Tuesday, November 17, 2015

MILF: Maguindanao Political leaders call for Passage of CAB-Compliant BBL for National unity and Reconciliation

Posted to the MILF Website (Nov 17): Maguindanao Political leaders call for Passage of CAB-Compliant BBL for National unity and Reconciliation

Maguindanao Political leaders call for Passage of CAB-Compliant BBL for National unity and Reconciliation

Buluan, Maguindanao – Despite the uncertainty of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) being passed by congress, Maguindanao political leaders gathered in a peace dialogue on November 10, 2015 at BBGM Restaurant, Buluan, Maguindanao where they issued a manifesto calling for the passage of a BBL that faithfully complies with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and not the one that will reduce the powers and authority of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“We are all living witnesses to how our people – men, women, children and the elderly – lost lives and properties, experienced disruption of economic activities and suffered indignity in the evacuation centers brought about by the conflict in Mindanao”, the leaders said in their manifesto.

“We strongly believe that the BBL submitted by the Office of the President (OP) to the Lower House and the Senate on September 10 last year, can address various forms of injustices committed against the Bangsamoro and, thus, can bring forth dignified peace, meaningful development, unity and reconciliation in the entire country,” they said in their statement.

The peace dialogue was participated by local government units from the provincial level to the municipal level.

Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, Chair of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) Peace Panel, representatives from the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were invited to the said dialogue.

The Asia Foundataion (TAF) Senior Program Officer Noraida Chio challenged the local government units of Maguindanao to be part of the solution and urged them to work together and unite to make the successful peace process a legacy and gift to the future generation of Bangsamoro.

"Wala pong isang Bangsamoro ang hindi nananaginip na sana anytime of the day, makakalakad tayo sa daan ng walang takot. Na sana makita natin ng lahat ng bata ay makapag-aral. Na sana lahat ng mga kabatang Bangsamoro ay makakapagtapos ng pag-aaral. Na sana lahat tayo sa Bangsamoro ay uunlad at walang maiiwan," she said.

Ferrer explained that all efforts had been made and are still being done to successfully pursue the GPH-MILF peace process. She also urged the local government unit leaders in Maguindanao to show everyone what the Bangsamoro can do.

"Ayaw nating magkamali kase kelangan nating ipakita sa buong mundo na ang Bangsamoro ay may kakayahan basta mabigyan ng sapat na political autonomy at sapat na resources. Na kaya nyang paunlarin ang Bangsamoro, kaya nyang paunlarin ang buong Pilipinas dahil ang kaunlaran ng Bangsamoro ay kaunlaran ng buong Pilipinas. Ang tagumpay ng Bangsamoro ay tagumpay ng bawat Pilipino," Ferrer said.

"BBL or No BBL or Bad BBL, we need to be strong. We need to consolidate the Bangsamoro people. We should rely on our strength and unity of our people. We need to build on the political capacity of our people. We, as a Bangsamoro, we need to strengthen our movement towards self-determination," said BTC Chair Mohagher Iqbal in a statement read on his behalf by BTC Legal Consultant Atty. Sha Elijah Dumama Alba.

TAF Country Representative Dr. Steven Rood expressed continued support and commitment as a member of the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) to the GPH-MILF peace process. "You are not alone in this process. You have friends in the international community. And we are all working together to want this peace process to happen", he said.

Sammy Al-Mansour, Chief of Staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) of the MILF, and Secretary General of United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) said that the negotiation is already concluded with the signing of the CAB by the GPH and MILF last June 27, 2014.

“The bargaining situation is no longer there. Our situation now is magtulungan kung paano maimplement o kung paano makikita na yung peace process na tinatahak natin ngayon ay maging successful. What remains in the peace process now is the compliance of both sides to the signed agreement and all those agreements already incorporated into the CAB," he said.

“The passage of the BBL is the responsibility of the government at ang pagpasa ng BBL ang political package na gagawin natin at kinakailangan natin. This BBL is only an implementing mechanism of the two signed agreement, the FAB and the CAB. On our side, once maipasa at maratify ang BBL, pupunta kami sa decommissioning. Once it will be passed and ratified, we will comply with that agreement,” Al Mansour added.
The International Monitoring Team (IMT)-Team 10, Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP), Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) and other GPH-MILF Peace Process Mechanisms and International Non-government Organizations were also present in the activity and gave their respective messages.

IMT-10 Head of Mission Major General Dato Sheikh Mokhsin Bin Sheikh Hassan said, “We now stand at a crossroad and uncertainty. However, the path of peace ahead remains clear for us if we pursue three goals: Firstly, a common vision of our future society anchored on peace, Secondly, the core of shared values that animate our desires and preferences, grounds for peace which is acceptable to all religions, people, families and communities, and Thirdly, the power for united venture that’s brings people empowered action for attainment of a peace vision guided by the values we cherish.”

“Peace is a revolutionary process that transforms conflict from violent to nonviolent forms. The finishing line of a peace process is reconciliation, the point at which we are reconciled with one another and the past. The wealth of any country is found primarily in its inhabitants. The country’s future depends on them, individually and collectively, as does its capacity to work for peace. A commitment to peace is possible only in a unified society. Unity, on the other hand is not the same as uniformity. Social cohesion requires unstinting respect for the dignity of each person and the responsible participation of all in contributing the best of their talents and abilities. The energy needed to build and consolidate peace also demands that we constantly return to the wellsprings of our humanity,” he added.

He assured that the IMT will continue to work hand in hand with all the stakeholders and all involved in ensuring the safe and smooth execution of the peace process which will bring the sustainable peace within reach and the transformation of Bangsamoro and Mindanao dreams to reality.

FSD Program Manager Anthony Thomas Fish said in his message that, “Since the start of the peace process, they have been engaging both parties to renounce the use of landmines and to do something about the mines and UXO problem, and thankful that the both parties are sticking to these commitments.

“Whilst we, like everyone else, have been waiting for the Bangsamoro Basic Law to be passed, we’ve been implementing one of the key components of the Peace Agreement.  That is: the clearance of landmines and UXO; as was agreed in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro – Annex on Normalisation,” Thomas said.

“Some aspects of our programme will be difficult to achieve without it.  In the future, we plan to train up a local capacity in the Bangsamoro; one that will have the skills and tools necessary to clear the UXO that’s still out there; waiting to kill someone; or stopping them from farming their land; unless we do something about it.

And it’s worth bearing in mind that today’s UXO could become tomorrow’s IED, if something’s not done about it beforehand.  We aim to do something about it but, until the BBL is passed, we can’t move on to that crucial stage,” he stressed.

Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) International Civilian Peacekeeper Bridgitt McMullen said that the NP will continue to be here in a supportive role to promote civilian protection and respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, with full recognition of the privilege that it is to serve the peace process in this way.

