Saturday, February 27, 2016

Army steps up war on jihadists

From The Standard (Feb 28): Army steps up war on jihadists

THE death toll from the fighting in Lanao del Sur rose to 55 on Saturday as the military pressed its operation against a group of militants who are believed to be harboring foreign fugitive jihadists who had been training local extremists in bomb making and other terrorist activities.
Col. Billy dela Rosa, commander of the Army’s 51st Infantry Battalion, said his troops have tallied the deaths of at least 55 members of the group led by brothers Abdullah and Omar Maute at the outskirts of Butig town in Lanao del Sur.

Dela Rosa said his troops only found the bodies of three rebel fatalities while the others were likely dragged away by their comrades, but government troops found rifles, including a Barret sniper rifle, and other military materiel at the site of the battle.
AIR SUPPORT. Two gunships support ground troops during the ongoing military offensive in Lanao del Sur against a group of local militants who are believed to be harboring fugitive foreign jihadists. AFP PHOTO

Dela Rosa said they also recovered photographs of young boys brandishing assault rifles and were apparently recruited into the Maute group.

But the officer said the group has decreased from around 400 on Thursday to a few dozens on Saturday and the military is trying to verify reports that Abdullah Maute was wounded in the weeklong offensive.

Abdullah’s brother Omar is also believed to have been killed on Thursday along with an Indonesian jihadist identified as Muhammad Mukhtar. However, the military could not find the bodies of the two slain leaders.

The Maute brothers are believed to be members or sympathizers of Jemaah Islamiya and Omar is supposedly married to an Indonesian jihadist who even underwent training in the Middle East.

Mukhtar, on the other hand, is believed to be part of the group of jihadists from Indonesia and Malaysia, who sought refuge in Mindanao after they were hunted down in their own countries.

Western Mindanao Command spokesman Major Filemon Tan said Butig town is now under military control as the rebels fled in small groups to the mountains surrounding the town ranges after the military unleashed artillery fire and aerial fire on rebel positions Thursday.

Tan said four soldiers were killed during the fighting, but declined to identify them pending the notification of their families.

Also on Saturday, the Provincial Social Welfare Development Office of the Lanao del Sur appealed for more supplies for the thousands of civilians who fled the fighting and are now billeted in mosques and evacuation centers.

PSWD officer Marhalanny Alonto said in a radio interview that they are in need of food and medicine supplies for 4,000 families that fled from 14 villages.

Meanwhile, in North Cotabato, a road side bomb was detonated by a passing police patrol vehicle bearing three policemen.

A belated report reaching Camp Crame in Quezon City said Chief Inspector Sunny Leoncito were with two other policemen on board a truck when their Isuzu Dmax hit an improvise explosive device along in Matalam, Cotabato at about 9:15 a.m. Friday.

The three-man police party were on their way to a community gathering in Barangay Kibia when they hit the bombs, badly damaging the vehicle but leaving the three policemen unhurt.

Shortly after the explosion, three suspects were spotted just near the blast site and policemen engaged them but failed who managed to escape towards a mountainous terrain.

Duterte to MILF: Federalism won't touch your territory

From Rappler (Feb 28): Duterte to MILF: Federalism won't touch your territory

In a meeting with MILF leaders, the presidential candidate says he plans to create territories for indigenous peoples

MEETING WITH MILF. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte meets with members of the MILF Central Committee in Camp Darapanan, Maguindanao, on February 27, 2016.

MEETING WITH MILF. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte meets with members of the MILF Central Committee in Camp Darapanan, Maguindanao, on February 27, 2016.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte promised the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that its territory would "not be touched" should his bid for federalism succeed if he is elected.

The presidential candidate made the statement during a meeting with MILF leaders in Camp Darapanan in Maguindanao on Saturday, February 27.

This is in response to Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs, who asked him, "How will you exactly come up with a peaceful solution to the problems of Mindanao?"

They were discussing the failure of Congress to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The presidential candidate said his administration "will create a commission that will eventually come to a consensus."

He added: "I have been proposing federalism. But your territory will not be touched. It will be our collective position."

 (READ: Will federalism address PH woes? Pros and cons of making shift)

Duterte also plans to "create territories" for the Tausugs, the Sama, Iranuns, the Maranaos, and other indigenous peoples.

"Through federalism, we will correct the injustice committed against the Moro people, against Mindanao," he said.

Though Jaafar was apparently supportive of Duterte, he told journalists that the MILF Central Committee of the MILF will not endorse any candidate.

"Members of the MILF, their families and the members of the communities will be given their independence to choose whoever they want to choose," he said.

Duterte also said that he was not there "to campaign" but to present his proposal to resolve the Mindanao conflict and other problems hounding its people.

North Cotabato naka-alerto dahil sa atake ng NPA

From the Mindanao Examiner (Feb 27): North Cotabato naka-alerto dahil sa atake ng NPA (North Cotabato on alert for attacks by the NPA)

Doble ngayon ang seguridad sa North Cotabato province matapos na birahin ng mga hinihinalang rebelde ang isang patrol team ng lokal na pulisya sa bayan ng Matalam.

Pinasabugan ng bomba ng mga umano’y New People’s Army ang naturang patrol na kung saan ay lulan ang hepe ng pulisya na si Senior Inspector Sonny Leoncito at tatalong mga tauhan nito sa bayan ng Matalam kamakalawa ng umaga.

Patungo sana ang mga parak sa isang pagpupulong ng pasabugan sila ng mga rebelde at nakipaglaban pa sa grupo ni Leoncito. Wala naman inulat na sugatan o nasawi sa panig ng pulisya, ngunit wasak naman ang harapan ng kanilang sasakyan.

Tumakas rin ang mga salarin bago pa man dumating ang reinforcement ng pulisya sa Barangay Kibia na kung saan binira ng NPA ang grupo ni Leoncito.

Kahapon ay may mga checkpoints ng inilagay ang pulisya at nasa mataas na alerto na rin ang mga ito kasunod ng naganap na atake.

Town police chief, 3 others survive NPA ambush

From GMA News (Feb 27): Town police chief, 3 others survive NPA ambush

The police chief of Matalam town in Cotabato province and and three other policemen escaped an ambush by members of the New People's Army (NPA) in a remote village on Friday morning.

Senior Inspector Sunny Leoncito, Matalam town chief of police, said their police vehicle was traversing along a road in Barangay Kibia when an explosion hit their path at around 9:30 a.m.

Leoncito said their vehicle was just a meter away from the blast site. Their vehicle's windshield was damaged, but they all escaped the blast unscathed, the police chief said.

He said that after the explosion, at least three NPA rebels came out and fired at them.

Leoncito said he and his men were able to repel the rebels before police and military reinforcement arrived.

Recovered from the blast site were part of an improvised bomb used in the attack including PVC pipes and electrical wiring.

Leoncito and his men were supposed to attend a meeting with the Alabama and Bagani tribal groups in Barangay Kibia.

Mindanao tribal leaders sign pact vs. land grabbers, armed groups

From GMA News (Feb 28): Mindanao tribal leaders sign pact vs. land grabbers, armed groups

At least 500 Bagani and Alamara tribal leaders have signed an agreement to defend and fight any armed group that will harass and try to takeover their ancestral lands in any part of Mindanao.

Datu Alim Bandara, top Alamara leader, disclosed that tribal leaders from North Cotabato, Bukidnon and Davao del Norte gathered in Barangay Kibia in Matalam, Cotabato to renew their vows as members of the Alamara and Bagani tribal group.

“We will fight any armed group that wants to take away from us our ancestral domain lands using our traditional arm to ensure protection of our tribe,” Datu Bandara told dxND Radyo Bida in interview.

