Friday, July 22, 2016

Beijing's 'divide and rule' tactics throw ASEAN into disarray

From InterAksyon (Jul 22): Beijing's 'divide and rule' tactics throw ASEAN into disarray

Southeast Asian nations are in unparalleled disarray over Beijing's saber-rattling in the South China Sea, analysts and insiders say, with the fractures set to deepen as staunch China ally Laos hosts top regional diplomats this weekend.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi are among the delegates due to fly in from Sunday for two days of meetings in Vientiane, the capital of the communist nation.

The South China Sea is set to cast a long shadow over the summit which is hosted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Earlier this month a UN-backed tribunal found there was no legal basis for China's claims to most of the strategic and resource-rich seas -- a ruling rejected as "waste paper" by Beijing.

ASEAN prides itself on consensus diplomacy but divisions have never been starker with Beijing blamed for driving a wedge between members.

The Philippines brought the international arbitration case, while fellow ASEAN members Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also have competing claims to parts of the sea.

But Cambodia -- and hosts Laos -- are Beijing loyalists, with both impoverished nations weaned on Chinese aid and investment.

Shortly after The Hague ruling Beijing announced more than half a billion dollars in soft loans for Cambodia.

"China has succeeded in splitting ASEAN on the South China Sea issue through its allies Laos and Cambodia," an ASEAN diplomat told AFP requesting anonymity.

The bloc's inability to remain united "will surely weaken ASEAN not just on the South China Sea problem but as a regional grouping," the diplomat added.

Talking shop?

ASEAN initially touted itself as the best forum for China to negotiate with rival claimants over the sea, given so many are members.

But Beijing has resisted that approach, insisting that territorial disputes must be settled bilaterally.

As a result, Beijing has successfully moved to divide the bloc.

Chinese pressure was blamed last month for an embarrassing U-turn by the regional bloc as members suddenly disowned an apparent joint statement released by Malaysia that condemned Beijing's aggression in the seas.

That has led to fears of a repeat of a 2012 summit in Cambodia where the bloc failed to issue a joint communique for the first time in its history because of disagreements over the waters.

Diplomats are already in Vientiane trying to hash out a response to this month's tribunal ruling before the foreign ministers arrive.

But insiders say consensus is a long way off.

Critics have long derided ASEAN as an ineffective talking shop and in the face of the region's most pressing security issue, some analysts believe the bloc is struggling for relevance.

"ASEAN suffers from inherent institutional paralysis," Richard Javad Heydarian, a regional expert at De La Salle University in Manila, told AFP.

"There is this sense of frustration among core ASEAN countries that China is essentially buying the loyalty of smaller ASEAN countries," he added.

China claims nearly all of the strategic sea -- home to some of the world's most important shipping routes -- and has steadily strengthened its toehold by converting reefs and sandbars into islands.

Satellite images of Chinese-built airstrips and apparent sea defenses have seen the fissures widen within ASEAN.

Authoritarian streak

To its defenders ASEAN has brought trade and diplomatic cooperation to a region spanning Communist autocracies such as Laos and Vietnam, the tiny Islamic sultanate of Brunei and populous democracies like Indonesia and the Philippines.

Laos, one of Asia's poorest and most tightly controlled countries, chairs ASEAN this year.

The one-party communist state has little experience of hosting major diplomatic gatherings.

Foreign media are rarely allowed into the country -- and must be accompanied by a government minder at all times -- but those restrictions appear to have been temporarily eased for the ASEAN meet.

Yet there are already questions over Laos' hosting of the event.

For the first time the ASEAN People's Forum, a gathering of civil society leaders which meets on summit sidelines, will not be held in Laos. Instead it will take place in East Timor.

The Laos authorities did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.
But several charities and NGOs have said the authoritarian state was uncomfortable with opening its doors to so many potential critics.

Given the government's historical closeness to Beijing there is little optimism Laos will push the South China Sea issue this year.

Carl Thayer, a regional expert at The University of New South Wales, said the regional bloc could still agree on a joint statement about the South China Sea.

"But they won't mention China, and I doubt they'll even mention the arbitral tribunal," he told AFP, referring to The Hague court.

That begs the question, he added: "Where's the leadership in ASEAN?"

Top brass ng NPA, lalaya na

From Abante (Jul 23): Top brass ng NPA, lalaya na (Top brass of the NPA, to be freed)

Isa sa pinakamataas na leader ng Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) sa Western Visayas ang makalalaya na ngayong buwan ng Agosto.
Ito ang kinumpirma kahapon ni Atty. Janne Ba­terna, ang abogado ni Maria Concepcion Bocala, 64, na nagsabing binigyan ito ng amnestiya ni Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte.
Sinabi ni Baterna na pinagkalooban ng amnestiya si Bocala, na kilala rin bilang Ka Concha, Ka Merly at Ka Etang at sinasabing secretary general ng CPP para sa Komite Rehiyon Panay upang maging isa sa mga negosyador sa peace talks sa Oslo, Norway sa ilalim ng Communist-led National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

Matatandaan na dinakip si Ka Concha noong nakaraang taon sa Calumpang, Molo, Iloilo dahil sa kasong murder at rebellion at may P7.8 million na pabuya sa ulo.

Indonesia still believes Manila committed despite canceled meeting

From the Jakarta Post (Jul 22): Indonesia still believes Manila committed despite canceled meeting

A map of the Sulu waters, the southern Philippines and the surrounding areas(Courtesy of

Indonesia still thinks the Philippines government will cooperate to secure the Sulu Sea despite the cancelation of a trilateral defense ministers' meeting that was scheduled for July 21, an official says.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir confirmed on Thursday that the signing of a trilateral maritime cooperation agreement between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines on May 5 to secure the Sulu Sea had cemented the commitment of the three countries toward safeguarding the key trade lanes.

"And a meeting on July 14 in Jakarta had resulted in the signing of the framework arrangement that sets down the results of the agreement in the Yogyakarta Declaration," Arrmanatha told The Jakarta Post, referring to the joint declaration on maritime security from May 5.

He said the framework, as well as the standard of procedure contained within it, has given a green light to initiate steps to coordinate a joint patrol.

"I think this shows a high commitment from the three countries, from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines," Arrmanatha said.

"It is a living document, so it will continue to develop, with changes to be made if there are things that need to be added," he said.

The trilateral meeting was cancelled because the Philippines' Delfin Lorenzana was unable to attend it.

"According to the information we have received, one of the ministers, the Philippine minister, was not available because of urgent matters that needed his attention in his home country," Arrmanatha said, denying that it indicated a lack of commitment from the Philippines.

Indonesian navy chief sinks sea marshal onboard coal vessels plan

Sea Trade Maritime News (Jul 22): Indonesian navy chief sinks sea marshal onboard coal vessels plan
Indonesian navy chief Adm. Ade Supandi has said he is not certain the government’s plan to provide security involving armed military personnel on board coal vessels traveling in areas prone to piracy can be implemented, local media reported.