“In our day to day work we are energized and inspired by the tireless, brave and collective efforts of community members, educators, local civil society, officials and all stakeholders to build and sustain peace in spaces big and small, in formal and informal ways- all of which are powerful expressions of hope and meaningful contributions to peace. Even in times when situations have become violent, when civilians have experienced very difficult circumstances, you have instances like a case in Maguindanao where the teachers of an elementary school came every day to their school in the midst of great insecurity and risk to run classes even though most of the students had been displaced. If even one student came, a zone of peace and normalcy at the school would be there waiting. This is one of many such cases of community resilience and peacebuilding taking place on the ground,” McMullen said.

MWDECC Project Officer Jehan A. Usop said in an interview that the dialogue was organized by four local organizations spearheaded by MWDECC together with Mindanao Action for Peace and Development Initiatives, Inc. (MAPAD), Kadtabanga Foundation for Peace and Development Advocates, Inc. (KFPAI) and Bangsamoro Center for Justpeace in the Philippines, Inc. (BCJP) in partnership with Australian Government, TAF and Maguindanao Provincial Government.

MAPAD Executive Director Samsodin C. Amella said in an interview that the dialogue was organized to consult and gather the support of the Maguindanao political leaders to the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

“Dahil nakikita natin na mahina talaga ang usad ng Bangsamoro Basic Law kaya naisipan natin na iconvene ang political leaders ng Maguindanao para magpalabas ng kanilang statement in support to the BBL,” Amella said.


Severed head of Malaysian kidnap victim recovered – military source

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 18): Severed head of Malaysian kidnap victim recovered – military source
The Abu Sayyaf beheaded yet another victim, this time, a Malaysian the bandits had snatched from Sandakan in May.

Military sources said the severed head of Bernard Then Ted Fen, who was killed through decapitation the Abu Sayyaf carried out in Barangay Taran in Indanan, Sulu, around 4 p.m. Tuesday, had been recovered.

Then’s beheading took place as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was in Manila for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings.

The victim’s body remained missing as of Wednesday morning, a military source who declined to be identified said.

Then’s body was said to be buried in the same place after the beheading, which was reportedly carried out by the group led by Abu Sayyaf sub leaders Alden Bagade and Idang Susukan, the sources said.

Then was reportedly killed after his family failed to deliver the P30-million ransom money the bandit group had demanded for his release.

Col. Allan Arrojado, commander of the Task Group Sulu, said prior to the bandit group’s plan to kill the victim, the military conducted aerial bombardment, which targeted the Abu Sayyaf lair on Bud Taran.

“It appears that the beheading pushed through almost simultaneously with the bombardment,” he said.

The 39-year-old Then was kidnapped, along with Thien Nyuk Fun, a restaurant owner, from Sandakan in May this year.

Thien was earlier released but the bandit group refused to let go of Then unless his family paid ransom.

The Malaysian media reported in August that Then had told his wife, Chan Wai See, that the Abu Sayyaf had planned to kill him if the ransom money was not delivered by November. Then also told her that another hostage, Dapitan village chair Rodolfo Boligao, had been beheaded because of the family’s failure to pay ransom.

Then was the remaining Malaysian hostage that the Abu Sayyaf had held.

The bandit group had ventured into Malaysia in a bid to beef up its financial capability to sow terror.

Last year, the bandit group also snatched a police officer and killed another from a resort near Semporna.

In June, it also abducted Malaysian fish breeder.

The Abu Sayyaf, a ragtag band of self-styled Islamists, currently holds several other foreign kidnap victims, including two Canadians, a European and a Norwegian.

Arrojado said the military was still trying to locate Then’s body.

Australian gov’t to provide $4M for peace process in Mindanao

From the Manila Bulletin (Nov 17): Australian gov’t to provide $4M for peace process in Mindanao

The Australian government reaffirmed its support to the peace process in Mindanao, saying that it will provide $4-million over the next three years for the joint security and justice mechanisms of the peace process.

“In my meeting with Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles, I confirmed Australia’s commitment to promoting development and prosperity in conflict affected regions of Mindanao in the Southern Philippines,” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement.

“In partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Philippine Business for Social Progress Organisation, the Australian Government will provide $4 million over the next three years to support the joint security and justice mechanisms of the peace process,” she said.

This includes support for ceasefire monitoring to ensure the continuation of peace and stability.

“Australia’s contribution will also enable responsible business investment in the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous area and will support economic development,” she said.

Australia’s support for the peace process has included technical expertise to the Office of the Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process (OPAPP) during the negotiation period.

“Australian support and expertise through NGOs including the Asia Foundation and International Alert, has also increased the capacity of Philippines Government and the MILF to implement the peace process,” she said.

The government is negotiating a peace process with the MILF for the establishment of a Bangsamoro entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

It will be recalled that President Aquino himself handed over the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law to the leaders of both Houses of Congress on September 10, 2014 in Malacañang.

The government and the MILF signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in Malacanang on March 27, 2014.

The Aquino administration hopes to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law within President Aquino’s term.


Obama’s PH warship tour keeps sea spat in focus at APEC

From the Manila Bulletin (Nov 18): Obama’s PH warship tour keeps sea spat in focus at APEC

US President Barack Obama’s first stop in Manila is a symbolic one. He’s touring a naval vessel that has come to represent Philippine resistance to China over the disputed South China Sea, focusing attention on territorial tensions ahead of a meeting of Asia Pacific leaders.

China, however, said it has shown “great restraint” in the South China Sea by not seizing islands occupied by other countries even though it could have.

It claims to be the real victim as it had “dozens” of its islands and reefs in the Spratlys illegally occupied by three of the claimants, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told a news conference in Beijing.

US President Barrack Obama (top photo) makes his way to his convoy after addressing the officers and men of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, the Philippine Navy’s flagship, at Pier 13 in Manila as he led the arrival yesterday of the heads of state who will attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Summit
US President Barrack Obama (top photo) makes his way to his convoy after addressing the officers and men of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, the Philippine Navy’s flagship, at Pier 13 in Manila as he led the arrival yesterday of the heads of state who will attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Summit

He did not name the countries, but all claimants except Brunei have military fortifications in the Spratlys.

“The Chinese government has the right and the ability to recover the islands and reefs illegally occupied by neighboring countries,” Liu said.

“But we haven’t done this. We have maintained great restraint with the aim to preserve peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

China wants the South China Sea issue to stay off the agenda at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, a US ally that has challenged China at an international arbitration tribunal over its sea claims. But given the level of friction over the waterway, some sort of discussion at the meeting is unavoidable, US officials have said. Other claimant states including Vietnam and Malaysia are attending APEC.

Obama opened his Manila trip Tuesday with a visit to the BRP Gregorio del Pilar which is known to many Filipinos for confronting two Chinese surveillance ships in 2012 near a disputed shoal in the Spratly island chain. The vessel is also a symbol of US military support for the Philippines as it got its start in the US Coast Guard before it was decommissioned in 2011 and transferred to the Southeast Asian nation.

During the visit to BRP Gregorio del Pilar, Obama pledged to provide the Philippines two more ships that will bolster its capability to secure the country’s maritime waters and increase its presence in the West Philippine Sea.

