Saturday, August 20, 2016

The US-China Perception Gap in the South China Sea

From The Diplomat (Aug 19): The US-China Perception Gap in the South China Sea (By David J. Firestein)

The United States and China perceive the South China Sea issue in starkly different terms.

The US-China Perception Gap in the South China Sea

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), USS Kidd (DDG 100), and USS Stethem (DDG 63) operate in the South China Sea (July 7, 2014). Image Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Declan Barnes/Released
Over at least the last year, no single issue has dominated the U.S.-China bilateral agenda more than that of the South China Sea (SCS). Though the United States and China have no inherently incompatible official positions on the issue – unlike China, the United States is not a claimant to any territory or water in the South China Sea and takes no position on the merits of the disputed sovereignty issues – the two countries nonetheless have seen bilateral tensions ratchet up markedly as a result of a seemingly inexorable tit-for-tat dynamic. The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA’s) July 12 announcement of its decision on a case brought by the Philippines challenging China’s claims in the South China Sea – a decision in which the PCA sided emphatically with the Philippines, ruling that China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea are without historical basis or legal merit – and China’s principled and categorical rejection the validity of that verdict (and the very process that generated it) have cast into further relief the evident intractability of the South China Sea dispute. While the United States and China have both taken steps in recent weeks seemingly designed to generate at least a modicum of de-escalation, most observers believe that the South China Sea issue will figure prominently on the U.S.-China agenda (as well as on the East Asian and Southeast Asian foreign policy agendas) for years, if not decades, to come; and indeed, some regard the South China Sea as a crucible for possible major international conflict and even world war.

Given that the United States and China have no inherently incompatible claims (as a matter of declared policy) in the South China Sea, a question arises:  on what, precisely, do the two countries disagree? The United States, for its part, has never officially challenged China’s claims, as such, vis-à-vis the five other claimants; from a position of declared neutrality on the merits of the cases, the United States has merely urged China (and the other five claimants) to resolve the existing disputes peacefully and in compliance with international law, so as to maintain peace, stability, and freedom of navigation across a body of water that is a conduit for about $5 trillion in annual international trade, including vital energy flows. China, meanwhile, has repeatedly stated that it has no intention or desire to hamper freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and that it is likewise committed to the peace and stability of the area. More broadly, the United States has made it clear that it welcomes a strong and prosperous China, while China, in turn, has publicly expressed appreciation for the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region and the United States’ unique and vital role in maintaining stability therein.

This evident broad confluence of doctrine and declared positions, however, masks a less harmonious reality: namely, that there exists a substantial and arguably widening gap between the United States and China in the two countries’ strategic perceptions of virtually all facets of the South China Sea issue. These divergent perceptions, as much or more than any specific actions taken or statements issued by the United States and China, seem to account for the issue’s apparent “stuck-ness” in the U.S-China bilateral context. Any meaningful effort to resolve the South China Sea dispute – or perhaps to put it less ambitiously and more realistically, at least to generate a more stable and sustainable stalemate, in lieu of the steadily deteriorating status quo evident in recent months and years – might fruitfully begin with a mapping of divergent U.S. and Chinese strategic perceptions of the various components of the South China Sea issue. This paper, drawing from, among other sources, a number of high-level U.S.-China track 2 convenings organized by the EastWest Institute (EWI) in recent months, seeks to lay out a number of the most notable divergent perceptions.[1]

China’s “Nine-Dash Line”

Perhaps the most fundamental perceptual gap between the United States and China revolves around the actual definition and level of clarity of China’s claims in the South China Sea. From China’s perspective, its claims in the South China Sea – broadly delineated by what China refers to as “the nine-dash line,” which reportedly encompasses about 86 percent of the South China Sea’s entire surface area – are firmly grounded in history and clear-cut to the point of being self-evident and indisputable.

In contrast, the United States (along with many other countries, claimants and non-claimants alike) perceives China’s nine-dash line claim – whatever its historical and legal merits – to be ill-defined and ambiguous. U.S. officials are often unclear, for example, as to what, exactly, the Chinese purport to be claiming: e.g., the entirety of the territory and water within the nine-dash line[2]; all land features within the nine-dash line, plus the maritime swaths that those features command under the terms of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) (e.g., in certain cases, 12-nautical mile territorial seas and 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zones); only the land features but not the adjacent waters; only the UNCLOS-claimable land features, but not certain other land features or waters; or some other configuration of land and/or water. As long as these very basic questions remain unanswered (at least in the mind of one of the two parties, to say nothing of the other claimants), it is hard to imagine the realization of a lasting U.S.-China common understanding on the South China Sea issue writ large.

History vs. Law (UNCLOS)

Another fundamental perceptual rift between the United States and China pertains to the legitimate basis, in principle, of any current sovereignty claim. China takes the view that history is ultimately dispositive and that history trumps contemporary international law in instances in which the two are in conflict. China made that point very clearly when it issued signing statements in 1996 (upon ratifying UNCLOS) and again in 2006, effectively “grandfathering” its own historical territorial and maritime claims where those claims might be viewed by others as being incompatible with the terms of UNCLOS; and, respectively, rejecting key dispute resolution stipulations under UNCLOS.[3]

The United States, though not a ratified party to UNCLOS, nevertheless adheres to its terms as a matter of established U.S. policy dating back to the Reagan presidency; and more fundamentally, the United States generally regards ratified international law (e.g., law to which a country has chosen to be bound – in this case, UNCLOS) as outweighing historical considerations in determining the validity of these types of sovereignty claims. In sum, China sees its claims in the South China Sea as being exempt from full-fledged UNCLOS jurisdiction on the basis of history, while the United States sees the competing claims in the South China Sea as being subject to UNCLOS governance, irrespective of history. This perceptual divide, too, accounts for a substantial amount of the friction between the two countries over this issue.

Intentions, Objectives, and Motivations

There is a deep perceptual divide regarding each country’s strategic intentions, objectives, and motivations. China sees U.S. statements and actions (and in particular, U.S. freedom of navigation operations, or FONOPS, which the Chinese regard as sharply escalatory) as bespeaking a desire on the part of the United States to surround China, to “contain” China, to limit China’s ability to project power in the waters off its southern coast, to bolster U.S. “hegemony” or primacy in the East Asia maritime space, and to tilt to U.S. allies and partners in the region, such as the Philippines.

Though China does not consistently articulate these sentiments and perceptions at the official level, they are not far under the surface and they color Chinese strategic thinking. In sum, China sees U.S. behavior in the South China Sea as being aggressive and designed to thwart China’s ambitions – in essence, the operationalization of the principles of the U.S. “pivot” or rebalancing to Asia, which China views in similarly adversarial terms. China, meanwhile, characterizes its own actions in the South China Sea as entirely benign; for example, Chinese officials explain China’s efforts in the South China Sea as being motivated only by a desire to enhance its humanitarian assistance capacity in the Sea, to advance its scientific and meteorological research, and so on.

