Thursday, April 28, 2016

MILF: Editorial -- Kidnapping in Sulu continues

Editorial posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Apr 24): Editorial -- Kidnapping in Sulu continues

Kidnapping in Sulu continues unabated. It is unstoppable. It is fast becoming another Somalia, this time in Southeast Asia. Instead of being stopped or even minimized, it has soared to unprecedented height with the kidnapping recently of 10 Indonesians and four Malaysians, who are all Muslims.

Kidnapping, irrespective of the victims, is bad. It is like slave-trading of olden days. But in those days, there was a thin line separating legitimate trade from piracy that included slave-trading, which, without condoning it, is lesser evil (in the eyes of men). Americans were part of this deal, mostly involving West Africans, by purchasing slaves to tend their expanding farms and industries.

Seriously, if this crime assumes like an ordinary thing, and people especially the leaders treat it as no evil at all or care less --- and government becomes helpless and an unassuming --- then expect the wrath of God to hit everybody else. The closing of the Philippine-Sabah borders for travel and trade is perchance the start of this punishment, which hits not only the kidnappers but more hardly the innocent and good people of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. Consequently, the price of basic commodities shoots up and almost doubled the original price especially of rice.

Why is this criminal activity not stopped, in spite of the heavy militarization of Sulu province, in addition to being the bastion of the MNLF and the havens of private armies of politicians, whose arsenals include bazookas and machineguns? We don’t think there is popular acceptance --- that would never come into our mind. It is also highly unfair to ever think of collusion, or this kidnapping has already reached the highest notch of becoming a syndicate, which involves everybody, but government must assert its authority, the MNLF under Chairman Nur Misuari must take its moral responsibility to do its share, big or small, and the politicians, who are all Muslims must not fall short of their duty and obligation. (The MILF is still trying to consolidate both its political and military organs in Sulu, but nonetheless, we have had already done modest contributions in freeing some of the kidnapped victims in the past. But our greatest deficit is that when ransom is discussed, we dissociate ourselves from it).

It is hard to admit by government, but the truth is that the military and Police are virtually rendered ineffective against the kidnap-for-ransom groups in Sulu or even in the small island of Basilan. On the part of the MNLF and the Sulu politicians, either they are doing little to contain kidnapping or they care less for this. We are sure there are those who are really committed to help eradicate this menace, but their efforts are virtually unheard of and do not make any difference. In such a case, there is a need to upgrade and up-charge their intervention.

In Central Mindanao especially Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and Cotabato City kidnapping has been neutralized so far. The reasons for this success are two-fold: The MILF does not compromise with kidnappers and the working relationship between the government military and the MILF through the mechanism of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) in defeating kidnapping is excellent.

The final truth, however, is that no matter how we overstretch our muscles, kidnapping would not go away completely, as long as the Bangsamoro Question is not settled with finality. The dissatisfaction and frustration of the people over government’s dilly-dallying in resolving the conflict gives space to those fighting the government. For instance, call the ASG any name or dark description, but they still tried to couch their kidnapping activities with political symbols or colours such as: Grant Sulu its independence, pull-out the military from the province, and completely disallow fishermen from other islands especially the Visayas and Marikina to fish in the Sulu Sea. Perchance this is just to justify their crime, but they are still political in character.

MILF: UNYPAD to hold 6th General Assembly

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Apr 27): UNYPAD to hold 6th General Assembly

The United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD) Inc., the largest Bangsamoro youth organization in the Philippines will hold its 6th General Assembly on April 29-May 01, 2016 at Pikit Central Elementary School, Pikit Cotabato.

The theme of the assembly is: “Youth Empowerment: The best step towards building a peaceful and progressive nation”. The historic gathering will be attended by four hundred fifty (450) individuals from different regions of the country composed of organization’s high officials, members of UNYPAD’s National Council, regional coordinators, provincial officers and selected municipal chapters’ officers.

Invited guests to share their insights in relation with the theme are Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel Chair and also chair of Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), Grand Mufti Abuhurayra Udasan, Maj. Gen. Datuk Wira Zamrose, Head of IMT–Mindanao Mission 11, Hon. Sittie Djaliya Turabin-Hataman of Anak Mindanao (AMIN) party-list North Cotabato provincial board members Hon. Dulia Sultan and Hon. Kelly U. Antato.

Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) members headed by Former European Union Ambassador to the Philippines Alistair Mc Donald are expected to attend on the second day.

Assembly agenda are: Review and adoption of the existing constitution and by-laws, and adoption of Vision, Mission, Goals and Objectives, presentation and adoption of structure and review of programs and services and formulation and adoption of youth declaration urging the GPH to fully implement the CAB and pass the BBL in the 17th Congress.

The most important part of the assembly is the delivery of the State of Youth Affairs (SOYA) by President Dr. Rahib L. Kudto who will report to members of the assembly the achievements of the organization as well as present his proposed plan of action for the organization in the coming years.

For inquiry on updates on this activity, you may contact:
Datuan M. Magon, National Spokesperson
CP # 0917-351-1957/

MILF: ‘No endorsement from MILF’: Chairman Murad reiterates

From the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Apr 28): ‘No endorsement from MILF’: Chairman Murad reiterates

ISTANBUL, TURKEY–The Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, reiterated that the MILF is not endorsing any candidates in the coming May 9 national elections.

“The organization is not anointing any candidate, we advise our people to vote who they think can help the Bangsamoro struggle” Murad said in April 16 meeting with Moro scholars studying and young professionals undergoing training in this country.

The MILF Chief discussed the matter to refute the issue that he was endorsing presidential aspirant Mar Roxas. Pictures posted in social media of the MILF Chair with Roxas and other Liberal Party (LP) candidates with their hands raised during a photo opportunity when the group visited Camp Darapanan drew mixed reactions.

He explained that Roxas visited Camp Darapanan and they welcome him the way he also welcome other presidentiables. Chairman Murad stressed that the raising of Roxas’ hand was not tantamount to endorsing the presidential bet.

Some Moro netizens accused the MILF leader of supporting the LP presidential aspirant that goes against the MILF’s “hands-off policy” on the Philippine elections.

Some of the NGOs that are pushing for the continuity of the peace process presented their aspirations and asked Roxas to sign it as a gesture of his commitment once he win as president.

Chairman Murad, also mentioned that Duterte, Poe and Binay’s camp also sent emissaries to the MILF and presented their plans.

He emphasized that the MILF struggle through peaceful means will continue since it has signed with the Philippine government the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), a peace deal that is a product of more than 17 years peace negotiation..

The CAB provides the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law that will pave way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro government with more fiscal and political powers.

As stipulated in the CAB, the passage of the BBL is a sole obligation of the government particularly the Philippine Congress.

The House of Representatives and the Senate failed to pass the measure during their sessions last February.

