Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What’s behind Beijing’s drive to control the South China Sea?

From the Guardian (Jul 28): What’s behind Beijing’s drive to control the South China Sea?

China’s startling attempt to assert control over vast waters has alarmed nearby countries and escalated tensions with the US. Howard W French reports from Hainan, the island at the heart of Xi Jinping’s expansionist ambitions

A satellite image of Chinese land reclamation on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands.

A satellite image of Chinese land reclamation on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands. Photograph: DigitalGlobe/Getty Images

On 26 May, CNN broadcast an unusual clip of a US navy intelligence flight over the South China Sea. The P-8A Poseidon surveillance plane – one of the newest weapons in the Pentagon’s arsenal – had taken off, with a CNN reporter on board, from Clark airbase in the Philippines, once part of America’s largest overseas base complex during the cold war. After about 45 minutes, the plane reached its first target – which had, until recently, been an obscure, almost entirely submerged feature in the Spratly Island group.

Fifteen thousand feet below, dozens of Chinese ships tossed at anchor. Their crews had been working day and night for weeks, dredging sand and rock from the ocean floor to fill in a stunning blue lagoon – turning a 3.7-mile-long reef that had only partially revealed itself to the daylight at low tide into a sizable man-made island nearly 1,000 miles away from the Chinese mainland.

At the approach of the American aircraft, a Chinese radio operator can be heard addressing the pilot: “This is the Chinese navy. This is the Chinese navy … Please leave immediately to avoid misunderstanding.” When the plane, which was busily photographing the land-reclamation effort, failed to heed these instructions, the operator grew exasperated, and the recording ends as abruptly as it had begun, with him shouting the words: “You go!

For many people who viewed this clip, it might have almost passed for entertainment, but the plane continued on to a place called Fiery Cross, whose history and recent development point to how deadly serious the struggle over the South China Sea has become. Fiery Cross came under Chinese control in 1988, following a confrontation with Vietnam at a nearby site, Johnson Reef, where Chinese troops opened fire from a ship on a contingent of Vietnamese soldiers who stood in knee-deep seas after having planted their country’s flag in the coral. A YouTube video of the incident shows dozens of Vietnamese being cut down in the water under a hail of machine-gun fire.

China had come late to the game of laying claim to parts of the Spratly archipelago, which comprises hundreds of uninhabited coral reefs and sandbars flung across a vast area between the coasts of the Philippines and southern Vietnam, each of which has long controlled numerous positions in the area. But in this bloody way, China announced that it was fully committed. Its position on Fiery Cross Reef, staked out back in the 1980s, was initially justified under the auspices of Unesco, which had called on the nations of the world to cooperate in collectively surveying the oceans for meteorological and navigation purposes. Fast-forward 28 years, though, and as seen from the American surveillance flight, what had begun as an innocuous “ocean observation station”, has now mushroomed in less than a year of dredging into the most important of Beijing’s seven newly created positions in the South China Sea.

From a single coral head that peaked a mere metre out of the waves, Fiery Cross has grown in stunning fashion, attaining a size of over 200 hectares of reclaimed land – roughly equivalent to about 280 football pitches. Leaving little doubt about its purpose, it has already been equipped with a 3,300-metre airstrip, which is long enough to accommodate a wide range of Chinese combat and transport planes, and a harbour big enough to handle even the largest of the country’s ships.

The primary attraction of this locale, though, may be something that cannot be perceived from even the most sophisticated surveillance plane, which from China’s perspective is precisely the point. Fiery Cross appears to have been chosen by Beijing as the keystone in its push into the South China Sea because of the depths of its surrounding waters, which afford Chinese submarines far greater stealth in evading acoustic and other forms of active tracking by the US military.

There is no single explanation for why asserting its authority over the South China Sea now matters so much to China. Controlling the many tiny islands is in part a matter of controlling of the wealth assumed to lay beneath the sea in the form of unexploited minerals and oil and gas, not to mention the immense fisheries that exist in these waters. It is in part a matter of increasing the country’s sense of security, by dominating the maritime approaches to its long coast, and securing sea lanes to the open Pacific. It is in part a matter of overcoming historical grievances. And finally, it is about becoming a power at least on par with the US: a goal that Chinese leaders are themselves somewhat coy about, but which is now increasingly entering the public discourse.

The best place to see all these reasons at work is the country’s southernmost province, the island of Hainan.

Right from the taxi stand at the ultramodern train station in semi-tropical Sanya, there was no mistaking how different this seaside city was going to be from the rest of China. It was late December and already frigid across the rest of the country – and even chilly in the north of Hainan island, from where my fellow disembarking passengers had all arrived.

As we joined the long queue for cabs, people busied themselves peeling off layers of clothing, and making an ostentatious show of their resortwear underneath. There were two who stood out in particular, first the buxom lady in front of me in the low-cut knockoff Gucci T-shirt, who chewed her gum with a demonstrative little snap. Then there was the guy a couple of spots behind, but seemingly joined to her by a current of energy. He appeared to be well into his 40s, but he sported a boyband haircut, and wore a skimpy singlet and conspicuous gold chain. Every time our line turned a corner, sending the herded passengers ahead of us snaking back in the opposite direction, he leaned on the guiderails, smiling as he craned for a glimpse of her breasts. These were not nouveaux riches exactly, but they were exemplars of new Chinese wealth nonetheless, a wealth that is creating a giant middle class that is yearning to do all of the things that middle classes everywhere are wont to do, and not necessarily in stages either, but rather as hurriedly as possible, and, indeed for some of them, all at once.

That, in fact, is a fairly complete explanation of Sanya’s most famous raison d’être. It is, in the new China, a bucket-list city par excellence, a purpose-built place on the southern coast of Hainan Island that is kept warm year round by the currents of the South China Sea. In the winter, huge numbers of Chinese arrive here every week, much like pilgrims, except for the fact that their god, the god of leisure and consumerism, is of very recent vintage in this country.

I, too, had come because of the sea, but not for any of its popular attractions. The beaches of Sanya have become famous among Chinese as their country’s answer to Hawaii, but this is not the only thing the place has in common with America’s 50th state. While the vacationing hordes headed off for the local version of Waikiki, long rows of fancy, newly sprouted hotels and vacation rental high-rises, I had come in hopes of getting a glimpse of the closest thing in China to Pearl Harbor.

Just as a fast-expanding US used that naval base, beginning late in the 19th century, to project American power deep into the Pacific, an ocean that it would eventually come to thoroughly dominate, China is leveraging Hainan island to press some startling claims – not to mere dominance, but for rightful possession of virtually the entire South China Sea, a body of water that encompasses 1.35 million square miles, and through which more than $5tn in ship-borne trade passes every year.

China’s neighbours have watched with growing alarm as Beijing has used maritime vessels, often setting out from Hainan, to harass and intimidate the far smaller rival claimants whose littoral territories both enclose the South China Sea and lend it definition. Recently, for example, China sent a large flotilla of ships close to the shores of Vietnam as it deployed a billion-dollar oil rig that an official of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation described as “our national mobile territory”, while it made a show of prospecting for crude in deep water. As it did so, China kept a collection of much smaller, protesting Vietnamese vessels at bay by blasting them with massive water cannons powerful enough to sink many ships. At other locations, not far away, Chinese ships have intercepted vessels from the Philippines – sometimes by deliberately ramming them – to stop them from resupplying troops who guard disputed coral reefs that lie several times closer to Filipino shores than to anything conventionally understood as Chinese territory. It was against this backdrop that China began its own crash programme of dredging the oceans to build man-made islands in at least seven locations in the South China Sea in 2014.