“I can announce that we intend to transfer two additional ships to the Philippine Navy – a research vessel to help map its territorial waters” and another Coast Guard cutter to bolster the Navy’s ability to conduct long endurance patrols,” Obama said in his address to Philippine defense and White House reporters. Obama said the US has an “ironclad” commitment to security in the Philippines.

Obama may have the chance to raise the issue with President Xi Jinping, who also arrived Tuesday at APEC. “I’m confident that it will be the subject of prominent discussion among the leaders that are gathered,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. Obama and Xi had a “candid” discussion during the Chinese president’s visit to Washington in September, Obama said.

Tensions over the South China Sea are likely to dominate the East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur later this week.

While not on the formal agenda of the APEC summit, the South China Sea is expected to be discussed on the sidelines.

Obama will attend both meetings. Chinese President Xi Jinping is in Manila for APEC while Premier Li Keqiang will represent China in Malaysia.

Liu said China did not want the South China Sea to be the focus of the East Asia Summit.


Senior Abu Sayyaf leader wounded: military official

From ABS-CBN (Nov 18): Senior Abu Sayyaf leader wounded: military official

BASILAN - Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) senior leader Isnilon Hapilon was wounded after a 40-minute gun battle with government forces in Sumisip, Basilan last October 25, a military official said.

Captain Roy Vincent Trinidad, chief of staff of Joint Task Force ZamBaSulTa, said Hapilon sustained at least two gunshot wounds on his foot and back.

Trinidad said this information was taken from multiple sources and assets on the ground who have direct access to the core group of the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan.

Trinidad said military units were conducting a security patrol in the village of Baiwas when they encountered more than 50 armed bandits.

The fierce encounter left three members of the ASG dead while several others were wounded. Four were injured on the military side.

A wounded Hapilon was extricated immediately by his men from the site of encounter.

Trinidad said efforts are underway to determine the present condition of Hapilon.

Hapilon has a string of arrest warrants mostly from kidnapping cases he spearheaded in Basilan and western Mindanao.

He was also involved in the 2001 Dos Palmas resort kidnapping in Palawan where three American nationals were held hostage for several months.

The US government offered a $5 million bounty for any information that could lead to the arrest or neutralization of Hapilon.

Trinidad believes that with the wounding of Hapilon, the morale of the bandits were low. 

The Abu Sayyaf Group is responsible for most of the kidnapping and bombing incidents in the ZamBaSulTa area.

The group was formed using seed money from Al-Qaeda.

Some of the foreign bomb experts have also been helping the Abu Sayyaf Group in conducting extensive training.

Last May 2015, a bomb factory was discovered in Mohammad Ajul town in Basilan.


PH investigates reported beheading of Malaysian captive

From ABS-CBN (Nov 18): PH investigates reported beheading of Malaysian captive

The Philippine military said it was investigating credible intelligence reports that a small al Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group had beheaded a Malaysian businessman held captive since May on the southern island of Jolo.

Abu Sayyaf militants were believed to have killed their captive in the town of Indanan on Tuesday, said Brigadier-General Alan Arrojado, army commander on Jolo island.

While the reported beheading is far to the south of the capital Manila, where world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama are attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, it is a reminder of the security challenges small Islamist groups still pose to the Philippines.

"There were credible reports that Abu Sayyaf has carried out the execution," Arrojado told reporters in Manila, saying security forces had been sent to locate the body. The intelligence reports had come from the area, Arrojado said, without giving details.

Jolo island is a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf, a group known for bomb attacks, kidnappings and beheadings. It frequently seeks ransom in return for freeing hostages.

Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said on Twitter he was waiting for confirmation on the beheading from his Philippine counterparts. Malaysian authorities have previously identified the captive as Bernard Then Ted Fen.

He and a Malaysian woman were abducted in May from a Chinese seafood restaurant in a coastal town in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah, on Borneo island, and taken to Jolo.

Last week, Abu Sayyaf freed the woman after reports a ransom was paid for her release.

Arrojado said an earlier intelligence report indicated Abu Sayyaf planned to behead the man if a ransom was not paid.

In September, Abu Sayyaf kidnapped two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipino from an upscale beach resort in the southern Philippines. They have demanded 1 billion pesos ($21.21 million) for each of the captives. ($1 = 47.1430 Philippine pesos)


Obama: China must stop land reclamation in South China Sea

From GMA News (Nov 18): Obama: China must stop land reclamation in South China Sea

US President Barack Obama said on Wednesday China must stop land reclamation in the disputed South China Sea and reaffirmed Washington's commitment to the defense and security of the Philippines, one of the parties to the dispute.

Obama, speaking after a meeting with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in Manila, said he looked forward to working with all claimants to the waterway to resolve their disputes.

On Tuesday, Obama visited an American-donated coast guard cutter now owned by the Philippines, one its closest allies in the region.

In the same briefing, Aquino said that he agreed with Obama that laws on the freedom of navigation at sea should be upheld, a reference to the dispute with China over claims to the South China Sea.

Obama said also assured that the US has a “rock solid commitment to the defense of the Philippines” as the validity of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) hangs before the Supreme Court (SC).

“With respect to Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, obviously, the Philippines has to go through its process in the Supreme Court review. But we are confident that it is going to get done and we are going to be able to implement effectively the provisions and the ideas that have come forward during the course of these discussions,” said Obama.

The SC has deferred at least twice its ruling on the petitions questioning the Philippines’ EDCA with the US.

Under EDCA, the US will be allowed to build structures, store as well as preposition weapons, defense supplies and materiel, station troops, civilian personnel and defense contractors, transit and station vehicles, vessels, and aircraft for a period of 10 years.

“The broader point is that, as a treaty ally, we have a rock solid commitment to the defense of the Philippines," said Obama. "

And part of our goal is to continue to help our treaty partners build up capacity, to make sure that the architecture of both defense work, but also humanitarian work, and other important activities in the region are coordinated more effectively, and we think that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement is going to help us do that,” he added.


Obama, Australia PM call for 'rule of law' in sea row

From Rappler (Nov 18): Obama, Australia PM call for 'rule of law' in sea row

Meeting in Manila, leaders of the two major allies of the Philippines stress the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation in the South China Sea

'PEACEFUL SETTLEMENT.' Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turbull and US President Barack Obama push for peaceful settlement of the South China Sea dispute. They meet in Manila on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP

'PEACEFUL SETTLEMENT.' Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turbull and US President Barack Obama push for peaceful settlement of the South China Sea dispute. They meet in Manila on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP

US President Barack Obama and new Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reaffirmed their countries' commitment to the rule of law in the heated dispute over the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea)

In a bilateral meeting here on Tuesday, November 17, the leaders of two major allies of the Philippines discussed the maritime row, just weeks after Washington angered China by sending a destroyer near one of the artificial islands it is building in the South China Sea.
Obama said the US and Australia talked about “the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation and maritime rules.”
“Since neither of us are claimants in some of the controversies that are taking place in the South China Sea, it's, I think, very important for us simply to uphold the basic principle that these issues should be resolved by international norms and rule of law, and peacefully settled. And we're hopeful that that can be accomplished,” Obama said in remarks after the meeting at the Sofitel Hotel in Pasay.
Obama and Turnbull are in Manila to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, where the dispute among China, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations is not on the official agenda. Yet the US said it will be a “central issue” in its bilateral talks.
Turnbull, who came into office only in September, said he and Obama “are very much of the same mind.”
We are committed to the rule of law, to ensuring that the big changes in this region occur in a peaceful manner and in accordance with international norms. That’s absolutely vital for the continued peace and security of our region,” he said.
Both the Philippines and China invoke the rule of law in defending their claims and actions in the South China Sea. Yet Beijing drew criticism from the US over its massive reclamation that turned reefs and shoals into islands with runways and military outposts.
Manila also cites the rule of law in its historic arbitration case against Beijing, which will proceed in hearings set next week.
Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have claims to the strategic area believed to have vast reserves of oil and gas, and vital fishing sites. 

