Thursday, June 30, 2016

Ex-Gabriela representative leads latest Duterte appointees

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 1): Ex-Gabriela representative leads latest Duterte appointees


President Rodrigo Duterte has announced new appointments to his administration a day after his inauguration.

Duterte has appointed progressive leader Liza Maza to head the government’s National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC).

Maza, a former Gabriela Partylist representative, is a staunch advocate for the protection of the welfare of the poor and marginalized.

READ: LGBT group welcomes ‘formidable voices for women’ in Duterte Cabinet

Aside from Maza, Duterte also made official the appointment of lawyer Rodolfo Salalima as Secretary of the newly-created Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT).

Salalima, a schoolmate of Duterte, finished his Bachelor of Laws in San Beda College in Manila. He was a former legal counsel of telecommunications company Globe.

READ: Duterte names ex-schoolmate Rodolfo Salalima DICT head

The President has also appointed Angelito Banayo as Managing Director and Resident Representative of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO).

Banayo is a veteran in government service, having served as Postmaster General, Philippine Tourism Authority Administrator, and National Food Authority Administrator.

MILF: Editorial -- Inclusivity

Editorial posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Jul 1): Editorial -- Inclusivity

There has been pronouncement lately about the need for inclusivity in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), as if to say that what was crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) and introduced to Congress as House Bill No. 4994 in the Lower House and Senate Bill No. 2408 in the Upper House was lacking in such quality. This calls for clarification, lest the impression or perception would be accepted as fact. And the quick way to do that is to look at the proposed law.

But before that, what is inclusivity? The Collins English Dictionary defines it as the fact or policy of not excluding members or participants on the grounds of gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, etc.”

Even this definition, when viewed through the lenses of religious, cultural, and social differences of peoples and societies, will pose probably more problems than what it can address.  But we are not in this discourse here.

In general term, the first inclusivity in the BBL is that it is for the Bangsamoro people, with the indigenous people given the freedom of choice and the migrants a special treatment, because they happen to be the minority in the proposed Bangsamoro territory. The second inclusivity is that all its provisions, especially the Basic Rights and all other rights already enjoyed by them granted by the Philippine Constitution, are intended for their general welfare. The third is that when the BBL is passed in Congress and ratified by the people, all the three major groups named above --- as well as the MNLF --- will be represented in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA).

The MILF is not averse to the MNLF brothers being part of the transition body. In fact, we have made this known even to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
In precise term, any unimplemented provision or provisions of the 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Agreement (FPA) that can “improve or enhance” the proposed basic law is very much desired and welcomed. Towards this end, the MNLF under Muslimin Sema and the MILF under Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim have created a Joint Technical Working Group (JTWG) with the task of “finding common ground between the 1976 Tripoli Agreement/1996 FPA on the one hand, and the 2014 CAB on the other, as a means of harmonizing the two peace tracks”, as stipulated in Resolution No. 2/42-MM on Question of Muslims in Southern Philippines during the 42nd Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers held in Kuwait, State of Kuwait on May 27-28, 2015.

The two leaders also called on the MNLF under Nur Misuari to join their efforts towards a common path of pursuing the Moro right to self-determination for freedom, peace, justice, and development. On the part of the MILF, it even sent a delegation to Sulu to talk to Misuari about this call for brotherly overture and cooperation.
But if this effort proves to be a hoping game for the MILF especially, but to the government it is more enigmatic. In August 2014, Misuari had declared independence and called for the renewal of armed struggle, and therefore, he had literally and unilaterally abrogated the 1996 FPA.  However, with President Rodrigo Duterte now in the helm of power, we think it is not as difficult as before. Duterte and Misuari are personal friends; in fact, the former had already indicated early on that he would visit the latter in Sulu soon.

Back on the issue of inclusivity, we are not saying here that the BBL is a perfect proposed law and there is no more room to “improve or enhance” it. This was clearly stated in Chairman’s Murad letters to Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Sonny Belmonte in 2015 that while the MILF is pushing for the passage of the original BBL in Congress but it is open to enhancing or improving the proposed law. After all, Congress has plenary power over legislation.

However, pushing for more inclusivity in the proposed law has to be exercised with caution. First, we have to bear in mind that the proposed law shall be compliant to the letter and spirit of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB); second, over-stressing the details will lead to incoherence or bulging of stomach, so to speak; and third, it has to be remembered that a hitch-hiker should not carry more load than those who are more deserving.

MILF: MILF to help in release of Indonesian kidnap victims

From the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Jun 30): MILF to help in release of Indonesian kidnap victims

MILF Chairman Alhaj Murad Ebrahim assured on Sunday (June 26) Indonesian Col. Elphis Rudy of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) that the MILF would try to help in the release of seven Indonesian seamen who were abducted on June 22 in the Sulu Sea.

During the exit call of the Indonesian contingent of the IMT, Murad issued an instruction to the MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and Adhoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) to monitor the situation or whereabouts of the kidnapped Indonesians.

Murad said he felt “very sad about the kidnapping” and lamented that the incident is an “offshoot of the absence of effective authority in that place.”

Murad told the outgoing contingent --- 9 Indonesians and a Japanese --- that similar situations in the island-provinces are very difficult to control and sometimes they feel “helpless” over such incidents.

In the past, kidnapping also became rampant in mainland Muslim Mindanao but because of mechanisms like the CCCH and AHJAG the kidnappings almost disappeared, Murad said.

Col. Rudy, who led the Team Site 4 of the IMT based in General Santos City, expressed gratitude to the MILF members on the ground who assisted in the negotiations and eventual release of the previous groups of Indonesians kidnapped on March and April.

He also relayed their request for assistance from the MILF leadership to solve the recent kidnapping of their nationals.

Inspite of these, Rudy reiterated his government’s continuing support to the Bangsamoro struggle to have peace and development.

Chairman Murad, Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) Chief of Staff Sammy Al-mansur and Peace Panel/BTC Chairman Mohagher Iqbal gave certificates of appreciation to Rudy as well as his fellow departing Team members such as Maj. Gara Hendrik Amd., Maj. Vinsenslaus Jemudin, Maj. Yudha Timor Saputro; Maj. Cokorda Gede Parta, Maj. Pas. Sulistiyo Utomo, Mr. Aris Garinto, Mr. Muhammad Sharul Murajjab, and Mr. Raksa Pernama Ibrahim.