Tianya Haijiao Park, Sanya.

The beaches of Sanya have become famous among Chinese as their country’s answer to Hawaii Photograph: Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image

But there is much more at stake in China’s plans for Hainan than the possession of a few spits of sand and rock hundreds of miles to the south. China’s coastguard, until recently very modest in size, is growing so fast that by the next decade it will boast more tonnage than the coastguards of the US, Japan and all of its south-east Asian neighbours combined. The Chinese coastguard’s ships are so large that they dwarf the platforms of many navies, blurring the lines that have traditionally distinguished these two services. And because its purpose is asserting mastery of the sea over a collection of far weaker neighbours to the south, much of this rising force will call Hainan its home.

For all of its strengths, where China’s new maritime might is concerned, the coastguard is still the little league. With quite distinct purposes in mind – namely the increasingly intense security competition between Beijing and Washington – China is rapidly equipping itself with the world’s largest submarine fleet, including a new force of nuclear ballistic missile vessels. It has also launched programmes to build a fleet of modern aircraft carriers, and the full range of associated battleships. In Hawaii, 5,800 miles away, the berths of the US’s most formidable naval assets and that state’s world-famous beaches are situated in different parts of the most-visited island, Oahu. But here in Hainan, just outside of Sanya, China’s newest and most advanced naval docks and its best beaches are located practically right next to each other, and I had gone there in order to try to have a look.

* * *

China is two years into what figures to be the 10-year tenure of Xi Jinping as president and head of the Communist party; many observers already describe him as the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. The previous holder of this distinction was Deng Xiaoping, who is credited with ending Maoism, opening China to foreign investment and putting the country on a path of explosive growth that is now into its fourth decade. But even Deng had to contend with peers in the party hierarchy who were far more conservative than him. Most leaders in the post-Mao era have had to spend several years laboriously consolidating power before announcing anything that smacks of a personal agenda. As a measure of his ambition, Xi, by contrast, announced a watchword for his rule in his very first days in office, and it is one that the state media has never departed from. The new leader’s agenda would be what he called the “great dream of national revitalisation”, which is often interpreted to mean lifting China to the first rank of world powers and reclaiming for it the preeminent place that every schoolchild learns was China’s lot for the majority of recorded history.

For most of the period between Mao’s death in 1976 and the advent of Xi, China followed the adage, attributed to Deng, of “hiding one’s capabilities and biding time”. This meant, above all, deliberately keeping a low profile in the world while the country steadfastly accumulated wealth and power. From the outset, what Xi called “the China dream” put a decisive end to all that.

During his first year in power, without warning, China suddenly proclaimed a so-called ADIZ (air defence identification zone) that covers an expansive maritime area separating China from Japan and includes a hotly contested group of tiny islands, known as the Senkakus (Japanese) or Diaoyu (Chinese), which have been under largely undisputed Japanese control since 1895. China followed up on this action almost immediately with a series of gestures that seemed designed to demonstrate its restored strength to its southern neighbours. In Xi’s early days in office, the country’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which was acquired several years ago from Ukraine and then extensively refurbished, was sent with a full battle group of other warships on a maiden cruise straight into many of the most fiercely disputed areas of the South China Sea.

However muscular Xi’s moves might at first appear, no one should think that he is a warmonger. China has as rich and sophisticated a tradition of statecraft as any nation, and a capacity for diplomacy of great subtlety. What the new Chinese leader has openly declared that he wants, though, is an Asia administered by Asians, and this is an idea that runs straight through Hainan island, and should be taken seriously. To grasp what it might mean requires thinking about the past as much as looking to the future.

There is nothing more central to the China dream than China’s idea of its rightful place in the world – which, Chinese people are relentlessly taught, they were robbed of first by European imperialism and then by an American-imposed Asian order that has been in place since the end of the second world war. Prior to this, for nearly the entire run of their nation’s long history, save for the occasional parenthetical setback, the Chinese understand themselves to have enjoyed well-deserved paramountcy in the vastness of the east. This has meant not just preeminence, but deference from neighbours eager to curry favour and share in the fruits of China’s brilliant culture.

“In East Asia’s tribute system, China was the superior state, and many of its neighbouring states were vassal states, and they maintained a relationship of tribute and rewards,” writes Liu Mingfu, a retired People’s Liberation Army colonel, in The China Dream, a hugely popular recent book that lays out plans for the country’s return to preeminence. “This was a special regional system through which they maintained friendly relations and provided mutual aid. The appeal and influence of ancient China’s political, economic and cultural advantages were such that smaller neighbouring states naturally fell into orbit around China, and many of the small countries nominally attached to China’s ruling dynasty sent regular tribute … The universal spread of China’s civilisation and the variety of nations that sent emissaries to China were simply a reflection of the attractiveness of the central nation, and the admiration that neighbouring countries had for China’s civilisation.”

It is true that many territories paid tribute to China, which they may have judged to be a small price for gaining access to trade with the world’s richest economy. But it is also true that China often used force to gain dominance over others, whether the Koreans or the Burmese or, most famously, Vietnam, which China occupied for 1,000 years. Through the teaching of history in this selective fashion, however, Chinese supremacy is made to appear to be the natural order of things, and never something that was forcibly imposed; hegemony, in Chinese usage, is a state of affairs that can only result from the actions of ill-intentioned foreigners.

Lingering threads of this kind of thought are evident in Beijing’s interactions with Japan, its only conceivable rival in the region. That status is one that a fast-rising China appears increasingly unable to abide. Similar motivations can be detected in the recent proliferation of extraordinary infrastructure schemes, in which all new roads will lead to the Rome of the East, otherwise known as Beijing. These include new transcontinental rail lines with high-speed passenger service and immense freight capacity that will completely outclass Russia’s badly aging Trans Siberian Railway, as well as the integration of south-east Asia into the Chinese rail network through Chinese-built railways in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos. It also includes a maritime trade network of ports and depots that span the Indian Ocean, culminating in east Africa, an important frontier of China’s expanding interests. Under one variation or another, Beijing has called all of these “new Silk Roads”, an appellation that is meant to conjure Chinese centrality and grandeur.

As it moved on all of these fronts, in the space of a mere two years, China has astutely built from scratch a major new multilateral bank, the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, which will be run under its leadership, competing with such western-led institutions as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, to fund construction projects that will inevitably play to China’s industrial strengths. The US was caught off-guard, and perhaps feeling that its own 70-year-old imperium in Asia was threatened, responded by snubbing the bank even as 56 countries – including many old-line allies in Europe, not least Britain – rushed to join the new institution.

As immensely ambitious projects such as these proceed, the gap in wealth and power between China and its maritime neighbours will continue to widen. Beijing’s hopes for the future seem to align with the way China teaches the history of its imperial past – in which nearby states will pragmatically accept that the price of China’s favour is deference.

Still, in order to retain a sliver of legitimacy for its claims to rightful control of nearly all of the South China Sea, and to preserve the hope of a peaceful outcome in pressing these claims, China needs a respectable theory to justify them. And just as surely as it is building islands at sea, it has phalanxes of people working away to make that case.

