Friday, July 15, 2016

WATCH | Bilateral talks with China must be based on PCA ruling: SolGen Calida

From InterAksyon (Jul 16): WATCH | Bilateral talks with China must be based on PCA ruling: SolGen Calida

A decision invalidating China's vast claims in the South China Sea was a "crowning glory" that renews faith in international law, the Philippines' top lawyer said on Friday, in Manila's strongest comment yet on its sweeping win.

The remarks by Solicitor General Jose Calida follow two days of carefully calibrated responses from the Philippines and are almost certain to irritate China further.

Manila has so far been keen not to rock the boat in the hope of starting dialogue towards Beijing allowing it to exercise what the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague ruled were its sovereign maritime rights.

"It confirms that no one state can claim virtually an entire sea. The award is a historic win not only for the Philippines ... it renews humanity's faith in a rules based global order," Calida told a forum on the South China Sea.

"The award opens a horizon of possibilities for all stakeholders. The award is a crowning glory of international law."

Speaking at a meeting of Asian and European officials in Mongolia, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay said Manila "strongly affirms its respect for the milestone decision" while reiterating his call for "restraint and sobriety".

Watch a News5 video report by Carla Lim:

[Video report]

China has refused to recognize Tuesday's ruling and did not take part in its proceedings. It has reacted angrily to calls by Western countries for the decision to be adhered to.

China's Foreign Ministry on Friday said Beijing's position on the case had the support of Laos, the current chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), a regional bloc long dogged by discord over how to deal with China's maritime assertiveness.

The verdict was discussed on Thursday between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith ahead of a regional summit in Mongolia.

"Thongloun said that Laos supports China's position, and is willing to work with China to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea region," the ministry said in a statement.

The statement did not elaborate. Laos' foreign ministry did not respond to Reuters' request for comment and its state media made no mention of Thongloun's comments to Li.

Land-locked Laos, which is boosting economic ties with China, will be hosting a security meeting later this month at which the South China Sea issue is expected to dominate. ASEAN has not issued a statement about the ruling and its members have not said why.

China's foreign ministry later said Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen had told Li that Cambodia would uphold a "fair and objective stance" on the South China Sea issue and work to maintain friendly China-ASEAN relations, according to a statement.

Asked about Cambodia's position, Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn told Reuters: "We are not involved in this arbitration case and just wish to stand by our policy of neutrality."

Cautious approach

China has previously said it has widespread support for its rejection of the case but many countries have stuck to cautious comments about resolving disputes peacefully and respecting international laws.

China claims much of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have rival claims.

Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte ended his unusual silence at a private function late on Thursday and said he wanted dialogue with China and was considering sending former President Fidel Ramos to Beijing to get the ball rolling.

"War is not an option," he said. "So, what is the other side? - Peaceful talk."

But Calida, who has given his recommendation to Duterte after scrutinizing the 500-page ruling of the PCA, said any bilateral talks with China should be based on the decision of the UN arbitral tribunal.

“We will not concede any of the awards given to us. The negotiation must respect the decision,” Calida said.

Regarding the possibility of joint exploration with China in the South China Sea, Philippine Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio explained that the Duterte administration cannot enter into an agreement for joint development of the areas or resources within the country’s exclusive economic zone because the Philippine Constitution prohibits this.

Carpio said China cannot ignore the PCA decision.

"The UNCLOS is a package deal. You cannot take which portion of UNCLOS you want to comply. And if China says ‘we will not comply with the ruling of UNCLOS tribunal but we have four permits from the International Seabed Authority, we will continue to explore the seabed

with these licenses’, that's cherry picking," Carpio said.

Immediately after the ruling, the normally brash and outspoken Duterte privately told his ministers to be magnanimous and not to pique Beijing, according to one minister.

But the cautious tone appears to be changing in the Philippines, where there are signs of public disgruntlement with the subdued government response to a decision that most of the country was celebrating.

The United States, a key Philippines' ally, is urging Asian nations not to move aggressively to capitalize on the court ruling, according to US administration officials.

The chief of its naval operations, Admiral John Richardson will discuss the South China Sea among other issues when he meets China's navy commander, Admiral Wu Shengli, from Sunday on a three-day trip to "improve mutual understanding", according to a U.S. navy statement.

Chinese state media on Friday reported again that China aims to launch a series of offshore nuclear power platforms to promote development in the South China Sea.

Experts said little progress had been made on the plan, which would likely stoke further tensions.

NPA in Surigao has illegal drugs list; will accept surrenderees but 'execute' recidivists

From InterAksyon (Jul 15): NPA in Surigao has illegal drugs list; will accept surrenderees but 'execute' recidivists

The Philippine National Police, the local governments, and the vigilantes are all conducting their own campaigns against illegal drugs. But so, too, are communist rebels, who like the PNP and LGUs said they were willing to accept the surrender of those willing to confess and mend their ways, but wold not hesitate to "execute" recidivists if they catch them with drugs in their possession.

The New People's Army (NPA) said it is doing its own investigation of several politicians and police officers for suspected involvement in the illegal drugs trade in Surigao del Sur.

Sandara Sidlakan, spokesperson of the NPA’s Guerilla Front 21, said: “We have several individuals on our watch list who are involved with illegal drugs; we are also investigating several politicians and about a dozen police officers in an area in relation to the illegal drug trade. The investigation covers the towns of Carrascal, Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen, Lanuza, Cortes and San Miguel here in Surigao del Sur.”

The NPA spokesperson said that actually, the rebel group has been conducting its own campaign against illegal drugs for years, but had recently intensified it, encouraged by the commitment of the new administration to eradicate the scourge.  

We have our own eyes and ears in the community so we know who are those using and selling drugs. If they will present themselves and surrender, with the intent of stopping and [truly] change their lives, then we will not do anything to them. But if we catch them with the illegal drugs in their possession, we will not think twice and execute them,” said Sidlakan.

The NPA revealed their action after justifying the abduction of one Police Officer 1 Yu.

“We abducted Yu to investigate as well as to seek additional information that would lead to other bigger drug personalities. The family and friends of the police officer should not worry because we will let him go after we are satisfied with our ongoing investigation. So far he is secure and well taken cared of,” said Sidlakan.

Police Senior Inspector Charity Galvez, officer in charge of the public information office of the Police Regional Office 10 (PRO10), said the Philippine National Police (PNP) has addressed the issue properly.

“For us the proper way to address the issue on police officers using illegal drugs would be through random drug tests. The PNP here in Caraga Region has been conducting these tests to ensure that we will weed out those involved based on scientific data. So far we still don’t have the final results on the drug tests we conducted but rest assured we will release the result as soon as we get it,” said Galvez.

The Police Regional Director, Chief Superintendent Rolando Felix, earlier ordered a surprise drug test on about 300 commissioned and non-commissioned police personnel, said Galvez.

