening of AFP hospitals.
MakatiMed gave ‘Beacon Awards’ to nursing leaders and supporters of nursing, including (from left) MakatiMed president and CEO Rosalie Montenegro, Medical Director Benjamin Alimurung, MPIC Hospital Group president and CEO Augusto P. Palisoc Jr. and MakatiMed’s VP for Nursing and Patient Care Services Christine Donnelly

MakatiMed Foundation Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan and AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri recently signed a memorandum of agreement at Camp Aguinaldo to extend the first MOA signed in June 2013 with then-AFP Chief of Staff Gen. (now Office of the President Undersecretary for the Security, Justice and Peace Cluster) Emmanuel Bautista. This was renewed in 2014 during the term of Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr.  as AFP chief.  

The MMC Foundation renewed the MOA with a larger coverage of partner public hospitals from the different major services of the Armed Forces, including the hospitals and medical facilities of the Philippine Army, Navy and the Air Force. This new strategic direction is being implemented under the leadership of Gen. Iriberri, and aims to help equip the AFP’s technical expertise towards delivering quality health care services to the hundreds of thousands of Filipino soldiers and their dependents. 

Also present at the ceremony were Usec. Bautista, MakatiMed Foundation vice chair Judy Araneta Roxas, MakatiMed Foundation president Dr. Victor Gisbert, MD and Conchitina Sevilla Bernardo, trustee. 

MakatiMed also recently hosted the first Metro Pacific Investments Corp. Nursing Summit titled “Exceeding Hospital Excellence through MPIC Alliance.” The one-day event, which was supported by eight other health institutions in the MPIC hospital group, served as a venue for MPIC nursing leaders to collaborate with the aim of standardizing the nursing practices across the hospital group. 
Makati Medical Center and MakatiMed Foundation chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan and AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri sign a memorandum of agreement for a renewed public-private partnership for the organizational strengthening of AFP hospitals.

Participants came from the nursing divisions of MPIC hospitals in Metro Manila and key provinces that include Asian Hospital and Medical Center (Muntinlupa), Cardinal Santos Medical Center (San Juan), Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital (Manila), De Los Santos Medical Center (Quezon City), MegaClinic (Mandaluyong), Central Luzon Doctors’ Hospital (Tarlac City), Davao Doctors Hospital (Davao City) and Dr. Pablo O. Torre Memorial Hospital (Bacolod City).

The event was the brainchild of Christine Donnelly, MakatiMed’s VP for Nursing and Patient Care Services. “Since we’re a part of the largest group of hospital systems, (we thought) why not gather all nursing leaders and together create more nursing initiatives?” Donnelly said, explaining how the MPIC Summit came into being.

According to MakatiMed president and CEO Rosalie Montenegro, it was the first time the different MPIC nursing groups collaborated at a clinical level. “We have collaborated on the corporate side, but not yet on the clinical side, and I think nursing is a good place to start, as our nurses are the face of our hospitals,” Montenegro remarked, adding that in MakatiMed, nursing leaders push the Triple Cs – competence, communication and compassion.
The first MPIC Nursing Summit was supported by eight other health institutions in the Metro Pacific Investments Corporation hospital group.

“If we have competent, communicative and compassionate healthcare, our nursing industry will be significantly enhanced. This Summit is just the beginning. I am happy that finally, nurses are taking their rightful role as collaborators in healthcare,” Montenegro said.

In the keynote speech of Manny Pangilinan during the summit, he noted that the best nurses have the best chances to be leaders. “MPIC firmly supports the notion that leadership empowerment for our nurses is the best way to achieve optimal healthcare experience. Nurses should be strong enough to withstand everything and kind enough to understand patients,” he said.  

“I am here today not only in acknowledgement of your skills, but as an expression of gratitude to you as well. You are more vital than any health organization can ever express,” Pangilinan told the nurses. 

U.S. not provoking Beijing in South China Sea

From CNN Philippines (Oct 28): U.S. not provoking Beijing in South China Sea
  (by Gregory Poling)

As recently as 2012, the U.S. Navy has engaged in freedom of navigation operations in the Spratly Islands, of which Subi Reef is a part. (File photo)

China's government isn't happy.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the country's Foreign Ministry warned that U.S. actions had "threatened China's sovereignty and security interest, and has put the safety of personnel" in danger.