He said sea security operations for trading vessels is regulated by the IMO, and under current rules, there are articles that prohibit the placement of military personnel on merchant vessels, although some countries allowed the use of weapons on board.

“Actually, the security of merchant vessels sailing on the sea is stipulated in IMO regulations. Several rules don’t allow the presence of military personnel on board, although several countries provide security through the equipping of weapons [for crew members] on board,” Ade was quoted as saying.

Citing the IMO, Ade further said, it was only armed civilian security personnel that were allowed to provide security on merchant vessels. The number of armed security personnel was also limited and monitored tightly, he noted.

Involving military personnel in providing security on merchant vessels would only lead to unhealthy competition among shipping companies. He said one option the government could take to protect Indonesian trading vessels against piracy was to allow the Navy to escort vessels as far as the sea boarder of their destination country, from where an escort from the destination country could be arranged.

Coal boats and other merchant vessels should also take a safe route decided by authorities to avoid acts of piracy, such as ones recently perpetrated by Abu Sayyaf militants on Indonesian vessels in southern Philippine waters.

Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu had previously said the government would enrol the military in providing sea marshals to provide security on coal ships sailing to the Philippines. The Navy would work together with its Philippine counterpart to escort the vessels. He claimed the Philippine government had agreed to allow the Indonesian Military to enter its territory for escort purposes.

Soldiers take 3 into custody in anti-Abu ops in Tawi-Tawi

From The Standard (Jul 23): Soldiers take 3 into custody in anti-Abu ops in Tawi-Tawi

Three individuals who could not present identification documents were taken into custody by the military Thursday morning during an operation targeting supporters of the Abu Sayyaf Group, a report reaching Camp Aguinaldo said on Friday.

The report said the operation was launched by the Amphibious Ready Group of the Joint Task Group Tawi-Tawi led by navy Captain Fernando Gomez in Panguan Island in Sitangkay town.

The operation “resulted in the seizure of three jungkong-type water crafts, custody of three persons with no pertinent identification documents and the confiscation of one shotgun with 10 live ammunition rounds,” the report said.

“Authorities are currently determining if the seized boats and persons are connected with the recent spate of cross-border kidnapping incidents,” it added.

Accordingly, the amphibious group has used the BRP Tarlac, the first ever command and control ship of the Navy.

Build by PT Pal (Persero) of Indonesia, the ship has an embarked helicopter which has a marine special operations component and a Navy SEAL detachment on board.

In the past few weeks, the ASG has been staging kidnappings of Malaysian and Indonesian crews of transiting vessels in the area. The bandits usually behead their victims once ransom is not delivered to them in exchange for the safe release of their captives.

This worsening security situation in the south, which include Basilan and Sulu, the lairs of the ASG, has prompted Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta to craft a joint border patrol operation which is already in the works to prevent the criminal activity of the bandits.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has also intensified its operations to eliminate the ASG problem in southern Mindanao even as President Rodrigo Duterte has given the ASG the option to either talk or fight with the government.

Police nab Abu Sayyaf member with P600,000 bounty

From Rappler (Jul 23): Police nab Abu Sayyaf member with P600,000 bounty

Bads Adjam has pending kidnap-for-ransom cases, including the abduction of 21 people in Malaysia in 2000

A member of the Abu Sayyaf Group allegedly involved in the 2000 abduction in Sipadan Island, Malaysia, and other kidnap-for-ransom cases is now detained at the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame.

Bads Adjam, also known as Pa Malod and Abu Jihad, was arrested in Zamboanga City by joint elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in National Capital Region (NCR) and Zamboanga Peninsula, and the Naval Intelligence and Security Group-Western Mindanao on Thursday, July 21.

The Philippine National Police said in a statement on Saturday, July 23, Adjam was brought to the NCR-CIDG on Friday afternoon. Adjam, who carries P600,000-reward, was detained at in Camp Crame for documentation and proper disposition before his turnover to the concerned court.

He faces 6 counts of kidnapping and serious illegal detention with ransom before Branch 4 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Parang, Sulu.

In a statement on Saturday, July 23, Police Senior Superintendent Billy Tamayo said Adjam was involved in the kidnapping of 6 Jehovah's Witnesses in Patikul, Sulu, in 2002.

He was also included in a separate criminal case involving the kidnapping of 10 Malaysians, 9 Europeans, and two Filipino resort workers in Sipadan Island, Malaysia, in 2000, which brought the Abu Sayyaf group to international attention.

3,000 militants to hold rally at Batasan to show support for Duterte’s SONA

From MindaNews (Jul 21): 3,000 militants to hold rally at Batasan to show support for Duterte’s SONA

Participants joining the seven-day human rights caravan, Manilakbayan, appealed to the Philippine National Police (PNP) to allow them hold a rally outside Batasang Pambansa in a show of support for President Rodrigo R. Duterte in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 25.

“President Duterte, let your fellow Mindanawons march with you in your first SONA. Allow us to hold a rally near Batasan. Let this act be a symbol of our common desire to push genuine change and achieve a just peace for our people,” Bai Ali Indayla, spokesperson for Manilakbayan, said in a statement issued Wednesday.

She said that they left for Manila last Monday in what they called the biggest Manilakbayan with 3,000 participants composed of Lumads, Moros and farmers in Mindanao.

Indayla claimed that the contingents, who are in Tacloban as of Wednesday, are victims of militarization and human rights violations.

Last October 2015, “Manilakbayan ng Mindanao” was participated in by some 1,000 Lumads and human rights defenders to urge former President Benigno S. Aquino III to stop human rights abuses and killings of the indigenous people.

“Today (Wednesday) marks the third day of our Manilakbayan and we are currently in Tacloban. With each day, hundreds more are expected to join our caravan. Most have come from the countryside, victims of continuing militarization and human rights violations. They hope that the Duterte government will hear their cries and address their grievances,” Indayla said.

She said that they are tavelling across the country to witness Duterte’s SONA and appeal to him “to hear our plea for change.”

Indayla said that some Mindanawons have been “marginalized and oppressed, our lands plundered and our kin lost because of past governments that waged war against us” through generations.

She appealed that they be allowed to march on streets to express their common hope for justice and peace for Mindanao.

“We appeal that you may understand and grant us the opportunity to march in the streets of Manila, to raise our voices and agenda for peace – genuine agrarian reform, protection of our ancestral land and natural resources, pursuit of peace talks with the NDFP (National Democratic Front of the Philippines) and the Moro liberation groups, and justice for all victims of oppression,” she said.

Indayla told a press conference Monday that they are calling on Duterte to stop militarization, which topped the list of their 15-point people’s agenda of Mindanao.
She said that the rally might be held the traditional way, only that no effigies will be set on fire.