Mr. Takayuki Nakagawa, head of the socio-economic assistance unit, also bid goodbye to the MILF leadership.

Nakagawa has been with the IMT since 2012. He would be assigned to JICA main office in Tokyo.

His substitute, Hiroyuki Kawamoto, was introduced already to the MILF Central Committee.

The next Indonesian contingent to the IMT would arrive on the first week of July. #### (A. Ibnusman)

MILF: Bangsamoro multi- sectors to hold ‘iftar’ at Cotabato City People’s Palace

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Jul 1): Bangsamoro multi- sectors to hold ‘iftar’ at Cotabato City People’s Palace

After series of meetings held by the “Tilagad group” (Breakfast Group) sponsored by some prominent individuals of Cotabato city, the idea of holding a mass Bangsamoro iftar (breaking of fast) came out and will be held on July 2, 2016 at in front of Cotabato City Peoples’ Palace .

Before the advent of Ramadhan, “Tilagad Group” has been regularly held every Sunday morning with the objective of forging unity and solidarity among old and new brothers. The group is headed by Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga, Executive Director of Institute of Bangsamoro Studies (IBS).

“The mass Bangsmoro iftar is just a continuation of the Tilagad group”, said Sheikh Abdulkadir Abdullah, a co-chairman of the upcoming Bangsamoro iftar.

Bobby Benito, who is in charge of media committee for the said activity said online that activity organizers are targeting at least 5000 to 7000 Moro and Non-Moro individuals to come and share the blessings by participating in the iftar.

Groups or organizations supporting the activity include, the Al-Balagh Foundation, Tabun Halal, City Government of Cotabato, League of Bangsamoro Organizations (LBO), other CSOs and NGOs in Cotabato City and neighboring areas.

Reports coming from invitation committee headed by Professor Hashim Manticayan that several groups and individual show their supports and he expected to a large number of people gather. Manticayan still in informing and encouraging people to attend.

Dr. Norodin Salam, a secretariat of the activity ensured the said activity will be successful and benefited to the all concerns Moro and non-moro people. He already divided the task and responsibility to the CSOs who were actively presents during the meeting.

The program will be properly started at 5pm on July 2, 2016 by speeches of the Bangsamoro Grand Mufti Abuhuraira Udasan.

MILF: MILF-MNLF sign Joint Communique for Peace

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Jul 1): MILF-MNLF sign Joint Communique for Peace

In another milestone of Bangsamoro struggle for peace and development, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) signed yesterday, June 29, a historic Joint Communique for Peace at Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao in the presence of leaders of the Moro fronts, members of civil society organization, and the media.

MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim represented the MILF and former Cotabato City Mayor Datu Muslimen Sema represented the MNLF. MILF 1st Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar and MNLF Vice Chairman Hatimil Hassan were also present.

In his message before the formal signing, Vice Chairman Jaafar considered the signing as significant and important to the Bangsamoro struggle towards Right to self-determination (RSD). “We have to work for common good and differences shall not make us not to succeed’, Jaafar said. He also thanked the CSO’s for being instrumental in holding the historic event that he considered the opportune time for the Moro people.

In his message, MILF Chair Al Haj Murad considered the event as a demonstration of unity. “Despite the non-support of some groups, he stressed that the event “only strengthens the Moros steadfastness in their struggle for right to self-determination”.

In their joint communique, the two Moro Fronts said that, “As they join together, they declared a cohesive stand ion their efforts to regain their lost freedom and self-determination so that they will enjoy the blessings of peace, justice and development”.

‘We come together with a unified action to work at common goals and objectives to engage with the new Philippine administration of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte”, both leaders said in their communique.

To make the engagement with the new administration feasible and realistic, the Moro fronts stressed that the unity of the Bangsamoro people is founded on the basis of the mechanisms contained in the ICFM-OIC Resolutions and Bangsamoro Coordination Forum (BCF) Articles in recognition and acknowledgment of the peace efforts for the Muslims in South of the Philippines that resulted in the signing of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) for the implementation of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, and the Malaysian facilitation, as recognized by the OIC, that led to the signing of the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

In their communique, the two Moro Fronts have also agreed to organize a Joint technical Working Group (JTWG) with the task of “finding common ground between the 1976 Tripoli Agreement/1996 FPA on the one hand, and the 2014 CAB on the other, as a means of harmonizing the two peace tracks”.

Muhammad Ameen, Chair of the MILF Central Committee Secretariat was the Master of Ceremonies, while Datu Romeo Sema read the joint communique before it was signed by the two Moro leaders.

Presidential Envoy Reports Counter-ISIL Progress, Ongoing Terrorism Threat

Posted to the US Department of Defense Website (Jun 30): Presidential Envoy Reports Counter-ISIL Progress, Ongoing Terrorism Threat (By Cheryl Pellerin)

The U.S.-led multinational coalition is making progress in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and against its networks and affiliates, but an unprecedented terrorist challenge remains for nations everywhere, the presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIL said June 28.

State Department official Brett McGurk testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, noting that the global campaign plan being carried out by 66 coalition partner nations focuses on three areas for defeating ISIL.
Sailors prepare to load ordnance onto a Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 86 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, deployed in the Mediterranean Sea, June 28, 2016. The USS Eisenhower is deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Anderson W. Branch
Sailors prepare to load ordnance onto a Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 86 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, deployed in the Mediterranean Sea, June 28, 2016. The USS Eisenhower is deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Anderson W. Branch

Sailors prepare to load ordnance onto a Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 86 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, deployed in the Mediterranean Sea, June 28, 2016. The USS Eisenhower is deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Anderson W. Branch Preparing to Launch
Sailors prepare to load ordnance onto a Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 86 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, deployed in the Mediterranean Sea, June 28, 2016. The USS Eisenhower is deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Anderson W. Branch
“We analyze ISIL in three dimensions,” he told the panel. “The core in Iraq and Syria; the networks that feed its strength -- foreign fighter networks, propaganda networks and financial networks; and the global affiliates … eight in all, that seek to expand its reach, with Libya and Sinai being the most significant.”