“Not one of them knew that a surprise drug test had been prepared, but this is not the first time, we’ve done similar tests in the past few weeks. So I think this is a clear sign of our efforts towards cleaning our ranks,” said Galvez.

In June 2016,  the regional director said three police officers were caught using drugs but had yet to reveal the outcome of the administrative case on the officers.  

As of press time, PRO10 has yet to reveal the exact number of those found to be using drugs and involved in the illegal drug trade.

Caught between a reef and a hard place, Manila's South China Sea victory runs aground

From InterAksyon (Jul 15): Caught between a reef and a hard place, Manila's South China Sea victory runs aground

Satellite image of the seawall and dock at Mischief (Panganiban) Reef in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea). (REUTERS/CSIS/AMTI)

The Philippines may have won an emphatic legal victory over China in the South China Sea, but the aptly named Mischief Reef shows just how hard it will be for Manila to make its triumph count in the strategic waterway.

Chinese construction on the reef, which began two decades ago as a few rickety shelters perched on stilts, now covers an area larger than 500 football fields. It includes a 3 km (9,800 feet) runway, extensive housing, parade grounds and radar nests, satellite images show.

According to Tuesday's landmark ruling, however, the reef (Philippine name: Panganiban Reef) and everything on it legally belongs to the Philippines and no amount of time or building will change that.

Publicly, Manila has been unusually cautious in its response to the sweeping ruling, urging "restraint and sobriety". In private, officials acknowledge they have little hope of recovering Mischief Reef any time soon despite the unequivocal ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

"This will take time, not in the next five or 10 years," said one senior Philippine navy official, requesting anonymity to speak freely on the highly sensitive matter.
It was, he said, "impossible to evict the Chinese there".

Resolute response

Beijing, which boycotted the case from the outset, says the ruling has no bearing on its rights in the South China Sea and has reasserted its claims to Mischief and other features.

On Thursday, the state-run People's Daily ran a picture on its front page of a civilian aircraft landing at the new Mischief airport, two Chinese flags rippling from the cockpit.

"As I've said before, it won't have any effect," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said, when asked if China would seek to bolster its sovereignty over Mischief Reef.

"At the same time, I want to stress that if any person wants to take the outcome of this arbitration as a basis for taking any provocative steps against China's interests, China will most certainly resolutely respond," Lu told reporters.

With the panel having no powers to enforce its ruling, mainland experts see no sign that China will scale back its actions across the South China Sea.

"The tribunal's decision is so sweeping that it is not going to help solve the problem," said Sienho Yee, an international law specialist at China's Wuhan University.

Other Chinese experts, speaking privately, said the ruling was being closely scrutinized, despite official statements dismissing its relevance.

Some among leadership elites had been "stung" by its comprehensive stance against China.

"There is surprise at the extent of the sheer arrogance of these judges sitting (in Europe) deciding what is a rock and what is an island," said one Beijing-based scholar.

"It can only serve to unify our leadership and harden Chinese views, and that includes the military leadership. There will be little appetite to take a step back."

Manila's "softly, softly" approach reflected its understanding of that risk, Philippine officials said.

"We should find ways to allow some face-saving actions because China could face tremendous domestic pressure," the Philippine navy official said. "We don't want the Chinese Communist Party to be overthrown by the more hot-headed people in the People's Liberation Army. That will be too dangerous."

President Xi Jinping has moved extensively to tighten his grip on power since assuming office almost four years ago and there has been no sign of any such action.

Nothing more than seabed

The decision on Mischief Reef is among the most significant within the 479-page judgment from the panel, which looked at the territorial rights of disputed reefs, rocks and shoals scattered throughout the key trade route.

At a stroke, the court dismissed Beijing's 69-year-old nine-dash line claim to much of the South China Sea and removed any legal basis for Beijing to create a network of linked territorial and economic seas under its control, legal experts said.

Mischief is China's eastern most holding in the resource-rich waterway. Some 300 km (185 miles) west of the Philippines' island of Palawan and 1,100 km (685 miles) from China's Hainan Island, it sits entirely within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone and on its continental shelf.

The panel ruled China's building of installations on reclaimed land, which accelerated sharply after 2014, was illegal and had "aggravated" the dispute under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), under which Manila launched the case in 2013.

The judges backed the Philippines' lawyers who used satellite, survey and historical data, including Chinese naval pilot notes, to show Mischief Reef is - legally at least - nothing more than seabed exposed at low tide.

The lawyers gave evidence that its traditional Chinese name - Mi Qi Fu - was based on Mischief's English name, according to court transcripts, seeking to undermine China's argument that it had been, in its words, "master" of the South China Sea for 2,000 years. China calls it Meiji Reef today.

Potential flashpoint

Regional military officials and diplomats say Mischief is a clear flashpoint in what is expected to be months of tension after the ruling.

Others include Scarborough Shoal, a traditional Philippine fishing ground that was occupied by China in 2012, and Second Thomas Shoal, where a small group of Philippine soldiers is based in the rusting hulk of a grounded ship.

The United States is also watching Mischief closely and has repeatedly warned China against further development of islands within the waters of the Philippines, a formal security ally.

US Republican Senator Dan Sullivan demanded on Wednesday that US ships sail close to Mischief as part of pledged increases in so-called freedom-of-navigation operations.

A US defense official also told Reuters that, if regional competition escalated into confrontation, US naval and air forces were prepared to act to maintain free navigation.
Manila is clear it doesn't want to provoke China further.

"They are a bit angry now," Philippines' Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told Reuters. "Emotions are running high and we don't want to provide them any reason to react violently."

Army welcomes probe on Lumad leader’s killing

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 15): Army welcomes probe on Lumad leader’s killing

The Philippine Army welcomed the call of Acting Mayor Paolo Duterte for a thorough investigation on the killing of Datu Ruben Labawan, one of the Ata-Manobo tribal leaders in Paquibato District.

“The tribe and other sectors are now seeking justice for Datu Labawan’s killing,” Captain Rhyan Batchar, chief information officer of the Army 10th Infantry (Agila) Division, said in a phone interview on Thursday afternoon.

Datu Labawan and his companion were gunned down last July 6 in Panabo City after attending a meeting with other tribal leaders in Davao region and government line agencies.

The New People’s Army (NPA) admitted responsibility for the killing of Labawan in a statement it sent to the media.

Batchar said it is the task of the Philippine National Police (PNP) to conduct investigation on Labawan’s killing.

The Army, he added, can also provide vital information that will help those who will handle the probe.

On Thursday, Vice Mayor Duterte said he wanted the City Council of Davao and the PNP “to dig deeper” into the killing of Labawan.

The vice mayor paid a visit to Labawan’s wake at the Almendras Gym on Thursday morning where he also met the tribal leader’s family and members of the tribe.