Here again, the United States sees the situation entirely differently. The U.S. perceives China’s actions not as benign, but as assertive, even aggressive. In the U.S. view, China, through these assertive actions (e.g., a bold and aggressive land reclamation effort, the militarization earlier this year of at least one of the Spratly Islands China controls, and so on) in the South China Sea, is trying to achieve a number of objectives: to project its growing military power into waters vital to international trade; to bolster and strengthen its claims and ultimate access to the South China Sea’s abundant resources (e.g., fisheries, energy and minerals); to create “strategic depth” in the waters off its southern coast; to intimidate smaller neighbors, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as, to a lesser degree, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan; and to check or at least complicate U.S. efforts to operate militarily in the close-in waters off the coast of southeastern China; among other goals. At the same time, the United States views its own motivations as benign and focused exclusively on twin legitimate policy objectives: to ensure that freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is maintained and to ensure that the SCS disputes are addressed peacefully. The United States forcefully denies that its actions are motivated by any desire to contain China or thwart its ambitions; it also rejects the idea that the United States is doing anything qualitatively new in the South China Sea (e.g., the United States has always undertaken FONOPS in this body of water).

Who is the Instigator in the South China Sea?

There is a major perceptual disconnect between the United States and China over the question of just who is provoking whom – that is, who is playing the instigating role? Here, the two countries look at (largely) the same set of facts, but see them in utterly different ways. China believes that it is the United States, not China, that has upset the precarious balance (basically, the mostly “stable stalemate” that has obtained for some decades, up until recent years) with new, irresponsible, provocative and destabilizing pronouncements and actions. As examples, the Chinese often point to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2010 statement that “the United States, like every nation, has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea” (emphasis added); and, more recently, U.S. freedom of navigation operations which have brought U.S. naval vessels into waters claimed by China as territorial (e.g., within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-claimed sovereign territory). Chinese interlocutors thus lay responsibility for recent SCS-related bilateral tensions virtually entirely at the feet of the United States (as well as other players, such as the Philippines and Vietnam; more on this below). In contrast, China views its own actions as benign and largely consistent with recent past practice.

The United States has a diametrically opposed view. U.S. officials have stated that U.S. pronouncements and actions have been in direct response to, and indeed proportionate to, Chinese policy departures and provocations and that the United States, not China, has been in reactive mode. They point to actions such as (but not limited to) China’s placement in 2014 of an oil rig (accompanied by a sizable armada of ships, including military vessels) in disputed waters off the coast of Vietnam and, of course, China’s massive land reclamation efforts on, and even recent apparent militarization of, land features within the Spratly Island archipelago; they also point to what they regard as dangerous Chinese maneuvers in the air and on the sea that have created some very close calls and near collisions. In short, each side firmly believes that the other side has been the instigator of recent tensions; both the United States and China believe they have been reacting to the provocations of the other side.

The Role of the Philippines and Vietnam

China and the United States have similarly sharply divergent perspectives on the roles of the Philippines and Vietnam in recent South China Sea developments. China views both countries as instigators and “trouble-makers” in the South China Sea. It portrays both countries as the real aggressors – the countries that have been most active in altering and upsetting the status quo to their advantage, all while China has demonstrated great restraint in the face of their provocations. China characterizes the Philippines and Vietnam as irresponsible, reckless, and manipulative; and it characterizes its own recent actions (such as its land reclamation efforts) as a late effort to “catch up” with similar efforts made years ago by these two countries.

With respect to the relationships of these two countries with the United States, Chinese interlocutors frequently invoke the “tail wagging the dog” metaphor, meaning that smaller and weaker players are managing to influence the choices and behavior of the much larger and more powerful United States (an ally of the Philippines and increasingly important partner – and indeed military partner – of Vietnam). By the same token, China sees the United States as being manipulated by these countries and critiques the United States for over-emphasizing its relationships with these two relatively inconsequential countries (in China’s view) at the expense of the U.S. relationship with the much more important regional and world player, China. At times, Chinese speculate that the United States is either wittingly or unwittingly egging on the Philippines and Vietnam, giving these two nations greater confidence to undertake irresponsible and provocative actions in the South China Sea, thereby fueling tensions.

The U.S. perspective on the Philippines and Vietnam is quite different. The United States views its ally (the Philippines) and emerging partner (Vietnam) less as provocateurs and more as SCS claimants that have been bullied by a much larger and more powerful neighbor and fellow claimant (China). The United States recognizes that both countries have reclaimed land in the South China Sea and even militarized islands, but it sees the scope of the Chinese efforts in these regards as far eclipsing, by orders of magnitude, that of the earlier Filipino and Vietnamese efforts. The United States sees China, and not the Philippines or Vietnam, as the principal destabilizing force in the South China Sea in recent years. Moreover, the United States regards itself as having been a force for restraint in the region, not an enabler, as the Chinese sometimes posit, of irresponsible and reckless actions on the part of the Philippines and Vietnam. Finally, the United States perceives that it is possible to have robust relationships with these two countries at the same time as the United States engages China in a substantial and productive way; it rejects the “zero-sum”/“either-or” framing implicit in China’s assessment of the geopolitics of the South China Sea.

The July 12 Ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration

There is a yawning rift between the United States’ and China’s perceptions of and positions on the recent (July 12) ruling of the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration. As noted above, the ruling thoroughly repudiated China’s long-held legal claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea and awarded the Philippines, which brought the case in 2013 after the Chinese navy seized control of the Scarborough Shoal off the coast of the Philippines, an important, if effectively only symbolic, victory. China’s key views and perceptions of the PCA case are that the Philippines were not within their rights to bring the case in the first place; the PCA had no proper jurisdiction over the issues at hand; and the PCA’s July 12 decision is “null and void and [of] no binding force” owing to what China regarded as the illegitimacy of the process (as distinct from merely the content of the verdict[4]).

The United States perceived the case very differently in all of these regards. Though itself pointedly neutral on the merits of the various SCS sovereignty claims, as noted above, the United States regarded the Philippines as being within its rights to bring the case and regarded the PCA as having due jurisdiction over the matters raised in the case. Moreover, the United States perceived the PCA award as valid and legitimate, stating on July 12 (through a press briefing at the U.S. Department of State), “it is a legally binding tribunal decision, and our expectation was before it was made and is now after it’s made that all claimants are going to abide by it.” (It should be noted, however, that the United States, for its part, does not have a pristine record of complying with similar decisions.)


Clearly, the United States and China perceive the South China Sea issue in starkly different terms. The two countries are looking at largely the same set of facts – and, at times, seemingly different sets of facts, as well – through very different perceptual lenses.  Where Beijing sees restraint and magnanimity on its part, Washington sees aggression and bullying; where Washington sees consistent adherence to established policy on its part, Beijing sees a major and destabilizing departure from the earlier U.S. posture; and so on. This perception gap is exacerbating, and in some cases causing, tensions between two countries whose more fundamental national security interests, at least as officially declared, are not actually in inherent or direct conflict in the South China Sea.