McGurk said that of the indicators used to track ISIL -- morale, territory, combat-ready fighters, access to revenue, access to borders, capable and confident leadership, social media and global branches -- many are trending in the right direction.

Dismantling ISIL

The number of foreign fighters joining ISIL is down, he said, and “more countries than ever before are sharing information to identify those who are still traveling. Outside financing has been severed and internal financing has taken a significant hit through painstaking intelligence work and precision targeting by military forces in Iraq and Syria.”

ISIL's propaganda is being challenged 24/7 through a global network of countries, civil society organizations, private companies and individuals, McGurk added, and ISIL leaders are being killed at a rate of one every three days, including ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's main deputies, Haji Imam and Abu Sayyaf, killed by U.S. military forces.

ISIL's territory is shrinking, he said, and the terrorist army has lost nearly 50 percent of territory it once controlled in Iraq and 20 percent in Syria over the past 18 months.

What makes ISIL different from other terrorist organizations is its attempt to hold territory and establish a self-proclaimed state-like entity in Iraq and Syria that McGurk called a “phony caliphate.”

Taking ISIL Territory

The notion of a caliphate, he added, “has been a primary driver in recruitment for the tens of thousands of foreign fighters that have joined ISIL in Syria and Iraq. The territory it controls also allows ISIL to extract vast resources, and most importantly for us, plan and launch highly sophisticated external attacks.”

McGurk said the attacks in Brussels and Paris, for example, stem from ISIL's external plotting network based in Raqqa and that ISIL has sent operatives from Syria to Europe through an area called the Manbij pocket.

“That is why we must take the territory away from ISIL,” he said. “And, just as important, stabilize areas after ISIL is [ejected].”

As local fighters take back important territory, McGurk added, coalition forces are collecting information about the foreign fighter network, about how it's put together and who leads it.

“That helps us really root it out,” he said, “not only in Iraq and Syria but in the branches and little networks that exist in France and other places.”

Retreating to the Shadows

Two years ago around this time, McGurk said in his written testimony, “I was in Iraq when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi pronounced the establishment of a caliphate from the largest mosque in Mosul.”

It was Ramadan, he added, and the announcement, despite being denounced by thousands of Muslim leaders and scholars around the world, spiked ISIL recruiting and its adherents’ confidence as a historic movement on the march. Throughout 2014, Baghdadi and other leaders appeared in the open, speaking and recruiting.

“I just returned from another trip to Iraq. It is Ramadan once again yet we have not heard from the so-called caliph in more than six months,” McGurk said. “This Ramadan is being celebrated not by Baghdadi but by millions of Iraqis taking the streets each night as ISIL and its leaders have retreated to the shadows.”

But ISIL still inspires new recruits and lone-wolf attacks around the world, he added.

“This is extraordinarily difficult to stop. We have to remain vigilant. That's why we have a global coalition, not just for Iraq and Syria but to make sure we are attacking the foreign fighter networks and sharing information [and] working with Interpol so, as these people try to travel, they can be picked up,” McGurk said.

“This is something we haven't seen before,” he added, “and [when] you add to it social media and the speed of international travel … it is an unprecedented challenge and it's going to be with us for years.”

Defeating ISIL in Cyberspace

McGurk said ISIL’s social media recruiting efforts are being countered by coalition efforts led by the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia, providing counter-ISIL content with localized focus for different regions of the world.

“I have visited the Sawab Center in [the United Arab Emirates], which is led by smart and energetic young people determined to defeat ISIL in cyberspace,” he said in written testimony, “and they are succeeding with innovative media campaigns focused on ISIL defectors and the truth behind what ISIL promises versus what it delivers on the ground -- especially for women.”
Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Rick Stengel visits the Sawab Center in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, the first-ever multinational online messaging and engagement program in support of the global coalition against ISIL, April 27, 2016. State Department photo
Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Rick Stengel visits the Sawab Center in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, the first-ever multinational online messaging and engagement program in support of the global coalition against ISIL, April 27, 2016. State Department photo

Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Rick Stengel visits the Sawab Center in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, the first-ever multinational online messaging and engagement program in support of the global coalition against ISIL, April 27, 2016. State Department photo Sawab Center Visit
Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Rick Stengel visits the Sawab Center in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, the first-ever multinational online messaging and engagement program in support of the global coalition against ISIL, April 27, 2016. State Department photo
In the United States, the State Department’s Global Engagement Center coordinates, integrates and synchronizes governmentwide communications activities to counter ISIL messaging, McGurk said.
“The GEC also provides assistance with content-development platforms and amplifying effective voices against the perverse ISIL narrative,” he added.

Countering ISIL Messages

McGurk said Twitter recently announced that it has eliminated nearly 125,000 ISIL-related or -affiliated “handles,” and that number is growing, and Facebook and YouTube are similarly removing ISIL-related content from their platforms.

“Within the coalition, we have widely publicized how anyone can report ISIL content online so platforms can remove it if the content violates a platform’s terms of service, which it often does,” he said.

Such efforts are having an impact, McGurk noted, adding that two years ago ISIL had nearly free reign in cyberspace and today there are reportedly six people opposing ISIL’s message online for each person who supports it.

“We need these numbers to increase,” he said, “and recognize that the most effective voices are not governments but individuals, with their own first-hand accounts of the horror under ISIL rule. As these stories increase, ISIL’s message is on defense and it is our job to help keep it that way.”

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)

China Congratulates Philippines' New President Duterte

From The Diplomat (Jul 1): China Congratulates Philippines' New President Duterte

China hopes to turn over a new leaf in relations with Manila.

The Philippines swore in Rodrigo Duterte as its sixteenth president on June 30. Despite (or perhaps because of) rocky ties under previous President Benigno Aquino, the Chinese government wasted no time offering its congratulations to the new leader in Manila.

Xinhua reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a message of congratulations on Thursday, saying that “he is willing to work with Duterte to push for improvement of relations between their two countries.” The Chinese leader purposefully avoided mentioning the strained ties over the past four years, resulting from heated disputes over features in the South China Sea. Instead, Xi went on to praise the “good-neighborliness and friendship” that he described as an “historical inheritance for the thousands-year-long history of China-Philippine relations.”

Xi added that “China and the Philippines face important opportunities in the development of bilateral relations.”

