Saturday, April 16, 2016

MILF: Editorial -- Bloodletting continues in Mindanao

Editorial posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Apr 15): Editorial -- Bloodletting continues in Mindanao

Precious blood continues to pour in Mindanao, as fighting on several fronts proceeded unabated. It is not a question of whose blood are wasted; they are still precious blood --- and should not be shed at all if there is a way to stop it. On April 9, 18 Philippine Army soldiers killed, with 53 more wounded, during the April 9 firefight with 120 Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) gunmen in Barangay Baguindan, Tipo Tipo, Basilan.  This is not to include those who died during firefights with ASG in Sulu, BIFF in Maguindanao, and ISIS-oriented youths in Butig, Lanao del Sur.

We are not a prophet of doom, but if the incoming administration does not continue the process to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress chances that more and more radical groups will emerge and engage the government in many more fronts.

One can argue that the blood of ASG, BIFF, and ISIS-oriented youths or simply terrorists, kidnappers, or radicals are not worthy to save, because anyway they are enemies of the state; or more lightly, they do not engage in peace process with the government. This is absolutely outside the point. The point is that while everybody knows the way to stop or minimize this blood-letting is through the honest implementation of commitment of government, say the passage of the BBL, the decision-makers, who are mostly belonging to the vested interest groups, use every means to frustrate it. In their very nature, vested interest groups are selfish, monopolistic, and greedy. They want to maintain or control an existing system or activity from which they derive private benefit. The fear the people, especially the Moros, who are always tagged as “secessionists”.

Clearly, the decision-makers preferred to drag the resolution of the conflict and enjoy on the process, rather than resolve it by implementing what has been agreed by the Parties, say the establishment of genuinely autonomous Bangsamoro entity in Mindanao, but they lose their privileges and gains out of the current system and status quo.

What worsens the situation and dims the horizon is the difficulty facing the MILF. Its moral ascendancy is thinning down because its thesis that the best way to resolve the conflict in Mindanao is through political negotiation does not hold currency. It is being questioned as a good policy; and worse, the MILF is branded as “being fooled” by the government.

In a situation where there is high state of frustration, radicalisation of ideas and approaches is the necessary consequence. The pattern is clear in many instances. Look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As the conflict drags on for several decades, and the two-state solution is not moving due to Israeli’s arrogance and expansionist policies, several new groups emerged: Hamas, and a dozen more radical groups both Islamic, Christian, and leftists. The original 7-member organizations Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has been accused rightly or otherwise of being compromised too far, the consequence of being a very moderate organization. Similarly, from 1972 to 1977, there was only one liberation organization in Mindanao, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). As the resolution of the conflict protracts, mainly due to government’s non-compliance, there came into being the MNLF Reformist Group, the Islamic Command Council, Committee of 15 or MNLF-Sema Wing, MNLF Isnaji Wing, the MILF, and now the BIFM/BIFF, Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), ISIS-oriented youths.

With this developing situation, the government has to make a decision. Which is preferable an endless chaotic situation where there is virtually civil war in Mindanao or as quickly as possible pass the BBL with the MILF (and the various MNLF factions on board) as partners in peace, progress and development in Mindanao. And more importantly, with the guns silenced in Mindanao, the government can train its focus on the South China where China is steadily gaining ground. In this particular instance, decisive leaders are required. This makes the forthcoming presidential elections very relevant.

MILF: JICA, PhilRice-Midsayap, Cotabato hold 12th Implementers’ Meeting

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Apr 15): JICA, PhilRice-Midsayap, Cotabato hold 12th Implementers’ Meeting

Midsayap, North Cotabato - The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice)-Midsayap Experimental Station held one day meeting on Thursday, April 14, at PhilRice-Midsayap Conference Hall, Midsayap, NorthCotabato.

The program is under the JICA Technical Cooperation Project (TCP5) called “Rice-Based Farming Technology Extension Project for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)”. This project started in 2012 that is aimed at enhancing the government’s capacity in delivering agricultural extension services to improve rice-based farming technology in target areas by training105 agricultural extension workers, holding on-site training, among others.

The ultimate goal of the project is to increase food sufficiency and household income, thereby contributing to the improvement of livelihood and building peace in the region. The said project will be implemented until March 2017.

The meeting focused on strategies of each province In the implementation of activities for the last year of its operations (2016-2017).

Dr. Sailila E. Abdula, Project Director of PhilRice-Midsayap said, “We really want to know your strategy in this phase. If we do monitoring work, we know what we want to monitor specially on our implementation.”

“This is the last year of TCP5 and we want to perfect our implementation,” he added. However, a project implementation strategy may vary in different areas; “Tawi-Tawi is different from Maguindanao setting and we have to think other approaches,” Abdula pointed out.

“This project is part of our social responsibility. It doesn’t mean that JICA’s support will end and everything will be gone, no, that is not our objective,” said Abdula.
He also stressed that if the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is passed [in the 17th Congress], it will boost economic prosperity in Mindanao.

“I hope the BBL will materialize because that will benefit us here [in Mindanao],” Abdula said.

The TCP5 M&E Officer of PhilRice-Midsayap, Mr. Jesrel O. Edraira presented their plans in doing monitoring activity.

“We are using modern technology for data gathering,” said Edraira. “An ‘app’ was developed for this particular monitoring and this would really help in fast and accurate results,” he said.

The output of the monitored programmed will be processed by this technology and will be analyzed further by an analyst.

“We hired a programmer for this monitoring tool. We will enter a data like the names of farmers, their ID numbers, and other basic information to the tablet, if encoded, we just enter a key and it will automatically send to central base and becomes easy to process,” Edraira explained.

Dr. Abdula emphasized that the very basic output of that monitoring and evaluation activity is to know if farmers were able to increase or decrease their yield and net income as basis of impact in adopting the technology.

Mr. Wifredo Collado, the Rice Crop Manager (RCM) focal person introduced the RCM approach. “The Rice Crop Manager is a decision-making tool and its purpose is to increase the rice yield and income of famers in the Philippines by providing recommendations to the farmers on what is the best thing to do in farming activities,” Collado said.

On RCM, the farmers will be advised on proper nutrient management, right application of fertilizer and other knowledge on farming.

The technology he said was initiated by International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).  An inquiry could be done using computer and smartphone that is connected to internet through this web browser

Among other agenda in the meeting were presentations and discussions of plans and strategies for year 5 implementation. For the JICA-PhilRice activities in Maguindanao province was discussed by Mr. Nashrullah Patadon. There are 28 project sites in Maguindanao covered by the program.

Mr. Basher Macaumbang presented the proposed activities for the province of Lanao del Sur and identified 25 project sites, Ms. Sherwina Lukman for Tawi-Tawi province, Mr. Ilmie H. Ibama for Basilan province and Mr. Baltazar Jauhari for Sulu province.
Meantime, a film on successful implementation of RCM was shown in the meeting.
The film is entitled “Finding Solutions to the Effects of Climate Change” depicting farmers of Barangay Bugawas, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao on how they coped-up with negative impact of climate change like the ‘el-niño’ or drought and how their farming activities improved when they engaged in Rice Crop Management that eventually increases their harvest.