* * *

In the bureaucratic wars that determine how Beijing allocates state resources, many players have recently discovered that invoking China’s territorial interests in the South China Sea is the equivalent of pushing on a wide-open door. By now, as a result, the task of defending China’s “sacred rights” over this body of water – a stock phrase used in official propaganda – has become something of a mad scramble.

At the top of the heap comes the People’s Liberation Army Navy, a service that has one of the fastest-growing budgets in what is already a very rapidly expanding Chinese military. Next comes the China Coast Guard, a behemoth created in 2013 by the consolidation of five law-enforcement agencies that overlapped each other and routinely engaged in ferocious rivalries. Experts say that the integration is still far from complete, and that even oversight of the China Coast Guard is split between different authorities, each with its own rival interests. There is also the Ministry of Public Security, and something called the State Oceanic Administration. And this list only accounts for the national players. Beneath them come myriad provincial agencies and actors and big private companies that claim to promote law enforcement, to supervise fisheries, to explore for oil and gas, and to promote tourism.

Probably the biggest boondoggle of all in this regard is Sansha, in the Paracel island group, which was declared in 2012 to be one of China’s almost 300 prefectural level cities – an administrative designation typically reserved for places with millions of residents. Sansha, home to all of 1,500 civilians, is located on a mere dot in the sea called Woody Island – but China moved to elevate its status immediately after Vietnam passed a law declaring ownership of the Paracels, which are also claimed by Taiwan. All told, the Paracels consist of about 130 coral islands and reefs totalling less than three square miles in surface area. China has controlled the entire group since the 1970s, when it first used force to evict Vietnamese soldiers from the islands, a decade and a half before the shootout with Vietnam in the Spratlys. Since then, in an ostentatious fit of patriotism, the Hainan government and an array of Chinese corporations have lavished investments on public works and amenities of all kinds on the island, starting with solar panels, a power grid and a state-of-the-art desalination plant. Plans are now afoot to welcome cruise ships there, so that flag-waving Chinese tourists can be lectured on their country’s inalienable rights to the region before setting off to gaze upon other rocky protuberances in the region that China claims as territory.

Many of China’s neighbours, and indeed the US, regard the assertion of its claims to tiny reefs and rocky formations located as far as 1,800 miles away from Hainan’s coast – and sometimes only dozens of miles from other coastal south-east Asian states – as a bald-faced territorial grab, something faintly reminiscent of the European-led high imperial era of the late 19th century. The search for a theory that could help distinguish China’s claims from a simple case of might makes right led me one morning to the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, in Haikou, the grey and chilly administrative capital of Hainan, to see its founding director, Wu Shicun.

I had been picked up at my downtown hotel by two young men who worked at the centre and driven in a van through the rain to their workplace, which occupies a large, verdant plot located where the town petered out. There, I was met at the entrance by a pleasant young woman named Yang Yang, who would serve as my hostess. She led me into the institute through giant wooden doors and performed a quick tour of the impressive facilities, explaining that Dr Wu was tied up, and would be with me shortly. I was immediately struck by how everything seemed built to a standard of extra-generous spaciousness, as if crowds of experts regularly gathered here, and this insistently drew one’s attention to the unavoidable fact that in room after room, there was no one around. Saddest of all, perhaps, was the capacious library, a space with a well-lit study floor full of desks, in addition, of course, to stacks, which I was told were full of volumes in both Chinese and foreign languages. There, I encountered but a single person – a rather pained-looking young librarian.

When the tour was finished, Yang asked me if I would mind watching a short film about the institute, explaining that “all the guests do”. As a photographer took pictures of me, perhaps for use in a scrapbook, the lights in the projection room were dimmed, and the movie began with images of coastguard ships ploughing through high seas, as a narrator spoke in English in a booming voice: “The advent of the ocean century brings with it unprecedented opportunities.” A blue highlight flashed onto the screen covering virtually the entire South China Sea, right up to the shores of other neighbouring states. The narrator said nothing about risks, announcing instead: “The sea is crucial to the development of China and its future as a maritime state.”

When the seance had finally ended, I was led up the stairway a couple of floors to Wu’s gigantic office, where he greeted me almost as a diplomat might, with a handshake and stiff smile from behind his large, wooden desk, his mane of silver hair swept back dramatically. I had been led to believe that my host was mightily busy, but as our conversation got under way, the impression one got in his formal, clutter-free office could not have been more different. In a meeting that lasted more than an hour, we were not interrupted, and never once did Wu check any devices for messages. The only other activity was performed by his assistant, Yang, who sat nearby throughout, taking notes.

Wu launched into a historical explanation, telling me that China was the first to discover all the tiny islands that dot the South China Sea, the first to name them and the first to assert effective control over them. “Our exercise of jurisdiction began as early as the Tang Dynasty, in the ninth century,” he said, adding “[all of these places] were under the administration of Yan County, in Hainan.”

He was not happy when I replied that I had spent the past few years studying this historical record for a book, learning – among other things – that although ships from as far away as Persia commonly travelled to China via the Malacca Strait, there is scant archaeological record of Chinese ships in maritime south-east Asian lands prior to the 15th century, not long before the first European imperialists turned up in the region, changing everything for ever. “I thought he came here to discuss the law,” he reproached his assistant sternly in Chinese.

The onset of a fever in the region around maritime issues can be traced to China’s revival of an artefact of its early-20th-century history, known as the Nine-Dash Line. This line, which made its first official appearance in 1947, under the nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, encloses virtually all of the South China Sea in a loop that dangles southward from the Asian mainland in a shape that has been likened to a cow’s tongue. Chiang was defeated two years later by the forces of Mao Zedong, after a long and brutal civil war, and for decades afterwards almost nothing was heard of the Nine-Dash Line. China set off alarms in the region when it began resuscitating the line early in this decade, giving it renewed prominence in state propaganda, and including it on a map contained in all new Chinese passports. At a 2010 ministerial conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Hanoi, the Chinese foreign minister responded to criticisms of its moves in the region by dressing down his Singaporean counterpart, telling him: “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact.” This created a feeling held widely in the region that despite a decade of soothing talk from Beijing about good-neighbourliness and win-win relations, China was reverting to an old form of behaviour, whether that of the wounded revanchist, or the central kingdom demanding obeisance.

Since then, after losing in a showdown with China over Scarborough Shoal, a reef located 123 miles from its shores, the Philippines has taken the lead in the region in challenging China’s sense of entitlement, bringing a case contesting the validity of the Nine-Dash Line before a tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), and drawing repeated expressions of outrage from Beijing at its impertinence. China has vowed to ignore any unfavourable ruling by the tribunal, despite being a signatory of the convention. Similarly, Wu told me that China would not negotiate territorial issues in the sea on a multilateral basis with neighbouring states, nor would it accept outside mediation. This would leave no way forward, except for China’s much smaller and increasingly dependent neighbours to negotiate with it one on one.

