Monday, July 18, 2016

Philippine Army vice commander honors wounded soldiers in Army-BIFF clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 18): Philippine Army vice commander honors wounded soldiers in Army-BIFF clash

Philippine Army vice commander Maj. Gen. Demosthenes Santillan on Sunday awarded Wounded Personnel Medals (WPM) to six soldiers injured during harassment by outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Datu Unsay, Maguindanao.

Santillan visited the Army's 6th Infantry Division to boost the morale of soldiers battling the lawless elements in Maguindanao.

Newly recruited soldiers were undergoing field training exercises under the supervision of the 19th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Meta, Datu Unsay, Maguindanao when heavily armed BIFF harassed them on Wednesday last week.

This prompted the military's 34th Infantry Battalion to launch an offensive to drive away the BIFF rebels who occupied the villages of Meta in Datu Unsay and Kuloy in Shariff Aguak, both in Maguindanao.

The awarding of WPM was conducted at Camp Siongco Station Hospital in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.

Santillan who is set to retire in September has been visiting Army camps across the country as part of his farewell visit.

The six soldiers are members of the 40th Infantry Battalion and 34th Infantry Battalion who were tasked to secure the area in Datu Unsay, Maguindanao for the safe conduct of the on-going Field Training Exercise (FTX) of the 19th Infantry Battalion.
WPMS are awarded to soldiers to recognize their efforts, courage, and willingness to sacrifice in the discharge of their duties, according to Captain Joann Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson.

Army soldiers prepare for calamities

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 19): Army soldiers prepare for calamities

The 5th Infantry Division, Philippine Army (5ID, PA) Civil Military Operations Battalion is preparing its rescue equipment and personnel who will soon be used in responding to incoming calamities that may hit its area of operations.

Sgt. Jake Lopez of 5ID, PA – CMO, said the Civil Military Operations Battalions are already on stand by mode since the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) officially announced the entry of rainy season and the threat of La Nina in the coming months.

Lopez said Army soldiers are now closely coordinating with the provincial, city and municipal disaster risk reduction and management councils to ensure a close coordination in times of calamities in the deployment of the PA’s rescue units.

He said the 5ID, PA has enough trained rescue personnel who will help local government units in rescue and relief operations when the Army units are called for.

Lopez said the 5ID, PA soldiers are prepared to respond to emergencies in coordination with the local officials and disaster risk reduction management councils.

He said each army units of the army division has trained rescuers who will help LGUs before, during and after calamities.

BRP Dagupan City up for machinery, other related repairs

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 19): BRP Dagupan City up for machinery, other related repairs

In line with efforts to ensure that all of its available naval vessels are mission ready at all times, the Philippine Navy (PN) has allocated the sum of PHP37,990,155 for the machinery and other related repairs of the BRP Dagupan City (LC-551), one of its largest transport and disaster response vessels.

Winning bidders must be able to complete the repairs within 100 calendar days.

Pre-bid conference is scheduled on Friday, 8:00 a.m. at the Office of the PN Bids and Awards Committee, Naval Station Jose Francisco, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

BRP Dagupan City's sister ship, the BRP Bacolod City (LC-550) are the two Bacolod City class logistics vessels which weighed 4,265 tons and were both commissioned in Dec. 1, 1993.

Both are used for troop transport and disaster response missions involving carrying of relief goods and personnel.

China flies nuclear-capable strategic bomber over Scarborough Shoal

From Update.Ph (Jul 18): China flies nuclear-capable strategic bomber over Scarborough Shoal

China’s People’s Liberation Army-Air Force has flown a nuclear-capable strategic bomber jet Xian H-6K over Scarborough Shoal few days after the Tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration declared that China’s nine-dash line claim has no legal basis.

“And some photos brought by PLA Air Force: bomber H-6K fly over Huangyan Island (Scarborough Shoal),” China’s State Council Information Office said July 15. The said Chinese office posted two photos of the said bomber jet over Scarborough Shoal in West Philippine Sea.

H-6K is the latest variant of H-6 variant, a version of the Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 twin-engine jet bomber built for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force. H-6K was re-engined with D-30KP turbofan engines of 12,000 kg thrust replacing the original Chinese turbojets. Other modifications include larger air intakes, re-designed flight deck with smaller/fewer transparencies and large dielectric nose radome.

It was designed for long-range attacks and stand-off attacks and considered as a strategic bomber. H-6K is capable of attacking US carrier battle groups and priority targets in Asia. It has nuclear strike capability.

China SCIO@chinascio Jul 15
And some photos brought by PLA Air Force: bomber H-6K fly over Huangyan Island

LOOK: 2 Soldiers who lost leg in performance of duty

From Update.Ph (Jul 18): LOOK: 2 Soldiers who lost leg in performance of duty

10ID photo
10ID photo

Major General R Demosthenes C. Santilla visited Joint Task Force General Santos (JTFG) afternoon of July 16. The headquarters of JTFG is located at Brgy Bula, General Santos City.

Major General Santilla was accorded with military honors by the JTFG.

Among the soldiers who honored Santilla were Staff Sergeant Jimmy Lee and Corporal Romel Trinidad who both who both lost a leg in the performance of their duty, the 10th Infantry Division said.

Corporal Trinidad lost his leg in an ambush at Brgy Tuburan, Mawab, Compostela Valley Province last March 2012.

Staff Sergeant Lee lost his leg during a motorcycle accident in GenSan City last January 2015.

US Special Operations official in Philippines

From Update.Ph (Jul 19): US Special Operations official in Philippines

AFP photo
AFP photo

The Commander of United States Special Operations Command, Pacific (SOCPAC) met with Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief-of-Staff General Ricardo Visaya Monday, July 18.

Major General (US Army) Bryan Fenton, commander of the said US unit, paid a courtesy call on the General Visaya at the Hall of Flags at the General Headquarters, Camp Aguinaldo.

SOCPAC forces are operating in multiple high-priority Pacific Theater countries, increasing partner nation capabilities to defeat international terrorism, improving cultural understanding, and fully prepared to meet emerging threats.

In January 2002, soon after terrorists attacked the United States, SOCPAC deployed to the Southern Philippines as JTF 510, conducting counterterrorist operations with the Philippine Government under Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.

JTF 510 redeployed on 1 September 2002, leaving stay-behind elements to form Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) and continue operations with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

In June 2014, JSOTF-P was officially concluded, ending a successful 14-year mission. American forces continued to operate in the Philippines under the name Pacific Command (PACOM) Augmentation Team.

Military operations vs BIFF set to resume

From Malaya Business Insight (Jul 19): Military operations vs BIFF set to resume

THE Moro Islamic Liberation Front has given government soldiers the green light to pursue some 80 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, who are seeking refuge in an MILF community in Maguindanao.

The military had been running after the BIFF group since Wednesday last week, but soldiers were forced to halt the operation last Saturday when the group went inside the MILF community at the boundary of Datu Unsay and Shariff Aguak towns, in consideration of the March 2014 peace agreement between the government and the MILF.

“The issues were already resolved. The grey areas were already resolved,” said Col. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Army’s 601st Brigade, who is supervising the operations against BIFF group.

The operation has left 33 BIFF men dead and 10 others hurt. Seven soldiers have also been wounded.

Sobejana said the clearance was given during a meeting of the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, the International Monitoring Team, and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group in Cotabato City yesterday morning.