“We don’t want them (armed groups) in our place especially that the 'lumads' are now living peacefully and harmoniously,” the tribal leader added during the radio interview.

Bandara claimed that aside from armed groups, wealthy businessmen have been trying to illegally claim their lands for their personal gain.

He said that a totla of 102 ancestral domains all over Mindanao have been penetrated by armed groups, including the New People's Army.

He added that villages in the towns of Matalam, President Roxas, Arakan and Magpet in North COtabato province, where the Indigenous People’s own ancestral lands, are also being threatened by the presence of the NPA.

“The Alamara and Bagani leaders decided to sign a pact following the killings of some tribal leaders in Davao Del Norte and Caraga region,” Bandara said.

He said that tribal leaders present during the covenant signified their intentions to fight armed groups in their respective areas.

Bandara, however, clarified that they will not use firearms in their fight against armed groups.

“We don’t own guns but we will defend our territory using traditional arms blessed by our gods,” he said.

The tribal leaders concluded the one-day gathering with the Pakkat’kalo, a tribal ceremony of blessing of all weapons used in farming and even in fights.

MILF: Group in Lanao not terrorists, disgruntled by peace deal’s fate

From FMA News (Feb 28): MILF: Group in Lanao not terrorists, disgruntled by peace deal’s fate

A top Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) official on Saturday denied that the armed men involved in clashes with the military in Butig, Lanao del Sur are terrorists.

"Butig ay napakalapit sa satellite office ng MILF. At itong ganitong pag atake at iba pang pag atake similar to what happened in Lanao del Sur, ang gumawa niyan hindi terrorista. They are not terrorist.  hindi extremist yan. Hindi mga radical na mga tao," MILF vice chairman Ghadzali Jaafar told GMA News during the visit of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in the group's Camp Darapanan in Maguindanao.

Jaafar said that the bandits encountered by the government troops are Moros disgruntled by the way the government handled the peace negotiations with the MILF.

"'Yan ay mga Moro at ginawa nila iyon sapagkat galit sila the way the Philippine government is handling the peace negotiation na laging pangako, pangako, pangako pero laging napapako yung mga pangako," the MILF official added.

Maj. Filemon Tan, spokesman of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, claimed that the group is led by brothers Abdullah and Omar Maute, who supposedly have links with the Southeast Asian regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah.

There were also reports that the Maute group was being assisted by supporters of the  Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Lt. Col. Billy dela Rosa, commander of the Philippine Army's 51st Infantry Battalion, said that they have overrun the stronghold of the Maute group at the heart of Butig town.

Dela Rosa said that 55 bandits have been killed in the clash.

The military, meanwhile, has suffered five fatalities.

BBL will stop fighting

Jaafar said that the MILF leadership may not be able to prevent its members based in nearby Camp Bushra and Camp Palestine should they decide to reinforce the group of Maute, citing blood relations.

"Eh kung uncle niya yung nakakasama sa pakikipaglaban siguro hindi kami pakikinggan kasi 'di ba may kasabihan tayo blood is thicker than water. Ganito nangyayari ngayon," he said.

He added that the only solution that the MILF sees to stop the clashes in Lanao del Sur is for the government "implement the Bangsamoro government."

The 16th Congress failed to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which would have pave the way for the establishment of a new autonomous Bangsamoro political entity, replacing the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Malacañang has said that the quest of the Aquino administration for peace in Mindanao will continue even without the BBL.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said that even without the BBL, the peace agreement signed by the MILF and the government is still binding.

President Benigno Aquino III and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim signed the final peace agreement titled the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro on Mar. 27, 2014.

Part of the agreement was the decommissioning of the MILF's Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces on condition that the government will establish an autonomous Bangsamoro through the BBL.

Video: Soldiers' allowance increase still taxable

From ABS-CBN/Bandila (Feb 26): Video: Soldiers' allowance increase still taxable
Watch the latest episode of Bandila also in iWantv or
Dismayado ang ilang unipormadong kawani ng gobyerno. Ito'y matapos malaman na bubuwisan din pala ang dagdag-allowance na makukuha nila mula sa Executive Order 201 na pinirmahan kamakailan ni Pangulong Aquino. Bandila, February 26, 2016, Biyernes

Duterte visits MILF camp in Sultan Kudarat

From ABS-CBN (Feb 27): Duterte visits MILF camp in Sultan Kudarat

SULTAN KUDARAT, Maguindanao - Presidential candidate Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday met with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

It was the first time Duterte visited the MILF's main camp. He arrived at around 11:50 a.m. He was welcomed by the rebel group's officials, led by MILF First Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar.

MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim is currently out of the country.

Duterte discussed with the MILF the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which the Congress failed to pass. The BBL seeks to establish a new political entity that will replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

According to Duterte, he did not visit the MILF's camp to campaign ahead of the May 9 elections, saying he respects the group's decision not to endorse any candidate.

He said he just wanted to discuss with the group his position on the problems facing Mindanao.
The mayor, however, took a swipe at Liberal Party (LP) standard bearer Mar Roxas over the Aquino administration's failure to pass the BBL.

READ: Next President has to pass BBL, Aquino says

Duterte said if elected president, he will push for a federal form of government, where he will have the proposed BBL incorporated.

Duterte acknowledged that the MILF was hurt and disappointed over the non-passage of the BBL, but called on the group to refrain from taking any action that may derail the peace process.

Jaafar, for the MILF's part, said they expect Duterte to duplicate in the entire country what he has done in Davao City if he wins the presidential race.

Duterte, who left the MILF camp at 1:25 p.m., proceeded to the Cotabato City Plaza for a campaign sortie.

US-funded project via Kalahi-CIDSS set to end by May 2016

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 28): US-funded project via Kalahi-CIDSS set to end by May 2016

The project of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) funded by the Government of the United States of America (USA) through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is set to end by May 2016.

Implemented by the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS), the community-driven development (CDD) program of the DSWD, the project started in 2011 and covers 160 municipalities in the poorest provinces in the Philippines.

The project, dubbed as KC-MCC, is part of the MCC Compact between the Philippines, signed by President Benigno Aquino III, and the USA, signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Being a CDD program, Kalahi-CIDSS, through KC-MCC, trains and capacitates citizens from its covered barangays to identify, implement, and manage their own community projects. In KC-MCC, the program was able to train 281,059 community volunteers, of which 59% are women and 41% are men. Some 55,741 served leadership positions, of which 53% are women and 47% are women.

“Salamat, Kalahi-CIDSS, at pinakinggan niyo ang aming hinaing. Malaki ang partisipasyon ng KC-MCC. Sa katunayan, nabawasan ang mga malnourished children sa amin… Binigyan niyo kami ng oportunidad. Hindi niyo tiningnan kung ano ang pinanggalingan namin (Thank you, Kalahi-CIDSS, for listening to our cry for help. The Project contributed a lot. In fact, there are now a lesser number of malnourished children in our communities because of this. You provided us opportunity. You did not look at our backgrounds)”, said Crisanda Peipino of Brgy Cal-igang of Catarman, Samar, explaining that most KC-MCC volunteers like her had little educational background but were given opportunities through the Project.

She continued, “Marami na kayong isdang nabigay sa amin, pero tinuruan niyo rin kami kung paano mangisda. Hindi niyo lang binago kami, binago niyo ang aming sarili. Hinubog niyo kami (You gave us a lot of fish, but you also taught us how to fish. You did not change our communities, you changed our own lives. You shaped us).”

For her part, Nancy Bulalacao a volunteer from Baao, Camarines Sur, of which part of the population is comprised of Indigenous Peoples (IPs), said, “Ang mga IPs ay hindi na nahihiyang makisalamuha. Ang mga babae ay lumalahok na. Natutuwa sila sa Kalahi-CIDSS dahil andito na raw ang programa na tutulong sa amin (The IPs are no longer afraid to be with us. Even the women are participating. They like Kalahi-CIUDSS because they say the program is there to help us).”

