Sunday, May 15, 2016

South China Sea Arbitration – Analysis

From the Eurasia Review (May 16): South China Sea Arbitration – Analysis (By Abhishek Pratap Singh)

 South China Sea. Source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Wikipedia Commons.

South China Sea. Source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Wikipedia Commons.

The South China Sea (SCS) dispute has become a key issue of concern for East Asian regional security. The nature of the conflict and lack of clarity on the issue owes much to the multiple overlapping claims of the concerned parties based on history, geographical proximity and principles of maritime law.

China’s assertiveness has made the situation much worse and has also raised security concerns in the region. The issue is not limited to the question of maritime rights or resource control but also holds significance for regional security and cooperation, external intervention, and the application of international law.


China’s claims to the South China Sea are based on ‘historic rights’ backed by imperial maps of the Ming dynasty. As far back as 1958, China had promulgated the ‘Declaration on China’s Territorial Sea’, which listed the Dongsha Islands, Xisha Islands, Zhongsha Islands, and Nansha Islands as belonging to China.1

During the last two decades, China’s legislative proposals, economic activities, and maritime law enforcement attempts have substantiated its territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea. Thus, the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf (1998) stated that “the provisions in this Law shall not affect the historic rights enjoyed by China.”2 In 2008, China Marine Surveillance began to conduct ‘regular maritime patrols’ in these waters. In 2009, China submitted a diplomatic note protesting against the counter claims made by Vietnam and Malaysia to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, with a map of the SCS attached to it. 3

In 2011 China had also declared the SCS a ‘core interest’, only to make a ‘tactical retreat’ from this position in 2014. Interestingly, in July 2013, President Xi Jinping emphasised that China is preparing to cope with complexities, enhance the nation’s capacity in safeguarding maritime rights and interests, and resolutely safeguard the nation’s maritime rights and interests.4

Admission of Arbitration

The dispute has led to international arbitration between The Philippines and China. The former contends that the Chinese claim to the ‘nine dotted line’5 is invalid and ultra vires, as it violates the provisions of international maritime law as laid down in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). According to The Philippines, the Chinese claim violates the agreement on ‘exclusive economic zones’ (which stretches from the baseline out to 200 nautical miles (nmi) from the coast) and ‘territorial seas’ (belt of coastal waters extending at most to 12 nmi) as per the provisions of international maritime law. According to Article 55 of UNCLOS provisions, “an exclusive zone is an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea, subject to the specific legal regime established,” while Articles 77 to 81 define the “rights of a country over its continental shelf,” which includes territorial seas.6 A coastal nation has control of all resources on or under its continental shelf, living or not, but no control over any living organisms above the shelf that are beyond its exclusive economic zone.

On 22 January 2013, the Philippines sent China a note verbale, attached with a notification, to initiate arbitration proceedings against China regarding issues of the South China Sea. On 19 February, China stated its rejection of the request for arbitration by the Philippines and returned the latter’s note verbale and the attached notification.7 Later, on the request of The Philippines and its unilateral submissions in July 2015, an Arbitration Tribunal was established and which held ‘oral hearings’ in the case. The hearings were also attended by observers from Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.8 Considering the claims made by The Philippines, on October 29, 2015 the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled its jurisdiction over the case.

Global Reactions

The admission of arbitration against China under UNCLOS led to a mixed set of reactions from major world powers. After China released its position paper on 7 December 2014 objecting to the admission of arbitration, the United States State Department refereed to this report as not in accord with the principles of UNCLOS. In addition, Daniel R. Russel, US Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said that since both Beijing and Manila are signatories to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, they have to abide by the tribunal’s decision.9 Similarly, Julie Bishop, the Australian Foreign Minister, said that the ruling by the tribunal in The Hague will be as “a statement of international principle”. Even if China is reluctant to participate in its proceedings and accept the ruling, the decision “will be embraced and upheld by all other nations with claims or interests in the region.”10 Noting the problem of ‘growing tension’ in the SCS driven by China’s assertive actions, Hugo Swire, the British minister of state for the foreign office, termed the case of arbitration on SCS “as an opportunity for China and the Philippines to renew dialogue over their territorial disputes.”11 The European Union (EU) also called for ‘respect of ruling’ by both the parties in arbitration.

Chinese Position

China remained averse to the idea of The Philippines filing for an arbitration on the SCS dispute. It has adhered to the position of neither accepting nor participating in these arbitral proceedings. In keeping with this position, China did not submit a Counter-Memorial and did not participate in the hearing. Moreover, China refused to participate in the arbitration, stating that the submission of claim by The Philippines to Tribunal violates its voluntary Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) signed in 2002 with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). China also cited its 2006 declaration, subject to the provision of Article 298 of UNCLOS, wherein, a State party may declare in writing that it does not subscribe to the ‘jurisdiction of compulsory procedures over disputes’ in case of arbitration.

However, China issued its ‘Position Paper’ in order to clarify that the ‘arbitral tribunal’ established against it at the request of The Philippines holds no such jurisdiction subject to UNCLOS. In this regard, it cited Article 280 of the Convention, which states that “Nothing in this Part impairs the right of any States Parties to agree at any time to settle a dispute between them concerning the interpretation or application of this Convention by any peaceful means of their own choice.”12 China has also accused The Philippines of ignoring the China-Philippines joint statement of 1995, which had stated that “a gradual and progressive process of cooperation shall be adopted with a view to eventually negotiating a settlement of the bilateral disputes.” 13

Legality of Claims

Despite the establishment of the ‘arbitration tribunal’ for the resolution of the dispute in the SCS between China and The Philippines, there are certain key issues that revolve around the legality of claims of both parties. The ‘question of upholding maritime law’ under UNCLOS rests primarily on the valid grounds of admissibility, jurisdiction and framework of dispute settlement procedures.