“We can already resume our operational plan… There was already an agreement for them (MILF rebels) to stay put in their community and let us clear (the area of BIFF men)…They provided us safe passage,” said Sobejana.

He said the MILF promised that their fighters will not get in the way of soldiers pursuing the BIFF in their community. Sobejana implied he believes the MILF will comply with the arrangement, citing the peace pact.

“They said that (during the meeting),” said Sobejana when asked if there was a promise from the MILF not to engage the operating troops.

Sobejana said the operations had not resumed as of yesterday afternoon because “we are doing refurbishment.”

It was not the first time the BIFF ran inside an MILF community to delay military operations against them. Under the cease-fire agreement, the military has to coordinate with the MILF before conducting operations in MILF areas.

AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said BIFF men have put up lairs near MILF communities. He said there are times when an MILF community and a BIFF lair are separated only by rivers.

“That is one of the challenges confronting our soldiers but we have a (peace) mechanism to follow. We have to follow that mechanism so that the conflict will not become bigger, will not escalate,” Padilla said.

“We all know that if we do not follow the agreed mechanism, the problem may become bigger, instead of resolving it,” he added.

Sobejana earlier said some MILF rebels coddle BIFF members because of their blood relation. 

Nevertheless, Sobejana said the act of these few MILF fighters is not sanctioned by MILF leaders who, he said, are in favor of getting rid of the BIFF which is composed of former MILF leaders and members.

Meanwhile, the Office of Civil Defense in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said the conflict has already displaced 1,320 families or about 6,600 persons.

Myrna Angot, officer in charge of OCD-ARRM, said the evacuees are from Barangays Meta, Iganagampong, and Malangog, all in Datu Unsay town, and Barangay Bagong in Shariff Aguak town.

Angot said there were 886 families or 4,430 persons displaced in Datu Unsay while there were 434 families or 2,170 persons displaced persons in Shariff Aguak.

She said the evacuees are staying in seven evacuation centers where they are being attended to by local government officials.

Army troops seize 2 BIFF strongholds

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 19): Army troops seize 2 BIFF strongholds

Government forces have fought and driven away Moro armed men who had used at least two villages as camps in Shariff Aguak and Datu Unsay towns in Maguindanao province.

At least 33 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were killed and 10 others were wounded in skirmishes in Barangay Kuloy in Shariff Aguak and Barangay Meta in Datu Unsay from Wednesday to Saturday, according to Col. Lito Sobejana, commander of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade.

“The figure was verified with various sources and confirmed by village officials and residents,” he said.

The BIFF, which split from the mainstream Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) over political differences in pursuing peace negotiations with the government, laughed off the military claim.

“The Army was imagining casualty figures,” Abu Misri Mama, spokesperson of the BIFF, said in the vernacular. He also denied the communities were BIFF strongholds.

Mama admitted that only three rebels were killed and four were injured.

Asked how many soldiers were killed, Mama said, “Ah marami (plenty).”

Air and ground assaults

On Wednesday, the Army launched air and ground assaults against some 60 BIFF rebels who harassed Army recruits undergoing immersion activities in conflict-affected communities in Meta. Sporadic fighting ensued until Saturday.

Two homemade bombs left by the fleeing rebels exploded while soldiers were clearing the area. Seven soldiers were wounded.

Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, and Maj. Gen. Demosthenes Santillan, Army deputy commander, also visited the recaptured communities while bomb experts checked on several houses from where the BIFF men launched their attacks.

With the two high-ranking officials were members of the government and MILF ceasefire monitoring committees and the international monitoring team.

Sobejana said the Army was putting a ceasefire mechanism in place to avoid clashes between military and the MILF.

Displaced families

About 700 families have been displaced by the fighting, according to the humanitarian unit of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

After clearing operations were completed on Sunday, the Army announced that local residents could return to their villages. But the displaced families refused to do so, fearing the return of the BIFF and the resumption of armed hostilities.

“We might be caught in the cross fire, we will not risk our lives,” one of the residents, Kamid Sandig, said. He recounted previous experiences in areas where soldiers were stationed near BIFF camps and skirmishes flared up repeatedly.

Sandig said the Army should leave before they could return home. He cited the case of a 15-year-old girl who was wounded by stray bullets on Wednesday morning when Army soldiers and BIFF rebels started shooting at each other.

Sobejana said the soldiers would stay in an area far from the communities under the ceasefire setup with the MILF.

Tug Found Without Crew in Abu Sayyaf Waters

From the Maritime Executive (Jul 18): Tug Found Without Crew in Abu Sayyaf Waters

The tug as it was found (courtesy Polis Diraja Malaysia)

On Monday afternoon, fishermen spotted a tugboat with its engine running but no crew on board off of Sabah, Malaysia – waters made notorious by a string of kidnappings by terrorist organization Abu Sayyaf.

The tug was reportedly engaged in towing a load of sand from Semporna to Sandakan, a coastwise trip around a peninsula. They were due to arrive Monday morning. To date, most attempts to combat Abu Sayyaf hijackings have focused on commercial tug voyages bound for the Philippines, which must pass through waters near the terrorist group's island strongholds in Tawi-Tawi province. The tug's route would have taken it within 20 nm of the westernmost extent of that island chain.

The commissioner of Sabah's police forces, Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun, told local media that no information about the men's whereabouts or the cause of their disappearance was available at present and that an investigation was ongoing. The police have not had any contact with the missing crewmembers, and they did not suggest that any request for ransom had yet been received.

The tug has been taken to Lahad Datu for an investigation. Reports indicate that items were strewn about on deck.

While it is not clear that an act of piracy was responsible for the disappearance, Abu Sayyaf has boarded tugs and kidnapped crewmembers on multiple occasions already this year, generally releasing them after negotiations and ransom payments. Ransoms are officially denied but widely reported, and estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per crewmember. The governments of Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia are working on joint maritime patrols to combat the menace, and the Philippine military has threatened Abu Sayyaf with a shoreside campaign of "shock and awe."

Prof. Zachary Abuza of the National Defense University’s National War College believes that there are limits to what coordination between the three affected nations can do. “The weak link remains the limited capabilities of the Philippine Navy, Coast Guard, and law enforcement authorities,” he wrote in a recent essay. “What little the Philippines actually has is primarily focused on their maritime claims in the South China Sea.”

Authorities nab Abu man facing 9 counts of murder

From The Standard (Jul 19): Authorities nab Abu man facing 9 counts of murder

Military and police arrested Sunday an alleged Abu Sayyaf Group member facing multiple murder charges during a manhunt operation in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group said  Monday.

Acting CIDG director Chief Superintendent Roel Obusan identified suspect as Hadji Biki Adbdala alias Hadji Hassan.

Obusan said combined elements of the CIDG Region 9 based in Zamboanga and the Intelligence personnel of Armed Forces of the Philippines were able to trace and pinpoint the location of the suspect and cornered him after a brief pursuit at around  2:20 p.m.

According to CIDG regional chief Senior Supt. John Guyguyon, Adbdala has been elusive in several entrapment operations against him. “But this time, we were able to corner and arrest him.”

The ASG, which operates in Basilan and Sulu, is involved in high-profile kidnappings of local and foreign targets. The group usually beheads its victim once ransom money is not delivered to them.

Just recently, the bandits beheaded two Canadians—John Ridsdel and Robert Hall—after their families failed to deliver P300-million ransom for each for their safe release.