The community-driven development mechanism also enabled the residents of the covered municipalities to identify the projects, which usually come in the form of the small-scale infrastructures, to be implemented in their villages to address their most pressing problems. Through KC-MCC, a total of 3,905 community projects were funded, benefiting 965,266 households in 3,760 barangays across the country. As of January 2016, some 3,171 have already been completed.

Among these projects, the most common were roads (23%), school buildings (14%), access trails or footpaths (11%), water systems (9%), and drainage (8%). Other community projects implemented through the projects are day care centers, health stations, small bridges, and projects for soil, river, or flood control.

Given that most of these community projects were implemented by the communities themselves, a total of 151,812 were given temporary jobs during construction.

Originally, the grant amounted to US$120 million. However, US$12 million has since been added because of the good performance in the implementation of KC-MCC, enabling the Project to cover more areas and to reach more communities. Of this amount, US$1 million is for the Gender Incentive Grant (GIG), a complementary facility to support the gender mainstreaming initiatives of Kalahi-CIDSS.

“The gender and mainstreaming initiative (of Kalahi-CIDSS) has really empowered the women here, who made this their badge of honor in working in welding, plumbing”, said DSWD Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman.

As part of the agreement, Kalahi-CIDSS provided affirmative action opportunities for women in KC-MCC covered areas. Through the GIG, some 1,375 women were trained in non-traditional skills, such as welding, plumbing, and carpentry.

“Five years ago, there were a lot of questions on how the US taxpayers’ money were spent. Today, we saw the videos, we heard the testimonials, and we could say that the money was well spent”, said John Polk, the Philippines Resident Country Director of MCC.

Although the Compact is set to end by May 2016, the MCC Board of Directors re-selected Philippines as eligible for additional funding for its development programs in December 2015.

The selection of the Philippines for a subsequent compact recognizes the significant progress achieved under the current compact and its strong efforts at policy reform, including successful efforts to root out corruption.

Bangsamoro peace monitors see transitional justice, reconciliation as means forward in peace process

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 28): Bangsamoro peace monitors see transitional justice, reconciliation as means forward in peace process

The Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) of the Bangsamoro peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) believes that transitional justice and reconciliation will play a vital role in the country’s continued quest for peace and development in Mindanao, following the failure of the 16th Congress to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Speaking before members of the media during the release of its third annual report, TPMT Chair Alistair MacDonald said that while the basic law that would have established the Bangsamoro region has yet to be passed into a law, the peace process continued to score milestones that were essential in maintaining stability on the ground. “There has however been significant progress in a number of areas, including for example the successful completion of the first, ceremonial, stage of decommissioning on 16 June, or the completion of the work of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).”

The TPMT, established in 2013, is given the mandate to monitor, review, and assess the implementation of all signed agreements between the GPH and the MILF, primarily the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). MacDonald is joined by Huseyin Oruc from the Turkish non-government organization The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH); Karen Tañada of the Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute; Rahib Kudto of the United Youth for Peace and Development; and Steven Rood of The Asia Foundation.

The TJRC finished drafting its report in December 2015. It was formally submitted to the GPH and the MILF negotiating panels during their meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia held on 10-11 February 2016. “The Parties received the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission’s report and thanked its members for their hard work. A discussion on operationalizing the report’s recommendations is ongoing,” said the panels of the report in a joint statement.

“The early publication of that report will be invaluable. Putting that report into the public’s awareness is important,” commented MacDonald.

When asked to elaborate, MacDonald explained that the TJRC’s report generated from various consultations across the country would be an important component in the country’s healing process from the decades-long armed conflict in Mindanao and in dissipating prejudices between the majority Christian Filipinos and the Muslim minority in the Philippine south.

“Transitional justice and reconciliation is an important part of the CAB. The anger and hatred borne of the Mamasapano incident played into the deep-rooted prejudices among the peoples of the Philippines. It is therefore imperative that this be carried forward as a national effort.”

While suggesting that the educational curriculum of the Department of Education with regard the history of the Bangsamoro people would be worth revisiting, MacDonald said that a plan such as that would be for the long haul. “In the meantime, there are a lot of provisions in the CAB that can be done now, especially in the normalization aspect, which can aid in that regard.”

“Looking forward, it will be essential to build a path forward… so that the next Administration can hit the ground running, to work to sustain public confidence in the process during this period of uncertainty, and to reaffirm the commitment of all stakeholders to winning the prize of peace,” he added.

Tañada, meanwhile, stressed the importance of building one narrative of the Filipino people that would include the history of the Bangsamoro. Using the recently concluded 30th anniversary celebration of the EDSA People Power revolt against the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, she said that “the stories of the Bangsamoro people during Martial Law still have to be told. That will be part of the TJRC’s recommendation and report. The Bangsamoro story is the Filipino story.”

Meanwhile, in a statement, government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer expressed the gratitude of the government peace panel to the TPMT for its invaluable role "in ensuring that both the GPH and the MILF adhere to the signed documents."

"The TPMT’s third annual report and the recommendations therein will be taken with utmost consideration in line with our shared desire to sustain and nurture the Bangsamoro peace process and finish in due time the implementation of the CAB which includes the passage and ratification of a CAB-based Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL)," she said. (OPAPP)

Soldier hurt in NPA attack on a detachment in Daraga, Albay

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): Soldier hurt in NPA attack on a detachment in Daraga, Albay

A soldier was hurt in an attack by the New People’s Army (NPA) on a detachment of the Philippine Army (PA) in San Ramon, Daraga, Albay at 6:35 a.m. Friday (Feb. 26).

According to Lt Col. Angelo Guzman, spokesperson of Southern Luzon Command (SolCom) stationed here, a report was received from Colonel Perfecto Peñaredondo, commander, 2nd Infantry Battalion based in Albay that about five NPAs positioned themselves some 300 meters from the soldiers detachment.

"Sporadic enemy gunfire lasted about one minute that resulted to one of our soldiers slightly wounded," Penaredondo said.

Penaredondo identified the soldier as Sgt. Lorenzo Hernan.

Combat first aid was immediately applied to Hernan before he was rushed to Bicol Regional Teaching and Training Hospital for further treatment.

Peñaredondo said the detachment is a newly established camp of the 22nd Infantry Battalion (CAFGU) that just moved in on Feb. 12, 2016

The area was previously classified as an NPA influenced barangay, however, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Bayanihan Team efforts last year were successful in clearing it from NPA influence, leading to the establishment of the new camp.

SoLCom Chief Lieutenant General Ricardo R. Visaya has given guidance to his subordinate commanders to ensure that areas cleared by the AFP from NPA influence should never be recovered by the insurgents.

City gov’t, Army engineering brigade to build 50 houses for Zambo siege victims

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): City gov’t, Army engineering brigade to build 50 houses for Zambo siege victims

The city government has allocated Php 3 million to construct 50 single-detach temporary shelters for families displaced in the 21-day September 2013 siege.

City Social Welfare and Development Officer Ma. Socorro Rojas told the Philippines News Agency that the temporary shelters will be constructed in Sitio Lupa-Lupa, Barangay Rio Hondo.

Rojas said the houses would be constructed in March by the 2nd Army Engineering Brigade. The houses can accommodate 50 families.

She said the construction would start once a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was signed by the city government and the engineering brigade.

She said those who would be given the priority to occupy the houses, once completed, were from the vulnerable sector such as the senior citizen, person with disability and pregnant women.

The beneficiaries are among the thousands of people displaced in the 21-day September 2013 siege.