'TPP establishing high standards'
Obama and Turnbull also discussed the US-led free trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), finalized in October.
The US and Australia are among 12 parties to the TPP, which aims to create the region's largest free trade agreement accounting for about 40% of the global economy. The deal is the “economic cornerstone” of the US policy of rebalancing economic and military attention to Asia.
Obama said the US and Australia are “strong trading partners.”
“We very much appreciate the constructive work that was done between our trade ministers in completing TPP, which is going to establish the kinds of high-standard rules of the road in trade and commerce,” said the US President.
Turnbull said the deal is a key part of Australia's strategy to ensure that it remains a “high-way, generous social welfare net, and a first-world economy.”
“The flexibility that open markets and trade enables us better to deal with the disruptive change that we encounter in a modern global economy that is expanding but changing at a pace that has never seen before in the history of human development. Open markets, flexible markets, agility – these are all part of the tools that enable us to continue to progress.”
Obama, Turnbull, and leaders of the 10 other TPP parties are meeting in Manila to discuss how to move the deal forward, and get it ratified in their respective legislatures.
Also part of the TPP are APEC members Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
'Ramping up pressure vs ISIS'
The two leaders also exchanged views on the campaign against terror group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) days after the Paris attacks that killed 129.
Obama pointed out that Australia is the second largest contributor to the anti-ISIS coalition. He said he and Turnbull discussed the need to “ramp up” pressure against ISIS to prevent atrocities like the Paris attacks.
“We've also had a chance to talk about how we can reach out to our own people and Muslim communities in order to ensure that they feel fully a part of American and Australian democracy,” he said.
Turnbull said Canberra will continue its support for the coalition.
“We will continue, shoulder-to-shoulder, with the United States and our allies in the fight against this type of extremist violence, this type of terrorism.”
The Australian leader also acknowledged efforts of Muslim majority nations in the region to condemn the Paris attacks. He cited Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The 3 leaders were with Obama and Turnbull in Turkey for the G20 summit preceding APEC.
Najib will join Obama and Turnbull in the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting to start on Wednesday.

Aquino thanks Obama for 'rock solid' US support in West PH Sea

From InterAksyon (Nov 18): Aquino thanks Obama for 'rock solid' US support in West PH Sea

US Pres Barack Obama during a visit to the Philippine Navy flagship BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a recommissioned American Coast Guard cutter.

UPDATE 3 - 10:39 a.m.) The US’ commitment to enhancing the security and defense capabilities is “rock solid,” President Barack Obama assured Wednesday.

In turn, President Benigno Aquino III thanked Obama for America’s support in upholding the rule of law in the West Philippine Sea territorial dispute. The US has said that it would award the Philippines $79 million in bilateral assistance to develop its maritime capabilities.

The two leaders held a joint press conference after a more than thirty-minute bilateral meeting at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza in Pasay City, during which they discussed the continuing tensions in the West Philippine Sea as well as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

Aquino also thanked Obama for recognizing that the Philippines' "initiation of arbitral proceedings is an open, friendly, durable and rules-based dispute settlement mechanism."

Obama replied that the US alliance with the Philippines was a strong one and would continue to be enhanced through joint exercises and by working with multilateral organizations.

Freedom of navigation

He added that the US was a strong advocate of freedom of navigation and freedom of aviation -- principles it used to justify its deployment of a naval destroyer recently in areas where China had built artificial reefs and islands.

Aquino was also grateful for US foreign military financing assistance and for its support of the construction of the National Coast Watch Center.

The Official Gazette describes the NCWC "is an inter-agency maritime surveillance and coordinated response facility." Its main tasks include conducting maritime surveillance operations; identifying security threats; planning inter-agency response to threats; and detecting, responding to, and recovering from threats.

Aquino also welcomed the proposed Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative.
According to the US Office of the Press Secretary, their country is "increasing the maritime security capacity of (its) allies and partners, to respond to threats in waters off their coasts, and to provide maritime security more broadly across the region."

The Philippines remains "the largest recipient of maritime security assistance, and will receive a record $79 million in bilateral assistance of the FY 2015 funds allocated for developing Southeast Asian maritime capabilities," it said.

The funds would be used for "building the training and logistical base for expanding the Philippine Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Forces’ ability to conduct operations within waters off the Philippines’ coasts."

The US Office of the Press Secretary added that the country was "assisting with naval maintenance capacity building as well as providing interdiction vessels, naval fleet upgrades, communications equipment, and aircraft procurement."

Confident in EDCA constitutionality

Obama, meanwhile, expressed confidence the Philippine Supreme Court would uphold the EDCA, which is being questioned before the tribunal by several petitioners who say the pact violates constitutional prohibitions against the permanent of foreign troops in the country and also ignores the Senate's power to review and ratify international agreements.

The EDCA allows greater American military presence in the country and the use of local military facilities.

During their meeting, Obama said he assured Aquino of the US’ readiness to support the Philippines achieve its goals in mitigating the effects of climate change.

PH wants in on TPP
Aquino also welcomed the conclusion of the negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, saying that he hoped the US, as the lead negotiator, would support the Philippines' possible accession to the agreement.
Obama proposed the idea of the TPP at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in 2009. 12 APEC economies are part of the TPP: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.
During the bilateral meeting, Aquino also cited the importance of US support for the implementation of tariff adjustments under the World Trade Organization, which will expand the Philippines' trade.

The meeting with Obama was the first of the day for Aquino, who is also slated to talk to the leaders of Australia, South Korea, Russia and Canada.


I am honored to welcome my good friend President Barack Obama and his delegation to the Philippines.

Prior to engaging in comprehensive exchanges in this week’s APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, President Obama and I took the opportunity to meet and continue our discussions on the enduring bilateral partnership between the Philippines and the United States.

We reaffirmed our treaty alliance, the strategic partnership and the historic friendship between our countries. I am confident that this firm foundation of broad cooperation and shared values will enable the Philippines and the United States to face the challenges of the present and those in the decades to come.

Our defense and security alliance commenced more than 60 years ago; to this day, it remains a cornerstone of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.

As a treaty ally of the United States, the Philippines receives security assistance from the US Government, particularly through Foreign Military Financing (FMF). We recognize, with the deepest appreciation, the significant contribution to our efforts by the United States—contributions that help us ensure that we can ably respond to current security challenges, particularly in the area of maritime security and maritime domain awareness.  