Still in danger of possible beheading is Kjartan Sekkingstad, a Norwegian. The bandits already released Marites Flor, Filipina fiancé of Hall.

The four were abducted by armed men in September 2015 at a resort in the Island Garden City of Samal and were brought to Sulu.

Security forces trace location of 10 Indonesian hostages

From Antara News (Jul 18): Security forces trace location of 10 Indonesian hostages

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Security forces have identified the location of the 10 Indonesians held hostage by the Philippine separatist group, Abu Sayyaf, according to Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu.\

"Currently, seven Indonesians are being held hostage in the Panamao area. The three others are being held captive on Lapac Island," Ryacudu stated here on Monday.

The separatist group had kidnapped seven crew members of the Charles 001 Tugboat in the Sulu waters on June 23, 2016.

According to the minister, the location of the seven Indonesians was traced in Sitio Lupah Kapituhan, Panamao, in the Sulu Islands. The ministry has pointed out that the hostages are currently residing in the same area as the key leaders of the Abu Sayyaf group, Alhabsy Misaya and Salip Mira Kayawan.

Ryacudu said the area is guarded by at least 50 armed extremists.

The minister revealed that the hostage takers had relocated three of the seven captive Indonesians to Pandami in Lapac Islands.

According to the former Army chief of staff, the separatist rebels are shifting the hostages to separate locations to evade security patrols and to demand two separate ransoms.

Moreover, the three crew members of the LD/114/5S fishing vessel kidnapped in the Lahad Datu waters of Malaysia on July 9, 2016, were taken to the Panamao area.

The ministry noted that the kidnappers were identified as "Muktadil brothers" comprising Salvador, Brown, Nelson, and Khadaffy.

The minister remarked that the Filipino armed forces were fighting the separatist group by deploying 10 thousand soldiers under the command of the newly elected President, Rodrigo Duterte.

The operation has resulted in the deaths of 40 armed rebels following the raid.

Ryacudu said President Duterte has vowed to eliminate the armed rebel group in all areas of the Philippines.

Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines will hold a trilateral ministerial-level meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday (July 21) to discuss ways to free the hostages.

The countries will discuss the assistance they can offer to help the Philippines eliminate the rebels.

ASG leader reported wounded; seeking treatment

From the Manila Bulletin (Jul 18): ASG leader reported wounded; seeking treatment

Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) leader Furuji Indama, who was reported wounded during an air strike conducted by the 15th Strike Wing of the Philippine Air Force last Friday, has been brought to Sulu province by members of the ASG based there.

This is according to former Ungkaya Pukan Mayor Joel Maturan who also said that Indama and six of his followers were wounded during the air strike.

Reports said that Indama, who is considered a high-value target and the No. 2 man of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, was being treated for shrapnel wounds.  Also brought along were six of Indama’s men who were wounded in the same air strike.

Maturan had also received information that the wounded ASG men belong to the Yakan ethnic tribe, and they were brought to Tuburan, Basilan and Lamitan City for treatment.

The air strike hit the group of ASG sub-leader Ubaib and 37 armed followers who were holding camp then at Sitio Bohe Buug in the village of Baguindian, Tipo-Tipo, Basilan. The air strike killed 10 of the men, including the gunner of a 50-caliber machine gun, a military report said.

Maturan identified the six wounded ASG members who were also brought to Sulu with Indama as: Abu Haysam, Abu Maid, Abu Hattam, Abu Gaber, Abu Muadz and Abu Abugan.

Two soldiers dismissed

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jul 18): Two soldiers dismissed

One of the two Army soldiers assigned in Negros Occidental tested positive for the use of drugs, while another arrested at a drug den on April in Murcia, have been dismissed from the military service, Col. Francisco Delfin, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, disclosed Saturday.

The two dismissed Army soldiers, whose identities he has withheld, are also facing criminal charges in court, Delfin said. One of them is about to retire from the military service, he added.

Testing positive for the use of prohibited drugs will mean outright dismissal from the service, he said.

Security forces have begun random drug testing in support of President Rodrigo Duterte's relentless anti-narcotics campaign.

Delfin recalled that four Army soldiers assigned at 3rd Infantry Division were dismissed from the military service for use of prohibited drugs four years ago.

Thirteen soldiers assigned in Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig, and two police officers assigned at the Bacolod City Police Office also tested positive for drug use.

Delfin said the random drug testing among soldiers, being conducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, has been ongoing for some time now.

He said that they are more than willing to help the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the National Police in Negros island, in their anti-drug campaign.

In fact, Delfin said they are scheduled to meet with Chief Supt. Conrado Capa, regional police director of Negros Island, and PDEA officials, on what help they could extend to them.

The South China Sea dilemma explained in 800 words

From Pulse Headlines (Jul 17): The South China Sea dilemma explained in 800 words

China has disregarded the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration award, in favor of the Philippines over the rights of the South China Sea, saying it will not be bound by it. This has led to manifestations, especially in Vietnam, where many protestors have been detained.
For centuries the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of the Philippines, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Taiwan, Nation of Brunei and Malaysia have been in disputes over the South China Sea, a marginal sea, part of the Pacific Ocean. However, in recent years the tension has growth exponentially.
Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, May 21, 2015. Credit: Reuters

The South China Sea is partially enclosed by two island chains of Spratly and the Paracel, part of the territory claimed, which also includes boundaries in the Gulf of Tonkin.

The sea is a major shipping route, supplies the livelihood of thousands of people across the region with its fishing grounds, and the islands itself could have reserves of mineral resources.

China claims the largest portion of territory, which they defined as the “nine-dash line.” According to Chinese authorities, the area has been under their control for centuries. However, China started this claims only in the forties, using a map published on December 1, 1947, by the government of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

The original showed 11 dashes, which were later reduced to nine when the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai requested the reduction of the region claimed by China in the Gulf of Tonkin. Some time later a 10th dash was added, extending China’s claimed sovereignty toward Taiwan and the East China Sea.

Vietnam stated the island had been theirs since the 17th Century and that they have documentation proving it. On the other hand, the Philippines says the Spratly Islands belong to it since they are very close to the country.

China, Taiwan, and the Philippines share the claim to the Huangyan Island (in Chinese), also known as the Scarborough Shoal, which is very close to the three nations.

modernleifeng @modernleifeng

This photo from arbitration speaks volumes, Philippines legal team on left, China on the right

Brunei and Malaysia are also disputing parts of the South China Sea territory, under the premise that it falls within their economic exclusion zones, as defined by United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Malaysia includes the Spratlys Islands in their claim.

In 2013 The Philippines announced it chose international arbitration, taking China to The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration under the auspices of Part XV of the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea.

On 12 July 2016, the tribunal issued a 500-page long award in the Republic of Philippines v. People’s Republic of China case, in favor of the Philippines, stating China had violated the country’s sovereign rights.

The award made it clear that China claims that it “had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources” on the Scarborough Shoal were unfounded and that the Shoal was within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. Thus, China interference in the Philippines exploration for hydrocarbons and fishing was a violation of sovereign rights.

The ruling meant a ray of hope for the other several nations claiming a part of the South China Sea.

However, Chinese President Xi Jinping has said China will not be bound by the “ill-founded” and “naturally null and void” ruling, stating that their “territorial sovereignty and marine rights” came first. The government also said the court had no jurisdiction and had noted the award “misinterprets the international law.”

The People’s Daily, which is the Communist party’s newspaper, also claimed that “the Chinese government and the Chinese people firmly oppose (the ruling) and will neither acknowledge it nor accept it.”

