Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Army campaign against Reds unaffected by anti-drug drive

From ABS-CBN (Jul 7): Army campaign against Reds unaffected by anti-drug drive

Military offensives against communist rebels will proceed even as the insurgents pledged to support President Rodrigo Duterte's war on illegal drugs, an army spokesman said Thursday.

There are no orders to stop offensives or issue guidelines on how to cooperate with the New People's Army (NPA) on the anti-narcotics drive, said Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Hao, army public affairs officer.

"Pag mababawasan ang drug use, mas masaya kami. Ngayon kung magkakasama kami, definitely 'di kami magkakasama nang sabay," Hao told DZMM.

In his first speech as commander-in-chief last Friday Duterte suggested that rebels "use your kangaroo courts to kill them to speed up the solution to our problem."

The Communist Party of the Philippines responded by issuing a call to "disarm and arrest the chieftains of the biggest drug syndicates."
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said on Monday the NPA's possible participation in Duterte's campaign should follow due process.

"Linawin lang po natin, iyung pagkakasabi ng ganoon -- ang move po ni President Duterte is to enlist the support of NPA to arrest or kill suspected drug lords. Kumbaga, kinikilala niya na mayroon din silang karapatan in order to be able to combat the whole war on drugs.

"Kung ano man ang mangyari, it will still go to process, hindi po ito basta free for all," he said.

DU30 to secure Misuari’s resurfacing

From the Daily Tribune (Jul 7): DU30 to secure Misuari’s resurfacing

President Duterte is willing to secure Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari’s resurfacing as part of another attempt at negotiations with the Islamic rebel forces in Mindanao.

This is what Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza, who was in Davao City yesterday, told the Daily Tribune in an exclusive phone interview, adding that a meeting between the President and Nur is coming soon.

“As much as I don’t want to preempt the President from his statements, yes, we are preparing to personally meet with Nur,” Dureza said, refusing however to give a specific time period in such an encounter.

“Its part of the President’s inclusive governance. In fact, I have personally talked to Nur a couple of times before and after the elections and even during our preparation for the transition. As of now that we’re already settled in our posts, we still do communicate,” he added.

The President himself in his speech before the 69th anniversary of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) last Tuesday admitted that he will be negotiating with the 77-year old Moro rebel leader.

“I’ve been communicat
ing with Nur. Maybe, we’ll go to Jolo and talk to him before we formally agree to talk officially,” President Duterte said.

“I have my team already. I would not mention them now but they are ready on the government side,” he added.

Nur is still in self-exile after inspiring the MNLF faction that supports him to a movement that led to the infamous Zamboanga siege last 2013.

Furthermore, Dureza said that as of now, the government is still framing what the agenda with the MNLF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“There have been many agreements signed before with the MNLF. And we have the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro already. Some of these pacts were not implemented well. Maybe we’ll be focusing on resolving the implementation aspects,” Dureza explained.

Meanwhile, the President, in observance of the Muslim feast of Ramadan (Eid’l Fitr) assured the Islamic faithful that he will definitely pursue peace given that his being the first Mindanaoan president, he certainly knows how to address the concerns of the Moro people who are still pursuing their brand of revolution.

“This year’s celebration is indeed timely and relevant as the Filipino nation starts a fresh move towards peace, stability, development and progress under a new leadership,” Duterte said.

Dureza stressed that they have to hammer the conditions needed for the supposed release of currently detained top leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF) Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria-Tiamzon.
“We are still in the process of determining the release of (the Tiamzon couple). Their release is based on the condition if they would  be necessary in the formal resumption of negotiations between the government and the NDF,” Dureza said.

In a separate interview by the Tribune with one of the Duterte administration’s chief panelists with the reds, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello noted that the freedom of supposed NDF consultants are temporary.

“They have criminal charges apart from rebellion. They still have to answer those. That’s why if they will  be released, it would be conditional and temporary,” Bello said about a week ago.

Bello said that after the peace talks, the select NDF-related detainees might return back in detention.

But for former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, former NDF chief negotiator, the murder and criminal raps of their comrades have to be reviewed.

“The NDF is waging a revolution where violence is necessary. Now, in the process, there would definitely be combatants who are going to die,” Ocampo said.

“Certainly, some of the cases here are trumped up charges from the military,” he added.

PH Navy frigate postpones port visit to Vietnam ahead of sea ruling

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 6): PH Navy frigate postpones port visit to Vietnam ahead of sea ruling



The Philippine Navy’s BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF 16) postponed its scheduled port visit to Vietnam, supposedly set in the same week that the most-awaited arbitration ruling in the Philippine-initiated maritime case against China will come out.

In an advisory on Wednesday, Navy public affairs director Captain Lued Lincuna said the scheduled sendoff for the Philippine frigate on Friday was postponed “due to unavoidable circumstances of the operational demand of the said Philippine Navy vessel.”

