Sunday, December 25, 2016

Thousands to converge in Davao City for nat’l peace forum

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 26): Thousands to converge in Davao City for nat’l peace forum

Thousands of people were expected to trek to a guerrilla base here Monday for a national peace consultative forum coinciding with the 48th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Senior leaders of the communist movement, ranking government officials, peace negotiators, church leaders and peoples’ organizations were expected to be in attendance.

The gathering is happening in the area of operation of the late New People’s Army commander Leoncio “Kumander Parago” Pitao, who was killed by government forces in June 2015.

Parago, a common household name in Southern Mindanao, was a close friend of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Sources said that while it is a venue for the revolutionary forces to gather again, it is more importantly an opportunity to sharpen data and positions that would help support the ongoing peace process.

Both parties are set to meet again in Rome next month for the third round of talks.

Crucial issues will be discussed under the Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reform and the Ceasefire Committee.

Unlike the practice in the past where a holiday ceasefire is declared, an easing off in hostilities is in place since early this year after both parties issued unilateral ceasefire declarations.

The armed revolution led by the CPP is known as one of longest running communist movements in Asia.

After patrol mission in Philippine Sea, US destroyer visits Palawan

From Update.Ph (Dec 26): After patrol mission in Philippine Sea, US destroyer visits Palawan

USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) deploys its starboard MK 38 – 25 mm machine gun system during a live-fire exercise aboard while on patrol in the Philippine Sea supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, December 18. US Navy photo

After a patrol mission in the Philippine Sea in support for the security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) arrived in Puerto Princesa, Palawan for a brief routine port call.

“During the visit, the McCain crew will participate in a series of community service projects and sporting events,” the US Navy Task Force 70 said as reported in US Embassy website.

DDG 56 is forward-deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

PHILIPPINE SEA (Dec. 18, 2016) Petty Officer 2nd Class David Rush mans a MK 38 – 25 mm machine gun system during a live-fire exercise aboard Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56). McCain is on patrol in the Philippine Sea supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class James Vazquez/Released)

Group behind Midsayap Christmas Eve blast pinpointed by PNP

From InterAksyon (Dec 26): Group behind Midsayap Christmas Eve blast pinpointed by PNP

The police car, damaged by the grenade lobbed at the height of Christmas Eve mass, sits just outside the Sto. Nino church. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The group behind the grenade explosion during a Christmas Eve mass in Midsayap town, North Cotabato, is now known to the local Philippine National Police probers, but authorities are withholding their identities in the meantime.

The M61 grenade, lobbed at a police car parked just outside the Sto. Niño Archdiocesan Shrine then jampacked with people attending a late evening mass, caused injuries to 17 people including one policeman.

President Duterte visited the victims at the Pesante Hospital on Christmas Day, handing out medical assistance and promising them justice.

Midsayap's police chief,  Superintendent Bernard Tayong, said they are not yet releasing the name of the group behind the blast so as not to jeopardize ongoing investigation.

Most of the victims, who sustained minor wounds, are out of danger, except for one Leah Butan, who lost a leg.

Police identified some of the victims as: Dagul Celes, Cheyserr Mae Rosete, Arnel Silvano, Jenelyn Silvano, Regor Pedrosa, Jofer Asis, Leah Butan, Joy Singco, Kent Steven Paquito, Jazza Mae Banlawi, Jonel Ortiola, Princess Capunday, Arisen Bagot and Senior Police Officer 4 Johnny Caballero.

The North Cotabato government condemned the attack, as authorities in Central Mindanao remained on full alert.

2 men abandon car with grenades, gun

From Tempo (Dec 26): 2 men abandon car with grenades, gun

Two men’s possible criminal intention was foiled after police recovered hand grenades and a firearm from a vehicle they abandoned in the middle of traffic during brief pursuit in Manila Saturday night.

The unidentified suspects escaped.

Police said the suspects on board a sports utility vehicle overtook an Oplan Sita or a checkpoint at the corner of Nepomuceno and Legarda Streets in Barangay 387, zone 40, Quiapo, Manila, at 7:40 p.m.
Police immediately chased the speeding vehicle.
When the suspects were about to be cornered at the intersection on Claro M. Recto Avenue as the traffic stopped for a red light, two men opted to get out of the vehicle and run away, abandoning the SUV and some valuables inside.

Police inspected the vehicle and discovered a suspicious sling bag which later found to be containing two hand grenades, one with intact pin and the other sealed with a electrical tape.

A .45-caliber Armscor gun loaded with ammunition was also found underneath the driver’s seat.

Operatives from the Manila Police District – Explosive and Ordnance Division secured the pieces of evidence and took them for safekeeping pending investigation.

Police said several documents such as identification cards bearing name of one Mico. S. Sarangani, of 110-B Lanao Street, Salam Mosque Compound, Quezon City, government IDs bearing the name of Norodin Silongan Tasil, and two Western Union receipts with sender name Saada K. Abdullah and addressed to Tasil.

Investigators are looking into the connection of the discovered IDs and the remittance receipts to the found grenades and handgun.

Further investigation revealed that the Toyota Fortuner (AQA 5094) abandoned by the suspects was owned by Romina D. Abubakar of 131 Mujahedeen Salam Compound, Culiat, Tandang Sora, Quezon City.

Drug angle eyed in N. Cotabato Christmas Eve grenade attack

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 25): Drug angle eyed in N. Cotabato Christmas Eve grenade attack

MIDSAYAP, North Cotabato -- Officials here said the Christmas Eve attack in front of a Catholic Church was meant for the police and not for the church.

Mayor Romeo Arania of Midsayap said investigation showed the explosion was clearly meant for the police and was related to illegal drugs.

Arania told reporters the main target of the attack by two motorcycle-riding men were the police officers who were part of security during the Christmas Eve mass.

“If it were for civilians, the grenade could have been lobbed in populated areas like the plaza or the Church or the market but it was thrown under a parked police car,” Arania said.

Arania quoted Supt. Bernard Tayong, Midsayap town police chief, as saying they have been receiving threats after successful anti-drug operations.

President Duterte is expected to visit Midsayap this afternoon to visit the victims.

“Continue to be vigilant, be alert and inform the police about suspicious persons or baggages,” Arania told Midsayapenios.

Leah Butan, about 60 years old, lost a leg in the blast while Regor Pedrozo was brought to Davao City for further medical treatment.

Senior Police Officer Jhonny Caballero, 41, team leader of a police unit securing the perimeter of Sto. Nino Parish Church, was near the police car when the fragmentation grenade was rolled under the car. He sustained leg injuries.

Fr. Jay Virador of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate condemned the attack and urged parishioners to remain calm and continue praying amid violence.

Arania also condemned the attack saying the incident could be a retaliatory attack by illegal drug syndicates who would like to get back at the police for successful anti-drug operations.

A village chair escaped police-military operation last November but government forces recovered high powered firearms, including cal. 50 machine guns and assault rifles.

Arania said after that operation, the police have been receiving threats through text message warning of retaliation.

1 dead, 3 wounded in a shooting inside Maguindanao resort

From ABS-CBN (Dec 25): 1 dead, 3 wounded in a shooting inside Maguindanao resort

Cotabato — One man died and three others were injured in a shooting incident inside a beach resort in Barangay Kusiong, Datu Odin Sinsuat municipality, Maguindanao.

The shooting happened at past 5 p.m.

Authorities identified the dead as Ernesto Ulab, a 32-year-old resident of Ranso Upi municipality, Maguindanao, who died at the scene.

The wounded were Eldito Samson, 35 years old and a resident of Kinetaan Upi; Datu Dexter Datumanong Sinsuat, 46 years old, a barangay chairman; and Roberto Ramos.

Authories are yet to identify the motive and people behind the incident.