He also ordered the Committee on Civil, Political and Human Rights of the city council to facilitate its own investigation on the killing.

The committee is chaired by Councilor Antoinette Principe-Castrodes.

“The leaders of Davao City knew the contributions of Labawan to the tribal communities in Paquibato District,” Batchar pointed out, adding that investigation by the city government to seek justice for the leader’s death is appropriate.

Batchar also assured that the Army is doing its best to prevent the feared “pangayaw” or purging in the area.

The 10th ID earlier condemned the killing of Labawan, saying that the leader’s death is a great loss to the tribal communities in Paquibato District whom he served religiously for many years.

Army clearing operations left 7 injured; operation vs. BIFF continues in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 15): Army clearing operations left 7 injured; operation vs. BIFF continues in Maguindanao

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao -- A total of seven soldiers were slightly injured during clearing operations in Datu Unsay and Shariff Aguak towns in Maguindanao following a brief fire fight between government forces and outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the Army said.

Capt. Joann Petinglay, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division, said the seven soldiers were part of the security forces securing Army trainees undergoing immersion in conflict affected areas in Datu Unsay.

A 14-year-old girl was killed while three BIFF were also slain during the Wednesday morning skirmishes in Datu Unsay. No soldier was hurt in that clash.

But during clearing operations, Petinglay said, seven soldiers were hurt by improvised explosive devices set off by the BIFF.

Petinglay explained that elements of the 45th Infantry Battalion providing security for Army trainees clashed with about 40 BIFF under Commander Unos.

The 6th ID had to use air assets to drive away the lawless group.

Petinglay said the clearing operations Thursday night also led to the recovery of improvised bombs planted by the BIFF along a route leading to Barangay Kuloy in Shariff Aguak.

"The highway linking Cotabato City and Gen. Santos City is safe for commuters," Petinglay said, adding that the wounded soldiers only suffered minor wounds.

Petinglay said covert and overt operations against the lawless group will continue.

Meanwhile, about 200 families have fled to the town center of Datu Unsay town with government relief agencies providing food and water until their return.

VP Robredo attends USAID confab on urban dev't

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 15): VP Robredo attends USAID confab on urban dev't

Vice President Leni Robredo has attended the 2016 International Conference on Urban Development held from July 12-13 at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza here.

Organized by the US Embassy's United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the event was also graced by US ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg.

In her closing message, Robredo commended the US government for spearheading the conference.

“It is our collective struggle to turn urbanization from a problem into an opportunity. We still have the chance of guiding our secondary cities’ urban development and address challenges like traffic, urban planning and housing before they become unmanageable,” Robredo said.

Robredo was recently appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte as chairperson of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC).

More than 1,300 international and local planning experts, policy makers, government officials, industry and business leaders, development players and students gathered in Manila to share knowledge, experience, and aspirations in shaping livable and resilient cities.

The event with with the theme “Accelerating Resilience and Inclusive Growth,” featured a range of presentations and panel discussions such as promoting social inclusion in urban environments, improving business climate for investments, addressing climate change and disaster risks, solving urban land tenure issues, and fostering technological solutions for urban development, among others.

Renowned speakers included Professor Charles Landry, an international authority on the use of imagination and creativity in urban change.

USAID Mission Director Dr. Susan Brems, in her opening remarks, stated, “The role that cities play in the Philippines’ economy, and in the world, is significant and growing. Cities are magnets of economic activity and prosperity, and are the primary drivers of investments and jobs – crucial elements to achieving broad-based, inclusive, and sustainable growth.”

Despite recent gains, the Philippines has the least equal income distribution among all developing countries in East Asia.

A full 75 percent of economic output is attributed to urban areas, focused primarily in the country’s more than 30 highly urbanized cities.

“Much of the country’s growth is concentrated in and around Metro Manila. We need to expand and disperse economic opportunity across the country,” Dr. Brems said.

USAID, through its Cities Development Initiative (CDI), supports partner cities outside Metro Manila to fulfill their potential as engines of inclusive, environmentally sustainable, and resilient economic growth.

At present, there are six CDI partner cities: Batangas and Puerto Princesa in Luzon, Tagbilaran and Iloilo in Visayas, and Cagayan de Oro and Zamboanga in Mindanao.

The conference was organized by USAID through its Strengthening Urban Resilience for Growth with Equity (SURGE) Project, together with the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the National Competitiveness Council, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, and the World Bank.

SURGE is the flagship project of USAID’s Cities Development Initiative Project, a crucial component of the broader Partnership for Growth.

Through the project, USAID assists cities and adjacent areas to plan effectively, guarantee basic public services, reduce business transaction costs, promote competitiveness, support sustainable development, and reduce disaster and climate change risks, while promoting inclusive and sustainable growth.

DFA Secretary raises South China SEA issue at the 11th ASIA-Europe meeting

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 15): DFA Secretary raises South China SEA issue at the 11th ASIA-Europe meeting

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto R. Yasay, Jr. joined 54 leaders from Asia and Europe in celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).

In his statement, the Secretary emphasized the importance of a balanced treatment of the three pillars of the Asia-Europe Meeting: the political; the economic; and the social, cultural, and educational pillars.

Yasay stated that the Philippines welcomes the issuance of the arbitral Award on the South China Sea, and reiterated the Philippines’ respect for this milestone decision as an important contribution to ongoing efforts in addressing disputes in the South China Sea.

Local Bangsamoro films portray peaceful side of Mindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 15): Local Bangsamoro films portray peaceful side of Mindanao

The film project entitled, "The Long Reach of Short Films - Telling Stories of Peace in Mindanao," has offered a different lens in depicting Mindanao, veering away from the usual war and conflict stories.

Eight local, independent filmmakers dared audiences to correct their misconceptions against the Bangsamoro and Filipino Muslims in another showing of the film project in Cine Adarna at the University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon city last July 13.

"We try to find a different way to tackle the Bangsamoro issue. Films are important to create discussions and dialogue and impact emotionally,” said project manager Manuel Domes of Civil Peace Service/Forum Ziviler Friedensdienst e.V. (forumZFD).

"Our main focus is not so much on the grander level of peace discourse but on the level of peace education, understanding the context, and articulating it," he added.

forumZFD is a German non-government organization which organized and funded the eight films included in the collection.

It was also responsible for holding the workshop that guided the eight filmmakers in planning for their films. All eight hail from Mindanao.

"The Long Reach of Short Films – Telling Stories of Peace in Mindanao" film project is a collective initiative to show various stories of peace and conflict transformation in the Bangsamoro region.

forumZFD stated that mainstream narratives about Mindanao are often centered on violence and an oversimplification of its underlying causes.