Angered by these allegations, many Vietnamese activists used social media to gather protesters this Sunday in the country’s capital, Hanoi. However, scared that allowing people to protest would result in criticism of their rule, the Vietnamese authoritarian government chose to quash the manifestations.

According to various sources, at least thirty activists have been detained by security forces in plainclothes, who tossed them into cars and buses.

Melchizedek Maquiso@MaquisoM
Photo published for Why the United States Needs to Join UNCLOS

Why the United States Needs to Join UNCLOS

This is not the first time the various claiming nations have had significant and bloody collisions over the South China Sea.  In 1974 China forcefully took the Paracels from Vietnam, who lose more than 70 troops.

In 1988, 60 Vietnamese sailors were killed after a fight for the Spratlys against the Chinese. In 2012 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regarded the South China Sea as a “core national interest”, as important as the Tibet or Taiwan itself, which fueled the tensions.

Also in 2012, Philippines and China had a very long maritime stand-off, claiming respective intrusions on the Scarborough Shoal; also in 2012, the Vietnamese held large anti-China protests after China reportedly sabotaged two Vietnamese exploration operations.

In 2014, at least three Chinese nationals were killed in riots in Vietnam, after Beijing sent an oil rig into the Sea, which also led to multiple collisions between Vietnamese and Chinese ships.

In South China Sea Dispute, Filipinos Say U.S. Credibility Is On The Line

From the National Public Radio (NPR) Website (Jul 17): In South China Sea Dispute, Filipinos Say U.S. Credibility Is On The Line

In this file photo, Philippine navy personnel and congressmen land at a rock that is part of Scarborough Shoal bearing the Philippine flag that was earlier planted by Filipino fishermen.

In this file photo, Philippine navy personnel and congressmen land at a rock that is part of Scarborough Shoal bearing the Philippine flag that was earlier planted by Filipino fishermen. Jess Yuson/AFP/Getty Images hide caption toggle caption Jess Yuson/AFP/Getty Images

An international tribunal in The Hague delivered a stinging rebuke to China last week, ruling that China's claims to nearly the entire South China Sea were invalid.

The decision also questioned the legality of China's claim of — and construction on — several reefs also claimed by the Philippines, which brought the case. China says it won't abide by the ruling. And some in the Philippines worry China will go ahead with building activity on Scarborough Shoal, a section of rocks and reef which it seized in 2012. The shoal sits just 110 nautical miles from the main Philippines island of Luzon.

"Every reef they've seized they've made into an island," says Antonio Carpio, a senior associate justice of the Philippines Supreme Court. "What makes Scarborough Shoal exceptional? Nothing."

Carpio is a vocal defender of the Philippines' territorial claims in its dispute with China. He says a Chinese presence on Scarborough Shoal would threaten not only the Philippines, but also U.S. forces using Philippine bases under a new, enhanced defense cooperation agreement.

"If you have an airfield there, maybe it will take just 15 minutes for the fighter jets there to reach Manila," he says. "And the U.S. forces using Clark [Air Base] and Subic [naval base] are all within range."

That fact is not lost on the United States. The U.S. has consistently said it has no dog in the fight over conflicting claims in the South China Sea. But in recent months the U.S. has conducted a series of high-profile freedom of navigation operations in the disputed waters, near the artificial islands China has created there.            

In late June, two U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups conducted joint operations in the Philippine Sea ahead of the tribunal's decision. And U.S. warplanes based at Clark Air Base conducted patrols near Scarborough Shoal.

"Definitely the U.S. has sent some strong signals to the Chinese that they're willing to do more than they're used to," says Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines.

Batongbacal thinks the increased U.S. presence and the ruling of the court may force China to hit the pause button.

"Even their strategists would know, I think, that the Scarborough Shoal would be a tipping point for the U.S. and Japan, given how the situation has radically changed," he says. "Because it would complete the so-called strategic triangle that could finally establish full control over the South China Sea, and they would know that the U.S. and Japan will not allow that to happen easily."

But does the Scarborough Shoal really represent a red line for the U.S. — one worth the risk of open conflict with China?

Richard Heydarian of Manila's De La Salle University isn't so sure. He's the author of Asia's New Battlefield: The USA, China and the struggle for the Western Pacific.

"We already heard this red line statement on Syria, and clearly saw how [it was] not [a] red line after all," he says. He says many Filipinos, including the new president Rodrigo Duterte, fear the same "artificial posturing red line" on the Scarborough Shoal.
Heydarian says that mistrust of U.S. support helps explain the Philippines' tempered response to the court's verdict.

In return for "the Philippines not flaunting and taunting the verdict," he speculates, "China will give guarantees in the short term at least that it will not up the ante, it will not establish facilities in the Scarborough Shoal and will actually perhaps give Filipino fishermen more access to that area."

That hasn't happened so far. Filipino fishermen who tried this week were again turned back by Chinese vessels.

But China and the Philippines have been cautious — at least with each other — in their reaction to the tribunal's ruling. There's an expectation here that this restraint will last, at least for a few months. The softer approach, adopted by new Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, runs in stark contrast to the rancor that characterized relations between China and the Philippines under his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.

Jay Batongbacal expects the two sides to sit down for bilateral talks on solving their dispute peacefully.

"As long as they don't make the situation any worse by taking an even harder line," he says, or "additional unilateral action, I think there will be some room, at least, for both parties to step back from the collision course that they seemed to be on and work out a mutually acceptable solution."

Carpio, the Supreme Court justice, agrees that the Philippines and China will likely sit down and talk, especially about exploiting natural resources beneath the sea. But he doesn't expect China to compromise on Scarborough Shoal. He expects China to fill it in and build, similar to what China did with with Spratly Islands further to the south.
The Philippines can't stop it, Carpio says. It's up to the Americans.

But how?

"I don't know the answer to that, whether they can enforce that red line or not," Carpio says. "But they will lose a lot of credibility if they say there is a red line and the red line disappears."

He says it doesn't just matter to the Philippines. Japan, Vietnam and other countries engaged in maritime disputes with China will take note of what Washington does next.

BIFF men hiding in MILF area; military forced to stop pursuit ops

From Malaya Business Insight (Jul 18): BIFF men hiding in MILF area; military forced to stop pursuit ops

GOVERNMENT forces were forced to halt operations against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Maguindanao Saturday after BIFF members sought refuge inside a community of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Col. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Army’s 601st Brigade who is supervising the military operations, said talks with the MILF are ongoing to relocate their members from the community at the boundary of Datu Unsay and Shariff Aguak towns so that the military operation against the BIFF can resume.

“They ran toward the MILF community,” he said of the BIFF members numbering about 80. 

He also said the MILF fighters coddling the BIFF members were acting on their own.

MILF leaders could not be reached for comment.

Government troops have been pursuing the criminal group since Wednesday last week. Thirty-three BIFF members have been killed and 10 others injured, according to the military citing intelligence information. On the government side, seven soldiers have been wounded, including one in serious condition.

The BIFF, composed of about 300 men, is blamed for a number of atrocities in Central Mindanao, including bombings. It is supposed to be a breakaway group of the MILF. It has for its leaders former MILF members who are opposed to holding peace talks with government. The Aquino government signed a peace pact with the MILF in March 2014.