READ: Philippines ready to talk to China after ruling on sea claim

BRP Ramon Alcaraz, with about 200 Philippine Navy personnel onboard, was supposed to conduct a port visit to Cam Ranh, Vietnam from July 11 to 15.
The visit was intended to be a show of support for Vietnam People’s Navy and “send a strong message of cooperation between the two navies to the regional/international community,” the original press advisory read.
Lincuna told that the reason of postponement was “operational in nature” and cannot be shared publicly for security reasons.
He also denied that the visit had anything to do with the upcoming decision of The Permanent Court of Arbitration on July 12.

READ: China defiant, PH softens as UN court set to rule

In 2013, the Philippines filed an arbitration case to invalidate China’s massive claims in the South China Sea. Other claimants in the disputed sea are Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.

A military source based in Camp Aguinaldo said that the postponement indeed had to do with the ruling.

“As a military you are always ready for contingency. Syempre (Of course) you expect for the best pero hindi natin alam kung favorable ang decision. Yung mga kaibigan natin mag-react aggressive or whatever way, either sa Scarborough or areas natin sa Kalayaan Island Group especially yung LT-57. So in case may mangyari may ready tayong assets dyan,” the source said.

(As a military you are always ready for contingency. Of course you expect for the best but we don’t know if the decision would be favorable. Our allies may react aggressively or whatever way, either in Scarborough or our areas at Kalayaan Island Group especially LT-57. So in case of emergency, our assets there are ready.)

LT-57 refers to BRP Sierra Madre, the rusting grounded ship that serves as a military post in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

China tells US: There’s price to pay in sea row

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 7): China tells US: There’s price to pay in sea row

The flagship newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party on Wednesday warned Washington that there would be a “price” to pay if it crosses China’s “bottom line” by meddling in disputes over the South China Sea.

The People’s Daily editorial comes as Beijing ramps up efforts to assert its stance ahead of a ruling by an international tribunal in a case filed by the Philippines challenging China’s claims to most of the South China Sea. China is boycotting the case before The Hague-based court and says it will not accept the verdict.

The paper said that bilateral ties and regional stability were at stake and that the U.S. should recognize that “there is a bottom line with every issue, and a price will be paid if that line is crossed.”

“China has a solid-rock position over safeguarding China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity. It will not want anything that does not belong to it, but it will ensure that every inch of land it owns is safe and sound,” the paper wrote.
The newspaper has previously accused Washington of seeking to turn the South China Sea “into a powder keg” and warned it not to underestimate China’s determination to defend its territorial claims.

China on Tuesday also started holding seven days of military drills around disputed islands in the sea.

13 Army soldiers flunk drug test

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 7): 13 Army soldiers flunk drug test

The Philippine Army will be subjecting to further confirmatory tests 13 soldiers who failed a urine drug test conducted on Tuesday.

The Army’s morning Taebo exercise on Tuesday provided the opportunity for the surprise drug test conducted on 2,500 personnel, in coordination with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

In a phone interview on Wednesday, Army spokesperson Col. Benjamin Hao said the 13 personnel failed the initial screening will now undergo blood and urine tests in a Health department-accredited facility.

CPP/NDF: Response to Mr. Alcanzare’s latest letter

Posted to the National Democratic Front Website (Jul 7): Response to Mr. Alcanzare’s latest letter  

Dear Mr. Alcanzare,

1. On Mr. Ramos’ “principles and paths to peace”

Fidel Ramos laid down those principles and paths to peace as guidelines for GPH negotiators in his capacity as GPH president. But these cannot serve as the framework for the peace negotiations between the GPH and the NDFP. First of all, the NDFP representing the revolutionary forces in the negotiations does not recognize the legitimacy of the GPH. Furthermore, the NDFP does not put itself under the authority of the GPH constitution and its laws. In fact, the revolutionary forces are trying to overthrow the GPH.

The peace negotiations are intended to arrive at a political solution to end the armed conflict between two warring parties. And the GPH and NDFP have mutually agreed on the basic framework and principles to govern these negotiations and these are laid out in the following document:

(The Hague) Joint Declaration
September 1, 1992

 We, the undersigned emissary of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the undersigned representative of the National Democratic Front (NDF) have held exploratory talks at The Hague, The Netherlands on August 31 September 1, 1992 and have agreed to recommend to our respective principals the following:
Formal peace negotiations between the GRP and the NDF shall be held to resolve the armed conflict.

The common goal of the aforesaid negotiations shall be the attainment of a just and lasting peace.

Such negotiations shall take place after the parties have reached tentative agreements on substantive issues in the agreed agenda through the reciprocal working committees to be separately organized by the GRP and the NDF.

The holding of peace negotiations must be in accordance with mutually acceptable principles, including national sovereignty, democracy and social justice and no precondition shall be made to negate the inherent character and purpose of the peace negotiations.