The city government still maintains 12 transitory sites as construction of permanent shelters continue through the Zamboanga City Roadmap to Recovery and Reconstruction (Z3R) project.

PN provides sailing, flying experience to 31 children with rare diseases

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): PN provides sailing, flying experience to 31 children with rare diseases

In line with its community engagement missions, the Philippine Navy (PN) on Saturday gave 31 orphans a feel on what it is like to sail in a naval vessel and fly in a aircraft.

This project is under the Navy's "Fly and Sail With Rare," PN public affairs office chief Capt. Lued Lincuna said.

It aims to to give an extraordinary experience for kids with rare disorder through a whole day of outdoor fun activities.

The 31 children were all from Philippine Society for Orphan Disorders, Inc. (PSODI) and their parents/guardians are the beneficiaries of this advocacy campaign.

Lincuna said PSODI is a non-profit organization whose aim is to continue the efforts of doctors to ensure sustainability of medical and financial support of patients with rare disorders.

It envisions to create awareness about rare disorders in the Philippines.

These children are trying to live a normal life despite frequent hospital visits for their medication and treatment.

Research shows that 30 percent of children with rare disease die before the age of five.

PSOD patient and family welfare program coordinator Janet Paguirigan said, “…It is about the experience of these children because you’ll never know until when they are going to stay here because of their condition specially those who do not have access yet to medicines they need.”

In his welcome remarks, Naval Air Group deputy commander Cmdr. Ariel Halasan assured the participants that they will strive their best to provide the extra ordinary experience of aboard with their assets.

“But more than the experiences, we offer you our friendship and our admiration for living the ideals that our organization is advancing: your courage for living up with the challenges, your strength for not succumbing to it, your faith for believing in your dreams and aspirations; and your hope for dreaming big and aspiring for greater achievements,” Halasan added.

The NAG Hangar, at Naval Base Heracleo Alano in Sangley Point, Cavite City, became the assembly area for the children and their guardians who were welcomed by the Marine Drum and Bugle Team.

After the necessary orientation, the children took turns in flying with the Navy’s Islander aircraft and sailing with BRP Heracleo Alano (PG-376) and a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB). Our sailors and marines served also as close in buddies or “big brother/sister” of these children.

The venue was also transformed into a fun fair environment where children, together with their parents or guardians, enjoyed arts and crafts like face painting, coloring activities, cupcake making, origami, t-shirt printing, among others.

Angelita Obeda, a mother of three children with rare disorders, expressed her thanks to the PN and to all the sponsors for the extraordinary experience they have afforded to her children.

“It feels good to see my children happy because they experienced being aboard a Navy ship and airplane,” Obeda said.

The activity was made possible through the collaboration of Philippine Navy with advocacy groups such as the Photography with a Difference (PWD), Makati Camera Club, PSODI, Volunteer for Youth Leaders in Health, Fujifilm, Chili Grass, and SM Cares and SM Supermalls.

It was in line with the nation’s observance of the 7th National Rare Disease Week, which joined hands with the rest of the world in celebrating the 9th World Rare Disease Day.

“There are many organizations that have good ideas for these children, Cynthia Manzanares, core group member of PWD, said.

“But these are ideas that need support from other organization. In this case, it is good that the PN has opened its door for this opportunity. Even if there are plans for these children but nobody would want to support these by way of providing facilities, like resources from the (Philippine) Navy, our dreams for these kids won't be realized.”

Lincuna said the PN takes pride in being helpful in making these children and their families experience a day of enjoyment and respite from their day-to-day ordeals.

He added this is a manifestation of the Command’s support to advocacy campaigns, particularly in this instance, to raise awareness and support for Filipinos with rare disease.

Duterte courts MILF; vows to pass BBL

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): Duterte courts MILF; vows to pass BBL

CAMP DARAPANAN, Sultan Kudarat -- PDP-Laban presidential standard bearer Mayor Rodrigo Duterte courted the hierarchy of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to give Federalism a chance but vowed to work for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) if he becomes president.

This was Duterte's commitment during his visit here Saturday to meet with the MILF leadership to explain his take about the Mindanao problem, federalism and the BBL.

Duterte was given a warm welcome by MILF vice chair for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar and the seven members of the MILF central committee.

The mayor, however, clarified his commitment to pass BBL does not mean to get votes from MILF knowing the Moro group as apolitical.

"I am here to state my position clearly," he said.

Duterte, who was asked by Jaafar how he would revive the BBL, said he would embark or create a commission with representations from different Muslim tribes, lumads and Christians to work on a consensus for BBL vis-a-vis a federal set up.

He said BBL would be incorporated in the federal republic of the Philippines as an organic structure, including all other settlement not only for the Bangsamoro but other Muslim tribes, the Cordillera and Bicolanos who have aspired for self-rule.

He said the BBL would become a model for autonomous government.

"Ibibigay ko yan sa inyo (I will give it to you)," he told Jaafar.

Duterte admitted it would be challenging to draw support for BBL especially the feudal.

"But trust me I will make sure it will have a legal will be one chapter (in the Constitution)," he added.

Duterte said a federal set up would take time.

The establishment of a Bangsamoro territory would have happened through the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Congress however adjourned without passing BBL.

Duterte has been offering federalism as an alternative to BBL. He said federalism will not only make the aspirations of the Moro possible, but also of the entire Mindanao, including the indigenous people.

He blamed the troubles of Mindanao to the current set up of the government where power is concentrated in Manila, at the disposal of those who are in power.

Duterte’s push for federalism would result to “power-sharing, resources-sharing, respect-for-all and development-for-all.”

“They dribbled BBL,” he told Jaafar.

"You just hang on. Let's talk. BBL - I am confident you can have it," he said

Like a volcano

He warned that the Mindanao conflict will continue if the government will not be able to “correct the historical wrong committed against the Moro people.”

“If this will explode we can only expect for the worst, he said.

He said he has been asking the Moro people to be patient.

“I have been asking our brothers and sisters to wait for a while, to wait for the right time. I promised them that we will come up with something that will solve their problems,” he said.

Duterte underscored the sensitivity of the BBL. "I am here to plead to postpone any action," he said.

Jaafar admitted they were disappointed at the way the government handled the negotiation. "It is a social volcano ready to explode...someday but I don't know when," Jaafar said.

Jaafar however assured the mayor nobody will shoot.

Warm reception

The MILF accorded Duterte a warm welcome. Jaafae even introduced him to the members of the Central Committee as the mext president.

According to Jaafar, he admired Duterte how he handled Davao city that it has progressed over the years.

Even if it means losing the election because of his pro-Muslim stance, Duterte said it is a matter of principle.

He said the MILF, the communist organization and the Moro National Liberation Front are part of nationbuilding hence must be treated equally and fairly unlike the criminals.

Last week, the MILF leadership issued a statement after the non-passage of the BBL that would have paved the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro, a new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

In a two-page, nine paragraph statement issued February 18 and signed by MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, the MILF called on the Bangsamoro and other peace-loving people to uphold the peace process and “join hands, consolidate and vigorously rally behind the cause to pursue with persistence” the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and the full implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) “be it in the present government or the upcoming administration.”

It expressed its “deep disappointment and grave dismay” over the non-passage of the BBL” but said it will “continue to uphold the peace process and ensure that all the gains will be preserved.”

Warm reception

The MILF accorded Duterte a warm welcome. Jaafar even introduced him to the members of the Central Committee as the mext president.

According to Jaafar, he admired Duterte how he handled Davao city that it has progressed over the years.

Jaafar hoped that if Duterte becomes president he can do the same to the entire nation.

Jaafar said they liked his agenda on crimes, drugs and corruption because these are forbidden to the Muslims.