“Dili sya rally batok kay (this is not a rally against) President Duterte but rally in support for his progressive and pro-people policies,” Indayla said.

“Wala nagpasabot nga nakalingkod na si President Duterte human na ang papel sa katawhan sa pagsuporta kaniya para mapatuman ang pagbago ug kalambuan nga iyang gi-promise sa katawhan. Kinahanglan nato sya kuyugan (This does not mean that now that Duterte’s in power, the people’s role in supporting achieve change and development that he promised to the people already ended. We have to support him),” he said.

IP group backs call for peace

From the Sun Star-Baguio (Jul 21): IP group backs call for peace

With the government resuming peace talks, Indigenous Poeples all over the country have something to look forward in the hopes of attaining economic, social and cultural rights including the right to self-determination. (Milo Brioso)

AN INTERNATIONAL indigenous group is backing the call for peace.

International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation global coordinator Beverly Longid said a solidarity statement will be sent to President Rodrigo duterte backing him in his call for peace.

"It is with glad hearts, then, that we welcome the statement of President Rodrigo Duterte to include our sister and brother indigenous peoples in the peace process between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines," Longid said.

Longid hopes the resumption of the peace talks will lead to a lessening and eventual disappearance of violations of civil and political rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines.

“We also hope an agreement on economic, social and cultural rights be signed and the rights to self determination, land and life of indigenous peoples be upheld therein," added Longid.

Globally, Longid said IPs remain to be one of the most marginalized sectors in society and continues to face oppression and exploitation by uncaring governments and self-serving corporations.

"We are optimistic. We believe this peace process has a chance to work. But we also believe that others with vested interests will derail this peace process in order to deny not only indigenous peoples but also others their rights. Thus our optimism is also coupled with watchfulness to ensure that the derailment of the Philippine peace process will not come to pass," Longid added.

In the Philippines, the IPMDL research show 80 IPs victimized by extrajudicial killings perpetrated by the Philippine military and its para-military groups and 30,000 have been forced to leave their homes due to militarization.

The data also shows sexual assault and rape of indigenous women by military personnel have gone unpunished while 2000 indigenous youth have been forced to leave school due to government closure of indigenous schools.

"We enjoin our sisters and brothers in the Philippines to be vigilant in militantly asserting their collective rights to self-determination, as well as continue to support the rights of non-indigenous peoples as well. We must continue to assert and claim these rights, and strive to organize and educate more individuals and organizations on people’s issues. We call on all Indigenous Peoples and advocates of Indigenous Peoples rights all over the globe to support the peace process in the Philippines," Longid said.

People’s caravan heads to Manila from Bicol

From The Manila Times (Jul 21): People’s caravan heads to Manila from Bicol

The People’s Caravan for Just and Lasting Peace from Mindanao and Bicol regions unite for the first time in Albay before heading to Manila to show their solid support to President Rodrigo Duterte.

The human chain of solidarity of progressive movements from Mindanao and Bicol convened at Busay village in Daraga town on Thursday afternoon where the caravan of at least 10,000 people will be heading to Manila to take part in Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday.

Dan Balucio, spokesman for Bayan Bicol, said leaders of the progressive organizations in the region await Lakbayan delegates from Mindanao at Matnog port in Sorsogon before proceeding to Daraga to meet the Albayanos.
“We are pushing for the People’s Agenda for Change and support the upcoming peace talks between President Duterte and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

A just and lasting peace can only be achieved if there will be meaningful changes in society, if the roots of the armed conflict are substantially addressed,” Balucio added.

Bayan-Bicol “Lakbayan para sa Kapayapaan” met at least 3, 000 people from Mindanao who embarked for the caravan on July 18.

About 5,000 Bicolanos will take part in the SONA on July 25 through the Lakbayan: People’s Caravan for Just and Lasting Peace along with the people of Mindanao.

America Doesn't Owe China Anything after the Verdict

From The National Interest (Jul 21): America Doesn't Owe China Anything after the Verdict (By Michael Mazza0

Washington has no obligation to help Beijing save face

An MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft system​ in the South China Sea. Flickr/Naval Surface Warriors
Image: An MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft system​ in the South China Sea. Flickr/Naval Surface Warriors

The accepted wisdom has it that, as a general rule, Chinese leaders should not be made to “lose face.” In the wake of last week’s Permanent Court of Arbitration award in Philippines v. China, a veritable chorus of China hands has called for the United States to support the ruling, but to avoid rubbing Xi Jinping’s nose in the dirt. Giving “face” to Xi Jinping—essentially, allowing him to escape the current predicament without incurring further shame—is important if we are to avoid a dangerous escalation of tensions, or so the thinking goes.

There is a certain logic here. Xi Jinping has just suffered a significant defeat on the international stage, and at the hands of lowly Manila, no less. Should other countries now act with what Chinese citizens or leaders perceive to be disrespect, Xi will look weaker and more ineffective than he already does. He may fear for his grip on power. He might feel he has little choice but to take steps that make him appear strong—whether that means building on Scarborough Shoal, seizing an island from another claimant or increasing military presence around the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

These and other outcomes, of course, are preferably avoided. If there is reason to believe Xi Jinping is prepared to pursue a face-saving, constructive, diplomatic climb-down, the United States should give him the space to do so.

But Xi Jinping’s confidence that Washington will never push too hard is one of the reasons we are in this mess in the first place. China’s leaders know that Washington is hesitant to make them “lose face,” that Washington does not hold at risk what they value most—their domestic legitimacy. As a result, they are not overly concerned about maneuvering themselves into a position between a rock (Chinese nationalists) and a hard place (looming international crisis), which never turns out to be all that hard.

Washington should privately make clear to Xi Jinping that it is prepared to take steps intended to make him lose face should he refuse to adopt a more constructive approach to disputes in the South China Sea. For example, the United States could warn the Chinese president that it will lobby for a relocation of this year’s G-20 summit, arguing that China’s blatant disregard for international norms and its own treaty commitments disqualify it from hosting the annual gathering.

The United States will have to be prepared to deal with further Chinese provocations and should explain that such provocations will have consequences. A further militarization of the Senkaku dispute might lead to a U.S. declaration that it formally recognizes Japan’s claims. A move to build facilities on Scarborough Shoal would lead to an explicit U.S. statement that the mutual defense treaty covers Philippine territory in the South China Sea. The dispatch of fighter jets to China’s Spratly airfields could result in U.S. forces jamming Chinese radars in the archipelago.

Going forward, Xi Jinping should have little reason to assume that, regardless of how China behaves, he will have an American partner in ensuring he saves face. When it comes to the South China Sea, U.S. leverage over China goes far beyond freedom of navigation operations. It’s time to start using it.