Also in attendance were JICA Cotabato Project Office Field Coordinator Ms. Samrah Karon-Patadon, this writer who represented the Bangsamoro Transition Commission Socio-Economic Office (BTC-SEO), Tong Abas, Center Manager of ARMMIARC, and Ms. Theodora L. Briones of PhilRice Central Experimental Station who facilitated the planning session.

MILF: OIC disappointed over BBL non-passage, urges CAB implementation in next admin

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Apr 16): OIC disappointed over BBL non-passage, urges CAB implementation in next admin

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) expressed its grave disappointment over the failure of Philippine Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) despite the assurances of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and urged Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) implementation in the next administration during its 13th Islamic Summit Conference in Istanbul, Turkey held on April 10-15, 2016.

“The Conference expressed grave disappointment that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) Bill was not passed by the Philippines Congress despite the assurances of the Government of the Philippines (GPH),” the communiqué said. The pan-Islamic body called for the immediate re-filing of this legislation by the next administration and passed by the next Congress.

OIC is the second largest intergovernmental body after the United Nations that is comprised of 57-member states. The Islamic international body conveyed its disappointment in the Final Communiqué of the Summit issued during the culmination of the big event attended by the OIC-countries heads of state.

The Conference recognized the efforts of the GPH, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the GPH on the Bangsamoro Peace Process and urged the Two Parties to “preserve its gains, particularly the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and uphold the implementation of the CAB in the next administration.”

It further said, “The Conference commended the efforts of the Secretary General during his official visit to the Philippines from 17-20 April 2015 to urge the President and congressional leaders to ensure the passage of an undiluted BBL.”

“The Conference also commended the efforts made by the negotiating panels of the GPH and the MILF on 10-11 February 2016 in Kuala Lumpur to continue with the peace process whilst recognizing that the non-passage of the BBL has adversely affected the timeline of establishing the Bangsamoro entity.”

According to the communiqué, “the Conference urged the GPH and the MILF to agree on a clear timeline for the resumption of the implementation of the CAB in the next administration to avoid prolonged uncertainties and tension on the ground. The Conference appealed for both Parties not to open any opportunity for extremist groups to strengthen their foothold in the Southern Philippines.”

“The Conference urged GPH to implement developing programmes despite the non-passage of the BBL which is the key to the implementation of the CAB and peace in Southern Philippines,” it further stated.

Signed by the GPH and the MILF in 2014, the CAB provides the passage of the BBL by the lawmakers. If passed, the measure will lay down the establishment of the Bangsamoro government that will provide the Bangsamoro people self-rule which they have been yearning for.

The peace process has been facilitated by the Malaysian government.

MILF: MILF appeals to OIC to sustain and strengthen the support to peace efforts in Southern Philippines

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Apr 16): MILF appeals to OIC to sustain and strengthen the support to peace efforts in Southern Philippines

During the 13th Islamic Summit Conference in Istanbul, Republic of Turkey on April 14-15, 2016, the Chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Al Haj Murad Ebrahim appealed to member-states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to sustain and strengthen the support to peace efforts in Southern Philippines by way of persistently influencing the next Philippine Government to immediately pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in the next congress and faithfully implement the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) through the agreed road map of implementation as well as in the humanitarian and socio-economic development programs.

“The collective and individual efforts of the OIC and its member states will strengthen political pressure to the incoming government to prioritize the resolution of the Mindanao conflict and the Bangsamoro Question which has been dragging on for more than four decades”, Murad added.

In his message, the MILF chair expressed his gratitude to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Chair of the 13th Islamic Summit Conference, His Majesty King Salman Bin Abduladziz of the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, His Excellency Iyad Ameen Madani, Chair of the OIC, and other heads of Islamic States for inviting the MILF to the 13th Islamic Summit Conference.

The full text of Chairman Murad’s message reads as follows:

I am humbled by the opportunity to be invited to the 13th Islamic Summit Conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). At the same moment, I am expressing my personal as well as the collective gratitude of our Bangsamoro People for giving us the opportuniy to bring to the attention and care of Your Excellencies the prevailing situations in the Bangsamoro Homeland which is geographically situated in southern part of the Philippines.

We the Bangsamoro and our struggle for our right to self-determination has always been favored by this august assembly of Muslim countries, both the present and the past, to have occupied distinct pages of the history of the OIC.

As early as the Third Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers in 1972 at Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Bangsamoro cause has unceasingly received the goodwill, solidarity and support of the OIC, be they moral, diplomatic, economic, religious, cultural, material and/or political in nature. For all of those assistance, we are perpetually indebted and grateful.

We the Bangsamoro continue to assert our inalienable right to chart our political future and pursue our development as a distinct people, nay as a nation different from the dominant Filipino nation but living within the broader Philipine state.

In the name of our most cherished Islam and our God-given freedom, our ancestors resisted Spanish invasion for more than 300 years beginning 1578 when the Spanish conquistadores met in the battle fields, for the first time, our valiant warriors in the island of Sulu where Islam set its stronghold since the thirteenth century”.

For almost 50 years beginning the 1900s, our ancestors also resisted the Americans under whose tutelage of early Filipino politicians resulted to the massive legalized land-grabbing of Bangsamoro ancestral domain as well as the lands inhabited, since time immemorial, of Mindanao’s indigenous peoples.

After World War II and under the then newly-independent Philippine Republic, which annexed immorally and unjustly the Bangsamoro homeland under the Philippine state, we were almost on the brink of losing our own national identity and culture, including our Islamic faith and tradiitons, because of the onslaught of integration policies vigorously pursued by the Philippine government.

When integration into the Filipino nation, which is predominantly Christian, did not succeed, a genocidal policy was used against us in the late 60s.

Massacres against defenseless Bangsamoro civilians were committed by the Philippine Constabulary as well as by government-organized and supported militias. We had no recourse but to arm and defend ourselves. It was in 1969 that Bangsamoro youth, myself included, decided to form a revolutionary front to protect our people, homeland and Islam against an oppressive government.

The grave situation then in Southern Philippines in the early years of 70s was denounced by Fourth Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers in 1973 at Benghazi, Libya.

We could have fought and won the war, which we almost did, but we heeded the appeal made by the OIC in Resolution Number 18 of the Fifth Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers in 1974 at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  We agreed, and continue to do so after almost 42 years, to find the most just, peaceful, civilized and negotiated political settlement to the Bangsamoro Question.

Your Excellencies, over this long period of time, our search for lasting and durable peace in the Bangsamoro homeland has already produced milestone agreements, notably the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, 1996 Final Agreement on the Implementation of the Tripoli Agreement, the 2001 Tripoli Agreement on Peace and lately the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

One may wonder why, in spite of four decades and several agreements already, the Bangsamoro Question or Problem is still not resolved.

The main reason, of course, is that all the aforementioned agreements have not been implemented properly because of the insincerity on the part of the Philippine government to comply faithfully with the letter and spirit, text and context of said agreements.

