Friday, January 13, 2017

MILF: Young Muslim Leaders discuss the Bangsamoro youth issues, challenges and opportunities

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Jan 14): Young Muslim Leaders discuss the Bangsamoro youth issues, challenges and opportunities

Delegates of the Young Muslim Leaders Congress-Philippines from Mindanao and the island provinces convened to discuss issues affecting the Bangsamoro youth and the challenges and opportunities as the Bangsamoro people embark in the peace process with the current administration.

Around one hundred select Muslim youth joined the gathering held at Mindanao State University-Gensan on December 26-30, 2015.

Lead organizer Kaharuddin Dalaten cited the importance of motivating the young Muslims in the country to take part in resolving issues affecting the Bangsamoro people in general.

He said, “it is our responsibility to train competent individuals imbued with a sense of nationalism and social responsibility, to inculcate respect for and appreciation of cultural diversity, and to develop innovative programs that contribute to the enhancement of peace, development and Islamic education.”

Invited resource persons tackled the role of the Muslim youth as community builders and agents of change. One of the important topics discussed was the historical development of Bangsamoro identity.

The strategies to surmount the challenges affecting the young Bangsamoro in the country and the emerging radicalism and violent extremism were also delved.

The participants also learned the initiatives on how the youth can help sustain the gains of the Bangsamoro peace processes.

They also had the opportunity to visit a Madrasah in Calabanit, Glan and learned how a strong partnership between the parents, Asatidz and the local stakeholders helps strengthen Islamic education in the community.

Madaris fpr Peace Project and the Kalinaw Sarangani Project under the Sulong Sarangani Program of the provincial government of Sarangani were also presented.

One of the major outputs of the Congress was the drafting of Bangsamoro Youth Development  Plan-Philippines to be presented to the peace implementing panels and concerned agencies.

The event was organized by Concerned Muslim Individuals and Federation of Muslim Students Association with the support of The Asia Foundation, AFADMin Inc., Mindanao State University-Gensan, Office of the Bangsamoro Youth Affairs of the ARMM, Governor Steve Chiongbian Solon of Sarangani, Governor Sultan Pax Mangudadatu of Sultan Kudarat, the city government of General Santos and Mayor Bairihan Sakaluran.

It was also supported by the Young Moro Professionals Council, Alkubz Cakes and Pastries, Al Ihsan Tutorial Centre, Dulaw Cuisine and RD Foundation.

MILF: UBJP holds 2nd Assembly in Barira, Maguindanao

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Jan 14): UBJP holds 2nd Assembly in Barira, Maguindanao

Barira,Maguindanao - The United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP - Barira), the political party of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) held its second assembly at the former Mahad Bualan, Barira on December 8, 2017.  It was attended by about 200 party officials from the municipal down to the barangay level excluding non-members who listened attentively to the speakers.

The welcome address was delivered by Barangay Captain and ABC President of Barira, Datu Edris T. Dimaraw, who was very thankful for having chosen his barangay as venue of the said assembly.

“The said assembly was graced by H. Abdullah Pacasum, member of the MILF-CC and also the Assistant Provincial Executive Officer of Maguindanao Province. 

He even lauded the leadership of Sultan Abubakar Tago, the Municipal Executive Officer of Barira town for hosting the 2nd Assembly.

In recognition, he awarded Sultan Tago a certificate for being the most outstanding in the entire province.

The Barira – UBJP has its Headquarters at Barangay Marang, where the first assembly was held last year.

A regular monthly meeting is held at this office where the 14 Barangay Executive Officers are attending to discuss matters pertaining to the strengthening of the party.

Pacasum, most popularly known as Abu Ubaida advised the participants to be more patient and not to easily give up as we are now in the democratic process of our struggle which is why this party was organized.

More challenges lies ahead but “with your strong determination and strong believe in the leadership of the MILF, in shaa Allah, nothing is impossible, we can set this party in motion at the very near future”, he said.

“Just continue strengthening” our party, your party, my party” he added.

On his part, Abu Asma, the Information Director of Iranun Province and also the party adviser delved on the Bangsamoro peace Process.

He started citing the failure of the previous administration of Pres. Benigno Aquino III who committed not to step down unless the Bangsamoro Government is established. Unfortunately, the 16th Congress failed to enact an enabling law called the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that would pave the way for the most awaited establishment of Bangsamoro Region.

“We are very fortunate today that our president His Excellency Rodrigo Roa Duterte is also a Mindanaoan and the only leader who admits the historical injustices committed to the Bangsamoro people, and nothing could appease them (Bangsamoro) except the passing of BBL”.

“Pres. Duterte had already signed the Executive Order reconstituting the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that will draft anew a Bangsamaoro Law for enactment into law by congress”, Abu Asma added.

 “We are now very eager to hear the pronouncement of their names so that, they could start their role of drafting the new BBL, to catch up with the July 2017 target set under the peace roadmap”, Abu Asma continued.

Sheikh Ali Tago the Chairman of the Ulama Council of Barira LGU’s likened the party to a vessel that it is incumbent for the people to ride on so that they can reach their destination”…And as for myself, I will fully support this political party without reservation, he also said.

Before the end of the program, certificates of appreciation were awarded to the concerned party members.

 A du’a or prayer was delivered by Ustad Saadodin Pitado.

CPP/NPA: Hindi dapat isabalikat ng mamamayan ang gastusin ng gobyerno

New People's Army propaganda statement posted to the Communist Party of the Philippines Website (Jan 13): Hindi dapat isabalikat ng mamamayan ang gastusin ng gobyerno

Jaime “Ka Diego” Padilla
Melito Glor Command
NPA-Southern Tagalog

13 January 2017

Sa napipintong maintenance shutdown ng Malampaya natural gas fields sa Palawan mula Ene. 28 – Peb. 16, maling ipapasan sa balikat ng mamamayan ang mga gastusin ng gobyerno sa pagsasaayos ng maintainance nito.

Hindi dapat pagbayarin ang mamamayan sa anumang kakulangan ng reaksyunaryong gobyerno sa bawat serbisyong panlipunang tungkulin nilang ibigay.

Sapilitang naipapataw ang dagdag singil sa kuryente at langis sa mamamayang Pilipino dahil sa pagpasok ng reaksyunaryong gobyerno sa mga neo-liberal na polisiyang liberalisasyon, pribatisasyon, deregulasyon at denasyunalisasyon na pawang mga patakrarang anti-mamamayan at pro-imperyalista.

Anti-mamamayang kalakarang pumapatay sa kabuhayan

Malinaw na hindi maglilingkod sa interes ng sambayanang Pilipino ang mga neoliberal na patakarang minana ng kasalukuyang rehimen sa mga nagdaang rehimeng nagpakatuta sa Imperyalismong US.
Pinatataas nito ang singil sa mga serbisyong panlipunang dapat ibinibigay ng libre ng reaksyunaryong gobyerno. Dahil pribadong pagmamay-ari ng mga dayuhan ang kumpanya, lalo iyong mga nagbibigay ng mga serbisyong panlipunan sa bansa, hindi kontrolado ng administrasyon ang anumang mga dagdag-singil na hihingin nito.

Pinatutustos nito sa mamamayan ang mga pagsasaayos ng mga pasilidad sa anyo ng mga buwis sa mamamayan na matagal nang bahagi sa mga inaambag nilang lakas-paggawa sa araw-araw nilang paghahanap-buhay.