[Michael Mazza is a research fellow in foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). You can follow him on Twitter: @Mike_Mazza.]

Duterte, Regional Security and the South China Sea

From The Diplomat (Jul 22): Duterte, Regional Security and the South China Sea (By
Shigeki Sakamoto)

The Philippines’ new president needs to tread carefully in negotiating maritime issues.

On January 22, 2013, the Philippines submitted its disputes with China over the Spratly Islands to arbitration under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Prior to this action, on August 25, 2006, China lodged a declaration with the Secretary-General of the United Nations stating that it would exclude the disputes stipulated in Subparagraphs (a), (b) and (c), Paragraph 1, Article 298 of UNCLOS from compulsory conflict resolution procedures.

The Philippines argued that China is claiming sovereign rights and jurisdiction over all waters within the nine-dash line to bypass the jurisdiction restrictions, even though it is only allowed to claim rights and jurisdiction over waters measured from land, including islands. Based on this argument, the Philippines asked the arbitration tribunal to declare that water area establishment based on the nine-dash line violates UNCLOS, insisting that the reefs and submerged rocks in the Spratly Islands under China’s effective control have no territorial water, exclusive economic zone (EEZ), or continental shelf, and that the shores of the islands, such as the Scarborough Shoal, are “rocks that cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own” as provided in Paragraph 3, Article 121 of UNCLOS.

On July 12, 2016, the arbitration tribunal handed down a decision that favored the Philippines’ claims, ruling that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the “nine-dash line.” However, China had refused to appear at the tribunal for the arbitration and had already declared it would ignore the arbitration award when it was granted. An arbitration award is binding, but UNCLOS has no mechanism for enforcing it. For that reason, China is likely to remain in effective control of the reefs in the South China Sea.

In the meantime, in a statement issued by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 8, China urged Rodrigo Duterte, the new president of the Philippines, to resolve the disputes through negotiations. For his part, Duterte has refused to rule out the idea of bilateral negotiations with China. The question is whether or not these negotiations will be conducted on the basis of the arbitration award. China is claiming that the arbitration award is invalid, and as such would be expected to approach negotiations in disregard of the arbitration award. Yet the principles and guidelines for international negotiations, being resolution number 101 adopted at the 53rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly on December 8, 1998, state, “The purpose and object of all negotiations must be fully compatible with the principles and norms of international law, including the provisions of the Charter.” China cannot negotiate with disregard for the international law represented by the arbitration award.

As the plaintiff in this arbitration case, the Philippines bears the greater obligation to carry out the arbitration award. It is worth recalling here the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Statement on Maritime Security released on April 11, 2016, which said, “We call on all states to pursue the peaceful management and settlement of maritime disputes in good faith and in accordance with international law, including through applicable internationally recognized legal dispute settlement mechanisms, including arbitration, recognizing that the use of such mechanisms is consistent with the maintenance and enhancement of the international order based upon the rule of law, and to fully implement any decisions rendered by the relevant courts and tribunals which are binding on them, including as provided under UNCLOS” and “We call for the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety and the early establishment of an effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).”

If Duterte negotiates with China from a position at odds with the arbitration award, the Philippines will lose the trust of its allies, including the United States and Japan, to the detriment of regional security. The disputes in the South China Sea are more than bilateral conflicts. They are an issue that now involves the entire region. The new president runs the risk of not only helping China in its bid to divide the Association of Southeast Asian Nations but also threatening the stability and development of Asia.

The agreement between Japan and the Philippines on the transfer of defense equipment and technology that was signed on February 29, 2016 is aimed at preventing China from changing the status quo by force. The approval of China’s nine-dash line claim, which would turn other countries’ EEZs into its own waters, simply reflects the commitment of the international community to the reign of force. Like other allies, the Philippines must stand at the forefront of efforts to convert the South China Sea into an area to which UNCLOS is applied, so as to establish the rule of law in the South China Sea.

[Shigeki Sakamoto is a professor at Doshisha University.]

Resumption of GPH-NDF talks to address conflict between Lumad, military

From MindaNews (Jul 22): Resumption of GPH-NDF talks to address conflict between Lumad, military

The resumption of peace talks between government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) will help address the conflict between some of the Lumad and the military, Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo said.

In a press conference Friday in Haran Evacuation Center here, Taguiwalo said sending soldiers to secure the communities will not solve the insurgency as the Lumad are wary about their presence.

“President (Rodrigo) Duterte said during the debates that the insurgency has historical and systemic roots, which could not be solved militarily. I think the resumption of the process is an important step to address the issue of the Lumad,” she said.

She said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) must acknowledge that militarization has forced the Lumad to leave their homes and seek refuge in evacuation centers like Haran, which is run by the United Church of Christ of the Philippines.

Some 300 Lumad from Kapalong and Talaingod towns in Davao del Norte and Bukidnon have been staying in Haran for over a year. They had subsisted on support from other groups while makeshift classrooms had been put up for their children.

“Hopefully, the peace process, the resumption of the peace talks which the president has initiated will contribute to the kind of peace that our people need, not only for the Lumad in our communities but also for the Moro people, in Luzon and Visayas,” she added.

Taguiwalo said the Lumads are only asking for an end to military operations in their communities and to be recognized as owners of the ancestral land that must not be sold to companies like those engaged in mining.

“That’s what they are asking, so we want to give what they want. We have to act on it, but it should made clear to the military,” she said.

She said Duterte knows the concerns of the Lumads and reported to him “the kind of action we wish to do.”

“It’s not for me to talk to the military about this. It is up to the president to organize the kind of dialogue with respective authorities. How fast is he going to answer that? When is he going to do that? We shall wait and see,” she added.

BIFF rebel group splits as new faction spokesman emerges

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 22): BIFF rebel group splits as new faction spokesman emerges

The estimated 500-strong Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) has split into two with the new faction renouncing the association of BIFF leaders with the enthusiastic Islamic State (ISIS).

The BIFF is a faction of the mainstream Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that bolted out several years ago following the death of MILF founding chair Hashim Salamat.

The BIFF, operating solely in the peripheries of Maguindanao province, is not included in the ongoing government–MILF peace accord.

Speaking over local radio outlets here Friday, the new faction's self-proclaimed spokesman is Abu Amir who have parted from the ISIS-leaning ideology of BIFF leader Imam Bongos and his spokesman Abu Misry and his bunch of loyal field commanders.

"We are not to be swayed by the ISIS ideology because we adhere to the cause of the Moro struggle and teachings of the Koran," Amir said.

He said their faction, whose appellation remains unknown, has recognized Imam Minimbang, also known as Ustadz Karialan, as their new leader.

Both Bongos and Karialan are wanted by the law for various crimes ranging from multiple murder, harassment, and collection of revolutionary taxes from poor farming communities in the province.