The ASEAN Crisis, Part 3: What Should ASEAN Do About the South China Sea Dispute?

From The Diplomat (Dec 23): The ASEAN Crisis, Part 3: What Should ASEAN Do About the South China Sea Dispute? (By

Three ways ASEAN can improve its ability to mediate in the South China Sea disputes.

This is the third and final entry in a series addressing how the South China Sea dispute caused a crisis for ASEAN. Part 1 explained why and how the South China Sea dispute poses a critical test for ASEAN as a regional organization. Part 2 continued the discussion by answering the question of why ASEAN failed to reach agreement on the South China Sea issue. Part 2 discussed factors at three levels – state level, international level, and organizational level – hindering ASEAN unity on this issue. Consequently, Part 3 will further the debate by offering three recommendations on how to revitalize ASEAN: strengthen cooperation and development inside ASEAN so as to reduce the gap of interests among members; redefine the terms “consultation” and “consensus”; to empower the ASEAN High Council.

Strengthening Cooperation and Development

As discussed in Part 2, state-level factors are the biggest challenges for developing ASEAN unity in the South China Sea. The root cause is the discrepancy among ASEAN countries in their economic and social developments and the subsequent distrust among the countries, which leads to different foreign policy orientations.

To address this issue, ASEAN should look to the EU as an example. Even though the EU is not a perfect organization, it is one of the most advanced and effective regional organizations in the world. The key to the success of the EU is that the organization has been persistent in promoting its high standards of liberal democracy. As a result, countries have to go through myriad reforms to meet EU standards, which considerably reduces the gaps among EU countries, especially with regard to political language and economic orientation. It is, therefore, easier for EU members to reach a consensus in comparison with the diverse community of ASEAN states.

The fact that ASEAN, like other regional organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, African Union, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, offers states flexibility in their political and economic systems when joining the organization serves as a convenient gateway for individual states at the initial stage. However, in the long run, such flexibility creates disparities that will become an impediment to the success of the organization.

Therefore, in order to achieve unity on the South China Sea dispute, ASEAN should temporarily focus on developing individual states’ economies, lending necessary support to less developed countries to ensure the success of the ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Social-Cultural Community. Only after that, as neo-functionalism dictates, will the ASEAN Political-Security Community eventually succeed as a result of the spill-over impact from the economic and social fields. By the time ASEAN members manage to narrow down the gap among themselves, a common consensus will be easier to reach on the South China Sea dispute.

Redefine Consultation and Consensus

In the meantime, ASEAN does not have any code of conduct for its decision-making process, resulting in bureaucracy and difficulty in reaching agreements. Thus, there is a need for ASEAN to implement such a code of conduct.

ASEAN has already modified the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation three times in 1987, 1998, and 2010, adding rules concerning the membership and the roles of the High Council. ASEAN could also improve its decision-making process by amending the Charter with the provision of new protocols. One suggestion, from the Australian College of Defense, is to amend the definition of consensus, which is rather vague, by adding “a mixed process of achieving consensus (or unanimity) and a voting system (with a majority-rule outcome).”

However, because consultation and consensus are highly embedded in ASEAN’s culture, the new code of conduct in decision-making should offer a number of levels or phases so as to give choices to individual states. The levels or phases can range from majority-based to consensus-based decision-making mechanisms, including in between some mixed levels of these processes. Furthermore, it is also important for the new code of conduct to clarify which type of decision-making mechanism should be applied on which occasions. One suggestion could be that the unanimity-based mechanism should apply when the issue concerns 50 percent or more of member states while majority-rule decisions should be sufficient in cases concerning less than 50 percent of member states. By making these distinctions, it will be easier for ASEAN countries to reach agreement in issues like the South China Sea dispute, in which ASEAN has failed to make a joint statement because of one or two states’ objections.

ASEAN will bolster its reputation and status as an organizational unity in the international area should the organization manage to amend the code of conduct to speed up the decision-making process. By improving the decision-making mechanism, the ASEAN Community will also have a better chance for success since it will have dealt with the toughest challenge for all international organizations — the dilemma between a higher level of integration and the reservation of state sovereignty and national interests.

Empower ASEAN High Council

“A High Council … shall be the important component in the ASEAN Security Community since it reflects ASEAN’s commitment to resolve all differences, disputes and conflicts peacefully.” This was the conclusion of all parties to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia at the Summit on October 7, 2003. This quote nicely emphasizes the importance of the High Council in maintaining peace and stability in the region.

In fact, the High Council appears to be a perfect mechanism to settle the South China Sea dispute since its composition, as coded in Rule 3 and Rule 4 of the Rules of Procedure, includes not only ASEAN members but also other contracting parties outside ASEAN. The High Council appears to be a good choice to pursue resolution, since China and the United States are both parties to the Treaty and the aim of the High Council is not to give the judgement on who is right or wrong in the dispute — like the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, whose tribunal’s judgment stumbled over China’s refusal to participate — but to settle the disputes peacefully. The High Council, if invigorated, can on one hand legally involve the United States and India and on the other hand establish a multilateral platform for negotiation with China.

Despite such potential, unfortunately, as yet the High Council mechanism has never been used even once, despite the rising tensions in the South China Sea. Therefore, the final recommendation for ASEAN is to empower the already existing mechanism of the High Council, which is authorized to settle disputes according to the Treat of Amity and Cooperation. In fact, the Treaty has been amended three times, expanding the scope of membership and responsibilities of the High Council. More modifications could, therefore, be adopted to enable the High Council to function as an effective authority managing all regional disputes and conflicts.

As indicated in Article 3 of the ASEAN Charter, ASEAN is already a legal personality in the international system. Therefore, ASEAN has the right and responsibility to establish a legal entity like the High Council and to produce legal judgments for the peaceful settlements of conflicts.
The world political environment is constantly changing. The original function of ASEAN as a consensus-based community representing diplomatic relations is no longer as suitable as it used to be at the initial stage during and shortly after the Cold War period. ASEAN needs to upgrade itself into a more effective regional organization with a more powerful High Council so as to ensure the legacy of its continuing existence. Without modifying its policies and bureaucratic procedures, ASEAN will fail not only in settling the South China Sea dispute, but also in future challenges.


The combination of the problems at three levels as illustrated in Part 2 prevents ASEAN from resolving the conflict. Until now, no further plan for specific actions has been made between China and ASEAN member states concerning the South China Sea dispute, apart from the six neutral points contained in the Joint Statement of the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN member states and China, published on July 25, 2016. ASEAN will have to pursue action to overcome the current deadlock should the organization want to achieve further integration for successful establishment of ASEAN Community.

The article made three recommendations to that end: narrow down the development gap among ASEAN members and build up mutual trust within the organization; improve the decision-making mechanism by modifying the definition of consensus and consultation; and empower the ASEAN High Council. However, it is obvious that the latter two recommendations are not feasible before the first succeeds. Easier said than done.

The latter two options might sound attractive, but they do not deal with the roots of disunity among ASEAN member states. Without closing gaps among the ASEAN members and enhancing mutual trust, it would be impossible to proceed to improve the decision-making mechanism and further integration. Therefore, it is important for ASEAN to start with the first step of developing the members’ economies and stability.

[Linh Tong is Editor for the East Asia region at Eurasia Diary and a Research Assistant at ADA University.]

The ASEAN Crisis, Part 2: Why Can't ASEAN Agree on the South China Sea?

From The Diplomat (Dec 22): The ASEAN Crisis, Part 2: Why Can't ASEAN Agree on the South China Sea? (By

How internal and external factors hamstring ASEAN when it comes to the South China Sea.