Preparatory to the formal peace negotiations, we have agreed to recommend the following:

a)  Specific measures of goodwill and confidencebuilding to create a favorable climate for peace negotiations; and
b)  The substantive agenda of the formal peace negotiations shall include human rights and international humanitarian law, socioeconomic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

 Signed on September 1, 1992 in The Hague, The Netherlands.

This framework agreement has been reaffirmed again and again at various times during the whole course of the negotiations. Practice showed that the negotiations could produce significant agreements because both sides adhered to this framework. Only during such times when the GPH tried to tear apart this framework agreement during the time of Estrada, Arroyo and Aquino III that the talks were disrupted.

It is to the credit of the team sent by Duterte to the preparatory talks in Oslo for the resumption of the GPH-NDFP talks that this framework agreement has once more been reaffirmed.

It is futile for YES for PEACE to insist on these so-called “principles and paths to peace” to serve as framework for the peace talks.

2. On the independence of YES for PEACE from GPH

 Peace negotiations are conducted between two warring parties. Both parties make a claim to having their own vision and program that best address the interests of the Filipino people. They both claim to have their own constituencies that support such vision and program.

Dual power exists in the Philippines today. On the one hand, the GPH representing the status quo, and on the other, the revolutionary movement representing change. The revolutionary movement has its own army, organs of self-government with committees responsible for education, health, culture, economic work and defense, and millions of supporters in the cities and countryside of the Philippines.

In the current situation, people make their own choice on which side they are on. It is obvious that YES for PEACE has been on the side of the GPH from the very beginning. Since its inception, it has closely coordinated with GPH information (read: propaganda) agencies and with the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the execution of the latter’s counter-insurgency programs. There are even many posts on your website showing you together with AFP officers during presumably common activities. The YES for PEACE cannot claim to be independent from GPH despite your protestations.

Your disappointment with Deles is something between people on the same side having some internal differences. We are not surprised at all about your complaint about the arrogance and all-knowing attitude of Deles. But it does not mean that you are not on the same side.

YES for PEACE is of course free to make its choice which side it supports. What is not acceptable is for YES for PEACE to claim that it speaks for 98.7% of the Filipino people.

 Those who wish to actively involve themselves in the peace negotiations should study the positions and proposals of the two parties, make their own independent judgment, choose which side they support and put their weight behind the party that they support and even make their own proposals to the party concerned.

You are correct in demanding from Deles to be transparent to GPH supporters. As for the NDFP, it publishes the pertinent documents in a special section on peace talks in its website:

3. On foreign neutral venue:

 The agreement to hold negotiations in a foreign neutral venue are contained in the following documents:

Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG)
February 24,1995

6. The venue of the formal talks shall be Brussels, Belgium, unless both parties mutually agree on another neutral venue. For this purpose, both parties shall separately make arrangements with the host country concerned.


JOINT STATEMENT by the Negotiating Panels of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) of 09 March 2001:

The GRP and NDFP shall resume formal peace negotiations on 27 April 2001 in a mutually acceptable foreign neutral venue in accordance with this Joint Statement, The Hague Joint Declaration dated 1 September 1992, the JASIG, and the Joint Agreement on the Formation, Sequence and Operationalization of the Reciprocal Working Committees (RWCs) dated 26 June 1995.

There are two main reasons for the decision to hold the negotiations in a foreign neutral venue. To ensure the security of the negotiators and support personnel of both sides and to ensure an atmosphere conducive to the panels to go about their work free from unwanted external pressures.

The concern for security cannot be underestimated. Consider the following. There is no guarantee that within the AFP and PNP there would not be rogue elements who can disrupt the talks.

The new AFP Chief of Staff in a discordant note from Duterte’s friendly overture to the NPA regarding cooperation in the campaign against drug lords has declared that the AFP still considers the NPA “the enemy.” On July 1, AFP troops desecrated and mutilated the dead body of an NPA fighter who was killed in Magpet, North Cotabato.

Then, you have rogue generals within the PNP who are in cahoots with drug lords who were reportedly behind the propaganda campaign against Duterte before he was elected president. There is no assurance that such rogue elements within the PNP and AFP will always follow their commander-in-chief.

I have already mentioned in my first letter the experience in 1987 when the talks were disrupted by the killings of unarmed peasants during the Mendiola massacre that forced the NDFP negotiators and their support personnel to hurriedly withdraw to their base in the countryside. We do not want a repeat of that experience.