Sinisira nito ang kabuhayan ng mga mamamayan. Sa Timog Katagalugan pa lamang, kaliwa’t kanang demolisyon ang kinaharap ng mga maralita sa bawat itinatayong mga imprastraktura tulad ng mga coal-fired power plants, dam sa Laguna, Cavite, Batangas, Quezon, Mindoro at Palawan na magsisilbing daluyan ng enerhiyang magmumula sa Malampaya. Inaagawan ng lupang pagtatamnan ang mga magsasaka sa buong Timog Katagalugan sa pamamagitan ng Land Use Conversion kung kaya’t nananatiling pito sa sampung magsasaka dito ang walang sariling lupa at tatlo sa apat na magsasaka ang napipilitang magbenta ng kanilang lakas-paggawa dahil sa kawalan ng sariling lupang masasaka. Inaagawan nito ang mga mangingisda ng kanilang pook-pangisdaan kung saan itinayo ang mga tubo.

Pro-imperyalistang kalakarang nakakasira sa kalikasan, kaunlaran

Hindi lingid sa ating kaalamang itinabing sa kaunlaran ng Malampaya natural gas fields ang pagkawasak sa ating kalikasan. Bukod pa ito sa mga itinatayong mga dam at coal-fired power plants na pansuporta sa daluyan ng enerhiya nito.

Nanganganib ang ating karagatan dahil sa mga tubong itinayo sa ilalim ng Malampaya. Isa itong deklaradong protected area na pinayagan ng reaksyunaryong gobyerno noong Rehimeng US-Macapagal-Arroyo na mamina. Ikinatatakot ng mamamayan ang panganib na guguho ang lupa dahil sa ilalim ng lupa nagaganap ang pagmimina.

Malaking bahagi ng mga imperyalistang kumpanya ang nakikinabang rito tulad ng Shell (Royal Dutch) na maging ang royalties nito ay napupunta sa kanila habang maiiwang tagibang ang kalikasan ng bansa at ninakawan ng kaunlaran ang sambayanang Pilipinong maiiwanan nito kapag buung-buong nagatasan na nila ng yamang-mineral ito.

Kung kaya’t malaking kahungkagang isabalikat pa ng mamamayang Pilipino ang mga gastusin sa pasilidad nito. Lalong ginigisa nito sa sariling mantika ang buong sambayanan. Malaking bagay kung tutuparin ng gobyernong Duterte ang pangako nitong iwaksi ang mga neoliberal na polisiya nito, kabaliktaran sa ipinupursige nito ngayon.

Kung tunay na makamamamayan si GRP President Rodrigo Duterte, hinahamon namin siyang iwaksi na ang mga mapang-aliping neoliberal na polisiyang ipinataw sa atin ng Imperyalistang US at ng mga nagdaang administrasyon.

Inaasahan ng mamamayan ng Timog Katagalugan na papakinggan ang kanilang tinig at mga hinaing na siya ring laman at iginigiit ng National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) sa ilalim ng Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER). Ang problema sa Malampaya ay isa sa maraming mga hinaing ng mamamayan sa Timog Katagalugan na marapat na bigyang kalutasan alinsunod sa CASER.

CPP/NPA: MGC-NPA: dapat nang ibigay ang Coco Levy Funds sa mga magsasaka

New People's Army propaganda statement posted to the Communist Party of the Philippines Website (Jan 14): MGC-NPA: dapat nang ibigay ang Coco Levy Funds sa mga magsasaka (MGC-NPA should give the Coco Levy Funds to farmers)

Jaime “Ka Diego” Padilla
Melito Glor Command
NPA-Southern Tagalog

14 January 2017
Magandang bagay na ipapamahagi na ang nabalam na Coco Levy Funds sa mga magniniyog. Matagal na itong hinihiling ng mga magniniyog mula nang ipataw ito ng diktador na si Ferdinand Marcos upang pakinabangan at huthutan ng pamilya Marcos ang hirap at pagod ng mga magniniyog.
Bilang pagtupad sa kanyang pangako, aantabayanan ng rebolusyonaryong kilusan ang seryosong pagtugon ng gobyernong Duterte sa pamamahagi ng naturang pondo sa mga maglulukad.

Subalit, pinakamaganda kung ipapaubaya na ng gobyernong Duterte sa mga magsasaka ang pamamahala sa Coco Levy Funds. Hindi maaaring isagubyerno o isapribado ito dahil kolektibo itong pinaghirapan ng mga maglulukad kung kaya’t lehitimo ang karapatan nila rito. Dapat kilalanin ng gobyerno ang kakayanan ang mga magsasaka na mamahala ng kanilang pinansya at kooperatiba na tunay na maglilingkod sa kanilang interes.

Malaki ring kaalwanan ito sa mga maglulukad matapos ang sunud-sunod na taong pagkakasalanta ng bagyong Glenda, Lawin at nitong nagdaan, ang bagyong Nina. Mayor na naapektuhan ng mga nagdaang bagyo ang mga coconut-producing regions. Sa Timog Katagalugan pa lamang, milyun-milyong puno ng niyog ang nakatanim at nilulukad na, 600,000 nito ay nasa Quezon.

Kailangan ring maayos na matukoy ang tamang halagang marapat na mapapunta sa mga maglulukad. Ayon sa Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), P75.4 bilyon na ang inabot ng naturang pondo, subalit nakaltas na rito ang daang bilyong halagang ninakaw na ng pamilya Cojuangco. Umabot na sa P246 bilyon ang totoong halaga nito ayon sa daang libong maglulukad.
Dapat papanagutin ng administrasyong Duterte si Eduardo “Danding” Cojuanco sa pagnanakaw ng Coco Levy Funds na ipinuhunan sa mga negosyo ng San Miguel Corporations, mga kumpanya ng pagmimina tulad ng VIL Mining Company na pumerwisyo sa mga niyugan sa hangganang Quezon-Bicol at pagbili ng ilang mga pribadong ari-arian. Habang nananatiling nagtitiyaga sa P20 kita kada araw ang pamilya ng mga magniniyog.

Kung maipapatupad ito ni GRP President Rodrigo Duterte, ikauusad ito ng kabuhayan ng maglulukad at makakamit nila ang apat na dekadang karapatang ipinagkait sa kanila. Susi ang pag-angat ng kabuhayan ng mga magsasaka, sa pagkakamit ng isang tunay, pangmatagalan at makatarungang kapayapaan.

Sa kabilang banda, nakasalalay sa kamay ng mga magniniyog ang pagsasakatuparan ng kanilang mga mithiin. Buong diwang susuportahan sila ng Melito Glor Command na makamit ito.#

How Will Trump and Duterte Change the U.S.-Philippines Relationship?

From the Asia Society (Jan 13): How Will Trump and Duterte Change the U.S.-Philippines Relationship?

The 2016 elections of Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump as president of the Philippines and United States respectively sent shockwaves across the two countries. Both men, known for their fiery and unconventional rhetoric, have expressed eagerness in taking on long-standing traditions and shaking up the status quo in both Manila and Washington, D.C. What this means for the future of the U.S.-Philippine relationship remains to be seen.