In January 2015, MILF fighters aided by BIFF members clashed with police commandos running after terrorist personalities in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, and killed 44 commandos. The MILF has justified engaging the commandos in a firefight in its territory, saying government did not coordinate the anti-terrorist operation with the MILF.

Fighting between the soldiers and the BIFF broke out last Wednesday in Datu Unsay town, leading to sporadic fighting. The military employed attack helicopters and mortar assets against the BIFF in the operation.

“On the fourth day of our engagement, they are already on the run because they are running short of ammunition and they have incurred a lot of casualties,” Sobejana said,.

They are now taking shelter with MILF members who are their relatives,” Sobejana said, referring to the BIFF men. “They ran (to the MILF community), causing us to stop our hot pursuit,” said Sobejana.

Sobejana said they ceased their operation so that the peace process with the MILF would not  be negatively affected.

“Of course, it’s to save the peace process,” said Sobejana, explaining the halt in the operation. “If we insist (on pursuing the BIFF), it will lead to animosity between the Armed Forces and the MILF. That is what we are trying to avoid,” he said.

Sobejana said government troops are still in the vicinity of the MILF community. “We are not pushing forward… We are holding our ground, we are still in the area. We didn’t leave,” he said.

Sobejana said he is scheduled to meet with MILF officials in Cotabato City today to further discuss the presence of the BIFF members in the MILF community.

Asked if talks include the conduct of military operation inside the MILF community, he said: “That’s included. We are not asking permission. We are telling them that we are doing law enforcement operation or security operation or focused military operation.”

Sobejana said the MILF is supposed to help the military in ridding “spoilers” of the peace process, including the BIFF. However, he said “blood is thicker than water so they cannot enforce this 100 percent.”

Sobejana believes that the coddling of the BIFF members was an individual act of the MILF members and not sanctioned by the MILF leadership. He said MILF commanders had told him that the MILF leadership also wants to get rid of the BIFF.

“I cannot say it an organization decision; it’s an individual act,” said Sobejana of the harboring of the BIFF men at the MILF community. “They (MILF commanders) said they also want an end of the BIFF. That is their statement,” he said.

“As far as the leadership of the MILF is concerned, they don’t want to accommodate the BIFF but blood is thicker than water. Some MILF members are related, they are brothers, fathers or sons of those in the BIFF,” he said.

Goldberg bids farewell, commits more US help

From the Sun Star-Baguio (Jul 17): Goldberg bids farewell, commits more US help

US AMBASSADOR to the Philippines Philip Goldberg bids goodbye but hopes his successor would continue good relations and the continuity of several programs implemented during his term.

Speaking before officials of selected government units in the Cordillera region at the US Ambassadors House at Camp John Hay, Goldberg said the US and the country will remain an ally in peace keeping efforts and issues on climate change.

Senior diplomat Sung Kim, who served as special representative for North Korea policy since 2014 is reported to replace Goldberg later this August.

Prior to becoming the US Ambassador to the Philippines, Goldberg worked as Assistant Secretary of State from 2010 up to 2013 and was earlier appointed as Ambassador to Bolivia from 2006 to 2008.

During his three-year tour in the country, the Philippines ratified the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) intended to bolster the U.S.-Philippine alliance.

The agreement allows the United States to rotate troops into the Philippines for extended stays and allows the U.S. to build and operate facilities on Philippine bases, for both American and Philippine forces.

As a result, the Armed Forces of the Philippines received $66 million for the construction of military facilities in the Philippines under EDCA.

"EDCA is a milestone agreement between our two countries which help the Philippines as it modernizes its armed forces," Goldberg said.

Goldberg meanwhile added he hopes his successor hopes to work with the government to sort out the post decision issue in the West Philippine Sea.

"There's a lot to do on the security front," added Goldberg.
Goldberg added aside from maintaining its political and military relationship, economic relationship is also being intensified lauding Texas Instruments and other US based business process outsource companies based here in the Summer Capital providing thousands of jobs all over the region.

The US official meanwhile lauded the current government's war on drugs saying both countries share the goal of eradicating drug use and the sale and trafficking of narcotics.

Goldberg however said there is a need for due process and should be done within the legal framework of the constitution in handling the drug problem.

Interview: The South China Sea Ruling

From The Diplomat (Jul 16): Interview: The South China Sea Ruling (By

International law expert Roncevert Ganan Almond on the recent ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

What do you think about this ruling? Does it follow your predictions?

The unanimous ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (the “PCA” or “Tribunal”) in the dispute between the Philippines and China is a landmark decision under the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS) and represents a strong rebuke of China’s expansive claims to maritime territory in the South China Sea. The PCA’s ruling serves not only as a technical legal decision, binding on the parties – China and the Philippines, but also as a broader message concerning the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea pursuant to a rules-based international order.

From a legal perspective, the Philippines won a decisive victory on almost all counts, which is not necessarily surprising, especially given the weakness of China’s maritime claims under international law. The nearly 500-page decision carefully documents Beijing’s violations of UNCLOS and highlights broader policy implications underlying its aggressive behavior in the South China Sea. One example is the PCA’s close examination of the status of maritime features within the South China Sea against the backdrop of UNCLOS’ role in protecting the “common heritage of mankind” and preserving the international community’s interests in preserving high seas freedoms in the region. Hugo Grotius would be smiling.

What are the consequences of the PCA’s ruling for China, Philippines and other countries which are involved in the South China Sea dispute?

While the Tribunal’s ruling is only legally binding on the parties, the consequences are broad and will impact all the countries involved in the South China Sea dispute. In brief, the PCA’s decision will provide a framework for viewing the behavior of claimants in the South China Sea starting with China.

Importantly, the PCA rejected China’s historic rights and “nine-dash line” claim, finding that the maritime zones set forth in UNCLOS were controlling for the purposes of determining maritime entitlements. The treaty effectively superseded China’s historic claims. Even if a historic right could be asserted, the PCA found that there was no evidence that China had exercised “exclusive control” over the seas and resources of the South China Sea. Notably, the PCA’s conclusion is consistent with what the United States has long articulated regarding China’s “nine-dash line” claim.

It is important to note that the Philippines carefully crafted its complaint to avoid raising issues concerning sovereignty and maritime delineations. To preserve its jurisdiction in the case, the PCA also acted cautiously and did not issue any direct conclusions regarding sovereignty disputes between China and Philippines in the South China Sea, such as weighing in on rival claims over the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal. Despite this restraint, the effect of the Tribunal’s ruling is far-reaching.

For example, in reviewing the status of certain features claimed by China, the PCA limited its discretion to determining whether such features could generate maritime claims as high-tide features. Only inhabitable “islands” under UNCLOS generate extended maritime zones – exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and continental shelf.

The Tribunal found that Chinese-claimed features in the Spratly Islands were at best “rocks” entitled only to a territorial sea of 12 nautical miles or submerged reefs entitled to nothing. Because the PCA found that the Spratlys were not “islands” and could not individually or collectively create extended maritime zones, the PCA was able to determine that portions of the Spratly Islands were within the EEZ of the Philippines, as measured from its mainland baseline.

The PCA then leveraged its technical legal findings to criticize China’s aggressive posture in the South China Sea. The Tribunal determined that China’s actions, such as constructing artificial islands and restricting Philippine access to the area, were unlawful and unduly infringed on the Philippines’ rights within its EEZ. The PCA went further to note that China’s construction and land reclamation activities were causing severe and irreparable harm to the fragile ecosystem of the South China Sea.
In other words, the PCA’s technical analysis on the legal status of Chinese-claimed features in the South China Sea seriously damaged China’s sovereignty claims, despite the Tribunal’s careful attempts to state otherwise.