According to the Chinese submission, the provisions of UNCLOS can be applied for ‘arbitration and dispute settlement’ only when the subject under dispute involves questions on delimitation of Territorial Waters (Article 15), Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) under Article 74 and the Continental Shelf (Article 83). In its 2006 declaration, China excluded all such disputes from ‘compulsory dispute settlement’ as provided under UNCLOS rules as given in Article 298. Considering the nature of the case and claims by The Philippines, most of the relief it sought are in fact closely related to the territorial sovereignty claims over SCS, maritime boundary delimitation, and even question of historic rights. Interestingly, China had a ‘valid reason’ to raise preliminary objections, as such kind of disputes are beyond the jurisdiction of Article 298 of UNCLOS.
Considering another legal point over the absence of China before tribunal, it is also not an uncommon practice in bilateral disputes as “default of appearance is nothing unusual in international adjudication.”14 However, despite China’s refusal, the Tribunal has a duty before it, under Article 9 of Annex VII in UNCLOS, to examine its jurisdiction, that is, to “satisfy itself that it has jurisdiction over the dispute.”

There are also concerns over the ‘limits of single law’ to the restitution of the dispute. It has been argued that ‘international law’ is a very live system, thus it serves no point being limited to a ‘single law convention’ or treaty to settle complicated issues. It goes against the principles and practice of customary international law. Given that one of the sources of international law is customary international law, as stated in Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, it can also play an important role in the management of ocean affairs, actually reinforcing the effectiveness of the LOS Convention. This has been substantiated by Ashley Roach(2014) in his paper, which calls for applying the relevant rules of customary international law not contained in the LOS Convention for resolving disputes.15

On the question of ‘historic rights’, and Chinese claims to the SCS based on it, there is no specific definition in international law. Also, UNCLOS makes no clear provision on historic rights, but does mention related concepts in the provisions of Article 10(6) which provides that “the foregoing provisions do not apply to so-called ‘historic’ bays”. But three have been cases related to historic rights of specific waters like that between Norway and the United Kingdom (1951), Soviet Union for the Peter the Great Bay (1998) and Libya’s claim for the Gulf of Sidra.

In the given context, South China Sea arbitration involves multiple questions related to the application of international law and law of seas, historic rights, delimitation and territorial sovereignty concerns, admissibility of the case and its potential execution. However, considering China’s non-appearance, the tribunal must proprio motu take judicial notice of all relevant facts, data, case precedents and public statements not communicated to it, and must apply its ‘arbitral wisdom’ based on international law for the examination of this matter. Indeed, this would be a dutiful discharge of it duties, as embodied in Annex VII to ‘satisfy that it has jurisdiction’ and contribute positively to the resolution of dispute.

[Abhishek Pratap Singh is a Doctoral Candidate at the Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi]

Quotation from Prof. Jose Maria Sison

From the Website of Jose Maria Sison (May 15): Quotation from Prof. Jose Maria Sison


QUOTATION FROM PROF. JOSE MARIA SISON…/duterte-spokesman-left-keeps

But National Democratic Front of the Philippines chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison said that the movement in the country has already committed to talk with the government after Duterte made reciprocal gestures.

“The National Democratic Front of the Philippines is already committed to dialogue with the Duterte government. Negotiations are needed precisely to discuss and work out the agreements on the economic, social and political reforms needed for the benefit of the people,” Sison, who is in exile in the Netherlands, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Sunday morning.

Sison disclosed that both the NDFP and the incoming government have started working together to jumpstart the stalled talks. The efforts towards a new round of peace negotiations will include a personal visit from Duterte.

“Representatives of the NDFP and the incoming government are already at work to prepare for the resumption of formal talks in the peace negotiations and before that possibly for a meeting between me and President-elect Duterte when he comes to Europe on the basis of our April 25 Skype conversation,” Sison said.

The top communist leader, who was also Duterte’s university teacher in Manila, commented that the militant group Bayan was not engaging in black propaganda as LaviƱa accused when it criticized the proposed economic agenda.

“Bayan has its own political and organizational integrity and independence and has the democratic right to express itself publicly on any matter that is priorly public, like the eight-point economic agenda announced by Mr. Dominguez. I do not think that Bayan is engaged in black propaganda. It has made critical remarks but it also makes constructive proposals,” Sison said.

Earlier, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said in a statement that the proposed economic roadmap of the Duterte camp would worsen the conditions of ordinary people, most especially in the marginalized sectors.

Reyes said Duterte should end the neo-liberal economic policies of the Aquino regime by pursuing national industrialization, economic sovereignty and strengthening of the domestic economy; and also end the import-dependent, export-oriented, backward, pre-industrial economic set-up.

He said his group has started urging the presumptive President-elect to review and reverse existing and proposed public-private partnership projects, to pursue people-oriented infrastructure development that would help develop industry and agriculture, and to develop government-supported mass transport systems.

To pursue economic sovereignty and strengthen the domestic economy, he said, Duterte should abandon all plans for economic Charter change and instead review the business terms of big foreign mining companies, coal plants, large plantations and other enterprises that plunder the national patrimony and destroy the environment.

Reyes also said to truly develop the agricultural sector, the incoming Duterte administration should adopt and implement genuine land reform and various forms of collective farming with increased government support.

According to Sison, despite the criticism, the NDFP values and recognizes the members of Duterte’s camp who are open to proposals in the crafting of the incoming administration’s economic program.

“As far as the NDFP is concerned, we are pleased with those in the incoming Duterte government who say that they are ready to receive proposals and develop further what will eventually become the Duterte economic program. We look forward to discussions with President Duterte and his negotiators before and during formal talks what would best be integrated in a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms,” Sison said.

In the Hague Joint Declaration in 1992, both parties agreed to tackle substantive agendas, including human rights and international humanitarian law, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

In March 1998, both parties signed the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

The government and the NDF panels have already formulated their drafts for the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (Caser) but the process has not made any progress after the talks hit a snag.

The guerrilla insurgency in the country is considered as one of the longest running communist movements in Asia.

PAF acquiring parts for maintenance, repair of Huey II helicopter

From the Philippine News Agency (May 16): PAF acquiring parts for maintenance, repair of Huey II helicopter

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has allocated the sum of PHP3,581,941.35 for the acquisition of spare parts needed for the maintenance and repair of one of its Huey II combat utility helicopters.