Recent confidence-building measures undertaken by both the United States and China are certainly welcome and represent positive steps in the right direction. But a more enduring resolution of the South China Sea disputes – and more specifically, a more lasting mitigation of the SCS issue’s deleterious impact on the overall U.S.-China relationship – needs to be predicated on each side recognizing that a big part of the problem are the divergent strategic perceptions on both sides, not just certain actual actions. After all, the same action can appear very differently depending on the perceptual lens applied.

The United States-China relationship is too consequential to be unduly bogged down in any one issue – especially when that issue is one on which the two nations’ declared interests are generally in accord. With the PCA decision behind us and some modest efforts now being made by the United States and China to de-escalate tensions, now is the time for the two countries to explore more deeply and critically their mutual strategic perceptions – and recommit to finding a positive way forward on a vitally important issue that need not be in the future the U.S.-China trust-drainer that it has been in the recent past.

[David J. Firestein, a former career U.S. diplomat, is the Perot Fellow and Senior Vice President for Strategic Trust-Building and Track 2 Diplomacy at the EastWest Institute.]

[1] In the course of our convenings and consultations, we met with active-duty and retired military officers at the level of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and Chinese Central Military Commission, as well as a wide variety of former combatant commanders; we also met with foreign policy and other government officials, key legislators, think tank analysts and academics, public opinion pollsters, members of the media and other stakeholders.
[2] If, in fact, China is making this most expansive of the possible claims, then it would not be accurate to say that U.S. and Chinese interests in the South China Sea are not inherently incompatible; but China has never made this claim officially and it does not appear to be China’s official stance.
[3] It should be noted, however, that China is not unique in issuing this kind of signing statement.
[4] In fairness to China, it stated from the outset its principled objection to the Filipino legal action – long before there was a verdict in either direction. In other words, China’s objection – whatever its merits – is process-oriented, not content-oriented (though, with that being said, China certainly disagrees with the substance of the verdict, as well).

Full steam -- If long-standing tensions ease in the South China Sea, China will ensure they rise elsewhere

From Banyan in the Economist (Aug 20): Full steam -- If long-standing tensions ease in the South China Sea, China will ensure they rise elsewhere


WITH all respect to the endearing Fu Yuanhui, the Olympic swimmer whose goofy post-race interviews have made her a global star, the Chinese are creatures of the land, not the water. On the beaches of Sanya on the southern island of Hainan, China’s new Hawaii, crowds of holidaymakers in tropical shirts dabble awkwardly at the water’s edge; few actually plunge into the sea. In the Sanya market a fishmonger explains a national aversion to deep water more bluntly: the Chinese, she says, simply don’t have sea legs. Refusing to go afloat herself, she buys her fish from the boat people living in the harbour, an ethnic subgroup whose generations have come into the world afloat and gone out the same way. Tanka, as these people are called in southern China, have historically faced discrimination. Even the name, “egg people”, has the force of an insult in Chinese (they call themselves “on-the-water people”).

So it is striking how large water now looms in China’s diplomatic calculations and in the region’s geopolitics, nowhere more so than in the South China Sea that Sanya looks out on. It is there that the gunboat diplomacy which China has employed in recent years to back expansive maritime claims has stirred nervousness among South-East Asian neighbours—and created fears of a collision with America.

Sanya is part of the story. An expanding deepwater naval base there is intended to project China’s power far into the South China Sea and to support a new archipelago of artificial islands that China has built on reefs and atolls a long way from Chinese shores. Three of these bases in the Spratly islands have military-length runways, and recent satellite pictures show the construction of concrete bunkers, presumably for fighter jets. Back in Sanya, a base for nuclear submarines cuts into the mountainside. Even Hainan’s lowly fishermen play a part. Formed into waterborne “people’s militias”, their vessels have grabbed fishing grounds far from home by chasing off their counterparts from neighbouring countries, such as the Philippines and Vietnam.
Last month an international tribunal in The Hague issued a ruling in a case brought by the Philippines that challenged, among other things, China’s “indisputable historical claim” in the South China Sea. In a damning rebuke, the tribunal dismissed China’s assertion of sovereignty over a vast area within a “nine-dash” line that encompasses nearly all of the sea.

China reacted with fury. The nine-dash line has long been a matter of national pride. A recent letter to The Economist from the foreign ministry asserts that there are “ample historical documents and literature” to show that China was “the first country to discover, name, develop and exercise continuous and effective jurisdiction over the South China Sea islands”. Bunkum. As Bill Hayton points out in his book, “The South China Sea”, the first Chinese official ever to set foot on one of the Spratlys was a Nationalist naval officer in 1946, the year after Japan’s defeat and loss of control of the sea; he did so from an American ship crewed by Chinese sailors trained in Miami. As for the story of the nine-dash line, it begins only a decade earlier with a Chinese government naming commission. China was not the first to name the islands; the commission borrowed and translated wholesale from British charts and pilots.

Yet no Chinese official could ever admit this. The nine-dash line has for decades graced maps of China in every schoolroom in the land—part of what one academic has described as a cartography of humiliation: a narrative about what China lost in the past to imperialist depredations and what it rightly owns today.

So what happens next? To some, laying bare China’s claims will only raise the stakes. When a Singaporean author and former diplomat, Kishore Mahbubani, predicted earlier this month that tensions would not lead to military conflict between China and America, the auditorium broke into applause—as much for the boldness of his assertion as in the hope that he may be right. Some predict that China will take advantage of what is left of Barack Obama’s presidency to start building on the disputed Scarborough Shoal, from which Chinese ships dislodged the Philippine navy in 2012. America has suggested that such a move would constitute a red line. But, fairly or not, Mr Obama does not have the reputation of an energetic enforcer of red lines.

China will not necessarily act provocatively. Challenging America, backed as it is by much of South-East Asia, carries risks. Besides, despite its legal setback, China’s military position in the South China Sea is stronger than ever—even without a base on Scarborough Shoal. The trip to Hong Kong last week of a former president of the Philippines, Fidel Ramos, to meet senior Chinese officials and try to improve roiled relations, had the air of a vassal’s visit. The imperial power could now be magnanimous, allowing Philippine fishermen to fish where they always have.

There are other seas full of fish
A pause, perhaps, but far from the end of the matter. Indeed, even if tensions ease in the South China Sea, they are rising again in the East China Sea, around the Senkaku islands which Japan controls but which China claims (and calls the Diaoyu). In recent weeks, fleets of Chinese fishing boats have crowded into the waters around the uninhabited islands, backed by Chinese fisheries-protection vessels, part of the coastguard. The incursions are the most intense since China began challenging Japan for control of the islands four years ago. Japan has protested at both the onslaught and a military radar found on a nearby Chinese oil rig.

China’s latest actions may be to please a nationalistic audience back home. They may be to warn a new, right-wing cabinet in Japan against visiting Tokyo’s militaristic Yasukuni shrine around the anniversary of the end of the second world war. (No member has.) Or they may simply be to show who calls the tune in East Asia these days—now it’s Japan’s turn to dance.

Trillanes refiles bill to give addt'l benefits to AFP, PNP

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 21): Trillanes refiles bill to give addt'l benefits to AFP, PNP

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV refiled a bill providing additional insurance coverage and benefits to all members of the uniformed services to further support them in case of untoward incidents.

