Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Threat to Sierra Madre investigated

From The Standard (Jul 12): Threat to Sierra Madre investigated

A DAY before a UN arbitration court releases its ruling on the West Philippine Sea dispute, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it is verifying reports that China is out to destroy the BRP Sierra Madre in response to the ruling in The Hague.

Refusing to comment further, Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said that they will confirm reports that a defense ministry spokesman in Beijing had said they would “sink or tow” the Sierra Madre, which was purposely grounded on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.

“We’ll try to check the veracity of the report,” Jose said.

In response to the ruling of the Arbitral Tribunal, a commentary by a Chinese defense spokesman published in the official People’s Daily said that although Beijing has been exercising patience over the issue, it is committed to defending its so-called 9-dash line territory.

“The story of the Renai Shoal [shows] China is fully capable of dragging away that Philippine vessel hanging in there,” People’s Daily said. “But for the stability of the South China Sea, China offers goodwill and patience and has always shown high restraint.”

China was, however, committed to defending every inch of its territory, the commentary said.Since 1999, the Philippine Navy grounded an old US-built landing craft on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.

The ship is occupied by a dozen military personnel.

The shoal in the Spratly Islands chain is also claimed by China, which calls it the Renai Shoal.

China has repeatedly asked for the craft to be removed but the Philippines has refused, triggering a Chinese blockade of the shoal in 2014.

A group of Filipino activists called “Kalayaan Atin Ito” has been on a voyage to the disputed areas of the South China Sea to show China that some islands there belong to the Philippines.

“We are not nationalists, we are patriots. We have to do something to show the Filipino people that this belongs to us so we can continue to travel there and our fishermen can fish there, like they have always done,” Kalayaan’s coordinator Vera Joy Ban-eg said.

On Tuesday, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague will hand down its final ruling on the case brought by the Philippines asking the international court to invalidate China’s nine-dash line policy, a horse-shaped line found in old Chinese maps supposedly showing Beijing’s territory in the West Philippine Sea.

The case has been a three-year battle since the Philippines lodged its case in January 2013 before the Arbitral Tribunal.

In a recent television interview, political analyst Richard Heydarian said most legal experts agree that the Philippines will likely win the arbitration case.

He also said that assuming the verdict is favorable to the Philippines, it would be appropriate if President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration would release a strong statement about complying with the ruling.

“We hope we can get the court to nullify China’s nine-dash line claims of course, and, at least, critique China’s reclamation activities by clarifying the nature of disputed land features, most of which are atolls and low tide elevations that can’t be occupied if beyond your exclusive economic zone and continental shelf,” Heydarian told GMA News.

“A favorable verdict and strong statement by Duterte administration will provide perfect justification for more aggressive American-led freedom of navigation operations in the West Philippine Sea [South China Sea], but it could ignite wider conflict,” the De La Salle University professor and book author said.

By 11 a.m. (The Hague time), the Permanent Court of Arbitration will issue the award first to the parties through their electronic mail, along with an accompanying press release containing a summary of the award.

“The press release will be in English and French, with an unofficial Mandarin Chinese translation provided,” Jose said, citing the process of the verdict today.

After the international court sends the award to both parties, the Arbitration will then send the copies to all observer states and distribution lists, and members of the public and media who have registed their interest in the case.

Also on Monday, Jose said the Philippines has insisted that the West Philippine Sea be discussed at a major summit between Asian and European leaders in Mongolia at the end of the week.

On Tuesday, a militant fishermen’s group, Pamalakaya-Pilipinas, will stage a protest in front of the Chinese Consulate in Makati, just as the UN tribunal releases its verdict.


Now for the Hard Part: Converting Law into Order in the South China Sea

From The National Interest (Jul 12): Now for the Hard Part: Converting Law into Order in the South China Sea (Dr. Patrick M. Cronin)

If China refuses to comply, the world must be ready.

Declaring the law is one thing, upholding it another thing altogether.

After Tuesday’s landmark ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration regarding the South China Sea, the gulf between China and the region has widened. China has busily staked out a position that will be hard to climb down from, while the United States and its allies and partners are hoping to elevate diplomacy backed by defense to help enforce a rules-based order. Whether polarization crowds out integration will hinge largely on responses undertaken by China, the United States and Southeast Asian claimant states in the coming weeks and months.

The South China Sea poses multiple challenges for China: domestically, as a sovereign interest; regionally, as an issue of relations with neighbors; and internationally, as a contest to displace American primacy. Geography, history, rapid military modernization, a centrally controlled narrative and enviable financial clout provide Beijing with several natural advantages.

Yet rather than marshalling these attributes toward soft power and a peaceful way forward, China has instead managed to upset just about every actor in and out of the region. For a nation that arguably invented strategy, China’s foreign policy can appear remarkably obtuse.

Nations locked in a spiraling competition seek advantage. They are said to “prep” the battlefield, playing for a favorable position should disagreement erupt into open conflict. Toward that end, since Manila filed its legal case in January 2013, China has systematically used both geopolitical hard power and geoeconomic stratagems to prepare for an unfavorable ruling. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague pulled no punches in handing down such a sharp and thorough rebuke of China’s position.

China has triply hurt its cause with its recent actions: first, by refusing to participate in a mandatory process as part of an international accord it voluntarily signed; second, by undertaking unprecedented unilateral changes, especially in the form of artificial island building; and third, in vilifying the ruling even before it was issued.

The impressive if counterproductive array of China’s actions taken since or just prior to the arbitral tribunal’s award could easily form the table of contents of a textbook on national-security gambits.

First, China has played the historical victim card. After more than a century of humiliation, during which it was forced to abide by unequal treaties and colonial powers that manhandled the Qing Dynasty, a rejuvenated China is finally ready to resume its rightful place atop the regional order. China is the “real victim,” argued a recent China Daily editorial. But this time Beijing will not play the “sick man of Asia.”
The narrative of a victimized and oppressed China starts to wobble when you look at their contemporary behavior, including paving more than three thousand acres of the South China Sea in order to build up seven rocks or reefs into artificial islands with three military-grade runways among them.

Second, China continues to claim the United States seeks to contain its rise. Such a conspiracy would be very impressive, with U.S. influence reaching all five unanimous arbitral judges, the Philippines, most of Southeast Asia and broad swaths of the global community. Another prominent Chinese essay argues that America is behind a multifaceted conspiracy to create tension, divide the region, and encircle China. As apparent evidence of this caper was the “leak” that the ruling was due out on July 7, a ruse apparently designed to build tension before the real verdict was released on July 12. Such a conspiracy omits the multiple preceding predictions about the timing of the ruling.

Third, China repeatedly suggests war will result unless the United States and others back off. Because direct military confrontation with the United States is the last thing Beijing wants, most of these threats are muttered with sufficient strategic ambiguity. For instance, rather than mobilizing retired sailors for live-fire naval drills in the South Sea China as part of a concerted national response, instead the PLA Daily strained credulity by stating, “It is the common wish of many demobilized soldiers to return to the military in the context of a battle summons.”