1 of this three-part series argued that the South China Sea Dispute poses an existential threat to ASEAN as a regional organization. The South China Sea Dispute challenges ASEAN’s ability to deal with regional militarization, guarantee member states’ economic benefits, ensure ASEAN citizens’ safety when fishing, and protect Southeast Asia’s marine environment. Part 2, as follows, considers the question of why ASEAN has failed to mediate the South China Sea dispute.

While analysts around the world have criticized ASEAN’s disunity in the confrontation with China, most fail to pay attention to the greater picture of ASEAN crisis as a regional organization. The South China Sea disputes reveal a more basic dilemma, between further integration and preservation of national sovereignty. As such, ASEAN’s failure is not simply the result of Chinese efforts to divide ASEAN members. Multiple factors coexisting at three levels – the state level, international level, and organizational level – simultaneously play a role in hindering ASEAN unity.

State Level Factors

Because ASEAN is an intergovernmental organization, the most enduring problem lies at the state level. That is each and every member state of ASEAN pursues its own national interests and is reluctant to delegate sovereignty to ASEAN’s decision-making mechanism. Because of historical inter-state conflicts between ASEAN members, the existing diversity in political, economic, and social contexts, as well as variations in their cooperation with China, ASEAN states are unwilling to commit to a united position toward China.

Each country has their own interests in the South China Sea. One important point is that the status of the sovereignty of the Paracel and Spratly Islands has never been clear since the dispute first emerged many decades ago. Several ASEAN members have overlapping claims to the islands in the South China Sea, making the conflict intractable. Since 1970, the Philippines has claimed the western portion of the Spratly Islands. After China, Vietnam has the most ambitious claim over all the Spratly and Paracel Islands. Even though Malaysia has been maintaining a low-profile position in the conflict, the country has also occupied a number of features since the 1980s. Brunei, meanwhile, claims rights over the islands lying within their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as defined by UNCLOS.

There are a number of reasons for countries to compete in the South China Sea. Apart from symbolizing territorial integrity, the Paracels and the Spratlys are reported to have significant hydrocarbon reserves and other natural resources around them. Furthermore, the South China Sea is a key transportation route, particularly for energy imports, and carries strategic importance. Control over the South China Sea equals control over the sea lines of communications for trade, oil shipment, and fisheries. Therefore, it is difficult to come up with a proper resolution satisfying all parties even just among ASEAN members, much less all the ASEAN members and China.

ASEAN member states also have varying levels of partnership with China. While China has always been on the list of the five most important trading partners for ASEAN members, the extent of their reliance on Chinese products and the Chinese market varies from country to country. The current trend is that only better-off ASEAN members have managed to attain a diverse group of trading partners and have trade surpluses with China. The other, less wealthy countries suffer from heavy dependence on Chinese goods and a growing trade deficit with China. Especially since the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA) came into effect in 2010, the level of dependence on trade with China has surged. In 2013, ASEAN’s total trade value with China ran a $45 billion deficit, which is attributable to ACFTA according to research by the Australian Defense College. The extent of economic cooperation between China and each ASEAN country is good indication, though not a perfect one, of political support for China.

Cambodia relies too much on China economically and chose to stay out of the South China Sea conflict. Laos is another typical example of how economic overdependence on China is translated into a political position concerning the South China Sea dispute. The Laos-China trading relationship can be best described as raw materials-for-goods exchange. 76 percent of Laos’ exports in 2011 were raw materials such as metals, minerals, and wood and Chinese manufactured products accounted for about 37 percent of Laos’ total heavy manufacturing imports. As Laos is a low-income country and has no access to the sea, Laos choose to support China in the South China Sea dispute.

Other ASEAN members vary in their reliance on China, but all must take the economic giant’s concerns into consideration. Indonesia and Myanmar export a considerable amount of fuels and minerals to China. These two countries have their own internal problems and rely on China as an important lender and therefore cannot play an active role in mediating the conflict. Thailand and Malaysia had positive trade values with China in 2013 and thus were reluctant to show their opposition to Chinese aggression. As oil prices went down in 2014 and China eagerly invested in Brunei, the Brunei sultanate opted for a low-profile position and supported China’s interests in Southeast Asia. The proof is that Brunei blew up the ASEAN consensus by not showing up to the first ASEAN Claimants Working Group in 2014, hosted by the Philippines to forge consensus among the claimant states. Just one month before, Brunei also refused to join in a side meeting with three other claimant states at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Retreat in Myanmar.

Because of its active economic cooperation with China, Singapore has been maintaining a neutral role in the South China Sea dispute. On one hand, Singapore is a substantial investor and an important partner for critical infrastructure projects in China such as the Sino-Singapore Tianjin eco-city project, Datansha Island, and the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City. On the other hand, China is Singapore’s second-largest export and largest import partner. Singapore’s organic interdependence with the Chinese market has prevented the city-state from encouraging a meaningful resolution to the conflict.

Even the Philippines, the strongest opponent against China’s claims under former President Benigo Aquino, has chosen to open to Chinese investment for expensive infrastructure projects under President Rodrigo Duterte. Economic rationale underpins the so-called Philippine pivot to China.
What about the other major ASEAN claimant, Vietnam? China been the largest trading partner for Vietnam since 2004. In 2014, despite the conflict in South China Sea, the trade value between two countries still increased; net imports and net exports were up 16.8 percent and 12.6 percent respectively. In 2014, almost 30 percent of Vietnam imports came from China. Therefore, despite its disputes with China, Vietnam could not afford to fully cooperate with the United States and the Philippines to balance China.

As can be seen, varying degrees of economic cooperation between China and ASEAN members directly affects their reaction to the South China Sea dispute. That in turn prevents ASEAN as a whole from coming to a consensus.

The International Level

The major powers also play a role in preventing a united ASEAN. China puts economic and political pressure on her allies, who are at the same time ASEAN member states, and the United States, while actively assisting the armament of ASEAN member states, hesitates to lead the opposition against China.

The China factor

Undoubtedly, there is a clash of interests between China and ASEAN: China prefers bilateral negotiations to resolve the South China Sea disputers whereas ASEAN prefers multilateral talks. However, if ASEAN submits to the Chinese demand to deal with the South China Sea dispute on bilateral basis, ASEAN automatically loses its legitimacy as a regional organization. Addressing the dispute on a multilateral basis is important for ASEAN to show its centrality as a leading role player in the region.

There are two possible explanations for China’s insistence on bilateral negotiations. First of all, because China is superior to ASEAN countries in all measures (economy, population, military, political influence), bilateral talks give China a huge advantage over any individual ASEAN state. That makes it easier for China to play the carrots and sticks game, to threaten or give incentives to individual states to submit to China’s will. In short, in bilateral negotiations, China can almost guarantee an absolute winning position.

The second explanation is that China suspects the United States of standing behind the design of the code of conduct, with an eye toward interfering and manipulating the code of conduct in the South China Sea for Washington’s benefit. China has always been conscious about U.S. involvement in the South China Sea dispute and support from other disputants, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, for the U.S. presence in the region, which is against China’s national interests in achieving hegemony in the region.

Because of China’s persistent unwillingness to cooperate, ASEAN claimant countries have started to draw a dangerous assumption about the unlikelihood of resolving the South China Sea dispute through peaceful negotiations. This suspicion is nicely expressed in a Philippine government statement  submitted to the Arbitration Tribunal in 2013: “Over the past 17 years of such exchanges of views, all possibilities of a negotiated settlement have been explored and exhausted.”

The U.S. Factor

Chinese aggression in the South China Sea concerns the United States, which fears the rise of China will come at the cost of U.S. influence in Asia-Pacific. As a result, the United States has persistently protested to defend freedom of navigation by conducting regular joint patrols with Japan and the Philippines and increasing financial support for ASEAN claimants. Nevertheless, confidence in the U.S. commitment to Asia-Pacific stability has gradually dwindled as Washington shows no determination in stopping China from continuing illegal conduct in the South China Sea. Some argue that the United States hesitates to give a strong response due to the fear of interrupting the U.S.-China bilateral relationship, especially economic ties. Others assert that the United States cannot act as a “policeman” guarding international law in the South China Sea dispute simply because the U.S. is not a party to UNCLOS.