On the one hand, Trump’s election may offer an opportunity to stabilize relations between the two countries, which had been deteriorating under Duterte and Obama. Duterte has already suggested he and Trump share a certain rapport, noting he told the U.S. president-elect, “We are similar and people with the same feathers flock together.” On the other hand, Trump and Duterte’s “speak first, ask questions later” instincts could increase the potential for unexpected turbulence in the relationship. The two could also find themselves at odds over a number of substantive issues, including military basing costs, offshoring of U.S. companies, and U.S. immigration policies.

Lindsey Ford, ASPI’s Director for Asian Security and Richard Holbrooke Fellow, talked with Doris Dumlao-Abadilla, a reporter for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and an Asia Society Asia21 Young Leader, to discuss her thoughts on the way ahead for this important relationship. Excerpts from their conversation are included below. The conversation below reflects personal opinions and does not represent the formal institutional position of either the Philippine Daily Inquirer or the Asia Society.

President-elect Trump and President Duterte had an introductory call recently that President Duterte described as “encouraging,” while the Trump team noted they agreed to work together to address “matters of shared interest and concern.” What do you think these matters will be? What are some of the biggest priorities and concerns in the Philippines right now regarding the bilateral relationship?

I think one of the first things to address will be the status of the security relationship. As you know, President Duterte had previously said that he wants all U.S. troops out of the Philippines in two years, but he’s also said he is not necessarily reneging on obligations such as our mutual defense agreement and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. He is clearly pursuing an independent foreign policy, but I don’t think President Duterte’s so-called pivot to Asia necessarily conflicts with our defense agreements with the United States. So I think it will be important for both sides to clarify the status of these military arrangements.

Another thing that will be a big concern is to discuss U.S. immigration policies. President Duterte has complained many times in the past that he feels the United States has unfair visa requirements for Filipinos, especially considering that its gives visa-free privileges to citizens of other Asian countries like Singapore and Brunei. Duterte has even shared personal anecdotes on this front, noting his own difficulties traveling to the United States when he was younger. This issue has really resonated here in the Philippines. There is rising consumer affluence, so a lot of young people want to travel to the United States, and there is, of course, great interest in going to find work in the United States as well. Given Trump’s position on immigration, it may be unrealistic to expect the United States to move right away to allow visa-free travel for all Filipinos, but maybe there could be some form of easing over the next few years. This will be important because President Duterte has suggested that perhaps there will be a tit-for-tat on visa restrictions if the United States doesn’t change its approach. It won’t benefit anyone to build up travel and work barriers.

Is there any concern in the business community in the Philippines about the future of the U.S.-Philippines relationship, especially given the international fixation on some of Mr. Duterte’s alleged human rights abuses?

The bigger concern right now is what it would mean if President-elect Trump implements some of the protectionist and isolationist views he has talked about during the campaign. That’s a big issue right now for our businesses, especially since the outsourcing industry makes up a significant portion of our economy. The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry generates approximately $22 million in annual revenue here in the Philippines, and U.S. businesses account for approximately 70 to 80 percent of that revenue. For example, JPMorgan has around 15,000 employees here in the Philippines, many of them doing outsourced work. They are here because moving these operations to the Philippines provides significant cost efficiencies for their company. So it will really be a big blow if Trump follows through with his earlier threat of maybe preventing U.S. companies from pursuing offshore operations.

Another issue of concern for the business community will be commodities and oil prices. Theoretically, the Philippines should benefit when oil prices are low since we are an oil-importing country. We’ve seen this in recent years due to the slump in oil prices. But there is a limit to these benefits because there are other concerns as well. For example, we have a lot of Filipinos working in the Middle East, so if the oil downturn is protracted, that puts many people’s jobs at risk as petrodollars disappear. The loss of overseas remittances would be significant for the Philippine economy. In general, below a certain threshold, for example, if oil prices are below 40 to 50 dollars per barrel, then the negatives outweigh the positives for a country like the Philippines. So Trump’s push for increased U.S. energy production is another issue that will be a concern for us.

Is there anything Trump could do or say right at the outset of his administration that would reassure people in the Philippines about the prospects for U.S.-Philippine relations?

The first would be to clarify his positions on offshoring and what that will mean for U.S. companies working abroad, as I mentioned earlier. The second would be to reassure people that U.S. defense agreements and commitments to the Philippines still stand. I think one of the factors driving President Duterte’s decision to befriend China was the feeling that the Philippines couldn’t get the kind of clarity and support it wanted from the United States on military and defense issues. You saw this during his visits to China and Japan when he repeatedly talked about how one-sided he feels our bilateral military agreements are with the United States. If President Trump could help reiterate that U.S. commitments still stand and why these agreements are so important and relevant for both countries, that would go a long way. We’ve been traditional allies for a long time and it would really be a pity to throw away that history and our strong relationship. My hope is that the Philippines and the United States will be able to keep the good relationship we’ve had over the decades — and even improve on it!

The last thing I would add is that while some of the statements that Duterte has made over the past year have not been delivered in the most cordial way, it’s important for Americans to understand that his statements and his promises resonate with the Philippine population at home. They reflect a growing trend, and that is that many people feel they are disenfranchised and haven’t felt the benefits of economic growth. I think this is something perhaps the United States understands as well after its election. The United States should realize though that if it decides to step back from its role in the international system as a partner to countries like the Philippines, there will be certain consequences when gaps are left in the international system. The world faces many challenges right now, and so I would argue that more than ever it is an important time to pursue bilateral cooperation and to strengthen U.S. relationships across the world so that we can make growth more equitable for all of our people.

Chinese Navy Commissions Fifth Improved Dongdiao-class Spy Ship

From The Diplomat (Jan 13): Chinese Navy Commissions Fifth Improved Dongdiao-class Spy Ship

The PLAN Kaiyangxing is the fifth Dongdiao-class AGI to enter service.

Chinese Navy Commissions Fifth Improved Dongdiao-class Spy Ship
Image Credit: PLAN Tianwangxing via Chinese internet

On Tuesday, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) commissioned its fifth improved Dongdiao class (Type 815A) electronic reconnaissance, or auxiliary general intelligence (AGI), ship. The ship will join China’s North Sea Fleet.

The PLAN Kaiyangxing was commissioned at a ceremony at the northern Chinese port of Qingdao. The vessel was built at Shanghai’s Zhonghua Shipyard, according to IHS Jane’s 360.

The PLAN to date has commissioned six Dongdiao-class vessels, five of the improved Type 815A variety and an older Type 815 vessel, the PLAN Beijixing, which was commissioned in 1999. Between the one Type 815 and the four Type 815A, China’s AGI fleet currently stands at 5 commissioned vessels.

The PLAN Tianwangxing was commissioned in December 2010 and entered service with the PLAN’s East Sea Fleet. Three more vessels were commissioned in 2015, with two entering service with the South Sea Fleet and one with the North Sea Fleet. With the commissioning of the Kaiyangxing, the PLAN’s North Sea Fleet will possess two AGIs.

The vessels provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support to other PLAN vessels. The Type 815A variant is reported to be capable of tracking ballistic missiles as well.

Chinese AGI ships drew attention in 2012 and 2014 for surveilling the Rim of the Pacific exercises in waters off Hawaii. The 2014 iteration of the exercise was the first ever to include the PLAN as a participant. RIMPAC is the world’s largest naval exercise and takes place biennially.