Yours truly,
 Dan Borjal

RPM-M: Response to Jose Ma. Sison’s Call for Dialogue

Posted to the the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa-Mindanao (Revolutionary Workers Party – Mindanao/RPM-M) Website (Jun 16): Response to Jose Ma. Sison’s Call for Dialogue

Revolutionary Greetings!
Our struggle for Socialism is always geared towards the victory of the masses and the working class. It is always anchored on the elimination of oppression and real empowerment of the people especially the working class. We owe this revolutionary struggle to the sufferings of the peoples and communities under the oppressive social, political and economic system and so they must be the reason of our persistence.
We have had antagonistic relationship (sacrificing lives on both sides) with you and the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) since you considered the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa-Mindanao (Revolutionary Workers Party – Mindanao/RPM-M) and the Revolutionary Peoples’ Army (RPA) as counterrevolutionary, pseudo-progressive and traitor to the masses.
We have never let down our guards, we are always in an active defense both against the state and the New Peoples’ Army. Recent reports reached us that operatives of the NPA are looking for latest picture of RPM-M’s leaderships, which we believe un-revolutionary.
Even with the negative experiences, RPM-M and RPA have still considered the CPP and NPA members as comrades in the struggle for the liberation of the oppressed. We have never considered the Party and its members as enemy of the working class, but we are always in a situation to defend our ranks from the antagonistic threats and actions coming from your side.
We welcome the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman and National Democratic Front of the Philippines’ political consultant Jose Maria Sison‘s opening for reconciliation with the “Rejectionist” factions and revolutionary movements in the Philippines.
We declare a unilateral ceasefire to CPP-NPA as an organization and to its members, if this development means victory for the democratic forces in the country and a push for a more dynamic and renewed revolutionary movement in the Philippines.
We may differ in our methods but this reconciliation process must lead us to a unified framework because we aim the same – advance democratic reforms without losing the sight to the substantial elimination of oppression against the masses, working class and minority nationalities.
Executive Committee of the Central Committee
Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa – Mindanao
June 12, 2016

DOJ okays benefits for mentally ill kids of AFP retirees

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 6): DOJ okays benefits for mentally ill kids of AFP retirees

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has no objection to the compassionate provision in the proposed amendment to Presidential Decree 1638 or the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) military personnel retirement and separation decree of 1979.
In the compassionate provision under House Bill 772, mentally incapacitated children of military personnel shall continue receiving their benefits even upon reaching the age of majority which is 21 years old.
The proposed bill seeks to amend Section 25 of PD 1638 which provides that “surviving children of an officer or enlisted man born of his marriage contracted prior to his retirement/separation from the service, and children, adopted or acknowledged, while the deceased parent was still on active military service: Provided, That entitlement to benefits shall terminate when such children attain twenty-one (21) years of age or get married.”
In its legal opinion, the DOJ said the proposed amendment was in accordance with Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution which requires the government to prioritize the under-privileged, sick, elderly, disabled, women and children in providing health services.
“This Department, finding no constitutional or legal objection, supports in full and recommends for the approval of the above-mentioned enrolled bill into law,” the DOJ, through Justice Undersecretary Zabedin M. Azis said.
The legal opinion was issued upon the request of Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs Mildred Yovela S. Umali-Hermogenes.

AFP chief not keen on having soldiers as traffic officers

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 5): AFP chief not keen on having soldiers as traffic officers


Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya. INQUIRER FILE

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya seemed not too eager on the idea of soldiers helping out in traffic problems in Metro Manila.

[The] PNP (Philippine National Police) and MMDA (Metro Manila Development Authority) can do that,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

The AFP chief said they have to do first their primary mission on internal security operations and assistance to the Philippine National Police’s anti-drug campaign.
The AFP will be deputized by the LTRFB, based on the proposal of LTFRB Chairman Martin Delgra III.

The transitional stage to communism in the Philippines

Opinion piece by Norberto B. Gonzales in the Manila Times (Jul 6): The transitional stage to communism in the Philippines

A brief background

 THE communists had planned to seat the then Davao City mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, as President of the Philippines, as early as 2010. This did not materialize because of the death of President Corazon C. Aquino on Aug. 1, 2009.This totally changed the political landscape and catapulted her son, B.S. Aquino 3rd, instead to the presidency.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), despite being preempted, succeeded in entering the inner circle of the presidency. The party-list AKBAYAN was among the major yellow forces that constituted the political base of Noynoy Aquino. Its leader, Ronald Llamas, became the political adviser of Aquino. Llamas had years of political dealings with seasoned communist cadres. Through him, the CPP presented to Aquino a 10-point transition program toward the establishment of a unity coalition government. This was mostly accepted by Aquino.

But the talks failed. The President turned out to be too weak to pursue anything radical. He did not collaborate with the communists but his bias against the armed forces led to policies that restricted maneuverability in their fight against the insurgents.
Communists and their sympathizers within government succeeded in redirecting the thrust of the anti-insurgency campaign. Instead of pursuing the insurgents, the armed forces allowed many disbanded communist guerrilla fronts to re-establish and expand.
Changes in the strategic and tactical approach of the communists in the Philippines are worth noting at this point. Unlike in the past, the CPP no longer maintains a strict segregation between combatants and non-combatants among its members. They are no longer vocal on the strategic sequence of their activities in the cities and the countryside.