In short, the current stagnation in the resolution of the South China Sea dispute is in part the continuation of the historical power game between the United States and others in the region. As long as different ASEAN members have diverging cooperation with the two great powers, it will be difficult to reach an agreement on the South China Sea dispute.

The Organizational Level

Unfortunately, there has been no leadership inside ASEAN. Thus, in times of crises like the South China Sea dispute, there is no leader to direct ASEAN member states toward a united position. Additionally, the facts that the organization’s capacity in all measures (economic development, political power, population) is considerably weaker in comparison with China and that China is ASEAN’s key trading partner are also fundamental reasons why ASEAN has failed to deal with the South China Sea dispute.

Apart from absence of leadership and disadvantaged capabilities, ASEAN also has inherent problems with its decision-making mechanism and organizational framework. ASEAN functions strictly within the mandate of ASEAN Charter, which demands “respecting the fundamental importance of amity and cooperation, and the principles of sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, non-interference, consensus and unity in diversity.” Accordingly, the decision-making mechanism of ASEAN is based on consultation and consensus, which in fact often prevents ASEAN members from reaching an agreement. Examples of ASEAN inability to find a common voice can be found in the failure to produce a final joint communiqué after ASEAN meetings in 2012 and in 2016.

Another important point is that ASEAN follows a conflict management model. That means the organization emphasizes conflict management rather than conflict resolution. The ASEAN framework of operation as a security organization is coded in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, which gives guidance on how to manage relations among states in Southeast Asia. By 2010, 19 non-ASEAN states (including key players like China, India, and the United States) had acceded to the Treaty.

The Treaty has the following to say about conflicts (emphasis added):
In the event no solution is reached through direct negotiations, the High Council shall take cognizance of the dispute or the situation and shall recommend to the parties in dispute appropriate means of settlement such as good offices, mediation, inquiry, or conciliation. The High Council may however offer its good offices, or upon agreement of the parties in dispute, constitute itself into a committee of mediation, inquiry or conciliation. When deemed necessary, the High Council shall recommend appropriate measures for the prevention of a deterioration of the dispute or the situation.
In this Article, the High Council is mentioned as the key body to be responsible for managing and settling conflicts. The power of the High Council is coded in Article 14, which says: “To settle disputes through regional processes, the High Contracting Parties shall constitute, as a continuing body, a High Council comprising a Representative at ministerial level from each of the High Contracting Parties to take cognizance of the existence of disputes or situations likely to disturb regional peace and harmony.”

The phrase “To settle disputes through regional processes…” and “a High Council comprising a Representative at ministerial level from each of the High Contracting Parties” emphasizes once again the inherent fragmented nature of the decision-making authority and the slow bureaucratic process of decision-making, even in times of disputes and conflicts.

Unfortunately, the Treaty’s conflict settlement mechanism through the High Council has never been applied to resolve any dispute, including the South China Sea dispute, even though the Treaty is supposed to be effective not only for ASEAN members but also for other signatories, including China. The failure of ASEAN to establish and give authority to the High Council as a regional tribunal has shaped the pattern of settling conflicts through bilateral discussions or third-party settlements. As a result, it is not surprising why China has successfully insisted on only conducting bilateral discussions with individual claimants.

As can be seen, the South China Sea dispute is a critical test for ASEAN since the dispute pushes all the clashes of interests at each of the three levels to the extreme, exposing the organization to the decision of whether to modify and upgrade itself, or to lose its central influence in the region. The international factors are external threats to ASEAN while the state-level and organization-level factors can be classified as internal threats. As a result, ASEAN should focus on dealing with its internal threats rather than its external threats, over which the organization has little control.

Part 3, the final part of this series, will give practical recommendations for ASEAN to overcome the challenges posed by the South China Sea dispute.

[Linh Tong is Editor for the East Asia region at Eurasia Diary and a Research Assistant at ADA University.]

The ASEAN Crisis, Part 1: Why the South China Sea Is a Critical Test

From The Diplomat (Dec 21): The ASEAN Crisis, Part 1: Why the South China Sea Is a Critical Test (By

The South China Sea dispute is a threat to the unity of ASEAN as a regional organization.

In the age of globalization, there is a trend of international organizations proliferating worldwide. On one hand, this trend positively shows countries being active in their foreign policies, trying to enhance their international status through multilateral forums. On the other hand, the fast-rising number of international organizations also reflects the dissatisfaction of countries toward the existing system of international organizations. In fact, the number of crises among international organizations is growing day by day; notable recent examples include Brexit and the immigration crisis in the European Union, South Africa and Burundi’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, postponement of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Pakistan, and the disunity of ASEAN in the South China Sea dispute.

In such a context, it is important to thoroughly investigate the causes and impacts of fundamental crises in the existing organizations so as to learn some lessons. In this series of three articles, the focus is on the ASEAN crisis, trying to answer the three questions of why the South China Sea dispute could pose a threat to the unity of ASEAN as a regional organization, what the root causes of the crisis are, and what ASEAN could do to overcome it.

Even though the South China Sea dispute is widely illustrated in the media outlets as a question of ASEAN-China tensions, it is not simply the case. However, the South China Sea dispute does pose an existential threat to ASEAN as a regional organization. The South China Sea dispute challenges ASEAN’s ability to manage regional insecurity resulting from an arms race, its responsibility to protect economic benefits, the lives of civilians, and environments of its member states, and its reputation as a credible international organization.

While ASEAN has made great efforts to push for further integration with the 2009-2015 Road Map to ASEAN Community, which consists of ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC), and ASEAN Social-Cultural Community, the South China Sea dispute has effectively thwarted those efforts by blocking ASEAN unity due to disagreements over the conflict’s resolution. The escalation of tensions in the South China Sea dispute since 2014 has brought the conflict to the top of the agenda of ASEAN – which is seen as the only legitimate regional counter-balance against China. Unfortunately, ASEAN member states failed to sustain a united position toward the South China Sea dispute, putting a big question mark on the possibility of the ASEAN community, especially the ASEAN Political-Security Community, which declares a commitment to “political development; shaping and sharing of norms; conflict prevention; conflict resolution; post-conflict peace building; and implementing mechanisms.”

Arms Race and Regional Insecurity

The most prominent threat is the militarization in the South China Sea. in February 2016, China deployed 32 advanced surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island in the Paracels, distressing the United States and China’s neighbors in ASEAN. In addition, in response to the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague that Chinese claims over 90 percent of the South China Sea area are illegitimate, China remained defiant. Chinese officials even implicitly threatened to establish an Air Defense Identification Zone to control aircraft movements over her claimed territory, which shows Chinese willingness to act unilaterally despite non-recognition from other states.

As the major counterbalance in the region, the United States responded by persistently operating “freedom of navigation exercises” as well as joint military patrols with the Philippines and potentially Japan, Australia, and Indonesia. Furthermore, the U.S. also enlarged her financial support for enhacing the military capabilities of ASEAN and East Asian countries and strengthened bilateral defense collaboration with these countries.

China’s rival claimants in ASEAN also reacted by increasing their defense budget. Compared to other ASEAN countries, Vietnam had the most significant enlargement, a 113 percent increase in defense expenditure in the 2004-2013 period. Vietnam spent $3.4 billion for military advancement in 2013 alone. Furthermore, Vietnam also actively engaged in strategic arms trade talks with India, Russia, and the U.S. since 2014.