Misry, in a separate interview, denied the split of the BIFF hierarchy and has pointed to the military as the one behind the move to cast a scenario of power struggle within their organization.

Misry did not elaborate on the matter.

Soldiers to augment security for Kadayawan Festival

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 22): Soldiers to augment security for Kadayawan Festival

Security measures during the week-long Kadayawan Festival this August will be tightened as top government officials and personalities including President Rodrigo Duterte and Ms. Universe Pia Wurtzbach are expected to arrive and join the festivities.

Task Force Davao Commander Col. Henry Robinson told reporters in a press briefing Thursday that additional company-size soldiers will be arriving to augment the security forces during the celebration.

Expected to join the festivities during the Kadayawan are members of President Duterte's Cabinet.

Security preparations are on-going. The security cluster has already converged and measures are already being undertaken,” Robinson said.

He added that they are also assessing threat groups that might pose danger during the celebration especially to the residents and visitors.

Robinson mentioned the Abu Sayyaf and the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) as among the threat groups.

In the same press briefing, Chief Superintendent Manuel Gaerlan, director of the Philippine National Police in Davao region (PRO-11) said their priority will be the safety of all the participants, spectators and visitors during the celebration of Kadayawan.

Gaerlan also called on the residents to cooperate with authorities as some security measures will be strictly implemented during the celebration.

Among those measures are the prohibition of the bringing of backpacks and umbrellas.

"The people are the good agents of security,” Gaerlan said as he urged the Davao City residents to be vigilant and immediately inform the authorities if they found suspected items or encounter suspicious persons.

Another US guided-missile destroyer in PHL visit

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 22): Another US guided-missile destroyer in PHL visit

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54) arrived in Manila on July 20 for a routine port call that highlights the strong historic, community, and military connections between the Philippines and the United States.

During the visit, service members from the American ship will participate in a series of community relations projects and sporting events, while experiencing Filipino culture.

Although some USS Curtis Wilbur sailors will be experiencing the Philippines for the first time, some of its crewmen, such as Senior Chief Gas Turbine System Technician Fitz Dasal, are looking forward to seeing the country again because they are Filipino-American.

“I was born in Bacolod, Philippines, which is south of Manila,” Dasal said.

“My wife and children are all US citizens, but they currently live in Bacolod. I’m very excited and grateful to see them. I’m thankful that the Navy granted me the opportunity to see my loved ones. The Philippines is a great country and I encourage everyone to get out and experience the culture to the fullest,” he added.

The Philippines is a longstanding treaty ally of the United States and became a major non-NATO ally in 2003.

With a partnership spanning more than 70 years, the American and Philippine militaries have worked closely in regional security, counter-terrorism, and combating transnational crime.

USS Curtis Wilbur is on patrol with Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 5 in the US 7th Fleet area of responsibility supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

PHL, US construction units turn over 2 classroom buildings in Capiz

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 22): PHL, US construction units turn over 2 classroom buildings in Capiz

Two classroom buildings, built by Philippine Army units and the US Construction Civic Action Detail (US CCAD), were formally handed to the teachers and students of the Jaena Sur Primary School, in Jamindan, Capiz on Wednesday.

The latter is a program is a program that purposively enhances the US and Philippine partnership and cooperation during the previous Pacific Partnership and "Balikatan" activities.

Construction of the educational facility started last April. Involved were troopers from the 552nd Engineer Construction Battalion and US CCAD units from Naval Construction Battalion 4 and 30th Naval Construction Regiment.

"The harmonious partnership of the US Armed Forces and the AFP together with other stakeholders has demonstrated the spirit of 'Bayanihan'. The goal of this project is to provide every child the opportunity to go to school and create an environment that is conducive for their learning," 3rd Infantry Division commander Brig. Gen. Harold N. Cabreros said.

Dureza welcomes MILF-MNLF convergence to end Mindanao conflict

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 22): Dureza welcomes MILF-MNLF convergence to end Mindanao conflict

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza on Thursday welcomed as “positive” the convergence of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in putting closure to the Mindanao conflict.

The MILF and the largest of three MNLF factions, led by former Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema, had twice forged in recent months a deal binding both camps to find a common solution to the now 45-year Moro rebellion.

Sema’s group has more than 20 “revolutionary states” scattered across the country’s south and in all of the five component provinces of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“There is an apparent convergence and inclusivity now in each other’s peace-building initiatives. This is what we want, a peace process involving all stakeholders,” Dureza said Thursday at the sidelines of his breakfast meeting with MILF Chairman Hadji Murad Ebrahim.

The two-hour meeting was held at Camp Darapanan, the MILF’s main enclave located northwest of Sultan Kudarat town in the first district of Maguindanao.

It was the first official engagement between the MILF and Malacañang under President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

They talked about the prospects of the peace process under the Duterte administration and agreed to resume with all bilateral initiatives complementing all compacts between the MILF and Malacañang, stalled by the recent synchronized local and national elections.

Dureza said he finds beneficial to the peace process the convergence of the MILF and the MNLF-Sema group in a common formula for a lasting peace in the south.

The MILF and the MNLF-Sema group had earlier said, in bilateral press communiqués, their initiatives are meant to synchronize each other’s concepts on how to best address the Mindanao Moro issue.

Through the intercession of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the MNLF and Malacañang signed on Sept. 2, 1996 a final peace deal, after 20 years of negotiations that started in 1976.

The MNLF was yet a solidly monolithic organization then, led by its founding chairman, Nur Misuari.

The group got fragmented in 2000 when a bloc of Misuari’s lieutenants, among them Sema and many other MNLF leaders in the ARMM’s five provinces, broke away due to loss of confidence in his leadership.

There is a third MNLF group that emerged recently, led by Abulkhayr Alonto, who hails from Lanao del Sur. Unlike the MNLF-Sema group, Misuari and his men are hostile to the MILF.

They have been ranting on what is for them “abrogation” of the government-MNLF peace agreement with Malacañang’s having crafted two compacts with the MILF, the Oct. 15, 2013 Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro and, subsequently, the March 27, 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro.

Sema said he is grateful to Dureza for his optimism on the MILF-MNLF convergence, which the OIC, a bloc of more than 50 Muslim states, including petroleum-exporting countries in the Middle East and North Africa, has also been supporting.

The MILF and the MNLF-Sema group now have a joint technical committee tasked to study a common approach in resolving the Moro problem.

Sema said the committee will meet in Cotabato City on July 30 for initial exploratory studies on having one peace track to hasten the resolution of a rebellion that has never been permanently addressed.

The MILF-MNLF convergence was first espoused by the erstwhile president of Libya, the late Muammar Gaddafi, who even sent his son, Saiful A-Islam Al-Gaddafi, to Mindanao twice in the late 1990s to help unite both fronts.