Similarly, China was not entirely forthcoming in relating why it felt it necessary to conduct drills at the same time as PLA Navy participation in the U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific biannual exercise. China announced joint military exercises with Russia would commence in the South China Sea the day prior to the ruling being issued. Explained a Chinese military expert, “the joint drills show that China also needs support and understanding from the international society in order to defend its just title and maintain regional stability.”

Fourth, China purports that economic development awaits but is being blocked by outside interference. The brilliant new book by Robert Blackwill and Jennifer Harris describes how China successfully exploits instruments of geoeconomics such as trade, investment, finance, development, energy and cyberspace to advance its national interests. In the case of the standoff with the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal—the 2012 incident that prompted the legal case pursued by Manila and whose waters were declared by the arbitral panel to the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone—Beijing decried America for interfering in the natural development of China-Philippines economic ties.

Fifth, despite all of the conspiracy, containment and potential conflict, China is still seeking to uphold the “true” interpretation of UNCLOS. In fact, China’s official response to the ruling goes so far as to accuse the Philippines of violating China’s rights under the treaty. China’s lawfare is particularly lacking credulity at this point, but with so many lawyers working various angles of the law, and with a new domestic maritime law still forthcoming, there is a future opportunity for China to embrace UNCLOS by agreeing with the ruling’s verdict that historical rights may point to land features but not the control of specific waters.

But as one astute observer of international law wrote even before the ruling, “No country that disrespects international law can truly be a great power in the 21st century.” Unfortunately, international law is only as real as it is adhered to, and without enforcement China has a full range of options open to it to continue to ignore the law while creating ever-new facts on the ground.

So what should the United States and its allies and partners in the region do?
In the immediate wake of this ruling, the United States should encourage all parties to exercise restraint in words as well as in action. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte should hew to his more measured words since taking up his post in MalacaƱan Palace. Chinese live-fire exercises in the South China Sea have only just concluded, and angry rebukes of the decision are flowing from officials in Beijing as well as state media. Supporters of a rules-based order buttressed by UNCLOS and this ruling should consistently demonstrate the principles they seek to inculcate: diplomacy, the rule of law and patience in the face of international tensions.

Immediate restraint, however, must be paired with enduring resolve. International law has no enforcement mechanism, and requires consistent pressure with broad acceptance and compliance. Today’s quiet diplomacy should enable increasingly vocal diplomacy in the weeks to come. The Obama administration should work to facilitate the most united front possible in support of the court’s ruling and the primacy of UNCLOS. Whether through soft power, dialogues or summits, the South China Sea and the importance of this ruling should be at the top of every agenda. If China seeks to attach stigma to this ruling with furious denunciation, then the United States and its partners must raise and discuss it until it is normalized and Beijing is out of breath.
To encourage states to speak out and take action in support of this ruling and international law, however, will also require clear signals that the United States will have their backs, forcefully if necessary. If China does not move toward compliance, or even worse, throws down a gauntlet against international law, then tougher actions will be essential. That would include a broader discussion of sanctions and other measures to deter wanton violations of international law. Though now is not the time for challenging freedom of navigation operations or displays of naval presence and strength, that time will no doubt come soon.

Dr. Patrick M. Cronin is Senior Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program and Harry Krejsa a Research Associate within that program, at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).


US pulled the strings behind PH, Chinese observers say

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 13): US pulled the strings behind PH, Chinese observers say

The United States was behind the Philippines, trying to stir up matters in the South China Sea in order to block China and thus improve its regional military and diplomatic presence, experts said.

They made the remark as the tribunal in The Hague issued its ruling on Tuesday in the arbitration case unilaterally initiated by the former Philippine government.

READ: Philippines wins arbitration case vs. China over South China Sea

The administration of former Philippine president Benigno Aquino III was used as a pawn by the US to aid its Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy, they said.

Tao Wenzhao, a researcher of US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the arbitration was not solely the business of the Philippines.

“We can see that Washington, which never ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, encouraged and supported Manila to initiate the arbitration case from the very beginning,” Tao said, adding that top lawyers Manila hired were US citizens.

READ: US: South China Sea ruling ‘legally binding’

Myron Nordquist, associate director of the Center for Oceans Law and Policy at the University of Virginia School of Law, said: “Now the Filipinos are having such fun making faces at China, hiding behind the US military, thinking they are really doing something wonderful.

“If the US ever became a party to this agreement, we would have opted out, as the Chinese did.” In fact, the US established the precedent of “nonparticipation and nonacceptance” of a ruling by a third party to settle an international dispute in the Nicaragua case of the 1980s.

Recently, seven US warships have been patrolling the South China Sea, including the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan as well as three destroyers sailing close to Chinese reefs and islands. Oskar Krejci, director of the Institute of Global Studies at the University of Jan Amos Komensky Prague, said what the US is doing in the region is not acting as someone trying to restore balance would act.

Instead, it acts as a purveyor of “a military presence strategy, and therefore is making an effort to maintain US hegemony in the region”, Krejci said.

If the situation in the South China Sea intensifies, the US will have more excuses to increase its military deployment in the Asia-Pacific, an important part of its rebalancing policy, Tao said.


Paquibato community school suspends classes as teachers get death threats from Alamara

From the often pro-Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) online publication the Davao Today (Jul 13): Paquibato community school suspends classes as teachers get death threats from Alamara

LEARNING. Lumad (tribal) pupils from the Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center Inc in an evacuation center in Davao City focus on their lessons while their relatives and elders join a long march to the national capital to call on a stop to the killing of their leaders. (Ace R. Morandante/davaotoday.com)

Students of Misfi Academy hold classes inside makeshift classrooms at the UCCP Haran compound in Davao City. (davaotoday.com file photo)
Two teachers of a community school in Paquibato district left their school early in the morning Thursday, July 7 after receiving death threats from the paramilitary group, Alamara.
The threat came a day after an anti-communist tribal leader Ruben Labawan was killed in Panabo City.

Chavez Paterno, one of the teachers of Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. (MISFI) in Sitio Gatungon, Barangay Tapak, Paquibato District, said “We were tagged as members of NPA and our school is said to be owned by the NPA,” Paterno said in a phone interview with Davao Today on Tusday, July 12.

Paterno said as early as 6:00 am on Thursday, he and his co-teacher Jun Villasorda were told by community members to leave because the Alamara members has threatened to kill them.

“We walked for four hours from Sitio Mangani then we crossed rivers and mountains for our safety,” he said.

Both teachers made their exit at Sitio Nahalin, a town in San Fernando, Valencia, Bukidnon. He said they were not able to pass through the usual exit point in Panabo City from Paquibato because of the presence of militia there.

Paterno said a certain Boris Cayuga, an alleged commander of Alamara, reportedly told the community that if the teachers will not leave the community, they will be killed.

“Then they will burn our cottage, and anyone from Misfi who will go there, will also be killed,” he said.

The death threats came after the NPA’s killing of Labawan, a known anti-Communist Ata tribe leader in Paquibato District who was gunned down Wednesday, July 6 after attending a meeting in Panabo, Davao del Norte.

The NPA said Labawan “was guilty of blood debts and meted with the death penalty for serious crimes against the people, especially the Lumads and peasant settlers of Davao City and North Cotabato.”