The absence of clear and specific laws on subversion and armed rebellion enhanced the advantages of the changes in the communists’ strategic and tactical approach to armed rebellion. New People’s Army (NPA) members captured in actual encounters get released on bail within 72 hours by claiming membership in legally recognized communist fronts, and by claiming to be on some humanitarian mission in that particular area of encounter. In the cities, NPA activities are overtly undertaken in safe houses declared as offices of communist front organizations.

The CPP considered Aquino inept and weak. Understandably, these negative attributes led to the flourishing of the communists during his watch. Most reverses suffered by the communists from previous administrations were overcome with a lot of devious assistance from the Aquino government. The much improved capability of the CPP to convert Philippine society to communism was clearly facilitated by the Aquino government.

Transition to communism

 One campaign message of the new President should be considered with extreme seriousness. He said that should the existing political establishment and government machinery fail his promise of change, he would declare a revolutionary government.
By no means is this an empty campaign rhetoric. Those principally behind the presidency of Duterte knew this well beforehand. What was not made clear though, except to a privileged few, was the actual trajectory of this bold effort. The multitude of supporters joining the bandwagon most likely did not know it either.

The series of actions taken by the new government even before it assumed office indicates that the CPP is a major force in the President’s political base. The new President is legitimizing and allowing the CPP to freely establish control over many government offices, thus giving the communists critical advantage to assert their brand of change in Philippine society.

The establishment of a revolutionary government requires a revolutionary force. It is becoming obvious that the new President has chosen the CPP, and its armed wing the NPA, as major partners in this endeavor. Duterte, about 15 years ago, had mentioned that he had indeed established cooperation with the CPP-NPA and was finding it near impossible to part with them.

The appointment of communists to his Cabinet actually grants the CPP a quasi-coalition status even ahead of formal negotiations. This dramatically increases the CPP’s advantage in the contest for control of the nation.

[The author is formerly National Security Adviser and Secretary of National Defense.]

2 NPA rebels die in Zamboanga del Sur clash

From InterAksyon (Jul 7): 2 NPA rebels die in Zamboanga del Sur clash

Three people, including two New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, were killed in a clash with government forces in the hinterlands of Zamboanga del Sur, a military official announced Wednesday.

Major Filemon Tan Jr., Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) spokesman, said the clash took place around 3:05 p.m. Tuesday at Purok 7, Barangay Supon, Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur.

Tan said the troops from the Army’s 53rd Infantry Battalion backed by members of the Civilian Volunteer Organization (CVO) were conducting security operation when they chanced upon a group of NPA rebels in Barangay Supon, Bayog town.

Tan said a firefight ensued that resulted in the death of two NPA rebels and a CVO member on the government side.

Tan identified the slain NPA rebels as a certain Ka Nilo and Ka Cherry, both members of the NPA’s Sandatahang Yunit Pampropaganda (SYP)-KARA.

He said the remains of the slain NPA rebels, which the troops recovered, were turned over to the village authorities for proper disposition.

He said the troops have recovered an M-16 Armalite rifle, subversive documents, medical paraphernalia, and other personal belongings abandoned by the other members of SYP-KARA, who fled leaving behind their dead comrades.

Tan did not release the identity of the slain CVO based in Barangay Supon, Bayog.

He said the military continues to support the police and the local government units in the conduct of law enforcement operations to pin down NPA members in the province of Zamboanga del Sur.

Trilateral Maritime Patrols in the Sulu Sea: Asymmetry in Need, Capability, and Political Will

From the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) (Jul 6): Trilateral Maritime Patrols in the Sulu Sea: Asymmetry in Need, Capability, and Political Will (By Zachary Abuza, Ph. D.)


A spate of shipjackings and kidnapping-for-ransoms has imperiled regional trade in Southeast Asia and prompted calls for trilateral maritime policing in the waters between the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Though an important first step, this will not end the kidnappings or lead to an overall improved security situation.  

The Context

Starting on 26 March 2016, militants from the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) began a spate of maritime kidnappings. Three Indonesian vessels and a Malaysian tugboat were hijacked, and some 18 sailors were taken hostage. 
abuza 4
A screen capture from Abu Sayyaf’s fifth video of Norwegian, Kjartan Sekkingstad (l), and Canadian, Robert Hall (r), released on 14 May 2016
Their treatment was very different than the three Western hostages abducted from a Davao resort in September 2015. The two Canadians, Norwegian, and Filipina were held incommunicado for a period of time, with six videos demanding ransoms issued over seven months. The hostages were filmed in all but one video in front of the black flag of the Islamic State, and in the last two wearing orange T-Shirts, representing the ubiquitous orange jumpsuit of Islamic State (IS) prisoners. The two Canadian hostages were executed when their ransom deadline, already extended and reduced, were not paid, on 25 April and 13 June. On 24 June, the ASG released the Filipina hostage as an “act of good will,” though, at the time of this writing they still hold the Norwegian prisoner.
abuza 3
Photograph of the four Malaysian sailors, released via Facebook, on 15 April 2016
The Malaysian and Indonesian sailors, by contrast, were quickly put in contact with their families and companies to arrange ransom payments. Although the ASG threatened to behead the four Malaysian sailors if no ransom was paid, there was no IS imagery in the photo posted on Facebook in the proof of life picture that the ASG released. In all three cases, ransoms were paid and the suspects released. Various press reports indicate that the four Malaysians were released with the payment of 140 million pesos ($2.97 million), while ten Indonesians were released following a 50 million pesos ($1.06 million) ransom, and the final four released with a 15 million pesos ($319,000) ransom. The payment of ransoms was always officially denied. While governments may have not paid the ransom, family members, shipping firms, friends, and insurance companies appear to have come up with the requisite funds. Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi acknowledged that money changed hands, but “channeled not as ransom, but to a body in the Philippines which assists in an Islamic struggle.” There is no ideology here, this is abject criminality.