Manila also moved to upgrade its military. The Philippines announced $885 million would be spent on purchase of “three guided-missile fast attack craft, two guided-missile stealth frigates, and two anti-submarine helicopters.” As a traditional ally of the United States, the Philippines also actively participated in bilateral military exercises with the U.S. and Japan in 2015 under former President Benigno Aquino. And despite the earlier disruption between new President Rodrigo Duterte and U.S. President Barack Obama, the Philippines reasserted her commitment to military cooperation with the U.S. in 2016.

Malaysia also officially increased its defense spending by 10 percent in October 2014 because of Chinese aggression in the disputed areas near James Shoal. On Admiral Aziz Jaafar, chief of the Royal Malaysian Navy, announced plans to attain “eight guided-missile corvettes and six anti-submarine helicopters … as well as the acquisition of small craft and the replacement of obsolescent torpedo and missile systems on navy ships.” Even Indonesia, a non-claimant state, also reiterated the country’s concern over the security in the South China Sea and announced her intention to strengthen Indonesia military presence in Natuna Islands.

In short, the militarization in response to the South China Sea Dispute poses an inevitable security dilemma for ASEAN countries. In the past, there were incidents of armed clashes in the region. For example, in January 1974, the Battle of the Paracel Islands between China and Vietnam led to  the deaths of 36 troops from both sides. Again, in 1976, 74 Vietnamese sailors were reported dead in a conflict over the Johnson Reef between Vietnam and China. There were also deadly incidents between China and the Philippines. In 1996, Chinese and Filipino gunboats clashed around Capones Island. In 2012, the two sides had a naval standoff over control of Scarborough Shoal. Should military activities continue to intensify, ASEAN citizens will undoubtedly suffer from instability and insecurity.

Threats for Economic Activities, Civilians, and the Environment 

Apart from military concerns, there have been a great deal of unfortunate conflicts in terms of economic interests, civilian security, and the environment. The fact that there is no reporting system to count the number of attacks against fishermen in the South China Sea or any mechanism to investigate or deal with the consequences of those attacks, demonstrates another shortcoming that ASEAN needs to improve. (Even though ASEAN has both a Fisheries Consultative Forum and a Strategic Plan of Action Cooperation on Fisheries 2016-2020, there is no regulation concerning attacks on fishermen in the South China Sea, especially when an outside state like China is involved.) Unless ASEAN manages to negotiate a more appropriate and effective code of conduct in the South China Sea with China, the lives of innocent citizens will continue to suffer.

There is a common, but dangerous, strategy among the claimant states to encourage fishermen to persistently conduct fishing activities in the disputed waters so as to assert their national territorial claims. The slogan is that the fishermen are the brave guards of national sea territory. While this strategy is effective in reiterating territorial claims, since international laws recognize acquisition of sovereignty over territory if and only if there is “intentional display of power and authority over the territory, by the exercise of jurisdiction and state functions, on a continuous and peaceful basis,” it endangers the life of innocent citizens.

For instance, in 1999, a Chinese fishing boat sank near the Scarborough Shoal after a collision with a Philippine naval vessel. In 2000, Philippine soldiers killed one while shooting at Chinese fishermen near Palawan Island. In the case of Vietnam, the three consecutive years of 2014, 2015, and 2016 observed a considerable number of deadly clashes between Vietnamese fishing boats and Chinese naval boats, in which the Chinese naval vessels intentionally attacked and sank Vietnamese fishing boats. Malaysia also reported concerns about Chinese fishing boats illegally encroaching into Malaysia’s Exclusive Economic Zone and Chinese Coast Guard vessels provoking Malaysian oil-exploring vessels in Malaysia’s EEZ.

Besides, the South China Sea is a very important trade route in the region with more than $5 trillion in trade passing through each year. As a regional organization, it is ASEAN’s responsibility to protect such enormous economic interests on behalf of the member states through peaceful negotiation and other political measures (ASEAN does not have a collective security mechanism).

Another prominent danger is China’s illegal construction of artificial islands and the  damage done to the natural environment. The Chinese idea of building nuclear power stations on these fragile islands in particular poses severe environmental threats to the South China Sea. Again, as a regional organization, ASEAN is expected to prevent such threats. Without being able to negotiate a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea to manage relations with China as well as among the country members, ASEAN would fail as a regional organization.

Raison d’Etre: A Challenge to ASEAN’s Legacy

If ASEAN cannot ensure the basic securities for ASEAN citizens, there is no meaningful reason for the organization to continue to exist. And that leads to the challenge of ASEAN’s legacy.
In fact, the case of ASEAN bears a great resemblance to the case of NATO at the time of the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991. NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – was a very unique initiative: a military organization invented in peace time. The original idea was to build up a collective security alliance to counter the threatening military power of the USSR. At that time, NATO played a crucial role in the power structure, at the core of which was the competition for influence between the Soviet-led Communist bloc and the U.S.-led Western bloc. However, as the Soviet Union, and subsequently the Warsaw Pact, dissolved in 1991, the de facto major opponent – the reason for NATO’s existence – was removed. As a result, NATO had to go through a careful re-evaluation process to redefine its purpose, nature, and responsibilities – in short its raison d’etre – in the European continent.

Similarly, ASEAN is at the stage of redefining its role in the region and the South China Sea dispute is the critical test demanding ASEAN modify itself so as to confront the increasingly aggressive China. Although the two cases do not match 100 percent – the dissolution of the USSR released NATO’s stress while the rising aggression of China is bringing about more difficulties for ASEAN – the logic about losing the original raison d’etre is the same.

ASEAN is one key element of East Asia’s postwar structure. The organization was preceded by ASA, the Association of Southeast Asia, founded in 1961 by Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand, which received great support from the United States and Britain. ASEAN itself was established in 1967 by the five countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, which had close affiliation with the West, especially Washington as the global power at that time. ASEAN’s primary goal in its early days was to accommodate a security structure during the Cold War. The establishment of ASEAN was originally driven by the widespread consternation against communism, and the enthusiasm to achieve economic prosperity. The communist bloc of Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam were allowed to join only in the second half of the 1990s.

As the Cold War ended between the United States and the Soviet Union, ASEAN managed to accumulate more political influence in the region and gradually emerged as a key player in regional economic and security activities. During the 1990s, ASEAN pursued the ASEAN Plus Three (China, Japan, and South Korea) in order to counterbalance the dominance of the U.S. influence in Asia-Pacific with the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) initiative. In the 1990s and early 2000s, China was an important partner and source of balance for ASEAN against the United States.
However, the ASEAN-China friendly partnership changed as China grew into a world power with bigger ambitions while the U.S. influence dwindled in the Asia-Pacific because of the “war on terror.” As a result, the South China Sea dispute observed increasing tensions between China and her neighbors, requiring ASEAN to adapt itself to a new political context. Unfortunately, ASEAN has persistently failed to establish a united front to deal with China, the rising hegemon. Therefore, ASEAN runs the risk of losing its raison d’etre.

In summary, in failing to solve the South China Sea dispute, ASEAN would lose its credibility at the international level as an effective regional organization, and among its members as a reliable guarantor for member states’ security and prosperity. ASEAN enjoyed its “golden” period in the 1990s and early 2000s, successfully completing its tasks of promoting regional economic developments and mediating conflicts among member states. Nevertheless, as China has changed her position and ambition in the region, ASEAN also needs to adapt itself to a new political context, confronting with the challenges of regional militarization, economic, civilian, and environmental security issues. The South China Sea is truly a critical test for ASEAN’s role as a regional organization.

[Linh Tong is Editor for the East Asia region at Eurasia Diary and a Research Assistant at ADA University.]

What Might Duterte's Southeast Asia Tour Mean for Regional Security?