To the extent that other littoral states involved in the South China Sea disputes have issued extensive maritime claims and engaged in activities similar to China, such as the construction of artificial islands, the PCA’s ruling provides an important standard for measuring the legality of these claims and actions. We have already seen Taiwan reject the PCA’s determination that Itu Aba is not an “island” capable of sustaining human habitation and, therefore, does not generate any extended maritime zones such as a 200 nautical mile EEZ. Itu Aba is the largest natural feature in the Spratlys, which Taiwan occupies with a military garrison equipped with a runway and port facility.

In contrast, Vietnam may view the ruling as a favorable means of contesting Chinese jurisdictional assertions falling under the “nine-dash” claim and within Vietnam’s EEZ. In studying the nature of China’s claims in the South China Sea, the PCA specifically addressed the 2012 tender by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) of blocks for petroleum exploration in Vietnam’s EEZ. The Tribunal held that, with respect to some areas of the blocks, China’s claims exceeded the maximum possible entitlements under UNCLOS. Vietnam could seize on this finding to revisit its challenge of CNOOC’s actions.

More generally, by concluding that UNCLOS comprehensively allocates maritime areas and extinguishes any prior historic rights of China, the PCA provides greater legal clarity to the competing maritime claims within the South China Sea.

How does the PCA’s ruling affect the way the world views the South China Sea?

The Philippines’ appeal to UNCLOS arbitration – following Beijing’s actions in 2012 to forcibly wrest control of Scarborough Shoal from Manila – achieved its diplomatic goal: It internationalized the South China Sea dispute.

Recall that China has consistently sought to prevent a multilateral approach to the maritime dispute, including through regional forums like ASEAN. The PCA implicitly criticized this “divide-and-conquer” strategy when considering whether to accept jurisdiction in the case, noting that the Philippines had expressed a clear preference for multilateral negotiations involving other claimant states whereas China insisted on bilateral diplomacy. As a result, the Philippines had effectively discharged its duty to exchange views with China as a precondition to compulsory arbitration under UNCLOS.

The PCA’s ruling further underscores the importance of the South China Sea to global commerce and prosperity. The importance of maintaining free access to Asia-Pacific sea lanes under international law cannot be overstated: almost one-third of the world’s maritime trade transits the South China Sea annually; eight of the world’s ten busiest container ports are in the Asia-Pacific region; and approximately two-thirds of the world’s oil shipments transit through the Indian Ocean to the Pacific. It was evident from the PCA’s decision that these global considerations weighed heavily on the Tribunal’s analysis and its conclusion to deny China’s exclusive and extensive claims in the South China Sea.

In addition, the international arbitration provides an important, if not the definitive record, of the South China Sea dispute. The three-and-half year proceedings at The Hague produced volumes of information including evidence drawn from various national archives, ancient maritime maps, and expert testimony on various topics ranging from navigational safety to environmental concerns to technical evaluations on the habitability of maritime features. Many of these documents involved Chinese sources. This record of materials will be incredibly important in shaping global opinion on and the history of the South China Sea, and will certainly be considered in any future legal action on the matter.

How will China react? If China ignores the PCA ruling, what costs will it incur?

China will likely continue its attempts to discredit the PCA’s ruling – legally and politically.

From a legal perspective, China has repeatedly attacked the credibility of the PCA and the arbitration process, and will likely continue to do so. Beijing probably recognized the weakness of its substantive maritime claims and, thus, was compelled to attack the proceeding on procedural and jurisdictional grounds. China argued that the subject-matter concerned territorial sovereignty and delimitation of maritime boundaries, which would present effective bars to compulsory arbitration. On this basis, China refused to participate and, in my view, missed a critical opportunity to shape the outcome of the verdict, develop the historic record, and influence global public opinion.

China will likely continue to deny the legal validity of the PCA’s decision pursuant to what Beijing perceives as a fatal jurisdictional flaw. I share Beijing’s view in its December 2014 “Position Paper” that the Philippines “cunningly packaged its case” – and the PCA was willing to accept the (devastating) logic of Manila’s legal brief.
Politically, China has attempted to create a coalition of states that rejects the arbitration proceedings, and may continue this effort. The list of supporters appears to be only a handful of countries, none of the alleged members of this coalition are major maritime powers, and other supposed members have disavowed Beijing’s description of their respective positions.

Indeed, China will have problems with painting the PCA’s decision as some kind of conspiracy led by the United States and the West in general. China voluntarily ratified UNCLOS in 1996. In addition, the Tribunal was composed of bench of international jurists and led by Judge Thomas A. Mensah of Ghana. Representatives from Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam observed the proceedings. Notably, the United States, which is not a party to UNCLOS, did not participate. Moreover, the PCA is uniquely capable of handling technical and legal issues raised in the South China Sea dispute, having administered 12 cases similarly initiated by states under Annex VII to UNCLOS.

Ironically, the more China protests the PCA’s ruling as being meaningless in the South China Sea dispute, the more weight China is effectively attaching to the arbitration. In many ways China has already absorbed a tremendous loss of prestige. Nevertheless, and despite my hopes for a more restrained response, China will likely take actions to defy the PCA’s ruling and aggravate the security dilemma in the South China Sea.

Can the PCA’s ruling stop China’s aggression in the South China Sea?

A ruling by the PCA, an intergovernmental body with no enforcement capacity, itself will not stop China’s aggression in the South China Sea. Moreover, as noted briefly before, Beijing is likely to take actions that openly challenge the PCA’s ruling, particularly the findings that China’s historic claims have no basis under international law and that certain Chinese-controlled features do not generate extended maritime zones like EEZs.

For instance, China could continue its land reclamation and construction efforts in the Spratly Islands, which have added over 3,200 acres of land to the seven features Beijing occupies. China has begun transitioning to infrastructure development, including developing at least three airfield – each with approximately 9,800 foot-long runways – and constructing large maritime ports. The airfields, berthing areas, and resupply facilities will allow China to maintain a more sustained military presence in the area. In response to the PCA’s ruling, China could use this new military capability to detect and challenge activities by rival claimants or third parties seeking to apply the PCA’s findings, such as the United States via its freedom of navigation operations. China has already threatened to establish an Aircraft Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), which could be utilized for this purpose, although the legality of such an ADIZ would be questionable at best, a subject I recently explored in the Harvard National Security Journal. China could also seek to reinforce its position by militarizing the Scarborough Shoal, which is only 150 miles from Subic Bay in the Philippines.

Unfortunately, I believe that certain details of the PCA’s ruling may unintentionally provoke China. For example, with respect to its analysis of whether Chinese construction activities on Mischief Reef violated UNCLOS, the PCA maintained its jurisdiction by holding China accountable for its description of the activities as being purely “civil” in nature. If China’s activities were determined to be “military” in nature, then the PCA would lack jurisdiction to rule on the issue, pursuant to a specific exception under UNCLOS. In the future, if only to avoid future compulsory arbitration, China may simply drop the thin veneer of civil-use and more explicitly militarize its positions within the South China Sea.

What on paper appears to be a sound legal determination may be in reality an unnecessary provocation in international affairs. This principle is at the heart of criticism directed at the Philippines for resorting to the arbitration process. I do not share this criticism because in the long term I believe the PCA’s ruling can serve as a positive platform for the peaceful resolution of the South China Sea dispute.