A Type 815 vessel was also at the center of the East China Sea dispute with Japan earlier this year when it became the first PLAN vessel since 2004 to enter the territorial sea around the dispute Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.

The Dongdiao-class vessels displace 6,000 tons and have a top speed of around 20 knots. The ship is armed with two sets of primary guns — one 37 mm cannon and two 25 mm cannons.

The Type 815A is expected to play an important role in enabling future expeditionary carrier operations for the PLAN.

An unnamed Chinese expert who works in shipbuilding told state-run media this week that “[China’s] future carrier battle groups also need such vessels that can provide various kinds of theater intelligence.”

Rex Tillerson, Trump's Secretary of State Nominee, Has a Dangerous Idea for the South China Sea

From The Diplomat (Jan 13): Rex Tillerson, Trump's Secretary of State Nominee, Has a Dangerous Idea for the South China Sea

During his confirmation hearing, Rex Tillerson proposed an audacious move against China in the South China Sea.

 Rex Tillerson, Trump's Secretary of State Nominee, Has a Dangerous Idea for the South China Sea
Image Credit:
Rex Tillerson, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, presented a proposal for what the United States should do in the South China Sea disputes on Wednesday that you don’t hear often — even among China hawks in the United States.

Speaking at a confirmation hearing the before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday evening, Tillerson remarked that China’s actions in the South China Sea — where it has most recently drawn attention for building seven militarized artificial islands in the Spratly Islands — were “akin to Russia’s taking [of] Crimea” from Ukraine.

Tillerson alleged that the current administration had responded inadequately to China’s actions in the South China Sea. “The failure of a response has allowed them just to keep pushing the envelop on this,” Tillerson said.

“The way we’ve got to deal with this is we’ve got to show back up in the region with our traditional allies in Southeast Asia,” he said.

Tillerson went further, and here he entered relatively uncharted territory: “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.” (Emphasis mine.)

Tillerson, who left his role as the chief executive officer of global oil giant ExxonMobil anticipating confirmation as Trump’s secretary of state, added that he saw China’s activities in the South China Sea as “extremely worrisome.”

He added that the “entire global economy” would face negative consequences should China successfully interdict freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

There’s a lot to digest in Tillerson’s brief remarks about the South China Sea on Wednesday.

First, the proposal to actively interdict Chinese access to dispute features current under its occupation would be a drastic departure from status quo United States policy in two major ways.

The United States currently does not take a position on the sovereignty of individual features in the South China Sea. This is true even of features claimed, but not controlled, by the Philippines — a United States ally.

If Washington were to interdict China from accessing its possessions in the South China Sea without doing the same for the other claimants — a group including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan — then it would be discriminating on the legitimacy of specific claims.

Second, using the U.S. Air Force and Navy’s might to interdict the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) and People’s Liberation Army-Air Force (PLAAF) in the South China Sea would be a direct challenge to what China perceives as two of its so-called core interests — territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Under the Obama administration, starting in October 2015, the United States used naval vessels to assert freedom of navigation in the South China Sea for military vessels, but does not actively disallow Chinese military vessels passage in any area of the South China Sea.

Though the United States hasn’t itself ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), China has, even if it regularly does not comply with UNCLOS in the South China Sea and elsewhere. The U.S. Navy effectively treats UNCLOS as the basis of customary international law.

Under Tillerson’s proposal, the United States would likely be in violation of freedom of navigation requirements under UNCLOS, given that no part of the South China Sea is part of the United States’ own territorial sea or contiguous zone, where it could legally restrict the navigation of third parties.

International law wasn’t entirely absent from Tillerson’s reasoning on the South China Sea. He described Chinese actions in the South China Sea and Beijing’s unilateral declaration of an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea in late-2013 as “illegal actions.”

Even if China’s sovereignty over features currently occupied by its forces in the Spratlys and Paracels is unresolved under international law, a ruling by a Hague-based tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration last year found Beijing’s capacious nine-dash line claim invalid under international law, among other findings. Despite that ruling, the United States would have no reasonable legal basis for interdicting China.

Not only would the move proposed by Tillerson erode U.S. support for rules and norms in the South China Sea, it would make a conflict with China in the area that much likelier.

Notably, Tillerson’s South China Sea proposal goes beyond any measures recommended by Trump himself in the area. Trump has been exceptionally critical of China, but primarily in the realm of economics and trade, accusing Beijing of unfair trade practices and currency manipulation.

It’s unclear where Tillerson got the idea to recommend the United States interdict Chinese assets in the South China Sea.

Make no mistake: Tillerson may be novice in the world of international diplomacy more generally — and certainly some of his answers at his confirmation hearing demonstrated this — but he isn’t completely new to the South China Sea disputes. The Wall Street Journal discussed the specifics of Tillerson’s exposure to the South China Sea in December, shortly after he was nominated.

As CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson was involved in navigating a deal with the government of Vietnam to drill for natural gas in areas of Hanoi’s exclusive economic zone that overlap with China’s claimed nine-dash line in the South China Sea. In 2009, Exxon acquired rights to explore “more than 13 million acres off the coast of Vietnam,” according to the Journal.

Even among hawkish proponents of a more muscular U.S. response to Chinese irredentism in East Asia, such as Senator Marco Rubio, that propose a departure from the Obama administration’s policy, those calls for changes have stopped at recommending punitive sanctions against China and taking a position on the sovereignty of features. (I discussed Rubio’s proposals and their costs and benefits here.)

If Tillerson does end up successfully receiving Senate confirmation, China will no doubt be anxious of the incoming administration’s plans for the South China Sea. Tillerson’s comment will be seen as a vindication of the views of many in China that the United States seeks exclusionary hegemony in the South China Sea and that the Obama administration’s “freedom of navigation” framing has simply been a cover for this goal.

To date, tensions between the U.S. president-elect and the Chinese government haven’t flared directly in a significant way, but there is great concern in Beijing about Trump’s possible intent to follow up on his threats of imposing high tariffs (which could lead to a trade war), reviewing the United States’ One China policy, and now, potentially revising Washington’s stance on the South China Sea disputes.

If perceptions stick in China that the United States will intensify its bid to harm Beijing’s “core interests” — especially territorial integrity and sovereignty — the odds of a skirmish and outright war become all the greater.

Galvez eyed for top Wesmincom post

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 14): Galvez eyed for top Wesmincom post

A well-rounded Army officer would be taking over the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) and lead the government’s all-out fight against various terrorist groups, particularly the Abu Sayyaf group.

Reliable military sources said that incumbent Army 6th Infantry Division (ID) commander Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez would be taking over Wesmincom from Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo de la Cruz.

A turn-over ceremony is scheduled at Wesmincom next week.

On the other hand, de la Cruz, the same sources said, would be assuming as inspector general of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

A member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Sandiwa” Class of 1985, Galvez spent only four months as 6th ID commander before his promotion to the three-star position.

Prior to his assumption as 6th ID chief, Galvez served as AFP deputy chief of staff for operations (J3).

Galvez was the head of the government ceasefire committee when the Mamasapano “massacre” of 44 Special Action Force commandos happened in January 2015 when combined Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) overwhelmed the SAF.