Protesters stage a rally outside the Chinese embassy in Manila demanding that China pull out of the contested Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

Protesters stage a rally outside the Chinese embassy in Manila demanding that China pull out of the contested Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Photograph: Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images

As set in stone as these positions sounded, Beijing’s approach to control of the South China Sea has evolved in important, if subtle, ways since international public opinion, especially in the region, has turned critical of its actions. Most notably, China has seized on the vagueness inherent in the Nine-Dash Line, for which it has never attributed specific geographic coordinates, to suggest that people opposing it are tilting at windmills. “China has never claimed the entire South China Sea,” Wu told me. “China just claims sovereignty over islands, reefs and features, above water or submerged, and also to adjacent waters. If an island can sustain human life that, of course, generates an EEZ.” This term – standing for exclusive economic zone – means an area extending 200 nautical miles out to sea for China’s sole economic use. But the only justifications Wu offered for China’s claims to these features were the same historical arguments that we had already more or less agreed to disagree about, and which have no standing under the law of the sea.

This led me, at last, to ask Wu what this was really all about. Why is it so important for China to control essentially all of this body of water, extending nearly 2,000 miles from its nearest conventionally defined coastline? “The reason that this has become an important issue is geopolitics,” he replied. “The South China Sea is located at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, and this attracts the interest of many other countries – the US, Japan, India, and others.” Others have long speculated about whether China’s obsession was driven by an unproven conviction that the sea contained immense reserves of hydrocarbons, or whether it had more to do with fishing rights and food security. But Wu was now telling me that this was, in effect, about power.

My visit to the institute concluded with a tour of a room full of wall-mounted maps, carefully assembled to build the picture of China’s historical control over islands in the region, especially those in the Spratly chain. Once again, I was led by Yang, who stood off in the distance while I gave some of the maps a careful inspection. “Time immemorial” is a favourite official expression for explaining the duration of its claims to them, but as I looked at these old maps, I noticed that despite being written entirely in Chinese, the names of the islands were all phoneticised versions of the names westerners had given them in the 18th and 19th centuries.

* * *

It would be wrong to conclude that the Chinese position merely consists of cosmological bluster, even if it is true that there is plenty of that. Beyond the often glorified and euphemised imperial past, when neighbours reputedly prostrated themselves before the emperor in order to enjoy the privileges of trade, China draws on far fresher sources of motivation. Beijing’s attitudes toward the South China Sea, like much of the country’s behaviour as an emerging superpower, is bound up in an entirely modern Chinese obsession: overcoming the humiliations of the recent past.

Since Sun Yat-sen, the early-20th-century founder of the Republic of China, every modern leader has harboured dreams of restoring the country to the position it enjoyed before imperial China was ripped asunder by Britain (and France) in the opium wars, and then trampled by Japan in a series of degrading wars that began in the 1890s. For Chinese leaders of the 20th, and now 21st century, that means restoring lost territories: most obviously Taiwan but also the Diaoyu islands. Just as important are the rights China is convinced – or has convinced itself – it deserves to the South China Sea.

Sun’s successor, and Mao Zedong’s greatest historical rival, Chiang Kai-shek, began keeping a diary in 1928, in which he created a daily entry under the heading Xuechi, meaning “avenge”, or “wipe clean humiliation”. It came to include everything from venting about the need to destroy the “dwarf pirates”, which is how he often referred to the Japanese he was at war with, to the need to eventually create textbooks that would inculcate his ideas about the people’s duty to restore China’s size and glory. One entry reads: “Recover Taiwan and Korea. Recover the land that was originally part of the Han and Tang dynasty. Then, as descendants of the Yellow Emperor, we will have no shame.”

Nationalism in China, which has swelled around these kinds of sentiments, has become a vital tool for the Communist party leadership. Yet officials have sometimes stoked these feelings in such a crude manner that it has become a hindrance to their freedom of action, and potentially even a threat to their own survival. When the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, said in June, for example, that any retreat by Beijing from its South China Sea claims would not be forgiven by future generations, he might as well have said that the country’s leaders could not get away with compromise on these issues.

But there is an even more recent imperative at work in Beijing’s calculations than the matter of overcoming the humiliations of the last two centuries, and its name is the US. Today, it is that country and not Europe or even Japan, which is seen as the main obstacle to Beijing’s regional ambitions. There is simply no way for China to reign supreme in the South China Sea so long as the US has a free run of the western Pacific. Even more than cowing its neighbours, China’s island-building strategy would seem to have the US navy as its primary focus.

The waters off Hainan, near the Yalin navy base, where China maintains its nuclear submarine fleet, are notoriously shallow, scarcely 10 metres deep in many places, making it easy to spot submarines on their sorties from the island. By establishing a number of man-made island positions in the Spratlys, China seems to be pursuing a number of complementary goals. The first is reducing the ability of the US fleet to operate with impunity throughout the region. It is frequently noted that China’s tiny new islets would be impossible to defend in a conflict, but that is to miss the point. By establishing radar and maritime acoustic arrays throughout the South China Sea, along with surveillance flights of its own, Beijing will improve its real-time information, or situational awareness in the region and enhance its ability to engage enemy combatants before they can approach the Chinese mainland. As noted, with its deep surrounding waters, a place such as Fiery Cross might also serve as a convenient way station for China’s submarines.

It may turn out that the encounter with the US Poseidon surveillance aircraft recorded by CNN was more than passingly revealing about China’s ambitions for its newly built islands, and about the geopolitical contest that will unfold around them. Under Unclos, which China signed in 1996, and the US has never ratified, artificial islands built atop submerged features such as the reefs flown over that day do not entitle a country to territorial rights – and yet, there was the presumed voice of a Chinese soldier telling the Americans to go away.

From declaring that it will not abide by any Unclos ruling against it, it would not be such a large step for China to depart from Unclos altogether – particularly since the US has never joined – and insist that its new positions in the South China Sea be given a wide berth by others, in the surrounding waters and in the skies overhead. Such a decision would be risky for China in terms of the image it would like to project as a peaceable and constructive rising power, but challenging it would be risky for others, not least the US.

On the eve of a recent tour of the region, where he attended an annual Asian security conference in Singapore, the US defence secretary Ashton Carter vowed to frustrate any Chinese efforts to limit the movements of American vessels in the South China Sea. “The United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as we do all around the world,” Carter declared in Pearl Harbor. And to this, he joined another vow. “We will remain the principal security power in the Asia-Pacific for decades to come,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, in China, people have begun to take a different view of the future. “In 10 years, our GDP will be bigger than the US, in 20 years our military spending will be equal to the US,” said Shen Dingli, one of China’s most prominent international relations scholars, who I met in Washington. “Thirty to 40 years from now, our armed forces will be better than the US. Why would the US defend those rocks? When you have power, the world has to accept. The US is a superpower today, and it can do whatever it wants. When China is a superpower, the world will also have to accept.”


Is the Philippines’ Military Modernization Dead in the Water?

From The Diplomat (Jul 28): Is the Philippines’ Military Modernization Dead in the Water? by Dr. Renato Cruz de Castro

The program seems to be losing steam under the Aquino administration.

A few weeks before President Benigno Aquino’s delivered his last State of the Nation Address on 27 July 2015, the Philippine Daily Inquirer published an article criticizing the Philippine Department of National Defense (DND) for scuttling the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) planned acquisition of a shore-based missile system (SBMS) as part of the build-up of the country’s territorial/maritime defense capabilities.

Instead of the missile system, the DND opted for the purchase of marksmen rifles, long range sniper weapons system, and protective gears for the Philippine Army’s (PA) counter-insurgency operations.
The DND and the Israeli Ministry of Defense spent several years negotiating the SBMS deal, which is worth Php6.5 billion (estimated US$120 million). The missile system would be put under the operational control of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) and would be installed along the coast of the Philippines’ western-most island of Palawan as part of the AFP’s maritime interdiction system against China’s growing naval presence in the South China Sea.