Since Duterte was elected on May 9, China has been holding out hope that the new administration would drop Aquino’s hardline stance on maritime disputes in the South China Sea. After the results of the Philippine presidential election were announced, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said, “We hope that the new government of the Philippines can work with us towards the same direction, properly deal with relevant disputes, and bring bilateral relations back to the track of sound development with concrete actions.”

Most importantly, China wants Manila to drop the arbitration case over the South China Sea disputes brought by the Aquino administration. The case, submitted to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in January 2013, challenges China’s nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea, as well as claiming that Beijing has violated Manila’s maritime rights within its exclusive economic zone. China has refused to participate in the case, arguing that the tribunal does not have jurisdiction.

Beijing also holds that the arbitration is invalid (even illegal) because the Philippines filed it in violation of previous agreements to resolve disputes through bilateral negotiations. The PCA tribunal has rejected both those arguments.

A final ruling is expected on July 12, 2016; in preparation, China has issued a slew of media articles and official statements slamming the arbitration case. In the same press conference on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei first conveyed Xi’s message of congratulation to Duterte before offering a harangue on the arbitration case:
The unilateral initiation of arbitration by the Aquino administration breaches international law, goes back on the agreement between China and the Philippines on resolving relevant disputes in the South China Sea through bilateral negotiation as well as its own commitment in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea about resolving disputes through dialogue and negotiation by countries directly concerned, and abuses the international arbitration regime.
It’s interesting, however, that Beijing has shifted its rhetoric from denouncing “the Philippines” in general to holding “the Aquino administration” responsible. That leaves the door open for potential reconciliation now that Aquino is gone – providing, of course, that Duterte is willing to play by Beijing’s rules and disavow — or at least downplay — the case.

Duterte seems inclined to do so, judging by recent comments. In a recent Cabinet meeting, Duterte reportedly said that his government would tread carefully if the ruling goes the Philippines’ way, as expected: “it should be a soft landing for everybody… [if] we do not really taunt or flaunt it.”

He added that the case “would be a moral victory and put a country in an awkward position,” with “a country” likely referring to China. However, Duterte continued to say that the Philippines must also take into account “the reality.”

Likewise, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said he was “adverse” to the idea, raised by foreign governments in his talks, that the Philippines should “make stronger statements” if the ruling is in their favor.

“I told them in no unmistakable terms that the first thing that we will do when we get that decision is to study its implications and its ramifications,” Yasay explained.

Earlier this week, Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana told Reuters that his main priority would be rooting out militant groups in the country’s south, rather than the disputes with China and other claimants. While he acknowledged that “[w]e cannot ignore the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea),” Reuters reported Lorenzana planned to “invest in more speed boats and helicopters to help flush out the [Abu Sayyaf militant] group based on southern Jolo island, rather than divert funds into maritime security.”

These remarks seem to reflect a general tendency on Duterte’s part to downplay the disputes and return to dialogue with China — particularly if that leads to increased Chinese investments. Small wonder, then, that China was so eager to congratulate him on his victory. Despite its stated plan to ignore the PCA ruling, Beijing’s neuralgia over the South China Sea arbitration case is evident from its intense efforts to drum up support for its viewpoint over the past weeks. While the PCA is widely expected to rule mostly in Manila’s favor, that won’t matter as much if the Philippine government itself refrains from embarrassing China with the legal victory.

However, Duterte will be constrained by popular sentiment in how far he can go in smoothing over tensions. Aquino’s tough stance was generally popular in the Philippines; the former president was considered the most trusted official and most popular top official in the country. Meanwhile, a September 2015 survey by the Pew Research Center found that an astonishing 91 percent of respondents in the Philippines were concerned about the maritime disputes with China.

Still, the same survey found that a majority (54 percent) of Filipinos reported a favorable impression of China, meaning Duterte will likely have public support for reconciliation – provided China allows him to do so without completely capitulating on Manila’s claims.

Philippines v. China: Decision to Be Released on July 12, 2016

From The Diplomat (Jun 30): Philippines v. China: Decision to Be Released on July 12, 2016

The highly anticipated verdict will offer clarity on maritime entitlements in the Spratly Islands.

 Philippines v. China: Decision to Be Released on July 12, 2016

Bilateral Meeting between the People's Republic of China and the Philippines at the East Hall, Great Hall of the People. Image Credit: Public Domain image via Wikimedia Commons

According to a press release issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, its verdict in the arbitration between the Philippines and China will be made public on Tuesday, July 12, 2016.

The Republic of Philippines v. The People’s Republic of China, the official name of the case, was initiated in January 2013 by the Philippines, following a difficult 2012 stand-off with China over Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

The arbitration proceedings were initiated under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the primary treaty governing international maritime law. Both China and the Philippines are party to the treaty, but Beijing has refused to participate in the arbitration, citing a lack of jurisdiction.

Last October, the Court announced that it had decided in the Philippines’ favor on the question of jurisdiction on most matters in the initial filing.

The Court ruled that the case was “properly constituted” under UNCLOS and that China’s “non-appearance” (i.e., refusal to participate) did not inhibit the Court’s jurisdiction.

While China has refused to participate in the proceedings, the Chinese government issued a position paper on the South China Sea in December 2014. That paper outlined China’s position on the issue of jurisdiction.

The highly anticipated verdict will have immediate geopolitical ramifications concerning the South China Sea disputes.

While the Court will not rule on the territorial sovereignty of individual features (a common misunderstanding of the purpose of the Philippines’ arbitration), it will decide the status of several disputed features in the Spratly Islands and elsewhere in the South China Sea.

The decision on the status of features, consequently, will have ramifications for the legal maritime entitlements that can be claimed under UNCLOS.

Under UNCLOS, maritime features receive varying entitlements based on whether they’re legally considered islands, rocks, or low-tide elevations. Islands receive the most capacious and generous entitlement: a full 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), in addition to a 12 nautical mile territorial sea.

Rocks, by contrast, are entitled to a territorial sea of 12 nautical miles, but not an EEZ. Artificial islands, a subject of discussion since early 2014, when China started developing seven Spratly features into capable installations, receive no special consideration for maritime entitlements under UNCLOS.