Not surprisingly, with the payment of large ransoms, shipjackings/kidnappings have continued. On 20 June another Indonesian tugboat was boarded and seven of its thirteen crew members taken hostage. Though the remaining six were able to steer the ship to a safe port, the ASG is demanding $4.8 million in ransom for the release of the seven. Within days of the hijacking the captain was able to call his wife and convey the ransom demand.

The Costs

These shipjackings/maritime kidnappings imperil regional trade. While only a small amount of the $40 billion in regional maritime trade passes through these waters, it is not insignificant. Indonesian coal exports from East Kalimantan account for 70 percent of  total Philippine coal imports, worth over $800 million. There are an estimated 55 million metric tons of goods that transit these waters annually. These exports are all the more important as Chinese imports of raw materials from Southeast Asia continue to fall with China’s economic slowdown. On 21 April 2016, Indonesian authorities temporarily  blocked ships from sailing to the Philippines, warning that the waters were becoming the “New Somalia.” The small shipping companies run on thin margins, and the millions of dollars in ransoms pose a threat to the small-vessel maritime shipping that dominates the region. Following the 20 June kidnapping, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi, announced a ban on licenses to ship coal to the Philippines from Indonesian ports, “The moratorium on coal exports to the Philippines will be extended until there is a guarantee for security from the Philippines government.”

Calls for Trilateral Maritime Policing

For the first time in many years, Malaysian and Indonesian leaders have been speaking of the Southern Philippines as being the weak link in regional security and began to call for trilateral maritime policing in  waters to the north and northeast of Sabah. There was a most un-ASEAN drumbeat of threats by Indonesian civilian and military leaders to engage in unilateral military operations to rescue their sailors. On 27 April, Philippine President Aquino acquiesced to Indonesian and Malaysian calls for joint maritime patrols based on the joint operations in the Strait of Malacca

On 5 May, the three foreign ministers met and issued a communique “recognized the growing security challenges, such as those arising from armed robbery against ships, kidnapping, transnational crimes and terrorism in the region, particularly in reference to the maritime areas of common concern.”

To conduct patrol among the three countries using existing mechanisms as a modality;

To render immediate assistance for the safety of people and ships in distress within the maritime areas of common concern;

To establish a national focal point among the three countries to facilitate timely sharing of information and intelligence as well as coordination in the event of emergency and security threats; and,

To establish a hotline of communication among the three countries to better facilitate coordination during emergency situations and security threats.

They instruct the relevant agencies of the three countries to meet as soon as possible and subsequently convene on a regular basis to implement and periodically review the above-mentioned measures and also to formulate the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).

With the agreement in principle, the sides had to negotiate a standard operating procedure, which had to have more teeth than a poorly implemented 2002 trilateral agreement to respond to Abu Sayyaf attacks.

On 20 June, the Malaysian, Indonesian, and Philippine Defense Ministers agreed to establish transit corridors. “The ministers have agreed in principle to explore the following measures, including a transit corridor within the maritime areas of common concern, which will serve as designated sea lanes for mariners,” they said in a joint statement. In addition, they pledged to increase the number of air and sea patrols as well as maritime escorts. 

Most controversially, the draft SOP will allow for the right of hot pursuit, something that the Indonesians insisted on. The Indonesian Minister of Defense, Ryamizard Ryacudu told the media “We’ve agreed that if another hostage situation occurs, we will be allowed to enter [Philippine territory].” His Philippine counterpart, Voltaire Gazmin, who was in the last week of his job, qualified the agreement: the hijacking/kidnapping must have taken place in Indonesian waters, before Indonesian vessels could enter Philippine territory, and Philippine security forces would have to be immediately informed so that a “coordinated and joint operation could immediately be undertaken.”


Even if the three countries implement the SOP and begin implementing trilateral policing, there would be serious limits for seven key reasons.

