Thursday, September 8, 2016

China Building on Scarborough Shoal? Don't Hold Your Breath.

From The Diplomat (Sep 9): China Building on Scarborough Shoal? Don't Hold Your Breath.

For diplomatic and strategic reasons, now is not the time for Beijing to make such a risky move.

For over six months now, speculation has been rampant that China is gearing up to begin land reclamation (or, more accurately, island building) at Scarborough Shoal, a disputed feature in the South China Sea roughly 355 km west of Manila. In March, U.S. Navy chief Admiral John Richardson said the United States had observed “survey type activity” around Scarborough that could be a precursor to reclamation. A month later, South China Morning Post added fuel to the fire by citing an anonymous source “close to the PLA Navy” as saying that China would carry out reclamation work at Scarborough “within this year.”

Speculation grew after an arbitral tribunal ruled heavily in the Philippines’ favor in its suit against Chinese claims and actions in the South China Sea. Some analysts argued that China might penalize Manila for the case (and the ruling) by building on Scarborough – but only after China finished hosting the G20 summit in Hangzhou.

And China did send a number of ships to Scarborough during the summit, but contrary to initial rumors they were fishing (and likely maritime militia) vessels, not dredgers.

The summit is over now – so, will China build? Looking at the diplomatic signals from China, and the current situation in the South China Sea, I’d argue it’s not likely, at least in the immediate future.

First, there’s the diplomatic context. China has consistently held up the 2002 China-ASEAN Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DoC) as the blueprint for handling the disputes. China even formally recommitted itself to the Declaration in a joint statement issued with ASEAN after a foreign ministers meeting in Vientiane, Laos on July 25. The statement reaffirmed “that the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DoC) is a milestone document that embodies the collective commitment of the Parties to promote peace, stability, mutual trust and confidence in the region.” ASEAN and China also (re)committed themselves “to the full and effective implementation of the DOC in its entirety.”

Why does that matter for Scarborough? After all, many critics have accused China of repeatedly violating the DoC through its large-scale island building and construction activities in the South China Sea. At issue is the rather vague pledge that the parties will “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.” The catch is that what constitutes a complication or escalation of the disputes is in the eye of the beholder – and for that matter, so is “self-restraint.” China has repeatedly insisted that its construction doesn’t constitute escalation, and that its own actions are simply necessary countermeasures to other claimants’ moves. Beijing’s insistence that the projects are meant to provide public goods for all regional countries may ring hollow outside China, but it does provide Beijing with enough diplomatic cover to say it is not in violation of the DoC. (Ironically, China has no issue with arguing that other claimants’ construction and land reclamation projects do, in fact, violate the DoC.)

There is, however, one action that is explicitly pointed to in the DoC as off-limits: “inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features.” Signatories have thus specifically undertaken to refrain from establishing a presence on currently uninhabited features as part of their commitment to “exercise self-restraint.” China may bend the rules beyond recognition, but to begin land reclamation and construction at Scarborough Shoal would be as clear cut a violation of the DoC as is possible for that vague, non-binding agreement.

China’s current strategy relies on exploiting the ambiguities in the DoC and in China’s verbal commitments (for instance, Xi’s pledge not to militarize the Spratlys, where militarization apparently does not include the construction of facilities with both military and civilian applications). There is no ambiguity in the pledge not to inhabit previously uninhabited shoals – of which Scarborough is one. For that reason, there is a vast diplomatic difference between reclamation at Scarborough and reclamation on features like Fiery Cross and Mischief Reef, where China had outposts before construction.

Further, China specifically went out of its way to highlight its commitment to the DoC at the July ASEAN-China foreign minister’s meeting. That commitment was reemphasized at the recent summit meeting between President Xi Jinping and his ASEAN counterparts. The joint statement issued after the summit also contains a point reaffirming both sides’ commitment to the DoC and another point specifically welcoming “the adoption of the Joint Statement of the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN Member States and China on the Full and Effective Implementation of the DOC.”

In effect, then, this means China has publicly committed itself to not inhabit or physically occupy Scarborough Shoal twice in high level statements in the past two months by reaffirming the commitment made in the DoC. If Beijing planned to turn around and begin construction on Scarborough immediately after the conclusion of the Hangzhou summit, these ASEAN-China statements would be a needless diplomatic embarrassment – more than that, they would do serious damage to China’s reputation by undermining explicit commitments made multiple times in international meetings. Simply put, China’s two most recent joint statements with ASEAN make absolutely no sense if Beijing is really planning on building structures on Scarborough in the next months.

What, then, to make of the supposed Chinese sources that claim Beijing is ready to make its move on Scarborough? In part, just like China sending Coast Guard and maritime militia fleets to the shoal, it may simply be useful posturing. China knows the diplomatic costs of starting construction at Scarborough, but would also find it strategically useful to keep the threat in play for deterrence purposes.