Under Senate Bill No. 284, uniformed personnel will be provided with additional PHP250,000 death and disability benefits, and up to PHP100,000 benefits for reimbursement of medical expenses.

These include those in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, Bureau of Fire Protection, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, National Bureau of Investigation, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and Philippine Coast Guard, who are killed, wounded or injured in line of duty.

Trillanes said that currently, military and police personnel are covered by the Special Group Term Insurance of only PHP16,000 for natural deaths and PHP32,000 for those Killed-in-Action plus PHP1,000 burial benefit.

The former Navy officer further said that these amounts were last amended last March 2000 and are no longer sufficient to cover their financial and medical needs considering the risks they face in the course of their work.

"We demand so much from our uniformed personnel: from preserving internal peace and security, particularly in the intensified anti-drug and anti-crime campaign of the government, to rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts during times of calamity and crisis,” Trillanes said.

“It is only fair that we assure our uniformed personnel and their families, through this measure, that the government is ready to support them in case something untoward happens," he added.

EMC suspends military operations vs. rebels in wake of ceasefire

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 21): EMC suspends military operations vs. rebels in wake of ceasefire

The Davao City-based Eastern Mindanao Command (EMC) has directed all its units to suspend its military operations against rebel forces in wake of the unilateral ceasefire order by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte effective Sunday.

"Along with the expectation of peace loving community, EMC is hopeful that this restoration of Ceasefire by the President will be matched with the same sincerity by the other party, so that the sense of security, stability and progress will be enjoyed by our people," EMC public affairs office chief Major Ezra Balagtey said.

He also assures the public that ceasefire guidelines will be followed by to the letter.

"The Declaration of Restoration of Ceasefire by the President and Commander-in-Chief (CinC) Rodrigo Duterte that takes effect midnight of 20 August 2016, and his clear instructions for the AFP to restore its erstwhile operational guidelines will be communicated forthwith to all AFP units on the ground by all means possible as we speak," AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said earlier.

Last Friday, the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army (NPA) declared a seven-day unilateral ceasefire hours after the release of its high-ranking leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, who were named consultants to peace talks scheduled Aug. 22 to 26 in Oslo, Norway.

The rebel ceasefire will take effect 12:01 a.m. of Aug. 21 until 11:59 p.m. of Aug. 27.

President Duterte, in his first State-of-the-Nation Address last July 25, declared a unilateral ceasefire against the rebels as a sign of goodwill.

But he was forced to lift it five days later after unprovoked NPA attacks against militiamen in Compostela Valley killed one and wounded four others last July 27 and failure of the rebels to declare their own version of the government ceasefire.

1 soldier killed, 2 hurt in attack on Aurora mayor’s caravan

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 20): 1 soldier killed, 2 hurt in attack on Aurora mayor’s caravan

Armed men attacked military escorts of a humanitarian mission led by Dingalan town Mayor Sherwin Taay in Aurora province on Friday morning, killing a soldier and wounding two others.

Taay on Saturday said he may not have been the target of the gunmen, who fired at the last boat of an 11-boat caravan that sailed through the Umiray river to bring medical services to the sub-village of Sinagawan in Umiray village.

The attack killed Pfc Reggie Aron, and injured a Sgt. Rosario and 2Lt. Ghelyn Batomalaque, leader of the escort team from the Charlie Company of the 56th Infantry Battalion, the mayor said.

The caravan was composed of doctors, volunteers and government employees, Taay said.

Taay said he was on one of the 10 motor boats which docked on the shore before 8 a.m., bringing medicine and school supplies to the Sinagawan Elementary School.

“We were halfway with the program when we heard the shots at 8:30 p.m.,” he said in a telephone interview.

The last boat was composed of seven soldiers and a local resident who was piloting the boat, at a portion of the river near the border of Quezon province.

“We did not even know we had a last boat trailing the caravan until we were told it carried some of the military escort team,” Taay said. The last boat was 10 minutes away from the shore when the gunmen fired at the first three soldiers at the front of the boat, he said.

The mayor’s team proceeded with its medical mission but had shortened the activity, to enable the employees and volunteers to head back to the town center, after an augmentation team from the Army and the police secured the area.

Phil. Army's 7ID chief orders hot pursuit ops vs rebels

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 21): Phil. Army's 7ID chief orders hot pursuit ops vs rebels

FORT RAMON MAGSAYSAY, Palayan City -- Major Gen. Angelito de Leon, commander of the Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Division (7ID) has ordered a hot pursuit operation against New People’s Army (NPA) rebels who allegedly ambushed a group of municipal employees and military personnel who were on their way to a gift-giving activity in Sitio Sinagawan, Barangay Umiray, Dingalan, Aurora Friday that resulted to the killing of a soldier and wounding of two others.

Capt. Ronel Rabot, acting chief of 7ID information office, said that De Leon issued the order as the goods that were supposed to be delivered to Sinagawan Elementary School ended up lost at sea due to alleged NPA rebels attack.

Rabot said that soldiers from the Charlie Company of the 56th Infantry Battalion, 7ID, led by 2Lt. Ghelyn Batomalaque provided security assistance to employees of Dingalan municipal government headed by Mayor Sherwin Taay for the said gift-giving activity.

While aboard two motorboats, the group was fired upon by an undetermined number of NPA as they neared the docking area, Rabot reported.

He added that “while the troops valiantly defended their group, the panicked actions of the civilians on board caused the boat to capsize.”

The command would not immediately release the names of the fatality as well as wounded soldiers.The military believe the rebels might also have suffered casualties.

De Leon, in his order, asked the military “to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

He condemned the assault “that does not even consider the safety of the civilians.”

3 'Isis' sympathizers killed in Sarangani clash

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Aug 21): 3 'Isis' sympathizers killed in Sarangani clash

Three suspected members of an armed group sympathetic to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) were killed in an encounter with police operatives in the outskirts of Maasim town in Sarangani Province on Saturday afternoon.

Supt. Romeo Galgo Jr., public information officer of the Police Regional Office in Soccsksargen (PRO-12), said the three still unidentified suspects were allegedly members of the Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines, a local armed group that earlier pledged support to the Isis.

He said the encounter ensued after operatives from the police Special Action Force (SAF) caught up with the group around 5:00 p.m. at a portion of Upper Sitio Lebe, Barangay Daliao in Maasim.

Recovered at the site were a carbine rifle, an M-79 grenade launcher, a rifle scope, a black flag bearing an Isis logo and an empty shell of an M-203 rifle grenade.

“This is part of our ongoing intensified operations against the Ansar Al-Khilafah, especially against its leader Mohammad Jaafar S. Maguid alias Tokboy,” Galgo said in a statement.

The police official said early Saturday that joint Army and police operatives arrested near the site an alleged member of the group identified as Mustapha Gansing.

He said the suspect was nabbed at 4:30 a.m. in a house owned by a certain Kupang Sahak.

Seized from the suspect were an Uzi machine pistol, a tee-shirt with an ISIS logo, suspected bomb-making components and a set of camouflage.