The PCA lacks an enforcement mechanism. So if China ignores the ruling, is there an organization or mechanism that can force China to obey it?

There is a famous court case in U.S. history, Worcester v. Georgie (1832), in which the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Marshall, issued a ruling that individual state law that purported to seize Cherokee lands violated U.S. federal treaties.
President Andrew Jackson, who was opposed to the decision and later forcibly removed Native Americans from their land, allegedly replied: “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.” The point being that judicial bodies do not have enforcement powers and rely on executive bodies to implement the law.

In the realm of global governance, the supreme executive body is the U.N. Security Council, and China holds veto power as a permanent member. More importantly, even the Security Council must rely on member states to enforce its decisions, including binding measures under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter. Similarly, the PCA ruling will have to be enforced by members of the international community.

This institutional limitation, however, is a source of strength in the context of the South China Sea dispute. Because the PCA does not have enforcement powers, the ruling provides a diplomatic opening and focal point for a way forward. This, of course, assumes that China, the Philippines and others are able to take a step backward from the unyielding nationalism that encompasses much of the South China Sea debate. As I told Paul Reichler, lead counsel for the Philippines during the arbitration, now comes the hard part.

The United States has encouraged restraint on all sides. The Philippines, under the new leadership of Rodrigo Duterte, has communicated its desire to avoid further provocation and for new engagement with China. If a personality like President Duterte can offer signs of dĂ©tente, surely President Xi Jinping can do the same, perhaps at the upcoming G20 Leaders Summit in China or the ASEAN Summit in Laos? Yet, I have my doubts as to whether China can resist the urge to take measurable action to defy the PCA’s decision.

Ultimately, all claimants have a shared interest in peacefully resolving the maritime disputes. The PCA’s decision provides a fresh opportunity for diplomacy in the South China Sea and ensures that any action in the region will be subject to the strict scrutiny of a global audience.

[Roncevert Ganan Almond is a partner at The Wicks Group, based in Washington, D.C. He has advised the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on issues concerning international law and written extensively on maritime disputes in the Asia-Pacific. The views expressed here are strictly his own.]

Medals, parade welcome back troops from Haiti

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 18): Medals, parade welcome back troops from Haiti

THE ARMED Forces of the Philippines has honored with medals and a military parade the troops deployed as peacekeepers to the Caribbean country of Haiti last year.

In ceremonies at AFP headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, on Friday the 135-strong contingent led by Col. Vincent Incognito received  United Nations service medals from military officials led by Chief of Staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya.

The 19th Philippine contingent to Haiti, composed of Philippine Air Force personnel, returned home on Monday after a yearlong deployment.

During their stint in Haiti, the contingent provided administrative, security and clerical services, transport, VIP security and perimeter defense.

“As your eyes have been opened by the problems occurring outside the [Philippines], I am certain  you have gained more motivation to serve because you now have more to offer our country and  the Filipino people,” Visaya said in his speech.

The next or 20th Philippine contingent to Haiti is also composed of 135 personnel, but this time from the Philippine Army. They left for the Caribbean nation on July 8. The contingent is led by Col. Rosalio Pompa.

The AFP sent its first contingents to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (Minustah) in 2004.

Army announces BIFF base capture; rebel forces say otherwise

From GMA News (Jul 17): Army announces BIFF base capture; rebel forces say otherwise

The Philippine Army over the weekend said it has captured the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters' (BIFF) base in Datu Unsay, Maguindanao, but rebel forces maintain that the area continues to be one of their strongholds.

According to 601st Infantry Brigade Chief Col. Lito Sobejana, the BIFF stronghold on the Datu Unsay-Shariff Aguak border was overtaken by the Army after a four-day air and ground assault that killed 33 rebels and left 10 wounded on Friday.

Sobejana noted, however, that bomb experts will have to clear the area from UXO or unexploded ordnance—bombs, bullets, shells, grenades, and such that have not exploded—that may have been left in the area.

"Civilians told us the BIFF littered the community with at least a dozen IEDs [improvised explosive devices]... The MILF [Moro Islamic Liberation Front] in the area sought the Army's help in clearing the area of unexploded ordnance before civilians can return home," he said.

Sought for comment, the BIFF denied that the group lost 33 freedom fighters and that the army captured its stronghold, maintaining that the area continues to host their camps.

For their part, residents said they are still hesitant to return to the area in fear of conflict.

"We will not return home yet. We are afraid the freedom might return and another war erupts," Tilak Tasil, a resident in the area, said.

BIFF men killed in battle

From Tempo (Jul 18): BIFF men killed in battle

The commander of the Army’s 601st Brigade said yesterday that 33 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters have been killed since fighting between them and the military erupted in Datu Unsay, Maguindanao last Tuesday.

Col. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the 601st Brigade based in Maguindanao, disclosed that 10 BIFF men were wounded in the fighting.

“There are 33 killed and we have the names, then were wounded, we also have their names,” Sobejana said.

He added that seven soldiers were wounded in the fighting.

“On our side we have seven wounded, including one who is critical after being hit in the head. He is currently under critical condition but the rest are okay,” Sobejana said.

NDF: Support the positive overtures of the incoming Duterte regime and assert the people’s interests

Posted to the Samar News (Jun 20): Support the positive overtures of the incoming Duterte regime and assert the people’s interests

A press statement by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines - Eastern Visayas
June 20, 2016

A new ruling regime will be in place on June 30 with the proclamation of president-elect Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. On that day, the National Democratic Front-Eastern Visayas calls on the people to come out to support the positive overtures of the incoming Duterte regime, as well as to present their basic problems and assert their interests.

Rodrigo Duterte has stirred great expectations by appointing progressives to some posts in his Cabinet, promising to release all political prisoners and resume the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), and crusading against crime and corruption. At the same time, the NDF-Eastern Visayas is mindful that Duterte’s election does not mean doing away with the reactionary ruling system, and that he is surrounded by reactionaries of various stripes as well as US imperialism.

Nevertheless, the revolutionary movement is open to alliance with the Duterte regime so the people can avail of benefits that can improve their conditions, as well as allow them to organize and strengthen the democratic mass movement. The revolutionary movement in Eastern Visayas furthermore supports the NDFP’s efforts to secure the release of the detained peace consultants and all political prisoners, resume the peace talks, and reach with the Philippine government an agreement on socio-economic reforms.

Human rights advocates, peace advocates and the church people in Eastern Visayas have the moral high ground to call on the incoming Duterte regime to honor its vow to release all political prisoners and resume the peace talks with the NDFP. The political prisoners in Eastern Visayas have been languishing in jail for years on trumped-up charges that treat them as common criminals and not as prisoners by reason of the armed conflict. Eastern Visayas also continues to struggle with militarization and the culture of impunity for human rights violations including media killings under the outgoing Aquino regime.

The survivors of super typhoon Yolanda must avail of the incoming regime to strengthen their struggle for justice against the criminal negligence of the Aquino regime, as well as demand the junking of the corruption-ridden Yolanda rehabilitation and reconstruction program that favor the big business cronies of the outgoing regime and not the urban and rural poor who suffered the most. They and the victims of other calamities can call on the incoming progressive social welfare secretary, Dr. Judy Taguiwalo, for the long overdue assistance that were denied them under the previous administration. In the latest calamity to befall the region, at least 44 people recently died from a mere diarrhea epidemic – a bitter reminder of the reactionary government’s historical neglect of Eastern Visayas.