The negotiation for the missile deal was concluded in December 2014 and contract was waiting for President Aquino’s final approval.  However, in April 2015, Secretary Voltaire Gazmin removed the SBMS project from the AFP’s list for the first horizon of the AFP modernization program (2013-2018) and replaced it with designated marksmen rifles, chemical-biological-radiological gear, and long-range sniper weapons system.

Then Army Commander and now AFP Chief-of-Staff Lieutenant General Hernando Iriberri reasoned that while the SBMS project was important to the country’s  defense of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) it was [sic is] more appropriate to fill the “gaps in the battlefield equipment in view of clear, present and continuing occurrences of terrorist acts.” Secretary Gazmin then successfully convinced President Aquino to remove the SBMS from the list of military hardware that will be purchased during his term and replaced it with equipment geared for primarily internal security. General Iriberri justified President Aquino’s decision by declaring that it was “for the best interest of the 85,000-strong PA.”

General Iriberri’s declaration however, begs the question: how does the acquisition of weapons system geared for internal security fit into the Philippine military’s overall and long-term thrust of shifting from internal security to territorial/maritime defense?

Since he assumed the presidency in mid-2010, Aquino vowed to pursue an AFP modernization program that would transform the Philippine military from an army-centered counter-insurgency-oriented organization to a modern armed force capable of overseeing territorial defense and maritime security. In clear emphatic terms, President Aquino spoke of “enhanced security” for national defense and put forward the country’s claim for territories in the South China Sea through the modernization of its navy and the air force. The March 2, 2011 incident at Reed Bank, where two Chinese civilian vessels harassed a Philippine survey ship and China dismissed the Philippines’ diplomatic queries about the incident, drove the Aquino administration to hasten the AFP’s strategic shift from internal security to territorial/maritime defense.

In its first 17 months of the Aquino administration, the DND spent Php33.596 billion to boost the AFP’s internal security and territorial defense capability.  The bulk of the budget was supposed to be earmarked for projects for the use by the PAF and the Philippine Navy (PN), specifically for the purchase of materiel for “joint maritime surveillance, defense, and interdiction operations in the South China Sea.” In October 2011, Voltaire Gazmin released the Defense Planning Guidance (2013-2018), restructuring the AFP to a “lean but fully capable” armed forces to confront the challenges to the country’s territorial integrity and maritime security. The Philippines’ immediate territorial defense goal is to establish a modest but “comprehensive border protection program” centered around the surveillance, deterrence, and border patrol capabilities of the PAF, the PN, and the Philippine Coast Guard (PSG). The long-term goal, according to the earlier 2011 AFP’s Strategic Intent, is to develop the force structure and capabilities enabling the Philippine military to maintain a “credible deterrent posture against foreign intrusion or external aggression, and other illegal activities while allowing free navigation to prosper.”

Deep into 2015, however, the AFP has only acquired two former U.S. Coast Guard Cutters (The BRP Gregorio Del Pilar and the BRP Alcaraz) and a contract for the acquisition of 12 F/A-50 multi-purpose fighter planes from South Korea to be delivered in 2016.  The DND is still looking at the offers by South Korea and Spain to supply two brand new frigates for the Philippine Navy’s Desired Force Mix—a naval acquisition program aimed to give the navy some limited anti-air/anti-submarine capabilities.  However, the project has been in the pipe-line for the last two years because the PN is in quandary whether it will acquire cheaper second-hand ships or the more expensive newly constructed vessels.

Despite the initial acquisition of six Multi-Purpose Attack Crafts (MPACs) for the PN, the DND postponed its purchase of missile-armed MPAC until such time when the Department of Budget and Management has released the funds for the implementation of this project.  As the International Institute for International and Strategic Studies’ (IISS) 2012 Military Balance prophetically noted: “President Aquino vowed that the Philippines would provide a stronger military defense for its South China Sea claims, this promise may have been aspirational rather than grounded in concrete policy-making or budgetary provision.”

The DND’s decision to scrap the SBMS reflects the apparent defect of the Aquino administration’s 2011 knee-jerk decision to shift the AFP’s focus from internal security to territorial/maritime defense.  One Filipino legislator noted that since the decision was a not a product of a long-term strategic planning, “military purchases and deployments had become erratic or wishy-washy, where a single official could amend strategy based solely on perception and through deliberation.”  Another Filipino legislator quirked “that it was unusual for the AFP to prioritize internal threats when its main responsibility was to protect the country from foreign incursions, like China’s (naval) build-up in the disputed waters.” A former air force officer turned legislator questioned the dramatic change in the military’s priority when he asked the DND and the AFP to explain “why they dropped the missile purchase because their justification – increased threat from terrorists – was too flimsy to justify drastic change in (arms) acquisition.”

Stung by criticism from the Filipino legislators, a Philippine Army spokesperson said that the SMBS project was not scrapped by merely moved into the second horizon or phase of the AFP Modernization Program (2016-2022). This means the missile system will be purchased and installed by the AFP after President Aquino’s term ends in 2016. Thus, the SMBS project, along with other planned acquisitions for the PAF and the PN, is practically “dead in the water” for the time being.

[Dr. Renato Cruz De Castro is a professor in the International Studies Department, De La Salle University, Manila, and the holder of the Charles Lui Chi Keung Professorial Chair in China Studies. He was the U.S. State Department ASEAN Research Fellow from the Philippines.]


A Military-Industrial Complex Is Rising In The Philippines

From the 21st Century Asian Arms Race (Jul 25): A Military-Industrial Complex Is Rising In The Philippines

Last month the Government Arsenal‘s annual newsletter published a map of its new Defense Industrial Estate, a.k.a. GADIE. Categorized as a Special Economic Zone for foreign investors, the estate seeks to attract manufacturers who will supply the Philippine military’s needs.

The news was picked up by several local media outlets and is the latest breakthrough in the Aquino administration’s efforts to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The estate itself is a PPP or Private-Public Partnership, a mechanism the current administration has used to push through improvements to the national economy.

The Government Arsenal, located in Camp Gen. Antonio Luna, Bataan, was established 48 years ago as a munitions plant for the AFP. It has since expanded its activities to include manufacturing and reapiring limited numbers of small arms.

Philippine Government Arsenal Defense Idustrial Estate

An area map published by the Government Arsenal and circulated via social media.
The construction of the Defense Industrial Estate is being handled by two private sector firms, Filipinas Dravo Corporation and CPI Total Corporation. Much of the work involves converting 340 hectares around Camp Gen. Antonio Luna into an industrial park. Filipinas Dravo Corporation is experienced in this, having built military facilities in Saudi Arabia and Subic, the Philippines’ largest naval and maritime installation, as well as various factories and infrastructure.

Filipinas Dravo Corporation used to be a subsidiary of the Dravo Corporation, a defunct shipyard and steel fabricator with a long history of defense contracting for the US Navy. Its other local partner for the Defense Industrial Estate, CPI Total Corporation, specializes in energy projects.

According to the Government Arsenal, the zoning within the estate will be flexible. Investors can choose whether they want to partner with a government-owned corporation, launch a joint venture, or take advantage of build-operate-transfer arrangements.

The estate is divided into two main areas, the Explosive and Non-Explosive Zone. The former houses facilities for ordnance and explosives production. The latter is for the Government Arsenal’s planned small arms factory. Two additional zones for housing and administrative offices are included.