Critically, there is a chance that the Court’s verdict could question or nullify China’s ambiguous nine-dash, or U-shaped, line claim in the South China Sea as having no basis in international law.

Beijing has justified its capacious claim in the South China Sea using the language of historic rights.

The Philippines and China are but two of six overall claimants in the South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam also claim various features.

CFR Backgrounders: The U.S.-Philippines Defense Alliance

From the Council on Foreign Relations (Jun 29): CFR Backgrounders: The U.S.-Philippines Defense Alliance (By Eleanor Albert, Online Writer/Editor)


The United States and the Philippines have a long-lasting and complex security relationship. Based on a defense treaty forged in the early years of the Cold War, Washington and Manila conduct joint exercises and other forms of military training to bolster the preparedness of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in response to crises and humanitarian disasters. The relationship is also seen as a pillar of the U.S. strategic rebalance to Asia. The U.S. military provides vital security to the Philippines at a time of tensions over maritime sovereignty and lingering concern over militant forces in the country. The alliance also grants the United States a foothold to better promote stability and peace in an increasingly volatile region.
From Conflict to Partnership

The Philippines, an archipelago nation of more than one hundred million people and former Spanish colony, became a U.S. territory in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. Spain transferred control of the Philippines Islands to the United States in exchange for $20 million, renounced its claim to Cuba, and ceded the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, and Hawaii. The United States then battled Philippine revolutionary forces in a three-year war to consolidate control. The United States oversaw a civilian administration of the Philippines from 1902 until 1935.

The 1934 Tydings-McDuffie Act (PDF) outlined a framework for formal independence within ten years, including provisions for a sustained U.S. military presence post-independence. Presidential elections were held in 1935, and Manuel Quezon became the leader of the newly created Commonwealth of the Philippines, intended to serve as a transitional government. Independence plans were halted by the Japanese invasion and occupation from 1941 to 1945. After U.S. and Philippine soldiers defeated imperial Japan, the Philippines was granted official independence on July 4, 1946. 

The Origins of a Defense Relationship

U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Paul McNutt and Philippine President Manuel Roxas signed a Military Base Agreement in March 1947 granting the United States the right to establish bases at more than a dozen locations. A separate treaty on U.S. military assistance to the Philippines followed with details on the training and development of the AFP.

The 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty supplemented the bases agreement. It emphasizes a mutual commitment to peacefully resolve international disputes, separately or jointly developing capacity to resist attack, and the need for consultation when the territorial integrity, political independence, or security of the United States or the Philippines is under threat of attack in the Pacific.

Interpretations of U.S. treaty language have been the subject of long-standing, unresolved differences. The 1951 treaty establishes collective self-defense obligations but specifies that any armed attack includes one on "metropolitan territory" or "island territories" under the jurisdiction of either party in the Pacific. Differences in interpretation arise from the fact that the United States does not explicitly state whether Philippine-claimed disputed territory falls under the provisions of the mutual defense treaty. Some of these territorial claims were made in the 1970s, decades after the treaty was ratified.

Manila remains unsatisfied with conservative U.S. interpretations because it believes that the treaty's geographic scope should be extended to the disputed territories, according to legal expert Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines College of Law. This discrepancy "leads to other criticisms, such as the nature and extent of U.S. military assistance, the legal and constitutional processes for implementing treaty obligations, and expectations of an automatic U.S. response in case of an actual threat," Batongbacal says.

The U.S.-Philippines defense agreements were among the United States' first major security treaties in the Asia-Pacific and served as the cornerstone of U.S. policy to maintain regional peace and security after WWII. Throughout the Cold War, Philippine outposts were major staging areas (PDF) for land, sea, and air forces during the Vietnam War. At the height of U.S. deployment in the 1980s, there were between thirteen and fifteen thousand military personnel and twelve thousand Department of Defense civilians based in the Philippines.

U.S. bases remained operational until 1992 when negotiations broke down between Washington and Manila. A rise in anti-U.S. sentiment led the Philippine Senate to narrowly vote down a treaty to renew the lease for U.S. facilities. The deal's rejection marked a symbolic end to what some in the Philippines viewed as the residual legacy of U.S. colonialism but did not affect steady cooperation on defense issues.

The 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement allowed U.S. and Philippine forces to carry out joint exercises. The military forces now participate in annual "shoulder-to-shoulder" exercises known as Balikatan that focus on training and capability enhancement for addressing crises or natural disasters. Australian military personnel joined U.S. and Philippine forces for Balikatan 2014. The United States and the Philippines also conduct Cooperation and Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Exercises to boost the interoperability of land, sea, and air capabilities.

Washington and Manila signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in 2014, a ten-year deal which allows a strengthened U.S. military presence in the Philippines, with increased rotating U.S. military personnel and military assistance devoted to humanitarian and maritime operations. The deal grants U.S. troops broad access to bases at the invitation of the Philippine government and will allow for the construction of new and improved facilities. Despite some popular opposition to the deal over its constitutionality, the Philippine Supreme Court voted 10-4 in January 2016 to uphold the agreement.

Friction With Hosts

Close military cooperation between the United States and the Philippines has not been hassle free. A recent series of incidents between U.S. military personnel and local communities has been an irritant. A rape case concerning a Filipina woman in 2005 and the killing of a transgender Filipina woman in 2014, both involving U.S. Marines, soured ties. These incidents are rallying points for nationalist and left-wing factions who say the United States' extended military presence violates Philippine sovereignty. Some government officials, militant groups, lawyers, and representatives of religious and academic communities have questioned the legality of the 2014 EDCA and fear that it will bring the return of a permanent presence of foreign troops to the Philippines.

Despite these frictions, the overwhelming majority of Filipinos and members of the security apparatus hold positive views of the United States, including its military, according to experts. "The Philippines is among the most enthusiastic [nations] for a more proactive global role for the United States," says Richard Javad Heydarian, assistant professor at De La Salle University in Manila. Favorability of the United States hit a high of 92 percent among Filipinos, according to 2015 Pew Research Center figures. Still, a collective memory of the U.S. colonial period lingers. "These sensitivities are just below the surface," says Ernest Bower, Senior Advisor of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Renewing Ties

The Philippines has struggled to manage confrontations with insurgent groups, like the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and terrorist groups, such as the Abu Sayyaf group and Jemaah Islamiyah, particularly in its southern regions. The 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement brought a fresh face to the U.S.-Philippines defense relationship, but the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States, which spurred global U.S. actions against terrorism, was a catalyst for deepening the bilateral alliance at a time when Manila faced significant internal security threats.