However, the strategic situation has changed drastically since early reports of Chinese survey activity in March. On May 9, the Philippines – the other claimant to Scarborough – elected Rodrigo Duterte president. He assumed office on June 30, replacing Benigno Aquino III, who had adopted a hardline stance toward China and pursued even closer military relations with the United States, the Philippines’ ally.
Duterte, by contrast, has repeatedly signaled his openness to doing business with China; his administration has even downplayed the arbitral tribunal ruling (the conclusion to a case initiated by Aquino). Meanwhile, Duterte has also signaled his ambivalence toward Washington and his relationship with Obama got off to a rocky start, to say the least.

In this context, there’s little geopolitical incentive for China to build on Scarborough. Doing so would push Duterte, a potential partner, to respond – likely by upping anti-China rhetoric and following Aquino’s lead in deepening cooperation with the United States. For China, building on Scarborough made sense with Aquino in office; the messaging, however, is all wrong for Duterte.

China knows exactly how serious a step it would be to start reclamation at Scarborough. In a recent speech on U.S.-China strategic philosophy, Jin Canrong of Renmin University warned that “from the day we begin filling in Huangyan [Scarborough] to the day we finish, this will be an extremely tense time… this is an immense, historic risk.” To Jin, reclamation at Scarborough could be the beginning of the decisive U.S.-Chinese battle (literal or not) for influence in the region.

Jin predicted that China would take this step, but not until 2018. Further, the specific timing would meet certain criteria – Jin predicts that China will pick a time when Washington is heavily focused elsewhere in the world. Interestingly, he also speculates that China will “prepare some gifts to give the United States” on other issues like “North Korea, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan” – issues where the United States has long hope for more Chinese cooperation. Neither of those conditions are in place at the moment.

Reclamation at Scarborough is not a move Beijing would take lightly, particularly given its diplomatic commitments not to undertake such a project. As of now, the conditions aren’t right for such a move; China stands to lose more diplomatically than it would gain strategically from an outpost on Scarborough. Conditions, of course, change, particularly in the South China Sea – but construction in 2016, as South China Morning Post’s source predicted, seems less and less likely.

MILF: Editorial -- Good facilitator hard to replace

Editorial posted to Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Sep 8): Editorial -- Good facilitator hard to replace

The passing away of HE Dato’ Tengku Ab’Ghafar bin Tengku Mohamed, the Malaysian facilitator of the GPH-MILF peace process since April 2011 until his death on September 2, is truly unnerving and devastating. The drawback posed by it is tremendous and a real challenge.

Dato’ Tengku had been a multi-talented facilitator, a combination of experience, analytical mind, diplomatic skills, ability to blend and harmonize conflicting standpoints, as well as to use jokes at the precise moment to enliven tense situations. Despite belonging to the highest nobility in the Malay tradition, but he always remained humble and simple. Former government peace negotiator, Prof. Miriam Ferrer-Coronel, had this to say on him: “He was a vivid listener, though some things were lost in translation, he always grasped the essence.”

It is very hard to replace a good facilitator who did not only have a long institutional memory of the process but had long lived with it through hard times. It was during his stint that the most difficult part of the negotiation took place and the most important, nay concluding agreement, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) was signed. Hard times and hard issues put together are truly hard to crack, but they were overcome.  Dato’ Tengku played the lead role.

Indeed, Dato’ Tengku’s role as facilitator is a success story. But unknown to many was how he dealt with the MILF that contributed to this success. There were times that he had urged the MILF to see the larger picture and agree to some important compromises, reminding them that one cannot get all what he or she wanted in a negotiation. Often the MILF listened to him, but not after serious moments of reflections. Grasping fully well the Solomonic wisdom in those prodding, which were for the sake of the peaceful and just settlement of the armed conflict in Mindanao, the MILF acceded.

The Government of Malaysia, the third country facilitator, can always find a replacement. We are absolutely sure of this, because there are so many Malaysians who are as competent as the late facilitator. Let us not speak of those who already served as facilitators, some of whom are still around. Even new faces are not few either.

We hope the replacement is forthcoming! We hope that the GPH would also has the same feeling. The Parties know the indispensable role played by the facilitator in the peace process, in spite of the fact that after the signing of the CAB the Parties are already in implementation mode. Firstly, even if most of the meetings of the Panels are regularly held in the Philippines but when they sign a formal agreement, say the new Terms of Reference (TOR) for the Peace Implementing Panels, they will have to do it in Kuala Lumpur. The facilitator has to sign it, alongside the two panel chairs.  And second, like the peace panels, as well as the ceasefire committees, and many if not most of the mechanisms of the peace process, the third party facilitator will continue to stay until the Exit Agreement is signed when all the agreements of the Parties are implemented. This is the agreement of the Parties.