The latter is also known as the Super Huey. The PAF is estimated to operate between eight to 10 units of the Huey II.

Pre-bid conference is slated for Friday at 9:00 a.m. at the PAF Procurement Center Conference Room, Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.

Meanwhile, submission and opening of bids is on June 2, also at 9:00 a.m. at the same venue.

The Huey II a twin-engine, medium-sized utility helicopter, built by Bell Helicopter as part of the United States Marine Corps' H-1 upgrade program.

Visaya honored to be eyed by Duterte as next AFP chief

From the Philippine News Agency (May 16): Visaya honored to be eyed by Duterte as next AFP chief

Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) head Lt. Gen. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya stressed that he was very honored to be considered by presumptive-president Rodrigo Duterte as next Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff.

"To be considered to the post of AFP chief-of-staff is already a big honor. But for now, I am focused on my job as Commander of the AFP SOLCOM," he added.

Visaya is a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1983.

He was among the candidates when the positions of the Philippine Army and AFP became vacant but did not make it on the two occasions.

When asked on this matter, AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said that it is still "speculative" as no official statement is still to come from the Duterte camp regarding the matter.

However, he stressed that 668 ranking officials, with ranks of colonels and upwards, can be evaluated for the position of AFP chief.

Selection and shortlisting will be done by the Board of Generals, which is composed of the AFP chief, vice chief-of-staff, deputy chief-of-staff, and Army, Air Force, Navy commanders.

Track records and seniority are among the requirements when promoting senior military commanders, Padilla said.

When asked if Visaya is qualified for the AFP chief position, the military spokesperson said all senior military officers are qualified for the position.

AFP to validate latest ASG video threatening Samal Island hostages, insists operations still ongoing

From the Philippine News Agency (May 16): AFP to validate latest ASG video threatening Samal Island hostages, insists operations still ongoing

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced that operations are still ongoing to safely rescue hostages from the clutches of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), noting that it is yet to validate the latest video of the terrorist group threatening to behead one of the two foreigners they kidnapped in Samal Island if their ransom demands are not met by June 13.

This was stressed by AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla in press briefing Monday.

In a video circulating in the Internet, the ASG threatened to behead one of the two remaining foreign hostages if their ransom demands amounting to Php600 million are not paid before 3:00 p.m. of June 13.

Padilla said that they are still to verify the authenticity of the latest ASG video but stressed efforts to safely recover the victims are ongoing.

"We have not stopped, we have (no) letup on ongoing operations and will not cease on doing this until we are able to make these personalities or these bandits and criminals accountable for their actions," he added.

Still in the hands of the ASG are Canadian Robert Hall, girlfriend Marites Flor and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad.

Canadian John Ridsdel was beheaded by the bandits last April 25 when Canadian and Philippines authorities did not heed the ASG's ransom demand.

Ridsdel's head and torso were recovered by military authorities a few days later.

All four were kidnapped by the bandits at a post Samal Island resort, Davao Oriental last Sept. 21, 2015.

View from Taipei: U.S. ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy will require muscle, not just diplomacy

From the World Tribune (May 15): View from Taipei: U.S. ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy will require muscle, not just diplomacy

Foreign policy is an integrated structure of assumptions, objectives and means.
Critics of American foreign policy contend that the decisive factor of the failure of U.S. policy toward China has been the imbalance between political ends and military means.

Professor Tang Tsou’s classical study “America’s Failure in China 1941-1950” fully documents and illustrates U.S. policy-makers’ unwillingness to use military power and espousal of idealistic objectives in China policy.

President Barak Obama was widely criticized as being weak and indecisive, for he failed to enforce the red line he laid down in Syria, and was unwilling or unable to use force to stop Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. Will his “pivot to Asia” (or “rebalance”) strategy suffer the same grave defect?
Dr. Tsai Ing-wen / Wally Santana / AP
Dr. Tsai Ing-wen / Wally Santana / AP
Obama once thought of China as a responsible international “stakeholder” and assiduously sought its help and cooperation to cope with regional and global problems. However, Beijing has its own agenda and has been obstinate and unwilling to accommodate.

China’s hegemonic ambitions in Asia Pacific, especially its militarization of the South China Sea in the past several years, have shown Obama that his own basic assumptions about the Chinese leadership and its foreign policy are not in line with reality and the emerging trends. Thus, he has reached an alarming conclusion that the rising China is challenging the Pax Americana and that Xi Jinping’s China Dream is a blueprint to supplant America as the global superpower.

China’s claim of sovereignty over all the SCS islands and their adjacent waters overlaps with those of  the Southeast Asia countries and Taiwan, and causes growing wariness from the U.S. and its allies. In recent years China has also constructed seven artificial islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago and has built airstrips and military posts, ignoring the protests of neighbors.

Contrary to Chairman Xi Jinping’s pledge during a state visit to Washington in September 2015 that “China does not intend to pursue militarization” in the Spratly Islands, China has recently dredged a deep water port, built a military runway and deployed fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles on Fiery Cross Reef, one of the seven artificial islands in the Spratlys.

Moreover, in addition to the deployment of missiles and fighter jets to the disputed Paracel Islands, China is building a military outpost on Scarborough Shoal, 230 km off the Philippine coast and within its claimed exclusive economic zone.

The Philippines claims the Scarborough Shoal, but China took effective control of it in 2012. Construction of the outpost will include a military-capable airstrip, enabling Beijing to project power across the SCS and present an overt threat to the Philippines, an American ally.

To counter China’s expansionism and growing military reach in Asia Pacific, the U.S. is strengthening alliances and, for a change, placing a greater emphasis on the display of military power.

In the first half of April, The U.S. and the Philippines held a 10-day joint military drills, with Australia sending troops to participate in joint exercises and Japan dispatching three warships to visit a Philippine naval base. Manila announced that the Philippines would make five military bases available to U.S. forces according to a new defense agreement.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who was in Manila at the end of the joint exercises, stated that six high-powered American aircraft and three helicopters, together with 200 crew members, will remain behind at Clark Air Base “to contribute to regional security and stability.” Carter also said that the U.S. had begun joint patrols of the SCS with the Philippine navy, and the air forces of the two allies would do the same soon.