The MILF Chair said the MILF and those who are supporting it might not be happy but still the MILF leadership will continue to protect the gains of the negotiation.

Chairman Murad said the MILF is strengthening networks through different channels for the implementation of the CAB.

When asked about unity of leaders among the Bangsamoro, Chairman Murad explained that the MILF is working on the other liberation movement to have coordinated efforts stand in advancing the Bangsamoro cause. This is done through the OIC facilitated Bangsamoro Coordination Forum.

The gathering was organized by the Turkish humanitarian organization IHH. Chairman Murad and party visited Turkey to attend the 13th Islamic Summit Conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation held in Istanbul on 14 – 15 April 2016.

MILF Peace Panel Chairman Mohagher Iqbal said that Chairman Murad told him that once VP Jejomar Binay, Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Grace Poe, all running for presidency, will visit the MILF Camp, he will also raise their hands to show that he is not siding with just one candidate.

Duterte had already visited Darapanan but the MILF Chairman was out of the country.

MILF: KPI holds peace advocacy

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Apr 29): KPI holds peace advocacy

The Kalilintad Peace Building Institute (KPI) has been engaged in series of peace building activities as it recently held peace advocacy aimed  to emphasize the need to strengthen the Bangsamoro democratic struggle as  the right  ‘Path to Peace’ in Mindanao. The program was conducted at Ma’had Datu Paglas Al-Arabie Al-Islamie at Datu Paglas, Maguindanao on April 27.

Mohaladen Dalandang, former municipal councilor of Datu Paglas, Maguindanao, said “The importance of working together in our quest of lasting peace will redound to the development of our community and brightens the future of our children.”

“We will spread the essence of peace in our community.  Advocating peace is the best way to live peacefully and progressively”, Dalandang further said.

Abdulaziz Talib, Administrative Officer of Eastern Kutawato Islamic Institute told the participants to continue the Moro ancestors’ struggle for right to self-determination until the goal of having our own government is achieved”.

“We are now fighting for our rights in a democratic way thus, we become the architect of our next generation’s future”, Talib emphasized.

Ustadz Abusama Abad, Secondary Department Head of Datu Ibrahim Paglas Memorial College and member of KPI Board of Trustees, said that man is an instrument of change in building better communities.

“Organizational discipline is a must in realizing our aspiration for better government”, Abad added.

Esmael Abdula, Executive Director of KPI, and BLMI Steering Committee Member briefly explained the ‘path to peace in Mindanao’.

“Democratic struggle is our ‘Path to Peace’ for the establishment of a New Political Entity called Bangsamoro in Mindanao. It is the solution to the old-age conflict in this part of the country”, Abdula said.

“Our contribution to the democratic struggle will expedite the establishment of the future Bangsamoro Government”, Abdula further said.

“Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) still exist thus, very much alive, because it was not yet fully deliberated by Congress due to the opposition of some lawmakers. Only the substitute bill, the Basic Law for Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BL BAR) sponsored by Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., at the Senate is dead”, Abdula emphasized.

‘’The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) must be  implemented by the Government of the Philippines (GPH) through the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that will entrench the Bangsamoro New Political Entity with a ministerial form of government”, Abdula added.

About one hundred community and youth leaders attended the peace advocacy.

MILF: ACBW, USMMEAA conduct Peace Advocacy Program

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Apr 28): ACBW, USMMEAA conduct Peace Advocacy Program

With the theme: “Bangsamoro: Mamagayun, Masampay su Kahanda”, the Alliance of Concerned Bangsamoro Women for Peace and Development and University of Southern Mindanao  Muslim Employees and Alumni Association (USMMEAA) conducted a one-day program dubbed as “ Advocacy on Just, Peace and Inclusive Development” on April 23, 2016 at Cafe’ Martina, USM, Kabacan, Cotabato.

The activity became more informative as two of the known Bangsamoro advocates on peace and development served as the resource speakers.

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF Peace panel chair and also Chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) centered his speech on the updates on the peace process, while Prof. Aboud Sayyed M. Lingga, a member of the MILF Peace panel talked about Bangsamoro Issues and Concerns.

More than two hundred individuals from different sectors actively participated in the activity.

The advocacy program aimed to promote awareness and understanding on the Bangsamoro struggle towards the attainment of just, peace and inclusive development in the Bangsamoro region.

MILF: SWC, POLCOM hold Peace Assembly

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Apr 28): SWC, POLCOM hold Peace Assembly

In the light of the peace building activities in sustaining the gains of the Moro political struggle, the Social Welfare Committee (SWC) and Political Committee (PolCom) of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) jointly held peace assembly at Eastern Kutawato Islamic Institute on April 26, 2016.

“Let us be firm, strong, and determined in our support to the Moro political struggle towards right to self-determination”, Guialal Thor said.

“We will use our collective strength to preserve the gains of the peace process towards the attainment of our goal”, Thor said.

Ustadz Abusama Abad, Secondary Department Head of Datu Ibrahim Paglas Memorial College and member of Kalilintad Peacebuilding Institute (KPI) Board of Trustees emphasized that Bangsamoro struggle is a collective responsibility.

‘’We must continuously fight for our rights to establish the Bangsamoro Region’’, Abad said.

Abdulaziz Talib, Administrative Officer of Eastern Kutawato Islamic Institute, said that the series of peace assemblies is aimed to inform the people about the status of Bangsamoro struggle.

“The non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is not an obstacle in asserting our right to self-determination as it becomes a challenge for all of us to strengthen our efforts”, Talib added.

Esmael A. Abdula, Executive Director KPI and BLMI steering Committee Member, said the path to peace is continuing the democratic struggle towards the creation of a genuine Moro government based on Bangsamoro’s tradition, culture and religion.

“Despite the non-passage of the BBL due to various reasons, the international community supports the GPH-MILF peace process by urging the Philippine government to implement the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) by passing the BBL”.

“MILF leadership is just like a magnet. People are voluntarily mobilizing themselves to push forward the Bangsamoro democratic struggle”, Abdula stressed.

‘’Now the power lies in our hands. As forces of change, we will elect those who can help push for the passage of the BBL and make the Bangsamoro a reality not just a dream. Therefore, we will advance the political struggle to achieve our aspiration”, Abdula emphasized.

About six hundred participants attended the peace assembly.

MILF: Japanese Deputy Chief of Mission Atsushi Ueno pays courtesy call to MILF Leadership

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Apr 28): Japanese Deputy Chief of Mission Atsushi Ueno pays courtesy call to MILF Leadership

His Excellency Atsushi Ueno, Deputy Chief of Mission of Japanese Embassy in Manila and his entourage paid courtesy call to the leadership of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in its Administrative Base in Camp Darapanan, Sultan, Kudarat, Maguindanao on April 27, 2016.