“Passionate, hardworking, focused. If I am a commander, I would like him to be my chief of staff, operations officer. My do-it-all officer. He can do any task you give him,” a senior Army official said of Galvez.

Another officer described Galvez as “silent worker that produces results.”

“He is a peace-oriented Army field officer,” another source said.

As Wesmincom commander, Galvez will have about 20,000 troops at his disposal to defeat the Abu Sayyaf within six months as directed by AFP chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Año — reiterating President Duterte’s order to destroy the terrorists.

Earlier, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the AFP leadership will be putting new people in Mindanao to pursue President Duterte’s instruction to defeat the Abu Sayyaf.

“We will be putting new people so that we can have fresh approach in addressing lawless elements,” Lorenzana said.

Relatedly, Rear Adm. Narciso Vingson last Thursday assumed as AFP’s No. 3 man as the deputy chief of staff.

Vingson succeeded Lt. Gen. Salvador Melchor Mison Jr. who was promoted as AFP vice chief of staff.

Also of PMA “Sandiwa” Class of 1985, Vingson is the concurrent AFP inspector general.

Vingson previously served as commander of the Naval Education and Training Command and deputy commander of the Philippine Fleet.

Trump pick could talk his way into war: Chinese media

From The Daily Tribune (Jan 14): Trump pick could talk his way into war: Chinese media

BEIJING — Prospective US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson better watch his mouth, angry Chinese media said Friday, warning Donald Trump’s nominee that his threats to block China in the South China Sea are fighting words.

The comments came after the former ExxonMobil CEO told US senators that he would seek to deny Beijing access to the artificial islands China has been building in the South China Sea.

China’s actions in the region are comparable to Russia’s invasion of Crimea, Tillerson said, a comment that did not sit well with the nuclear-armed Asian giant.

If Tillerson acted on his threats, Chinese state-owned China Daily warned “it would set a course for a devastating confrontation between China and the US.”

China Daily editorial said it remains a question whether president-elect Trump’s nomination of Rex Tillerson  as secretary of state will get through Senate scrutiny.

“If he is appointed, it remains to be seen to what extent his views against China will translate into US foreign policies. After all, what we heard at Wednesday’s confirmation hearing before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee was essentially his personal policy inclinations.

“Not only were his views divergent from, even contrary to, those of Trump on some critical issues. He openly conceded he is yet to have a serious, in-depth discussion with Trump on foreign policy imperatives.

“These boil down to one simple point. His remarks at the Wednesday hearing, sensational as they were, turned out to be of little reference value except for judging his personal orientations.

“The backlash that has ensued is understandable. It is certainly no small matter for a man intended to be the US’ diplomat inchief to display such undisguised animosity toward China.

Tillerson labeled China’s reclamation projects in the South China Sea as ‘an illegal taking of disputed areas without regard for international norms’, in obvious disregard for the essential truth that all those activities took place well within the country’s persistent, historical territory.

“Blaming the ‘extremely worrisome’ state of affairs in the South China Sea on an ‘inadequate US response’, the US secretary of state nominee even claimed China’s access to those islands should ‘not to be allowed’. Which sounded intimidating, though he stopped short of elaborating how to achieve it.

“And like Trump, he blamed Beijing for “not being a reliable partner” in dealing with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

It said that such remarks are not worth taking seriously, calling it a mish-mash of naivete, shortsightedness, worn-out prejudices, and unrealistic political fantasies.

China Daily warned that  should Trump  act on them in the real world, it would be disastrous and would set a course for devastating confrontation between China and the US.

“After all, how can the US deny China access to its own territories without inviting the latter’s legitimate, defensive responses?

Tillerson wanted a reality-based China policy that is “based on what we see and not based on what we hope”.

“But what he presented was based more on what prejudice and arms-spurred self-righteousness make him believe and hope rather than on real-world realities.

What happened on Wednesday shows that if and when confirmed, Rex Tillerson needs to first acquaint himself with the ABCs of China-US relations and diplomacy at large.

Satellite photos show China has been hard at work building military facilities in the contested waters, which are also claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam, among others.

Under US President Barack Obama, Washington has claimed Beijing’s activities in the region threaten freedom of navigation and overflight through the commercially and strategically vital waters.

But is has not taken a position on the ownership of the islets, reefs and shoals that sit in one of the world’s hotspots.

Tillerson, however, explicitly said that the territories “are not rightfully China’s.”

“Unless Washington plans to wage a large scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish,” the nationalistic Global Times wrote in an editorial.

The paper, which is thought to have some insight into the thinking of more hawkish members of Chinese Communist Party, added that Tillerson better “bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories.”

For China, Tillerson uttered astonishing statements during his confirmation hearing as he likened China’s island-building in the South China Sea to “Russia’s taking of Crimea,” and said the new US government would send China a clear signal that “first the island building stops, and second your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed.”

Due to his intimate relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Tillerson is the most controversial candidate among President-elect Trump’s nominees for his cabinet and is considered the one most likely to be vetoed by the Senate.

It is suspected that he merely wanted to curry favor from senators and increase his chances of being confirmed by intentionally showing a tough stance toward China.

Tillerson did not give details of how he would achieve his self-proclaimed goals. Nonetheless, he also mentioned that Chinese and American economic interests are deeply intertwined and that “China has been a valuable ally in curtailing elements of radical Islam.”

He noted that “We should not let disagreements over other issues exclude areas for productive partnership.”

It is not clear which point, among the many he made, he will prioritize. But it is worth looking at his remarks that China should not be allowed access to the islands, since this is the most radical statement from the US side so far,” The Global Times editorial said.

“The US has no absolute power to dominate the South China Sea. Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories.

 Probably he just has oil prices and currency rates in his mind as former ExxonMobil CEO,” the paper said..

“He also lacks legality. If China is not allowed access to islands it has long controlled, does this also apply to Vietnam and the Philippines? Should the Nansha Islands become a depopulated zone? What does so-called US freedom of navigation around the Nansha Islands mean?”

The paper added: “South China Sea countries will accelerate their negotiations on a Code of Conduct. They have the ability to solve divergences by themselves without US interference. Just as the Philippines and Vietnam are trying to warm their ties with China, Tillerson’s words cannot be more irritating.

“It is hoped that Tillerson will desire a productive partnership with China more and his harsh words are just coaxing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”

It has previously called on Beijing to increase its nuclear arsenal after Donald Trump threatened to upend decades of US policy on Taiwan by suggesting he could recognize the island, which China regards as an indisputable part of its sovereign territory.

China’s official reaction to the comments was muted, with foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang politely urging Washington to mind its own business.

“The South China Sea situation has cooled down and we hope non-regional countries can respect the consensus that it is in the fundamental interest of the whole world,” he said.

In a press briefing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has stated its position on this matter.

“Like the US, the Chinese side has full right to conduct any kind of normal activities on its own territory within its sovereignty. It is above reproach,” said spokesman Lu Kang.

Both papers, despite their warnings, agreed that it was too early to tell if Tillerson’s words were more bark than bite.

But the Global Times warned, that does not mean that the Trump administration should think Beijing has not heard his team’s outspoken anti-China rhetoric.

The president-elect has filled his team with hardliners like Peter Navarro, the author of “Death by China”, and has threatened to declare Beijing a currency manipulator and slap it with 45 percent tariffs.