Prior to his trip to Manila, Carter also toured an Indian aircraft carrier, the first time an American defense secretary had done so. He disclosed new U.S.-India military agreements afterwards — the U.S. would help India upgrade its carriers, and the two nations would cooperate on logistics and other military technologies.

India was once a leader of the Non-aligned Movement and rather reluctant to engage with the American military.

But the rise of China’s military power and expansionism has changed India’s attitude and policy — India now seeks to bolster its security ties with the U.S. and Japan.

In a significant policy shift, India is also cooperating with Japan, a U.S. ally, to upgrade civilian infrastructure in the Andanan and Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean, a potential strategic asset, to counter China’s naval expansion,

There are unmistakable signs that Chinese expansionism has backfired. China’s militarization of the SCS and its ambition to dominate Asia Pacific is counter-productive and a huge diplomatic setback, as Beijing has prompted the new U.S. military initiatives to contain China’s hegemony and induced many of China’s neighbors to enhance security cooperation with the U.S.

A few serious questions must be answered: Is Chairman Xi in command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)? Does he support the military buildup in the SCS? Is it possible that the PLA has hijacked such policy?

In mid-April. Gen. Fan Changlong, the Vice-chairman of China’s Central Military Commission and the highest-ranked PLA leader, made a high profile inspection tour of Fiery Cross Reef to show support to China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime interests in the SCS. Currently, the PLA is conducting exercises in the SCS with warships, submarines, aircraft and troops from the garrisons in the Spratlys and the Paracel Islands.

Meanwhile, an American warship, the William P. Lawrence, a guided missile destroyer, sailed on May 10th  within 12 miles of Fiery Cross Reef to challenge China’s claims. The U.S. operation was carried out to demonstrate the the right of freedom of navigation and oppose China’s efforts to restrict navigation in the strategic waterway, according to a Pentagon spokesman.

As a matter of fact, the U.S. resumed the freedom of navigation patrol last year and has since carried out such patrols regularly in the disputed Spratlys and the Paracel Islands. On April 15, for example, Secretary Carter rode a helicopter to visit a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the John C. Stennis, as it cruised through the SCS near waters claimed by China.

Actions speak louder than words. The U.S. is placing greater emphasis on military power to enhance its rebalance strategy and to contain China’s hegemonic ambitions. The Pentagon has, in earnest, taken concrete measures to strengthen the U.S. military forces in the region, with additional personnel, more powerful and sophisticated ships, aircraft and equipment to counter China’s rising military power.

U.S. officials have indicated a steady military surge. Sixty percent of its ships and aircraft will be deployed to the Pacific by 2020, up from about half before the start of the rebalance strategy.

A free, democratic and secure Taiwan is a vital American security asset. U.S. policy-makers must recognize Taiwan’s strategic importance and the role it can play to enhance the the rebalance strategy. Hence the U.S. must do whatever it takes to help Taiwan defend itself and support the freedom of its 23 million people to determine and safeguard their future without intimidation from outside.

On the eve of Dr. Tsai Ing-wen’s presidential inauguration on May 20th, a statement separately but jointly issued  by the U.S., Japan and other democratic nations, opposing China’s coercive or provocative action toward Taiwan would be timely and essential.

[Dr. Parris H. Chang, professor emeritus of political science at Penn State University and former deputy secretary-general of Taiwan’s National Security Council, is CEO of Taiwan Institute for Political, Economic and Strategic Studies]

BRP Tarlac now Navy’s largest vessel in commission

From Update.Ph (May 16): BRP Tarlac now Navy’s largest vessel in commission

BRP Tarlac

Pending the country’s acquisition of an aircraft or helicopter carrier, the newly-arrived BRP Tarlac (LD-601) is currently the Philippine Navy (PN)’s largest commissioned ship. Each SSV has the capacity to house three helicopters, landing crafts, and amphibious vehicles. The Navy’s Augusta Westland-109s are programmed to be on-board components of these vessels.

The latter is one of the two strategic sealift vessels (SSVs) ordered from Indonesian shipbuilder PT PAL (Persero) for PHP3,870,000,000. The BRP Tarlac anchored off the breakwater of Manila South Harbor midnight of May 14 exactly four days later after leaving the PT PAL (Persero)’s shipyard in Surabaya last May 9.

Her distinction as the PN’s largest vessel ever was confirmed by Defense undersecretary for veterans affairs and retired Navy flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Jesus Millan in a message to the PNA Monday.

“[As former PN head] personally I could say that for the transport category this Tarlac class vessel is the biggest now because it has a standard load capacity of 7,200 tons versus the landing ship vessel or Bacolod City class of 4,265 tons,” he added.

Millan is the PN’s 34th flag-officer-in-command. He assumed command of the Navy in April 30, 2014. He retired on Aug. 10, 2015, turning over his post to Vice Admiral Caesar Taccad.

The PN operate two ships of the Bacolod City class and these were commissioned in Dec. 1, 1993. The two ships in the class are named BRP Dagupan City (LCC-551) and BRP Bacolod City (LCC-550).

Millan said the SSVs are multi-role vessels and very useful for humanitarian and disaster relief missions and can be transformed to a floating government center if required. Furthermore, these vessels are critical assets for civil-military operations due to their capability of transporting large number of soldiers, logistics, and supplies.

The SSV acquisition project for the PN was initiated upon the approval of Acquisition Decision Memorandum Number 2012-060 by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin last Oct. 30, 2013.

Army troopers accept Running Man Challenge dance trend (VIDEO)

From Update.Ph (May 15): Army troopers accept Running Man Challenge dance trend (VIDEO)

A video of troopers from 6th Infantry ‘Kampilan’ Division (6ID) of the Philippine Army is making rounds in social media after it was uploaded May 14. The video shows the troopers dancing at the beat of ‘I Want To Be Your Lady Baby’, a dance trend known as Running Man Challenge.