The National Coast Watch Center (NCWC), completed early this year, was constructed with significant assistance from the United States. This project was first discussed during my visit to Washington DC in 2012, and our administration is pleased to see it come to fruition this year.

Today, President Obama and I discussed a number of avenues of cooperation. There is the Philippine Strategic Trade Management Act (STMA), which will enforce measures to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) from or within the Philippines, in fulfilment of our international obligations. We look forward to its implementation upon the completion of domestic procedures.

We also exchanged views on cybersecurity threats and resolved to explore cooperation in this area, knowing full well that all countries have a stake in maintaining peace and order in cyberspace, so that principles of international law can be applied. This area of collaboration with the United States can impact positively on the capacity of the Philippine Government to effectively and swiftly respond to cybersecurity threats and challenges.

President Obama and I likewise had a discussion on maritime security, including on the maritime disputes in the region, and how international law should remain the framework for behavior of all countries and for the peaceful resolution of disputes.

I take this opportunity to reiterate the Philippines’ view that the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea must be continuously upheld, consistent with international law.

On the economic front, we welcomed the continued strengthening of trade and investment relations between our countries. I conveyed the keen interest of the Philippines in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and we hope that the United States, as one of our most important economic partners, can assist us in the process.

The Philippines is also proud to announce that the 1st Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact is nearing completion, and the Philippines has been deemed eligible for a 2nd MCC Compact. The Philippine and US governments are working closely in the development of projects to be implemented under the 2nd Compact.

We discussed climate change and our two governments are looking forward to fruitful discussions at the COP21 in Paris, which will start later this month. As a country highly vulnerable to climate and disaster risks, the Philippines underscores the importance of all countries contributing to the global effort to address the problem of climate change for the benefit of future generations.

Finally, President Obama and I reiterated the longstanding and multi-layered engagement between our two peoples, and we pledged to ensure that our two countries work together not only strengthen defense cooperation and increase mutual prosperity, but also to foster more meaningful ties between our people.

Thank you and good day.


Army downplays BIFF's role in Cotabato City grenade attacks

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 17): Army downplays BIFF's role in Cotabato City grenade attacks
Military and police authorities here have downplayed the claim of lawless armed group it carried out the series of grenade attacks in the city targeting government forces.

Colonel Ranulfo Sevilla, chief of the Army Special Forces Battalion, on Tuesday said the statement of Abu Misry Mama, spokesperson of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) that his group was behind three grenade attacks in Cotabato City over the weekend, was a "figment of his imagination."

Sevilla laughed off Mama's claim and pointed to the group of Ruben Montes, also known as "Black Moro" as the culprits in city bombings.

Mama said the BIFF area of operation covers Cotabato City.

In jest, Sevilla said it was not surprising if the BIFF would claim responsibility in the death of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal.

But Sevilla stressed the grenade attacks in the city that happened on Saturday night and Sunday night were all carried out by Montes' group. Montes was arrested in September after his group engaged the Army special forces in a shootout.

The shootout led to the death of Montes' wife and two of his men.

Cotabato City Mayor Japal Guiani Jr. described Montes as "leader of a gun-for-hire and crime syndicate engaged in illegal drug pushing."

Four persons were hurt, including two soldiers, when two men riding tandem on a motorbike fired a rifle grenade toward a military vehicle on patrol along Sinsuat Avenue at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 14.

About 30 minutes earlier, two men on a motorbike also fired rifle grenade toward the compound of Cotabato Light and Power Company (Cotabato Light) which triggered city-wide brownout.

Sevilla said the blast at power firm compound and the attack on Army vehicle were related. On Sunday night, a grenade was found in front of Cafe Florencio Binggo center along Sinsuat Avenue.

"He wanted to get back at the soldiers because his wife and two followers died during legitimate police operation," Sevilla said, explaining why Montes was spearheading a campaign against the Army.

Beside Montes, the Army is also suspecting the involvement of big time illegal drug syndicates in the city which the military dismantled last month.

"We have indicators illegal drug pushers were involved in the bombings," he said.

Senior Supt. Raul Supiter, Cotabato City police chief, said police investigation also consider Montes as the man behind the bombing spree as well as crime syndicates and illegal drug pushers who recently suffered blows from the Army and the police with a series of arrests and dismantling of drug dens.


PH ranks 11th in global terrorism index

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 17): PH ranks 11th in global terrorism index

The Philippines has the fifth biggest improvement in decrease of deaths related to terrorism in 2014, a think tank report has said.

The Philippines ranks ninth out of 162 countries worst affected by terrorism, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Terrorism Index for 2014.

“The fifth biggest improvement occurred in the Philippines which saw deaths decrease by 18 percent to 240 fatalities in 2014, down from 291 in 2013,” the report released on Tuesday said.

Pakistan has the biggest decrease in deaths, followed by Algeria, Russia and Lebanon.

The Philippines’ Global Terrorism Index score is 7.27 out of 10 in 2014. In a report released last year, the Philippines ranked ninth in terrorism activities for 2013.

“Deaths in 2014 are still the second highest recorded, the highest being in 2013. Terrorism in the Philippines is intrinsically tied with the nationalist and separatist claims by people living in the provinces in the southern Philippines,” the report said.

New People’s Army is the largest individual group responsible for the deaths in 2014 at 32 percent.

The study also noted that the Philippines had been placed in the 10 countries most affected by terrorism for six times from 2000 to 2014.

It also lists the Philippines as among the countries where foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria come from, a claim being repeatedly denied by the authorities.

“The flow of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria since 2011 is the largest influx in modern times. Current estimates now range from 25,000 to 30,000 fighters, from roughly 100 countries,” the report said.

Globally, the study said terrorism continued to rise. It has the highest number recorded of deaths with over 32,000 people. In 2014, deaths increased to 80 percent.

Cost of terrorism also reached an all-time high of $52.9 billion.

Also in 2014, about 18,000 persons were killed, while groups Boko Haram and Islamic State were tagged responsible for 51 percent of deaths around the world.

The study said 78 percent of the deaths and 57 percent of the attacks occurred in five countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria.

Iraq is still the country most affected by terrorism with about 9,000 casualties, the highest ever recorded in a single country. Nigeria, meanwhile, experienced the highest increase in terrorist activity with about 7,500 deaths.

Majority of the deaths did not occur in the West, the study noted, and 70 percent of these were “lone wolf” attacks. Political extremism usually triggered terrorism and not Islamic fundamentalism in Western countries, it pointed out.


US destroyer boosts APEC security

From Malaya (Nov 18): US destroyer boosts APEC security

A US Navy destroyer, the Arleigh Burke-class USS Fitzgerald, arrived in Manila on Monday night to support security measures for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.

The US Embassy said the ship is on five-day support mission in conjunction with its routine patrol in the 7th Fleet area of operations, adding there is no scheduled “liberty” for its sailors while the ship is in the Philippines.