From The Diplomat (Dec 23): What Might Duterte's Southeast Asia Tour Mean for Regional Security? (By

A brief look at the potential defense implications of the Philippine president’s recent regional voyages.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s trip to Singapore in December marks his eighth visit to a fellow Southeast Asian country since coming to office in June this year. So far, Duterte has toured Laos, Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Cambodia. This series of visits has preceded the Philippines commencing its chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2017. ASEAN will mark a significant milestone as it celebrates the 50th anniversary since its establishment in 1967.

Such introductory visits by statesmen and senior military leaders early within their terms in office are common in this region, but the tours are potentially beneficial for Duterte, who lacks experience in national politics and international diplomacy. He intends to gather insights from various ASEAN states to strengthen engagements and build a common action agenda on regional issues. Just how this corresponds to Duterte’s broader foreign and security policies remains to be seen.

Shifting Gears Toward ASEAN?

Coming off a historic win over its South China Sea arbitration case, Duterte surprised everybody when he decided to focus instead on strengthening relations with Beijing. He further emphasized that Manila will pursue an “independent foreign policy,” even suggesting that this policy seeks not only to strengthen relations with China, but also with Japan, South Korea, and other ASEAN states, focusing on Asian economic integration.

With this expansion of strategic partnerships and greater regional economic interaction, there is a perception that the Philippines might be moving outside the orbit of its long-time ally, the United States. Duterte, who is known to be a sharp critic of the United States since his days as mayor of Davao City, believes that the Philippines has for too long been subservient to American foreign policy. His relationship with the United States soured further when President Barack Obama criticized his anti-drug campaign. One of the reasons why Duterte shifted toward Beijing is because he prefers their stance regarding non-interference on sovereignty issues – in this case his pursuit of the war against drugs and what Western governments labeled as extrajudicial executions.

A similar emphasis on non-interference by Singapore was equally complimented by Duterte. At the state dinner hosted by President Tony Tan, Duterte commended Singapore for staying out of the Philippines’ domestic affairs, whereas the island city-state expressed support for Manila’s tough stance against drugs. His war on drugs campaign – a key sticking point which contributed to the recent downturn in Philippine-U.S. ties – has not drawn public criticism from fellow ASEAN governments, thereby upholding the norm of non-interference in internal affairs, which has long been part of the “ASEAN Way.” This contrasts with some fellow ASEAN member states, Malaysia for example, in how they have responded to Myanmar and the Rohingya issue.

It is apparent from Duterte’s Southeast Asia travels that there is a desire to shift away from the U.S. orbit, but not necessarily into that of China or Russia. In the pursuit of a more omni-directional foreign policy, Manila would have to balance its national interests between maintaining its role as part of the traditional, U.S.-led “hub and spoke” alliance system while maintaining its independence. ASEAN naturally serves as an arena for Duterte to recalibrate the country’s foreign and security policy agendas, which impact both external and domestic matters.

The domestic dimension looms large in this regard. Besides the relentless campaign against drugs, the Duterte administration is also reorienting national defense and security posture inwards, targeting the scourge of militancy and terrorism given the heightened threat posed by the Islamic State and associated organizations such as the Maute Group. The visits to ASEAN neighbors included significant discussions on counterterrorism. With Singapore, Duterte sought closer defense and security links with a primary focus on tackling transnational terrorism.

On the Regional Maritime Commons

In the maritime sphere, much attention following the July 12 arbitral award on the South China Sea was on the shift in Manila’s policy toward rapprochement with Beijing. While Duterte recently raised the prospect of putting the dispute on the backburner and even the possibility of joint energy exploration with China in the South China Sea, notable inroads have been made in the realm of cooperation between maritime forces.

The most recent inaugural coastguard committee meeting between the Philippines and China may herald a possible Sino-ASEAN wide initiative or mechanism involving civilian maritime law enforcement agencies. Nascent bilateral progress between Manila and Beijing could positively facilitate an expanded Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), earlier proposed in view of the rising prominence of coast guard-type and irregular maritime forces involved in recent South China Sea incidents.

Duterte’s visits to other ASEAN capitals certainly did not give any special emphasis on the South China Sea disputes; however, they did emphasize practical security cooperation to pursue collective solutions in response to shared maritime challenges. Noteworthy moves initiated by Duterte include granting permission to Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur to carry out “hot pursuit” of seaborne criminals and terrorists into Philippine waters. This is aimed at ameliorating the spate of “kidnap-for-ransom” attacks perpetuated by armed militants, especially the Abu Sayyaf Group, in the Sulu Sea tri-border area. There is a need for a regional perspective in this regard. It took long, sustained effort for Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore to agree to “hot pursuit” by their maritime forces as part of the Malacca Straits Patrols (MSP) against the spate of piracy and sea robbery attacks in the strategic waterway about a decade ago.

Could this set the stage for more “bold” initiatives within ASEAN, which could even potentially challenge the long-held premises of national sovereignty and territorial integrity that has hindered such operational forms of cooperation? Application of this “hot pursuit” practice in the Sulu Sea, not to mention the advocacy by Kuala Lumpur to base the Sulu Sea trilateral coordinated patrols on the MSP model, could signal more widespread acceptance of closer cooperation at this level. Certainly, mutual trust, friendship, and intramural unity would be necessary to ensure the success of such forms of maritime security cooperation.

Promoting Further ASEAN Defense Industrial Collaboration?

The recent interest from Manila in Chinese and Russian arms may be perceived as more evidence of Duterte’s break from reliance on the United States for its defense materiel needs. However, it is clear also that the Philippine military and police, being traditional users of Western equipment, would be cautious in the options undertaken.

For example, the $14.4 million grant offered by Beijing for Manila to procure Chinese armaments would yield limited increased capabilities – certainly not enough to procure any “big-ticket” items such as fighter jets or warships. The Philippine Department of National Defense is seeking equipment tailored for low-intensity operations such as fast boats, small arms, and night vision devices. These items could be fielded rapidly by the Philippine security agencies while minimizing undue dislocations caused by the diffusion of non-Western equipment.

The prospective purchase of these Chinese weapons and interest shown in Russian arms reflect Manila’s sense of urgency in equipping its security forces with sufficient capabilities. They seek to do so preferably with little or no risk posed to the sovereignty of their defense enterprise from a political downturn with a supplier like the U.S. in dealing with internal security threats such as drug criminals, militants, and terrorists.

If seen together with previous and more recent purchases, it becomes clear that Manila is pursuing a more diversified arms procurement strategy that aligns with Duterte’s omni-directional foreign and security policies. The recent purchase of air and surface search radars from the U.S. to equip two of the Philippine Navy’s patrol frigates is one such example. Duterte’s visit to ASEAN neighbors and advocacy for enhanced defense and security relations could well include greater emphasis on intra-ASEAN defense-industrial cooperation. After all, the Philippine Navy purchased a pair of landing ships, dubbed Strategic Sealift Vessels, from Indonesia. There is greater opportunity to strengthen ASEAN Defense Industry Collaboration, which can benefit the regional bloc’s defense and security capacity-building efforts through reduced costs. The Philippines is already in the process of building a defense industrial park that will house global military equipment makers.

Some Final Thoughts

Indeed, expectations are high for the unconventional, at times mercurial, Duterte as the Philippines takes the helm of ASEAN in its 50th year. If he can steer ASEAN in the right direction, notably acknowledging and abiding by the rule of law, he might be able to strengthen the region’s voice in the international community while maintaining its centrality when engaging with the major powers. It may also present an opportunity for Manila to recalibrate its foreign and security policies – maintaining its security alliance while carving out a niche for itself to play a larger, more constructive role in the region. The potential for this undertaking could benefit not only the Philippines, but also ASEAN as a bloc in pursuing its long-avowed desire to remain a driver of the regional security architecture.

[Ava A. Goldman recently completed her PhD at Cranfield University, U.K. She is currently based in Singapore.