First, this is not the Strait of Malacca, one of the most critical maritime straits in the world. Those patrols, now in their 11th year, have been successful and resulted in a dramatic drop in piracy and shipjackings. But they have benefited from members with very robust capabilities, such as Singapore and Malaysia, a critical international chokepoint, and with  technical support from the United States, which made it clear that if the littoral states did not increase patrols it would. The Strait of Malacca has the most sophisticated network of radars and maritime domain awareness capabilities in the region.

Second, sovereignty remains the paramount concern.  No country will allow “joint” patrols in their territorial waters. They might do “coordinated patrols” in their respective national waters, but there will be no joint patrols. Each country has been adamant on this point. As the Philippines said, “’joint exercises” can only take place “in the high seas and not within [Philippine] territorial waters.” As Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi put it, any joint actions “must be agreed on without any of them sacrificing their sovereignty.”

Even the agreement on hot pursuit seems problematic. While Malaysia and Indonesian may be keen to have the right to hot pursuit into Philippine waters, it is hard to see them accepting one another exercising this right.  Second, the incoming Duterte administration has not signaled their approval of this agreement. It is possible that they do not feel bound by agreements signed by the outgoing Aquino administration.

Third, and more to the point, this really requires Indonesian leadership. As we have seen, President Widodo’s Maritime Fulcrum Strategy has been terribly implemented, and he has shown little interest in compelling his various services and ministries to come up with an integrated implementation strategy, let alone serve as a regional leader of ASEAN. The Indonesian military’s threat perception and budgetary allocation priorities have returned to an inward focus, after nearly a decade of maritime orientation.

Fourth, the capabilities of all three remain very limited. There is an asymmetry between the threat and the capabilities  deployed to this region. Even though Malaysia has beefed up maritime policing off of Sabah, especially following the incursion by Sultan of Sulu-backed gunmen in 2013, it has not been enough to prevent the ASG from still launching kidnappings. Malaysia and Indonesia have only limited naval, coast guard, and maritime law enforcement capabilities, and this region has not been a priority. The Strait of Malacca and increasingly the South China Sea have been far greater priorities. But those limited capabilities are exactly why cooperation is so necessary.

Fifth, there are still significant suspicions between the countries and lingering border disputes. The Indonesians remain distrustful and angry towards the Malaysians over the maritime demarcation between Sabah and East Kalimantan in the Ambalat region. On 26 June, Indonesian jet fighters intercepted a Malaysian military cargo plane flying too close to Natuna Island. While Indonesia and the Philippines successfully demarcated their maritime boundary in 2014, Malaysia and the Philippines do not have a formally demarcated maritime border owing to the disputed claim over Sabah. That may possibly worsen as president elect Duterte stated that he would revive the Philippine claim to Sabah which had been dormant for number of years.
EEZ demarcation between the Philippines and Indonesia. The PH-RI EEZ Boundary is defined by geodetic lines connecting eight points. These points are indicated in geographical coordinates that form a single line as illustrated in the chart shown below. The total length of the line is 627.51 nautical miles or 1,162.2 kilometers from points 1 to 8.

EEZ demarcation between the Philippines and Indonesia. The total length of the line is 627.51 nautical miles or 1,162.2 kilometers from points 1 to 8. (Government of the Philippines/Government of Indonesia)

Sixth, one needs to study a map of the trade routes to understand that even if there is  international cooperation as well as designated corridors, they will only have a limited impact.

A majority of Abu Sayyaf operations occur in Philippine waters, and only a small portion occur in waters that may have joint patrols. If militants want to avoid Indonesians exercising their right to hot pursuit, they merely have to wait for targets to enter Philippine waters. Manila is unlikely to allow armed convoys from Malaysia or Indonesia, to continue into Philippine waters, let alone ports, even if they do not have the assets in place to receive the handoff.  The weak link remains the limited capabilities of the Philippine Navy, Coast Guard, and law enforcement authorities. What little the Philippines actually has is primarily focused on their maritime claims in the South China Sea.
Abuza 8
The Sulu and Celebes Seas. (Image courtesy of author)
Even if we take away the large LNG tankers and large container ships that come up through the Lombok and Makassar Straights, which then either continue on to Northeast Asia to the east of the Philippines or cut through the deep waters between the Malaysian state of Sabah and the Tawi Tawi Islands of the Philippines, there are simply too many small tugboats, small bulk cargo ships, and tramp steamers that ply those waters to protect.

Ships coming out of Balikpapan and Samarinda in East Kalimantan or Makassar and Monado on Sulawesi traveling across the Celebes Sea to General Santos or Davao in the Philippines could be better protected. Yet, ships leaving any of those four ports traveling to Cebu, Cagayan d’Oro or Manila must transit the waters around Jolo, Tawi Tawi and Basilan, the Abu Sayyaf’s heartland. Likewise, ships sailing out of Western Sabah or Sarawak states traveling to Manila, Cebu, or ports in northern Mindanao can operate at the furthest edges of Abu Sayyaf capabilities. But ships from there or from the port of Sandakan going to Zamboanga or east to General Santos or Davao must transit the pirate infested waters between Tawi Tawi and Basilan. Abu Sayaf can launch quick attacks from their hideouts along this poorly policed coastline throughout the archipelago. 