Galgo said the regional police initially deployed police teams to the area on Friday evening as part of the operation.

He said the operating units were composed of elements from the SAF, Sarangani Police Public Safety Company, Regional Public Safety Battalion-12 and the Sarangani Police Provincial Office.

They were backed by troops from the light reaction company of the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion.

Galgo said the clearing operations in the area are still ongoing, as of Sunday morning. “All operating elements are still in the area and on alert,” he said.

NPA rebels attack soldiers, civilians carrying relief goods; 1 dead, 2 wounded

From the Manila Bulletin (Aug 20): NPA rebels attack soldiers, civilians carrying relief goods; 1 dead, 2 wounded

CAMP AQUINO, Tarlac City — Local officials and army soldiers decried the attack on civilians and government forces who were carrying relief operations in Aurora but were allegedly ambushed by suspected NPA rebels, killing one soldier and wounding two others.

“The excitement of the local children at Singawan Elementary School in receiving their gifts turned trauma from a terrifying NPA ambush,” said the Army in a statement sent to newsmen.

On August 19, 2016 at about 10 o’clock in the morning, the army claimed that while the Charlie Company, 56th Infantry Battalion, 7th Infantry (KAUGNAY) Division, Philippine Army and the Local Government Unit of Dingalan, Aurora were on their way to deliver the relief goods to the children of Sitio Singawan Elementary School, Barangay Umiray, Dingalan town, Aurora aboard two motorboats, an undetermined number of NPA rebels suddenly attacked and fired on the said motorboats.

At this juncture, the civilians got panicked causing the boat to capsize. The security troops led by 2nd Lt. Ghelyn Batomalaque, valiantly defended and secured their group and traded shots with the rebels.

However, one soldier was killed and two others were wounded from the government side.

Casualties within the NPA ranks remain to be determined.

Soldier killed, 2 wounded in rebel assault in Aurora

From the Manila Times (Aug 20): Soldier killed, 2 wounded in rebel assault in Aurora

A soldier was killed and two others were wounded after suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels ambushed government troops delivering goods for the gift-giving activity to school children in Sitio Singawan, Barangay Umiray in Dingalan town of Aurora Province on Friday.

Report by Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Division (ID) said the ambushed troops belong to the Charlie Company of the 56th Infantry Battalion, led by 2Lt Ghelyn Batomalaque.

However, the report did not mention the names of the wounded and killed soldier pending notification of their families.

The victims were aboard two motorboats when fired upon by undetermined number of NPA as they neared the docking area.

While the troops defended their group, the panicked actions of the civilians on board caused the boat to capsize.

It added that unknown numbers of rebels were reportedly wounded in the said incident.

SAF men kill 3 alleged ISIS supporters in Sarangani

From GMA News (Aug 20): SAF men kill 3 alleged ISIS supporters in Sarangani

Police killed three suspected members of a group supporting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in an encounter in Sarangani Province, Saturday afternoon.

Superintendent Romeo Galgo Jr., chief of the Police Regional Office 12's public information office, said the three still unidentified suspects were members of Ansar al Khilafah Philippines.

The Ansar al Khilafah Philippines had been tagged by the military as a new terror group, which had been allegedly trying to recruit students.

Galgo said the encounter between members of the local terror group and the police elite Special Action Force (SAF) broke out at around 5 p.m. in Upper Sitio Lebe, Barangay Dalian in Maasim town.

He said the police commandos main target in the area was a certain Mohammad Jaafar Magud alias Tokboy, the alleged leader of the group.

Seized at the site of the encounter were one Carbine rifle, an M79 grenade launcher, one rifle scope and a black flag with the ISIS logo.

The police official said the bodies of the three suspects were still at the site of the encounter as of posting time.

Before the clash, policemen arrested earlier in the day another alleged member of the group identified as Mustapha Gansing.

Seized from Gansing were several manuals and materials for bomb-making, a T-shirt with an ISIS logo and a camouflage uniform.

The site of the encounter has been cordoned off by members of the SAF and the Philippine Army's 27th Infantry Battalion.

Exiled Reds prepare for arrival of comrades

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 21): Exiled Reds prepare for arrival of comrades

A party awaits newly released communist leaders in The Netherlands when they arrive for the resumption of peace talks with the government.

Luis Jalandoni, chair of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace panel, said leaders of the communist movement based in The Netherlands were looking forward to a reunion after the government allowed detained communist leaders to be released so they could participate in the negotiations as consultants.

“We will welcome them with Filipino food, sharing of stories, singing,” Jalandoni told the Inquirer in a Facebook chat on Wednesday.

“But we have to prepare for the talks. In Oslo, we are reserving time to [consult] with them [during] the first days [of negotiations],” he said.

Consuelo “Coni” Ledesma, Jalandoni’s wife, said they were looking forward to the reunion outside of prison walls.

“There will be lots of storytelling, reminiscing not only among women [in the group], but with all them,” she said in the same online chat.

Top leaders like Jalandoni and Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison are based in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Weeklong talks

The stalled peace negotiations will resume in Oslo, Norway, tomorrow and end on Friday.

Jalandoni said they expected the group of former political detainees to arrive in Oslo today. The Norwegian government is brokering the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the NDFP.

The members of the group, most of them leaders of the CPP and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), will be serving as “peace consultants” to the NDFP in another attempt to end the more than 40-year communist insurgency in the Philippines.

Ledesma said she was excited to reunite with their comrades, most of them she knew personally, like Wilma Tiamzon.

“We were together at the Ipil detention center (in Fort Bonifacio) during martial law,” she said.

Tiamzon and her husband, Benito, were released on Friday and given passports so they could travel to Europe and take part in the peace negotiations.

Late on Friday, the CPP declared a weeklong unilateral ceasefire to encourage the talks, and urged the government to reciprocate with a similar truce “as a show of all-out determination to move forward with peace negotiations.”

The CPP-NPA ceasefire will take effect after midnight today. It will end at midnight on Saturday.

The government responded yesterday, restoring a unilateral truce declared by President Duterte on July 25 but lifted five days later after the NPA killed a militiaman in an ambush and the CPP failed to reciprocate with a similar ceasefire declaration.

The government ceasefire “will last as long as necessary” to encourage the negotiators to push for success, according to Mr. Duterte’s peace adviser, Jesus Dureza.

Ledesma also recalled her meeting with Maria Concepcion Araneta-Bocala during the failed peace talks 1986-87.

“There are lots of stories that I’ve heard about her. She is very famous in Western Visayas,” Ledesma said.

Bocala, 65, is CPP secretary on Panay Island. She was released from detention on Wednesday after a local court granted her petition for bail. She will join the reciprocal panel on socioeconomic issues.

Filipino ‘hosts’

Ledesma said they were busy looking for Filipino families in The Netherlands and in Norway who could accommodate the peace consultants for the duration of the talks.

“Our first task is the assignment of houses where they will stay. With their number, we need to request more families to serve as their hosts,” she said.

Jalandoni said a bigger welcome and “solidarity celebration,” hosted by their Filipino and Dutch friends, would be held in Utrecht after the talks.