Dato’ Tengku might be out of our sight, but the memories of him as an honest peace broker, a man full of insights, a down-to-earth personality, a friend, and a brother in-faith and humanity for others stay with us. Inna lillahi wa-inna ilayhi rajiun (From Allah we come from and to Him we shall return).

MILF: UNYPAD Reaffirms its Support to GPH-MILF Peace Process under new Administration

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Sep 8): UNYPAD Reaffirms its Support to GPH-MILF Peace Process under new Administration

Cotabato City - The United Youth for Peace and Development(UNYPAD), Inc. convened its provincial chairmen, regional coordinators and national committees for a “Special Meeting” which was held last Tuesday, August 16, 2016 at UNYPAD National Office. The aim was to collectively discuss how it can strengthen its support in pushing the GPH-MILF peace process forward so as to finally put into closure the bloodlettings in Mindanao.

Interviewed by, Tu Alfonso, UNYPAD Vice President for Internal Affairs, said that the role of youth in pushing the peace process forward is indispensable. He discoursed that the UNYPAD collectively decided to muster its strength in support to present administration’s steps in relation to addressing the structural cause of the conflict in Mindanao through redressing historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro. 

“Youth occupy the major segment of the society and they possess essential knowledge and skills, which are very instrumental in our efforts to bring the GPH-MILF peace process, in particular, to its positive end,” he stressed.

Alfonso called on all peace loving young individuals in the country to consolidate their rank and use their energy to support the government and MILF (and other Moro fronts) peace efforts to prevent the possible eruption of wars in the Mindanao and other parts of the country.

“We can’t afford to see again our people to languish in the evacuation centers,” he added.

Asked about the acceptability of the watered down BBL scenario after Duterte pronounced that he will pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) minus constitutional infirmities, Yusoph Lumambas, UNYPAD Secretary General, said: “I trust our President. He knows that it is not resolving the Bangsamoro question through addressing historical injustices when he is passing a BBL that is not acceptable to the Bangsamoro.”

“The government should seize this moment that the Bangsamoro original aspiration for independence has already lowered to only meaningful autonomy, which makes the Philippines and its people intact and undivided,” Lumambas pointed out.

He disclosed that federalism being advanced by present administration was given bigger space in the discussion.

“We see federalism an opportunity for the accommodation of the BBL should it succeed as it requires amendment of the constitution, he said.

“But one should know is that federalism has been seen a solution to the national sociopolitical and economic woes of the country, not necessarily a solution the Bangsamoro Right to self-determination. That is why the BBL has to be passed first before federalization,” Lumambas clarified.

MILF: KPI holds peace forum

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Sep 7): KPI holds peace forum

Guindulungan, Maguindanao –- The Kalilintad Peacebuilding Institute (KPI) conducted a peace forum on September 3 with the theme “Understanding the Bangsamoro Peace Process and the Prospects of Federalism” in Guindulungan, Maguindanao.

Different organizations from the youth, academe and civil society along with community and religious leaders attended the peace forum.

KPI Executive Director Prof. Esmael  A. Abdula gave updates on MILF-GPH Peace Process. “The MILF and the GPH have appointed their Peace Implementing Panels tasked to facilitate the implementation of CAB,”he said.

He also said that the Duterte Administration wants to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) before the Federal Government would be in place in the years to come to end the decades of Mindanao conflict.

“Bangsamoro people demand the immediate passage of the BBL as the reflection of their aspects of life before the federalization of the Philippine Constitution,” he emphasized.

Other speakers in the forum were Ustadz Noroddin Gadzali and Nasser Polindanao.

Gadzali related the history of caliphs and prophets on the acceptance and application of negotiation through Islamic perspective. “Negotiation is the best way of achieving the right to self-determination,” he said.

Polindanao explained the asymmetrical powers between the Bangsamoro Government and the Federal Government.

He said that there would be simultaneous push for BBL in Congress and Federalism through constitutional revision.

“There will be opportunities and challenges in the federalization of the Philippine Constitution,” he added.

“Federal Government is the best model of governance as we see in the federal countries of the world,” Polindao underscored.

Ali A. Noh, an active member of the Union of Overseas Bangsamoro based in Riyahd, said that “participating in the peace forum is very important because it gives an opportunity to people to share their ideas, opinions, perspectives and beliefs on the current peace process between the MILF and the Government of the Philippines.”

‘Chinese coast guard involved in most S’ China Sea clashes’

From Malaya Business Insight (Sep 8): ‘Chinese coast guard involved in most S’ China Sea clashes’

Increasingly assertive action by China’s coast guard ships in the South China Sea risks destabilizing the region, according to the authors of new research tracking maritime law enforcement incidents across the vital trade route.

While the risks of full-blown naval conflict dominates strategic fears over the disputed waterway, the danger of incidents involving coast guards should not be underestimated, said Bonnie Glaser, a regional security expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

China claims much of the South China Sea, which carries the bulk of Northeast Asia’s trade with the rest of the world. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have claims.