Gaddafi was a staunch supporter of the peace overture between Malacañang and the MNLF, which he provided with firearms and ammunition while fighting the government in the 1970s.

President Duterte visits Basilan, vows to help in its development

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 22): President Duterte visits Basilan, vows to help in its development

President Rodrigo R. Duterte arrived here on Thursday, encouraging the people of Basilan to shun hatred and help his administration in developing the island province by working on a consensus on how to move forward.

In his speech at Camp Luis Biel III, the President said the government and Moro rebels can’t fight forever as he renewed his commitment to the Moro people, noting he “will give what they want.”

PRRD encouraged the local residents not to add hatred to the already tense situation there that have claimed too many lives. He vowed to find money for the development of Basilan.

The President is pushing for a federal form of government to once and for all solve the Moro rebellion as well other forms of insurgency in the Philippines.

During a discussion with Basilan’s local officials, President Duterte said he is working to stop corruption in government to raise money. He said that if the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) can collect the right taxes and duties, he could have funds to develop Basilan. The BIR lost PHP300 million a day due to corruption and the BOC PHP200 million daily, he said.

Lamenting that he lost four relatives as a result of the Mindanao war, the President said there is restiveness and rebellion in the region because the Moro people felt that they are being left behind. To address rebellion and violence, there must be livelihood for the people, and the government should extend the basic needs of poor communities, PRRD said.

Another concern is the Abu Sayyaf Group, of which he expressed willingness to talk to them. Basilan’s local officials said new members of the bandit group now come from Malaysia, Zamboanga Sibugay, and Sulu, which is a rising concern for the government.

They also reported "cocolisap" infestation in the province that should be immediately addressed. They said they already declared a state of calamity because of the infestation, which has affected 30 to 40 percent of coconut trees in the province. More than 3,000 families have already received assistance from the government.

As a response, the President invited the Basilan LGU officials to have a consensus so they could identity problems confronting the province. He said they could have more meetings in the future, possibly in Malacanang.

To address the needs of the residents displaced by the fighting in Al Barka, Tipo-Tipo and Ungkaya Pukan, he said he will instruct the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to immediately send assistance there. >p>Regarding Basilan’s coconut sector, he promised to help the industry there and one of the possible sources of money is the coco levy fund, which was declared public by the Supreme Court.

The President said that once a legal mechanism is available, he can release money for the rehabilitation of the Basilan coconut industry.

Aside from meeting Basilan’s local officials and residents, the President also had a security meeting with the military officials of Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom).

PRRD also led the ceremonial distribution of relief goods to the people affected by the violence in the province.

PRRD to prioritize welfare of uniformed services

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 22): PRRD to prioritize welfare of uniformed services

President Rodrigo R. Duterte vowed on Thursday to give priority to the welfare of the military and police personnel as he urged them to intensify the government’s offensive against criminality and urban terrorism.

In his speech before soldiers of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), the President said, “In our talks during the command conference, I was informed there is a need for more soldiers.”

Citing the need for more law enforcers to put an end to criminality in the country, he added he would need about 3,000 policemen to meet the challenges of urban terrorism.

PRRD has remained firm on his stance in fighting against illegal drugs, terrorism, violence, and criminality in the nation. He exhorted the police and military that they should not be scared in discharging their duties for the country.

The President stressed it embarrasses the country when soldiers and policemen cannot stop criminality and terrorism with foreigners and locals being killed or executed.

“But in the long term, you know we have a problem. As a nation, it has started many, many years ago, para tayo’ng sinasampal na (it’s like we’re being slapped that) every time there is a foreigner executed or a local killed, and with the dimensions such as yung nakikita kasi may pelikula, ‘yung mapapahiya (those that have filmed footage, it’s quite embarrassing),” he said.

PRRD added that he will go ahead with the salary increases on a staggered basis of the police and the military, and that would include the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the law enforcement agencies such as the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

The President also revealed plans to develop the V. Luna Medical Center in Quezon City into one of the best medical centers in the country, and to give the soldiers, policemen, and their families the best medical care.

Solons move for the abrogation of EDCA

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 22): Solons move for the abrogation of EDCA

The Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives has filed a resolution calling for the abrogation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the United States of America and the Republic of the Philippines.

Rep. Ariel Casilao (Partly-list, Anakpawis), principal author of House Resolution No. 31, said EDCA violates the Philippines’ national sovereignty, imperils the geo-political situation in the West Philippine Sea and endangers the livelihood of farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous people’s communities.

EDCA was signed by former President Benigno S. Aquino III and US President Barack Obama during the latter’s state visit in the country on April 28, 2014.

Prior to the signing, Casilao said the details of the agreement were not made public and the preparatory meetings conducted by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of National Defense and Office of the President regarding the drafting of the Framework Agreement for the Increased Rotational Presence, which started way back in 2011, were kept secret.

Casilao said Balikatan Military Exercises through the years have affected the communities of farmers and Aeta indigenous people around Camp O’Donnell and Crow Valley mountain range in Capas, Tarlac, around Clark Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation.

“These military exercises also affect the fisherfolk communities in Subic and San Antonio, Zambales, around Sangley Point in Cavite, Mactan Air Base in Cebu, San Jose, Antique, Puerto Princesa City and Oyster Bay in Palawan and other military bases and reservations in the country,” Casilao said.

Casilao said the country was transformed into a virtual US military base in the Asia-Pacific region, where US armed forces units have practically been given free reign in conducting operations of whatever nature in strategic points inside Philippine territory.

In fact, Casilao said, American soldiers are allowed to use the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro, and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.

Rep. Carlos Zarate (Partylist Bayan Muna), co-author of the measure, said EDCA has facilitated the entry to the Philippine territory of US military vessels that can carry weapons of mass destruction such as submarines USS Ohio, a nuclear-powered submarine of US Navy, USS Tucson, USS Frank Cable, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers USS John C. Stennis and USS Ronald Reagan, F/A-18 fighter planes, and other weapons. This violates the constitutional ban on nuclear power, Zarate said.

Zarate said the growing US military presence in the Philippines has negatively affected the country’s international relations with other countries such as China.

Chinese aggression in the region correspondingly heightens as already shown in the latter’s incursive moves in the West Philippine Sea, its banning of Filipino fisherfolk in the Panatag Shoal, and its construction of man-made airstrips in the Fiery Cross Reef, Spratly islands, according to Zarate.

Rep. Emmi de Jesus (Party-list, Gabriela), also an author of the measure, said the continued US military presence in the country through EDCA complicates and even jeopardizes the country’s claim to the West Philippine Sea.

Citing Section 25, Article XVIII of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, De Jesus said after the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning military bases, foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.