Attacks on schools

Paterno said community members were saddened with the news that the teachers had to leave the school. Only one teacher in the community is left but the classes were suspended because of the threats of the militia group.

He said the school has yet to finish some buildings because of the threat they received.
Paterno has been teaching in the said school for almost a month now. He said more than their sacrifices of teaching in remote areas in Davao, the threats against their lives is what saddens them the most.

The “attacks” on schools have continued to this day, education advocates lament.

Last year October, another MISFI campus in White Culaman, Kitaotao, Bukidnon was ordered shut down by the barangay captain who accused the school as NPA-owned.

IP education rights advocates already recorded 95 cases of attacks against teachers and students in IP schools all over Mindanao.


3 killed, 3 hurt in Bukidnon land scuffle

From Rappler (Jul 13): 3 killed, 3 hurt in Bukidnon land scuffle

In Sumilao town, a confrontation between security of a ranch and members of an indigenous people's group claiming the pasture land lead to casualties on the IP's side

Three members of an indigenous people's group were killed and 3 others hurt during a land claim-related scuffle with security guards of a ranch in Sumilao, Bukidnon, on Tuesday, July 12.

Sumilao Police chief Felipe Yap said the casualties and wounded were part of a group of 50 from the Inalsahan Indigenous People’s Organization (IPO), which is claiming the 2,400-hectare ranch managed by Ramcar, Incorporated.

Senior Police Officer 2 Lorecito Pitogo, Sumilao police chief investigator, said the group entered the ranch by digging under the perimeter fence, and set up tents inside the area.

Fourteen guards from the Tagbagane Security Agency, in charge of securing the ranch, confronted the group, leading to a heated argument.

The security guards reportedly opened fire on the group using their shotguns, killing Raymar Mayantao, the son of IPO leader Bae Merlita Mayantao; Rogen Sindangan, and Cenon Nacaytona. Lilian and Albert Mayantao, and Ely Daliti were wounded.

The police arrested the head guard, Jonathan Ursaiz.

In March 2012, Ramcar figured in a controversial land conflict involving farmers from the Xavier Farms Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association (XAFARBA), also from Sumilao.

XAFARBA farmers condemned Ramcar's illegal occupation of 983 hectares of land already covered by the agrarian reform program. A Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) covering 983 hectares of the 1,365-hectare Ramcar ranch in Sumilao was issued to 550 farmer-beneficiaries as early as 1998.

Land conflicts arise because of the apparent lack of coordination among the concerned governments agencies – the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), and the National Commission on Indigenous People's (NCIP).

The DENR issues a 25-year Forest Land Graze Management Agreement to ranchers, while the DAR issues a CLOA usually to workers of the land. The NCIP, for its part, issues a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Territory (CADT) to the original settlers of the area awarded by the DENR. All these result to overlapping land claims and ultimately, land conflict.


Team set up to negotiate the release of Indonesian hostages

From Antara News (Jul 12): Team set up to negotiate the release of Indonesian hostages

Coordinating Minister for Law, Security and Political Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan said a team has been set up to seek to negotiate the release of Indonesian vessel crewmen held hostages by Philippine separatist group of Abu Sayyaf.

The team of negotiators are made up of Indonesians and Philippines under the coordination of the Indonesian government.

The team was formed in line with the policy of the Indonesian government, which prefers negotiations to release the hostages, Luhut said.

Military option is not yet possible as the Philippine Constitution does not allow operation of foreign military in that country, he said.

"No, not yet (permit for military operation)," he said.

Meanwhile, Indonesia called for a trilateral meeting with Malaysia and the Philippines to discuss cooperation to create security in sea trade lanes.

The meeting will be held on Tuesday-Wednesday next week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

On Sunday three more Indonesians were taken hostage by the separatists group, added to seven other Indonesian sailors taken hostage earlier.

The three were crewmen of a Malaysian fishing vessel with seven crewmen, but non Indonesian crew members were allowed to go free by the separatist.

Indonesian military chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo was angered by the separatists selecting only Indonesians to be held hostage.

"What makes me very angry is they selected Indonesians (for hostages)," the general said.

Earlier former chief of staff of Army Strategic Reserve Command retired Maj. Gen. Kivlan Zen said he would join as an advisor to the team of negotiators.

The process of negotiations is expected to involve leader of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Nur Misuari.

Misuari led armed rebellion against the Philippine government in the 1990s seeking to force the government of former President Ferdinand Marcos to give more attentions to the condition of minority Muslim community in Southern Philippines.


‘Kidnappers keeping low profile after abduction’

From The Star Online (Jul 13): ‘Kidnappers keeping low profile after abduction’

Abu Sayyaf-linked gunmen holding three Indonesian fishermen captive remain elusive in their homeground of Jolo island in the southern Philippines, amid an ongoing military offensive against them.

Anti-kidnapping activist Prof Octavio Dinampo said the group had been keeping a low profile since returning to Jolo with the abductees.

“Their exact whereabouts are sketchy,” he said, adding that the kidnappers would, however, usually keep their captives in the mountainous jungles around Indanan and Patikul munici-palities.

He said the gunmen were likely having a minimum number to guard their captives, with many now blending in with the general population in town areas.

“They are doing this to avoid detection by the military,” Octavio added.

The three Indonesians – who are Timorese identified as Lorence Koten, 34, Teo Dorus Kopong, 42, and Emanuel, 46 –were snatched from a Malaysian-registered fishing vessel 3.6 nautical miles from Kampung Sinakut in Lahad Datu early last Saturday.

They were taken by five armed men in a speedboat that fled towards the Tawi-Tawi islands bordering Sabah.

Four other crewmen – three Pelahu or sea gypsies and another Indonesian – were let off.

It could not be ascertained which group was behind the latest incident although suspicion fell on Apo Mike, who was responsible for several recent kidnappings involving sailors on tugboats plying international waters along the Sabah-Philippines border.


Ransom demand made for Indonesians kidnapped in waters off Lahad Datu

From the Malay Mail Online (Jul 12): Ransom demand made for Indonesians kidnapped in waters off Lahad Datu

 One of the three Indonesians who were kidnapped by five armed men in Lahad Datu waters on Saturday, has contacted his employer to inform of the group’s ransom demand.

Indonesia’s consul in Tawau, Abdul Fatah Zainal said the victim contacted his employer who is based in Lahad Datu less than 24 hours after the incident.

 “We have yet to ascertain whether the call was made from his (victim’s) handphone or that of others but we know for sure the call originated from the Philippines,” he told reporters here today.

Abdul Fatah said the Indonesian government would work closely with the Malaysian authorities to free the three victims, identified as Lorence Koten, 34, Teo Dorus Kopong, 42, and Emanuel, 46. (Many Indonesians go by just one name).

“The three of them have been in Sabah for less than a year and work as fishermen in Lahad Datu,” he said.

They were kidnapped while fishing in Lahad Datu waters at 11.40pm on Saturday.

However, four of their fellow crewmen on their trawler were freed by the kidnappers.
Meanwhile, Abdul Fatah reminded Indonesians in Sabah to to heed all regulations set specifically for the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZONE).