They were warmly welcomed by MILF 1st Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar and some members of the Central Committee.

The meeting was very cordial. Pleasantries were expressed by both parties. Ueno then relayed his country’s commitment of support for the peace process, and said that Japan will indirectly contribute in the economy and development of this part of the country, the Bangsamoro.

He said that on Tuesday, some medical equipment were turned-over to Cotabato Regional Medical Center, with the hope that it can somehow contribute to the improvement of medical services in the area.

Moreover, he mentioned that as member country of the International Monitoring Team (IMT), its representatives will continue to be sent to Mindanao for the sake of achieving peace.

Jaafar after introducing members of the Central Committee expressed thanks and appreciation for Japan’s continuing support.

“The Bangsamoro’s aspiration for a truly democratic government and self-rule is the solution to the problem. He hoped that the next administration will realize this”, he added.

The Vice Chairman further said that it is not only economic and social development that is most needed by the Bangsamoro. What the Bangsamoro needs most is the persuasion of the international community  to the Government of the Philippines that what has been signed must be implemented.

Some concerns were also discussed vis-a-viz; the seemingly cropping -up of radical youth groups, viewed to be as an outcome of their dismay for the non-passage of the BBL.  Along this line, the MILF consistently holds forums or advocacy programs for peaceful resolution of the Mindanao conflict.

However, when Jaafar was asked by the Ueno on how is the situation now, he answered positively by saying, generally both GPH and MILF are holding to the ceasefire.

Ueno assured that his government will keep watching how the next administration will handle the situation.

With utmost sincerity, the MILF officials conveyed the Bangsamoro constituents’ gratitude for Japan’s friendship, support, more development and good wishes for their region.

MNLF: Beware of mass cheating conspiracy by Aquino government and COMELEC in May 2016 election

Posted to the Moro National Liberation Front Website (Apr 26): Beware of mass cheating conspiracy by Aquino government and COMELEC in May 2016 election

The Aquino government in conspiracy with the Commission on Election (COMELEC) has now laid out a diabolical design to subvert the political will of the Filipino and Bangsamoro voters in the Philippines.  

The conduct of a mass cheating by the Commission on Election in tandem with the Aquino government has been revealed to Chairman Prof. Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) by concerned Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) based in the Middle East. The OFWs have pleaded not to mention their names for security reason.

The April 2016 OFW letter to the MNLF Chairman read:

“Dear Sir,

Please hide my real name for security purpose. But I will tell you now the OFW voting started yesterday in other countries. There are some ballots that the PCOS machines will count that only favor Mar Roxas. I hope that you will do something for the good of this country by not allowing the cheating in this coming election May 9, 2016.

Here are some pictures taken from the people of OFW from the other countries. I hope that you might see it. OFWs are mad right now. There is cheating now in process starting yesterday until May 9, 2016. Please threaten Noynoy Aquino in Malacanang Palace to expose this cheating anomaly.”

The same OFW complainant revealed that the COMELEC official ballot has glaringly imprinted “Daang Matuwid (LP)” instead of the political party LP for Liberal Party bearing names of Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas and Leni Robredo.


Apparently, the COMELEC-prepared Vote Counting Machine (VCM) has been programmed to read (and possibly count) only ballots with “Daang Matuwid,” bearingnames of administration candidates. Instead of other political parties supporting presidential candidates, like Senator Merriam Defensor-Santiagao, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Vice-President Jenjomar Binay and Senator Grace Poe.

In Tagalog language, the same OFW whistle-blower also stated:

“Astig… dito sa Embassy Abu Dhabi, UAE, ang kaibigan ko si (name withheld for security reason) and ibinoto si Digong pero ang lumabas si Mar.” (Astig…here in the Abu Dhabi Embassy, UAE, my friend (name withheld for security reason) voted for Digong (Duterte), but Mar (Roxas) came out.)

(Translation and emphasis supplied)


The MNLF leadership also received complaints from Bangsamoro workers in  the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on election cheating related to the May 9, 2016 Philippine national electoral suffrage.

A concerned OFW in the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, informed the MNLF leadership that OFW voters not favoring the Aquino administration candidates, Mar Roxas and Leni Robredo, were forcibly refused entry by the embassy personnel.

Exasperated in protest mood, the concerned OFWs stated in a complaint letter to the MNLF chairman:

“What a shame! Bayad ang manga taga embassy!” (Embassy personnel are paid.) “Kilala ba ninyo ang in-charge ng embassy sa Saudi?” (Do you know who is in-charge of the Philippine Embassy in Saudi).

(Translation and emphasis supplied)   

In Hong Kong, OFW workers have also complained about voting anomaly because the candidates they voted for came out different than they expected. Surprisingly, the discredited Aquino administration candidates garnered more votes than the popular opposition candidates, like Rodrigo Duterte, Grace Poe and Jenjomar Binay.   


Why is the Aquino government desperate to steal the May 2016 presidential election? Does the present Malacanang tenant President Benigno S. Aquino III fear the cruel fate encountered by two of the “most corrupt” Filipino leaders in history upon his retirement?

It is recalled that President/Dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos stole the presidential election from Corazon C. Aquino. He was ultimately discredited for plundering the country’s wealth and ousted from presidential power to be unceremoniously exiled in Hawaii. He died in Hawaii and until now he remains unburied waiting and hoping for a “hero’s burial.”

In the case of President-turned-Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who stole in broad daylight the presidential election from the Philippine movie king Fernando Poe, Jr., she shamelessly bought the Senators and Congressmen of Philippine Congress to lord and mismanage the affairs of government for another six years. This was after maneuvering the ouster of President Joseph E. Estrada in conspiracy with then Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Angelo Reyes and Chief Justice Davide of the Philippine Supreme Court in another stage-managed “people’s power” in Edsa shrine. But karmic justice struck her down. She is until now detained charged with plunder and ridiculed in U-Tube as one the “most corrupt global leaders in history” together with Marcos.       

In today’s political situationer, despite the low rating in the SWS and Social Network surveys, the Aquino government cannot admit that its administration Liberal Party standard bearers, DILG Secretary Manuel Roxas II and Congresswoman Leni Robredo, have no chance of winning the election.

Most of the Filipino and Bangsamoro communities have lost trust on the Liberal Party-led government to solve the multiple social problems affecting the Philippines and the Bangsamoro homeland of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan (MINSUPALA) under Philippine colonialism.  

Continuing the legacy of Marcos regime’s massive corruption, ugly pork barrel system, political dynasty and warlordism, increasing level of poverty and hunger, drug trafficking and addiction, unending Philippines-Bangsamoro war in Mindanao, AFP-NDF/NPA war throughout the nation, criminality and other social ailments that all lead to anti-thesis of peace, security and public order, the Aquino government has wholeheartedly embraced and patronized the same socio-economic political decadent political order. But it has only masqueraded itself with the deceptive political clichĂ© – “Daang Matuwid.”