It is worth recalling that after the December 23, 1976 Tripoli Agreement, the Eight, Ninth and Tenth Foreign Ministers Conferences as well as the succeeding ones all clearly put the blame on the Philippine Government for the collapse of talks and ceasefire as well as repeatedly called on the Philippine Government to honor its commitment under the binding international agreement.

Admittedly, the peace talks took on a protracted character. But even with the conclusion of the 1996 Final Agreement on the implementation of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, and the signing of the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the same dilatory approach is again growing evident in the manner of implementing these Agreements.

Take for instance the two-year old Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). The CAB serves as convergence of all the Peace Agreements of the Bangsamoro with the Government of the Philippines. It has to be translated into a legal document in the form of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a process that is purely internal to the Government of the Philippines and an integral part of its commitments. Yet, even if the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law was already submitted on September 10, 2014 the Congress of the Philippines failed to enact it into law. The sad thing is that time was wasted away because oftentimes there was no quorum in both the Lower and Upper Houses of the Congress of Philippines whenever the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law was calendared in their agenda.  Filipino spoilers of the peace process likewise worked very hard to prevent the passage of the Law.

As a result, the unacceptable status quo remains --- the same status quo that continues to deprive the Bangsamoro of their aged-old right to govern themselves in the light of their belief, historical experience, and acceptable prevailing democratic norms.

Thus, there is still no immediate end in sight to the sufferings of the Bangsamoro, which we have continuously endured for the last 40 years or more. The present charter of the so-called Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao can never deliver us from insecurity and violence, neither can it truly empower us to such an extent that we can decide our own affairs, nor can it return to us the control over our natural resources to such an extent that the latter would be use for our own development.

Since 1968, not less than 150,000 lives have been lost to the armed conflict and multi-billion pesos worth of properties were damaged, many of them already beyond repair. Even inspite of the peace talks, hostilities continued to happen on the ground especially when negotiation is in impasse.

Your Excellencies, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF, which I am privileged to lead since 2003 upon the demise of our Founder and shaheed Ustadz Salamat Hashim (Allahu Yarham), took cognizance of your positive response, as contained in the Cairo Final Communiqué of the Twelfth Session of the Islamic Summit Conference, to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed between the MILF and GPH under the facilitation of the Government of Malaysia. We joined Your Excellencies in affirming the need to relate the FAB to the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, more concretely by providing in the subsequent Annex on Power Sharing the consideration for specific powers already contained in previous agreements, as well as the review process of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.

We highly appreciate the efforts of the OIC, through its Secretary-General and some Member States particularly Malaysia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Libya, Brunei and Egypt, in sustaining the peace processes as well as in extending humanitarian assistance, rehabilitation and development programs to at least lessen in certain degree the sufferings of the people in the affected areas. Other members of the International Community, such as the United Kingdom, Japan, the European Union and a number of its member-states, as well as Canada, Australia and others continue to actively support and play their roles in the structure of the peace process. United Nations agencies are also actively participating.  However all these socio-economic efforts remain inconclusive until a political settlement addressing the root cause of the problem will be emplaced.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law is the key to the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. It would put in place the much-needed political solution to the Bangsamoro Problem. But the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law might render all the Agreements as futile and may even engender massive frustration, extremism and radicalism. Further delay in the process will hasten the radicalization of our people and increase the chance of the so-called “Islamic State” or IS group to consolidate and win more adherents in the area. It is now evident that the IS and/or IS inspired group are capitalizing the frustration of the Bangsamoro people over the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law to recruit more adherents and sympatizers especially among the youth and are moving towards the formation of a so called “ Islamic State Wilayah” in the Southeast Asia Region.  Southern Philippines is very strategic to them and the conflict in the area could be easily capitalized.

The present devastation and destruction resulting from conflict and war in the Islamic World is already huge and very alarming.  We need to exert every effort to ensure that such a situation will no longer be carried on to other areas.

Your Excellencies, we do not want the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro to suffer the same fate as the previous agreements. We always adhere to our conviction that the most civilized way to resolve conflict is through negotiated political settlement. In this respect, we cannot be faulted. Inspite of all setbacks, we have struggled to conclude an agreement that embodies the legitimate aspirations of our people. We could not ask for more except that the Government of Philippines demonstrates its sincerity and political will to honor and implement its commitments.

Your Excellencies, the Bangsamoro people are standing as one under the banner of the Bangsamoro Coordinating Forum or BCF.  We commend the OIC Secretary-General for working actively in promoting the Unity of the Bangsamoro Ummah and other people in the area, as well as in providing for a mechanism for the convergence of the different peace agreements of the Bangsamoro with the Philippine government. We likewise express our utmost appreciation and gratitude to the Prime Minister of Malaysia H.E. Dato’ Seri Tun Razak and his government for the continued strong commitment and support to the GPH-MILF peace process and the final resolution of the conflict and war in Southern Philippines.

We reaffirm our solidarity to the people of Palestine and the struggles of Muslim Communities and Minorities in non-OIC Member States.

Lastly, we reiterate our gratitude to the OIC Secretary General and the host country Turkey for their facilitation for us to be in this Islamic Summit as well as for their continued strong support to the GPH-MILF peace process.

MILF: Two BIAF members wounded by SAF snipers in Basilan

Posted  to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Apr 14): Two BIAF members wounded by SAF snipers in Basilan

Isabela City, April 13, 2016. As military operations to hunt and neutralize the Abu Sayaaf Group (ASG) continue in Basilan, two members of Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (BIAF-MILF) were wounded  by snipers of Special Action Force (SAF)  while they were cooking their breakfast in Barangay Bohespiang, Albarka, Basilan,  around 8AM yesterday.

The victims are identified as Hamid A. Astana, 28 yrs. old, and Ibni Amjani, 26 years old.

Barangay Bohepiang is known to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as an area of the MILF.  The GPH-MILF Coordinating Committees on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) agreed that the BIAF will encamp in the said village  while the military are pursuing the ASG in Baguindan, Tipo-Tipo, Basilan.

The BIAF could not believe that SAF would fire at them despite constant coordinations with the military through the ceasefire mechanism.

Astana in confined and being  treated at the Western Mindanao Command Hospital in Zamboanga City, while Ibni Amjani is confined at the Infante Hospital in Isabela City, Basilan.

The exchanged of fire lasted for about 20 Minutes before it ceased after the CCCH GPH-MILF intervened..

Meanwhile, three civilians captured by the military were allegedly tortured, one of them died of severe injuries. The other two who claimed to be members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are still in custody. The claim of MILF membership by the two captured civilians was confirmed by the MILF hierarchy.

MILF not endorsing any candidate, too

From the Philippine Star (Apr 16): MILF not endorsing any candidate, too

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will not endorse any candidate in the upcoming elections even if some presidential bets went to its headquarters in Maguindanao recently.

The 10,000-strong MILF stressed that it is keeping a “hands-off policy” on the elections because the candidates’ policy on Mindanao is more important than personalities.

“The official policy of the MILF is not only not to endorse any candidate, but more seriously, not to participate in Philippine elections,” the MILF said in an editorial posted on Lurawan, its website.