AFP spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla said the Navy and Coast Guard will implement a no-sail zone in Manila Bay along with a no-fly zone over Metro Manila airspace during the summit today and tomorrow.

The no-sail zone extends to 12 nautical miles while the no-fly zone covers 40 nautical miles. Padilla said violators will be prosecuted.

Padilla also said that people caught flying drones, without permission from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, will be prosecuted.

AFP chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri called on soldiers tasked to secure the two-day summit to do their assigned tasks with dedication and professionalism.

AFP deputy chief   Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez said Iriberri wants soldiers to be “prepared for everything,” including a possible attack similar to last Saturday’s incident in Paris that left at least 129 people dead.

“He (Iriberri) wants us to be always on the pre-emptive, that’s the most important thing – that we will pre-empt an incident similar to what happened in Paris,” Galvez said.


Abu Sayyaf leader, 4 others get life in prison for kidnapping

From the Philippine Star (Nov 17): Abu Sayyaf leader, 4 others get life in prison for kidnapping

The case against the accused Abu Sayyaf members stemmed from the kidnapping of female nurse in July 2008. Philstar.com/File photo

A senior Abu Sayyaf leader and four others were sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty by a local court here Monday, according to security official.

Senior Superintendent Angelito Casimiro, City Police Office director, identified the convicted as Khair Mundos, Ashra Jawari, Ellel, Bensar Indama and Ermiahe Achmad.

In a 31-page decision penned by Judge Gregorio dela Peña of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 12 in Zamboanga, the accused were found guilty beyond reasonable doubt on the charge of kidnapping with serious illegal detention.

“The court sentenced each of them to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua without possibility of parole,” Casimiro quoted part of the court’s decision.

He said the case stemmed from the kidnapping of a registered female nurse in July 2008.

The victim was freed after more than three months in captivity following payment of P3 million as ransom.

Casimiro said the court also ordered the accused to jointly indemnify the offended party the sum of P3 million as legal, moral and exemplary damages.

Casimiro said Mundos, tagged as bomber with a bounty prize of P1.2 million pesos and US$500,000 dollars under the US Reward for Justice, was arrested in June 2014 in Parañaque City.

He said Bensar Indama, a younger brother of Abu Sayyaf leader Furuji Indama, was arrested in Basilan in 2012.

Security was tight and a court staff disclosed that the accused showed no remorse when the judge handed down the decision.

Casimiro said Mundos and four others were brought back to Taguig and will be detained at the New Bilibid Prison to serve the sentence.


Philippines' Abu Sayyaf beheads remaining Malaysian hostage seized from Sandakan resort

From The Straits Times (Nov 17): Philippines' Abu Sayyaf beheads remaining Malaysian hostage seized from Sandakan resort

Islamist militants in the Philippines on Tuesday (Nov 17) beheaded the remaining Malaysian hostage they seized in May from a resort in Malaysia's Sabah state.

Brigadier-General Alan Arrojado, commander of the Joint Task Group Sulu, said Mr Bernard Then, 39, an engineer, was beheaded at around 4pm at a remote Abu Sayyaf stronghold in Jolo island, in Sulu province, some 1,400km south of the capital Manila.

He said Mr Then's family "failed to comply" with the militants' demand "during their negotiation that prompted them to execute their plan".

"Accordingly, the body was immediately buried in the vicinity where they beheaded the victim," he said.

He said efforts were now being undertaken to locate Mr Then's remains.

Mr Then was beheaded more than a week after the Abu Sayyaf released Ms Thien Nyuk Fun, 50, manager of the Ocean King Seafood Restaurant in Sandakan town, Sabah, reportedly after receiving some 30 million pesos (S$900,000) in ransom.

Mr Then and Ms Thien were taken from the same resort.

Mr Then was reportedly suffering from leg injuries he sustained while in captivity, and had been slowing down his captors.

The Abu Sayyaf had threatened to behead him just after releasing Ms Thien.

Ms Then was beheaded just hours after Malaysian Prime MInister Najib Razak landed in Manila for the two-day summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Police identified the leaders of the group behind the Sandakan abduction as Alhabsy Misaya, Alden Bagade and Angah Adji.

The Abu Sayyaf was formed by disgruntled Moro Islamic fighters in 1991, with Al-Qaeda funding. However, it did not gain prominence till May 2000, when it attacked a dive resort in Sipadan, Malaysia, taking 21 hostages.


Malaysian hostage beheaded by Abu Sayyaf

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 17): Malaysian hostage beheaded by Abu Sayyaf

A Malaysian captive of terrorist group Abu Sayyaf in Sulu was reportedly beheaded for failure to comply with ransom demands, the military said on Tuesday.

The family of Bernard Ghen Ted Fen ( the Malaysian media spelled his last name as Then – editors) failed to comply with the demand of the Indanan-based Abu Sayyaf led by sub-leaders Alden Bagade and Idang Susukan during their negotiation that prompted them to execute their plan of beheading the victim in Taran, in Indanan at about 4 p.m.,” Joint Task Group Sulu Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado said.

The military official, quoting military intelligence sources, said the captive was beheaded and immediately buried.

A few hours before the beheading, the military launched air strikes on the Abu Sayyaf territory.
“It appears that the beheading pushed through almost simultaneously with the bombardment and rocket fires,” Arrojado said.

Arrojado said he ordered Marine and Scout Ranger units to do pursuit operations and locate the victim’s body.

Last week, the Abu Sayyaf reportedly released its Malaysian captive, Thien Nyuk Fun. She was abducted with Ted Fen last May.


Malaysian hostage Bernard Then beheaded

From the Star Online (Nov 17): Malaysian hostage Bernard Then beheaded

KOTA KINABALU: Sarawakian Bernard Then (pic), held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf terror group, has been killed in the southern Philippines.

He was beheaded by the gunmen at about 4pm in the island of Jolo.

Then is the first Malaysian hostage to have been beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf.

Brigadier-General Alan Arrojado, commander of the Joint Task Group Sulu, confirmed that Then was decapitated.
Sources from the military and social workers in the Philippines are indicating that the 39-year-old electrical engineer was killed by the Abu Sayyaf gunmen who were being pursued by Philippine military in the Butaran Hill area around Indanan village in Jolo island.

According to Jolo-based social workers, the Abu Sayyaf plan to release a video of the alleged beheading soon.

They said they received news of the beheading, but could not confirm which Abu Sayyaf leader carried out the killing.

The group holding Then was led by Indang Susukan.

So far, Philippines officials have not confirmed the incident.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman said that they have yet to receive any word about Then, who was grabbed along with restaurant manager Thien Nyuk Fun, 50, from Ocean King Seafood Restaurant in Sandakan on May 15.

Thien was released on Nov 8 by the gunmen and is back in Sandakan.


Abu Sayyaf beheads Malaysian kidnap victim

From ABS-CBN (Nov 17): Abu Sayyaf beheads Malaysian kidnap victim

A Malaysian kidnap victim was beheaded by members of the Abu Sayyaf Group in Indanan, Sulu past 4 p.m. Tuesday, a top military official said.