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

KA Bart: from ‘Warrior’ to ‘peacemaker’

From the Journal Online (Dec 25): KA Bart: from ‘Warrior’ to ‘peacemaker’

AS the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) celebrates its 48th anniversary today, it is not mere speculation to assert that it is one with the rest of the country in entertaining the possibility of a final peace agreement being signed with the government within the term of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte.

Aside from the country’s top communist leaders headed by CPP chairman Benito Tiamzon, another ranking communist leader who is in a position to express this new-found optimism is none other than Tirso ‘Ka Bart’ Alcantara, the former spokesman and “commander” of the ‘Melito Glor Command’ (MGC), the main fighting force of the CPP’s ‘New People’s Army (NPA) operating in Southern Tagalog.

Up to the middle of 2000, the military concedes that “STR” (Southern Tagalog Region), where Ka Bart holds sway since the late ‘70s as NPA “chieftain,” is the “strongest” among the country’s regions where the CPP-NPA operates.
With the MGC’s growth seemingly unstoppable, the name of Ka Bart and his exploits took on the form of “folk legend” not only among the rural folks but also, among “activists” and “mass leaders” who all “revered” him and, among local officials, who all “feared” him.
Due to the danger this proximity of the growing MGC poses to the security of the nation’s capital and the established order, the military, under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, designated Southern Tagalog as part of its own     “NPA” (national priority area) under ‘Oplan Bantay Laya II’ that targeted for “pacification” the northern, central and southern parts of Luzon.
As such, majority of the military’s and the entire government’s resources in suppressing the CPP-NPA were poured into the region during the latter part of the Macapagal Arroyo administration.
By the time Ka Bart was captured on January 4, 2011 in Lucena City, Quezon, the military, this time under ‘Oplan Bayanihan’ under Pres. Benigno Aquino III, had already boasted that the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas and parts of Rizal, Quezon and the island of Mindoro, have all been “cleared” from “communist infestation” and are now considered “peace and development ready.”

“I give my word, I won’t go back”
Privately, the military considers the capture of Ka Bart, now 63, as one of their “major” accomplishments, conceding that he has given the military a “big headache” the whole time that he has been commanding the NPA forces in Southern Tagalog.
Wounded near his buttocks after trying to shoot it out with his military captors, Ka Bart would spend nearly two years-20 months-in solitary confinement (“bartolina”) inside the restricted compound of the Philippine Army’s ‘Intelligence Service Group’ (ISG) inside Fort Bonifacio.
Indeed, while still recuperating at the Army hospital inside the camp from his bullet wound, a platoon of soldiers, armed to the teeth, were encamped just outside the hospital as an added security measure.
Slapped with at least 49 criminal cases ranging from murder to arson, Ka Bart conceded that had it not been for the peace initiative by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, a key component of which was freeing key leaders of the CPP-NPA like him for the peace talk, he is not likely to taste freedom, albeit temporary, again.
“Kung hindi sa peace talk (of Pres. Duterte), hindi na siguro ako makakalaya,” he said, matter of fact. By his own reckoning, he has been behind bars for “5 years, 11 months and 8 days” before being set free for the peace talks.
But what would it be for him and other rebel leaders? “Temporary” liberty as granted by the court while the peace talk is ongoing?
Or, would it mean taking the opportunity to go back to living “underground” and reassume his preeminent role as CPP-NPA leader in Southern Tagalog?
Here, Ka Bart also revealed that his “comrades” have been pressing him to “go back” to the armed revolutionary movement because he is “needed” but he refused.

“Nagbigay na ako ng aking salita; hindi na ako babalik; bagaman ang ‘puso’ ko ay nasa kanila (underground armed revolutionary movement), iba na ang ‘trabaho’ ko ngayon, sa usaping pangkapayapaan na,” he said.
Ka Bart said he made the “promise” even to the three different court judges who have been hearing his assortment of criminal cases and who asked him of his intention before allowing him to join the peace talks.

ARMM to counter Islamic militancy with P10-B projects

From the Manila Times (Dec 25): ARMM to counter Islamic militancy with P10-B projects

SULTAN KUDARAT, Maguindanao: The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will set aside P10.1 billion for infrastructure projects in 2017 to counter the spread of Islamic militancy in the area.

ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman signed early this month the region’s Public Works Act for 2017 detailing all projects to be funded with the P10.1 billion allocation from the national budget.

The regional Mindanao Assembly Act, passed annually by the 24-member Regional Assembly, is focused on construction of major roads and bridges, water supply facilities, seaports and flood control structures.

It provides for strategic infrastructure initiatives meant to promote peace and security and boost the ARMM’s investment and tourism climate.

Engineer Don Mustapha Loong, Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) regional secretary, said in Sulu alone, dozens of new school buildings were made accessible to school children by newly-built farm-to-market roads.

“We have video documentations of how children now conveniently walk to school as a result of these projects,” Loong added.

Besides arterial road networks and school buildings, the ARMM is also constructing water supply facilities in underdeveloped towns in the autonomous region.

Its officials are optimistic that they can prevent Islamic militancy from spreading to five Moro provinces with the 2017 infrastructure budget.

Fanatical jihadists are spreading their campaign in isolated areas in the ARMM provinces composed of Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao by harping on poverty to undermine the government.

A big part of the P10.1-billion budget is earmarked for various projects in isolated towns in Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Sulu where there are radical forces copying the style of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Most of the projects to be implemented in the Sulbat (Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi) provinces next year are arterial road networks needed to maximize access of children to public schools as outlined in the newly-enacted ARMM Public Works Act for 2017.

In the 2nd district of Maguindanao, a known bastion of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), engineers had constructed 74 public school buildings in the past 36 months in support of efforts to address illiteracy, the main cause of local residents’ vulnerability to extremism.

Records and drone images obtained last Wednesday from the office of District Engineer James Mlok, chief of the Maguindanao 2nd District Engineering Office (DEO), indicated that most of the school buildings built during the period are in strongholds of BIFF forces.

The BIFF is trying all means to keep children of Moro families from entering regular schools so they can be easily indoctrinated by radical preachers in its ranks.

Sources from the Commission on Audit confirmed last Thursday that the school buildings built by the Maguindanao 2nd DEO have all been inspected and turned over to the local communities.

Drone footage from Mlok’s office also showed that most school campuses in the 2nd district of Maguindanao are now connected to remote villages by farm-to-market roads built in the past three years.

The BIFF and the Dawlah Islamiya, also known as the Maute terror group operating in the 1st district of Lanao del Sur, are enforcing a ruthless Taliban-style justice system in underdeveloped areas, from whose residents they collect zakat (alms) at gunpoint to sustain the food and other needs of its members.

Dr. John Magno, ARMM regional education secretary, said in 2017, they will expand their peace education programs in conflict-affected areas to help address Islamic militancy.

The Department of Education in the ARMM hired more than 2,000 licensed teachers in the past 36 months.

 The teachers are deployed to remote towns where there are new school buildings built by the region’s Public Works department through its eight component-district engineering offices.

“We don’t have absentee or ghost teachers anymore as what the department had before 2013. That anomaly condoned lawlessness in many areas in the autonomous region. Education is a potent antidote to religious extremism,” Magno said.

Australian authorities worried over Indonesia’s growing religious and racial intolerance

From the Herald Sun (Dec 25): Australian authorities worried over Indonesia’s growing religious and racial intolerance

IN Gasibu Square in Indonesia’s third largest city of Bandung east of Jakarta, 25,000 students recently rallied to mark Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.
The event went without incident but the serene scene of devotion in chant and song is somewhat in contrast to what is bubbling below the surface not just in Bandung or Indonesia but more broadly the region.

And the ramifications of these have Australian police worried.