“For us, what is most important is not the person but the policy he or she would pursue on the armed conflict in Mindanao and the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) if any of them wins the presidency. It is good to build bridges now than later,” it added.

The proposed BBL will implement the peace agreement signed between the government and the MILF in 2014. The bill aims to form a new Bangsamoro entity in Mindanao with enhanced political and economic powers and provide for its basic structure of government.

The measure is one of the priority bills of the Aquino administration, but Congress failed to pass it into law partly due to lack of time and questions on its constitutionality.

The MILF said all candidates who have sought dialogues with its leaders have vowed to push for the passage of the BBL in Congress if elected into office.

The presidential aspirants who wanted to meet with MILF leaders were Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, former interior secretary Manuel Roxas II and Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Duterte visited the MILF’s administrative base in Camp Darapanan in Maguindanao last Feb. 27 while Roxas did the same on March 31.

“The five presidential aspirants Vice President Jejomar Binay, Secretary Mar Roxas, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Sen. Grace Poe, and Sen. Miriam Santiago are treated as ‘friends’ of the MILF. We make no distinctions between them,” the group added.

Abu Sayyaf death toll climbs to 37 in Basilan offensive

From the Philippine Star (Apr 16): Abu Sayyaf death toll climbs to 37 in Basilan offensive

The death toll on the side of the Abu Sayyaf climbed to 37 as troops continue its offensive operation against the group in Tipo-Tipo town, Basilan.

The latest figure of Abu Sayyaf casualty came with the recovery of remains of five Abu Sayyaf members, according to Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., designated spokesman of the ground military operation in Basilan.
 Tan said the fatalities were validated and identified on ground.

According to Tan, the increase in death toll was the result of offensive operations conducted since last Saturday.
 The military official said the offensive operation is ongoing and there is no let-up in going after the Abu Sayyaf bandits.
 There are reports that Abu Sayyaf leader Furuji Indama, who was critically wounded during the encounter might succumb from his serious injuries, Tan said.
 “This will be a no let-up operation we are already nearing the target and we are trying to push the momentum. So we are trying to hit them the soonest possible so we could finish them the soonest possible,” the military official added.

Palace: Sayyaf on the run

From the Philippine Star (Apr 17): Palace: Sayyaf on the run

“We have ongoing operations against the Abu Sayyaf and they are on the run. They are fighting hard but we are giving them a very hard fight as well,” Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III said over radio dzRB. file

Malacañang yesterday confirmed that government security forces are relentlessly pursuing the Abu Sayyaf bandits, but refused to comment on the alleged kidnapping of four Indonesian sailors in the waters between Sitangkai in Tawi-Tawi and Lahad Datu in Sabah, Malaysia on Friday.

The bandits reportedly wounded one of the sailors.

“We have ongoing operations against the Abu Sayyaf and they are on the run. They are fighting hard but we are giving them a very hard fight as well,” Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III said over radio dzRB.

The Department of National Defense or Foreign Affairs will provide information when necessary, Quezon said, referring to the Indonesians’ kidnapping.

“The Armed Forces is pursuing the bandits with vigor and valor and we should not assist the enemy in terms of spreading any disinformation or rumors that have not been verified by the authorities,” he said.

The large-scale operation in Sulu was meant to locate and rescue the hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf, as the military is taking seriously the bandits’ ultimatum on the four hostages.

“Lives are at stake and we are not lowering our guards,” said Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesman for Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom).

In a video recently uploaded on social media, the bandits gave the families and governments of Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipina Marites Flor until April 25 to pay ransom.

The kidnappers said they would harm one of the victims should their demand not be met.

The four were seized in September last year from a resort on Samal Island off Davao del Norte and were believed taken to the jungles of Sulu.

The Abu Sayyaf reduced the ransom to P300 million from P1 billion for each of the foreign captives.

The military said the spate of kidnappings have brought to 29 the number of captives including two Canadians, a Norwegian, a Dutch, a Chinese, 14 Indonesians, four Malaysians and six Filipinos.

Tan said they could not confirm whether all the victims are being held in Sulu, noting there were only two instances when they were shown on video together with their captors.

He said there could be other pirate groups operating in the Sulu waters that could be behind the recent kidnapping of a Malaysian and Indonesian.

Meanwhile, the number of slain bandits killed in the continuous military offensive has climbed to 37 as government troops were closing in on their targets in the hinterlands of Tipo-Tipo, Basilan.

The latest figure came after the recovery of the remains of five bandits, who have been validated and identified on the ground, Tan said.

The five were killed after the troops overran the bandits’ training camp in Barangay Baguindan in Tipo-tipo town and an encounter in Barangay Amaloy in Ungkaya Pukan town on Wednesday.

“We can have better results before the weekend,” he said, adding reports had it that Abu Sayyaf leader Furuji Indama, who was critically wounded, could have died from injuries.

Meanwhile, more than 3,000 villagers have been displaced in the military offensive.
The social welfare office of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said the 700 families from Tipo-Tipo town were provided with relief assistance.

The town is greatly affected by the military operation that has been running for a week now.

ARMM Social Welfare Secretary Rahima Alba said the families came from the villages of Baguindan, Silangkum and Bohe-Piang.

At least 260 sacks of rice had been distributed to the families by the regional government.

The fighting broke out on April 9 in Baguindan when elements of the Joint Task Group Basilan caught up with a group of bandits led by Indama, Isnilon Hapilon and Moroccan bomb expert Mohammad Khattab.

Khattab was killed in the encounter.

Carter: US ‘standing up’ for countries in territorial disputes with China

From GMA News (Apr 16): Carter: US ‘standing up’ for countries in territorial disputes with China

The United States is "standing up" for the Philippines and other countries affected by China's actions in the South China Sea, said US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, during his visit to the Philippines.

“China's actions are causing anxiety and raising tensions," Carter said during his visit at the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan.

“In response, countries in the Asia Pacific that are long standing allies and new partners are reaching out to the US to uphold the rules and principles that would allow the region to thrive, and we are answering that call, we are standing with these countries, we are standing up for those rules and principles,” he added.

China and the Philippines are embroiled in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, with Beijing building artificial islands and has recently begun operating a lighthouse on one of the disputed islands.

Carter and Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Friday afternoon visited Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, one of the five agreed locations under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the two countries.

The two defense secretaries also observed the Balikatan exercises held in the province, which ended on Friday.

They flew over the vicinity of Recto Bank, one of the disputed territories in the South China Sea, and landed on the Nimitz class aircraft carrier USS  Stennis, where they witnessed flight deck operations.

Secretary Carter thanked his troops and sailors for their active participation in the PH-US Exercise Balikatan and reiterated the significance of their presence in the region.
In his speech, Gazmin highlighted the Philippines' strong relations with the US.

“We are as ever reliant on the strong bond of sympathy and mutual ideals shared by our two peoples, close friends and allies, to fight side-by-side against the threats of external aggression as we did in the past,” he said.