He said they would also arrange visits to various sites in Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris for their visitors.

The NDFP has been engaged in on-and-off negotiations with the government in the past 27 years.

Peace talks between the insurgents and the government had failed largely due to the insurgents’ insistence on the release of jailed communist leaders.

According to the human rights group Karapatan, at least 11 political prisoners and NDFP consultants have been freed ahead of the resumption of the talks.

Among them are Bocala and Tirso “Ka Bart” Alcantara, who leads the NPA in Southern Tagalog and a member of the CPP Central Committee.

22 consultants

The communist insurgents want 22 NDFP consultants to be released so they can participate in the negotiations.

During a meeting with NDFP leaders in Malacañang on Monday, President Duterte promised to work for the release of the NDFP consultants.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, government peace panel chair, said Mr. Duterte had also instructed the Bureau of Immigration and the Department of Foreign Affairs to process the documents of the consultants so they could travel to Oslo.

Sison acknowledged the President’s help in the release of NDFP consultants protected by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees.

“Once more, I am grateful to President Duterte for his good acts to move forward the peace negotiations between his government and the NDFP,” Sison told the Inquirer in an online chat on Tuesday.

Govt declares ceasefire anew

From The Standard (Aug 21): Govt declares ceasefire anew

THE Duterte administration again declared an indefinite ceasefire with the communist insurgent movement on Saturday, a day after the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army declared a seven-day truce on Friday.

“The duration of the ceasefire will last for as long as necessary to bring peace in the land and also in order to provide an enabling environment for the success of the peace negotiations that will start in Oslo, Norway on July 22,” said Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza.

Dureza announced the ceasefire, which took effect midnight Saturday, at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport where he called a press briefing before departing for the Oslo peace talks with the communist National Democratic Front.

The NDF, for its part, also announced on Saturday the NPA would release more “prisoners of war” as another goodwill measure after five NPA captives were freed in Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur.
AGREE TO PEACE. Young supporters of the communist movement marched on Claro M. Recto Avenue in Manila on Saturday to express support to the peace talks that will start in Oslo, Norway Tuesday. Danny Pata
 “We congratulate the custodial forces of the New People’s Army’s Front Operational Command 30 and 16 who continue to successfully ensure the safety of the POW’s,” the NDF said in a statement Saturday.

“Their release signifies the revolutionary movement’s serious intent in pursuing peace talks between the NDF and the government and as a gesture of goodwill for the resumption of formal talks in Oslo,” the communist rebels added.

PO1 Richard Vaz Yu of the PNP in Carmen, Surigao del Sur were abducted by the NDF’s armed wing, the New People’s Army in Brgy. San Vicente based on reports of his involvement in the proliferation of illegal drugs in the municipality.

Four other policemen, PO2 Caleb Sinaca, PO3 Jayroll Bagayas and Rodrigo Angob of the Malimono Municipal Police Station and SPO3 Santiago Lamanilao of the Surigao City Police Office were abducted in Surigao del Norte were arrested in Brgy. Cagtinae in Malimono town.

But the ceasefire was called after the the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group arrested a ranking CPP in Cebu. The rebel leader was identified as Amelia Pond, alias Adelfa Toledo, considered a high-value target.

Pond was arrested at 1:30 p.m. on August 19 in Barangay Luz, Cebu City “on the strength of warrant of arrest for double murder and frustrated murder,” said Senior Supt. Marlon Tayaba of the CIDG-Region 7 who led the arrest.

The CIDG said Pond is allegedly a member of the Executive Committee of Southern Mindanao Regional Committee, Komisyon Mindanao of the NPA.

“Our citizens deserve no less. They wish to live peaceful lives bereft of the costs and tragic consequences of conflict and violence. The enabling environment brought about by this silencing of the guns will hopefully go a long way in bringing about an expeditious and early resolution to our differences and aspirations that have long divided us as a people,” Dureza said.

“As we all know, in full support for the orderly and effective conduct of the peace negotiations, President Duterte has caused the unprecedented release from detention of 20 prisoners who are needed in the peace negotiations. As we speak, there is continuing effort to make available in the Oslo peace talks resumption as many of them as possible,” he said. “I say again... the Duterte government will walk the extra mile for peace.”

DND backs latest ceasefire declaration with rebels

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 21): DND backs latest ceasefire declaration with rebels

The Department of National Defense (DND) strongly supports President Rodrigo Roa Duterte's declaration of a unilateral ceasefire with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

"The DND has anticipated and fully supports the restoration of the unilateral ceasefire with the CPP-NPA-NDF declared by President Rodrigo Duterte. This declaration, which will take effect on 21 August 2016, is a manifestation of the government’s effort to pursue binding peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF," DND public affairs office chief Arsenio Andolong said.

"With the progress we have made and the work we still have to do, we look forward to put an end to the insurgency problem that has claimed tens of thousands of lives—not just from the ranks of the communist guerrillas and the government defenders but also innocent lives of civilian non-combatants who are caught in the middle," he added.

Andolong said the DND also welcomes the ceasefire declaration of the CPP-NPA-NDF and views this move as a manifestation of their goodwill in response to the government’s determined and sincere efforts to bring about just and lasting peace in the land.

On Friday, the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army (NPA) declared a seven-day unilateral ceasefire hours after the release of its high-ranking leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, who were named consultants to peace talks scheduled Aug. 22 to 26 in Oslo, Norway.

The rebel ceasefire will take effect 12:01 a.m. on Sunday until 11:59 p.m., Aug. 27.

We fully support the peace initiatives of the government, and we will direct the immediate implementation of the ceasefire declaration. Our troops will continue performing their constitutional duties to protect our communities, secure our sovereignty and preserve the territorial integrity of our Republic. The ceasefire is not applicable to lawless armed groups," Andolong stressed.

4 rebels killed, high-powered arms seized in Agusan Del Sur clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 21): 4 rebels killed, high-powered arms seized in Agusan Del Sur clash

Four New People's Army (NPA) rebels were killed and five high-powered firearms were seized during a clash with the troops of the 26th Infantry Battalion in San Luis town, Agusan Del Sur Saturday morning.

The encounter took place at 7:50 a.m. in Sitio Kihingay, Barangay San Pedro where government troops were responding to reports that around 30 NPAs, under one Commander Antoy of Guerilla Front 88, were extorting food and other provisions from the residents.

The same NPA group had accepted responsibility earlier for the massacre of the Bucalas family in Zilovia of Talacogon in May this year where a pregnant family member was among those killed.

In the ensuing clash, four rebels were killed while three AK-47s, two M-16 rifles, two ICOM radios, 20 bag packs and subversive documents were recovered.

No one was reported killed nor hurt in the government side. All the odies of the slain rebels were recovered.

Col. Cristobal N. Zaragoza, 401st Infantry Brigade commander, ordered the operating troops to conduct pursuit operations and continue scouring the encounter area for the treatment of possible wounded NPAs.

Why has Duterte visited 14 military camps in less than a month?

From Rappler (Aug 20): Why has Duterte visited 14 military camps in less than a month?