“If Bandung is safe, West Java and Indonesia will be safe as well,” National Police chief General Tito Karnavian declared somewhat prophetically at the end of the peaceful gathering.

But his apparent relief belies the growing religious and racial intolerance in Bandung and across Indonesia that in recent days has seen the storming of Christian Christmas celebrations by hard line Sunni Muslims. It also comes with intelligence uncovering Islamic madrasa schools preaching hate of the West and the forming of an unholy alliance of disparate jihadist groups — including members of the once feared and believed disbanded Jemaah Islamiyah — now pledging allegiance to Islamic State which is set to declare its desire for a four-nation caliphate in the region.

Officers of the Indonesian national police elite unit ‘Mobile Brigade’ take their positions during a drill ahead of Christmas celebration in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia on December 21. Picture: AP / Binsar Bakkara

To this end, a terror training camp has already been established in a remote corner of the Philippines for battle-weary South East Asians of all countries fleeing the Middle East but wanting to continue the cause under the Black Standard of ISIS at home.

It is this confluence of evil that has law enforcers expressing grave security fears for Australians at home and living or travelling abroad and has led to unprecedented liaison between regional police forces including officers and intelligence agents deployed from Australia and fanning out across the region.

It is also to this backdrop Indonesian police announced last week the mobilisation of 155,000 officers to the nation’s streets from December 23 to January 4 not to mention a small army of intelligence-backed military to hunt terrorist plotters looking to make a spectacular statement.

Indeed, just a day before that show of force, counter-terror squad police in Jakarta shot dead three suspected militants, arrested a fourth and uncovered a bomb.

Earlier raids netted three suspected terrorists in Central Java and a plot to bomb somewhere outside Java, potentially Bali.

“You could say there is a fair bit going on at the moment,” an Australian Federal Police agent on the frontline of counter-terrorism said.

Liaison between a loose coalition of law enforcers in Australia, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and partner states like Thailand has been set-up to combat what many are saying is a perfect storm of events that could see elements of the melee of Syria and Iraq transposed to the southern hemisphere.

On a scale of 1-10 on the threat to regional security, Indonesian terror expert Al Chaidar was clear this week. It is a “9”.

“Yes it is a 9, we are almost like Syria,” he told News Corp Australia yesterday.
“We are at an intolerance emergency, it’s horrible.

“Not only threat related with security but also threat related with diversity. Our pluralism multiculturalism is currently being threatened. Our tolerance life is also being threatened by the appearance of intolerance movements.”

He said while the West remained the target, internally and pushed from outside by groups like ISIS was faith-based intolerance. He said unlike before, those looking to support jihad were media and tech savvy middle class figures and not just the disaffected from lower socio economics.

He said there were seven main terrorist group in Indonesia, three affiliated with al-Qaeda and four with ISIS looking to make a spectacular attack and spark internal conflict like in Syria to pave the wave for a caliphate declaration. But he said the region was under threat from other ideologies looking to unite.

Earlier this year, four Islamic militant groups in the Philippines including the brutal Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) swore allegiance to ISIS with hunted jihadist Isnilon Hapilon (aka Abu Abdullah al-Filipini) anointed as ISIS “emir of Southeast Asia”.

The ISIS regional title was reportedly to have gone to Indonesian firebrand cleric and Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) leader Aman Abdurrahman but he was arrested and now continues to lead from the inside only.

But his followers instead now have fallen into line with the Filipino plot with movement between Indonesia, Malaysia, Borneo, Singapore fluid. ISIS elements have also risen up in Bangladesh and Brunei is said to be a target for ISIS recruitment and inclusion into its desired caliphate.

Malaysian and Indonesians are actively training in Mindanao in the Philippines; there have been some 900 nationals from these countries and Singapore who have travelled to Syria to join ISIS and for an attack and at least 100 have returned with more suspected hiding in remote camps in Philippines.

Mark Briskey, former Australian Federal Police agent who was based in Jakarta at the time of the Bali bombings and was one of the tragedies’ leading investigators, said the swearing of the regional allegiance behind ISIS chief al-Baghdadi was a major worry.

Dr Briskey said it wasn’t particularly new to see these militant groups finding common ground but he said the face of the terrorist was evolving, to include middle class radicals many of whom are being radicalised in their homes from internet or via the community promotion of intolerance.

“The risk is high, and as we’ve seen it only need someone to be off-radar, off the association diagram sitting in the ASIO and AFP offices, if there is a cleanskin person who has radicalised themselves independently they are only limited by their imagination,” he said.

“We’ve seen this in Canada earlier in the year and regionally we saw the Indonesians claim the interdiction of a plot earlier in the month … despite best efforts of the Indonesian National Police, there is still a strong likelihood at some point someone is going to undertake these acts.”

Another new regional trend in terror has been the recruitment of women as potential suicide bombers, recruiters and or organisers.

Three women were arrested earlier this month for the attempted plot to bomb Indonesia’s Presidential State Palace with a 3kg chemical bomb, the operation financed directly from figures in Syria.

Indonesian anti-riot police take part in a roll call in Jakarta on December 22, 2016, as part of efforts to secure Christmas and New Year celebrations. Picture: AFP / Bay Ismoyo

But there are other plots and according to Australian law enforcement that has led to unprecedented liaisons between regional counter terrorism agencies notably between Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

South East Asian law enforcers are even looking to adopt Australian techniques to identify potential terrorists.

A human risk assessment tool being deployed in South East Asia by police looks at a 27-point model to risk assess those likely to take up the jihadi cause.

The “27 indicator” model created by academics in Melbourne stemmed in part from analysis of transcripts of the multi-agency ASIO, AFP and NSW and Victorian police forces’ Operation Pendennis that uncovered two terrorist cells in Sydney and Melbourne that saw 17 people arrested and in 2009 led to the 15 year jailing of plot leader Abdul Nacer Benbrika, as well as studies of overseas experience of extremists and right wing and left wing activists.

One of the creators of the model Professor Greg Barton said the model looked at social circles, observations from family and teachers, known aggression and expression of ideas.

“The 27 is not a magic number … it’s a matrix to work out where to pay attention on a large watchlist, to sort through what your immediate priorities are,” he said.

Macquarie University terror expert Associate lecturer Lise Waldeck who formally worked for the UK’s Ministry of Defence and Home Office, said the move away from criminal or ethnic profiling to more fluid risk assessment indicators was a positive step.

Ms Waldeck said ISIS had recently been telling its militants overseas to “camouflage” themselves including wearing Western clothes and shaving off beards to strike.

She said looking at vulnerabilities like economic, personality traits, employment and education, psychological health, social networks, family ties was more relevant than crime profiles of just age, gender, race, age, previous criminal history and gang or crime family associations.

“If you transposed that to terrorism it’s not particularly useful,” she said. “In the past yes a majority of individuals engaging in violent extremism were males but actually now there’s a growing number of women … age range too, 18 to 25 before but now we see a lot more younger boys and girls as well as people all the way up into their late 30s and into their 40s.”

She said risk assessment matrixes had been used overseas notably by authorities in the UK, Germany and Denmark with some success and allowed for a quicker response and preventive measures to deradicalise suspects.

News Corp Australia has learned many schools in Indonesia are skirting the radical tag by preaching not hate but history, highlighting in rhetoric how regional Muslim power was taken by the West in centuries gone by.

These teaching include colonialisation by Christians backed by armed forces who “stole” Muslim power notably the Spanish and Americans in the Philippines and the Dutch all to push the Christian word.

It gives some authenticity to preaching about the need to reclaim lost original Islamic lands.

Of the unprecedented liaison with overseas counter terrorism fight, the AFP would not comment yesterday.

“The AFP works closely with its international partners to address the shared threat of terrorism, we do not, however, comment on matters of intelligence,” an AFP spokeswoman said.