“It is in the spirit of of the ideals of our alliance and close relationship that we welcome the gallant crew of the USS Stennis ... to the clear waters of the West Philippine Sea,” Gazmin added.

Armed Forces clarifies Indonesians kidnapped off Tawi-Tawi

From GMA News (Apr 16): Armed Forces clarifies Indonesians kidnapped off Tawi-Tawi

Some four Indonesian seamen - not Malaysians as earlier reported - were kidnapped by gunmen off Tawi-Tawi on Friday night, the Armed Forces of the Philippines clarified.

"The [earlier] report that was given to us was wrong," Maj. Filemon Tan,  Western Mindanao Command spokesman, explained on Saturday.

Tan added that seven gunmen used a blue speed boat to intercept the two Indonesian flagged tugboats off the island of Sitangkay in Tawi-tawi, near the border with Malaysia's eastern Sabah state, and took the four crew.

"We don't exactly know who took them but the only lawless group operating in that area is the Abu Sayyaf," Tan said, adding 10 Indonesians and four Malaysians were also abducted in two separate incidents early this month in the south.

The Indonesian foreign ministry meanwhile issued a statement which said four Indonesian crew were taken captive after gunmen attacked two tugboats, TB Henry and TB Cristy, on their way to Kalimantan from Cebu. Six other crew were left behind but one was shot.

"He is in stable condition now," the foreign ministry said, adding Malaysian water police evacuated the wounded crew to a hospital in Lahad Datu in eastern Sabah state, where the two tugboats were towed to safety.

The Philippine military said the Islamist militants have been targeting foreign crew of slow moving tugboats because they could no longer penetrate resorts and coastal towns in Sabah due to increased security.

Also, in response to the kidnappings, the newly appointed commander of the Joint Task Group Tawi-Tawi, Rear Admiral Jorge Amba, intensified sea patrols in the area.

"He (Amba) brought larger craft and intensified patrols [in the area]. But the sea is vast, you cannot really guard it completely," admitted Tan.

The al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group, which is known for extortion, kidnappings, beheadings and bombings, is one of several brutal Muslim rebel factions, has stepped up activities on the remote islands.

Last week, the militants killed 18 soldiers and wounded more than 50 others in an ambush on Basilan island, prompting a massive army offensive with artillery and aerial bombings. The military said 28 rebels had died in the week-long fighting.

On nearby Jolo island, the militants gave a final deadline on April 25 for payment of 300 million pesos ($6.50 million) ransom for each of the two Canadians and a Norwegian captive or they will behead the three foreign captives.

Security is precarious in the resource-rich south of the largely Christian Philippines, despite a 2014 peace pact between the government and the largest Muslim rebel group that ended 45 years of conflict.

Abu Sayyaf militants are holding other foreigners, including one from the Netherlands, one from Japan, one from Norway, two from Canada, four Malaysians and 10 Indonesian tugboat crew.

Abu Sayyaf lower ransom

From The Standard (Apr 16): Abu Sayyaf lower ransom 

THE Abu Sayyaf have lowered their ransom demand for their two Canadian, Norwegian and Filipina captives from P1 billion to P300 million and postponed the execution of their victims from April 8 to April 25.

The bandits announced the changes in a video posted on YouTube which featured messages from two of the four hostages.

The captives were identified as Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad and Hall’s Filipina girlfriend Marites Flor.

The victims were seized by armed men last Sept. 21 from the Oceanview Samal Resort in Barangay Camudmud in Samal island.

The videos were posted as another Abu Sayyaf bandit was killed while four troopers were wounded in the military operation against the Al Qaida-linked terrorist group, presently holed-out in the jungles of Tipo-Tipo, Basilan Thursday.

Major Felimon Tan, spokesman of the Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command, said the renewed fighting with the Abu Sayyaf erupted at  11 p.m. in Tipo-Tipo town’s Barangay Amoloy.

He said the cadaver of the Abu Sayyaf bandit was recovered at the scene of fighting during military clearing operations at the battle site.

Ground troopers also seized 130 pieces of cartridges of 5.56 mm ammunition, 90 recoilless rifle shells, one cylinder tube, a solar charger, chemical substances, two cellphones and a back pack with a rifle grenade.

The continued fighting between security forces and Abu Sayyaf brought the death toll to 32 militants and 18 soldiers since the bloody clash erupted last Saturday between some 200 ASG under its leader Isnilon Hapilon and Furuji Indama.

The skirmishes has also caused injury to 56 people, most of them army troopers who tripped land mines.

At least six battalions of combined troops were deployed to the jungles of Tipo-Tipo to neutralize the fleeing Abu Sayyaf.

Sporadic clashes has been taking place in different parts of Tipo-Tipo as ground troops applied pressure against the terrorist group which is also believed to be in custody of 10 Indonesian seamen and four Malaysian hostages.

The 10 Indonesians were on board a tugboat towing a barge with 7,000 tons of coal en route to Batangas when they were interdicted by the Abu Sayyaf aboard a three-engine motor boat off the coast of Tawi-Tawi last month.

Few days later, the ASG struck anew in Semporna, Sabah taking with them four Malaysian nationals, who were taken to Sulu.

Troops arrest terror group’s ‘architect’ in Zambo City

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 16): Troops arrest terror group’s ‘architect’ in Zambo City

Combined police and military operatives have arrested in this city the alleged 'architect' of a terror group known as the Rajah Sulaiman Movement (RSM).

The RSM is a terror group founded by Ahmed Santos in 1991. The group’s members have been trained, financed and controlled by Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiah (JI).

Chief Supt. Miguel Antonio Jr., Police Regional Office-9 (PRO-9) director, identified the arrested RSM architect as Melquiades Pabico Abrera II, who carries the aliases of Mel, Lolo, and Mikhail Abdul Asis Abrera, a native of Antipolo City.

Antonio said Abrera was arrested in a checkpoint around 6:30 a.m. Friday in Barangay Sta. Barbara, this city.

Antonio said the troops set up the checkpoint after they received reports that Abrera was sighted in the area.

He said the troops seized from Abrera’s possession a caliber .45 pistol, a belt bag containing two hand grenades and detonating cord and two units cellular phones.

He said Abrera was placed under the custody of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).

The RSM is still considered active, though it has been considerably decimated and scattered by arrests and military–police actions.

The group’s leader, Tyrone Dave Santos alais Daud, was arrested in March of 2005 in Fairview, Quezon.

The arresting team seized bomb-making components when they arrested Santos.

Militiaman killed, another hurt in NPA Albay attack

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 16): Militiaman killed, another hurt in NPA Albay attack

A member of the CAFGU Active Auxiliary (CAA) was killed while another was hurt when five New People's Army (NPA) rebels opened fire at a squad of the 2nd Infantry Battalion in Libon town, Albay Friday evening.

The incident took place 6 p.m. at Barangay Malabiga, of the above-mentioned locality.

Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) spokesperson Lt. Col. Angelo Guzman identified the slain militiaman as Gilbert E. Delos Reyes.

His remains was taken to St. Peter's Chapel in Legazpi City, Albay while his wounded companion, Michael J. Ramirez is now undergoing treatment at 9th Infantry Division Station Hospital in Pili, Camarines Sur.