“Troops in this video are mostly members of the Task Force Kampilan CHOP, a unit organized as rapid deployment force during the election period. They are mandated to ensure that a Credible, Honest, Orderly and Peaceful Election 2016 will be felt in the entire area of operations,” 6ID said describing the video initially uploaded in the division’s social media page.

According to 6ID, two days after election day, troops were filmed in separate locations for this video.

They are now challenging other Philippine Army Major Units to do the Running Man Challenge.

6ID, Kapilan Division is based at Camp Siongco, Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao operating in Central Mindanao. It is carrying out anti-guerrilla and counter-terrorism operations.

Canadian hostage dies on June 13 unless $16 million ransom paid, says Filipino terrorist group Abu Sayyaf

From the National Post (May 15): Canadian hostage dies on June 13 unless $16 million ransom paid, says Filipino terrorist group Abu Sayyaf

The lone surviving Canadian hostage in the southern Philippines has appeared in a new video, announcing that his captors will decapitate him and a Norwegian man next month if they do not receive $16 million in ransom first.

Robert Hall, looking drawn and gaunt, says he will be executed at 3 p.m. on June 13 if demands of the Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf are not met.

“I appeal to my government and the Philippine government, as I have appealed before, for help,” he says in a calm but monotone voice, a phalanx of armed, masked extremists standing behind him.

An English text with the video specifies that a hostage will be beheaded if the ransom is not paid.
 View image on Twitter
 View image on Twitter   

      View image on Twitter    
in Philippines threatened to execute Canadian or Norwegian hostage if demand not met by June 13, 3pm

The video was posted by the jihadists on May 13 and discovered Sunday by the Site Intelligence Group, about three weeks after Abu Sayyaf murdered John Ridsdel, another Canadian seized at the same time as Hall.

Rachna Mishra, a Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman, said the department is aware of the video, but will not speak publicly about it.

“The Government’s first priority is the safety and security of its citizens and therefore we will not comment or release any information which may compromise ongoing efforts or endanger the safety of the remaining hostages,” she said in an emailed statement.

The Associated Press
The Associated PressCanadian hostages John Ridsdel, right, and Robert Hall are seen in an undated Abu Sayyaf video.

In the wake of Ridsdel’s slaying, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said adamantly that the government does not pay ransoms for hostages. Former government officials have said, though, that behind the scenes officials will consider almost anything in the effort to free captive Canadians.

The new video ends with a statement by one of the masked terrorists, his voice rising steadily to an angry crescendo, before he thrusts a machete in the air amid a chorus of “Alahu Akhbar” — Arabic for God is great.

“We say to the governments of Canada and the Philippines not to play games, for we are determined to slaughter all the captives if you do not comply with our demands,” the man says, reading from a smartphone screen. “We are not scared of you or your soldiers or airplanes.”

Both Hall and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad are clad in orange coveralls, similar to hostages in videos produced by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, to which Abu Sayaff has pledged allegiance.

Hall, his Filipino girlfriend Maritess Flor, Ridsdel and Sekkingstad were snatched last September at a marina near the city of Davao, before being spirited by boat 500 kilometres away to Jolo island.

Hall, a Calgary native, has sold insurance, run a welding shop and acted in independent films, but reportedly sold everything in 2014 to buy a 36-foot sailboat, the Renova, which he helmed across the Pacific.

He appeared to have decided to settle in the Philippines, according to one published report, before being kidnapped.

The Philippines military stepped up its operations against Abu Sayyaf on Jolo after the first Canadian was killed, but there is little indication they have made progress in finding and freeing the remaining hostages.

Filipino Jihadists Who Beheaded Canadian Hostage Vow to Execute Another if Ransom Not Paid

From VICE News (May 15): Filipino Jihadists Who Beheaded Canadian Hostage Vow to Execute Another if Ransom Not Paid

In a chilling new video, Canadian and Norwegian hostages say they will be executed in less than one month if a $16-million ransom is not paid to Abu Sayyaf, their Filipino captors who beheaded another Canadian after a previous deadline was not met.

"My name is Robert Hall. I am told to tell you that on June the 13th at 3 pm I will be murdered if the demands are not met," the gaunt, long-haired Canadian says, only briefly looking at the camera, in the latest video released by the group and published by Site Intelligence Group on Sunday. "I appeal to my government, the Philippine government, as I have appealed before for help," he said.
Screen shot of latest ransom demand video by Abu Sayyaf. Robert Hall pictured.

The camera then pans to Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, who like Hall is dressed in orange coveralls. He makes the same appeal to Canadian, Norwegian and Filipino authorities.

"Anybody who can possibly help us, if the group's demands are not met by June 13, we will be executed at 3 pm on that exact date, one month from now," says Sekkingstad.
Text accompanying the video adds that Abu Sayyaf, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, "will behead another foreign hostage on June 13 (Monday) at exactly 3 pm" if its monetary demand is not met.

Hall, Sekkingstad, and Hall's girlfriend Maritess Flor were kidnapped in September from the marina of resort near alongside John Ridsdel, a Canadian who was executed about three weeks ago. According to multiple reports, Ridsdel was beheaded. Flor does not appear in the latest video.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned "without reservation the brutality of the hostage takers" following Ridsdel's death, calling it "an act of cold-blooded murder and responsibility rests squarely with the terrorist group who took him hostage."

He followed that up the next day by declaring that "Canada does not and will not pay ransom to terrorists, directly or indirectly," saying that to do so would endanger the lives of all Canadians living and traveling abroad.