CSIS researchers have detailed some 45 clashes and standoffs in the South China Sea since 2010 in a survey published on its ChinaPower website on Wednesday. (

While the research includes clashes between a variety of regional states and types of vessels, the actions of China’s coast guard dominates the picture. China’s coast guard has been involved in 30 of the cases logged, two-thirds of the total. Four other incidents involved a Chinese naval vessel operating in a law enforcement capacity.

“The evidence is clear that there is a pattern of behavior from China that is contrary to what law enforcement usually involves,” Glaser told Reuters.

“We’re seeing bullying, harassment and ramming of vessels from countries whose coast guard and fishing vessels are much smaller, often to assert sovereignty throughout the South China Sea.”

The research includes the violent maritime stand-off between Beijing and Hanoi over the placement of a Chinese oil exploration rig off the Vietnamese coast in 2014, as well as tensions that led up to China’s occupation of the Scarborough Shoal off the Philippines in 2012.

It is being published as Chinese coast guard and other vessels return to Scarborough Shoal (Philippine names: Panatag Shoal, Bajo de Masinloc), sparking formal diplomatic protests from Manila. The Philippines said on Wednesday it was seeking clarification from China about the increase in ships near the shoal.

China’s State Oceanic Administration, which oversees the coast guard, did not respond to requests for comment on the research.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she believed it was natural for China’s coast guard vessels to legally carry out patrols and maintain maritime order in waters under China’s jurisdiction.

“We hope the relevant individuals can stop hyping up this kind of information, and stop sowing discord and tension,” she told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

The research defines an incident where a nation’s coast guard or navy has used coercive measures beyond routine law enforcement action.

In the short term, Glaser said she believed the risk of injury or death could be worse in civilian clashes than among navies patrolling the South China Sea, given the frequency and intensity of incidents in recent years.

Encounters by rival coast guards are not yet covered by expanding communications arrangements that are geared toward preventing clashes between the region’s naval forces.

The survey cites research showing the unifying of China’s civilian maritime fleets in 2013, coupled with ongoing budget increases, has given it the world’s largest coast guard.

It now deploys some 205 vessels, including 95 ships over 1,000 tons, according to the US Office of Naval Intelligence -- a far larger fleet than other regional countries, including Japan.

Army gets new No. 2 man

From Malaya Business Insight (Sep 9): Army gets new No. 2 man

THE commander of Army forces in Central Mindanao yesterday assumed office as the Army’s vice commander, the second highest official of the 80,000-strong Philippine Army.

Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao, replaced Maj. Gen. Demosthenes Santillan who reached the retirement age of 56.

Año, Santillan and Pangilinan are classmates at the Philippine Military Academy class of 1983.

Pangilinan became the 6th ID commander in May 2014.

Pangilinan is due to reach the retirement age of 56 in November this year.

Pangilinan will be heading other offices like the Army’s Office of Ethical Standards and Public Accountability, Board of Senior Officers, Housing Board, and the modernization board.

The military has yet to announce a replacement for Pangilinan as 6th ID commander but sources said the top candidate for the post is AFP deputy chief of staff for operations Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez.

Galvez, a member of the PMA class 1985, is a decorated officer. He is a recipient of two Distinguish Service Stars, two Outstanding Achievement Medals and six Gold Cross Medals, among others.

Galvez previously served as chairman of the government’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, one of the peace mechanism in the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

LOOK: PNP receives modern anti-terrorism equipment from US

From Update.Ph (Sep 8): LOOK: PNP receives modern anti-terrorism equipment from US

PNP photo

PNP photo

Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa, in behalf of the Philippine National Police, accepted from the Diplomatic Security Service’s Office of Anti-terrorism Assistance United States Embassy in Manila represented by Mr. Lon Fairchild, Regional Security Officer, the donated modern anti-terrorism equipment worth USD900,000 on September 7 in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

These police equipment aim to strengthen the anti-terrorism efforts of the PNP.
PNP acting director for intelligence Chief Supt. Nestor Quinsay Jr. said the donation is a clear manifestation of the sincerity of the US government to help an ally such as the Philippines to strengthen law enforcement capability and counter-terrorism functions of the PNP.

General Dela Rosa noted that the donation is very timely for the government’s all-out war against crime and terrorism. The equipment will be used by the PNP Special Action Force, the Explosives and Ordnance Division, K-9 Unit, and the Crime Lab of the PNP.

PNP photo

PNP photo

China: No reclamation at Panatag

From the Manila Times (Sep 9): China: No reclamation at Panatag

CHINA has denied claims it had begun reclamation work at Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) following the sighting of six Chinese boats around the disputed area.

Although it admitted the presence of a number of Chinese coast guard vessels and fishing boats, Beijing insisted “there are no dredging or building activities there.”