Starting in 2002, U.S. military personnel were deployed to the Philippines to advise and assist the AFP as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, a broad program to eradicate terrorism cells in the aftermath of 9/11. Despite occasional attacks and kidnappings by insurgents and terrorists, the program is widely considered a success; the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines officially came to a close in spring 2015. U.S. assistance to the Philippines now largely centers on overcoming governance challenges, such as corruption and judicial reform. There is a renewed emphasis on the importance of cooperating on counterterrorism operations in light of a rise of sympathizers of the self-proclaimed Islamic State on the southern island of Mindanao.
"The Philippines is among the most enthusiastic [nations] for a more proactive global role for the United States," said Richard Javad Heydarian, assistant professor, De La Salle University
The U.S. military also plays a vital role in humanitarian and natural disaster response for the country. The United States provided more than $87 million (PDF) in humanitarian assistance after Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. The U.S. military delivered essential relief supplies and equipment, including emergency shelter material and food, and coordinated the transportation of relief workers and rescue of survivors. The typhoon, also known as Yolanda, was the deadliest tropical cyclone in the Philippines, killing more than six thousand people and displacing (PDF) more than four million others.

China's recent territorial assertiveness has brought renewed attention to U.S.-Philippines ties. "Our long-running defense alliance has been a cornerstone of peace and stability in the region," said U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter in April 2016. Obama administration officials have publicly described the U.S. commitment to the Philippines as "ironclad."

The strengthening of the U.S.-Philippines relationship is part of a larger strategic shift in U.S. foreign policy to Asia. This shift, known as the rebalance or pivot, is driven by security and economic interests. Washington has emphasized strengthening existing security ties and building new ones in the region. Simultaneously, the United States is seeking to conclude and implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an extensive multilateral, high-standard free trade agreement. The Philippines, though not a TPP member, has expressed interest in joining the pact. Bilateral trade between the United States and the Philippines is more than $20 billion annually and since the 1980s, Filipinos rank among the top immigrant groups to the United States (there were 1.9 million Philippine-born immigrants in the United States, according to 2014 figures, accounting for 4.5 percent of immigrants).

The China Factor

Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing has become more assertive on territorial claims. The Philippines is one of a handful of claimants to rocks and land formations in the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal. China has pursued a program of aggressive island building on these territories while resolution mechanisms under the auspices of ASEAN, a regional political and economic organization, have failed to settle territorial disputes.

China submitted a map of its territorial claims in disputed waters to the United Nations in 2009, asserting its claims based on the controversial "nine-dash" line (PDF). A standoff between China and the Philippines erupted in April 2012 following an incident between Chinese fishermen and Philippine authorities. Manila then filed (PDF) the first international arbitration case under the UN Convention and Law of the Sea against China's South China Sea claims in January 2013. For its part, Beijing has suggested that it will not abide by the ruling and that the tribunal does not have jurisdiction on these issues.

Efforts to reduce tension and build confidence have faltered. In the Philippines, citizens increasingly view China as a security threat. Experts say China's unprecedented scale of land reclamation; construction of island airstrips, piers, and surveillance structures; and naval modernization (PDF) have expanded its power projection capabilities. The United States is increasing naval and aerial patrols in the South China Sea area in a bid to protect freedom of navigation, including the sending of carrier strike groups, bombers, and electronic attack aircraft. At the same time, the United States also maintains military-to-military contacts with China to avoid misunderstandings or provocations.
"These alliances are the bedrock of the United States' foreign policy [in Asia] and the Philippines relationship is crucial."—CSIS's Ernest Bower
Security in the Asia-Pacific

U.S.-Philippines ties are likely to remain a pillar of U.S. security policy in Asia for years to come. The alliance is among the United States' five defense pacts in the region, including agreements with Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. "These alliances are the bedrock of the United States' foreign policy [in Asia], and the Philippines relationship is crucial," says CSIS's Bower.

Manila has made a concerted effort to improve its armed forces. In late 2012 the Philippines passed a revised AFP Modernization Act (PDF) for the acquisition of equipment and weapons systems to boost naval, air force, and army capabilities to establish what the military prescribes as a "minimum credible defense." Defense spending in the Philippines more than tripled from 1998 to 2015, from $1.2 billion to $3.8 billion, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates. The archipelago would like to be self-reliant, but the AFP have substantial ground to cover.

Traditionally, the AFP, like a number of neighbors, focused on internal threats to protect the country and were dominated by the army. More recently, Southeast Asian militaries, including that of the Philippines, have reoriented their focus to include maritime domain awareness.

Still, the Philippines military has been described by the Jamestown Foundation and other analysts as one of the world's weakest, plagued by insufficient funds and endemic corruption. According to Heydarian, Manila has a hard time keeping pace with other defense forces in the region, particularly China's, causing it to rely more heavily than ever on the United States to ensure its national security. The Philippines has also built closer exchanges with other regional partners, including Australia and Japan.

Though the United States and the Philippines both face leadership transitions in the months ahead, defense ties are expected to remain strong. Nevertheless, Bower says U.S. and Philippine leaders alike must make a strong case to their people on the importance of maintaining this historic relationship as part of an effort to build a regional security network across a spectrum of capabilities, budgets, personnel, and expertise.

Additional Resources

CSIS's Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative tracks the Philippines' arbitration proceedings against Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea.

Jay L. Batongbacal presents an explainer of the Philippines international arbitration case against China’s South China Sea maritime claims in this 2015 article.

This CFR Interactive by Joshua Kurlantzick explores the distribution of security assistance to Southeast Asia since the Obama administration's rebalance to Asia.

This May 2014 Congressional Research Service report (PDF) looks at U.S. interests in the Republic of the Philippines.

Muslim ex-rebels in Philippines agree on common roadmap

From Anadolu Agency (Jun 29): Muslim ex-rebels in Philippines agree on common roadmap

MNLF, MILF chairmen sign communique aimed at ‘harmonizing’ separate peace overtures with gov’t of President-elect Duterte

Muslim ex-rebels in Philippines agree on common roadmap
File photo

Leaders of two former Muslim rebel groups agreed Wednesday to promote a common roadmap for peace in the conflict-ridden southern Philippines ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.