“Besides this, they (Indonesians) must also be more alert wherever they are. Do not travel to the southern Philippines especially to Tawi-Tawi, Sulu and Jolo to avoid untoward incidents,” he said. — Bernama


300 Mandaya families flee homes in Caraga

From the Sun Star-Davao (Jul 12): 300 Mandaya families flee homes in Caraga

OVER 300 families were forced to leave their homes in Barangay Pichon, Caraga, Davao Oriental on Tuesday, July 12, due to fear of rebel attacks.

The families left their homes after suspected New People's Army (NPA) rebels fired at the local's Mannadu fighters while they were guarding their chieftain who received threats from the rebel group, the Army said.

Philippine Army 67th Infantry Battalion's spokesperson Lieutenant Miguel Diordia on Tuesday, July 12, said affected residents evacuated due to fear of more NPA attacks.

"Talagang tinotoo ng NPA ang banta nila na aatake sila sa sitio," Diordia said.

According to Diordia, the rebels targetted two of the Mannadu fighters but missed.

The attack caused fear among residents at Sangab and even from neighboring sitios.

"The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) recorded 399 families who evacuated from their homeland already," Diordia said.

In previous reports, Diordia mentioned that the NPA sent an ultimatum to Sitio Sangab Chieftain Copertino Banugan to surrender his area.

The ultimatum, which was given on July 3, said the rebels will be forced to kidnap Copertino if he will not surrender.

A heavily-armed platoon of 50 soldiers along with the Mannadu fighters, who are also armed with high-powered guns, are protecting their area.

Sangab has earned its name after Banugan, a Likid or high datu of the Mandaya, managed to preserve and rejuvenate the Mandaya culture among all his people.

The sitio has been inviting interest from all over just to witness and experience how Mandayas make their intricately beaded and embroidered clothes.

The Sangab Mandaya Cultural Village that also houses its school for living traditions has had the support of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

But of late, there have been accusations against the Banugan’s leadership among the tribe, and the NPA came in.


Communist rebels to draw up new list of people ‘immune’ from arrest during peace talks

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 12): Communist rebels to draw up new list of people ‘immune’ from arrest during peace talks

A new list would be drawn out to identify people who would be granted immunity from arrest during the peace negotiation between the government and communist rebels, an official of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) said.

In an online interview on Sunday, Luis Jalandoni, NDFP chief peace negotiator, said the list related to the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) would be “reconstituted” in line with preparations for the return of communist rebels to the negotiating table under the administration of President Duterte.

The JASIG was signed in 1995 by the government and communist representatives.

A list of 75 rebel consultants, including their photographs, was deposited by the Philippine government, NDFP and Church representatives in a vault in The Netherlands in 1996 so this could serve as basis for identifying consultants who would be granted immunity from arrest.

But in 2011, the parties discovered that the two diskettes containing the list had been damaged and its contents could no longer be retrieved.

Under the JASIG, NDFP peace panel members, consultants and staff who are part of the negotiating team are granted immunity from arrest and detention. The document provides safety guarantees “to create a favorable atmosphere conducive to free discussion and free movement during the peace negotiations, and avert any incident that may jeopardize the [talks].”

The irretrievable data made it impossible for the government to verify claims by NDFP that some of their arrested leaders were included in the JASIG list.

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the human rights advocate Karapatan, said her group had documented 519 political prisoners detained in different jails across the country.

Of this number, 21 are NDFP consultants and JASIG-protected persons, according to Karapatan.

The formal peace negotiation is set to resume in Oslo, Norway, this month.

The NDFP is the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed group, the New People’s Army, and as such, it is representing the CPP NPA in the talks.  


NDF says Army aerial bombings, not NPA presence, force Lumads to evacuate

From the often pro-Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) online publication the Davao Today (Jul 12): NDF says Army aerial bombings, not NPA presence, force Lumads to evacuate

Members of the New People's Army sing the Internationale before the release of the "prisoners-of-war" Cpl. Benjamin Samano and Pfc. Alvin Ricarte. (Johannes Realista Garado/davaotoday.com
New People’s Army. (davaotoday.com file photo)

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines in Southern Mindanao denied reports that the evacuation of Lumads in a village in Davao Oriental last week was brought about by the presence of the New People’s Army.

In a statement on Monday, the NDF said it condemns the “two-day sustained aerial bombardment and strafing” by the soldiers on July 8 and 9, 2016 in Barangay Pichon, Caraga town, Davao Oriental which displaced civilians.

Army information officer, Capt. Eliseo Marcolino of the 67th IB told Davao Today in an interview that the evacuees numbering to at least 399 families have already evacuated “since July 6 because of their fear of the NPA.”

The encounter happened at around 10:00 am in Sitio Lanipga, Barangay Pichon. The Army also launched an air strike against withdrawing NPA members dropping an estimate of “six rockets” to fleeing guerrilla fighters.

The Army said the NPAs arrived around June 22 in a village and after two days, an ultimatum was given for tribal chieftain Cupertino Banugan to surrender.

Banugan is the tribal chieftain of the Mandaya’s ancestral land covered by the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title in Barangay Pichon. But the residents reported that Banugan has “abused” his authority asking them for royalty fees from the profits of their produce.

Lt. Miguel Diorda, of the 67th IB said the NPA has also sent them a letter they received on June 24 telling them to “surrender” Banugan.

“I-surrender daw namin. Eh yet kami yung protector ng IPs, hindi po kami papayag na merong may mangyaring masama sa mga kababayan nating IPs (They told us that we have to surrender him, but we are the protector of the IPs, we will not allow it that something bad will happen to the IPs),” said Diorda.

Civilians displaced, injured 

But Rubi del Mundo, spokesperson of the NDF in Southern Mindanao said the Army’s attack which “wounded several civilians, blew up houses, and destroyed the masses’ farms and livelihood,” has caused the displacement of hundreds of Mandayas who evacuated to Caraga town.

Two women were reportedly injured during the incident.

Del Mundo added that the evacuees hardly received any support from the local government.

Del Mundo said guerrilla fighters from the New People’s Army Compostela Valley – Davao East Coast Sub-Regional Command “were conducting a series of consultations with the Mandaya tribe in Sito Lanipga and nearby communities in Barangay Pichon since early June.”

He said that the Army “conducted intensified combat operations, hamlet several sitios and blockaded the food supply of the Lumads in the area.”

“After the two-day air strike, they looted the masses’ houses, farms and livestock,” he said.

‘13 rockets’

Jaime Silat, a purok leader from Barangay Pichon, told a radio interview on Sunday, July 9 that it was on June 13 when the NPAs arrived in Sitio Kaliongan. “By then, most of the residents have started evacuating,” he said.

On July 8 the encounter happened at around 10:00 am said Silat. He said the encounter lasted until 11:20 in the morning, but the Army had flown its air support which dropped “13 rockets”.

There is no report yet of fatalities in the community or casualties from the Army or the NPAs.

Silat said the teachers also evacuated from the community because of fear. He said classes have not resumed since June 13.

Silat said they only want to go back to their communities.