Guzman said SOLCOM strongly denounces the attack. The squad was on a mission of securing the construction of a farm-to-market road in the barangay.

"The attack delays the opportunities and benefits for the barangay," he added.

"Our unit there has intensified its security measures so that the construction can resume early," Guzman said.

(Update) PHL, US defense chiefs visit Palawan airbase, American super carrier

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 16): (Update) PHL, US defense chiefs visit Palawan airbase, American super carrier

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and his American counterpart, Ashton Carter, paid a visit to the Antonio Bautista Airbase in Puerto Princesa, Palawan Friday afternoon.

The military facility is one of the five agreed locations under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the US and Philippines.

Shortly afterwards, the two defense officials then flew over Recto Bank and landed on the supercarrier, the USS John C. Stennis and witnessed flight deck operations.

They also were briefed on the carrier's history and taken on a tour around the ship.

Both secretaries also talked to the men and women of the carrier battle group.

Carter thanked his troops and sailors for their active participation in the Philipine-US Exercise "Balikatan" and reiterated the significance of their presence in the region.

"China's actions are causing anxiety and raising tensions. In response, countries in the Asia Pacific that are long standing allies and new partners are reaching out to the US to uphold the rules and principles that would allow the region to thrive, and we are answering that call, we are standing with these countries, we are standing up for those rules and principles," he added.

This year's "Balikatan" exercises started April 4 and ended on the 15th.

While Gazmin expressed his gratitude to the American sailors who took part in the "Balikatan" exercises, highlighting the strength of the Philippine-US Alliance.

"This is a clear exemplification of 'honor, courage, commitment,' the core values of the US Navy," he added.

"We are as ever reliant on the strong bond of sympathy and mutual ideals shared by our our two peoples, close friends and allies, to fight side-by-side against the threats of external aggression as we did in the past," the Philippine defense chief said.

Gazmin ended his remarks to the Sailors by welcoming them to the West Philippine Sea.

"It is in the spirit of of the ideals of our alliance and close relationship that we welcome the gallant crew of the USS Stennis ... to the clear waters of the West Philippine Sea," he said.

PH to China: No US militarization of West PH Sea

From Rappler (Apr 16): PH to China: No US militarization of West PH Sea

Malacañang also says that the 'highly uncontroversial' PH-US joint military exercises are 'meant to ensure that prosperity is continuous under a regime of stability through the participation of all countries'

Flag bearers from the Philippine and the US await the entrance of colors during the opening ceremonies for the annual RP-US Balikatan at the AFP-COC inside Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on April 4, 2016. Ben Nabong/Rappler

Flag bearers from the Philippine and the US await the entrance of colors during the opening ceremonies for the annual RP-US Balikatan at the AFP-COC inside Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on April 4, 2016. Ben Nabong/Rappler

The Philippines on Saturday, April 16, defended the United States from China's allegations that the superpower is militarizing the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) through its presence in the disputed area.

In an interview with state-run radio dzRB, Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III, head of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, said this was not the objective of the PH-US joint military exercises observed by no less than US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, which ended on Friday.

"We believe that the People's Republic of China, through its statements,
misunderstands or perhaps does not properly appreciate the purpose of our activities with the United States," Quezon said.

He reiterated the position of the Philippines that the activities "are to ensure freedom of navigation in the region which benefits all nations because it allows the free, unhampered flow of trade which is to all the benefit of all the economies of the region."

"These are peaceful and highly uncontroversial exercises meant to ensure that prosperity is continuous under a regime of stability through the participation of all countries," Quezon added.

He also explained that there is “no contradiction” when it comes to the recent actions of the US in the region, especially in the West Philippine Sea. At the end of the Balikatan exercises, Carter visited a US warship in the disputed sea.

On Friday, Carter told reporters aboard the USS John C. Stennis, a nuclear-powered carrier that can carry about 75 planes and helicopters, that his visit to the warship "is a message to the region that the US intends to continue to play a role in keeping peace and stability in this region."

US hand-me-downs

Quezon was also asked about criticism that the country is getting only the superpower's military hand-me-downs.

At Rappler’s second senatorial debate on Friday, former Akbayan party list representative and senatorial bet Walden Bello pointed out that the US has given the Philippines its old defense equipment. (READ: Bello hits Aquino admin over EDCA ‘deception’)

Quezon explained that the Hamilton-class cutters given by US to the Philippines is “already a generation or more advanced than what we used to have,” despite it being a late 1960s ship.

He later dismissed a comment that these ships are already “like scrap,” saying that “there are other nations that have also taken on the Hamilton-class cutter.”

But, he argued that Philippines forces should be trained on how to use these first before taking on more modern weaponry.

Kailangan masanay tayo sa hindi na 'yung mga antigong mga engine, for example, kung 'di mga mas modernong engine at mga mas modernong teknolohiya. Pag nasanay na tayo at bihasa na tayo doon, puwede naman tayo mag-invest sa mga pinaka-modernong bagay,” Quezon said. (We need to be trained not to use ships with old engines, for example, but those with more modern engines and more modern technology. Once we learn how to use it, we could then invest in the most modern equipment.)

He added that this move suits the country’s needs because it helps in efforts to beef up the capacity of the Armed Forces and the Coast Guard while being prudent in spending public funds.

Hindi naman tayo puwedeng maluho sa paggastos at marami ding mga bagay na kailangan bigyan ng atensyon katulad ng mga serbisyo para sa ating mga kababayan," he said. (We can't be too extravagant in spending, and there are things that we need to attend to more, like various services for our countrymen.)

“I think kung susuriin naman natin talaga ang mga kilos na ito at ang mga ongoing projects with our foreign allies, it shows na steady naman at may sense ang ginagawa natin," he added. (I think that when we examine these actions and the ongoing projects with our foreign allies, it shows that [our alliance] is steady at what we do makes sense.)

Indonesian sailors abducted, 1 shot by Abu Sayyaf in latest attack off Tawi-Tawi province

From the Mindanao Examiner (Apr 16): 4 Indonesian sailors abducted, 1 shot by Abu Sayyaf in latest attack off Tawi-Tawi province

Suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen hijacked a tugboat off the southern Philippine province of Tawi-Tawi near the Sabah border and abducted 4 Indonesian crewmen and shot and wounded another before escaping on a speedboat.

Five other sailors, including the wounded crew member of tugboat Henry, sailed to the Malaysian border where they had been rescued by Malaysian authorities. The latest abduction was the third carried out by the Abu Sayyaf since last month.

The wounded sailor, whose identity was not immediately known, was rushed to Semporna district in Tawau town, and the rest of the crewmen filed their police report in Lahad Datu town, also in Sabah.

The tugboat was heading to Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan in Indonesia from the Philippines when gunmen intercepted them late Friday.

On March 26, Abu Sayyaf gunmen also snatched 10 Indonesian crew of the tugboat Brahma 12 off Languyan town in Tawi-Tawi – one of 5 provinces of the volatile Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao – while heading to Sabah.