SITE Intel Group ‎@siteintelgroup
Abu Sayyaf Group Threatens in New Video to Execute Foreign Hostage if Demand not Met by June 13 

Philippine base upgrades for US troops in limbo as president-elect prepares for office

From the Stars and Stripes (May 14): Philippine base upgrades for US troops in limbo as president-elect prepares for office

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Philippine Secretary of National Defense Voltaire Gazmin are briefed on future Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement plans at Puerto Princess Airport in Palawan, Philippines on April 15, 2016.<br>Adrian Cadiz/U.S. Air Force

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Philippine Secretary of National Defense Voltaire Gazmin are briefed on future Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement plans at Puerto Princess Airport in Palawan, Philippines on April 15, 2016 

Supporters of a deal allowing the U.S. access to military bases in the Philippines are hoping the new president-elect will embrace the agreement despite his outspoken opposition to U.S. influence and his promise to shake up foreign policy when he takes office next month.

Rodrigo Duterte, the 71-year-old Davao mayor, bested four other candidates in the May 9 election with his law-and-order platform and a promise to upend the status quo.
Washington and Manila have yet to hash out the details of a base-sharing agreement that call for developing five military bases to be used by rotational American forces, and Duterte would face strong resistance if he simply abandoned agreement, an executive order by current President Benigno Aquino III,
But proponents of the base-sharing plan are concerned that his administration could drag its feet and effectively neuter it.
Duterte’s choices to head the departments of national defense, foreign affairs and treasury will reveal much about his intentions toward base-sharing, said Virginia Bacay Watson, a professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu.
The two countries announced the base-sharing deal in February under the terms of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in 2014. Those facilities are Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa; Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga; Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro in southern Mindanao; Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province; and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.
“The U.S. is working closely with the Philippines to develop project proposals to enhance the existing military infrastructure and installations at these five locations that will enable high-impact, high-value training for both the Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. Pacific Command,” Cmdr. Bill Urban, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a written statement.
Runway repairs and expansions, depots for pre-positioned disaster-response supplies and fuel storage tanks are among the infrastructure upgrades being considered, said Urban, who could not say when the proposals would be approved.
A decision has not been made on the upgrades, said a spokesman for the Philippine Department of National Defense.
The base-sharing agreement marked a new era for military relations between the two countries. The U.S. military pulled out of the Philippines in the early 1990s after negotiations broke down on extending leases for American bases.
But with the rise of jihadist terrorism at the turn of the millennium, the two nations found themselves fighting a common enemy, and the U.S. deployed a small contingent of counterterrorism trainers to Mindanao, where the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group was responsible for a spate of kidnappings and bombings. That effort helped pave the way for the EDCA in 2014, which Aquino’s U.S.-friendly administration saw as a way of pushing back against China’s aggressive expansionism underway on the nation’s west coast in the South China Sea.
The five bases require varying degrees of improvement, particularly Fort Magsaysay and Basa Air Base, which are in remote areas and lack sleeping quarters and mess hall facilities that meet American standards for rotations longer than a few weeks.
U.S. troops have already begun brief Philippines rotations, with some servicemembers remaining in the country after joint Balikatan exercises ended April 15.
That first deployment included four Air Force A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft and two HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters staged out of Clark Air Base, where they conducted maritime awareness missions for two weeks. They flew four missions in international waters and airspace, completing the final one on April 28, the Air Force said. The A-10s left the Philippines two days later.
The U.S. and Philippines jointly patrolled the South China Sea in March and early April, and the Philippine defense secretary has expressed desire to continue those patrols.
About 80 U.S. personnel, primarily Marines, also stayed on after Balikatan at the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines at Camp Aguinaldo, on the outskirts of Manila, to work on enhancing joint command-and-control capabilities between the militaries.
Duterte has sent mixed signals about his policy direction toward the U.S. military and relations with China. At times he’s said America should butt out, but other statements have made it sound as though there’s a place for the U.S. in multilateral discussions with China over claims of sovereignty for South China Sea islands and reefs.
“I don’t think [Duterte’s] going to change the current line of calling for U.S. support in the face of China,” said Carl Baker, an Asia expert at Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Honolulu-based think tank.
“Fortunately the EDCA is in place so they don’t have re-adjudicate that,” he said. “That should help some. I’m certain that Duterte is going to be able to appreciate the value of EDCA, at least initially, as he starts trying to govern.”
One key to successful governance will be the level of support Duterte receives from his military.
“I don’t know how that relationship will work out,” Baker said. “I don’t see that as being a conflictual relationship, at least up front.”
The military is generally supportive of strong law enforcement, Baker said. Duterte has touted his tough-on-crime stance as mayor of a large city on the island of Mindanao, an epicenter of terrorism and violent crime, and admitted he was involved in extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects.
“But you really have to see how this guy governs and how he treats the military and what he does with the military,” Baker said.
Gerard Finin, a senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, said the individuals he’s spoken to within the Philippine military understand that the country’s bilateral relationship with the U.S. is essential to working through the South China Sea dispute with China.
“There’s momentum now for military modernization, upgrades,” said Watson, adding that the Philippines military is a major stakeholders in those upgrades.
“And the military will champion the cause,” she said.

US, China Warily Await Manila Leader's South Sea Stance

From the Voice of America (May 13): US, China Warily Await Manila Leader's South Sea Stance

When the Philippines officially declares Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte president, the international community will be watching closely as his administration navigates a geopolitical landscape where tensions between China and the United States are escalating.

In the days following the May 9 election, which according to unofficial tallies resulted in a decisive win for the mayor, China expressed hope that a new administration would meet Beijing halfway to resolve its disputes with Manila in the South China Sea. “So as to put the ties of the two countries back on the track of sound development,” said China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang.

Throughout the administration of President Benigno Aquino, Manila and Beijing had been at odds over sovereignty in the resource-rich sea.

Manila took a strong “what’s ours is ours” position, while Beijing reiterated its “indisputable sovereignty” over the sea. The two sides could not come to terms in bilateral talks, and the Aquino Foreign Ministry angered China when it took a multilateral track and filed an international arbitration case in 2013, the outcome of which is expected in the next month or so.

In recent years, China has turned disputed outcroppings -- most of which are listed in the Philippines case -- into artificial islands. The Philippines meanwhile, has strengthened military ties with the United States, which has stepped up its presence in the disputed sea.