It was Duterte's first time visit to the MILF camp.

With BBL 'dead,' transitional justice key to Mindanao peace efforts

From Rappler (Feb 27): With BBL 'dead,' transitional justice key to Mindanao peace efforts

While the proposed BBL was not passed in the 16th Congress, the Third Party Monitoring Team of the Bangsamoro peace process says there has been progress in efforts to achieve peace in Mindanao

WORKING FOR PEACE. Peace negotiators say the support of the international community is essential in the peace process. Photo courtesy of OPAPP

WORKING FOR PEACE. Peace negotiators say the support of the international community is essential in the peace process. Photo courtesy of OPAPP

Despite Congress' failure to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) of the Bangsamoro peace process said that transitional justice and reconciliation will play a key role in sustaining peace efforts in the troubled southern region of the Philippines.

The BBL, which was supposed to implement provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed in 2014 between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), was not passed in the 16th Congress.
A botched police operation in January 2015, the Mamasapano clash, sparked public outrage and prompted some lawmakers to reconsider their support for the proposed measure.
But TPMT chair Alistair MacDonald said on Saturday, February 27, that there has been "significant progress" in the peace process despite the non-passage of the BBL.
He cited the first stage of the decomissioning of rebel firearms last June 2015, and the recently finished report of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), the body which recommends measures to correct historical injustices against the Bangsamoro people.
“Transitional justice and reconciliation is an important part of the CAB. The anger and hatred borne of the Mamasapano incident played into the deep-rooted prejudices among the peoples of the Philippines. It is therefore imperative that this be carried forward as a national effort,” MacDonald said.
The TJRC report was the product of various consultations done nationwide. MacDonald said it would be key to help end prejudice against Muslims and end the long-running armed conflict in Mindanao.
“Looking forward, it will be essential to build a path forward…so that the next administration can hit the ground running, to work to sustain public confidence in the process during this period of uncertainty, and to reaffirm the commitment of all stakeholders to winning the prize of peace,” he added.
International support is vital
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis said the support of the international community will help sustain momentum in pushing for the peace process.
“As diplomats, it is our duty to continue to engage and to talk to the international community in general and in particular, our international partners and stakeholders in the peace process. This is how we can substantively contribute to the peace process here in the Philippines," Seguis said.
Malaysia is the a third-party facilitator in the peace negotiations that culminated in the CAB in 2014. Other international bodies were also involved in monitoring and reviewing the implementation phases of the agreement.
The government's chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer also said that the Bangsamoro peace process and ceasefire mechanisms have now become a model to other countries "that are still trying to find a way out [of their internal armed conflicts].”
“We are now in the books of experience of peace negotiations. It is becoming one of the learning tools for other conflicts,” Ferrer said.

US presses Xi on South China Sea non-militarization

From Rappler (Feb 27): US presses Xi on South China Sea non-militarization

'We're going to encourage our Chinese friends and other countries in the region to refrain from taking steps that raise tensions,' says National Security Council's Daniel Kritenbrink   

SOUTH CHINA SEA. In this file photo, US President Barack Obama (R) and President of China Xi Jinping (L) participate in a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington, DC, USA, September 25, 2015. Photo by Erik S. Lesser/EPA

SOUTH CHINA SEA. In this file photo, US President Barack Obama (R) and President of China Xi Jinping (L) participate in a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington, DC, USA, September 25, 2015. Photo by Erik S. Lesser/EPA

The White House pressed Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday, February 26 to expand his non-militarization pledge to cover the entire South China Sea, despite Beijing's recent military activity in the area.

Daniel Kritenbrink, senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council, spoke amid rising tensions between the two countries over China's deployment of surface-to-air missiles, radar gear, air strips and fighter jets on an islet there.

During a state visit in September, Xi insisted that "China does not intend to pursue militarization" in the Spratly Island chain – known as Nansha in Chinese.

The islands are claimed in part or whole by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

"We think it would be good if that non-militarization pledge, if he (Xi) would extend that across the entire South China Sea," Kritenbrink told a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"We're going to encourage our Chinese friends and other countries in the region to refrain from taking steps that raise tensions."

China claims almost the whole of the area – through which a third of the world's oil passes – while several other littoral states have competing claims, as does Taiwan.

"This is an incredibly important waterway through which much of international trade flows," Kritenbrink said.

"We are concerned that China has taken a number of unilateral steps over the last several years that we think raise tensions in the region and are destabilizing."

The Asian giant is using dredgers to turn reefs and low-lying features into larger land masses for runways and other military uses to bolster its claims of sovereignty.

Earlier this week, US Pacific Command chief Admiral Harry Harris warned that China was changing the "operational landscape in the region." He has called for more flyovers and patrols.

"Short of war with the United States, China will exercise de facto control of the South China Sea," Harris said.

(READ: US Navy to sail more in contested South China Sea)

Kritenbrink also urged China to respect an international court's decision due later this year on Manila's dispute with Beijing over territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Earlier on Thursday in Washington, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called the Philippines' move to seek international arbitration "irresponsible to the Filipino people and the future of the Philippines" and a "political provocation."

Wang also said that China was prepared to negotiate with the Philippines "tomorrow," blaming the Southeast Asian country for shutting down an opportunity for negotiations by running to an international court.

Kritenbrink said he expected the upcoming ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration to be "extremely important" because it will mark the outcome of a process that allows countries to use peaceful legal means to pursue disputes.

China does not recognize The Hague-based court's authority, but it has ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea at the center of the case.

"When that ruling comes out, it will be binding on both parties," Kritenbrink said.
"That will be an important moment that all of us in the region should focus on."

Duterte asks MILF to maintain peace with gov’t

From MindaNews (Feb 27): Duterte asks MILF to maintain peace with gov’t

CAMP DARAPANAN, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao — Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte has personally appealed to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front central committee to keep the peace between its group and the Philippine Government despite the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress.

In a meeting Saturday with the MILF, Duterte, standard bearer of the PDP-Laban, asked the leaders of the rebel group to “postpone any action that might derail peace.”

He said the enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law was “a promise by the government, and not by an administration.”

But Duterte said he did not go to the camp to campaign despite throwing potshots at political opponent Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, presidential bet of the ruling Liberal Party.

He said he recognizes the decision of the MILF leadership to give its members the freedom to choose the country’s leaders.

MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar, meanwhile, hinted that the organization was attracted to Duterte’s hardline stance against illegal drugs and criminality.

“Yan ang gustong-gusto namin,” Jaffar said, adding Islam forbids the use, manufacture and sale of illegal drugs.

Duterte said he had long been worried about the failure of the present government to pass a law that would have ended decades of conflict with the MILF.

“I know you are very, very disappointed,” the mayor said. “Let me propose another setup just to make everyone happy.”

He also lamented that the other presidential candidates have allegedly given little attention to Mindanao.

Duterte said he will push for a federal setup akin to the proposed Bangsamoro but at the same time asked for the MILF’s trust in handling law enforcement in the early stages of the autonomous government.

He said the government would gradually hand over law enforcement to the Bangsamoro leadership once it proves itself capable for the job.

Jaafar, meanwhile, emphasized that the Bangsamoro government would be “democratic, and not Islamic.”

China’s South China Sea Missile Deployment: Why Americans Object

From The Diplomat (Feb 23): China’s South China Sea Missile Deployment: Why Americans Object

The U.S. has good reason to be concerned about the new anti-aircraft missile system on Woody Island.