“The situation there has not changed,” the Chinese Embassy in Manila said in a statement late Wednesday.

It also denied reports that Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua had admitted that “the vessels are transferring sand from one area to another,” as allegedly quoted by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

“The Chinese Embassy would like to clarify that Ambassador Zhao has not yet had the honor to meet with His Honorable Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and the media must have misquoted him,” the embassy said.

It added that Beijing was ready to work with Manila for the enhancement of mutual trust and the development of bilateral relations.

The Department of National Defense on Wednesday released Philippine Air Force surveillance photos of Chinese vessels in addition to coast guard ships at Panatag, which Lorenzana said was a cause for “grave concern.”

In a news briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that China did nothing to change the situation at the shoal.

“We should be highly alert against the mischief-making intentions of people who spread such groundless information in such situations,” Hua said.

Panatag Shoal, a resource-rich traditional fishing ground, is located within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). It was seized by China following a 2012 standoff.

Last July 12, The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against China’s claims to most of South China Sea, including areas covered by the Philippines’ EEZ as guaranteed by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

China, a signatory to the Unclos, boycotted the proceedings at The Hague and refuses to recognize the ruling.

13 Cafgu, 1 soldier test positive FOR shabu

From the Manila Times (Sep 8): 13 Cafgu, 1 soldier test positive FOR shabu

GAMU, Isabela: Some 13 members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) and a soldier were dismissed after they tested positive for shabu in a random drug test ordered by Brig. Gen. Paul Atal, commander of the Philippine Army’s 5th Infantry Star Division (5thID) here.

The new 5th ID commanding officer who assumed office on August 22 formed a task force against illegal drugs to cleanse military forces of the drug menace.

The Cafgu, created on July 25, 1987 by President Corazon Aquino through Executive Order 264, is composed of civilian militias that assist the military in dealing with insurgent-infiltrated villages in the country.

Southeast Asia forges fresh approaches to combat Islamic State

From Global Risk Insight (Sep 8): Southeast Asia forges fresh approaches to combat Islamic State (By Alexander McCleod)

The Islamic State is expanding its presence in Southeast Asia. However, local governments are developing new approaches to combat terrorism.

2016 has witnessed Islamic State (IS) make significant inroads in Southeast Asia. On top of attacks in Indonesia and Malaysia, and the foiled attempt in Singapore, escalating Islamist violence in the southern Philippines is particularly concerning. However, the Marina Bay incident may prove to be a blessing in disguise for the region, with Singapore now leading the charge for a more coordinated counterterrorism strategy defined through regional and international cooperation.

Indonesia and Philippines at risk

IS has capitalised from existing militant networks in Indonesia and the Philippines, forging ties with key militant sects including the Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). Bahrun Naim, a central figure linked with MIT, poses a significant threat, having built a sophisticated network of Indonesian fighters. Responsible for several failed attacks, his efforts have been scorned by the international media as those of an amateur. According to Sidney Jones, an expert on Indonesian political conflict, Naim has failed ‘to take any of Indonesia’s large supply of would-be mujahidin and turn them into something more than poster children for fecklessness’. Nonetheless, based in Syria, Naim will be able to reorganize, learning from past efforts and improving his group’s operational capabilities.

Indonesia’s counterterrorism units are a great asset in this respect, ensuring that recent terror activities have made only a small impact. Detachment 88 (a U.S-trained counterterrorism unit) was formed after the 2002 Bali bombings, and a further National Counterterrorism Agency was established in 2010. They are responsible for a string of arrests of suspected IS militants, and more significantly the recent killing of Santoso – MIT commander and Indonesia’s most-wanted militant – in Poso, Central Sulawesi.
In contrast, despite significant financial and military support from the U.S, the Philippines has struggled to eliminate jihadist activity. Since IS proclaimed Mindanao as a wilayat (Islamic caliphate province) in April, it has become a Petri dish for Islamic militancy. ASG, responsible for the attack in 2004 that killed 116 people, warned of an imminent jihad there.

J.C. Liow, an expert on IS in Southeast Asia, notes that Mindanao and the other islands in the Sulu Sea have been notoriously difficult to govern. Sulu is a vast and complex region determined by competing maritime boundaries (Indonesian, Malaysian and Filipino). Repeated clashes over sovereignty and national jurisdiction have prevented a unified policing strategy, creating a chink in the ASEAN armour.

Will Indonesia join Malaysia and Singapore?

Much has been written about the failings of Indonesian anti-terrorism law; that it is not illegal for citizens to support IS, nor leave to fight for them in the Middle East. The police are hampered by these legislative constraints, and can only act once an offence has been committed.

Indonesia will soon table proposed legislative amendments that seek to bring it more in line with Malaysia and Singapore. These countries have a robust internal security apparatus which they use to detain suspected militants – whether planning domestic attacks or fighting abroad.