The chairman of the largest of three factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the chairman of its breakaway group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a joint communique aimed at “harmonizing” their separate peace overtures with the government.

The Philippine Star quoted the MILF’s Al-Hajj Murad Ebrahim as saying that both sides are open to working together on a single peace agenda during the signing at the main MILF stronghold in Camp Darapanan in Maguindanao province.

He rejected the argument that it would be difficult to achieve peace in southern Mindanao island due to factional divides between the indigenous Moro communities.

The MNLF’s Muslimin Sema expressed hope that Duterte, who is set to become the country’s first president from the south upon his inauguration Thursday, would focus on peacefully resolving the Moro issue.

He accused previous administrations of having failed to comply with their obligations under peace deals with the Moro.

Sema’s MNLF faction has backed the MILF’s ongoing peace process with the government, despite a faction under founding chairman Nur Misuari considering the MILF’s 2014 peace deal with the government a betrayal of an 1996 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)-brokered agreement.

Misuari is currently a fugitive, eluding charges filed against him and his men for a siege on the predominantly catholic city of Zamboanga in September 2013, in which around 300 people were killed and thousands of houses razed.

The 2014 deal would have been sealed by a proposed autonomy legislation, but the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) stalled in Congress earlier this year, as it adjourned for campaigning for the May 9 election.

“There was no implementation `in letter and spirit’ of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, the Jeddah Accord and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the government and the MNLF,” Sema said Wednesday.

He underlined that some MNLF members are anxious about the fate of the BBL negotiated by the MILF, since the outgoing government had assured that all 42 consensus points reached in a tripartite review of the MNLF’s 1996 agreement had been integrated into the proposed legislation.

“Now we have to join ranks for the sake of `harmonizing’ our separate peace tracts for us to achieve a durable kind of peace that is for all people in Mindanao, for all people in the Bangsamoro,” the Star quoted him saying. “The Bangsamoro is never indivisible geographically and demographically.”

Meanwhile, Murad underlined that Duterte “is from Mindanao and has Maranaw blood” from one of the region’s Moro tribes.

“He surely understands the Moro problem. We are grateful to have a president from Mindanao for the first time ever,” he said.

During his campaign, the tough talking Duterte, who served 2 years as mayor of Davao City, had vowed to "correct the historical injustice committed against the Moro.”

‘Hopeful’ leftist groups stage rally in support of Duterte

From Rappler (Jun 30): ‘Hopeful’ leftist groups stage rally in support of Duterte

At least 2,000 rallyists from various militant and sectoral groups march to Mendiola – hoping that the Duterte presidency will address the concerns of the masses and other key issues that the Aquino administration 'neglected'

NEW LEAF. Progressive groups stage a mass protest in Mendiola to celebrate the presidency of Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Photo by Rendell Sanchez/ Rappler

NEW LEAF. Progressive groups stage a mass protest in Mendiola to celebrate the presidency of Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Photo by Rendell Sanchez/ Rappler

Marching militants and loud chants fill the streets of Mendiola. But this time it’s not a protest.

At least 2,000 people from various militant and sectoral groups staged a mass rally in the Freedom Park on Thursday, June 30, to celebrate the end of President Benigno Aquino III’s administration and welcome President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
Groups from the youth, agrarian reform movement, indigenous peoples, and health, labor and transport unions marched from different points of the city to Mendiola. They carried with them the hope that the Duterte presidency will solve the concerns of the masses and other key issues that the Aquino administration “neglected.”
According to Kabataan Partylist representative Sarah Elago, their group is hopeful that the new president will solve the country’s education woes.
“We hope that the president will support the clamor for free education in all levels. That requires stopping the yearly increase in tuition and other school fees, junking redundant fees, greater fiscal subsidy for public education, and scrap the commercialization of education,” Elago told Rappler.
She added: “This is a show of commitment in our unity that we are really resolved to mobilize and strengthen the fight for the youth’s call for free education.”
The country’s education system during the past 6 years, Elago noted, became exclusive because of higher fees resulting in the increase of dropouts and out of school youth.
Agrarian reform movement
Farmers from Cagayan Valley, Bicol, Southern Luzon, and Mindanao joined the rally to “challenge Duterte to take concrete steps to realize his platform of ‘change.’”
“A new and genuine program on land reform is long overdue. The now defunct Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) is imprinted with the landlord legacy of the Cojuangco-Aquinos. CARP and its extension, CARPER, were implemented to favor big landlords and exempt vast tract of lands from actual distribution,” Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) secretary-general Antonio Flores said.
He added: “To give social justice to farmers, whom, for many decades, were deprived of their right to land, a genuine land reform program with the component of free land distribution is just and necessary.”

With the appointment of former Anakpawis partylist representative and KMP chairman Rafael Mariano as the new agrarian reform secretary, the group is hopeful that the following haciendas will be distributed to farmers:
  • Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac
  • Hacienda Dolores, Clark Green City, and Fort Magsaysay in Pampanga
  • Hacienda Yulo in Laguna
  • Hacienda Looc, Hacienda Roxas, Hacienda Patugo, and Hacienda Zobel in Batangas
  • Hacienda Reyes in Quezon
  • Araneta Estate in Bulacan
  • Eduardo Conjuangco’s vast haciendas in Negros Island Region and Isabela
“Attempts to revive the CARP should also be junked,” Flores added.
Health workers
Among the first groups to arrive in Mendiola are members of the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) which condemned the Aquino administration for what it called the "privatization of health services."
“Our health care system was not able to cater to the needs of the poor during the past administration. The price for hospitals was already high and it was still increased during Aquino’s last year,” AHW's Robert Mendoza told Rappler.
BETTER HEALTH CARE. Alliance of Health Workers President Robert Mendoza says the Aquino administration failed in providing accessible health care. Photo by Rendell Sanchez/ Rappler
BETTER HEALTH CARE. Alliance of Health Workers President Robert Mendoza says the Aquino administration failed in providing accessible health care. Photo by Rendell Sanchez/ Rappler