Worst now, the Aquino government in conspiracy with COMELEC has used “Daang Matuwid” to defraud the people of the basic freedom to choose righteous and incorruptible leaders.

Thus, it is not surprising then that the political clones of the Aquino regime personified by LP president Manuel Roxas II and gang have conveniently used “Daang Matuwid” to continue deceiving the people and the whole humanity. In a deceptive bold political move, “Daang Matuwid” is being utilized by the Aquino administration and the subservient COMELEC officials to steal the May 9, 2016 national election.  

While most of the Filipino and Bangsamoro workers abroad, particularly in the Middle East, concerned professionals, youths, students and ordinary poor masses have expressed meaningful complete change by demanding for Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and also clamoring for Senator Grace Poe and Vice-President Jenjomar Binay to become 2016 president, the political groundswell for Malacanang-supported candidates is noticeably lukewarm. This is despite the reported government resources by billions spent to propel their candidacy, including the stolen billions from the “Yolanda funds”.


The present Aquino government has only triplicated the grand design perpetrated by the Marcos and Arroyo regime to steal the Philippine presidency by using the inutile COMELEC franchise to do the dirty job.

 It should be recalled that while the Marcos regime used the Leonardo Perez-headed COMELEC and the Arroyo regime used Benjamin Abalos-headed COMELEC to “comelect” discredited Filipino leaders, like President/Dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the Aquino regime is conveniently utilizing COMELEC under its appointed Chairman Andres Bautista to install former DILG Secretary and LP President Mar Roxas II as 2016 president. Mar Roxas was handily defeated by Vice-President Jojo Binay in the 2000 national election. He is considered “burgis”, “fraud” and “unfit” by most Filipino and Bangsamoro voters to become president.    

Thus, confronted with this volatile political situation, what can the opposition camps do to forestall the massive cheating designed by President Benigno S. Aquino III in complicity with COMELEC to rob the people of their fundamental human rights to choose correctly their leaders?

Why is the Aquino government emboldened to steal the Philippine election and to murder democratic process similar to the Marcos and Arroyo regime?

On this end, perchance another prospective “people’s power” will not prevail to deter the Aquino administration from exercising its political license to rob the people of their fundamental suffrage rights and freedom, karmic justice will surely strike again and again. Indeed, karmic justice struck down bad plundering leaders, like Ferdinand E. Marcos and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Who knows? Karmic justice may also strike down President Benigno S. Aquino III, who has only become to date “pork barrel king” (according to Rigoberto D. Tiglao of The Manila Times).

As Carmen Pedrosa of The Philippine Star said: “Some Filipinos are gullible.” But most are not, she also emphasized.  This may be the reason why the Aquino government and COMELEC have again contrived to perpetrate another Marcos and Arroyo political robbery. –osm,

Air patrols embolden fishermen to return to Scarborough Shoal

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 29): Air patrols embolden fishermen to return to Scarborough Shoal
Satellite image of the disputed Scarborough Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal, which located 124 nautical miles west of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon.

Satellite image of the disputed Scarborough Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal, which located 124 nautical miles west of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon
SUBIC, Zambales — Air patrols conducted by four United States jet fighters and military helicopters near the disputed Scarborough Shoal have provided Filipino fishermen some respite from Chinese Coast Guard patrols in the West Philippine Sea.

Before sailing back to the shoal early this week, Joely Saligan said he was certain Chinese patrols would be “more cautious this time since the US is helping our country in securing the shoal.”

He was referring to joint Philippine-US patrols being carried out in the shoal.

 The Armed Forces of Philippines (AFP) announced last week that the Philippines and the US have agreed to enhance maritime security in the West Philippine Sea at the conclusion of this year’s annual Balikatan exercises.

Around 200 US servicemen who took part in the war games would stay in the Philippines for joint air patrols with their Filipino counterparts, said US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who recently visited the country.

In 2014, the two countries signed the 10-year Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that would give the US military greater access to Philippine military bases.

 In this Feb.27, 2015 photo provided by Renato Etac, Chinese Coast Guard members approach Filipino fishermen as they confront them off Scarborough Shoal at South China Sea, also called the West Philippine Sea, in northwestern Philippines. More than once, Chinese coast guardsmen approached Etac's boat and pointed their rifles at him, but he says he knew they would not fire and risk starting a war.(Renato Etac via AP)

In this Feb.27, 2015 photo provided by Renato Etac, Chinese Coast Guard members approach Filipino fishermen as they confront them off Scarborough Shoal at South China Sea, also called the West Philippine Sea, in northwestern Philippines. More than once, Chinese coast guardsmen approached Etac’s boat and pointed their rifles at him, but he says he knew they would not fire and risk starting a war.(Renato Etac via AP)

The US jet fighters that patrol the disputed shoal are stationed at the Clark Air Field in Pampanga province.

Saligan and the other crew of FB Leslie May left this town on Monday for a month-long fishing trip to the shoal.

“We recognize the risks that come with fishing near the shoal. But we have no other options because it’s there where we make a living,” said Saligan, part of a crew that fought off a Chinese Coast Guard vessel that was driving them away from the shoal.

The shoal is located 230 kilometers from Masinloc town, Zambales province, within the Philippines’ 370-km exclusive economic zone.

Troops attack Abu Sayyaf holding foreign hostages

From ABS-CBN (Apr 29): Troops attack Abu Sayyaf holding foreign hostages

Philippine warplanes on Thursday attacked Islamic militants holding 20 foreign hostages on a remote southern island, but there was no sign of the captives, the military said.

Government forces said they rained artillery fire on Abu Sayyaf gunmen on a mountainous area of Jolo island, as planes and helicopters flew low over the jungle terrain dropping bombs.

President Benigno Aquino on Wednesday vowed to "neutralise" the militants, who have declared allegiance to the Islamic State group, a day after the severed head of Canadian hostage John Ridsdel was dumped near Jolo's city hall.

"As a result of the bombardments... they were able to occupy the former places occupied by the Abu Sayyaf that resulted in the recovery of (Ridsdel's) torso," military spokesman Colonel Noel Detoyato told reporters in Manila.

He said local civilians told authorities that 14 gunmen were killed, but no bodies were reported to have been discovered and his tally could not be independently verified.

Detoyato said the offensive, targeted at veteran one-armed Abu Sayyaf commander Radullan Sahiron, was proving a success.

"What is important here is that operations are continuing and we are gaining headway and our troops are determined," Detoyato said.

However he said there had been no sightings of the remaining hostages, and that the militants had apparently escaped the area that had been the target of the attacks.

Aquino said Wednesday the hostages, including a Canadian, a Norwegian and a Filipina abducted with Ridsdel from yachts at a southern Philippine marina seven months ago, were being held by Sahiron on Jolo.