204 SurSur barangays cleared from rebel influence

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jul 22): 204 SurSur barangays cleared from rebel influence

A total of 204 barangays of this province have been cleared of rebel influence by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Colonel Isidro Purisima, commander of the 402nd Infantry Brigade, Philippine Army bared that through the collaborative efforts of the different stakeholders thru “Bayanihan” conducted to the different communities and by bringing the government services closer to the people,"we have awaken most of the masses to withdraw their support with the New People’s Army (NPA)."

"Also, with the conduct of the series of Youth Leadership Summit to the young adults. We have empowered them and created awareness on their role in nation building," he added.

Col. Purisima also confirmed that the NPA has failed to hold the 47th founding anniversary celebration of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) here.

It can be recalled that Surigao del Sur was the favorite hub of the NPA in their celebration for 15 consecutive years.

Further, Col. Purisima said that numerous NPA camps were already seized by the troops under his area of responsibiltiy with 63 firearms gained and 115 CPP-NPA rebels neutralized or surrendered.

Curfew in ESSZone extended to August 7

From the Malay Mail Online (Jul 22): Curfew in ESSZone extended to August 7

The curfew order in waters of seven districts in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZone), which ends today, will be extended until August 7, said Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun.

He said the curfew, from 7 pm until 5am daily, involved waters off Tawau, Semporna, Kunak, Lahad Datu, Kinabatangan, Sandakan and Beluran districts.

“With the enforcement of the curfew order, residents in the affected areas are required to be indoors during the time stated,” he said in a statement here today.

Abdul Rashid said the curfew order was extended to ensure the waters in the ESSZone were not encroached upon by armed gunmen who could threaten the safety of international researchers and tourists visiting the resort islands in the area.

He said based on information received, the group from southern Philippines which carried out kidnapping for ransom and the Abu Sayyaf militant group were still trying to sneak into the ESSZone waters to commit other cross-border crime.

Besides ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Sabah residents, he said the curfew order would also facilitate monitoring and enforcement over movements and give a safe feeling to chalet operators and fishermen through the presence of the security forces.

He said all district police chiefs in the curfew areas have also been given authority to issue permit to those applying for fishing activities and sailing in dangerous route. — Bernama

Islamic State’s Wilayah Philippines: Implications For Southeast Asia – Analysis

From the Eurasia Review (Jul 22): Islamic State’s Wilayah Philippines: Implications For Southeast Asia – Analysis (By Bilveer Singh andKumar Ramakrishna)

The announcement of Wilayah Philippines in southern Philippines epitomises a new IS strategy to “pivot” to Southeast Asia. It signals a direct threat to countries in the region even as IS Central comes under pressure in the Middle East.

Southeast Asia and Islamic State
Southeast Asia and Islamic State

The establishment of an Islamic State wilayah (province) in south Philippines in April 2016 epitomises a new IS strategy to “pivot” to Southeast Asia. It signals a new direct threat to countries in the region even as IS Central comes under pressure from US-led forces and Russia in the Middle East. Not only will IS take the fight to regions where it has strong support, regional fighters need not travel to the Middle East to support IS.

Wilayah Al-Filibin” (WP) – the largely porous tri-border area adjoining the southern Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia – will allow regional fighters to congregate in support of IS’ regional operations or even as a transit point. Although IS operating in Iraq and Syria remains a distant threat, through WP the self-proclaimed caliphate has explicitly laid claim to Southeast Asia. It is IS’ most powerful signal yet that it has political, ideological and military claims over the region as it believes it has strong support in Southeast Asia, as suggested by the presence of approximately 1,000 Southeast Asian fighters organised as the Katibah Nusantara grouping in Syria and Iraq.

More Attacks in Southeast Asia?

More profoundly, it should not be forgotten that Southeast Asia is home to a quarter of the global Muslim population. Hence, IS’ strategists – many of whom are after all, deeply radicalised military and intelligence officers of the old Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein and hence, should not be underestimated – would likely view the region as a potential strategic reserve.

This is probably one reason why IS propagandists outside and within the region have recently ramped up social media output in the Malay vernacular, including IS’ first Malay language newspaper (Al-Fatihin) to ensure that the virulent IS extremist vision is effectively disseminated throughout vulnerable constituencies in the region.

To be sure, the emergence of WP is pregnant with security implications. It would be folly to dismiss it as a mere public relations exercise. As an official wilayah, WP will fully be expected to intensify and coordinate operations within the region. It means that the probability of increased terrorist attacks in the region has just gone up. Already IS-inspired attacks have taken place in Jakarta and Puchong near Kuala Lumpur.

Southeast Asia should brace itself for more IS-linked jihadi operations in the coming months, as the fledgling wilayah actively seeks to legitimise and announce its existence.

Attacks similar to those in Africa perpetrated by the likes of Boko Haram and Al Shabaab are now distinct possibilities in the region, especially within the tri-border areas of the Riau archipelago adjoining Malaysia and Singapore. The presence of local jihadi groups in southern Philippines, moreover, provides IS a unique sanctuary, much like the way the Al Qaeda-linked and Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah network found a similar permissive milieu in the same area since the late 1980s. Already, Katibah al-Muhajir, a Southeast Asian combat unit has been established in WP in July 2016.

Why Wilayah Philippines?

Furthermore, the jihadi networks in southern Philippines are also very likely to be transformed by the WP. While Mindanao will act as an even greater magnet for regional jihadists, IS supporters from outside Southeast Asia are also likely to gather in southern Philippines. There are indications that Arabs, Uighurs and even Caucasian fighters have begun to appear in the WP.

The Philippines was chosen as the fulcrum of IS operations in the region because the original locus of regional jihadist activity, Poso in eastern Indonesia, saw its appeal steadily diminished. This has been due to the intensive counter-terrorism campaign by the Indonesian military against the Santoso-led MIT (East Indonesia Mujahideen) since late 2015. Santoso was killed in mid-July 2016. The Emir of WP is Abu Abdullah, also known as Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), by most accounts the most brutal terrorist group in southern Philippines. WP – with the ASG at its core – is to all extents and purposes a micro-Islamic State and has emerged as a key node in IS’ global network of terrorism.

WP shares the key attributes of IS and is ideologically Salafist-jihadist. Significantly, Abu Abdullah has sworn allegiance (baiyaat) to IS’ self-declared caliphate. As supreme commander, Abdullah has apparently succeeded in uniting local and regional jihadists and has hence created a jihadist force of a multi-national character, with foreign fighters and different armed units from within the Philippines.

Additionally and crucially, the ASG enjoys tacit territorial control over parts of the southern Philippines and has demonstrated the capacity for undertaking not just terror attacks but even small-scale conventional operations against government forces, with dedicated armed units using modern weapons. Moreover, its well-worn tactic of kidnapping for ransom aside, the ASG has also been involved in beheading – a grisly trademark of IS.

Southern Philippines as a potential Afghanistan?