The proposed changes seek to allow for pre-emptive measures against terror acts – including detention without trial, tighter electronic surveillance and the revoking of citizenship for those who travel to the Middle East. However they were met with fierce opposition from human rights groups, who argue that they will infringe on civil liberties – as they have done in Malaysia and Singapore.

The reality is that terrorism has been curtailed effectively in those countries, because of those measures (although their vastly smaller populations are easier to monitor). Nonetheless the decision whether or not to implement these regressive measures will weigh heavily on President Widodo’s mind.

Regional and international security collaboration

Singapore, renowned for its stability and security, was shaken by the recent foiled attack on Marina Bay. Speaking at the National Day Rally last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned that home-grown radicalisation threatened Singapore’s multiracial society. He recently launched the country’s ‘SG Secure’ programme, which seeks to promote a more vigilant and threat-aware national community. The police force also unveiled a new anti-terrorism response unit in June.

The collaboration between Singaporean and Indonesian authorities to prevent the Batam Island attack provides an excellent example of regional intelligence exchange, and there have been further developments in this regard. At the International Meeting on Counter-Terrorism in Bali last month, Singapore made arrangements with Malaysia to exchange biometric data on known terrorists and share information on the best practices in deradicalization and countering violent extremism.

These are important steps, but better cooperation is required between those governments and their military, police and intelligence forces – particularly in the Sulu archipelago, where the violence in the southern Philippines is concentrated. Sadly, parochial nationalistic mindsets have long plighted this region and prevented a more integrated securitisation strategy.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has made renewed calls for stronger cooperation between ASEAN states, and the forthcoming ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, Laos, provides an ideal opportunity to forge such cooperation.

Liow believes that given United States’ strategic pivot towards the Asia-Pacific, there is potential for it to play a stronger role in forging regional security ties, transferring operational knowledge to regional military forces. Singapore leads the pack in terms of intelligence cooperation with the West. The bilateral partnership between Singapore and U.S is particularly strong, and in August this broadened to include the sharing of cybersecurity – important for combating IS’ social media campaigns.

Countering a growing threat

The IS threat in Southeast Asia grows on a monthly basis. In July a video was released declaring war on Indonesia and Malaysia, and in August death threats were purportedly issued to Najib Razak and Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi – among other key parliamentarians. While there is yet to be a ‘core’ IS network in Southeast Asia, this could change as IS continues to make inroads in the region.

However those states are responding in kind, forging stronger intergovernmental ties at a critical time. Whether or not we are witnessing another ‘Vietnam’, only time will tell. But Southeast Asia is showing its resilience, and demonstrating the core values that reflect and reinforce ASEAN’s distinctive political iconography.

[Alexander McCleod is a doctoral researcher at Newcastle University with a focus on Southeast Asian politics and geography. He has recently completed his PhD thesis, which critically assesses the role that online media play in promoting and sustaining Malaysia's racialized political landscape during general elections.]

Metro terror plot bared

From The Standard (Sep 9): Metro terror plot bared

THE terrorist group that bombed the Davao City night market plans to launch similar attacks in Metro Manila to create havoc and to insult President Rodrigo Duterte, who is waging a war on terrorism and illegal drugs, a former police intelligence chief said Thursday.

The Daulat-ul Islamiya, a unit of the Maute group in Mindanao that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, was identified Wednesday as the group behind the Davao blast that killed 15 people and wounded 70 others.

“They have indeed plans in Metro Manila. I can categorically tell you now, but I don’t know the targets,” former police intelligence director Rodolfo Mendoza said.

The Maute group led by Abdullah Maute, a Jordanian-trained terrorist, was tagged as the culprit in the deadly blast in Davao City on Sept. 2.
CHECKPOINTS BOOSTED. Police reinforce checkpoints in strategic areas of the metropolis Thursday as they brace for any untoward incident, only six days after a nightmarish explosion in Davao City which killed 15 people and wounded 70 others in the city’s night market area. Danny Pata
Abdullah is married to an unidentified Indonesian jihadist operating in Lanao province, and has an alliance with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) operating in Central Mindanao.

However, Abdullah was killed along with his brother Omar in fierce fighting with Army troopers on the outskirts of Lanao del Sur.

His Indonesian wife has reportedly been joined at four other Indonesian jihadists conducting bombing sorties in different parts of Central Mindanao.

At least five Malaysians who were recruited by the IS in their country had sought sanctuary in the country after Malaysia cracked down on homegrown Islamic militants.

They were University Malaya lecturer Dr. Mahmud Ahmad, stationary shop owner Mohd Najib Husen, former Selayang Municipal Council employee Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee, 39, Darul Islan Sabah members Mohd Amin Baco, 31 and Jeknal Adil, 30, both Tawau.

Reports said that the bombing in Davao City by the Maute group was to avenge the killing of Abdullah and brother Omar and several of its members in the bloody fighting in Butig town.