The Abu Sayyaf led by sub-commander Alhabsy Misaya executed Bernard Ted Fen in Bud Taran Indanan, after failed negotiations for his safe release, according to Joint Task Group Sulu commander Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado.

Arrojado said the bandits had demanded additional ransom amounting to P40 million for the safe release of Ted Fen.

The deadline for the payment of ransom was November 17.

Arrojado said they are still verifying whether the bandits buried the remains of the victim or they left it in Sitio Bud Taran.

Soldiers have been deployed to the area to recover the remains of the Malaysian.

Ted Fen was abducted May 14, 2015 in a restaurant in Sandakan, Malaysia together with the restaurant owner Thien Nyuk Fun.

The couple owns Ocean King Seafood Restaurant, where they were kidnapped. Malaysian authorities earlier said the kidnappers and their victims fled towards the Philippines on board a motorized boat.

Nyuk Fun was released by the bandits last November 8 this year in Indanan after her family allegedly agreed to pay a multimillion-peso ransom.

The Abu Sayyaf is still holding several foreign and local hostages in Sulu.

The Abu Sayyaf and their contacts are known to have perpetrated several kidnappings in Malaysia. The biggest one was in 2000 when 21 tourists, most of them Caucasians, were snatched from the Sipadan diving resort in Sabah.

The hostages were later brought to Sulu. The hostages were released in batches after payment of ransom.


What the Philippines–China arbitration ruling means for the South China Sea

From the East Asia Forum (Nov 16): What the Philippines–China arbitration ruling means for the South China Sea (by Sourabh Gupta, Samuels International)

On 29 October 2015, a United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Tribunal issued the highly awaited Award on Jurisdiction and Admissibility in the Philippines–China arbitration case. The interim award sets up a climactic final ruling in 2016.

In the arbitration, Manila seeks rulings on three interrelated matters. First, none of the insular features in the South China Sea — be it the Scarborough Shoal in the northern sector of the Sea or the Spratly Islands in the southern sector — are capable of generating an entitlement to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ). They are ‘rocks’ at best, which generate a territorial sea at most.

Second, as there are no overlapping entitlements in these waters, Beijing’s land reclamation activities in the southern sector of the South China Sea, and law enforcement actions across both sectors, have interfered with Manila’s sovereign rights and freedoms in its EEZ.

Finally, China’s claims based on ‘historic rights’ within the ‘nine-dash line’ have no basis in UNCLOS and under international law.

Manila presented 15 specific submissions for redress. In its ruling, the Tribunal admitted (some with reservations) 14 of them. But this should not be seen as vindicating Manila’s arguments. Despite one significant victory and a few marginal rulings in its favour, Manila is likely to come up empty-handed for the most part in the final award.

The key driver of the Philippines’ legal filing in January 2013 was a jurisprudential innovation laid down by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in November 2012. In Nicaragua v Colombia, the ICJ found that a small maritime feature — and even an ‘island’ — situated on the ‘wrong side’ of the median line, and many nautical miles removed from any such similar feature, tended to produce a cut-off effect. This disproportionately disadvantaged the opposite state’s coastal projection-based entitlement. It ruled that such a feature must be enclaved during the course of delimitation — that is, its entitlement restricted to a 12 nautical mile sea at most.

In 2016, the Tribunal appears poised to sustain this ‘enclaving’ argument regarding the Scarborough Shoal. The shoal is an isolated feature that resides deep within the Philippines’ coastal projection but is administered by China. Although Nicaragua v Colombia was issued in the context of an overlapping maritime delimitation, the Philippines–China Tribunal observed that a dispute over claimed entitlements should not automatically be conflated with one of delimitation. The former was adjudicable in the rarer instances where an overlap in the claims is lacking. The Scarborough Shoal is more than 200 nautical miles from any claimed feature in the South China Sea. It was therefore excluded from Beijing’s Article 298 sea boundary delimitation-related opt-out and is presumably liable to enclaving.

This action will effectively place the northern sector of the Sea adjacent to the metropolitan island of Luzon, including its exploitable hydrocarbon resources, beyond the zone of entitlement generated by the shoal and firmly within Manila’s exclusive jurisdiction. But Beijing can still argue that the overlapping entitlement from its claimed Nanshan Island in the Spratlys empowers it to exercise sovereign rights and jurisdiction to exploit a share of the vast Reed Bank hydrocarbon bounty.

Nicaragua v Colombia also foreshadows the limits to Manila’s legal entrepreneurialism. In 2012, the ICJ, recalling that international law did not prescribe any minimum size that a land feature must possess in order to be considered an ‘island’, accorded this status to a feature just 0.7 metres above sea level at high tide. In 2016, the Philippines–China Tribunal will find that every Beijing-administered feature in the Spratlys group resides within a 200 nautical mile radius of a Chinese-claimed ‘island’.

This means that the Tribunal, due to the overlap, is barred from determining the entitlements of each of these features in the southern sector of the South China Sea as they fall outside its jurisdiction. Let alone agree with Manila’s contention that no feature in the Spratlys warrants an entitlement beyond that of a ‘rock’, it will be unable to find that Beijing’s land reclamation activities and law enforcement actions have violated Manila’s exclusive rights and freedoms. This southern sector will persist as a patchwork of competing jurisdictions. As for the rush of artificial island-building by China, each instance — whether on a low-tide or high-tide elevation — is blatantly legal.

Finally, the Tribunal’s findings on China’s ‘historic rights’ claims to the waters within the nine-dash line may astonish its many detractors. As long as the historical access and enjoyment practices of traditional Chinese fishermen within the perimeter of the nine-dash line was continuous, reasonable and certain and is considered a ‘local custom or tradition’, these practices are not qualified by the Convention. They are instead governed by the rules of general and customary international law. And so long as these practice-based rights are exercised non-exclusively by traditional Chinese fishermen and are not backed by the long arm of Chinese enforcement in foreign EEZs, the South China Sea littoral states are obliged to pay due regard to these Chinese-held rights within each of their exclusive maritime zones created by the Convention.

But Beijing bears a prior obligation to lay out a cognisable ‘historic rights’ based claim to the waters within the nine-dash line. It must limit the scope of its assertion to practices that have been continuous, reasonable and certain. Ironically, Manila also claims such local custom-based traditional fishing rights in the territorial sea of the Scarborough Shoal and is likely to receive a favourable hearing.

Neither Beijing nor Manila will walk away dejected in 2016. The same cannot be said of Vietnam if the Tribunal confirms the nine-dash line and the scope of China’s overlapping entitlements-based opt-outs. Hanoi should not lodge belligerent filings as an interested third party within the Tribunal’s setting. Instead, it should sit down with Beijing and sort out its mutual differences on overlapping entitlements, obligations and jurisdiction in this contested waterway.

[Sourabh Gupta is a senior research associate at Samuels International Associates, Inc.]