China is letting those comments slide for now, the Global Times wrote, but “if Trump’s diplomatic team shapes future Sino-US ties as it is doing now, the two sides had better prepare for a military clash.”

“China has enough determination and strength to make sure that his rabble rousing will not succeed,” Global Times said.

The paper argued that Tillerson’s suggestion “lacks legality” since “if China is not allowed access to islands it has long controlled,” this would also apply to Vietnam and the Philippines.

Lu said  “China and other coastal states in the South China Sea have worked out a dual-track approach, namely, China and other countries directly concerned peacefully resolve disputes through consultation and negotiation.”

Giving primary focus on this current status, Lu said  that “outsiders should respect that.”

While the paper did not discount the possibility that Tillerson’s declaration might just be a product to persuade the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to confirm him, it warned that “no matter what, China will always respond to various US diplomatic maneuvers.”

It added: “Tillerson’s statements regarding the islands in the South China Sea are far from professional. If Trump’s diplomatic team shapes future Sino-US ties as it is doing now, the two sides had better prepare for a military clash.”

Continuing with its bold words, The Global Times said “the US should not be misled into thinking that Beijing will be fearful of their threats.”

“As Trump has yet to be sworn in, China has shown restraint whenever his team members expressed radical views,” it cleared.

Blast damages police vehicle in Jolo

From ABS-CBN (Jan 13): Blast damages police vehicle in Jolo

JOLO - A loud explosion rocked Jolo past midnight on Friday.

Police said the explosion happened just a few meters away from the Jolo Municipal Police Station downtown.

According to investigators, two unidentified suspects on a motorcycle hurled a grenade near the station. The grenade hit a police vehicle parked near the station, which incurred minor damage.

No one was hurt in the blast, as there were no passersby during the attack.

The police failed to arrest the suspects, who immediately fled the scene.

They are continuing to investigate the incident to determine the motive for the attack, and the identities of the suspects.

Pirates Attacking Bigger Ships Off Philippines for Ransom Money

From GCaptain (Jan 13): Pirates Attacking Bigger Ships Off Philippines for Ransom Money

cargo ship

Asian pirates are focusing more of their attacks on larger merchant ships near the Philippines, hoping for bigger ransom payments from kidnapping their crew, the head of a regional anti-piracy body said on Friday.

The region’s pirates have changed tactics since October, to target some of the biggest ships travelling through the Sulu and Celebes Seas, and paying less attention to small tugs and fishing boats.

The growing problem has prompted Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to step up air and sea patrols in the waters, through which about $40 billion worth of cargo passes each year.

“Big ships belong to bigger owners, so maybe they think bigger owners can pay more money as a ransom,” said Masafumi Kuroki, executive director of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP).

The group, which has 20 member states, helps co-ordinate information about maritime piracy incidents.

Maritime experts recommend that vessels in the area adopt measures similar to those taken against pirates off Somalia and the Indian Ocean, including evasive action such as zig-zagging, speeding up and shining powerful lights on the attackers.

“Our advice is that the area should be avoided if at all possible,” said Gerry Northwood, chief operating officer at armed guard company, Maritime Asset Security and Training (MAST).

Some 48 crew have been abducted in 16 attacks in the Sulu-Celebes Seas since March, of which 15 remain captive, according to ReCAAP.

In November, four large merchant vessels, including the 179,191-deadweight-tonne (DWT) capesize iron ore carrier Kumiai Shagang, were chased by armed pirates in speed boats during separate attempted attacks in the Sulu and Celebes Seas.

Abu Sayyaf militants have claimed responsibility for many of the attacks in the area. Land-based operations by the Philippine military against the group have led militants to focus more on soft targets at sea, Kuroki said.

Despite this rise in abductions, the number of overall pirate attacks in Asia dropped to its lowest level since ReCAAP was launched in 2006 to 86 incidents in 2016, down from 203 in 2015, partly due to better co-ordination by littoral states and adoption of anti-piracy measures by shippers.

(Update) Military honors soldier killed by Sayyaf

From the Philippine Star (Jan 14): (Update) Military honors soldier killed by Sayyaf

The military yesterday accorded funeral honors to an elite Army Special Forces officer, the first casualty of the year in the military’s fight against the Abu Sayyaf in the jungles of Basilan.

Capt. Clinton Capio was shot during a nine-hour firefight between the military and the bandit group in Barangay Cabcaban, Sumisip town on Thursday.

The troops clashed with 60 to 80 Abu Sayyaf members led by Furuji Indama. The military forces launched the attack following intelligence reports of a big formation of bandits in the area.
Capio was commanding officer of the 1st Special Forces Company assigned to augment the 4th Special Forces Battalion to help run after remnants of the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan.
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Western Mindanao Command spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan Jr. said the soldiers led by Capio were closing in for an assault when Capio was hit by enemy fire.

“During the first few minutes of the firefight, there were troops wounded. Captain Capio was not yet hit at the time. Their task was to help the soldiers who were pinned down, so they provided suppressive fire so the wounded could withdraw and then advanced. It was two hours in the gunfight that he was hit,” 1Lt. Ron JR Villarosa, civil military officer of the 4th Special Forces Battalion, told The STAR.   

Capio was killed by a single enemy bullet that grazed the right side of his temple barely a centimeter from the cover of his Kevlar helmet.

“He was wearing helmet but the angle of the cap might had been in an open position because they were moving in for assault when he was unfortunately hit,” Tan said.

Capio was a member of the Philippine Military Academy class of 2006. His remains would be flown to Baguio, his hometown, via C-130 military plane.

Capio’s fellow soldiers said they would always remember him as a fighting leader who never let his troops down.

“He was a very soft-spoken person, a gentleman, an officer and definitely a fighting leader” who “fights from the front,” Villarosa said.

“His fellow troops and team leader describe him as a fatherly figure… They can’t say anything bad about him. He is really a very capable leader,” he added.

Army spokesman Col. Benjamin Hao described Capio as a “silent-type kind of person” who was “very dedicated in his work and the task given him.”

“He was also the TARZAN (he topped the physical fitness) during their ranger course.

Abu Sayyaf Group Releases Video Threatening To Behead German Hostage Jurgen Kantner If Germany Fails To Pay Ransom

From International Business Times (Jan 12): Abu Sayyaf Group Releases Video Threatening To Behead German Hostage Jurgen Kantner If Germany Fails To Pay Ransom

The Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf militant group released a video threatening to behead a German hostage if Germany does not pay a $10 million ransom, SITE Intelligence Group reported Wednesday. Jurgen Kantner was captured last November along with his companion, who was shot dead after she tried to escape.

"We are giving you an ultimatum to fulfill our demands. Failure to pay the ransom will cause the beheading of this German citizen," one of the three masked kidnappers dressed in black reportedly said in the video, which was released late Wednesday night. "To the German government, it seems that you are not paying attention to our demands because of your arrogance. Have you not learnt anything?"

The militant group captured 70-year-old Kantner from Malaysian waters, near Sabah state close to southern Philippines. The two were taken at gunpoint from a yacht. Kantner’s deceased companion was identified as Sabine Merz.

Abu Sayyaf has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group. Last year, the Philippine militant group beheaded two Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall after the Canadian government refused to pay the ransom. Currently, it has hostages from the Netherlands, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and South Korea.