Mendoza’s disclosure surfaced after security forces foiled a supposed bomb attack on an unknown target following the seizure of several bomb components, tools and explosive materials in Mlang, North Cotabato Tuesday.

The recovery of the deadly bomb components in Cotabato came after security forces launched a massive manhunt against the suspected bomber in Davao City. Two suspects have been arrested.

In Sultan Kudarat, Army operatives intercepted three 60 mm mortar projectiles that were to be used as makeshift mines.

Mendoza said that the interdicted military ordnance could be attributed to the Ansar Khilafa, an IS-affiliated unit operating in Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani province led by an Indonesian jihadists and Malaysians terrorist.

Mendoza said that terrorist have evolved, disregarding their “idealistic” objectives for more profitable aims.

“This has led to the establishment of the alliances of terrorist organizations with organized crime groups to fortify their profit—generating activities,” Mendoza said.

He said alliances maintain a slew of illegal activities such as terrorism, drug trafficking, arms and human smuggling, money laundering and other transnational crimes.

“Firm strategic alliances have made it difficult for law enforcement to penetrate their targets,” he said.

To advance their illegal activities, “legitimate businesses and non-government organizations serves as fronts for these groups to cover their illegal and criminal activities.”

Security forces on Thursday foiled bomb attacks on still unknown targets following the interception and discovery of several deadly bomb components and military ordnance in two separate areas in Mindanao.

Police also intercepted a cache of firearms at a port in Masbate.

The bomb components were seized while police tried to serve warrants of arrest on two suspected bomb makers in Purok 6, Brgy Dungan, Mlang, North Cotabato while the military ordnance was intercepted at Barangay Rebukin, Sultan Kudarat.

Police raiders failed to catch the two suspects, but a search of their residence uncovered a fragmentation grenade, cellphones that could be used as detonators, blasting caps, batteries, a soldering gun, an ohmmeter tester, three circuit boards, silicon controlled rectifier and test lights, 26 light emitting diodes, capacitors, electric stranded wires, an undetermined amount of black powder, a cellphone charger, a remote control and Christmas lights.

Police Supt. Romeo Galco Jr. said the seizure was a breakthrough in their efforts to arrest potential bomb makers and to deter bombing.

In Sultan Kudarat, military intelligence operatives intercepted three projectiles for use with rocket propelled grenades.

Col. Earle Baliao, commander of the Army’s 603rd Brigade, said the RPG projectiles were similar to the explosive used in the Davao City bombing.

He added that there seemed to be a terrorist plan to plant the projectiles along the highway.

“”Definitely we foiled a bombing attempt,” Baliao said.

The Philippine National Police on Thursday said it has established the identity of the primary suspect in the Davao City blast.

PNP Chief Dir. Gen. Ronald dela Rosa said Thursday the suspect was positively identified based on the testimony of two massage therapists.

Dela Rosa said the suspect has been identified even if his face was covered, by presenting to the witnesses 20 pictures or portraits showing features.

The PNP chief did not want to name the suspect as the manhunt continues.

What is clear, he said, is that the police already know where the suspect might be hiding.

He declined to name the terrorist group behind the blast, however.

In Davao City, Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio said the bounty for the arrest of the bombing suspects has grown to P3 million, after a businessman and a law firm donated P500,000 each to add the the P2 million reward offered by the city government.

The mayor said P1 million would be given for information about the identity and whereabouts of the suspects, while P2 million would be given to those who can arrest and bring the suspects alive to the authorities.

NDF/NDF-SMR: NDF lauds Duterte’s anti-US tirade, urges junking of US-PH unequal agreements

Propaganda statement posted to the National Democratic Front Website (Sep 8): NDF lauds Duterte’s anti-US tirade, urges junking of US-PH unequal agreements  

Press Statement
National Democratic Front of the Philippines
Southern Mindanao Region

The National Democratic Front in Southern Mindanao commends GPH Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte for his unprecedented statements against US imperialist intervention in the Philippines. No other Philippine president has ever publicly censured and taken US imperialism to task for its atrocious crimes against sovereign nations and peoples of the world.

Accustomed to high regard as a colonial master, US imperialism has had nothing but blind kowtowing from previous Philippine puppet regimes. Now at this critical time of its decisive hegemonic pivot to Asia and China’s challenge to its regional dominance, US imperialism’s sham “concern for human rights” is being challenged with open hostility by a government it considers its reliable lackey. The US government should be reminded and brought to justice for the millions of deaths in its hands, perpetrated in the name of consolidating its imperialist power over other sovereign states.

Indeed, US imperialism is worried about the present developments unraveling in the Philippines—the prospect of peace based on social justice. It can lose its control of the country if the peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDF should translate to the socio-economic and sovereign interest of the Filipino people. Hence, it is in its best interest to exploit anti-Duterte forces to sabotage the peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDFP and preempt any substantial talks with Moro revolutionary groups by fomenting anti-Moro sentiments with US-backed bombings and other terrorist attacks.