Philippines: Journalist to file complaint vs Army brigade commander for ‘threat’

InterAksyon article posted to the Indigenous Voices of Asia Website (Nov 17): Philippines: Journalist to file complaint vs Army brigade commander for ‘threat’

An award-winning journalist accused by an Army brigade commander of being in cahoots with communist rebels is filing an official complaint against the officer, calling his statement against her a “serious threat.”

Inday Espina-Varona, who writes for the abs-cbnnews.com and also maintains a well-followed blog, announced her decision to file a complaint against Colonel Alexander Macario of the 401st Infantry Brigade in a post on her Facebook account. ()

Varona, who is also a former chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, told InterAksyon.com said she would consult with her lawyers on what charges to file against Macario but “I will definitely file a complaint.”

The issue stems from a statement issued over the weekend by the 4th Infantry Division, to which Macario’s brigade belongs.

The statement quotes a former New People’s Army officer as claiming communist rebels were responsible for the November 12 burning of the teachers’ cottage and tree nursery of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development in Barangay Padiay, Sibagat, Agusan del Sur.

The school is a branch of the award-winning tribal school in Lianga, Surigao del Sur whose administrator, Emerito Samarca, was murdered on September 1 along with Manobo leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Bello Sinzo by the military-Backed Magahat militia.

InterAksyon.com actually ran a story on the arson based on an interview with Karapatan-Caraga’s Dr. Naty Castro.

Tribal schools set up in lumad communities by nongovernmental organizations have long been openly accused by the military of teaching support for communist rebels and, in the case of ALCADEV, supposedly being an actual training center for rebel recruits.

The 4th ID statement then faulted Varona for accusing soldiers of the arson in relatively record time, noting that “witnesses reported the incident to the barangay officials at around 6 am on Nov 12” and that the journalist “immediately released information at around 8:30 am accusing the soldiers the same day even without proper investigation.”

The still smoldering ruins of the teachers’ cottage of the ALCADEV school in Barangay Padiay, Sibagat, Agusan del Sur after it was burned down on November 12. (photo courtesy of Karapatan-Caraga)

It also quoted Macario as saying this of Varona:  “This brings everyone to a question on where she gets information. Aside from the witnesses, the only persons who can give this information are the perpetrators. It seems that this incident is planned and orchestrated.”

What the statement did not mention is that its reaction to Varona was not against any article or blog post she wrote about the incident but to an alert issued by the human rights group Karapatan which she had shared on Facebook. (Here’s the link to what is clearly labeled as an alert from Karapatan, that was shared by Varona on Facebook.)

“Now, on the basis of a post they did not bother to read — a post clearly ascribed to an organisation — a military officer does not just strongly hint that I am an NPA support(er). He actually makes me out as an active collaborator of arsonists,” Varona said of Macario.

While Varona said she is no stranger to critics, she pointed to “a clear pattern in the military’s attacks” against her for closely following the lumad crisis in Mindanao, which has seen thousands of indigenous people flee their homes this year because of atrocities committed by militias and soldiers.

The Lianga murders, in particular, triggered the exodus of more than 4,000 people from several towns in Surigao del Sur who remain at the sports center of the provincial capital Tandag City.

She said the “attacks” against her, which began with a meme accusing her of links to the rebels that was made by “an anonymous poster on an anonymous page” (The page was taken down shortly after media organizations condemned the meme) that was “shared by some military officers,” accusing her of links to the communist rebels in an anonymous Facebook page, “hew to the same worldview that allows paramilitary datu to justify the killing of a school teacher.”

Varona was referring to the testimony of Jumar Bucales of Lianga, who lumad and human rights advocates said is also Marcos Bocales, the identified leader of the Magahat, before the House of Representatives’ committee on indigenous people that Samarca was killed because he had “poisoned” the minds of the Manobo, which committee chair Cotabato Representative Nancy Catamco surmised to mean teaching students an “ideology.”

Catamco has echoed the military’s claims that lumad refugees are not victims of atrocities but “manipulated” victims of “trafficking” by groups out to discredit the government. She has also defended the existence of the militias, claiming this is part of lumad culture.

“This is a country where you have legislators welcoming the idea that murder is ok if the subject is someone with views you violently oppose,” Varona said. “So I take the words of that military official as a serious threat. After all, they wash their hands of the paramilitary but coddle them in their headquarters and appear together with them.”

“We can ascribe the statements to stupidity. But stupid people — with guns and a sterling sense that they are immune from the laws of this land — are very dangerous people,” Varona added.

At the same time, she said, the threat from Macario would not stop her from writing, as she has since the time of the Marcos dictatorship and when, a decade ago, the NUJP was tagged an “enemy of the state” in a PowerPoint presentation produced by the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.


US donates two ships to Philippines to aid sea security

From the Fulton County News (Nov 17): US donates two ships to Philippines to aid sea security

Obama - in Philippines for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders' Meeting - describes alliance between the two countries as 'unbreakable'

ZAMBOANGA – United States President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that the U.S. will donate two more ships to the Philippines for use in securing its waters.

One of the ships would help map its territorial waters while the other would be for long-endurance patrols, Obama said.

“We have a treaty obligation, an ironclad commitment, to the defence of our ally the Philippines, who can count on the United States,” Obama was quoted by GMA News as saying after touring the Philippines Navy’s lead ship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar.

The frigate Del Pilar belonged to the U.S. Coast Guard before it was donated to the Philippines in 2011.

Obama — in the country for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders’ Meeting — described the alliance between the two countries as “unbreakable”.

“We have a shared commitment. The U.S. commits to the security of the region,” he said.

The comments come amid allegations that China has been building on islands in the disputed South China Sea. China claims the whole of the sea, asserting its historical claim over the area through the so-called nine-dash line, while the Philippines claims parts, which it calls the West Philippine Sea.

Other claimants include Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei.

The White House said in a statement Tuesday that the U.S. will commit $119 million to support the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia this financial year, with another $140 million earmarked for the following 12 months.

“We are increasing the maritime security capacity of our allies and partners to respond to threats in waters off their coasts and to provide maritime security more broadly across the region,” it said.

Obama’s visit is his second to the Philippines, following a two-day state trip to Manila in 2014 as part of a four-nation Asia tour.

On his previous trip, the U.S. and the Philippines discussed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a 10-year pact allowing the U.S. military to set up camps inside major military bases of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as well as storing weapons and materials there.

Philstar.com quoted U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg as saying that Obama and Aquino will tackle the EDCA in a bilateral meeting Wednesday.

Around an hour after Obama arrived Tuesday, he was joined for the summit by China’s President Xi Jinping.

The U.S. has said it does not take sides in the South China Sea dispute, but stresses that it will protect freedom of navigation in the high seas.

Tensions recently increased with China, however, after a U.S. warship sailed within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) — the extent of territorial waters — of the China claimed Spratly Islands.

China strongly opposed the move, accusing the U.S. of “illegally entering Nansha Islands [Spratly Islands] territory”, and sent two of its ships to patrol the area supported by fighter jets.

In 2013, Manila lodged a case with the United Nations challenging the legality of Beijing’s assertion that its ownership of the Sea is “indisputable” and “historical”, which an international tribunal in The Hague finally agreed last month to hear.