"While realities of armed clashes, kidnappings, and human rights violations must not be ignored, there are stories of hope and peace, which often escape the attention of media and the public," the group said.

Through a grant project in early 2016, the filmmakers came up with narrative and documentary short films providing different perspectives on the peace and conflict situation on the island.

"Collectively, the films seek to spark dialogue, foster understanding, and contribute to a bigger picture of what is Mindanao today," said forumZFD.

The films featured in the project are "Under a Canopy of Light" by Teng Mangansakan; "Panicupan" by Keith Bacongco; "Dalem" by Haidie Sangkad; "Kulahi" by Pam Chua; "Upat Hinasil" by Zehry Ibn Muhammad; "In the Middle of an End" by Ryanne Murcia; "Digkilaan" by Nef Luczon; and "Pagbarug Tu Pagtuon" (The Right to Learn) by Arbi Barbarona.

Some of the films were also screened in Cotabato City in March this year as part of the commemoration of the second anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

forumZFD is in the process of partnering with various organizations to continuously provide avenues for the showing of said films.

“We are working with a group of universities in Davao in developing teaching materials in the schools and looking for entry points in the curriculum to show these films,” Domes said.

Palace: Right response, right time on the West Philippine Sea issue

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 15): Palace: Right response, right time on the West Philippine Sea issue

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said that in spite of the awarding of a favorable decision on the West Philippine Sea dispute, the government is still studying the decision on what should be the next steps regarding the matter.
“We are not keeping our cards close to our chest. We are really thinking through the right response but the initial statement should be some time after Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay comes back from Mongolia,” Abella said in a press briefing on Friday.

According to Abella, Yasay represented the country in the ongoing Asia-Europe Summit (ASEM) in Mongolia.

After the Arbitral Court handed down its decision, fishermen have tried to fish in the disputed areas. But Abella said, “We are still saying that the fishermen are not prevented. However, they are cautioned to proceed with care.”

On the matter of the Executive Order on Freedom of Information, Abella said the President is reviewing the draft before signing the document.

On the question regarding the “narco mayors,” Abella said he will look into the matter so that it may be available in soonest possible time.

Palace continues to use diplomatic ways to address West Philippine Sea issue

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 15): Palace continues to use diplomatic ways to address West Philippine Sea issue

The Duterte administration will continue to choose the diplomatic way in addressing the territorial dispute with China, following the United Nations (UN) Tribunal decision favoring the Philippines.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte said on Thursday he will consult several people, including former President Fidel V. Ramos, to help the government discuss the issue with China and will even ask Ramos to go to China for this purpose.

The 88-year-old Ramos, as cited by news reports, said he is willing to help but noted that his advanced age is already a hindrance.

Asked what the government’s next move is if Ramos will not be able to go to China to help the Philippines on the jurisdiction dispute, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said there are other ways to address it.

”Then I suppose there may be other ways of doing it, diplomatic… diplomatic channels,” he said.

On July 12, 2016, The Hague, Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines on the jurisdiction claims on several West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) islands.

In a press release, the Tribunal said it “found that Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal and Reed Bank are submerged at high tide, form part of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines, and are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China.”

It also cited that China interfered with Philippine petroleum exploration in Reed Bank, purported to prohibit fishing by Philippine vessels within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, protected and failed to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone at Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal and constructed installations and artificial islands at Mischief Reef without the authorization of the Philippines.

”The Tribunal therefore concluded that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights with respect to its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf,” it said.

Mischief Reef is also called Panganiban Reef in the Philippines, Second Thomas Shoal is known as Ayungin Shoal and Reed Bank as Recto Bank.

The Philippines continues to remain calm on the issue despite China’s rejection of the decision.

Abella said the government is studying its next moves and will announce this over time.

”We are really thinking through the right response but the initial statement should be sometime after DFA Secretary Yasay comes back from Mongolia,” he added.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Perfecto Yasay leads the Philippines delegation to the 11th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEAM) Summit being held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia from July 15-16, 2016.

Paying ransoms only encourages more Abu Sayyaf kidnappings: Indonesian VP

From Splash 24/7 (Jul 14): Paying ransoms only encourages more Abu Sayyaf kidnappings: Indonesian VP

Indonesia’s vice president Jusuf Kalla has told shipowners not to negotiate or pay ransoms to release crew abducted by Abu Sayyaf, the Islamist militant group operating in seas in neighbouring Philippines.

Abu Sayyaf has taken more than 20 seafarers hostage in recent months, demanding significant ransoms.

“I am 100 percent sure the government has never negotiated in regard to money. But it’s possible the companies did. For the safety of their employees they have negotiated, but this has led to the [repeated abductions],” Kalla said earlier this week.

Paying ransoms encouraged more kidnappings, Kalla maintained.

Indonesia’s coordinating political, legal and security affairs minister Luhut Pandjaitan urged shipowners to use larger vessels when trading coal to the Philippines as a deterrent.

“The vessels that we use to deliver coal are rather small and susceptible to being hijacked. If we used bigger barges it would be harder [for other groups to take them over],” Luhut said.

The Indonesian government has also suggested owners put armed guards onboard.

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have vowed to up naval patrols in the Sulu and Celebes seas to fight Abu Sayyaf. Splash columnist Andrew Craig-Bennett has described the area as “the next Somalia”.

Protest at Philippine Embassy in Jakarta as Hostage Crisis Worsens

From the Jakarta Globe (Jul 14): Protest at Philippine Embassy in Jakarta as Hostage Crisis Worsens

Dozens of protesters from the Confederation of Indonesian Worker's Unions, or KSPI, rallied at the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta on Thursday (14/07), demanding the Philippine government make more effort to release ten Indonesian sailors taken hostage by the Abu Sayyaf militant group.

KSPI general secretary Muhammad Rusdi told reporters the Philippine government had no control over the militant rebels led by Abu Sayyaf and is unable to maintain security in Southern Philippines.

“The Indonesian and the Philippine governments had both failed to protect our sailors. We've fallen into the same trap four times in the last four months,” said Rusdi at the Philippine Embassy on Jalan Imam Bonjol in Central Jakarta.

He said the group supported the Indonesian Military's (TNI) plan to launch a military operation to release the hostages and prevent further attacks.

“The government never told us how they negotiated with the kidnappers. We believe that paying ransoms will only encourage them to kidnap more Indonesian sailors. It's time for Indonesia to show some dignity,” Rusdi said.

The protesters brought provocative banners during the rally, two of which say “Go to Hell the Philippines and Abu Sayyaf” and “Free the Hostages or We Will Destroy the Phillipines and Abu Sayyaf.”

The Philippine Embassy let in two representatives of the group to discuss their demands with embassy staff.

The protesters plan to march on to the Manpower Ministry office on Jalan Gatot Subroto, saying that the ministry has done nothing to protect the Indonesian workers who were taken hostage.

Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia have been in intensive talks to find ways to free the ten Indonesian ship crews.

Three more Indonesians were kidnapped by an armed group — allegedly part of the extremist Abu Sayyaf Group — off the coast of Lahad Datu in Sabah, Malaysia, on Saturday. They were reportedly taken to the group's base in the Sulu Sea in Southern Philippines.

This was the fourth kidnapping of Indonesian sailors in as many months.
Last month, seven Indonesian sailors were abducted by two armed groups, also affiliated with the Abu Sayyaf, in the Sulu Sea.

Chief Security Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said on Tuesday that a military operation is not an option at this stage as the Philippine constitution forbids foreign military operations within its borders.

The Asean Code of Conduct also restricts military involvement by member states in other Asean countries' domestic affairs.

AFP to hold 3rd social media summit Friday

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 14): AFP to hold 3rd social media summit Friday

In this age of digital communication and social media, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and other line agencies of the government have to step up their capabilities in delivering their messages and services to the public. Now on its second year, the Social Media Summit brought together the leading names in social media marketing and public relations, IT and online journalism at AFP Theater to impart their knowledge to public servants and students last June 23. In attendance was CSAFP Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. and AFP J7 MGen Richard Lagrana.

In this June 23, 2015 file photo, CSAFP Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. poses with the attendees of the 2nd Social Media Summit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.  SSG ORLANDO LIWAG/PAF
In this day and age of Facebook and Twitter, what exactly is the role of social media in enhancing the efforts of the country’s 80-year-old military?

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is set to hold its 3rd Social Media Summit on Friday at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City to tackle various trends and issues in improving the military’s online presence.

With the theme “Change.Move.Achieve: Moving forward through Social Media,” the AFP Media and Civil Affairs Group and Civil Relations Service said the one-day conference aims to explore “initiatives in information and communication management, enhance the skills of social media managers and build bigger networks with AFP’s civilian counter parts to achieve organizational and national goals through social media.”

“It also aims to strengthen patriotism and public service awareness through online presence… It will further provide the participants the opportunity to get insights on exploring social media channels beyond Twitter and Facebook and understand that social media networks are critical in today’s public service,” organizers said in a statement.

One of the plenary speakers is editor in chief John Nery, who will discuss “Going Viral: Lessons for Creating Stories with Impact.”

The social media director for the campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte, Jose Gabriel Laviña, will talk about “Thunderbolt: Winning the Social Media Wars of the 2016 Presidential Election.”

Bank of the Philippine Island brand manager Noel Jeffrey Gonzales will dwell on the importance of big data and social media benchmarks; Christopher Hayes of the Military Information Support Team will tackle social media and countering violent extremism; and PLDT-Smart Communications public affairs head will discuss social media and public relations.

The event is expected to draw about 1,300 participants, including information officers from units of AFP, Department of National Defense, Philippine National Police, other government agencies, and non-government and civil society organizations.

AFP wants to improve service through social media

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 15): AFP wants to improve service through social media

There’s no stopping the rise of social media in the Philippines and soldiers are also all over Facebook.

But this powerful tool has its advantages and disadvantages, and this is why the Armed Forces of the Philippines is holding its 3rd Social Media Summit on Friday at Camp Aguinaldo to discuss prevailing social media issues and tools to enhance its engagement with the public.

“[Social media] is a powerful platform…it can affect change, so why not learn the things that can make us master the power of social media so that we can improve public service,” said Ltc. Michael Aquino, commander of Media and Civil Affairs Group of the Civil Relations Service.

He said social media has been useful to them, especially in disseminating information during disasters and calamities.

“It also helps out to clarify misinformation being spread around,” he added.

In 2014, the Philippine Army came out with its own social media handbook, which sets the ground rules for the troops in using social media, whether with their office or unit account or their own private accounts.

But this has been exclusive to the Army and Aquino said they are also formulating an AFP-wide social media handbook.

“There have been efforts to come out with a protocol,” he said without giving more details.

This year’s theme, “Change. Move. Achieve: Moving Forward Through Social Media,” Aquino said that they will focus on matters that will enhance their efforts in public service. editor in chief John Nery will discuss “Going Viral: Lessons for Creating Stories with Impact.”

Social media and countering violent extremism will be tackled by Captain Chistopher Hayes of the Military Information Support Team.

Other speakers are Jose Gabriel Lavina, social media director for the campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte, will discuss “Thunderbolt: Winning the Social Media Wars of the 2016 Presidential Election;” Ramon Isberto of PLDT-Smart Communications public affairs will discuss social media and public relations; Noel Jeffrey Gonzales, BPI brand manager will talk about the importance of big data and social media benchmarks and Carlo Ople of the Internet and Mobile Marketing Association of the Philippines will discuss bridging generation gaps through social media.

Antique rebel free, says Philippine Army official

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 15): Antique rebel free, says Philippine Army official

SAN JOSE De BUENAVISTA, Antique -- Antique is insurgency-free, said Major Udgie Villan, spokesman of the 802nd Battalion of the Philippine Army in his report to the Provincial Peace and Order Council Thursday (July 14).

“So far, we have not monitored any movement of insurgents in the province of Antique, but there are at least three barangays that we consider as threatened barangays. These are Barangays Aningalan and Cabungahan in San Remigio town and Barangay Tordesillas in Sibalom town,” Major Villan said.

He said that they have monitored movements of rebels in the mountain barangays in the towns of Igbaras, Tubungan, Miag-ao and San Joaquin in the 1st District of Iloilo and the mountain barangays of Leon and Alimodian in the 2nd District of Iloilo near the boundaries of Antique.

“It’s not something to be really worried about,” Major Villan said.

The 802 Battalion covers the province of Antique and the two congressional districts (Iloilo 1st District and Iloilo 2nd District) in the southern part of Iloilo province.

Major Villan further reported that to keep the province insurgency-free, the Philippine Army is continuously conducting patrols especially in the three threatened barangays.
He recommends the conduct of Bayanihan activities, Youth for Peace and Development activities and medical missions in these barangays to reach out the residents.

In reaction to the report of Major Villan, Governor Rhodora J. Cadiao ordered Provincial Health Officer Ric Noel Naciongayo to spearhead the medical missions every three months in these barangays in San Remigio and in Sibalom.

PA conducts fellowship activity with telecom companies

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 15): PA conducts fellowship activity with telecom companies

In line with its efforts to modernize its communications system, the Philippine Army (PA) conducted a fellowship activity with prominent private and commercial telecommunication companies at its Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City headquarters Friday.

Col. Benjamin Hao, PA spokesperson, said representatives of 31 telecom companies, which included PLDT, Globe Telecom, Nightline, Inc, and Philippine Institute of Cyber security Professionals, have attended the event.