The Abu Sayyaf also kidnapped 4 Malaysian crewmen of another tugboat MasFive 6 at sea in Semporma on April 2. The jihadist group also released a photo dated April 8 of the Malaysian hostages Wong Teck Kang, 31, Wong Hung Sing, 34, Wong Teck Chii, 29, and Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21, all from Sarawak.

The photo, which was uploaded on Facebook, showed the captives squatting and one of them holding a piece of paper with the word “Victor Troy” and the date “April 8, 2016 written on it. They are believed being held by Abu Sayyaf commanders Hatid Hajan Sawajaan and Alhabsi Misaya in southern Philippines.

The latest abduction came despite Malaysia’s closing of the Sabah border, just several hours by boat from Tawi-Tawi province, following the spate of daring kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf inside its territory.

Philippine authorities have failed miserably to stop the cross-border kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf in the oil-rich state of Sabah. Just recently, two Filipino general were sacked for failing to stop the Abu Sayyaf kidnappings inside Sabah. The Abu Sayyaf had in the past beheaded a Malaysian hostage in southern Philippines and killed a maritime policeman in a raid on a popular resort in Sabah.

Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman said the decades-old barter trade activity in Sandakan and other east coastal towns was to be ceased immediately, according to the Jakarta post, which reported that this was among several measures agreed by the Cabinet during a meeting on April 6 – four days after a group of gunmen on a speedboat intercepted the tugboat MasFive 6 near Ligitan Island  off Semporna and abducted its crew Wong Hung Song, 44, Wong Teck Pang, 41, Wong Teck Chi, 39, and Johnny  Lau Jung Hien, 21 – all from Sarawak in Sabah.

It said other measures include the immediate halt of transshipment trade of petroleum and gas products in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone spanning 10 districts from Kudat to Tawau. Musa also imposed a maritime curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. in seven coastal districts – from Beluran to Tawau.

Musa also ordered security forces to seize any foreign motorized boats in Sabah waters. He said security forces would also give protection to merchant boats sailing in high-risk areas in Sabah, particularly near the Philippine border.

He also shelved a propose ferry services – to start in May – between Kudat in Sabah and Palawan province in the Philippines, adding, the strict measures reflected Sabah government’s resolve to rid the east coast of the menace posed by kidnap-for-ransom groups based in southern Philippines.

“The state government takes these kidnappings very seriously. The new measures to be taken will ensure this problem can be dealt with effectively,” Musa said.

“We are also studying in-depth prevention and rectification measures to deal with hijacking and kidnapping involving merchant ships in high-risk waters. The security forces are currently looking into how we can provide better security protection for ships in these waters. However its implementation requires cooperation from all ship owners to enable effective coordination,” he added.

U.S. Starts Navy Patrols With Philippines in South China Sea

From Bloomberg News (Apr 14): U.S. Starts Navy Patrols With Philippines in South China Sea

*Defense Secretay Carter says China's actions causing anxiety
*U.S. to lift troop presence under expanded defense agreement
[Video report]
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said joint patrols with the Philippines have started in the South China Sea, as the country boosts its military presence in the Southeast Asian nation ahead of a key court ruling on China’s claims to the waters.

The allies, who are seeking to thwart China’s assertiveness in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, began the sea patrols last month, Carter said Thursday in a briefing at the presidential palace in Manila.

“These patrols will continue to help build our inter-operability and improve the Philippine Navy, even as these patrols contribute to the safety and security of the region’s waters,” he said.
China’s claims to more than four-fifths of the South China Sea have sparked tensions with other Southeast Asian nations including Vietnam. The U.S., which is not a claimant, contends that the militarization of the islands may hinder navigation in waters that carry more than $5 trillion of seaborne trade a year.

The beefed up U.S. actions come ahead of the Philippine presidential election in May. Current president Benigno Aquino has been a critic of China but the candidates to replace him could potentially take a less adversarial approach to one of the country’s major trading partners.

Causing Anxiety

“China’s actions in particular are causing anxiety and raising regional tensions,” Carter said. “Countries across the Asia-Pacific are voicing concern with China’s land reclamation, which stands out in size and scope, as well as its militarization in the South China Sea.”

The joint patrols would lead to militarization of the waters and broader U.S.-Philippine military cooperation goes against peace and stability in the region, China’s defense ministry said in a statement on its website. China’s military will “pay close attention” to the situation to “resolutely defend” the nation’s sovereignty and maritime interests, it said.
The U.S. has moved to expand its defense pact with the Philippines. About 200 U.S. airmen who joined war games that started on April 4 will stay behind to continue joint training, Carter said. Some U.S. pilots will conduct flight operations in the area, including in the South China Sea, and lay the foundations for joint air patrols, he said.

U.S. and Philippine defense officials are in talks to expand local bases that can be used for joint training on top of the five sites already agreed, Carter said.

"There is no question that there is concern in the region about China’s behavior and China’s self-isolating behavior,” he said. “But the cause of that is Chinese behavior, not America."

Hague Case

Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said ties with the U.S. have evolved to a level that allows his country to maintain peace and stability beyond its borders. The U.S. presence “will deter uncalled for actions by the Chinese,” Gazmin said.

The Philippines has sought international arbitration at the Hague to help resolve the South China Sea dispute, with a ruling expected within months. Carter said the matter should be settled peacefully. “We don’t take sides," he said. "We’re on the side of a peaceful resolution and lawful disposition” of the case.

Philippine Navy retires Aguinaldo, Conrado Yap-class patrol craft

From IHS Janes 360 (Apr 15): Philippine Navy retires Aguinaldo, Conrado Yap-class patrol craft

The Philippine Navy (PN) has decommissioned two patrol craft, the service's office of public affairs confirmed with IHS Jane's on 14 April.

The vessels are the 44 m Aguinaldo-class patrol craft BRP Antonio Luna (PG 141), and the 25.5 m Conrado Yap (Sea Hawk/Killer)-class coastal patrol craft BRP Apollo Tiano (PG 851). The vessels were retired in a decommissioning ceremony on 8 April.

According to IHS Jane's Fighting Ships , Antonio Luna was commissioned in May 1999 while Apollo Tiano was an ex-Republic of Korea Navy patrol vessel that was transferred to the Philippines in 1993. The weapons fit for both vessels included the Bofors 40 mm gun as main weapons, complemented by four 7.62 mm machine guns.

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Commentary: The Russian navy is coming to visit

From the Business Mirror (Apr 15): The Russian navy is coming to visit

THE second phase of the Indonesian-sponsored multinational naval activity—Exercise Komodo —is taking place off the coast of West Sumatra. Warships from 35 countries, including all the major naval powers, are now in Indonesia. Most nations are sending their ships; others are participating in the talks.

Presumably, representatives of the Philippine navy are also in the city of Padang, although there does not seem to be any official announcement of that fact. There is also no indication that any Philippine warship is involved.

Earlier this year in January, Indonesia also hosted the important Western Pacific Naval Symposium. The WPNS—founded in 1988—is a critical opportunity for member-nations to discuss and solve potential problems. In 2014 an agreement was reached, called the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, which the Philippines also signed.