It appears the estate’s administration falls under the Department of National Defense (DND) and not the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), which oversees foreign investment into the Philippines.

Defense contractors do exist in the Philippines since much of the AFP’s material needs are sourced locally, even when these are imported via proxies. The Defense Industrial Estate, however, is a genuine effort to have a centralized government-owned arms industry that produces weapons and equipment. The Government Arsenal’s newsletter explicitly states “Any excess in the local requirements will be sold in the global markets,” a clear indication of the Philippines’ possible role as a future arms exporter.

If the estate become fully operational by 2016, its occupants could be the Philippines’ top defense partners: the US, South Korea, and Israel. Proof is the Government Arsenal’s zoning plans include a KIA Motor plant. South Korea’s KIA Motors is a supplier of trucks to the AFP.


NPA starts drive to collect poll fees

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 28): NPA starts drive to collect poll fees

Communist rebels have started sending letters to politicians, reminding them of payment of “permit to campaign” (PTC) fees when the election season starts.

“I’m not taking them seriously,” said one incumbent mayor. But another politician seeking to reoccupy his mayoral seat said, “PTC has long been a part of every election. I just want to have a smooth campaign.”

On Wednesday, the top official of the military’s Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) attributed the harassment of government forces by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Southern Tagalog and Bicol regions to their efforts to intimidate politicians into paying the PTC fees.

“The PTC fee collection is automatic for the rebels during election season. But their menacing demand letters are all just empty threats,” Lt. General Ricardo Visaya said in an interview.

Some politicians in Quezon province, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of rebel reprisal, told the Inquirer that NPA members were already sending feelers through emissaries.

Visaya advised candidates not to give in to the rebels’ demand, assuring them that they can conduct their campaign unmolested.

He said remnants of NPA units in the Bicol region and Quezon had been harassing government forces in the past weeks. “It was all propaganda,” he said.

Maj. Angelo Guzman, Solcom spokesperson, said at least seven rebels and two Army soldiers were killed in recent encounters in Mauban and Atimonan towns in Quezon and in Irosin, Sorsogon province.

Guzman counted at least eight NPA attacks in Sorsogon, two in Albay province and one in Camarines Norte province. These were not meant to really harm but just to create the impression that they are on the offensive, he said.

“They are no longer capable of staging major tactical offensives because they knew that they will all perish,” Visaya said.

He said the NPA still had some degree of influence in the Polillo-Real-Infanta-General Nakar area in northern Quezon and in some areas in the provinces of Sorsogon, Masbate, Oriental Mindoro and Occidental Mindoro.


Joma Sison chides Aquino for lumping comrades with criminals

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 28): Joma Sison chides Aquino for lumping comrades with criminals
Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Ma. Sison cried foul over President Aquino’s statement lumping political detainees in the company of common criminals that he said could sabotage the resumption of the stalled peace talks.

In one part of his two-hour-15-minute State of the Nation Address, President Aquino boasted that state security and police forces have neutralized a leader of a notorious robbery and hold-up gang, notorious human rights violator and former military officer Jovito Palparan and several Muslim rebels. But he also included in the same category top CPP leaders and spouses Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria; and the slain Leoncio “Ka Parago” Pitao, Ruben Saluta and Emmanuel Bacarra, all alleged New People’s Army (NPA) leaders.

Sison said Aquino showed “muddle-headedness by mixing up revolutionaries or alleged political offenders with common criminals.”

“It shows more stupidity than ignorance about the two categories recognized in law and politics,” Sison said in an email reply to a solicited reaction by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Sison offered an unsolicited advice to Aquino.

“He (Aquino) should avoid making malicious and foul statements against the revolutionary martyrs Ka Parago, against illegal detainees like Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria and the more than 500 political prisoners if he is at all interested in the peace process and in improving the atmosphere for peace negotiations,” said the CPP founder based in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

Sison again assailed the President for not respecting the provisions of the Joint Agreement of Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), which frees from arrest the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultants and other holders of immunity pass provided by the Jasig.

He also criticized Mr. Aquino for disrespecting the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, which prohibits the filing of charges of common crimes against those alleged to be political offenders and accused of being connected to the CPP, NPA and NDFP.

“He is not interested in the advance of the peace process because he manifests gross disrespect for existing agreements solemnly made by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the NDFP,” Sison said.

He called Aquino a “lame duck president.”

“If he insists on talking and acting foolishly and criminally, the revolutionary movement can let him go down in history with the ignominy of violating solemn agreements, sabotaging peace negotiations and being addicted to systematic and gross violations of human rights of people inside and outside of prison,” Sison said.

The hope for the resumption of the peace talks between the government and NDFP was rekindled following the recent dinner meeting in Amsterdam between Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and other government officials and Sison and other exiled communist rebel leaders.

Both parties described the meeting as “bridge building” and a “good start” toward the possible resumption of the aborted peace talks.

But the NDFP demanded the release of more than 500 political prisoners before the resumption of the peace negotiation. Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles opposed the precondition.

The NDFP has been engaged in on-and-off negotiation with the government for the past 27 years. The talks have not moved beyond minor agreements. The peace negotiations have remained stalled since February 2011. The government’s refusal to release the imprisoned rebels led to the collapse of the peace talks.


China conducts air, sea drills in South China Sea

From GMA News (Jul 28): China conducts air, sea drills in South China Sea

China said it conducted air and sea drills in the South China Sea on Tuesday as it stakes an increasingly assertive claim to virtually the whole sea despite rival claims by neighbors.

The live-ammunition drills involved more than 100 ships, dozens of aircraft, information warfare units as well as the nuclear force, the state-backed China Military Online said in a report posted on the defense ministry's website.

It did not specify where exactly the exercises took place.

China claims most of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year, and rejects the rival claims of Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

The United States has called on claimants to settle differences through talks and has said its Pacific Fleet aims to protect sea lanes critical to U.S. trade with Southeast Asia and the oil-rich Middle East.

China rejects U.S. involvement in the dispute and its more assertive approach recently, which has included land reclamation and construction on disputed reefs, has raised tension.

The latest exercises focused on integrating information warfare systems with air and naval forces, as well as testing the combat effectiveness of new weapons and equipment, China Military Online said.

The military achieved "new breakthroughs" in several areas including engaging high-speed low-altitude targets, anti-submarine warfare and intercepting supersonic anti-ship missiles with surface warships, it added.

The drills used "all sorts of information technology tactics" to create simulated reconnaissance, surveillance, and early warning systems to detect air and sea targets in real time, it said.

The exercises were conducted in "a complex electromagnetic environment" involving many types of missiles, torpedoes, shells and bombs, it said.

China's navy on Saturday played down its recent exercises in the South China Sea and criticized other countries for "illegally" occupying islands and reefs.


US Navy mulls on expanded military exercises with AFP

From the Daily Tribune (Jul 28): US Navy mulls on expanded military exercises with AFP

The United States Navy is keen on expanding military exercises with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) into multilateral engagements to include other allied countries.

Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, said he was “very interested” in expanding the annual US Navy and AFP combat exercises into multilateral engagements with other partner-nations.

“It is important that the approach be a multilateral approach, not a bilateral one,” Swift said in a statement released by the US Embassy yesterday.

“These problems are common to many countries, not just one,” he added.