Is it just to boost troops' morale? Is he appeasing the military as he releases communist rebels? Duterte's camp visits may be more than meets the eye.


In the past month, the public was more likely to see President Rodrigo Duterte in a collared shirt flanked by men in camouflage than in a barong accompanied by Cabinet secretaries.

Anyone who has watched his recent public speeches live will notice that most of them were given in the presence of soldiers, inside the covered court of a military camp.
From July 21 to August 12, or in less than a month, the President has visited no less than 14 military camps across Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
Here is a complete list of these camps with the dates of his visit:
  • Camp Teodulfo Bautista in Jolo, Sulu (August 12)
  • Camp Major Cesar Sang-an (1st Infantry Division or Tabak Division) in Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur (August 10)
  • Camp Edilberto Evangelista in Cagayan de Oro City (August 9)
  • Camp Lukban in Catbalogan, Samar (August 8)
  • Camp Panacan, Davao City (August 6)
  • Camp Lapu-Labu in Cebu City (August 5)
  • Camp General Macario Peralta in Jamindan, Capiz (August 5)
  • Camp Victoriano Luna or AFP Medical Center in Quezon City (August 2)
  • 60th Infantry Battalion headquarters in Asuncion, Davao del Norte (July 29)
  • Camp Guillermo Nakar in Lucena City, Quezon (July 28)
  • Fort Magsaysay in Palayan City, Nueva Ecija (July 26)
  • Camp Siongco in Awang Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao (July 22 and August 18)
  • Western Mindanao Command headquarters in Zamboanga City (July 21)
  • 104th Infantry Battalion in Isabela City, Basilan (July 21)
No other president has dropped in on so many military camps in his first weeks in power.
In a previous article, written after his visit to 6 camps, I wrote about what he did and said during these visits.
The core of these trips were his speeches, delivered in front of hundreds of soldiers – from scout rangers to navy officers to army medical staff. Without fail, he would mention his promise to double their salaries, provide them with health facilities and emergency medical attention, and even give their children scholarships should they die in battle.
'CARING COMMANDER.' President Rodrigo Duterte talks to a soldier being treated at the AFP Medical Center on Tuesday, August 2, 2016. Photo by Robinson Ninal/PPD
'CARING COMMANDER.' President Rodrigo Duterte talks to a soldier being treated at the AFP Medical Center on Tuesday, August 2, 2016. Photo by Robinson Ninal/PPD
He promised to give them all the equipment they need and to swell their ranks with 20,000 more soldiers.
In his bid for their loyalty, he vowed to defend them from all criminal charges and lawsuits. His speeches masterfully wove in the official with the personal as he addressed them both as their commander-in-chief and their caring, doting father.

It builds up troops’ confidence…The morale is high, there is so much hope.    – Senator Gringo Honasan

This was indeed how he came across to some of the soldiers.
Para ‘yang isang ama na bumisita sa mga anak, kinamusta ang kalagayan nila. ‘Anong kailangan mo? Paano mo mapapabuti ang gusto mong gawin?’ Sino ba naman ‘yung anak na hindi matutuwa sa ganoon?” Major Filemon Tan of the Western Mindanao Command based in Zamboanga City told me. (He is like a father who visited his children and asked about their condition. ‘What do you need? How can I help you do what you want?’ What child will not appreciate that?)
Sergeant Joecery Dukha of the Scouth Rangers in Camp Bautista in Sulu said Duterte’s promise of a salary hike was one of the most memorable parts of his speech.
Medyo kuwan talaga, medyo mahirap-hirap din, medyo kulang din. Siyempre malaking tulong ‘yun sa amin,” he said. (It’s quite difficult because the salary is insufficient. Of course, the salary increase would be a big help to us.)
Duterte rarely arrived on time for these camp visits. For his August 2 visit to the AFP Medical Center, for instance, soldiers waited 7 hours for him.
But some soldiers apparently didn’t mind.
“Worth the wait. Masaya. Kahit 7 hours kami naghantay, masaya (Worth the wait. Even if we waited for 7 hours, we’re still happy),” said Staff Sergeant Ane Canales.
Staff Sergeant Gay Vergara said Duterte’s speech made her feel appreciated as a soldier.
Nagustuhan ko ‘yung sisiguradihun niyang mararating sa amin kung ano dapat para sa amin. Parang naging top priority niya ‘yung health ng mga sundalo,” she said. (I liked what he said about making sure we get what we need. It’s like the health of the soldiers is his top priority.)
Western Mindanao Command Chief Lieutenant General Mayoralgo Dela Cruz, meanwhile, was struck by Duterte’s pronouncement in Sulu that he would send an air ambulance to a conflict area for even just one wounded soldier.
‘Yun ‘yung gusto namin marinig. Nakaka-inspire. Ang masasabi ko lang, ‘yung morale ng mga sundalo, malaking bagay ‘yun,” he said. (That’s what we want to hear. It’s inspiring. All I can say is, it’s a big deal for the morale of the soldiers.)
Reason 1: Duterte’s duty to boost morale of troops
Why is Duterte taking all the trouble and time to fly to these military camps, some of which are in the most dangerous parts of the country?
For ex-military man and former vice-presidential candidate Senator Gringo Honasan, it’s part of the President’s duty as commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
“It’s a normal course of duty and responsibility for the President to go around,” Honasan said.
“It builds up their confidence…The morale is high, there is so much hope,” said the senator.
Apart from inspiring confidence among troops, the visits could also be to boost Duterte’s own confidence in the military, an institution he is counting on to establish the peace and order he promised Filipinos.
“It’s to give him the confidence that the military will do its job, not because the President tells them to do so but because they are indeed the Armed Forces of the people,” added Honasan.
PEP TALK. President Duterte is mobbed by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) after delivering his speech at the AFP Medical Center on Tuesday, August 2, 2016. Photo by Robinson Ninal/PPD
PEP TALK. President Duterte is mobbed by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) after delivering his speech at the AFP Medical Center on Tuesday, August 2, 2016. Photo by Robinson Ninal/PPD
Meanwhile, University of the Philippines political analyst Aries Arugay sees these visits as a “getting-to-know-you” of sorts.
Duterte, unlike the other presidential candidates of the last elections, was never a national government official. His ties with the military were limited to troops in Davao or Mindanao.
“He is not adopted into military classes like [Jejomar] Binay or [Francis] Escudero. He has no links with the military apart from his links as Davao mayor,” said Arugay.
To command the loyalty of the military is a must for any president, especially a president like Duterte who has made peace and order among his central promises to the people.
No one understands how crucial military support is to the highest official of the land than Honasan who, in 1986, was among the military officers who planned a mutiny against the dictatorship of former President Ferdinand Marcos.