Other participating companies are Barhead Solutions Inc., IOT Technology, HBCom, Synetcom, SMS Global Solutions, Macrologic, Intrade, Theon Sensors, Comclark Network and Technology Corp., Rollbase, EBDI Philippines Inc., Prism Blue Limited, Orange and Bronze Software Lab Inc., Fire Eye Philippines, MSI-ECS Philippines Inc., Fortinet, Trend Micro Inc., Nimble Storage, HP Networking, APC Complete Solutions, Global Knowledge, Cisco Philippines, Microsoft, First Data Corp., Global Sign, Neo Tech Asia Distributor, and Eset.

Armed Forces Communication, Electronics and Information System head Brig. Gen. Diosdado G. Respecio served as guest-of-honor and speaker.

Hao said the PA's Command and Control Communication and Cyber System (C4S) initiated the activity in line with its efforts to initiate sense of shared responsibility with stakeholders in implementing various development initiatives.

Partnership and collaboration with the telecommunication companies will contribute to the Army’s planning and development initiatives in terms of communication and cyber security system.

“It also provides us (Army Signal Corps) the necessary knowledge and skills to facilitate the installation, operation and maintenance of Information and Communications Technology equipment and facilities,” Hao said.

AFP honors newly-returned 19th PHL Contingent to Haiti

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 15): AFP honors newly-returned 19th PHL Contingent to Haiti

For its year-long sterling peacekeeping service for the United Nations, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) honored the newly-returned 19th Philippine Contingent to Haiti (PCH) on Friday.

The 135-strong unit, which was commanded by Col. Vincent B. Incognito, was given their United Nations Service Medals at the GHQ Canopy Area, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

The PCH officers and enlisted personnel were formally welcomed by AFP chief Gen. Ricardo R. Visaya, Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Edgar R. Fallorina, Armed Forces deputy chief-of-staff for operations Major Gen. Carlito G. Galvez and AFP Peacekeeping Operations Center chief Col. Eugenio V. Hernandez.

“As peacekeepers deployed to one of the most politically unstable environments in the world, critical responsibilities were bestowed upon you. And alongside those duties are the challenges of working in a foreign land, thousand miles away from home and your loved ones," Visaya said.

The AFP deployed its first contingents to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in 2004 following its establishment through the Security Council Resolution No. 1542.

MINUSTAH was established to maintain a secure and stable environment, assist in strengthening Haiti’s government institutions, and promote and protect human rights after the series of armed conflicts that shook the country under the Aristide administration.

The 19th PCH was organized and selected based on the manning requirements specified in the agreement between the Government of the Philippines and the United Nations.

Composed of 135 members -- 11 officers and 124 enlisted personnel -- the contingent provided administrative and security operations through clerical services, transport services, VIP security, and perimeter defense.

The all Air Force contingent arrived in the country last July 11 and immediately underwent a medical checkup at the AFP Medical Center.

They were replaced by the all-Army 20th PCH which left the country last July 8.

“As your eyes have been opened with the problems occurring outside the territory we are primarily tasked to protect, I am certain that you have gained the motivation to serve more because you now have more to offer to our country and to the Filipino people,” the AFP chief added.

Army joins “Hatud Serbisyo”

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jul 14): Army joins “Hatud Serbisyo”

IMPASUGONG, Bukidnon -- Members of the 8th Infantry Battalion and 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army participated in the service caravan “Hatud Serbisyo” activity in Brgy. Impalutao, Impasugong town, Bukidnon, July 11.

As part of their advocacy in upholding peace and development through stakeholder engagement, the military offered free medical and dental services to a thousand residents in the area. Col Rafael A Jaramillo led the 4ID dental team.

For its part, the local government of Impasugong distributed sacks of rice for the calamity-affected populace.

The activity gives emphasis on helping those who have been affected by calamities such as the recent “El Niño” phenomenon.

Further, the activity provided other free services such as haircut, massage, and pedicure/manicure. A mass wedding also took place at the Barangay Hall of Impalutao, uniting 17 couples through the holy sacrament of marriage.

Mayor Anthony Uy commends the unwavering efforts of the battalion headed by LtCol Lennon G Babilonia in fulfilling their mission of serving the people.

Uy underscored the importance of partnership among the stakeholders of peace in order to move a step closer towards achieving peace and development.

He also lauds the 8IB's Bayanihan Team Activities (BTAs) which emphasizes the resolution of issues through working together to end the conflict. (8IB/PA)

‘Bantay Kalikasan’ members abducted by NPA

From the Manila Bulletin (Jul 12): ‘Bantay Kalikasan’ members abducted by NPA

Two members of the Bantay Banwa, or Bantay Kalikasan, were abducted by suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels at Barangay Pangi, some six kilometers from Tandag City, in Surigao del Sur province, a report reaching the police regional headquarters here yesterday said.

An initial report reaching the regional command and tactical operation center of Northeastern Mindanao Police Regional Office 13 (PRO 13) based at Camp Rafael C. Rodriguez here from Surigao del Sur Police Provincial Office (PPO) said Jesus Matin-ao, 50, and Ramil Aguirre, 35, were heading towards the coconut lands in Barangay Pangi when they were abducted by about 60 fully armed NPAs at 6 a.m. Friday.

The unidentified men, some of them women, were armed with AK-47 and M16 Armalite rifles and were dressed in full-combat military uniforms. There were reportedly led by certain alias “Nicko” of guerilla-Front Committee 30 of the CPP-NPA Northeastern Mindanao Regional Committee (NMRC), reported Surigao del Sur PPO director Senior Supt. Romaldo G. Bayting.

In his report to Chief Supt. Rolando B. Felix, regional director of PRO 13, Senior Supt. Bayting said the two “Bantay Kalikasan” members were believed to have been taken to a remote area in Barangay Pangi.

However, after few hours, the abductors released Matin-ao.

Aguirre was still in the hands of his abductors after he was tagged as an alleged informant of the government security forces operating in Surigao del Sur, Bayting said.

Elements of city and provincial mobile forces and Tandag City Police Station (TCPS) police force, along with combat maneuvering troops of the 402nd Infantry (Stingers) Brigade based in Tandag City are still conducting pursuit operations to rescue Aguirre, he added.

The CPP-NPA-NMRC has not issued any statement on the abduction of the two “Bantay Kalikasan” members.

It could be recalled that on July5, PO1 Richard Yu Jr. of the Carmen Municipal Police Station (MPS) in Carmen town was also abducted, and the NPA in that same province already claimed responsibility of that incident.

His fate was still not known as the NPA custodial force was still conducting validation on his work as police officer, said CPP-NPA spokesperson certain Ka Sandara, in a recent interview with a local radio station here.