The United States and the Philippines have been conducting joint exercises since the beginning of the month. It was announced this past week that the US and the Philippine navy were talking about joint sea patrols in the disputed South China Sea areas.

Both governments have gone out of their way to keep the joint military exercise low key with a “business as usual” attitude, considering these have taken place for years. Certainly, no one wants to raise tensions in the area.

But neither government has mentioned the following.

In 2014 Russia and China conducted a joint naval exercise. Nothing unusual about that, considering the closer economic ties those two nations have formed in the last years. However, the exercises took place near Shanghai, in the sea corridor between Japan and the disputed islands that both Japan and China claim as theirs.

The Russian deputy defense minister, Anatoly Antonov, announced in June 2015 that Russia and China would conduct a joint naval exercise in May 2016. And where would the exercise take place? You guessed it—the South China Sea.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if, after this exercise, China invited its Russian partner to freely use any of its new artificial islands in the disputed territory any time it wanted to?

What does Russia think of the US and its role in the region? When the Russia/China 2016 naval exercise was announced, Antonov said the US is contaminating the Asia-Pacific region with some of the same “color revolutions” it brought to the Middle East. “We are concerned by US policies in the region, especially since every day it becomes increasingly focused on a systemic containment of Russia and China.”

The comments, as well as the announcement of the naval exercises, took place at the 15th International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La Dialogue or Asia Security Summit, which was held in Singapore.

The month of May is certainly going to be exciting for the Philippines.

In South China Sea Visit, U.S. Defense Chief Flexes Military Muscle

From the New York Times (Apr 15): In South China Sea Visit, U.S. Defense Chief Flexes Military Muscle

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter attended the closing ceremony of a joint United States-Philippine military exercise in Quezon City, Philippines, on Friday. Credit Erik De Castro/Reuters        

ABOARD THE U.S.S. JOHN C. STENNIS, in the South China Sea — Over the last week in Asia, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter has visited two aircraft carriers, revealed new military agreements with India and the Philippines, and generally signaled that the Obama administration had decided to lean more on military power to counter China’s territorial ambitions in the region.
But the newly muscular approach on display during Mr. Carter’s tour represents a gamble. While it sends a message that the United States will work with its allies to challenge Beijing’s expanding presence in the disputed South China Sea, it also plays into fears within the Chinese leadership about American efforts to halt China’s rise.
That may mean that the more the Pentagon steps up in the region, the more China may feel it needs to accelerate its military buildup, including the construction of new islands equipped with radar and airstrips in contested waters.
With a mix of showmanship and concrete initiatives during a six-day visit to India and the Philippines, Mr. Carter left little doubt that the United States intended both to strengthen alliances and move more hardware and troops here to counter China’s growing military reach.
On Friday, he rode a helicopter to a symbol of American power projection in the Pacific, a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, as it cruised through the South China Sea near waters claimed by the Chinese.
[Video report]
Before visiting the carrier John C. Stennis, he marked the end of 11 days of military exercises between the United States and the Philippines and said some American troops would stay behind “to contribute to regional security and stability.”
He also said the United States had begun joint patrols of the South China Sea with the Philippine navy and would soon do the same with the country’s air force.
Earlier in the week, Mr. Carter toured an Indian aircraft carrier, the first time an American defense secretary had boarded such a ship, and said the United States would help India upgrade its carriers. He also revealed a new logistics agreement and said the two nations would work together on other military technologies.
Together, the measures announced by Mr. Carter hint at a potential American military resurgence in a part of the world where China believes it is destined to surpass the United States in influence. The Obama administration seems to be betting that China will back off rather than continue making moves that lead its neighbors to embrace the American military.
More than once in the last week, Mr. Carter cited China’s actions as the driving force behind tensions in the region and, implicitly, the reason for its neighbors’ increased engagement with the Pentagon.
Below deck, he said China should not see the carrier’s presence as a provocation.
“We have been here for decade upon decade. The only reason that question even comes up is because of what has gone on over the last year, and that’s a question of Chinese behavior,” he said. “What’s not new is an American carrier in this region. What’s new is the context and tension that exists, which we want to reduce.”
But some analysts warn that China could react to the Pentagon’s moves by taking more aggressive actions, challenging America’s commitment to the region in a high-profile game of chicken and raising the risk of a military conflict.
The Chinese have been closely watching Mr. Carter’s tour, which had included a stop in Beijing before it was scrubbed from the schedule a few weeks ago. In a late-night statement on Thursday, the Chinese Defense Ministry accused the United States of reverting to a “Cold War mentality” and said the Chinese military would “pay close attention to the situation and resolutely defend China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime interests.”
On Friday, China also disclosed that its most senior uniformed military commander had visited the disputed Spratly Islands, which appeared intended to signal Beijing’s resolve in the South China Sea, most of which it considers Chinese territory.
The Obama administration has declined to describe its approach toward China as a revival of “containment,” the Cold War strategy aimed at preventing the spread of Communism. Instead, Mr. Carter said the new military initiatives in the region were consistent with longstanding American policy to work closely with countries that share its interests.
“America’s policy continues to be one valued on principles of peaceful resolutions of disputes, lawful settlement of things like territorial disputes like the South China Sea, or anywhere else, freedom of navigation, freedom of commerce,” he said.
“Now countries who don’t stand for those things, who don’t stand with those things, are going to end up isolating themselves,” he added. “That will be self-isolation, not isolation by us.”
For decades, neither India nor the Philippines was particularly interested in military cooperation with the United States. As a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, India has been suspicious of alliances with other countries, particularly world powers. And the Philippines expelled American forces in the early 1990s, ending a military presence that began with the United States’ capture of the islands from Spain in 1898.
But both countries have grown wary of China’s rising military profile — more wary than they are of the United States.
The initiatives that Mr. Carter announced with India were largely symbolic but could signal greater cooperation in the future, like joint patrols in the South China Sea and the sale of heavy weaponry and other equipment. In a significant policy shift, India is already in talks with Japan, an American ally, to upgrade civilian infrastructure in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an Indian archipelago seen as a potential strategic asset in efforts to counter Chinese naval expansion.
A sweeping 10-year deal with the Philippines, approved by the nation’s Supreme Court in January, will allow American forces to build military facilities and assign personnel, planes and ships to existing Philippine bases. Mr. Carter announced that more than 200 American pilots and crew members, as well as six aircraft and three helicopters, would remain in the country.
The developments represent a setback for President Xi Jinping of China, who has overseen the acceleration of Beijing’s buildup in the South China Sea and could be accused of needlessly drawing the United States back into the region.
But analysts in China said the Obama administration’s initiatives were unlikely to achieve its goal of persuading Mr. Xi to back off. Instead, they could heighten fears in the Chinese leadership that Washington is using Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea as an excuse to encircle China and halt its global rise.
“China sees its actions in the South China Seas as legitimate in protecting its own sovereignty and integrity,” Su Hao, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing. “China will not just change its behaviors or deployment plan simply because of the Americans.”