In sum, southern Philippines seems to be evolving to become the region’s Afghanistan and the epicentre of the jihadi threat, replete with the intra-jihadist rivalry and conflicts between IS and AQ-linked groups, as has happened in other areas in the Middle East declared as wilayah. Regional governmental preoccupation with rising tensions between rival claimants over the South China Sea will only enhance the ability of IS to sink deeper roots in Southeast Asia.

It behoves Southeast Asian governments to respond to the looming danger posed by the highly significant emergence of Wilayah Philippines collectively, as no single state can tackle the IS threat by itself. Failure to forge deeper and more effective diplomatic, military, intelligence and economic collaboration to comprehensively uproot IS from southern Philippines will quite simply, have dire downstream consequences for Southeast Asia – sooner rather than later.

[Bilveer Singh is an Adjunct Senior Fellow and Kumar Ramakrishna is Head of Policy Studies, Office of the Executive Deputy Chairman, at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.]

[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.]

Duterte scores points as peace adviser holds talks with MILF leader

From the Asia Times (Jul 22): Duterte scores points as peace adviser holds talks with MILF leader (By Noel Tarrazona)

President Rodrigo Duterte has stepped up efforts to bring peace in Southern Philippines by sending a government negotiator Jesus Durteza to hold talks with Hadji Murad Ebrahim, leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a conference with businessmen in Davao city, southern Philippines June 21, 2016. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr/File Photo
Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a conference with businessmen in Davao city, southern Philippines June 21, 2016. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr/File Photo

Dureza met Murad at Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, on Thursday and the two discussed peace over breakfast.

This was the first engagement between the MILF and Duterte government.

The move comes two weeks after the Armed Forces of the Philippines launched an offensive against the Abu Sayyaf Group that killed at least 40 militants.

In another peace move during his visit to the southern region Thursday, Duterte appealed to Abu Sayyaf to end violence even as troops were confronting its members in Basilan.

The proposed road-map to peace in south will involve all rebel factions in the Bangsamoro Transition Committee including representatives from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and other Islamic rebel factions.

MILF broke away from the MNLF when the latter started negotiating with the Philippine government in the 1970s.

During the two-hour meeting Thursday, Durteza also welcomed the “convergence” of the MILF and MNLF-Sema group in ending the Mindanao conflict.

Durteza said the government is hoping to build on what has already been gained while Murad said the Front will respect all the previous agreements with the government.

The two discussed peace efforts under Duterte. Dureza said the government would abide by all agreements, including the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro.

Duterte thinks a federal form of government can bring peace to Mindanao and he is hoping that the Bangsamoro Transition Committee will become a consultative body covering all Bangsamoro representatives.

But MILF wants the passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law which had failed to get lawmakers’ approval during the past administration.

The basic law seeks the creation of a new autonomous region that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao which was created after the government reached a peace deal with MNLF.

The Philippine government and the MNLF had signed a peace agreement in 1996 but 12 years later, some disgruntled members of the MNLF violated the peace pact by attacking Zamboanga City in 2013 and engaging in a three-week violent battle with about 4,000 Philippine foot soldiers.

As new president, Duterte will be facing an insurgency problem involving five militant groups.  Of them, the Abu Sayyaf Group has at least 400 heavily armed members who are resorting to kidnappings, extortions and killings.

Another rebel group posing threat to the government is the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway faction of the MILF.

Also in the insurgency list is the MNLF which was founded by Professor Nur Misuari who became a fugitive after allegedly ordering the attack on Zamboanga City.
The left leaning New People’s Army (NPA) has become a lesser threat after Duterte inducted its leaders into his cabinet.

During his Basilan visit, Duterte spoke to a gathering of 300 soldiers, policemen and leaders.

Press Undersecretary Peter Lavina said to Asia Times that “He (Duterte) visited our soldiers in both Basilan and Zamboanga City and got a briefing on the campaign against Abu Sayyaf kidnappings in the south-western Philippine seas.”

While the government has deployed thousands of battle-tested marines and seasoned Philippine scout rangers to engage in a firefight with the Abu Sayyaf holding hostages in Basilan, Duterte appealed to the group to end all forms of violence.

He was quoted saying in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “I don’t see anything good coming out of this war. For the sake of our children, we have to stop this war.”

It was Duterte’s first visit to Basilan after he became the President of the Republic.

The military offensives in Basilan has already caused the displacement of 4,000 civilians. Ginanta and Makawa have turned into ghost villages as most residents have fled the area and do not want to return to their homes where armed fighting is still going on.

Duterte is set deliver his first State of the Nations Address on July 25 in Manila.
According to Pulse Asia, Duterte is enjoying 91% trust rating.

Besides fighting militancy, Duterte has promised to end drug menace within six months.

[Noel Tarrazona is a freelance Vancouver-based international journalist but is presently in the Philippines. He is a senior analyst of Wikistrat and can be reached at]

Clerics assume command of BIFF

From the Philippine Star (Jul 22): Clerics assume command of BIFF

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters was established in late 2010 by the late Imam Ameril Umbra Kato. photo

A bloc of clerics on Friday announced they have assumed command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) after unseating leaders loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The spokesman of the mysterious group, Abu Amir, told reporters that Imam Bongos, and his subordinate-commanders, including their spokesman, Abu Misry Mama, have lost ascendancy to lead the BIFF due to their allegiance to ISIS.

Amir on Thursday confirmed to the leading radio outfit in Cotabato City, the Catholic station dxMS and to selected print journalists their takeover of the BIFF leadership through a letter announcing that their revolutionary chieftain now is Imam Minimbang, most known as Ustadz Karialan.

“They are now so identified with ISIS while we are not. We are loyal to the cause of the Moro people and we adhere to the teachings on the Qur’an which we do not circumvent to suit bad interests,” Amir said Friday when asked to elaborate on what caused the change in the BIFF leadership.

Sources from the towns where the BIFF operates, among the barangay officials, said Karialan leads a bigger group of rogue Moro rebels. Many of them were former members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) booted out for infractions of the MILF’s revolutionary policies and criminal offenses.

Like Bongos, Karialan is also wanted for a various criminal offenses, including multiple murder, harassment of civilians, and for mulcting excessive “revolutionary taxes” from peasant families in areas he and his followers roam around.

Misry, touted as “crackpot,” was quick to deny the reported ouster of Bongos, asserting they remain in control of the BIFF.

He said there is a possibility that the military could be behind the issue to drive a wedge between them and Karialan’s group.

The BIFF was established in late 2010 by the late Imam Ameril Umbra Kato, who studied Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia as government scholar during the time of President Ferdinand Marcos.

Kato started as chief of the MILF’s 105th Base Command, but bolted and organized the BIFF due to irreconcilable differences with his superiors.

The BIFF is not covered by the current ceasefire accord between the government and the MILF.