Again, the ASG can operate close to shore, in Philippine waters, without triggering the right of hot pursuit. And even if Indonesian or Malaysian forces were able to operate in hot pursuit, only on sea; they can do nothing when the Abu Sayyaf reach shore.

Finally, the lesson of Somalia is that international maritime cooperation cannot defeat piracy. Piracy is defeated on land, not sea. Despite ample support from the United States since 2002, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has proven unable and unwilling to  defeat the Abu Sayyaf group. This is a small group, geographically contained, and enjoys little popular appeal. Yet, they endure. There are simply too many vested interests in keeping the thuggish militants around. The ransoms not only go to bribing local officials, military, and law enforcement despite their vociferous denials, but local communities profit from the kidnappings as well. The proceeds have gone not just to buy new weapons and ammunition from the black market, but to support a sub-economy.

Indeed, there is growing evidence that new kidnap for ransom gangs are carrying out operations, and then selling their captives to ASG leaders such as Al Habsyi Misaya. The six Indonesian sailors who were not taken hostage on 20 June recounted that their seven colleagues were taken by two separate groups  with very different behavior and professionalism.

It is yet to be seen what approach president-elect Duterte will take. Like most issues, he has said one thing and immediately contradicted himself. He has has prided himself on the use of extra-judicial killings to eliminate Davao of crime and drugs, and said that Abu Sayyaf should be liquidated. He brashly warned the ASG that “there will be a time, there will be a reckoning,” but then said that it was not his “top priority,” and announced a willingness to negotiate with them. There is no evidence that they will accede to his demand that they “surrender unconditionally, release your prisoners, your hostages.” His messaging on the Bangsamoro peace process has likewise been contradictory, which has added to the sense of regional insecurity. 

Duterte recently warned that he would not continue the Armed Forces of the Philippines modernization program, re-orienting the security forces back to an internal security focus. The limited Philippine naval modernization program, may be very short-lived.  But then his Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana stated that the ASG was the country’s primary security threat, whose “illegal activities, including kidnapping, must stop,” Delfin warned: “We have to end this once and for all. This problem is giving us a very bad image abroad.”

In short, trilateral policing can only deliver so much until the capabilities of the Philippines improve. Delfin announced that military spending would be diverted from acquiring assets for use in the South China sea to fast patrol craft and helicopters for counter-terrorist operations. But it is hard to imagine that China will not act aggressively and start reclamation of Scarborough Shoal following an adverse ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration, set for 12 July. Perhaps they will try to leverage that for further maritime assistance from the United States and other partners such as Australia and Japan.

Tempered Expectations

The frustration on the part of the Indonesian and Malaysian governments is palpable. In addition to hurting trade, a number of land-based kidnappings in Sabah since 2013, have impacted tourism.  Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman was blunt in calling for a meeting with his new Philippine counterpart following the 30 June inauguration of President Duterte:

“We need to have this urgent meeting. I would like to stress upon the seriousness of this problem that involves Filipino nationals. We accept that it is a complex issue. The Philippines military has been going after these people with limited success. The question now is how can we work together.”

So what can we expect? There may be some coordinated patrols,but expectations about what these entail should be low. These navies and maritime law enforcement organizations do not have a great track record of working together in this area, which for all three countries has received a disproportionately low share of their respective maritime security budgets.  

That they are even discussing them and trying to come up with standard operating procedures is well and good.  But this will need to be routinized and taken to a higher level if it is to succeed. Perhaps external actors, including the United States, Australia, Japan, and even Singapore, can help  bridge some of the gaps. 

The three sides are discussing database and intelligence sharing on local extremists and militants.  There have been suggestions of establishing joint military command posts, yet undefined. But an actual fusion center as what was established in Singapore seems a long way off, and the reality is that none of the three has adequate maritime domain awareness capabilities.

With regional trade dominated by slow tugboats and tramp steamers, even groups with limited capabilities such as Abu Sayyaf can wreak havoc in the Sulu and Celebes Seas. With limited capabilities amongst the three littoral states, there is an imperative to cooperation, especially considering the importance of regional trade. Yet a history of mistrust, continued border disputes, a fixation on sovereignty, and a lack of leadership is making the necessary cooperation more difficult to achieve.

[Zachary Abuza, PhD, is a Professor at the National War College where he specializes in Southeast Asian security issues. The views expressed here are his own, and not the views of the Department of Defense or National War College. Follow him on Twitter @ZachAbuza.]

[Featured Image: A navy cutter patrols the shores of a fishing village near the capital town of Jolo in the southern Philippine province of Sulu 30 June 2000 as an outrigger races across its path. (AFP PHOTO)]