Filipino students hold replicas of Chinese maritime surveillance ships as they shout anti-Chinese slogans during a rally near Malacanang Palace in Manila on March 3, 2016, to denounce reported Chinese vessels dropping anchor near a South China Sea atoll a
Filipino students hold replicas of Chinese maritime surveillance ships as they shout anti-Chinese slogans during a rally near Malacanang Palace in Manila on March 3, 2016, to denounce reported Chinese vessels dropping anchor near a South China Sea atoll

Direct deal with Beijing

Throughout his campaign, Duterte, 71, expressed a willingness to deal with China directly, mentioning joint development.

At one point, Duterte said he agreed with China for not participating in the case because even if any decision is binding, it has no enforcement mechanism. He also said if bilateral talks got nowhere, he would ride a jet ski to a disputed outcropping, plant a Philippine flag there and expect to die a hero at the hands of the Chinese.

Multiple attempts to contact Duterte transition officials for this story went unanswered.

Richard Heydarian, a geopolitical analyst at Manila’s De La Salle University, said behind the tough talk, Duterte could succeed in making inroads; but, he also cautioned that the newly-elected president would have to demonstrate some distancing from the United States, the Philippines’ only mutual defense treaty ally, while engaging China.

“I think that it will be difficult because you have very strong anti-China sentiment in the Philippines. You have a very pro-American security establishment. And if China foolishly moves forward and builds facilities on the Scarborough shoal, I think all bets are off. It will be very difficult for Duterte to sell any agreement with China.”

FILE - U.S. Navy amphibious assault vehicles with Philippine and U.S. troops on board are seen during joint exercises near a beach facing one of the contested islands in the South China Sea known as the Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
FILE - U.S. Navy amphibious assault vehicles with Philippine and U.S. troops on board are seen during joint exercises near a beach facing one of the contested islands in the South China Sea known as the Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

Relationship with US

Carl Baker, director of the Pacific Forum of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said even if Duterte had at times shown tepid reception to the U.S. with tough talk during the campaign, the two countries' new security agreement for more U.S. troop rotations would remain intact, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that happened before elections.

“I think from a United States perspective, they’re happy that’s how it turned out. I think from Duterte’s side it relieves a big pressure point in the relationship between the United States and the Philippines because he doesn’t have to make a commitment. He can almost let it happen as the military bureaucracy begins to implement it.”

Beyond the immediate security ties, Baker anticipates Washington will be vigilant about any possible human rights violations under the Duterte administration. He said the U.S. would take a “wait and see” stance on whether the campaign rhetoric would come to bear and if it did, he said the U.S. would likely make known its grave concern over human rights violations and extrajudicial killings.

Promise to 'kill criminals'

Duterte campaigned on a promise that like in his southern Philippine city, he would kill criminals.

Human Rights Watch and the Philippine Commission on Human Rights tracked more than 1,400 extrajudicial killings in Davao over a 17-year period through 2015. In profanity-laced speeches Duterte at times taunted human rights adherents to come after him and at other times said ridding the country of criminals would all be done within legal bounds.

While the Duterte transition team is focused on ways to boost the domestic economy and broaden its reach beyond urban centers, international watchers will be checking on how the new administration handles foreign investment.

Foreign investment

Last year, the Philippines saw the highest level of foreign direct investment at $6 billion. That figure, however, still places it well behind its Southeast Asian neighbors of similar sized economies.

Philippine Veterans Bank chairman and former finance secretary Roberto de Ocampo said he thought Duterte’s signal to make amendments to the constitution to help open the country to foreign investment “is a very good one.”

“That should have been - that’s what the business community had been pushing for even under this current administration. And probably with a new president, it may have the honeymoon effect and so forth.”

Constitutional limits on foreign ownership are among the factors that have kept the Philippines from having initial consideration into the U.S.’s new multilateral trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The constitution places multiple limits on foreign ownership, including the biggest hurdle for hesitant foreign investors: 60 percent mandatory local ownership in foreign interests. Two years ago, however, the Aquino administration relaxed this rule for foreign banks.

U.S. Report Decries Beijing’s Sea Tactics

From the Wall Street Journal (May 15): U.S. Report Decries Beijing’s Sea Tactics  

Pentagon calls reclamation actions in South China Sea ‘coercive’

 China has reclaimed more than 3,200 acres of land in parts of the disputed South China Sea over two years, according to a Pentagon report released Friday that accused Beijing of using “coercive tactics short of armed conflict” to advance its interests while stopping just short of provoking war.

The U.S. report—an annual review of China’s military power the Pentagon prepared for Congress—also said Beijing’s overhaul of its armed forces had resulted in new capabilities that could diminish the U.S.’s core advantages in military technology.

It pegged Chinese military spending in 2015 at more than $180 billion, about $40 billion more than China’s official defense budget for the year, and predicted China would be able to continue increasing military spending at about 9.8% annually for the foreseeable future despite its economic challenges.

“The United States will seek cooperation in areas of mutual benefit and manage competition with China from a position of strength,” Abraham M. Denmark, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, said at a briefing. He said the U.S. would stay focused on maintaining military superiority. The Obama administration wants about $583 billion for military spending for 2017.

Zhu Haiquan, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said in a statement that China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratly Islands, which he called the Nansha Islands.

“China’s construction and deployment of facilities on its own soil in defense of its territory are legitimate acts of peaceful construction and exercise of its right to self-preservation,” the spokesman said. “The U.S. has been deliberately playing up the South China Sea issue to beef up its forward military deployment and flex its muscles. These coercive and dangerous actions are serious threat to peace and stability in the South China Sea”.

China’s defense ministry in a statement on its website late Saturday expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the Pentagon report, saying it deliberately distorted China’s military policies and had severely damaged trust between the two countries.

The U.S. report comes as President Xi Jinping attempts to transform China’s military focus from defending the country to potentially projecting power outside its borders.
China also has become more aggressive in asserting its claims in the disputed South China Sea, with its reclamation operations rising steadily to more than 3,200 acres of land in the Spratly Islands chain where it is building infrastructure including harbors, communications and surveillance systems, three airfields and logistics facilities, according to the report.