The militant group is known for extortion, kidnappings, beheadings and bombings and was formed in the early 1990s in Basilan province, about 100 miles northeast of Sulu.

Abu Sayyaf is also known to have made millions of dollars from holding foreigners captive. In the first half of 2016, the group reportedly made $7.3 million from kidnappings and abductions. The U.S. government has warned tourists traveling to remote places and popular attractions of the risk of kidnapping in the central Philippines.

Duterte choices fill out AFP command

From Malaya Business Insight (Jan 13): Duterte choices fill out AFP command

PRESIDENT Duterte has designated two senior Armed Forces officials as the new AFP vice chief and deputy chief of staff, the second and third highest military officials in the military hierarchy.

AFP public affiars office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said the two officials – Air Force Lt. Gen. Salvador Mison and Navy Rear Adm. Narciso Vingson – assumed their posts yesterday during a ceremony held in Camp Aguinaldo.

Mison, a member of the Philippine Military Academy class of 1984, assumed as the new AFP vice chief, replacing Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda who assumed as Army chief last month. Mison was previously the AFP deputy chief of staff.

Mison’s successor as AFP vice chief is Vingson, a member of the PMA class 1985. He will remain as the concurrent AFP inspector general, pending the designation of a replacement.

Arevalo said the designation of Mison and Vingson was approved by President Duterte  on the recommendation of the AFP Board of Generals - chaired by AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Año.

“As the new vice chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Mison not only takes over the daunting role of being next in command of the AFP, he will also act as an important link between the chief of staff and the area commanders,” said Arevalo.

As the AFP vice chief, Mison will also sit as the chairman of various AFP offices, including the Office of Ethical Standards and Public Accountability, Medal for Valor Board and Housing Board, among others.

Arevalo described Vingson as a “seasoned sea-dog” who spent amost 12 years of sea duty aboard various Navy ships. Vingson has commanded several ships, including the BRP Ang Pangulo.

The AFP deputy chief automatically is the chairman of the AFP Educational Benefit System, AFP Commissary and Exchange Service, AFP Commissioned Officers Club, AFP Golf Club, and AFP Provident Fund.

Terror suspects escape CamSur operation

From Malaya Business Insight (Jan 13): Terror suspects escape CamSur operation

COMBINED security forces on Wednesday night raided a suspected local terrorist’s lair in Camarines Norte but failed to arrest the two targeted men.

Reports from the Region 5’s Regional Operations Center said combined local policemen, the Army’s 9th Infantry Battalion, and Military Intelligence Group 5 served a search warrant for illegal possession of firearms and explosives in a house in Purok 5, Barangay Talobatib, Labo town where Erwin Guevarra and Wilson Guevarra were reported to be hiding.

Police said the Guevarras were members of the Maute Group operating in Camarines Norte. The suspected terrorists were not around when the raid was conducted.

Army captain killed in clash with Abu Sayyaf

From Malaya Business Insight (Jan 13): Army captain killed in clash with Abu Sayyaf

AN Army captain was killed in a firefight with the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan yesterday, the first reported military death since AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Año set a new six-month target for defeating the bandit group notorious for kidnap-for-ransom activities.

Four other soldiers incurred minor injuries during the firefight, said Maj. Filemon Tan, spokesman of the military’s Western Mindanao Command based in Zamboanga City.

The casualties were from the 4th Special Forces Battalion, an elite unit of the Army, Tan said but declined to name them pending notification of their families.  

Tan said the soldiers were on combat operation in Barangay Cabcaban, Sumisip town at around 7:10 a.m. when they clashed with an undetermined number of Abu Sayyaf men under Furuji Indama.

Tan said the sporadic fighting was ongoing as of around 5 p.m. yesterday. Tan said artillery units were alerted “for possible indirect fire support toward enemy locations.”

He said troops from the 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion, 68th and 64th Infantry Battalions “were advised to move closer towards the encounter site in order to reinforce and block possible enemy withdrawal routes.”

Año set the new deadline to defeat the Abu Sayyaf, the Maute group, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters during a command conference on Friday last week.

Año’s predecessor, Ricardo Visaya, also aimed to end the Abu Sayyaf but failed. The Abu Sayyaf even stepped up kidnapping activities during the time of Visaya as AFP chief.

Military honors for Special Forces officer killed in Basilan clash

From the Philippine Star (Jan 13): Military honors for Special Forces officer killed in Basilan clash

Four other soldiers —  another Special Forces member and three militiamen —  were injured in the encounter in Barangay Cabcaban, Sumisip town. File photo

Military honors will be rendered for an elite Army Special Forces officer killed in action on Thursday, the first combat loss in 2017 as operations against the Abu Sayyaf continue in the jungles of Basilan.
The fallen officer, Capt. Clinton Capio, hailed from Baguio City and was a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 2006
Capio was killed by grazing shot to his right temple, barely a centimeter from the cover of his Kevlar helmet, during a nine-hour firefight, said Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokerson of  the Western Mindanao Command.
Tan said Capio and his soldiers were closing in for an assault when he was hit by enemy fire. Tan said Capio had been wearing a helmet but that the bullet may have hit him at an angle while he and his troops were on the move.
Four other soldiers —  another Special Forces member and three militiamen —  were slightly injured in the encounter in Barangay Cabcaban, Sumisip town with around 60 to 80 Abu Sayyaf militants led by Furuji Indama.
The military launched the attack after receiving intelligence reports of a big formation of the Abu Sayyaf group in the area.
At least two Abu Sayyaf militants were also killed in the fighting. Their bodies were abandoned by the retreating militants.
Tan said it is possible that the Abu Sayyaf group suffered higher casualties because the militants held the line for hours during the military assault.
He said the Abu Sayyaf may have held the line for longer because they wanted to retrieve comrades who had been wounded or dead.
Tan said Capio's remains will be flown to Baguio by military plane after the military honors on Sunday.
Capio, commanding officer of the 1st Special Forces Company, was assigned to augment the 1st Special Forces Battalion to help run after the remnants of the Abu Sayyaf group in Basilan, said 1Lt. Ron JR Villarosa, civil military officer of the 4th Special Forces Battalion.
Villarosa said pursuit operations have been ongoing against the group their forces encountered Thursday.
“There’s a continuous operation. Although, we have an unfortunate casualty... that will not hinder our operation. We have our mission to destroy the Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan,” Villarosa added.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines hopes to defeat the Abu Sayaf and other Islamic State-inspired armed groups like the Maute Group.

Wesmincom verifying supposed Abu Sayyaf threat to behead captive

From the Philippine Star (Jan 13): Wesmincom verifying supposed Abu Sayyaf threat to behead captive

The military is verifying a reported threat by the Abu Sayyaf Group that it will behead a 70-year-old captive in Sulu.
It said it is checking reported video footage posted on social media issuing an ultimatum to the German government to pay ransom for the safe release of Juergen Kantner.
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson of the military's Western Mindanao Command, said they have yet to see the supposed footage.
Tan said they still have no idea when the video was taken and when it was released by the Abu Sayyaf.
In its brief video clip, Abu Sayyaf militants wearing masks demanded $10 million for Kantner's safe release.
“Failure to pay the ransom will cause the beheading of this German,” one of the gunmen supposedly said.
But the military warned the Abu Sayyaf Group that it will be held responsible if it harms the hostage.
“We maintain that the life of the victim is at the hands of the ASG (Abu Sayyaf group). Whatever happened, it’s their responsibility,” Tan said.
However, Tan said the military is exerting all efforts to recover Kantner and the rest of the hostages still in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf group. 
Kantner was snatched by the Abu Sayyaf early last November from his private yacht that near Tanjong Luuk Pisuk, Sabah.
The Abu Sayyaf killed Kantner's partner Sabina Merz, 50, aboard their yacht.
Aside from Kantner, the Abu Sayyaf Group is also holding 26 other captives believed to be hidden away in the mountains.