Surigao Sur board member shot, bodyguard killed, 2 others wounded in Bislig ambush

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 14): Surigao Sur board member shot, bodyguard killed, 2 others wounded in Bislig ambush

A Surigao del Sur provincial board member was shot and wounded while his bodyguard was killed and two others in his group were also wounded when unidentified gunmen opened fire on their vehicle at 2 p.m. Thursday, in Bislig City.

Apolinario Suan Jr., a broadcaster of Real FM, and now a first-term member of the Surigao del Sur provincial board was with his security escorts aboard a Toyota Land Cruiser when it was riddled with bullets by van-riding men along the national highway in Sitio Tandawan in Barangay San Vicente in Bislig City.

They were attacked about 20 kilometers from the city’s police station, according to a report by Radyo Natin, which was quoting the text of an incident report from the Criminal investigation and Detection Group.

The CIDG report stated that Suan was on his way home from the radio station – where he was hosting a program – when they were attacked.

One of his security escorts, identified as Dodong Suan, was killed.

Board member Suan sustained gunshot wounds in the right forearm and right leg, and was reported to be in stable condition.

His driver, Rocel Alba, and another escort identified as Joebert Hurado were also wounded.

All victims are now being treated at an undisclosed hospital.

Police continue with their investigation, as of this posting.

Mayor ‘eludes’ rocket-propelled grenade in Mindanao ambush

From GMA News (Jul 15): Mayor ‘eludes’ rocket-propelled grenade in Mindanao ambush

South Upi town mayor survived an ambush on Thursday afternoon in Maguindanao when his attackers missed his convoy with their rocket-propelled grenade.

 Chief Inspector Ronald De Leon, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Police spokesperson, told GMA News late Thursday that Mayor Reynalbert Insular managed to slip past his attackers near Kilometer 28 in North Upi town.

Unidentified armed men waylaid Insular, fired their rocket-propelled grenade but missed their target.

 “We received reports he [Insular] was ambushed but managed [to slip away to safety]," De Leon said.

 Insular's police escorts fired back at the attackers and quickly drove the mayor away from the ambush site, De Leon added.

 Insular won his very first term as mayor in the May 9 elections, as an independent candidate.

 Comelec had tagged South Upi town as one of the "areas of immediate concern" due to intense political rivalry that in the past had ended in violent deaths.

Maguindanao town mayor escapes ambush

From InterAksyon (Jul 15): Maguindanao town mayor escapes ambush

(UPDATE - 10:05 a.m.) A town mayor in Maguindanao province escaped unhurt when gunmen fired on his convoy along the national highway Thursday afternoon.

Mayor Reynalbert Insular of South Upi and his Marine and police escorts, led by South Upi chief of police Chief Inspector Roel Villarin, were heading home from a meeting with Governor Esmael Mangudadatu when they were fired on around 5:30 p.m. in Barangay Kibleg, Upi town.

Insular’s escorts immediately returned fire and engaged the attackers in a brief gun battle until they fled.

Upi chief of police Inspector Merle Glemao said they have yet to determine the motive for the attack but that a manhunt has been mounted against the gunmen.

Insular, the former president of the Association of Barangay Captains in his town, ran as an independent candidate against eight opponents in the May 9 elections.

'White-boat gang among many acting under Abu Sayyaf'

From The Daily Express (Jul 13): 'White-boat gang among many acting under Abu Sayyaf'

There could be more than one kidnap-for-ransom gangs linked to the Abu Sayyaf group prowling waters off the east coast of Sabah.
A senior Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) officer said the latest strike was believed to have been committed by a group that used a white boat.     The three victims were identified by the Indonesian consulate in Tawau as Lorence Koten, 34, Theodorus Kopong, 42, and Emanuel Arakian, 40.     The kidnappers left behind four crewmen after ransacking the vessel and taking all their mobile phones and the boat's curfew exemption permit. It was the fifth case that involved kidnappers from the southern Philippines in Malaysian waters this year.     "The link (between the incidents) is the Abu Sayyaf, but we are looking into the possibility of two groups with different assets preying on slow-moving vessels in the Sulu Sea and the edges of the Celebes Sea.     "For instance, a white boat was used by a group of five to seven men to intercept a tugboat near Sin-tangkai, off Tawi-Tawi (in the southern Philippines) on April 15, just like the latest incident, but not in other cases," said the officer.     The three other cases were on March 26 off Tawi-Tawi, where 10 Indonesians were taken hostage; on April 1 off Semporna, where four Malaysians from Sarawak were kidnapped; and on June 20, where seven Indonesians were taken from a tugboat in the Sulu Sea.    "Whether the groups were under Apo Mike, the Muktadil brothers or other figures re-ported by the me-dia, we are not sure.    The information we have is based on the description of witnesses and freed hostages.     "We also looked into the kidnappings, and we found some differences apart from the size of the vessels used," the officer said.     Besides the three latest hostages, seven Indonesians remained in Abu Sayyaf custody. The four men who were not taken hostage had identified three suspects from photofits provided by the authorities.     Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun yesterday said investigations were ongoing, but there were no new developments on the captives.     In Jakarta, Xinhua quoted Indonesian armed forces chief General Gatot Nurmantyo as saying that the Abu Sayyaf was behind the kidnap-ping. He said the three victims had been moved to Philippine territory.     "The abductors are (from the) Abu Sayyaf. The abducted fishermen have been brought to the Philippines," the general said.

Battle-tested Marines deployed to Bilibid

From the Manila Times (Jul 14): Battle-tested Marines deployed to Bilibid

BESIDES the elite Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police (PNP), battle-tested Marines will also be deployed to the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa, which has allegedly been converted into a “drug hub” by convicted drug lords, a military official said Thursday.

Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Public Affairs Office, made the disclosure after Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre revealed that Marine Maj. Gen. Alexander Balutan was assigned to head the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).

“From the information I gathered from him, and he said this has already been announced, there will be Marines who will be part of those who will be posted as guards to NBP, to the Bureau of Corrections. They will be in tandem or in partnership with the Special Action Force,” Arevalo said.
He said that there will be a shifting of duties between the Marines and the SAF. It will be a monthly rotation, Arevalo added.

He did no say how many Marines will be deployed in the scandal-ridden prison. Arevalo said the figure will be announced by Balutan when he assumes his new post in August.

Arevalo said those who will be deployed to NBP are undergoing training for their specific assignments. He said when Balutan talked to fellow military officers, he told them that the NBP post “is a job nobody wants to take.”

“It’s only the Marines who are willing to take this job, that’s why he took it,” he said.

 According to Arevalo, Balutan, who is referred to in the military as “Mandirigma” or Warrior, is retiring from the military service with high esteem, regarded very highly not only in the Marine Corps but the whole AFP.