The militants are also holding 18 Indonesian and Malaysian sailors kidnapped from waters south of the Philippines over the past month, as well as a Dutch bird watcher abducted in 2012.

The Abu Sayyaf is a radical offshoot of a Muslim separatist insurgency in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines that has claimed more than 100,000 lives since the 1970s.

It is believed to have just a few hundred militants but has withstood repeated US-backed military offensives against it, surviving by using the mountainous, jungle terrain of Jolo and nearby islands to its advantage.

Abu Sayyaf gangs have earned many millions of dollars from kidnapping foreigners and locals since the early 1990s.

Although the Abu Sayyaf's leaders have pledged allegiance to Islamic State, analysts say they are mainly focused on their lucrative kidnappings-for-ransom rather than setting up an Islamic caliphate.

The Abu Sayyaf is also blamed for deadly bombings, including an attack on a ferry on Manila Bay in 2014 that claimed 116 lives in the country's deadliest terror attack.

US research vessel commissioned in PH Navy as BRP Gregorio Velasquez

From Update.Ph (Apr 28): US research vessel commissioned in PH Navy as BRP Gregorio Velasquez

BRP Gregorio Velasquez

Research vessel R/V Melville (T-AGOR-14) oceanographic research ship has been commissioned into Philippine Navy service as the BRP Gregorio Velasquez (ARG-702). This was confirmed by Philippine Navy (PN) spokesperson Captain Lued Lincuna in message to the PNA.

The ship was named after Professor Emeritus of botany in the University of the Philippines Gregorio Tiongson Velasquez.

Known as the Father of Philippine Phycology, Dr. Velasquez pioneered the intensive study and collection of the Philippine blue-green algal species. He studied and investigated algal specimens in Oriental Mindoro, Eastern Palawan, Sulu, Batangas and Bataan such as the Euglenophyceae, Chlorophyceae, and Myxophyceae.

Captain Lincuna previously said that the 30 PN contingent, which will serve as the BRP Gregorio Velasquez’s sailing crew, arrived in San Diego, California last March 21. “[Crew members] are scheduled for familiarization and orientation on the operation and maintenance of various equipment aboard the vessel,” Lincuna said.

BRP Gregorio Velasquez will be manned by the above-mentioned PN personnel and is expected to be in the Philippines by third week of June, he added.

Obama pledged to donate the R/V Melville and USGCC Boutwell to the Philippines during his visit to the country during the APEC Leaders’ Summit last November 17, 2015.
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PH, US Navies commissioning ceremony for R/V Melville. Famous oceanographic ship is now the BRP Gregorio Velasquez

8 former rebels receive livelihood, financial assistance in SurSur

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 28): 8 former rebels receive livelihood, financial assistance in SurSur

The Provincial Comprehensive Local Integration Program Committee of Surigao del Sur headed by Governor Johnny Pimentel successfully conducted the awarding of CLIP benefits (livelihood assistance and immediate cash assistance) to eight Former Rebels (FRs) held on Monday, Apr. 25, 2016 at the pacific conference room, Villa Maria Louisa Hotel, this city.

The CLIP awarding is the third batch conducted for the year 2016 in the 402nd Brigade area of operation.

Around 57 FRs from lawless New Peoples’ Army (NPA) Guerilla under North Eastern Regional Committee (NEMRC) received assistance from the CLIP program.

A total of ₱65,000.00 each (₱50,000.00 livelihood assistance and ₱15,000.00 immediate cash assistance) was given per beneficiary aside from the ₱5,000.00 incentive from the provincial government.

In Surigao del Sur, the CLIP committee has awarded around ₱3.9 million for the 57 FRs composing the three batches of surrenders for the year 2016.

The influx of NPA surrenders in the province is a result of the negotiation efforts of the Bayanihan Teams, local government units, tribal leaders and other stakeholders in the province.

Massive information awareness campaign through pulong-pulong, radio and TV program has also contributed to the surrender of the CPP/NPA bandits.

On the other hand, the eight FRs had also surrendered six high powered and two low powered firearms which will be paid through Firearms and Explosive Remuneration under the CLIP programs as additional benefits.

Likewise, they will undergo skills trainings and seminars as intervention by different government agencies to ensure readiness in their return to mainstream society.

Moreover, the committee had agreed and identified ways to improve the CLIP process and possible location of the half-way house for rebel returnees.

The CLIP benefits for the fourth batch of NPA surrender is on process and the CLIP committee is expecting influx of surrenders.

Intensified ops vs. NPA in time for May 9 polls

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 28): Intensified ops vs. NPA in time for May 9 polls

The military justified its intense military operations in the countryside citing the need to keep rebel forces at bay in time for the May 9 national and local elections.

Captain Rhyan Batchar, spokesperson of the 10th Infantry Division said the intense military operations in Barangay Astorga, Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur, Colombio Sultan Kudarat, Paquibato and Marilog Districts in Davao City and the hinterlands of Compostela are all designed to drive away rebels and to stop them from conducting extortion activities.

“It’s the order of the 10th Infantry Division commanding general, to look for the communist rebels, especially now that we are nearing the holding of the polls,” he said.

Batchar said the rebels historically, take advantage of the election season by conducting either atrocities.

He said troops are vulnerable especially in the escorting of vote counting machines and during the setting up of security to communities prior to the holding of the elections.

“That is why we are intensifying our intensive operations against the rebels,” Batchar said.

He said soldiers may either hit the rebels hard or drive them away.

Batchar said that as long as the government forces will keep the rebels away from areas where people have to spend their time voting, it is a good measure enough that they have attained their mission of keeping the communities safe.

Major Ezra Balagtey, spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command said all equipment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines will be at the disposal of the Commission on Elections during the elections.

He said all equipment of the military must have the corresponding approval of the poll body when used during the Election Day.

“Aircraft and vehicles of the military are at the disposal of the Comelec,” Balagtey said.

Decommissioned MILF combatants complete skills training and return to civilian lives

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 28): Decommissioned MILF combatants complete skills training and return to civilian lives

Decommissioned members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are set to start a new chapter in their lives after graduating from their respective intensive skills training courses.

The graduating batch was awarded their certificates of training completion in a simple ceremony held at the Old Provincial Capitol last April 25.

The trainings were provided by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and included courses on bread and pastry production, driving, carpentry, cookery, motorcycle/small engine repair, dressmaking/tailoring, automotive servicing, electrical installation and maintenance, welding, and entrepreneurship.

During the ceremony, Government Peace Panel Chair Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said that the decommissioned combatants played very important roles in the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

“[T]his is one way of showing your co-Filipinos that the MILF is sincere in its signed agreements with the government,” Ferrer said, as she addressed the graduates.