The Pentagon study said other countries besides China had reclaimed approximately 50 acres of land in the Spratly Islands over the same period. It didn’t say how much land China had reclaimed in other parts of the South China Sea outside the Spratlys.

China’s actions in the South China Sea have unnerved U.S. allies with competing claims in the area, including the Philippines, which relies largely on Washington to counter Beijing. The U.S. has stepped up its military activities in the Philippines in response and continued conducting freedom of navigation exercises in the disputed waters.

The Pentagon outlined China’s modus operandi in the South China Sea in the study. “China often uses a progression of small, incremental steps to increase its effective control over disputed areas and avoid escalation to military conflict,” the report said. “China has also used punitive trade policies as instruments of coercion during past tensions and could do so in future disputes.”

The Chinese are seeking “to advance their interests in ways that are calculated to fall below the threshold of provoking conflict,” the study found.

Friday’s report included a series of satellite images showing how China built infrastructure on reef formations in the South China Sea. By late 2015, China had excavated deep channels to improve access to the sites, created artificial harbors and constructed new berthing areas for larger ships, in addition to building three airfields, each with approximately 9,800-foot runways, the report found.

China claims sovereignty over all of the South China Sea’s islands and adjacent waters, and says its actions there are for peaceful purposes, including support for its fishermen. The U.S., however, sees Beijing’s actions as a creeping attempt to take de facto control.

“Additional substantial infrastructure, including communications and surveillance systems, is expected to be built on these features in the coming year,” the Pentagon report said of the largest outposts in the Spratly Islands.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected to rule this summer on a legal challenge the Philippines has brought against China’s expansive claims to the South China Sea’s islands, rocks and reefs.

Even as China’s military broadens its ambitions, it continues to focus on contingency planning related to Taiwan, which Beijing considers a Chinese province gone astray and Taipei considers an independent country. The U.S. doesn’t support Taiwanese independence but sells arms to Taipei to help the island keep up its defenses and maintain the status-quo balance with China.

“China’s multidecade military modernization effort has eroded or negated many of Taiwan’s historical advantages,” the Pentagon report found.

The U.S. is urging Taiwan to continue to increase its military spending and invest in so-called asymmetric capabilities—technologies or military innovations by which Taiwan could outmatch China in a potential conflict despite being much smaller.

“We focus on asymmetry because of the obvious and unavoidable imbalance in the sheer size of the two sides,” Mr. Denmark said. “Because of that, we believe that Taiwan does need to increase its spending but also needs to make investments in asymmetric capabilities that would account for that natural disparity in size."

Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2016

From US Department of Defense (2016): Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2016

Go to the URL below for a full copy of the report.

Pentagon report ‘severely damaged’ relations — China

From the Daily Tribune (May 16): Pentagon report ‘severely damaged’ relations — China

China yesterday accused the United States of deliberately distorting the facts in a report on the Asian giant’s defense policy, warning Washington it had “severely damaged” trust between the superpowers.

The Pentagon has earlier said Beijing had been building up military facilities on reefs and islets in a bid to assert its claims to the contested waters of the South China Sea.

China’s military has also been using “coercive tactics” to foster tensions with its neighbors, but will ensure they do not snowball into outright conflict, according to the annual report to Congress.

But Beijing hit back in comments published in state media, with a defense ministry spokesman saying the Pentagon report had “deliberately distorted China’s defense policies.”

“It is the United States that has been flexing military muscles by frequently sending military aircraft and warships to the region,” spokesman Yang Yujun said, according to the official news agency Xinhua.

“The US annual report on China’s military and security developments has severely damaged mutual trust between the two sides.”

Yang accused the US of being behind the “militarization in the South China Sea,” parts of which are claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia as well as China.

The South China Sea, an important shipping route thought to be home to vast energy deposits, has become a growing source of tension between Beijing and Washington as the US turns its focus on Asia.

Washington fears Beijing is seeking to impose military controls over the entire area, where China has built massive structures including radar systems and airstrips on reclaimed reefs and islets.

The Pentagon report estimated China has reclaimed 1,300 hectares of land around the Spratly Islands, also claimed by the Philippines, over the past two years.

Beijing has been angered by the growing US attention on Asia and US forays into the Sea, including sailing warships close to reclaimed islands.

Arbitration reasonable

In Manila, MalacaƱang yesterday said the Philippines is right in seeking the assistance of the international arbitration court to resolve its case against China over disputed territory in the South China Sea.

According to presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.,  the participation of the Philippines in the arbitration proceedings is in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

China has refused to take part in the arbitration and wanted the maritime row to be resolved peacefully through negotiations between the parties directly concerned.
Coloma stressed China, as one of the signatories of the Unclos, should join the arbitration.

The United States, the United Kingdom and Japan are among the countries which have expressed their support to a peaceful settlement of the Philippines-China sea row.

The UN Charter and international laws encourage peaceful settlement of rows through dialogue while the Unclos respects the decision of the parties concerned to choose how to settle the disagreement.

MILF presses gov’t to address Mindanao kidnappings

From the Daily Tribune (May 16): MILF presses gov’t to address Mindanao kidnappings

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is challenging the government to exert its authority to address kidnapping-for-ransom (KFR) in southern Philippines, particularly in Sulu, which it described as fast-becoming Somalia of Southeast Asia.

It noted that police and military authorities have become ineffective against KFR groups in Sulu and Basilan, citing last month’s abduction of 10 Indonesians and four Malaysians.

“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,” the MILF said in its website.

“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,” it stressed.

The MILF said the government should act swiftly against the menace as the negative impacts of unabated kidnappings are now being felt.

“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.

“(The) government must assert its authority,” it added.

The MILF claimed to have been doing its part to address KFR menace in southern Philippines, particularly in its stronghold Central Mindanao.

It, however, stressed it does not support ransom payment in exchange for the release of the victims.

“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,” the MILF said.

The Abu Sayyaf group recently freed 14 Indonesians held as captives since mid-April.
Report said that the Moro National Liberation Front played a key role in the freedom of the hostages.