“General Balutan really is an epitome of the warrior kind of Marine, a warrior in the sense that when he has to accomplish a mission, he accomplishes it. But he is not that kind of warrior who charged indiscriminately. He was called mandirigma because he has gone through so many countless operations and he fought almost all the enemies of the state, from MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), Abu Sayyaf, NPA (New People’s Army),” Arevalo said.

Aguirre earlier said the government will step up measures to prevent jailed drug lords
from conducting their illicit business behind bars.

He noted that 75 percent of illegal drug trading all over the country was being hatched or transacted inside the NBP.

Aguirre reiterated the government’s plan to replace prison guards with members of the SAF, a proposal he had already discussed with PNP chief Ronaldo “Bato” de la Rosa.

“General Bato de la Rosa is 100 percent behind us. As a matter of fact, he has already made arrangements with the SAF who will be the ones taking over the prison guards and employees so that the old guards and the employees could be relieved for retraining and re-education,” he said.

Malaysia-Philippines Ties Under Duterte: Prospects And Challenges – Analysis

From the Eurasia Review (Jul 15): Malaysia-Philippines Ties Under Duterte: Prospects And Challenges – Analysis (By David Han)

Malaysia-Philippines relations under the new Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte are likely to remain cordial and warm. The inherent pragmatism of the leaders of both countries would translate into stronger cooperation on shared mutual interests.

The Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte. Photo by Keith Kristoffer Bacongco, Wikipedia Commons.

The Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte. Photo by Keith Kristoffer Bacongco, Wikipedia Commons.

The inauguration of Rodrigo Duterte as the new president of the Philippines marks a transition in the country’s foreign policy. While seen as an unpredictable leader who projects fire-brand rhetoric on foreign policy matters, Duterte has also displayed flexibility and pragmatism. Combined with the pro-active and pragmatic approach of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in foreign policy, this could bode well for Malaysia-Philippines bilateral relations if leaders of both countries are focused on furthering cooperation based on shared mutual interests.

Under former President Beningo Aquino III, key milestones in Malaysia-Philippines relations were reached. For example, Malaysia was instrumental in facilitating the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). However, Aquino had rattled Malaysian sensitivities when he asserted Philippines’ claims over Sabah.

Sabah Issue: Maintaining Status Quo

Just before taking office in June this year, Duterte remarked that he would pursue Philippines’ claims over North Borneo through peaceful means. Najib had responded strongly that the Philippines should instead focus more on dealing insurgency problems in the Southern Philippines.

Although reigniting the Sabah issue may earn domestic political expediency for Duterte, it is actually difficult for him to pursue a hard-line stance on Sabah. Firstly, political leaders in Sabah from both the Barisan Nasional (BN) and opposition camps have voiced strong opposition to the Philippines’ claim over Sabah. Secondly, Sabah’s entry into Malaysia in 1963 is legally recognised by the United Nations. Thirdly, Sabah plays the key role of a “fixed deposit” for the BN-led government’s political and electoral success. Fourthly, Sabah’s rich maritime oil reserves are too important for Malaysia’s economy.

Given these reasons, it is certain that Malaysia would strongly safeguard its sovereignty over Sabah. As Najib is strengthening his political regime after a difficult period of political turmoil, Najib and his government would most probably beef up support for the state of Sabah as part of his strategy to gain domestic political support. Hence, it is not far-fetched to suggest that Duterte may not be able to alter the current status quo drastically.

Tackling Insurgency Problems and Extremist Groups

Over the past decade, the Malaysian government has put in considerable effort and resources to assist the Philippines to resolve the insurgency problem in Mindanao. For Malaysia, the continuing problems of the southern insurgency, increasing radicalisation and activities of extremist groups, and the growing threat of Islamic State (IS) have to be tackled to enhance Sabah’s security and curtail the spread of extremism in the region.

Malaysia’s security concerns has been accentuated, given that the Mindanao peace process faced a serious setback when clashes in January 2015 between Philippine security forces and MILF guerrillas led to the deaths of Philippine police commandos. As a sign of deep displeasure, the Philippine congress adjourned in February 2016 without passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which would enable the development an autonomous region on Mindanao for the island’s Muslim majority. Later that month, Najib met with MILF leader Murad Ebrahim to urge the MILF to uphold the peace process.

Najib is not alone in actively seeking the resolution of the peace process. In June 2016, Duterte met with top leaders from the MILF and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to continue discussions on the peace process. In addition, Duterte has expressed that he will deal with the problem of Abu Sayyaf and the IS threat in the Philippines. Hence, optimistically, Malaysia’s ongoing efforts to assist in the peace process would serve a welcome and complementary role to Duterte’s keenness in bringing about reconciliation and lasting closure to the southern insurgency in the Philippines.

South China Sea Disputes

On the South China Sea disputes, although the Philippines and Malaysia are claimants, they have taken different approaches to stake their claims in the region. Whereas the Philippines under Aquino had taken a tough and vocal stance towards China, Malaysia has adopted a moderate approach through diplomacy and ASEAN multilateralism to help ease tensions.

In contrast to his immediate predecessor, Duterte has taken a more conciliatory posture to engage China in dialogue on the South China Sea disputes. Some may interpret this approach as potentially undermining Malaysia’s preference and support for a unified ASEAN-multilateralism to managing the disputes. However, Duterte’s toned down approach towards the South China Sea issue converges with and will indirectly strengthen Malaysia’s advocacy for the diplomacy to take centre stage in reducing tensions regarding the disputes.

The Philippines’ decision to seek international arbitration at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on the South China Sea issue would also have implications for Malaysia. As the PCA has issued its ruling on the issue on 12 July 2016, the verdict would help to provide clarity on Malaysia’s own claims in the South China Sea. This arbitration could also serve as potential catalyst for the Philippines to seek international arbitration regarding the country’s overlapping South China Sea claims with Malaysia.

Looking Forward

Duterte’s position on the Sabah claims has indeed raised concerns from Malaysian leaders. Yet, this is not uncommon throughout the history of Malaysia-Philippines relations. So far, more prominent issues have taken centre-stage in bilateral relations, and these include maritime security, kidnappings, piracy and extremist threats, among others. These are key opportunities for Malaysia and the Philippines to forge closer ties for cooperation during Duterte’s tenure as President of the Philippines.

Such cooperation would require shared mutual interests for bilateral relations to progress positively. Fortunately, signs are pointing to Duterte’s adoption of a pragmatic foreign policy, and this is highly compatible with Malaysia’s own principled and pragmatic foreign policy which aims to promote good neighbourly relations. Political will and shared interests would provide ample grounds to manage differences amicably and strengthen relations.

[David Han is a Research Analyst with the Malaysia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.]

[RSIS Commentaries are intended to provide timely and, where appropriate, policy relevant background and analysis of contemporary developments. The views of the author/s are their own and do not represent the official position of the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), NTU, which produces the Commentaries.]