China’s South China Sea Missile Deployment: Why Americans Object

The South China Sea dispute has deepened as a flashpoint in U.S.-China relations with China’s installation of a new anti-aircraft missile system on Woody Island, known as Yongxin Island to the Chinese and Phu Lam Island to the Vietnamese, in the Paracel group. Jin Kai, formerly a PLA officer and now a lecturer at Yonsei Unversity in South Korea, criticized the American outcry over this Chinese deployment in a recent article in The Diplomat. Jin Kai makes several points that are useful for understanding the Chinese point of view, but which also call for a response, which I will offer. This exchange points up some of the fundamental strategic disputes between China and the United States.

Jin’s first point is that “The United States seems to intentionally be confusing the Spratlys and the Paracels so as to better denounce China.” In support of this point Jin Kai argues that up to now “militarization” has not been an issue in the Paracel Islands, where China has previously “deployed limited defense measures.” Therefore there is no “change to China’s defense posture” with the installation of the new missiles on Woody Island. Since Jin speaks sweepingly of “the United States” without distinguishing between government spokespeople, private media companies, or individual bloggers, some U.S. commentators may indeed not know the Paracels from the Spratlys, or the newly completed artificial “islands” from Woody Island.

Nevertheless, the point avoids the larger issue. China’s shocking construction of several sizeable artificial islands in the Spratlys group over the past two years sent a powerful message to the region that China intends to unilaterally impose its own agenda on the weaker claimants. There was never any question these would become in effect PRC military bases. The Chinese government made clear from the beginning the islands would have “defensive” capabilities. Against this successful Chinese change of the status quo, the United States and other countries sought the modest concession that the islands would not be “militarized,” and Xi Jinping agreed. This was never more than a face-saving diplomatic word game. But by choosing this moment to add a new military system to a disputed island group in the South China Sea – even if that group is the Paracels rather than the Spratlys – Beijing sends an additional signal that it will continue to augment its position regardless of what the other Asia-Pacific countries think. This is a departure from the past pattern in which the Chinese would follow an improvement of its position with a period of conciliation and damage control with the region. The installation of anti-aircraft missiles suggests the Chinese government is preparing to declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea and wants to scare off even the very mild U.S. response of freedom of navigation overflights.

Second, Jin says it’s unfair for Americans to criticize China for “deploying defense capabilities on its own territory” while the United States has military bases in Asia, sells military equipment to Asian countries, holds “more and more frequent joint military drills in the region,” and carries out close surveillance of China territory. Jin conflates several issues here. We all know that China generally dislikes the United States continuing to hold the position of strongest strategic player in the Asia-Pacific region when most Chinese believe the United States is in at least some ways an obstruction to China’s own aspirations. For historical reasons, the United States is a self-appointed regional cop. If Jin takes the typical Chinese view that the cop is unwanted and causes more harm than good, then he can argue that U.S. policy is so flagrantly outrageous that Washington has no standing to criticize China over virtually any security policy.

If, however, other countries in the region value U.S. strategic engagement, and indeed welcome it as an assurance in the face of Chinese foreign policies that so many regional governments find disturbing, then Jin is failing to mention that the overbearing U.S. presence he complains of may be on balance beneficial in the eyes of many of China’s neighbors. Indeed, Jin’s own observations raise the question of why regional governments are willing to host U.S. bases, buy U.S. equipment, and join in exercises with U.S. forces, a question that undercuts his point.

Jin of course glosses over the problem that the Paracels are disputed territory. Vietnam claims the islands also, and China occupies them only because Chinese soldiers forcibly seized them. He also fails to mention that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, of which China is a signatory, allows for U.S. ships and aircraft to surveil the Chinese coast from within China’s exclusive economic zone.

Oddly, Jin uses a statement from the Chinese foreign minister as evidence to support his position. Wang Yi recently said “necessary defense facilities on the Nansha Islands of the South China Sea . . . . have nothing to do with militarization.” First, it’s Orwellian to say that installing weapons has nothing to do with militarization. Second, considering a public statement by a senior political figure (whether Chinese or American) as anything other than regime-serving rhetoric is insulting to the readership.

The hypocrisy of Jin claiming that China has the right to add military equipment to disputed territory it occupies in the South China Sea without being criticized, while the Chinese government demands that South Korea not deploy the THAAD system against an imminent threat posed by North Korea, is striking.

Third, Jin argues that criticism of the Chinese missile system as a threat to both military and civilian aircraft is a cheap shot. On this point I mostly agree with him. As he says, there is no basis for suspecting that China would intentionally fire on a civilian aircraft. Still, this new weapon system creates the possibility of an accidental downing of an airliner flying the route between Taipei and Singapore or Ho Chi Minh City, either through misunderstanding or equipment malfunction. The tragedy of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, shot down over the Ukraine in 2014, is still fresh in our minds.

Jin’s fourth point is that Americans exhibit a double standard when they call Chinese actions “provocations” but refrain from criticizing the Philippines or Vietnam. Chinese commentators rarely acknowledge that the United States has been carrying out freedom of navigation operations for decades in sea and airspace claimed by many countries other than China, including countries generally friendly to the United States.

But let’s get to the real point: Neither Vietnam nor the Philippines has the intention or capability to become the dominant power in Asia. China does. China’s recent construction of artificial islands, for example, was on a scale vastly larger than anything done by the other claimants. China is far outpacing the capabilities of the other Southeast Asian countries to project force into the South China Sea. When China challenges an aspect of the regional order that most Asian states support and expect the United States to defend, the implications are multiplied. Chinese security policies will draw additional attention from the United States because China is a major power. Beijing frequently demands increased international respect as recognition of China’s rise. Increased fear by outsiders is part of the same package.

Finally, Jin argues that the “freedom of navigation” issue is fake because China has never interfered with civilian and commercial activities in the South China Sea, but only objects to U.S. military activities there. This is not quite accurate. While the Chinese military has not obstructed cargo ships passing through the sea lanes, China has a long and growing record of restricting the vessels of other countries attempting to take resources from the South China Sea (fishing and hydrocarbon extraction). I see no attempt by the U.S. government to “confuse” observers about freedom of navigation, as Jin alleges. U.S. military spokespeople are quick to emphasize that their main interest is in ensuring that U.S. units are always unimpeded in their use of international airspace and waterways.

But again, Jin misses the real point. Past Chinese policy is not necessarily predictive because China is in the midst of a gradual campaign to gain international recognition of Chinese ownership over the great majority of an entire sea. Minimizing foreign resistance to this campaign during this period of consolidation is crucial to the campaign’s success. The question is whether the other Asia-Pacific countries are confident that acceding to Beijing’s claim over the South China Sea will not eventually harm their interests. If they fear this outcome, and if they believe U.S. intervention is essential in forestalling it, then the distinction between commercial freedom of navigation and U.S. military freedom of navigation disappears.

Denny Roy is a Senior Fellow at East-West Center.

India Is Making a Move on the South China Sea

From The Diplomat (Feb 25): India Is Making a Move on the South China Sea

Make no mistake: India is charting a new course on South China Sea.

At a time when China is deploying advanced radar systems to its man-made island in Cuarteron Reef in the Spratly Islands archipelago and the United States is nudging its allies to carry out their own freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea to challenge China’s controversial assertions of maritime sovereignty, India’s role in the dispute is also assuming a new dimension.

It was recently reported in sections of the media that the United States and India have held talks about conducting joint naval patrols that could possibly include the disputed South China Sea. U.S. and Indian government officials were quick to dismiss the report. Washington suggested that while the U.S. and India have a shared vision of peace, stability, and prosperity in Asia, the two countries were not planning joint maritime patrols in the Indian Ocean or the South China Sea. New Delhi also argued that there was no change in its policy of joining an international military effort only under the UN flag.

China, not surprisingly, reacted swiftly and angrily, warning the United States and India that “[c]ountries from outside the area must stop pushing forward the militarization of the South China Sea, cease endangering the sovereignty and national security of littoral countries in the name of ‘freedom of navigation,’ and harming the peace and stability of the region.”