The Panel Chair also noted that even with the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the government and the MILF “are still here to continue what has been started,” highlighting the commitment of both parties to uphold the different components of the Bangsamoro peace process.

Meanwhile, MILF-Task Force for the Decommissioned Combatants and their Communities (TFDCC) Deputy Chief of Staff Hussein Munoz reminded the former combatants to be guided by the principles of “mujahideen” or “those on a personal struggle in devotion to Islam especially involving spiritual discipline.”

He called on them to “continue the peace process until the next administration” and to use their newly acquired skills to benefit their children, families, and communities.

Said training activities are components of the socio-economic programs under the Normalization Annex of the CAB--the peace agreement signed by the government and the MILF after more than 17 years of negotiations.

As part of their skills training, the former combatants also had reflection sessions conducted by the Health Organization of Mindanao. They went on field visits to different establishments to further their knowledge. They visited the Maguindanao Electric Cooperative, Inc. to learn more about electrical installation and maintenance; the Al-Nor Construction for carpentry; Aling Precy’s Restaurant for cookery; Shields for dressmaking; and Auto Servitek for small engine repair.

For their part, the graduates expressed their appreciation of their freshly acquired skills and their impact on their new life as unarmed civilians.

“Mahalaga ang okasyong ito dahil naganap ito sa gitna ng isinagawa nating malawakan at malalim na pagbabago sa sistema ng pamumuhay sa bansa at sana ay maayos nating mahanap at mapag-tagumpayan ang mga hamon ng pagbabagong ito. (This occasion is important because it happened as part of comprehensive and thorough changes in our lives and I hope we can face and triumph over the challenges that these changes may bring),” Yacob Palao said in a message he gave on behalf of his batch.

MILF to provide continuous education and monitoring

In a media forum following the ceremony, an MILF official announced that they would monitor and provide further education to the graduates.

“[O]n the side of the MILF panel, we will give continuous education to these people. The process doesn’t end with the provision of the toolkits but they will be continuously educated with the proper technology and guidance on how to improve their projects,” said Melanio Ulama, MILF representative and Commissioner of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission.

Following the completion of the trainings, the decommissioned MILF combatants will start to implement their business proposals under the Sustainable Livelihood Program from Department of Social Welfare ang Development (DSWD). Their proposals vary from setting up buy-and-sell businesses, putting up sari-sari stores, and requesting supplemental capital in support of their starter toolkits, among others.

To fully ensure a smooth implementation of their proposals, assistant development workers from DSWD will continue to provide technical assistance. On-the-job training placements in different business establishments in Maguindanao or Cotabato City will also be facilitated.

Furthermore, farming/fishery assistance from the Department of Agrarian Reform and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources will be awarded towards the third quarter of the year.

Such undertakings, according to Ferrer, prove that “the government, through its different participating line agencies, remains committed in delivering what have been agreed upon under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.”

The decommissioning process of the MILF is part of the signed CAB. Its first phase was completed last June 2015 where 145 combatants were registered and 75 high-powered and crew-serve weapons were turned over to the government. This milestone was immensely acclaimed by the international community and is one of the reasons why the Philippines is seen as a world model in peace processes.

Once a Bangsamoro Basic Law is passed in Congress, several thousands of MILF combatants and weapons will be processed for decommissioning. All decommissioned combatants will receive the same socio-economic packages and training opportunities that would enable them to transition to productive, civilian lives.

South China Sea: Bracing for Beijing's Next Move

From The National Interest (Apr 27): South China Sea: Bracing for Beijing's Next Move (By Wallace C. Gregson)

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Philippines

Exercise Balikatan 2016, a joint U.S. Pacific Command exercise with the Philippines that ended in mid-April, demonstrated important elements of an effective strategy to counter Chinese expansion across the South China Sea. And it’s certainly not too soon. China is expected to take preemptive action in the South China Sea before the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration announces its verdict in the Philippines v. China case, anticipated in late May or early June. Much has been done, and much remains.

Balikatan (meaning “shoulder-to-shoulder”) demonstrated U.S. and allied capability to operate ashore in a widely distributed, operationally resilient posture, employing aviation and ground weapons with the range needed to support forces operating at sea and in the air. The presence of Australian participants, and observers from Japan and other Asian countries, signals rising interest in the collective protection of accepted international law that governs access to international sea and air space. Secretary Carter’s visit and remarks to the forces ashore, followed by his visit to the USS John C. Stennis with Philippine defense minister Voltaire Gazmin, reinforced the potential of air-land-sea allied force integration. U.S. forces, including an A-10 “Warthog” element, along with Pave Hawk helicopters and associated capabilities, will remain. Joint U.S.-Philippine patrols began last month, and continued into this month. Hopefully, this heralds the beginning of a sustained U.S. presence embedded with its allies.

The ability to operate highly mobile, widely distributed forces, able to integrate long-range fires in support of naval and air forces well out to sea, is vital to the defense of extensive littoral areas along the first island chain. Mobility within a widely distributed posture offers a constantly changing target picture, despite the pervasiveness of surveillance means. A widely distributed and mobile posture also provides a response to weapons that are accurate at distance. Japanese observers undoubtedly drew conclusions, validating their current plans for a “western wall” and integrated air-land-sea maneuver capability in the Ryukyus. This posture is also ideally suited for long-term U.S. presence to help enhance Philippine capability in a politically acceptable—even welcome—manner.

There is no faster way to overcome cultural barriers than by having our young soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines live and work with their counterparts, sharing bivouac, local food and capability development over an extended time. This is underway in Japan, and needs to be expanded, as recommended in the recent CSIS report “Asia-Pacific Rebalance 2025.” One recommendation, the creation of collocated Japanese and U.S. joint task-force headquarters elements in Okinawa, would greatly improve the development of alliance capabilities. Such a structure may also prove helpful in the Philippines.

Surveillance, particularly in the maritime domain, must be increased and expanded. Intelligence sharing, and the creation of a combined common operating picture, are closely related. Fishing vessels and other craft must be tracked, in addition to traditional naval and military vessels. The ability to police fishing areas, despite the presence of Chinese coast guard and maritime surveillance craft, must be developed and deployed. The United States must have solid means to enforce jurisdiction and administration of territorial waters and exclusive economic zones at the law-enforcement level, to help prevent escalation.

The widely publicized remarks of Secretary Carter and Lt. Gen. John Toolan, Marine Corps Forces Pacific Commander and U.S. Balikatan Exercise Director, show that candor is making a comeback. The United States should continue this trend by serving notice to the Chinese, privately at first, then publicly, that unless they can help in reducing tensions in the region (including restraining North Korea and lowering anxiety in the South China Sea), they will leave U.S. leaders with no choice but to reinforce their alliance capabilities. Then, the United States should do exactly that.