Rappler Talk: Gov't ready for 3rd round of talks with Reds

From Rappler (Jan 13): Rappler Talk: Gov't ready for 3rd round of talks with Reds

Government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III dismisses fears that the 5-month-old ceasefire between the military and the NPA will collapse

Rappler talks to Secretary Silvestre Bello III, chief government negotiator with the communist National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF).

The veteran negotiator is optimistic that the 5-month-old ceasefire between the military and the New People's Army (NPA) will continue to hold as the panels prepare for the 3rd round of talks next week, January 19-25, in Rome.

Bello details the progress of the talks and responds to the Philippine left's criticisms against the delay in the releases of political prisoners and the military's alleged ceasefire violations.

Watch our interview with Bello here on Rappler.

Colonel ‘Bistek’: Herbert Bautista, other reservist officers promoted

From Rappler (Jan 13): Colonel ‘Bistek’: Herbert Bautista, other reservist officers promoted

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año presides over the donning of ranks and insignias of 16 officers and reservists    

FULL COLONEL. Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista gets promoted as full colonel of the 1502nd Ready Reserve Brigade of the Philippine Army during the donning of ranks ceremony held at Camp Aguinaldo on January 13, 2016. QC police director Chief Superintendent Guillermo Eleazar and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Genernal Eduardo Año officiate the donning of his rank and insignia. Photo courtesy of Quezon City PIO

FULL COLONEL. Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista gets promoted as full colonel of the 1502nd Ready Reserve Brigade of the Philippine Army during the donning of ranks ceremony held at Camp Aguinaldo on January 13, 2016. QC police director Chief Superintendent Guillermo Eleazar and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Genernal Eduardo Año officiate the donning of his rank and insignia. Photo courtesy of Quezon City PIO

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año on Friday, January 13, presided over the promotion of officers and reservists, telling them that they had “definitely proven yourselves…worthy of…the stars and suns on your shoulders.”

Among the reservists promoted was Quezon City mayor and former actor Herbert Bautista, who is now a full Army colonel.

In a press release, AFP spokesman Marine Colonel Edgard Arevalo said the following donned their ranks and insignias at ceremonies at the AFP Commissioned Officers Club:

Regular officers
  • Newly-appointed AFP deputy chief of staff, Navy Rear Admiral Narciso Vingson, promoted to vice admiral, and now dons 3 stars
  • Army Colonel Isidro L Purisima, chief of the AFP Command Center, promoted to brigadier general
  • Army Colonel Gavin Edjawan, chief of the AFP Pension and Gratuity Management Center
  • Marine Colonel Jesulito Calimag, The Provost Marshal General, AFP
  • Marine Colonel Ernesto Ravina, deputy commander of AFP Southern Luzon Command
Reserve officers
  • Colonel Edmund Dante Janda, promoted to brigadier general
  • Colonel Emmanuel Joaquin Guina, promoted to brigadier general
  • Colonel Raymundo Francisco, promoted to brigadier general
  • Colonel Artemio Adasa Jr, promoted to brigadier general
  • Colonel Hilario Frigillana Jr, promoted to brigadier general
  • Colonel Peter C Suchianco, promoted to brigadier general
  • Army Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Bautista, promoted to colonel
  • Lieutenant Colonel Ricardo Juliano, promoted to colonel
  • Lieutenant Colonel Rozzanno Viray, promoted to colonel
  • Lieutenant Colonel Pedrito Camilet Jr, promoted to colonel
  • Navy Commander Harry, promoted to captain
The promotions of generals, flag officers, and reservist officers are subject to the confirmation of the Commission on Appointments.

“I hope that this milestone in your career brings you further motivation as you continue to dedicate yourself in the service of our country and people. You have definitely proven yourselves and it is with confidence that the national leadership has deemed you worthy of living up to the stars and suns on your shoulders,” Año said in his speech.

He told the regular officers that their promotion “signals the unfolding of a new chapter in their service,” while he reminded the Reserve Force that they are “an equally important and integral part of the AFP, especially in its current thrust of supporting an inclusive development anchored on a stable and peaceful environment.”

Gov't in backchannel talks to protect ceasefire – Bello

From Rappler (Jan 13): Gov't in backchannel talks to protect ceasefire – Bello

Secretary Silvestre Bello III bucks the public statements of his counterpart, NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili, who says the danger of the ceasefire collapsing is real

OPTIMISTIC. Government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III aims to complete talks by August 2017. Rappler photo

OPTIMISTIC. Government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III aims to complete talks by August 2017. Rappler photo

Government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III dismissed fears that the 5-month-old ceasefire between the military and the New People's Army could collapse.

"I don't think it will ever collapse. There was never a threat," Bello said in a Rapple Talk interview, citing his conversations with his counterpart National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili in late December 2016.

He said backchannel talks are in place to guarantee that the unilateral indefinite ceasefires – which happened for the first time in the talks that have been on and off for 3 decades – will continue to hold as the two camp hammer out a joint bilateral deal that will put in place common rules for soldiers and communist combatants to follow to avoid misencounters. (READ: PH, NDF resume talks, silence guns)

"I don't think [the ceasefire will collapse], given the way our conversation went with chairman Agcaoili. It gives me comfort that the bilateral ceasefire will be coming soon," said Bello.

The backchannel talks are led by government negotiating panel member Hernani Braganza.

Bello aims to sign the joint deal during the 3rd round of talks next week, January 19-25, that will be held in Rome. Norway is the 3rd country facilitator.

Bello's optimism was not shared by Agcaoili, who said last week that the danger of the ceasefire collapsing is real, citing delays in the release of political prisoners and alleged ceasefire violations by the military. (READ: Ceasefire with reds in danger)

"They have their public. We have our public," Bello said about Agcaoili's statements.
But Bello said no one can claim violations yet because there are no common rules under the separate unilateral ceasefires.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday, January 12, also said the chance of the ceasefire holding is "50-50". He cited supposedly difficult demands by the NDF.

Upon the instruction of President Rodrigo Duterte, the military has adjusted its campaign plan to support the peace talks with the communist rebels. (READ: AFP chief: Reds should work with military in new campaign plan)

On Wednesday, defense officials and military officers also met with presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza to give inputs they would like added to the proposed bilateral ceasefire deal.

Lorenzana said the joint deal cannot be rushed. (READ: Further delay looms in PH, NDF joint ceasefire deal)

Both camps originally aimed to get the joint deal signed by October 2016, but disagreements in the definition of terms have delayed it, along with NDF protests over the late release of political prisoners.

Bello said the ceasefire is important "to provide the talks with conducive atmosphere." He said he has not adjusted his goal to complete the talks by August 2017.