“It’s difficult that we have to leave our farms, our livelihood, because of the incident,” he said.

Silat’s village in the Poblacion, he said, is not covered by the CADT area which Banugan heads.

The NDF said while they maintain their “serious commitment to the peace process,” the Army “should be held accountable for its fascism against Lumads, peasants and the Filipino people.”

The formal peace talks between the government and the NDF is scheduled on the third week of July.


Indonesian military prepares for operation against Abu Sayyaf in Philippines

From The Star Online (Jul 12): Indonesian military prepares for operation against Abu Sayyaf in Philippines

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (centre) onboard the Indonesian Navy ship KRI Imam Bonjol during a visit to the waters of Natuna Islands, Riau Islands, Indonesia, 23 June 2016. - EPA

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (centre) onboard the Indonesian Navy ship KRI Imam Bonjol during a visit to the waters of Natuna Islands, Riau Islands, Indonesia, 23 June 2016. - EPA

The Indonesian Military (TNI) has prepared its troops for possible involvement in military operations to release 10 Indonesian sailors held hostage by armed groups in the Philippines, even though a concrete agreement on how to conduct such operations has yet to be made with Manila.

TNI commander Gen Gatot Nurmantyo said the force was well prepared for every possible measure to assist the Philippines and Malaysia in operations to release the hostages from the hand of suspected Abu Sayyaf militant groups.

Even after last Saturday’s abduction of three Indonesian sailors, marking the fourth incident involving Indonesian nationals this year, Philippine officials have yet to agree to allow Indonesian forces to enter its territory and join security operations should another abduction occur, Gatot said.

“(The Philippines) has given the green light to allow us (to enter its territory), but the concrete agreement will be decided later by the defence minister,” Gatot said on Monday.
Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu is scheduled to hold a meeting with his Philippine and Malaysian counterparts on Tuesday to discuss the follow-up to a trilateral agreement on joint maritime security formed in May. They will also talk about further measures to release the hostages.

The matter regarding Indonesia's authority to enter the Philippines in a joint operation would be decided in the meeting, Gatot said.

While deliberations over rescue operations are ongoing, the TNI has also prepared its personnel to guard every barge or tugboat traveling the regional waters, with at least four or five TNI personnel in each vessel, Gatot said, adding that the troops were also ready to participate in joint sea patrol.

Meanwhile, Coordinating Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Minister Luhut B. Pandjaitan said Jakarta would respect the Philippines’ sovereignty and not encroach on its territory.

Last Saturday, three Indonesian sailors were abducted in Malaysian Sabah waters while they were conducting fishing activities in the area. It was the latest incident of the kidnapping spree, occurring less than a month since seven Indonesian ship crewmen were taken hostage by two different Philippine militant groups and held on different islands in southern Philippines. – The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network


Indonesian Military to Move In on Abu Sayyaf's Hideouts in Southern Philippines to Release Hostages

From the Jakarta Globe (Jul 12): Indonesian Military to Move In on Abu Sayyaf's Hideouts in Southern Philippines to Release Hostages

The Indonesian Military (TNI) are finalizing plans for a military operation to release ten Indonesian ship crews who have been held hostage by armed rebel groups in Southern Philippines, TNI Chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo said on Monday (11/07).

The Philippine government agreed late last month on allowing Indonesian soldiers to enter its territory to release hostages, but procedures for such a move have yet to be determined.

"We will do everything to ensure the safe return of those ship crews. We will go to Southern Philippines once a permission is issued," the TNI Chief said.

In the fourth such incident in five months, three Indonesian ship crews were abducted by an armed group near Lahad Datu in Sabah, Malaysia, last Saturday.

The armed group is allegedly part of the notorious Abu Sayyaf rebel group based in the islands of Basilan in the Sulu archipelago.

"These kidnappings have gone too far. Both Malaysia-held and Philippine-held area are unsafe," Gatot said. "Maybe we have been too lenient on the kidnappers. A military operation may scare them away."

Three weeks before the kidnapping in Malaysia, seven Indonesian sailors were kidnapped in two separate locations by two armed groups who were also members of the Abu Sayyaf rebel group in the Sulu Sea in Southern Philippines.

"These kidnappings cannot be tolerated," Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on Monday.

"I have communicated with the Philippine foreign minister and the Malaysian foreign minister to call for their attention over this spate of kidnappings."

In early May, ten Indonesian hostages were released following a series of negotiations with the Abu Sayyaf group, who held them hostage for more than a month.

Ten days later, four other Indonesians who were abducted by a different chapter of the group, notorious for kidnappings and demanding millions of dollars in ransom, were also released.


5 Takeaways: A Closer Look at the Historic South China Sea Arbitration Award

From The Diplomat (Jul 13): 5 Takeaways: A Closer Look at the Historic South China Sea Arbitration Award

Reading the historic award in Philippines v. China raises several interesting questions.