He added: “This is not a protest rally but an inauguration rally to show we’re united with our new president. Our goal is to lay down the people’s agenda on health…We ask the new president to create programs that will give free healthcare to the poor.”
Workers from Fabella Hospital were also present during the rally, asking the new president to pay attention to the hospital’s status.
“We express our frustration that it seems we have no new ally on the new secretary of health, Dr Paulyn Jean Rosell Ubial. She still wants to abolish the Fabella Hospital and establish a corporatized maternity hospital. She prioritizes to make business out of poor mothers and babies,” Mendoza said.
The group said they will continue their barricade to challenge the new Department of Health (DOH) secretary’s decision.
Fight continues
BAYAN Secretary-General Renato Reyes asked the rallyists to cooperate with the new president and help him achieve the "change" people are clamoring for.
"The president said no leader will succeed if he does not rely in the strength of his constituents and the masses. Any president who wants to succeed needs to listen to the people. This is why we created a people's agenda to help guide the president on which programs and platforms to pursue," Reyes told the crowd.
STILL FIGHTING. BAYAN Secretary-General addresses the rallyists in Mendiola. Photo by Pocholo Espina/ Rappler
STILL FIGHTING. BAYAN Secretary-General addresses the rallyists in Mendiola. Photo by Pocholo Espina/ Rappler

The leftist leaders met with Duterte right after the rally to present the people's agenda which was formed by the different progressive groups on Wednesday, June 29. Reyes said they are hopeful the president will listen to their concerns.
"His job will not be easy because he will inherit the many problems left by former president Aquino. He will inherit the ever-present corruption, the unfair international agreements like the EDCA, and the multipile human rights violations," Reyes told the rallyists.
While the left supports the presidency, Reyes said the fight for change continues.
"It's not a time to rest, not a time to clear the streets. We shouldn't fold our banners and keep our placards... We are still going to fight for change. We are going to support the progressives and the nationalist policies of the new administration. We are going to say what we think is needed for new reforms. We are going to fight against those who will resist change," Reyes said.

Duterte: PH won't 'flaunt' sea dispute ruling vs China

From Rappler (Jun 30): Duterte: PH won't 'flaunt' sea dispute ruling vs China

If the Philippines wins its case against China over the West Philippine Sea, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr prefers 'to study its implications' first

CONGRATULATING DUTERTE. Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua (left) congratulates Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte after the new Philippine leader took his oath of office on June 30, 2016. Photo by EDP/Malacanang

CONGRATULATING DUTERTE. Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua (left) congratulates Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte after the new Philippine leader took his oath of office on June 30, 2016. Photo by EDP/Malacanang

President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday, June 30, said he would not "flaunt" a possible ruling against China in a historic case filed by the Philippines over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

In his first Cabinet meeting, Duterte said the Philippines finds itself in a "cliffhanger" situation as an arbitral tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, is set to announce its ruling on the maritime case by July 12.

"Cliffhanger tayo kasi, if we decide right, we might also find some alleviation for some of the problems here. 'Pag naman sinobrahan natin, it should be a soft landing for everybody, na kung meron man, we do not really taunt or flaunt it. Soft landing lang tayo diyan," he said in the meeting that was aired live by state-run RTVM.

(We have a cliffhanger because, if we decide right, we might also find some alleviation for some of the problems here. But if we overdo it, it should be a soft landing for everybody, that if it is there, we do not really taunt or flaunt it. We’ll have a soft landing there.)

Duterte said the government "will study progressively" how it can use the upcoming ruling.

"Of course it would be a moral victory and put a country in an akward position. But then again, I said we have to go into the reality in our lives," the President said.

Duterte said this "reality” is especially true in the Philippines’ case. "We need a lot of many things, hardware and all. We have to solve some of the problems that involve violence."

On the upcoming ruling, Duterte added: "We have to make up our minds. We can also prepare the people on where we will go."

He also said: "God knows I really do not want to declare any fighting with anybody. And if we can have peace by just talking, I would be very happy."

Yasay: No to 'stronger statements'

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr, for his part, recounted briefings with various representatives of foreign governments, especially those concerned about freedom of navigation and maritime security.

Referring to these foreign government representatives, Yasay said, "They seem to project the impression that if the decision will come out and it would be in our favor, they would like for us to make stronger statements."

"I am adverse to that idea, and I told them in no unmistakable terms that the first thing that we will do when we get that decision is to study its implications and its ramifications. What does it mean if we win? There are lots of nuances that we do not know as yet," he said.

In the case before The Hague, the Philippines wants an arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration to declare China’s 9-dash line as baseless under international law. The 9-dash line is the demarcation used by China to claim practically the entire South China Sea.

The Philippines asserts that China’s 9-dash line encroaches on the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), an area 200 nautical miles from a coastal state’s baselines within which the state has the exclusive rights to fish and exploit resources, among other things.

The Aquino administration filed the case in The Hague to secure a long-lasting solution to the sea dispute. The government did this after tensions rose due to a standoff between Philippine and China vessels in the contested Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea. (READ: Aquino: The president who brought China to court)

Yasay: What if China puts us to a test?

On the day he took office, Duterte’s foreign secretary said: "The bottom line question is, what will happen if the decision is in our favor, meaning that the arbitral tribunal will make a declaration about the legality of the 9-dash line, and will say that this is part of our economic zone, including Scarborough Shoal? What if, in the face of these circumstances, China will dig in and put us to a test? They will disallow again our fishermen from fishing in Scarborough Shoal."

Yasay then promised to "study the case," once the decision is out, "and inform the President and the Cabinet" of his proposed action.

It was unclear if the Duterte Cabinet intended to broadcast their meeting live on television and online, as RTVM abruptly cut the broadcast as Yasay was speaking. Cabinet meetings in the Philippines usually happen behind closed doors.

Duterte earlier said the Philippines will never "surrender" Scarborough Shoal to China.

At the same time, Duterte wants to boost ties with China. He said Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua, for one, has offered to build the Philippines a railway from Metro Manila to Clark, Pampanga, in two years.

Referring to this offer from China, Duterte recently asked businessmen: “Can you match the offer? Because if you cannot match the offer, I will accept the goodwill of China. My job is to see to it that the people are comfortable.”