Even though it seems clear that the U.S. and India are not yet politically ready for joint patrols, the trial balloon itself is indicative of the rapidly evolving Indian position on one of the key disputes in the Asian strategic landscape. A number of factors are forcing India’s hand. The United States itself has been forced to adopt a more robust posture in the Indo-Pacific. The dramatic acceleration in U.S. military commitment to the region is largely a function of the astonishing rise of China. China is today on the cusp of becoming a serious regional military power and this transition appears all the more menacing because of its aggressive posturing in the East and South China Seas, challenging the freedom of navigation in these waters and open access to the global commons.

In their recent high-level joint statements, both the United States and India have repeatedly declared their support for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, signaling that the Modi government is not reluctant to highlight New Delhi’s convergence with Washington on regional issues. India’s engagements with states like Japan, Vietnam, and Philippines have become more serious. India has publicly supported Vietnam and Philippines in their disputes with China. Indian naval ships have been visiting Vietnam in the South China Sea and the two nations have continued to cooperate on hydrocarbon exploration in the South China Sea, despite Beijing’s warnings.

India and Japan have also taken a public stand on South China Sea issue in recent years. During Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India in December last year, the two nations called upon all states to avoid unilateral actions that could lead to tensions in the region in view of the critical importance of open sea lanes of communications in the South China Sea for regional energy security, trade, and commerce, which underpin the continued peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific. India and Japan also underscored the need for full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and an early conclusion of the negotiations to establish a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea by consensus. China promptly expressed its disapproval of this by labeling India and Japan as “countries outside the region.”

Make no mistake: India is charting a new course on South China Sea. Though its full implications will come to the fore only after some time, it is clear that it will have significant impact on how regional states and the United States view India as a regional balancer in the Asia-Pacific.

FONOPs to Preserve the Right of Innocent Passage?

From The Diplomat (Feb 25): FONOPs to Preserve the Right of Innocent Passage?

Despite popular misconception, that is hardly mission impossible.

FONOPs to Preserve the Right of Innocent Passage?

USS McCampbell and USS Curtis Wilbur transit Pacific Ocean.
Image Credit: Official U.S. Navy Page
The U.S. Freedom of Navigation (FON) Program has received more attention in the past year than perhaps the Program’s preceding 35 years combined, due largely to ongoing developments in the South China Sea. Official summaries of the Program provided by the U.S. Departments of State and Defense are informative, but are not necessarily exhaustive in depth, due to a number of reasons. This informational lacuna has led to a series of commentaries by outside observers seeking to fill in factual gaps, make logical connections, extrapolate intentions, and forecast future events. But some of those commentaries have been less than fully accurate, warranting substantive correction by those having direct experience with the FON Program. Below is another such effort to help inform the public discussion on a particular aspect of the Program as it pertains to the legal concept known as the right of innocent passage.

Recently, a commentary on the U.S. FON Program was penned by former Pentagon China-policy desk officer Joseph Bosco and published by The National Interest. While Bosco has commented about the U.S. FON Program previously here, here, and here, this latest commentary was especially critical of recent U.S. FON operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea. In particular, he described the nature of those operations as “contradictory.” Although some of his ideas about the implementation of the U.S. FON Program may warrant consideration by policymakers and security-watchers alike, a closer examination of one of his criticisms suggests that he might have a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of the U.S. FON Program and a particular subcategory of FONOPs conducted under that Program. Specifically, Bosco erroneously assumes that FONOPs and “innocent passage” are somehow mutually exclusive concepts – a point that some other commentators have also erroneously assumed. The commentary below will attempt to correct that misunderstanding. Additionally, it will outline how analysis and recommendations flowing from that underlying assumption can be questionable.

An Assumption Made About Recent U.S. FONOPs

In his new commentary, Bosco examines the words and actions of the U.S. government surrounding two recent FONOPs in the South China Sea. First, he criticizes statements purportedly made by (albeit anonymous) DoD officials soon after the October 2015 FONOP by USS Lassen in the vicinity of the Spratly Islands group. He describes those comments as “conflicting accounts on whether [the transit] was a Freedom of Navigation (FONOP) or innocent passage (IP).” (Personally, I would agree that anonymous comments can be extremely unhelpful in such situations – but for entirely different reasons, such as lack of quality assurance as to their factual and legal accuracy.) Then, he criticizes the December 2015 letter by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to Senator John McCain about that same FONOP. He characterizes the Secretary’s public account as “a novel and startling resolution of the FONOP-IP dichotomy” – namely, that the Lassen was “doing both” simultaneously.

Second, Bosco criticizes DoD’s public account of a January 2016 FONOP by USS Curtis Wilbur in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands group. Here again, he questions how the Department can describe the warship’s transit “as simultaneously both a [FON operation] and an [innocent passage].” He characterizes this situation as “an operational impossibility” because a FONOP “challenges a claim to territorial seas,” and innocent passage “concedes and respects” such claim. In essence, Bosco assumes that a transit by a warship in the oceans of the world can be either a FONOP or an “innocent passage,” but not both.

It is worth noting that Bosco is not the only observer to make this assumption recently. For example, Euan Graham, a security affairs expert from the United Kingdom, wrote the following for The National Interest on the same subject in November: “FONOPs and innocent passage are quite different things.” Other examples of similar binary assumptions about FONOPs and innocent passage can be found here, here, and here. Unfortunately, these assumptions made by Bosco and other observers are invalid, especially when one understands the relevant concepts of international law and the nature of the U.S. FON Program.

The International Law of the Sea and the Right of Innocent Passage

At the outset, it is important to recognize the concept of innocent passage and how it relates to the international legal regime applicable to the oceans, as reflected in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). As reflected in Article 2(1) of UNCLOS, a coastal state has sovereignty over its land territory, internal waters, and territorial sea. Yet Article 2(3) of UNCLOS also makes it clear that a State’s sovereignty over its territorial sea is subject to other rules of international law. One of those other rules is the “right of innocent passage.” Under Article 17 of UNCLOS, ships of all States “enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea” of other States. (For readers who might question how the United States can invoke Article 17 of UNCLOS when it is not yet a State party to the Convention, it is important to note that the United States asserts and the International Court of Justice has ruled that the right of innocent passage is a right enjoyed by all States as a matter of customary international law.)

What is critical to realize is that “innocent passage” is a legal term of art in the international law of the sea. The modifier of “innocent” on the activity of “passage” is not subject to ad hoc determinations by individual coastal states. Instead, Article 19(1) of UNCLOS defines passage as being innocent if the navigation of the vessel through the territorial sea “is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal state.” The drafters and negotiators of UNCLOS understood that a similar definition of innocent passage in one of the 1958 treaties preceding UNCLOS was at risk of subjective interpretation varying among coastal states. For this reason, Article 19(2) of UNCLOS elaborates that passage is not innocent (i.e., prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal state) if it includes activities that fit within one of twelve enumerated categories of activities. Therefore, “innocent passage” is not synonymous with only those particular passages of foreign vessels that the particular coastal state having sovereignty over the traversed waters likes, permits, or approves. To fall outside of the parameters of the right of innocent passage, a vessel would need to be engaged in one or more of the twelve enumerated categories of activities.

At the same time, each coastal state has the authority to adopt laws and regulations relating to innocent passage. But that authority is not unlimited; rather it may be exercised only for the enumerated purposes outlined in Article 21 of UNCLOS. Moreover, Article 24 of UNCLOS makes it clear that a coastal state shall not “impose requirements on foreign ships which have the practical effect of denying or impairing the right of innocent passage.” For example, a national law or regulation enacted by a coastal state that purportedly requires foreign warships to obtain prior authorization from, or provide prior notification to, the coastal state before navigating through its territorial sea under the right of innocent passage would breach the duty of coastal states reflected in Article 24.