5 Takeaways: A Closer Look at the Historic South China Sea Arbitration Award

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/CIA
We’re hardly 12 hours out from the release of today’s historic award by a five-judge tribunal in The Hague on maritime entitlements in the South China Sea. The Tribunal, among other things, ruled China’s nine-dash line claim invalid and ruled in the Philippines’ favor on almost all counts. You can read my summary and early analysis of the award in a previous article here at The Diplomat. While I’m far from finished with the 500-page document, I do want to highlight some notable takeaways from my early reading of the award. (Readers may have caught some of these impressions on Twitter already, but it’s always good to avail of the longer form permitted here.)
Taiwan’s island isn’t an island. One of the big bang outcomes of the arbitration is the ruling on Itu Aba, the largest feature in the Spratlys occupied by Taiwan. Itu Aba had been a complicating factor in this whole dispute. While the case involved a filing by the Philippines against China, Taiwan possessed a feature at the center of the Spratly imbroglio that could have potentially been ruled an island under Article 121.3 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, generating a full 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). This didn’t happen and Itu Aba is just a rock, like so many of the other features involved in the award.
My colleague Shannon has written about why the result is so deeply disappointing for the Taiwanese, but there’s a broader fallout that’s worth considering too. If Itu Aba isn’t an island on the account that it doesn’t support a “stable community of people,” it raises questions about other EEZ-generated possessions, like Wake and Midway Islands for the United States and Japan’s Okinotori claim (which I’ve discussed recently). The U.S. hasn’t ratified UNCLOS while Japan has. Meanwhile, the results of this award are binding on China and the Philippines, but will serve as a notable precedent in potential other cases of generously understood “islands.”
Let’s talk about Mischief Reef. In its ruling, the Tribunal decided that Mischief Reef, along with Second Thomas Shoal, is part of the Philippines’ continental shelf and falls within Manila’s EEZ. (Paragraph 647 outlines this in more detail.) As a low-tide elevation, it receives no special consideration for a territorial sea. As some readers may be aware, Mischief Reef also happens to be the site of one of China’s artificial islands. In paragraph 1177, the Tribunal remarkably notes that “China has effectively created a fait accompli” at Mischief Reef.
The Tribunal’s observation is correct. Mischief Reef now contains an illegally constructed Chinese dual-use facility on the Philippines continental shelf that a) cannot be reverted to its pre-artificial island state, and b) is highly unlikely to change hands. If Manila and Beijing do enter bilateral talks as per the Duterte government’s recent signals, this fact will loom as an awkward elephant in the room.
Finally, way back in October 2015, after the first U.S. freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) near Subi Reef, I made the incorrect prediction that Washington would opt to conduct a FONOP near Mischief Reef, which was enticing as it likely had far fewer constraints, permitting a high seas-assertion FONOP instead of an innocent passage operation like the first three we’ve seen. The ITLOS award effectively confirms what I’d suggested about the feature, but it also makes it an acute flash point given U.S. commitments to the Philippines under the Mutual Defense Treaty.
Slice it any way, it seems likely that Mischief Reef, through China’s island-building, has been sealed in as a long-term flash point in the South China Sea.
China’s island-building made the Tribunal’s job a lot harder than it needed to be. Remember, when the Aquino administration in the Philippines decided to file an Annex VII compulsory arbitration under UNCLOS back in 2013, after the 2012 stand-off over Scarborough Shoal, the present seven Chinese artificial islands didn’t exist (though the features were Chinese possessions). China began building them up shortly thereafter, but the arbitration was always a motivating factor.
In its award Tuesday, the Tribunal notes as much: “China has undermined the integrity of these proceedings and rendered the task before the Tribunal more difficult.” The Tribunal effectively alleges that Beijing obstructed the swift carriage of an investigation. Reading pages 131 to 260 of the decision, it’s apparent, for instance, how much work went into ascertaining the pre-reclamation status of some of the features that the Tribunal ended up ruling on. Given Chinese land reclamation and island-building activities, the Court resorted to pre-2013 hydrographic and navigational data from a variety of sources to make its decision easier (going back to early 20th century sources in some cases).
China’s non-participation in the case was always going to be an issue, but the award makes it clear just how deleterious Beijing’s activities in the Spratlys were to the Tribunal’s work.
China’s “own goals” in the South China Sea. Several paragraphs in the Tribunal’s award expose episodes of China shooting itself in the foot. For instance, there’s the Tribunal’s statement in paragraph 1164 that it would have found itself lacking jurisdiction over the seven artificial island-bearing features had China stated that they had military applications. Instead, the Tribunal “will not find activities to be military in nature when China itself has consistently resisted such classification and affirmed the opposite at the highest level.” Remember Xi Jinping’s pledge in the White House Rose Garden that the Nansha Islands (the Chinese name for the Spratlys) would not be militarized? Turns out that turned what could have been a less embarrassing verdict into a virtual calamity for China.
Other areas in the award–for instance, paragraph 209, on petroleum block assignment–highlight simple lapses in China’s conceptual framing of its position. In the aforementioned paragraph, the Tribunal points out that had China eschewed framing its entitlement to continental shelf rights in terms of the language of “historic rights” and used language consistent with UNCLOS, it may have had some luck with the Tribunal. Instead, the judges found that “the framing of China’s objections strongly indicates that China considers its rights with respect to petroleum resources to stem from historic rights,” which were declared invalid elsewhere.
One final example of the Tribunal underlining an “own goal” by China is in its reading of the nine-dash line itself. Paragraph 213 notes that China’s declaration of baselines in the Paracels and around Hainan contradicts its ambiguous claim to a territorial sea or internal waters within the area claimed by the nine-dash line. “China would presumably not have done so if the waters both within and beyond 12 nautical miles of those islands already formed part of China’s territorial sea (or internal waters) by virtue of a claim to historic rights through the ‘nine-dash line,’” it notes.
One wonders if China could have fared better on these counts if it had actively participated in the arbitration process, instead of refusing to participate and leaving its position up to the Tribunal’s interpretation based on a lone position paper, public statements, and past declarations.
Reduced bargaining space. One final takeaway from today’s award is somewhat counter-intuitive. The Philippines may have won a favorable award on nearly all 15 of its submissions, but that leaves the space for bilateral negotiation and “off ramping” with China limited. With Itu Aba a mere rock and the Spratlys reduced to a small collection of rocks with territorial seas and some LTEs, there’s little the Philippines can concede that would not involve the capitulation of something the ITLOS Tribunal has clarified is legitimately Manila’s under international law. For instance, concessions over Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal (where the stranded BRP Sierra Madre sits) are out of the question unless Duterte wants to either face constitutional scrutiny under Article XII, Section 2 of the Philippines constitution or public outcry.
The one open door–somewhat poetically–is Scarborough Shoal, the disputed feature that led Manila to the court in the first place. (After the award, Scarborough is a disputed feature, albeit within the Philippines’ EEZ.) The Tribunal’s award leaves some space for the two sides to come to an agreement on joint resource exploitation. For this to work–in my personal read of the diplomatic situation–China would have to be both literally and figuratively the bigger country and make the first concession. (Chinese Coast Guard currently hold the chips for Scarborough Shoal, chasing away Chinese fishermen and sailors.) Manila isn’t in a position to make the first concession. Another option may be some form of energy exploitation bargain at Reed Bank, but that too has its complications, as Jeremy Maxie explores in The Diplomat.

International Court Issues Unanimous Award in Philippines v. China Case on South China Sea

From The Diplomat (Jul 12): International Court Issues Unanimous Award in Philippines v. China Case on South China Sea

The Court’s award is in the Philippines’ favor on most questions.

On Tuesday morning, a tribunal of five judges at Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration issued a highly anticipated and unanimous award in Republic of Philippines v. People’s Republic of China, a case filed in 2013 by Manila concerning maritime entitlements and the status of features in the South China Sea, among other issues.

The Tribunal’s award is highly favorable to the Philippines, ruling that China’s nine-dash line claim and accompanying claims to historic rights have no validity under international law; that no feature in the Spratly Islands, including Taiwan-occupied Itu Aba (or Taiping Island), is an island under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); and that the behavior of Chinese ships physically obstructing Philippine vessels is unlawful.

Perhaps the most significant finding–and the one most likely to disturb China–is the Tribunal’s award that China’s nine-dash line and claim to historic rights in the South China Sea are both invalid under international law. Notably:
the Tribunal concluded that, to the extent China had historic rights to resources in the waters of the South China Sea, such rights were extinguished to the extent they were incompatible with the exclusive economic zones provided for in the Convention.
Part of the Tribunal’s reasoning on historic rights considered historical evidence, concluding that while China may have made use of the islands in the South China Sea, there was no strong evidence that China “had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources.” This latter point is a particularly strong rebuttal to China’s position and its rhetoric on the South China Sea.

The Tribunal’s decision also rules that Chinese reclamation activities in the Spratly Islands, where the country has built seven artificial islands, are illegal under UNCLOS. Clarifying its reasoning for ruling Itu Aba–the largest South China Sea feature and one with a substantial Taiwanese presence–an island, the Tribunal said that under Article 121.3 of UNCLOS, the clause defining what constitutes an island, a “stable community of people” is a necessary requirement. Taiwan had submitted its case to the Tribunal for why Itu Aba should have been considered an island, claiming that the feature had the self-sufficient means necessary to sustain human life, including fresh water.