Military assistance is certainly needed, but reinforcing capabilities must also include building infrastructure along the South China Sea littoral. Ports and airfields are particularly needed for commercial and business development. These facilities are also available in the event of a contingency. Japanese investment in this area is now a prominent element in the region’s collective and common security.

One exercise is not the end of the United States’ work. It may only be a beginning. The steady, determined and businesslike creation of an indubitable capability to prevail is urgently needed. China’s leadership will not be able to publically compromise on this issue, or even be perceived to be cooperating. In 2009, the Chinese declared: “China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters, and enjoys sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the relevant waters as well as the seabed and subsoil thereof.” Since then, this claim has been repeated often, and at all levels. We can therefore expect it to be a prominent part of China’s response to the expected tribunal verdict. The old Nike slogan of “Just Do It” seems to have assumed Chinese characteristics, in order to assert sovereignty over an area half as big again as the Mediterranean. Applying the term “historical sovereignty” to the entire South China Sea embeds this issue in China’s declared mission of recovering lost territory. This elevates the South China Sea to a survival-level interest for China’s leadership.

The Chinese leadership cannot compromise, let alone back down, without risking severe damage to domestic stability, including nationalist protests, and even the survival of the regime itself. The fates of the Qing Dynasty and the Nationalist regime are well remembered. The Chinese Communist Party has long claimed that U.S. China policy seeks to keep China contained. The leadership’s founding narrative includes rescuing China from the “century of humiliation” and commitment to recovering all of China’s lost territory. As a result, party elites and leaders cannot appear—to their peers or to the public—to be making sacrifices to satisfy the demands of other powers, particularly the United States and Japan.

The U.S. challenge is to maintain both deterrence and strong diplomacy. It requires degrees of skill and subtlety not often seen. U.S. allies must be reassured of America’s support, while China is reassured that the United States and its allies are not trying to keep China down.

[Wallace C. Gregson is a retired Marine, former assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs 2009–11, currently senior advisor at Avascent International and senior director for China and the Pacific at the Center for the National Interest.]

Scarborough Shoal Probably a Bargaining Chip For China in Politics Centering South China Sea Region

From the Lawyer Herald (Apr 27): Scarborough Shoal Probably a Bargaining Chip For China in Politics Centering South China Sea Region

Japan And Philippines Hold Joint Exercise

PUERTO PRINCESA, PHILIPPINES - JUNE 23: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force members and the Philippines Air Force members line up in front of the P3C anti-submarine aircraft during the Japan-Philippines joint exercise on June 23, 2015 in Puerto Princesa, Philippines. the aircraft patrols near the Spratly Islands, where China has reinforced their military presence. (Photo : The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images)

A new potential flashpoint has been observed to resolve the ongoing stalemate situation prevailing between China and the US over disputed South China Sea region. Beijing's move in expanding its geographical arena through reclaiming islands apparently to extend influence. Chinese aggression over the islands in South China Sea region has sparked massive protests among the neighboring countries and irked the US.

 Chinese aggression includes expanding and developing islands in the Spratly Islands chain. But the US military has found Chinese ships conducting survey around a clump of rocks, sandbars and coral reefs known as the Scarborough Shoal a month ago.

 The Shoal is far away from Spratly and 120 nautical miles distant from the coast of the Philippines. The area under Chinese survey is just 200 nautical miles from the Philippines capital Manila. At the same time, the region is around 200 nautical miles from the closest point on the Chinese mainland, reports The Wall Street Journal.

 The US defense officials have informed that different air patrols have been sent near Scarborough during the recent days to signal the US concern. The first flight patrol has been conducted just four days after Ash Carter, the US Defense Secretary, announced joint patrolling with the Philippines, a close US ally. The patrol flights on April 19 have been disclosed by the US Air Force through a news release, according to a report published in Nasdaq.

 The US Air Force has been ensuring air and sea domains remaining open in line with the international law. International economics as well as free trade depends on the ability to move goods which is immensely influenced with the wellbeing of other nations, reports MarketWatch quoting Col. Larry Card, Commander of Pacific Air Force's Air Contingent.

 Meanwhile, Beijing has condemned the US flights on Monday referring the Shoal as own inherent territory while calling it Huangyan Island. However, analysts believe that China is probably using the shoal as a bargaining chip rather than intending to establish another military outpost there.

 Opponents believe that China desires to monitor and intercept joint patrols from the bases nearer to the Philippines. Military outpost in the Shoal will also enable China to track ships and submarines entering the South China Sea from the Philippine Sea.

[China is in conflict with the neighboring countries centering ownership of the Spratly Island located in the South China Sea. But before resolving the crisis, China has been claiming Scarborough Shoal as its inherent territory. However, analysts believe that Chinese move over the Shoal aims to gain benefit from the politics centering South China Sea region.]

Does the U.S. Have a Legal Obligation to Defend the Scarborough Shoal for the Philippines? Not Until It Decides Who Owns It

From Lawfare (Apr 27): Does the U.S. Have a Legal Obligation to Defend the Scarborough Shoal for the Philippines? Not Until It Decides Who Owns It. (By Julian Ku)

As the tensions over the South China Sea continue to heat up, the Wall Street Journal editorial board has recently opined that the U.S. should state publicly that the U.S. “is treaty-bound to respond to an attack on Philippine ‘armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.’” (This argument has also been proposed by Gregory Poling, Zachary Cooper and Jay Batongbacal at AMTI.) But much to the disappointment of the Filipinos, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter did not offer such a public assurance during his recent visit to the Philippines. While the suggestion of a clarifying statement on the U.S.-Philippines Defense Treaty seems a good way to put pressure on China, and support a key ally in the region, the legal basis for a U.S. statement is more complex than the WSJ and others suggest. In fact, doing so would almost certainly require a serious shift in longstanding U.S. policy in the region.

Recently, rising tensions have begun to focus on Chinese plans to create another artificial island on “Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island)”. Scarborough is one of the most-disputed land features between the Philippines and China; it was the focal point of a physical confrontation between Chinese and Filipino ships in 2012 and it lies only 120 nautical miles from the main Philippines island of Luzon. U.S. naval jets recently conducted a fly-by of Scarborough Shoal, and the Chinese defense ministry has reiterated in response that the land feature is part of “China’s inherent territory.” Because it is so close to Luzon—and because leaked intelligence reports suggest China is planning to build an island and install military facilities there as soon as next month—it would seem crucial to clarify the U.S. defense obligations.