The peasants of Eastern Visayas welcome the appointment of the progressive Rafael Mariano to the agrarian reform department of the incoming Duterte regime, and assert their calls for genuine agrarian reform. They are also calling for the return of the coconut levy funds stolen by the Marcos regime, irrigation, and other agricultural support such as against pest infestations that currently afflict coconut, abaca and rice in the region.

Meanwhile, the workers and government employees in the region look forward to the incoming Duterte regime’s commitment to end labor contractualization, while pushing for the ending of other anti-labor policies such as the two-tier wage system. They also assert the P16,000 wage and salary increases and P25,000 for teachers, and the social security pension increase that was denied by the Aquino regime.

The youth and students must urge the incoming Duterte regime to scrap the K+12 program that is leading to massive dropouts. They must call for greater subsidies to state universities and colleges and a free, nationalist, scientific and mass-oriented education system.

Furthermore, the people of Eastern Visayas call on the incoming Duterte regime to scrap the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, Visiting Forces Agreement and other unequal agreements with the US. These have only allowed the violation of our national sovereignty and give license to increasing US military intervention. The people in the region remain vigilant over the possible entry of US troops after the launching of US-backed psywar projects, such as the recently concluded Millennium Challenge Corporation road network as well as other projects by the US Agency for International Development.

It is also fine and well that the incoming Duterte regime vows to campaign against crime and corruption, especially the menace of illegal drugs. The NDF-Eastern Visayas urges Duterte to live up to his tough words and crack down on the Ong political dynasty in Northern Samar that, according to investigation by the New People’s Army, is behind the widespread illegal drugs trade in the province. The newly elected second district congressman, Edwin Ong, is believed to be the biggest drug lord in the province, with the backing of his uncle, the reelected governor Jose Ong, Jr. If the Duterte regime wishes to curb the illegal drugs trade, it is best to go after big fish like the Ong dynasty and their police and military protectors, which will effectively also do away with the small fry.

In the final analysis, it is not enough for the people to passively take the incoming Duterte regime’s words and actions. They must continue the tasks of arousing, organizing and mobilizing to press for as well as defend their basic democratic rights. The armed revolutionary movement must also remain steadfast, take advantage of any ceasefire to consolidate and to conduct propaganda and education to win over the masses to the national democratic cause, and intensify the people’s war at every opportunity. After all, having peace talks with the incoming Duterte regime is not an end in itself, but still a long and arduous journey towards a just and lasting peace.

KARAPATAN: Children of War

Posted to the Samar News (Jun 24): Children of War

children of war

June 24, 2016

QUEZON CITYThey are children of war, victims of a war their innocent minds cannot comprehend. But they know injustice has been to done their parents who did nothing wrong by helping the farmers, the workers, the poor.

Even adults cannot comprehend why launching a fight against the causes of poverty and unrest is a crime. And why one should be jailed for one's political beliefs.

Angel Lorenzo, 8 years old, studies at the Children of God Learning Academy; a child seemingly forsaken by man's folly.

She remembers when the bad guys came along, took her mother and left her with her one year old sister and their “yaya” to complete strangers. How she cried and cried together with her sister. Their “yaya”, terrified and confused, would not know how to console them. They cried and cried until their grandmother arrived to take them.

That day, July 20, 2015, Joyce Latayan, 39, Angel's mother, has just arrived home after picking her up from school. She noticed two men in civilian clothes inside their compound. Then she saw other plain- clothes men went up the second floor of their house. They later came down with bags and a box of weapons, items which do not belong to Angel's family. They identified themselves as members of the Criminal and Investigation Detection Group (CIDG).

The men whisked Joyce away on the basis of a highly questionable and faulty search warrant issued from the Cabanatuan City Regional Trial Court and the box of weapons they were carrying. She was charged with trumped up cases of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, which were later dismissed by the Prosecutor's Office in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan where they reside.

At about the same time, Angelika's father, Ernesto Lorenzo, 59, was nabbed at the IT Center in Gilmore, Quezon City, by joint elements of the CIDG and members of the military intelligence group.

Lorenzo is a peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines with JASIG ID No. ND978229 under the assumed name of "Lean Martinez". Lorenzo's arrest was based on a warrant for destructive arson filed in 2010 in Lucena City. He was among the activists and leaders of people's organizations in Southern Tagalog falsely charged with criminal offenses by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG). In 2007, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Prof. Philip Alston had strongly recommended abolition of the IALAG and a stop to the practice of filing fabricated charges against activists.

Lorenzo was a youth leader of the Methodist Youth Fellowship and had been a long time pastor of the United Methodist Church after his studies. Later he engaged in organizing work in the peasant communities and in socio-economic and development work among urban poor and workers. He is currently detained at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology’s Special Intensive Care Area (BJMP-SICA) at Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City.

"Magpakabait, mag-aral mabuti. (Be good, study well)." This is Kennedy Bangibang's perennial advice to his only son, Diwin Jude Kenn Monte Bangibang, 8 years old, whenever he visits him in the confines of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in Tabuk, Kalinga, Cordillera.

A full-blooded Igorot who hails from a remote village in Cordillera, Kennedy was witness to the plunder of foreign corporations on their ancestral land and natural resources.

As a student activist in 1987, he had immersed with the peasant masses. He later became a full-time activist and revolutionary leader. He was illegally arrested on February 23, 1913 [sic] by elements of the RIU-14 of the Philippine National Police-Intelligence Group while on board a bus at a PNP checkpoint in Bangao Proper, Buguias, Benguet. Kennedy is a consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines on Cordillera Affairs. His arrest is a blow to the national minorities as their concern is among the issues to be tackled in the next agenda of the peace talks – the drafting of a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reform (CASER).

Victim of a justice system that grinds exceedingly slow, Kennedy has been languishing in jail for the past three years and his case being transferred from one court to another, from Kalinga to Baguio.

While Angel would bubbly narrate the happy moments with his father as they frolic on the beach of Pangasinan, where he used to work, Diwin would just matter-of-fact share memories of his Papa and Mama – the walks in the parks, the visits to the malls and the one time they went swimming in the underground river of Palawan.

Diwin's Mama, Recca Noelle Monte, was a New People's Army (NPA) fighter, who was killed during a military operation of the 41st Infantry Battalion, 5th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army on September 4 and 5, 2014 at Guinginabang, Lacub, Abra. She was unarmed and bore no gunshot wound indicating from the looks of her remains that she was tortured while held captive, a clear violation of the International Humanitarian Law.

Diwin could tell the state of his Mama's remains without batting an eyelid – the traumatic injuries, crushed skull, unidentifiable face, broken leg bones. Asked if he actually saw this, he said only from the picture. The handsome, smooth pinkish face of the boy showed no emotion, but admitted he is sad and lonely.

Angel was loquacious and confident as she told her stories. Her mother said she regained her composure with the psycho-social counselling she underwent after the trauma from her experience.

Asked about her father's work, Angel quipped, "Natulong sa farmers at workers (helps farmers and workers)". Diwin has a similar impression of his parents work, "they were helping the farmers and the poor."

What do the children of war aspire to be when they grow up? Angel said she will be a heart surgeon to help the sick. Meanwhile, Diwin wants to be a lawyer, "so I could defend Papa and Mama. I could free Papa and give them justice."