Notwithstanding the purposes enumerated in Article 21 and the limitations imposed by Article 24, some coastal states have enacted laws and regulations for their territorial seas that impair or restrict the right of innocent passage reflected in UNCLOS. These are situations in which the U.S. FON Program comes into play.

The U.S. Freedom of Navigation Program and the Right of Innocent Passage

Since the U.S. FON Program’s inception, a fundamental guiding principle has been to “not acquiesce in unilateral acts of other states designed to restrict” the freedom of the seas. As was clarified last August in the DoD maritime security strategy, freedom of the seas means “all [emphasis added] of the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea and airspace, including for military ships and aircraft, recognized under international law.” Reaffirming UNCLOS, this freedom of the seas includes, among others: the rights of innocent passage (Article 17), transit passage (Article 38), archipelagic sea lanes passage (Article 53), the freedoms of navigation and overflight and “other internationally lawful uses of the sea” (Article 58), and the freedom of the high seas (Article 87). Thus, despite efforts by some to narrowly construe what international law guarantees to States in the oceans and airspace of the world, the phrase “freedom of the seas” legitimately includes far more than the freedom for commercial vessels.

Implementing the U.S. FON Program, the U.S. Department of Defense defines freedom of navigation operations as “operations that have the primary purpose of challenging excessive maritime claims.” This begs the question: what is an excessive maritime claim? The Department defines an excessive maritime claim to be “a coastal state’s maritime claim, enacted by national law, regulation, or policy, that is not consistent with international law as reflected in the Convention.” Therefore, a coastal state’s law that improperly restricts the right of innocent passage would by definition constitute an excessive maritime claim. And the navigation by a U.S. warship through that coastal state’s territorial sea with the primary purpose of challenging that excessive maritime claim would by definition constitute a FONOP.

U.S. FONOPs and the Right of Innocent Passage

This not merely an academic exercise in syllogisms. Globally, U.S. public records confirm that DoD has conducted FONOPs repeatedly to challenge excessive maritime claims attempting to impede the right of innocent passage. More specifically, in the South China Sea, consider the recent FONOP within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracel Island group. The official statement released by the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense said, in part: “This operation challenged attempts by the three claimants, China, Taiwan and Vietnam, to restrict navigation rights and freedoms around the features they claim by policies that require prior permission or notification of transit within territorial seas. The excessive claims regarding Triton Island are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention.” In essence, the laws of China, Taiwan, and Vietnam each contain language that appears to impede the right of innocent passage in their respective territorial sea. Those claims are excessive maritime claims, in relation to existing body of international law. (It should be noted that, Article 2(2) of Vietnam’s 2012 Law of the Sea provides: “In case there are differences between the provisions of this Law and those of an international treaty to which the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a party, the provisions of the international treaty shall prevail.” Additionally, regarding the USS Curtis Wilbur FONOP, the government of Vietnam issued a statement that “Vietnam respects the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea conducted in accordance with relevant rules of international law, in particular the UNCLOS (Article 17).”) The ways for the United States and other nations to demonstrate non-acquiescence to those excessive maritime claims are through State actions – specifically, diplomatic protests and operational challenges. Such operational challenges would include FONOPs.

Make no mistake: Not every FONOP involves the right of innocent passage. Coastal states enact maritime laws governing each of their maritime zones, including but not limited to the territorial sea (e.g., internal waters, contiguous zone, and exclusive economic zone). Each of those maritime claims must fully comport with the applicable rules of international law, including the rules of law reflected in UNCLOS. If such claims are inconsistent with international law, then they are excessive maritime claims, making them subject to challenge under the U.S. FON Program. Consequently, some U.S. FONOPs are planned, approved, and executed in order to challenge a maritime claim that restricts the freedom of the seas in a particular coastal state’s maritime zone other than its territorial sea.

For this reason, not every U.S. FONOP is an exercise of the right of innocent passage. In fact, there are a number of circumstances in which a particular FONOP should be conducted in a manner that is in some way inconsistent with what is permitted under the right of innocent passage. For example, if a coastal state were to claim a territorial sea around a geographic feature that is not otherwise entitled to a territorial sea (i.e., a submerged feature or an artificial island located more than 12 nautical miles from a legitimate island), then the activities conducted during that FONOP would need to be consistent with the high seas freedoms reflected in Articles 87 and 58 of UNCLOS. To demonstrate U.S. non-acquiescence with an improper claim of a territorial sea around such a submerged feature or artificial island, a U.S. FONOP would need to include either navigation that is not “passage” (i.e., not “continuous and expeditious” as required by Article 18) or some sort of activity that is not “innocent” (i.e., activities that fall within the twelve enumerated activities listed in Article 19).

Did the recent USS Curtis Wilbur FONOP near Triton Island constitute one of those situations (i.e., a FONOP that needed to be inconsistent with the parameters of the right of innocent passage)? The short answer is: No. It is worth reiterating that all U.S. FONOPs are guided, managed, planned and executed in a manner that is fully consistent with international law, but in some way inconsistent with the excessive elements of the coastal state’s laws or regulations. Therefore, regardless of which claimant has sovereignty of Triton Island, it appears that (a) Triton Island is a legitimate island, as defined by Article 121(1) of UNCLOS, thereby entitled to a territorial sea and (b) that island does not belong to the United States, but some other State. Therefore, a transit by a U.S. warship through the territorial sea surrounding that island would need to be under the right of innocent passage.


When discussing the USS Curtis Wilbur FONOP, however, Bosco makes the following parenthetical assessment: “Again, FONOP challenges a claim to a territorial sea, and [Innocent Passage] concedes and respects it.” That assessment would be correct only for a situation involving an unlawful claim to a territorial sea (e.g., around a submerged feature or artificial island). Unfortunately, this overbroad conclusion skews his analysis thereafter. First, he expresses concern that the DoD statement released soon after the USS Curtis Wilbur FONOP reflects “a concerted administration policy to create a hybrid maritime concept.” (It does not.) Second, he complains that the United States and China have reached some sort of bilateral “modus vivendi.” (They did not.) Third, he extrapolates a disturbing “precedent” that the “Navy’s FONOPs in the Taiwan Strait, the Persian Gulf, and elsewhere have actually been occurring as disguised [Innocent Passage] operations.” (They have not.) And, fourth, he calls upon Congress to hold hearings to investigate the subject. (They should not.) Thus, we see one overbroad assumption at the start resulting in flawed analysis and recommendations in the end.

In summary, it is not an “operational impossibility” (to borrow Bosco’s phrase) for a U.S. warship to conduct a FONOP challenging an excessive maritime claim, and to exercise the right of innocent passage simultaneously. To the contrary, if depicted as a Venn diagram, FONOPs and innocent passage would be overlapping circles, not mutually exclusive ones. In fact, the United States has routinely conducted FONOPs to preserve the right of innocent passage for many years, consistent with applicable international law and longstanding U.S. FON Policy. Hence, there’s no need to whistle the theme song to “Mission Impossible.” 

[Commander Jonathan G. Odom is a judge advocate (i.e., licensed attorney) in the U.S. Navy. Currently, he serves as a Professor of Law in the College of Security Studies at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he teaches international law, national security law, oceans policy, and maritime security. From 2012 to August 2015, he served as the Oceans Policy Advisor in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. From 2008 to 2012, he served as the Deputy Staff Judge Advocate (i.e., deputy legal advisor) to Commander, U.S. Pacific Command. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the U.S. Department of Defense or any of its components. He may be contacted at]