Regarding the status of features in the Spratly Islands–a key feature of the Philippines’ case against China–the Tribunal ruled that “Scarborough Shoal, Johnson Reef, Cuarteron Reef, and Fiery Cross Reef are high-tide features and that Subi Reef, Hughes Reef, Mischief Reef, and Second Thomas Shoal were submerged at high tide in their natural condition.” These designations comport with the Philippines’ original positions in its filing to the Tribunal, demonstrating that the country’s legal reasoning for why these features should be considered either high-tide features or low-tide elevations was accurate.

The Tribunal disagreed with the Philippines on the status of just two features: Gaven Reef (North) and McKennan Reef, concluding that both are high tide features. Under UNCLOS, high tide features or “rocks” are entitled to a 12 nautical mile territorial sea. Nevertheless, the Tribunal ruled certain Chinese activities in the Spratlys illegal, based on its finding that Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal, and Reed Bank “form part of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines.” While the Tribunal stated its opinion that these features comprised the Philippines’ lawful continental shelf under UNCLOS, it did not consider the sovereignty of individual features in the South China Sea. Questions of territorial sovereignty are outside of the scope of the UNCLOS, the international treaty forming the basis for adjudication in this case.

The Tribunal’s award also found that through its “large-scale land reclamation activities in the Spratly Islands,” China had “caused severe harm to the coral reef environment and violated its obligation to preserve and protect fragile ecosystems and the habitat of depleted, threatened, or endangered species.” The Tribunal also found that the Chinese government is aware that Chinese fishermen in the South China Sea were purposefully exploiting endangered species “on a substantial scale.”

In one area, the Tribunal found that it lacked jurisdiction. Specifically, it ruled that because a stand-off between China and the Philippines involved “military activities” it was excluded from compulsory settlement under UNCLOS.

China’s Foreign Ministry, keeping to its position announced before the award, said that the Tribunal’s award “is null and void and has no binding force.” “China neither accepts nor recognizes it,” it added, in a statement posted to Xinhua’s website.

The Philippines, despite the favorable nature of the award, has reacted carefully. According to the Philippine Star, Philippines Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr., said that the country’s experts are studying the award. He also noted that the country “maintains respect for the milestone decision” and “upholds international law.”

Next Steps and Analysis

Read any way, the Tribunal’s finding on the merits here is hugely favorable to the Philippines, with the decision and reasoning mostly comporting with what Manila had argued (with a few exceptions). In China, the award will make for difficult reading. It marks the first significant international legal decision on the maritime disputes in the South China Sea. The Tribunal’s findings on the nine-dash line and historic rights in particular will render Chinese language on activities in other parts of the South China Sea–including the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam and Indonesia–awkward.

Though this case was borne of tensions between China and the Philippines after the Scarborough Shoal stand-off in 2012, it will come to bear on all claimants in the area.
China’s behavior in the aftermath of this decision remains uncertain. As the foreign ministry statement demonstrates, Beijing is eager to clarify that it does not accept the result of legitimacy of the Tribunal’s award and will continue its activities in the South China Sea unhindered. Additionally, there are signs that the new government in the Philippines, under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, will look to forge a path to compromise, attempting to provide China with a face-saving “off ramp” after the highly embarrassing result of the award. Given the Tribunal’s award on Itu Aba notably, it’s unclear how Duterte would reasonably offer China some sort of joint development arrangement that would not then also concede waters legally deemed to be the Philippines’ per this award.

The award’s affirmation of Scarborough Shoal as a rock and Second Thomas Shoal as a low-tide elevation suggests a retrenchment of the status quo, where China can continue to occupy Scarborough and the Philippines can continue to treat BRP Sierra Madre, the grounded ship at Second Thomas Shoal, as an outpost. If China and the Philippines do pursue bilateral talks, these two features could be an area with some bargaining potential.

Another area to watch will be the upcoming meeting of the foreign ministers of the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Vientiane, Laos. The ministers will meet starting July 21. As the recent imbroglio at the Kunming meeting between ASEAN ministers and the Chinese foreign minister revealed, fissures exist within the grouping. Given the particularly strong nature of this award, it is unlikely that ASEAN ministers will be able to offer a strong statement in support of the Tribunal. Indeed, given signs that the Philippines itself may be looking to ease on the pressure against China, there may be less interest within the regional grouping to push for a strong statement.

Whatever happens next, the nature of maritime and even territorial disputes in the South China Sea will have changed considerably. A feature on most every map of the disputes in the region–China’s ambiguous and capacious nine-dash line–has been declared illegal under international law by a Tribunal convened under the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea. While features won’t change hands anytime soon and while artificial islands won’t turn back into their natural, pre-reclamation state as submerged reefs or partially exposed rocks, the legal understanding of these disputes will stand on momentous precedent.

The 500-page award, accompanied by a 11-page press release, were released to the public at 11:00 a.m. local time in the Hague.

[Editor’s Note: Read more in-depth analysis on the ruling here.]


How to enforce Hague ruling? PH lead counsel explains

From Rappler (Jul 12): How to enforce Hague ruling? PH lead counsel explains

The Philippines’ lead counsel, Paul Reichler, says this will depend 'on how vigorously' the affected states 'assert their rights against China'

HISTORIC HEARINGS. The Philippines' lead counsel against China, Paul Reichler (right), confers with Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario (1st from left) and Philippine Solicitor General Florin Hilbay (2nd from left) on the 1st day of hearings on the merits of the Philippines' case. Photo by Abigail Valte

HISTORIC HEARINGS. The Philippines' lead counsel against China, Paul Reichler (right), confers with Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario (1st from left) and Philippine Solicitor General Florin Hilbay (2nd from left) on the 1st day of hearings on the merits of the Philippines' case. Photo by Abigail Valte

Now that the Philippines won its historic case against China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), the question is how to enforce this ruling given that there is no international police to do this.

The Philippines’ lead counsel against China, Paul Reichler, said that enforcement "will depend on the conduct of other affected states and the international community in general."

In a telephone conference with select journalists, Reichler explained, "It will depend to a great extent on how vigorously all of the affected states, all of the states which have been prejudiced by the 9-dash line, assert their rights against China."

The 9-dash line is China's demarcation to claim the West Philippine Sea.

An arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on Tuesday said that "there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources, in excess of the rights provided for by the Convention, within the sea areas falling within the '9-dash line.'"

In his telephone conference on Tuesday, Reichler explained that, by saying the words "vigorous" and "assert," he means vigorously asserting rights "diplomatically, legally, and above all peacefully."

'Not only a victory for the Philippines'

Reichler said: "If these other states stand up for their rights in the way that the Philippines has done, you'll get the situation where all of the neighboring states are insisting that China withdraw its illegal claims and respect their legal rights which have been defined and recognized and acknowledged today, because those states have the same rights as the Philippines."

Reichler pointed out that the ruling "is also a great victory for the other coastal states along the South China Sea, in particular Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia."

He explained that "although the award is legally binding only on the two parties, China and the Philippines, it has very strong implications for other coastal states in the South China Sea."