Although the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty requires the U.S. to respond to an armed attack on the Philippines’ military or coast guard forces in the Pacific, no such “armed attacks” are likely to occur. Rather, the Chinese are building artificial islands on land features the Philippines also claims, such as the Scarborough Shoal. It seems doubtful that a Filipino naval assault on such Chinese-held islands, and a Chinese defense to such attacks, would constitute an “armed attack.” Rather, it appears more likely that a Chinese response would qualify as an exercise of “self-defense.” To be sure, as Poling and Cooper argue, an “unprovoked armed attack” would trigger the defense treaty, but would a Chinese defense of Scarborough Shoal be “unprovoked?” It is at least somewhat ambiguous whether the U.S. obligation extends to defending armed attacks provoked by the Philippines in disputed territory.

The WSJ points out that clarifying language from President Obama about how the disputed Senkaku Islands fall within the U.S.-Japan Defense Treaty seems to have reduced Chinese activity in the East China Sea. They suggest a similar clarification might also cause China to think twice before embarking on its predicted next island-building plan on the Scarborough Shoal (which is well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone).

But this analysis overlooks the difference in language between the two treaties. While the U.S.-Japan Treaty obligates the U.S. to act in response to an armed attack “against [Japan] in the territories under the administration of Japan,” the U.S.-Philippines Treaty is limited to responding armed attacks “on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific.” The U.S.-Japan Treaty’s use of the phrase “under the administration of Japan” plainly meant to include more than simply those territories over which Japan had sovereignty. By contrast, the U.S.-Philippines Treaty limits U.S. defense obligations to the Philippines’ “metropolitan territory” and “island territories under [the Philippines’] jurisdiction in the Pacific.” Neither of these phrases would, in the first reading, lend itself to cover territory over which the Philippines has control but not sovereignty. Both the terms “metropolitan territory” and “island territories under its jurisdiction” strongly imply that the obligation only covers territory over which the Philippines is sovereign.

Why is this a problem for the WSJ’s recommendation? Because the U.S. has a long-standing policy not to take sides in disputes over sovereignty in the South China Sea. Sovereignty over territories like the Scarborough Shoal are plainly disputed by China. The U.S. agnosticism on sovereignty is reflected in its earlier decision to conduct FONOPs as innocent passage patrols. It will not accept or reject any country’s claim to sovereignty in the region.  

So the U.S. could not follow the WSJ’s advice unless and until it takes a position on which country has sovereignty over the various disputed land features in the South China Sea. Once it does so, it can argue with sounder legal footing that it has a legal obligation to defend the Philippines’ “territories.” I think such a shift in U.S. policy is worth considering. Indeed, Professor Batongbacal makes a good argument that while the U.S. does not take position on sovereignty disputes, its past practice suggests that the U.S. believes it acquired title to the Scarborough Shoal from Spain and then transferred it to the Philippines. That may be, but the current U.S. government position is to lump Scarborough Shoal along with other land features as “sovereignty disputes” where it will not take sides.

So perhaps this whole episode, and emerging crisis, is the right time for the U.S. to shift gears. It should no longer blindly repeat its position about “not taking sides” in sovereignty disputes. Rather, the U.S. should take a stand and support sovereignty claims that are really strong and reject sovereignty claims that are really weak. But until it does make this policy shift, the legal basis for a “clarification” by the United States is premature.

Ceasefire mechanism assists return of re-positioned MILF forces to communities

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 28): Ceasefire mechanism assists return of re-positioned MILF forces to communities

Around 2,300 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members reunited with their families as they returned to their respective communities on April 15.

This, according  to  a press statement  from  the  Office of the  Presidential Adviser  on the  Peace  Process (OPAPP) after the 38-day law enforcement operations (LEO) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Datu Salibo, Maguindanao through the help of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), the ceasefire mechanism of the Government of the Philippines and the MILF.

Last February  5,  the AFP’s 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade initiated a LEO against the BIFF that traversed through barangays Gawang and Madia in Datu Saudi Ampatuan and barangays Tee and Andavit  in Datu Salibo, both in Maguindanao province.

Prior to the LEO, the MILF repositioned thousands of its Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) members to give way to the AFP’s pursuit operations against the BIFF.

“The CCCH assisted in repositioning more than 2,300 BIAF members into different barangays during the military operations in Datu Salibo to prevent any mis-encounter between the MILF and the government military forces,” said Director Carlos Sol, Jr., head of the GPH-CCCH Secretariat. “And just last week, we also assisted these same BIAF forces into returning to their respective communities and families after the successful clearing operations of the AFP in the area.”

Through the assistance of the CCCH, these 2,300 BIAF members returned to seven different barangays, namely: Sitio Badak, Brgy. Madia, Brgy. Gawang, Brgy. Andavit, Brgy. Butiren, Brgy. Sambolawan, Brgy. Ilian, then Sitio Tatapan, and Brgy. Kitango. 

Director Sol disclosed that the CCCH team with the International Monitoring Team (IMT) accompanied the repositioned BIAF during their actual return to their respective communities until they were secured in their homes.

Sol emphasized that the operation was successfully undertaken after prior coordination with the government military.

Recognizing the importance of prior coordination, AFP spokesperson Capt. Joan Petinglay of the 6th Infantry Division explained, in another venue, that the coordination with the CCCH is structured and has been well-entrenched in the AFP’s operations.

She noted that “the ceasefire mechanisms have been a significant help to the military operations of the 6ID, particularly in the LEO against the BIFF in Datu Salibo, Maguindanao.”

“The MILF counterpart has been cooperative. Sometimes, they [MILF-CCCH] would be the one to directly give us the heads up that they have already informed their ground commanders of our operations,” added Petinglay.
The GPH-MILF ceasefire mechanisms have been instituted since year 1997 and have since been effective in its mandate to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF and to maintaining peace and order in communities with members of the MILF.
Preventing mis-encounters between GPH and MILF forces

According to Sol, “lessons learned from the past in conducting law enforcement operations against lawless armed groups” contributed in the effective prevention of mis-encounters between the government and MILF troops in recent clashes between the military and other armed groups.

Sol explained that the purpose of the coordination protocol is for the government forces to implement its mandate to conduct law enforcement and military operations in MILF areas without igniting unwarranted skirmishes between the two. “Prior coordination is a must because the military forces are not targeting the BIAF but the lawless elements that are hiding in their areas,” he stressed.

He cited the recent military operations in Butig, Lanao del Sur against the Maute Group and in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan against the Abu Sayyaf wherein there were zero skirmishes between the government military and the MILF in these areas due to an established prior coordination through the ceasefire mechanisms.

“So the Law Enforcement Operations in these areas were successful. In short, the lawless elements failed to use the MILF communities as shield to the Law Enforcement Operations against them because the military and the MILF implemented the protocols through the intervention of the ceasefire mechanisms – the CCCH, the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group and the International Monitoring Team,” said Sol.

“This kind of active and structured coordination has preserved the ceasefire agreement and has prevented several mis-encounters between the MILF and the government forces in the past and until today,” he added.