The statement was issued in response to the U.S. decision to dispatch the guided missile destroyer USS Lassen for several hours on a "freedom of navigation" operation near the disputed waters of Subi Reef, which has drawn international attention since China began constructing an artificial island there.

But although the Lassen was deliberately sent to within 12 nautical miles of the feature (12 miles being the hypothetical width of territorial sea around Subi), and despite China warning against the use of "gimmicks," the U.S. decision should not be seen as a provocation or even deterrence.

Instead, this week's move was part of a regular program of U.S. military activities around the globe intended to assert the rights of military and civilian vessels to operate anywhere allowed by international law.

The Pentagon oversees dozens of freedom of navigation operations every year targeting excessive maritime claims made by countries ranging from outright antagonists to some of the United States' closest allies.

In 2014, the U.S. military used these operations to contest claims made by nearly all the countries surrounding the South China Sea, meaning not just China but also the Philippines — a treaty ally — and Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Why now?

This also isn't the first time the U.S. Navy has engaged in freedom of navigation operations near Subi Reef — as recently as 2012, it did so in the Spratly Islands, of which Subi Reef is a part.

Indeed, as U.S. officials have insisted throughout the surprisingly public debate on whether to engage in such operations around Chinese-occupied features in the South China Sea, these activities by the Navy are not new, and they do not unfairly target Beijing.

But why now, and why at Subi Reef?

Navy and Pentagon officials have been urging the Obama administration since early summer to green-light freedom of navigation operations around some of China's features in the South China Sea, but the White House had been hesitant.

More cautious voices in the administration worried that a Chinese overreaction could provoke a crisis without offering much payoff, and they argued that engaging in such activities would reduce the possibility of finding a diplomatic solution to the rising tensions in the region.

But the apparent inability of President Barack Obama to make any headway on the South China Sea issue with his counterpart Xi Jinping during the Chinese leader's visit to Washington in late September swung the argument in favor of those pushing for such operations.

Xi's visit actually seems to have convinced many holdouts that there is no diplomatic solution given Beijing's current intransigence (an extremely ambiguous statement from President Xi about China's "intention" not to "militarize" the features it occupies notwithstanding).

Subi Reef was one of two likely candidates for the latest freedom of navigation operations in the Spratlys, the other being Mischief Reef.

Both have proven controversial because the Chinese-occupied features were indisputably underwater before Beijing launched its massive island-building campaign last year, and both are too far away from any potential island or rock to fall within another feature's territorial sea.

Seabed, not land

So Subi is legally part of the seabed, and not entitled to any territorial waters.

The just-concluded operation was not a challenge to China's claim to Subi Reef itself, but rather to what kind of waters and rights China thinks the reef grants it. It was a case study aimed at challenging the excessive and ambiguous claims that China makes throughout the disputed South China Sea more generally.

After the U.S. move, China responded that "if relevant parties insist on creating tensions in the region and making trouble out of nothing, it may force China to draw the conclusion that we need to strengthen and hasten the buildup of our relevant capabilities." But despite the apparent seriousness of such warnings, escalating tensions are not inevitable.

How can conflict be avoided?

The best hope for a long-term peaceful solution in the South China Sea is to convince Beijing that it is undermining its own wider interests by maintaining unlawful claims in disputed waters.

Washington has consistently called on Chinese leaders and their counterparts throughout the region to bring their claims in these waters into conformity with international law, and these freedom of navigation operations should be seen as part of that goal.

And the responses from different parts of the Chinese government to the recent operation are telling. Beijing is effectively expressing anger over the Lassen's operations near Subi, but it is struggling to come up with a legal rationale for its objections.

Of course, a one-off operation will not persuade Beijing to clarify its claims. In fact, that would actually undermine the United States' position that these activities are normal and not provocative. That means that whatever the protestations from Beijing and others, this will no doubt be just the first of many freedom of navigation operations in and around the Spratly Islands.
[Editor's note: Gregory Poling is director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies and a fellow with the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at CSIS. The views expressed are his own.]