Referring to Tuesday’s ruling, Reichler said, "We think that this is not only a victory for the Philippines. This is also a victory for the rule of law and international relations."

Reichler earlier said China runs the risk of being called an international outlaw.

"International pressure is the court’s only enforcement mechanism," the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said on its website.


South China Sea ruling will 'intensify conflict' - Chinese envoy

From InterAksyon (Jul 13): South China Sea ruling will 'intensify conflict' - Chinese envoy

The Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling denying China's claims in the South China Sea will "intensify conflict and even confrontation," Beijing's ambassador to the United States said on Tuesday.

The ambassador, Cui Tiankai, also told an international forum in Washington that Beijing remains committed to negotiations with other parties in disputes over the vital trade route.

In a case that was seen as a test of China's rising power and its economic and strategic rivalry with the United States, the tribunal in The Hague ruled China had breached the Philippines' sovereign rights by endangering its ships and fishing and oil projects in the energy-rich region.

The Chinese diplomat blamed the rise in tension in the region on the United States' "pivot" toward Asia in the past few years. Cui said the arbitration case "will probably open the door of abusing arbitration procedures.

"It will certainly undermine and weaken the motivation of states to engage in negotiations and consultations for solving their disputes," Cui said. "It will certainly intensify conflict and even confrontation."

China boycotted the arbitration hearings and described them as a farce. Legal experts and Asia policy specialists said China risked violating international law if it continued to strike a defiant tone and ignored the ruling.

The United States, which China has accused of fueling tensions and militarizing the region with patrols and exercises, said the ruling should be treated as final and binding.

"We certainly would urge all parties not to use this as an opportunity to engage in escalatory or provocative action," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in a briefing.

The ruling is significant as it is the first time that a legal challenge has been brought in the dispute. The court has no power of enforcement, but a victory for the Philippines could spur Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei to file similar cases on their claims to the waters.

China's Foreign Ministry rejected the tribunal's ruling, saying its people had more than 2,000 years of history in the South China Sea, that its islands did have exclusive economic zones and that it had announced to the world its "dotted line" map in 1948.

Cui told the CSIS forum that China "will do everything possible to safeguard the unimpeded flow of commerce and stop any attempt to destabilize the region."


The Philippines said it was studying the ruling.

"We call on all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety," Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay told a news conference.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby said Washington has seen signs in recent weeks of continued militarization by China in the South China Sea.

President Barack Obama's top Asia policy adviser, Daniel Kritenbrink, said the United States had no interest in stirring tensions in the South China Sea as a pretext for involvement in the region.

"We have an enduring interest in seeing territorial and maritime disputes in the Asia Pacific, including in the South China Sea, resolved peacefully, without coercion and in a manner that is consistent with international law," Kritenbrink said at a forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

US ally Australia warned against "unilateral actions" by any claimants. 

"Australia will continue to exercise our international law rights to freedom of navigation and overflight, and support the right of others to do so," Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement.

International law experts described the ruling as a legal blow to Beijing's claims in the disputed waters and one that brought the United States, China and Southeast Asia to a dangerous crossroads.

"This is a tactical victory for the Philippines and a strategic defeat for international law," said Chas Freeman, a former US diplomat who was then-President Richard Nixon’s interpreter on his historic trip to China in 1972.

"This decision has left the issue in the condition where it can only be resolved by the use of force. There is no diplomatic process underway to settle claims, and now there's no longer a legal process," Freeman said.

Julia Guifang Xue, a professor of international law at Shanghai Jiao Tong University said that given Beijing's sensitivity about sovereignty and security "we won't be surprised to see some kind of renewed effort by China to consolidate its claim in the area."

US officials have previously said they feared China may respond to the ruling by declaring an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea, as it did in the East China Sea in 2013, or by stepping up its building and fortification of artificial islands.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all parties to resolve the disputes in a "peaceful and amicable manner through dialogue and in conformity with international law."

China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.

Finding for the Philippines on a number of issues, the court said there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within its so-called nine-dash line, which covers almost 90 percent of the South China Sea.

None of China's reefs and holdings in the Spratly Islands entitled it to a 200-mile exclusive economic zone, it added.

The judges acknowledged China's refusal to participate, but said they sought to take account of China's position from its statements and diplomatic correspondence.

Taiwan, which maintains that the island it occupies, Itu Aba, is legally the only island among hundreds of reefs, shoals and atolls scattered across the seas, said it did not accept the ruling, which seriously impaired Taiwan's territorial rights in the 3.5 million sq km sea.

Fellow claimant Malaysia said it believed disputes could be resolved by diplomatic and legal processes.

A US official who helps set the administration's Asia policies said that faced with the prospect of continuing Chinese assertiveness, it is important for countries in the region and for the United States to avoid provocative actions and leave the door open for Beijing to pursue peaceful solutions "and avoid making matters worse."

He also said, however, that the United States must honor its defense commitments in the Pacific and reassure the Philippines, Vietnam and China’s other neighbors that it would not abandon them or Obama’s pledge to devote more resources to Asian security.


State of calamity declared in 3 Basilan towns as military pursue ASG bandits

From InterAksyon (Jul 12): State of calamity declared in 3 Basilan towns as military pursue ASG bandits

The provincial government of Basilan on Tuesday declared a state of calamity in the municipalities of Tipo-Tipo, Ungkaya Pukan and Al Barka as the  military continued its intensified offensive against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

On Tuesday morning, a soldier was killed and five other troopers were wounded in an explosion of an improvised explosive device (IED) while the 8th Scout Ranger Company and the 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion were conducting clearing operations in Tipo-Tipo.

The wounded soldiers were immediately airlifted to Zamboanga City for medical treatment.

In Sulu, a soldier was also killed and six others were injured during ongoing military operations to free the hostages of the Abu Sayyaf bandits.

So far, at least 40 members of the ASG were believed to have been killed and another 25 wounded in the week-long intensified military offensive against the ASG in Basilan and Sulu.


Army reserve command set to celebrate 37th National Reservist Week Convention

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jul 12): Army reserve command set to celebrate 37th National Reservist Week Convention

In support to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP’s) operational thrusts and guidance 2016, the 15th Regional Community Defense Group (RCDG) will hold its 37th National Reservist Week Convention on July 23-24, 2016 at the Camp Bancasi, this city.

The two-day convention is anchored on the theme, “Laang kawal na naghahanda at nagsasanay tungo sa mapayapa, masagana at maunlad na bayan.”

“We will be hosting the said event and it will be attended by the different reservist coming from the Philippine Army, Philippine Navy and Philippine Air Force region-wide.

 Other guests from the general headquarters of the AFP have also confirmed to grace the occasion,” said Col. Maning Tawantawan, group commander of the 15th RCDG.

It was learned that a press conference will be conducted in the afternoon on the 24th of July, with LtGen Rey Leonardo Guerrero, commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command to sit in the panel aside from his role as the guest of honor and speaker.

Said activity will highlight the significant roles and contributions of the trained and equipped reserve force as protector of the country and its people through maintaining internal security and stability, participation in disaster/emergency response, community development activities and humanitarian assistance.