Swift was in Manila on July 16-19 and engaged senior officials of the AFP, including Gen. Hernando Iriberri and Philippine Navy Flag Officer in Command Vice Admiral Jesus Millan.

Aside from routine calls to his military counterparts, Swift also joined a routine observation flight of P-8 flight over the West Philippine Sea.

The US admiral, however, did not identify other countries that may be involved in case multilateral exercises push through.

But Swift noted the Philippines’ holding of military readiness exercises not only with the US but also with Japan, also a known US ally.

Meanwhile, a broad coalition has been formed recently to lead the campaign against the continued bullying of China in the West Philippine Sea.

The West Philippine Sea Coalition (WPSC) which was composed of different mass organizations disclosed that they would be actively campaigning against the activities of China in the disputed Zamora Reef (Subi Reef) in the Spratly Islands, located in the disputed sea.

With this thing the newly formed group led by former Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan III has called on the people to do their share by boycotting China products.

Only recently the WPSC held a protest rally along Roxas Boulevard in Manila to air their sentiments against the latest incursion of the foreign in Philippine territory.

Alunan said this protest actions should be sustained so as to show to China the sentiments of the people that they will not just stood without doing anything to defend the sovereignty of the country.
“While the case of incursions of China in Philippine territory is being heard at the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague, China did not cease with their reclamation. They continue to destroy our coral reefs and taking over of island and the continued construction in Kalayaan Group of Island which is an illegal act,” Alunan said.


$3B ADB lending boost to help end Philippines Muslim rebellion

From InterAksyon (Jul 28): $3B ADB lending boost to help end Philippines Muslim rebellion

MILF regulars, file photograph by Dennis Arcon, InterAksyon.com

The Asian Development Bank is to lend about $3 billion to the Philippines over the next three years, part of which will help support a peace deal ending a long-running Muslim insurgency, a joint statement said Tuesday.

The loan — up 66 percent from the $1.8 billion agreed for 2015-2017 — will help the Philippines build roads and other infrastructure, improve its basic education system and reform its capital markets, said the statement issued jointly with the Philippine government.

Bank president Takehiko Nakao said boosting lending to the country was in part aimed at "supporting the government in its effort to bring lasting peace and development" to the Muslim south.

His comments come after a peace deal was struck in March last year with the country's largest Muslim rebel group, aimed at ending decades of fighting that has claimed 120,000 lives.

Congress is currently debating the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law to grant minority Muslims self-rule in the violence-racked area, which President Aquino hopes will be passed before next year.

The government also plans to pour large amounts of aid to the region, and the ADB said it is now working with local authorities to prepare a development plan.

The bank will also help the government raise adult literacy and improve job prospects for residents there, the statement added.

The Muslim rebellion, which began in the early 1970s, has plunged the region into widespread poverty with poor infrastructure like rutted roads, rudimentary ports, and schools destroyed due to intermittent fighting between government forces and communist guerrillas.

Rebuilding basic infrastructure, as well as improving literacy levels, would help the region attract business investment necessary to create jobs to help its people get out of poverty.


Thousands avail of Pacific Partnership medical, dental services

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jul 28): Thousands avail of Pacific Partnership medical, dental services

ROXAS CITY, Capiz – Thousands of Capiceños availed of the various health services by the international servicemen who  joined the Pacific Partnership 2015 in Capiz.

In Cuartero town alone, more than 1,000 residents benefited from the medical, dental and optometry services by the team.

Mayor Tito Mayo said that while they only targeted 50 residents from every barangay with a total of  22 barangays, there were also residents from other provinces like Iloilo and other neighboring towns in the province who also availed of such services.

Mayo said that their people patiently waited for their turn to avail of the health services from the international community, lining up starting early morning.

For Pacific Partnership Public Affairs Officer Lt. Timothy Pietrack, the overwhelming support of the local government unit of Cuartero made it  a successful event of the town.

He also acknowledged the hospitality and the warm appreciation and welcome of the people of Capiz for the team.

Pietrack said that their various engagements in Capiz have been a learning experience for every member of the team which could also be shared in their next Pacific Partnership engagements in the other parts of the world.

“We are honored and privileged to have worked with the Filipino people, particularly the Armed Forces of the Philippines and other government officials for they are very professionals and so welcoming,” he said.

He said that their stay in the Philippines, which is their longest ever Pacific Partnership engagement so far, was an opportunity to know more about the culture of the Filipino people.

Included in the Pacific engagements in Capiz are the medical, dental, veterinary and engineering civic action, including disaster preparedness capacity building and gender and development training.

The medical engagements were earlier conducted in barangays Culasi and Loctugan in Roxas City as well as in Cuartero, while the Sigma town medical civic action is scheduled also this week.

The veterinary civic actions were likewise done in Dumarao, Cuartero and next in Pontevedra.

The surgical procedure for a short day recovery period cases are ongoing onboard United States Naval Ship Hospital Mercy docked in Culasi, Roxas City.


DAR completes Php3.6 M peace projects in S. Cotabato town

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jul 28): DAR completes Php3.6 M peace projects in S. Cotabato town

The   provincial  office  of  the Department of Agrarian Reform in South Cotabato   has  recently  completed  P3.6  million  worth of peace  projects.

These projects, said Felix Frias, provincial  agrarian  reform program officer II,   were   carried  out  in Polomolok town  under  the PAyapa at MAsaganang pamayaNAn (PAMANA) Program to benefit Agrarian Reform Areas (ARA) in the Municipality of Polomolok, South Cotabato.

“Our team, along with the team from LGU Polomolok, conducted a joint inspection of the projects and found that 12 are already completed and are now ready for turn over to the local government unit of Polomolok,” Frias  said.

These projects include construction of lined canals in Barangays Magsaysay, Poblacion, Lapu, Upper Klinan, and Polo.

Multipurpose buildings were built in  Glamang and Silway 8.

Other projects include construction of a potable water system and intake tank at Brgy. Cannery Site, construction of submersible pump and rehabilitation of school stage at Klinan 6, road concretization at Lumakil and construction of solar dryer in Brgy. Bentung.

Frias  explained that  PAMANA allotted  Php300,000  for each  of the  12  infrastructure projects.

The PAMANA Project aims to provide for Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs) in conflict-affected areas by building projects that will reduce poverty, improve governance and empower communities. 


MILF to push for peace agreements sans BBL’s passage in Pres. Aquino’s term

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jul 27): MILF to push for peace agreements sans BBL’s passage in Pres. Aquino’s term

Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said they will continue to demand for the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreements even if the Bangsamoro Basic Law will not be passed within the term of President Benigno Aquino III.

Though Murad has hoped for the passage of the BBL before the end of the term of the present administration in June next year, he was apparently opened to the possibility that the proposed law will not be approved.

“If not passed, we’ll continue to demand that the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and its annexes will be implemented,” he said.

“The ideal is that the BBL will be passed as it is now. Because we don’t want to fail the hope of our people,” Murad told 50 media members from across Mindanao and Manila-based journalists during a conversation at Camp Darapanan on July 25.

The MILF leader has also hoped that the original draft of the BBL will be passed according to the peace agreements with the government, but would allow improvements in some provisions of the BBL.

“It is now the responsibility of the Philippine government to deliver the agreements with the Bangsamoro,” he stated.

On their part, Murad assured that they will try their best to help “because we always consider that we are partners with the government trying to achieve genuine and long lasting peace.”