In terms of territorial structure, only the Catholic Church can rival the structure of the military.– Political analyst Aries Arugay

Later on, Honasan would lead a series of unsuccessful coup attempts against President Corazon Aquino.
Why is the ability to control the military so important to a president?
“Because they have guns,” said Honasan. “They’re authorized to have guns which is tremendous power, coercive power.”
He recalled the days of Martial Law in which the military and police were the primary arms through which Marcos wielded his power over civilians.
“The government then had a preponderance of coercive power. They thought they had the police and military on their side,” said Honasan.
It was only when the military rebelled against Marcos that the “fulcrum shifted” and brought about “balance” to the power play, he said.
Commanding the loyalty of the military is the ultimate clincher in any power grab attempt.
Former President Joseph Estrada’s lack of this support made it easier to oust him, said Arugay.
“That was Erap’s error. He trusted people too much and if you abide by a credo of political survival, you must make sure the institutions of coercion are on your side,” said Arugay.
Duterte, who has not only survived but thrived in his 3 decades as a politician, could just be making sure he has all his bases covered.
Reason 2: Preparation for authoritarian regime?
Curiously enough, it’s Duterte himself who has brought back the specter of Martial Law after he threatened the judiciary with it should his war on drugs be hindered.
These threats makes one wonder if there’s more to these military camp visits than meets the eye.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, an outspoken critic of Duterte, has dire pronouncements about these camp visits.
The strategy of consolidating military support as a power base mirrors that of certain Latin American leaders like former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who during his presidency curtailed some democratic freedoms and sought to rewrite his country’s Constitution.
“The first thing they did is to get the support of the Armed Forces and the next thing they did was to tinker with the Constitution so they can perpetuate themselves in power,” said Trillanes.
Other ways Duterte is following the “Hugo Chavez template” is with his “populist, anti-elite, anti-establishment, and even anti-American rhetoric,” added the senator.
INSPECTION. President Duterte inspects the firearms recovered from the New People's Army (NPA) rebels during his visit at Camp Edilberto Evangelista in Patag, Cagayan de Oro City on August 9. Photo by Kiwi Bulaclac/PPD
INSPECTION. President Duterte inspects the firearms recovered from the New People's Army (NPA) rebels during his visit at Camp Edilberto Evangelista in Patag, Cagayan de Oro City on August 9. Photo by Kiwi Bulaclac/PPD
While Trillanes, himself a former Navy officer who also mutineed against the government, agrees that Duterte’s camp visits have boosted troops’ morale, he cautioned the military against believing Duterte’s words.
“They tend to accept or believe you or see you at face value. So they are holding on to the word of their commander-in-chief. So far they have been inspired, their morale is very high. That’s where the danger lies,” he said.
Once Duterte has total control of security forces, Trillanes believes he will use them “against dissenting voices, whether it be media, civil society, the Senate, political opposition.”
But for Honasan, who used to be Trillanes’ mentor, such theories are pure “speculation.”
“Difficult to validate. Speculation. Conspiracy theory – the worries that we inflict on ourselves. How many variables do you need to put together that theory?” said the senator.
Judging from Duterte’s own words, it seems the President is “in a hurry to leave” his post – vastly different from the power-drunk Marcos.

The AFP is technically a political weapon. If you put it in the wrong hands, we will have a big problem.– Senator Antonio Trillanes IV

Honasan recalled that Duterte himself said he would leave the presidency if the shift to federalism is achieved and new elections held.
But Trillanes thinks these pronouncements are just theatrics to make the public complacent.
“Remember, he said categorically during the [candidacy] filing that he doesn’t intend to run for president but eventually he did. He has a tendency to speak with a forked tongue,” he warned.
Arugay thinks such a plot is possible but it may be too early to tell Duterte’s true intentions.
“It’s possible though I don't see it right now. But if you are the president and you are a strategist which I think Duterte is, you will not make known your possible moves,” said Arugay.
Reason 3: Appeasing the military amid release of communist rebels
Yet another objective of Duterte’s may be to calm down the military as he releases communist rebels to build confidence for the peace talks his government is pursuing with the Left, said Trillanes.
As of August 19, the Philippine government has temporarily released 17 rebels so they may join peace talks in Norway from August 22 to 26. The released include top New People’s Army leaders Benito Tiamzon and wife Wilma.
Peace Process Adviser Jesus Dureza said Duterte intends to declare general amnesty for all communist rebels if the peace talks are successful.
Neglecting the military who risked their lives to apprehend these communist rebels would have been careless of Duterte.
“Let’s just say a segment of the Armed Forces would not be comfortable seeing these communist leaders released again after the sacrifices they went through in affecting their arrests…To avoid the scenario, he might as well court their support through these visits,” said Trillanes.
The same communist rebels tasting freedom under the Duterte administration may have killed Philippine soldiers. If Duterte did not take the time to address the soldiers, he would have heard some “grumblings”.
Likely, this is one reason why he takes time during his speeches to emphasize the importance of the government’s peace talks with the Left.
“My job as president is to seek peace, not to declare war,” he would say.
Reason 4: Gearing up the military for the war on drugs, confrontation with China
As Trillanes points out, catching drug lords is not within the “traditional mandate” of the military.
But with Duterte eager to pull out all the stops to “destroy the drug apparatus,” it’s not surprising he wants to deploy the military as well.
The reach of the military and its physical presence across the nation is a definite advantage for quelling the nationwide “drug menace.”
“Wherever you are in the country, there is a military structure. In fact, in terms of territorial structure, only the Catholic Church can rival the structure of the military, so it has a wide reach. If you have a nationwide campaign against crime and illegal drugs, you would want to take advantage of the military, logistics, assets, training, software, and hardware,” said Arugay.
Trillanes believes Duterte has darker motives.
“That way, the Armed Forces can get used to getting deployed by Duterte in other missions outside their traditional mandate and by doing so he could eventually shift or line up other missions that would suit his political objectives,” said Trillanes.
Duterte has time and again declared that war with China is not an option for the Philippines.
But his casual, even humorous mention of the maritime dispute with China, indicates it’s on his mind when he speaks to troops.
“We have a tense regional strategic environment right now and he knows this. He says, jokingly, China might invade us…The deeper meaning here is that he is aware that the current strategic environment is tense. He is aware that he needs to have the military ready and able to fulfill the function of territorial defense from external aggression if necessary,” said Arugay.

A mission to inspire the loyalty of the armed forces is expected of Duterte. But Duterte should not forget the military itself is composed of groups and individuals with independent motives and ways of thinking.
This is proven by the examples of Trillanes and Honasan, two coup plotters.
“The problem is there is no assurance of military loyalty because the military is also factionalized, it’s not a cohesive institution,” said Arugay.
Honasan said most soldiers would know when to stop obeying their president.
“When the commander-in-chief and president stops serving the interests of the people who he is mandated to protect, then the military, as a matter of principle is not bound anymore to follow him, he stops being commander-in-chief. That’s why ’86 happened,” he said.
Trillanes, one of the leaders of the Oakwood mutiny against the Arroyo administration, warned of the consequences should power over the military be abused.
“The AFP is technically a political weapon. If you put it in the wrong hands we will have a big problem,” he said.
Honasan is more hopeful amid the possibility that Duterte’s professed good intentions are just distractions from an insidious motive.
“I hope President Duterte will be good for the country. When I begin to determine in my heart – where my moral compass is – that this is theatrics, then I will change my mind. But until that happens, I want to help.”