“As far as we’re concerned, we continue to uphold the agreements, to uphold the peace process,” he said, adding that he will see to it that his people abide with the peace process.

Murad believed that the success of the peace process “lies on the main support, popular support of the Bangsamoro people,” and he raised the need to rally with stakeholders who are not in the Bangsamoro territory.

The visit in Camp Darapanan was part of the site visitations which included the visit in Mamasapano during the Mindanao Media Forum held on July 24-26 in Cotabato City, which bannered the theme: “Beyond Mamasapano: Reporting the Bangsamoro Peace Process.”

The forum which was attended by media members from across Mindanao including some Manila-based journalists, was organized by the Mindanao Media Forum with convenor editor-in-chief Carolyn Arguillas of the Davao-based Mindanao News, Inc.

The MMF has drawn partnership with the Friends of Peace headed by Cotabato City Archbishop Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, Institute of Autonomy and Governance, Embassy of Canada, Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, and the Philippine Information Agency-Region XI, among others.


Cebuano News: Kapin libo ka tawo mitambong sa mga pulong-pulong nga gipasiugdahan sa TOG-10/PAF

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jul 27): Cebuano News: Kapin libo ka tawo mitambong sa mga pulong-pulong nga gipasiugdahan sa TOG-10/PAF

Kapin usa-ka libo (1,222) ka mga residente ug estudyante ang mitambong sa mga pulong-pulong ug dayalog alang sa kalinaw nga gipasiugdahan sa Tactical Operations Group, Northern Mindanao (TOG-10), Philippine Air Force (PAF), nga nakabase  sa Lumbia, ning siudad, sa milabay nga tuig.

Gituki sulod sa mga pulong-pulong ang mga isyu sa seguridad sa nasud, terorismo, insurhensiya ug ang dili maayong epekto sa illegal nga druga, si Lt. Col. Leo A. Fontanilla, TOG-10 Group Commander, miingon.

Matud pa usab ni Fontanilla, ang mga nasangpit nga kalihokan gipahigayon sa TOG-10, sa pagtabang sa 8TH ARCEN, 710TH SPOW, 300TH AISG, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), 4TH Infantry Division, Philippine Army (PA),  58TH Infantry Battalion (58IB), PA, ug nila ni 2Lt. Edio RJ V. Cabigun, PA, Ret., Sharlito Dinganon, rebel returnee ug  Minandro J. Aque, isip mga dinapit nga mga mamumulong.

Samtang si Fontanilla miingon nga ang mga pulong-pulog didto gipahigayon sa mga halayong barangay sa bukid sa utlanan sa probinsiya sa Misamis Oriental ug Bukidnon, partikular sa Tuburan, Dansolihon, Pualas, Pigsag-an, Lingating, Bayanga ug Cagayan De Oro City.

“Sa laing bahin, ang katawhan sa mga nasangpit nga mga barangay ang gipasabut kabahin sa mga gihimo sa gobyerno diha sa mga barangay, partikular sa PAF,  sa kampanya alang sa kahusay ug kalinaw sa nasud,” si Fontanilla midugang pag-ingon.


Peace pact unites soldiers, Lumads

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jul 27): Peace pact unites soldiers, Lumads

IMPASUGONG, Bukidnon — The Indigenous People (IPs) — traditionally known as “Lumads”— of Impasugong and Cabanglasan towns, and the Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry (Dependable) Battalion of the 4th Infantry Division, launched a peace pact to condemn violence and raise strong commitment to promote peace in the province of Bukidnon.

In a ritual and peace pact dubbed “Panaghiusa hu mga kasundaluhan daw hu mga Lumad (unity of the soldiers and the indigenous peoples),” 71 tribal elders and leaders from the Higaonon, Talaandig and Umayamnon tribes along Kalabugao Plains, Mt. Kitanglad range of Impasugong, Upper Pulangui area of Malaybalay City, and the ancestral territories of Cabanglasan, all of Bukidnon, vowed to step up cooperation to bring in lasting solutions to conflicts so people could live peacefully and productively.

The tribal leaders have long sought for military and local government units’ (LGUs) help in their quest for lasting peace in ancestral territories that have been desecrated by the communist NPA rebels for a long time.

Lyco-Lyco Pintuan, one of the elders of the Higaonon tribe who recounted his ordeal with the rebels, expressed gratitude to the LGU and military’s response to the IP’s woes.

Pintuan said these insurgents violated the rights of the Lumads by building encampments, recruiting the IP youth, forcibly organizing the people as NPA supporters; subjecting them to forced taxation, compelling them unnecessarily to evacuate their territories and become Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and coercing them to join mass protests in town centers.

This sad fate of IPs prompted the military and the LGUs to ally with the tribes and resolve these issues in the hope of winning peace once more.

Among the highlights of the event was the acceptance and adoption of Lt. Col. Lennon G. Babilonia, the Commanding Officer of 8th Infantry Battalion, as “Datu Impamani (guardian of the Lumads),” by the elders, during a sacred ritual called “Pagdang-ul.”

In the acceptance rites, Higaonon tribal leader Pintuan said he is blissful and very much overwhelmed on the occasion.“Many of our elders have been killed by the NPA in recent years, that’s why we live in fear. Our problems, particularly on security, made us hopeless. But now we have found new hope,” he said.

Lt. Col. Babilonia, now an adopted member of the elders of the tribe, showed his respect and honor to the Lumads.

“I am very much honored to be a part of the Lumads here in Bukidnon. My being a member of the tribe gives me and my men more responsibility in uplifting their rights and respecting their cultures and traditions. Our partnership will eventually be instrumental to fulfil our objective of winning peace for their safety and well-being; and for them to attain quality and progressive life,” he said.


Army, IPs in Bukidnon forge peace pact

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 28): Army, IPs in Bukidnon forge peace pact

The military and the indigenous peoples (IPs) in Bukidnon forged a peace pact in a bid to establish lasting peace in the IPs ancestral domain in the province.

Representatives from the local government units (LGUs) witnessed the symbolic ritual of the peace pact known as “Panaghiusa hu mga kasundaluhan daw hu mga lumad” (Unity of the soldiers and the IPs) in Bukidnon.

Capt. Norman M. Tagros, spokesperson of the army’s 8th Infantry Battalion, based in Impasug-ong, Bukidnon, on Tuesday, said that 71 tribal leaders representing various tribes in Northern Mindanao were present during the peace pact ceremony held in Impasug-ong Sunday.

Tagros said that the military, LGUs, and the IPs agreed to work together to ensure lasting peace in the ancestral domains of the province of Bukidnon.

He said that the tribal elders and leaders represented the Higaonon, Talaandig and Umayamnon tribes along Kalabugao Plains and Mt. Kitanglad area of Impasugong, Upper Pulangui area of Malaybalay City and the ancestral territories of Cabanglasan, all of Bukidnon,

The activity, aimed at strengthening the partnership and commitment of the soldiers and the Lumads in Bukidnon also highlights the acceptance and adoption of Lt. Col. Lennon G. Babilonia, commanding officer of the army’s 8IB, as “Datu Impamani” (Guardians of Lumads) through a ritual known as “Pagdang-ul.”

Tagros said that the tribal elders have been seeking assistance from the military and the local government units in their quest for lasting peace in their ancestral territories, allegedly desecrated by the communist NPA rebels for a long time.