Calling out US imperialism as the two-faced terrorist is a fundamental step, but it must also translate to junking colonial agreements. For the benefit of the Filipino people, GPH Pres. Duterte and his government must abrogate the Mutual Defense Treaty and junk the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement—policies that continue to position the Philippines as a willing pawn for US imperialism’s wars of aggression.

Duterte must persevere with his anti-imperialist stance in the course of the Asean Summit in Laos, chart an independent international policy by repudiating US intervention and neoliberal policies and enjoin other member-nations to do the same.

Furthermore, Duterte must seriously consider the central components of the proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms under the GPH-NDF peace negotiations which aim to unchain the economy from the fetters of neoliberalism by advancing genuine land reform and national industrialization.


NDF hails Duterte’s bashing of US

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 8): NDF hails Duterte’s bashing of US

The National Democratic Front (NDF) lauded President Duterte’s anti-US  statement, calling it “unprecedented” even as  the  rebel group urged the President to junk unequal agreements with the US.

“The National Democratic Front in Southern Mindanao commends President Duterte for his unprecedented statement,” said the statement signed by Rubi deal Mundo, spokesperson of the NDF in Southern Mindanao. “No other Philippine president has ever publicly censured and taken US imperialism to task for its atrocious crimes against sovereign nations and peoples of the world.”

The NDF said that the US, accustomed to high regard as a colonial master, only has “had nothing but blind kowtowing from previous Philippine puppet regimes,” referring to the previous administrations.

“Now at this critical time of its decisive hegemonic pivot to Asia and China’s challenge to its regional dominance, US imperialism’s sham ‘concern for human rights is being challenged with open hostility by a government it considers its reliable lackey,” the statement said, referring to the Philippines.

“The US government should be reminded and brought to justice for the millions of deaths in its hands, perpetrated in the name of consolidating its imperialist power over other sovereign states.”

The statement said the US is worried about the present developments unraveling in the Philippines— the prospect of peace based on social justice.

“It can lose its control of the country if the peace negotiations with the NDF, and its armed wing the New People’s Army (NPA) should translate to the socio-economic and sovereign interest of the Filipino people,” the statement said.

“Hence, it is in its best interest to exploit anti-Duterte forces to sabotage the peace negotiations with the NDFP and preempt any substantial talks with Moro revolutionary groups by fomenting anti-Moro sentiments with US-backed bombings and other terrorist attacks.” it added.

But the NDF said calling US imperialism a “two-faced terrorist” is a “fundamental step,” but it’s not enough.

“It must also translate to junking colonial agreements for the benefit of the Filipino people,” the NDF statement said. “President Duterte and his government must abrogate the Mutual Defense Treaty and junk the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement,” explaining that these policies only continue to “position the Philippines as a willing pawn for US imperialism’s wars of aggression.”

The NDF said Mr. Duterte must persevere with his anti-imperialist stance in the course of the Asean summit in Laos, chart an independent international policy by repudiating US intervention and neoliberal policies and enjoin other member-nations to do the same.

The NDF also urged President Duterte to seriously consider the central components of the proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (Caser), the next substantive agenda in the recently resumed talks between the rebel groups and the government.

The statement said that Caser  aims to “unchain the economy from the fetters of neoliberalism by advancing genuine land reform and national industrialization.”

FULL TEXT: INQ&A with CPP founder Joma

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 8): FULL TEXT: INQ&A with CPP founder Joma

Taking a break from the first round of peace talks with the president, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria “Joma” Sison granted a live interview via INQ&A last August 23.

Sison once told that he sees the continuation of the peace process if then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte or Senator Grace Poe won the presidential elections. Now that Duterte is in power, both the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) have declared unilateral ceasefires and returned to the negotiating table.

These days, the NDF chief political consultant is busy with the peace negotiations, which both sides have deemed an initial success.

In this INQ&A interview, hosted by Editor in Chief John Nery and Chief of Reporters Kristine Sabillo, Sison talked about the prospects of the peace process, the Marcoses and the president.

INQ&A is broadcast live every Tuesday, 8 to 9 p.m. via INQ 990 Television (Digital Terrestrial Television), Radyo Inquirer 990AM, and’s Facebook and other social media accounts. Inquirer 990 TV can be viewed on ABS-CBN’s TV Plus, RCA and Godan digital TV boxes.

Below is the full transcript of the interview with Sison.

Kristine Sabillo, Chief of Reporters: Our interview this evening is very timely and relevant especially with yesterday’s opening of the formal peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front (NDF). Before we start with the interview, we would like to share three things that you might not know about our guest. The first one is that – I don’t know if, John, you know this already, but he previously released an album of poetry in songs titled “Songs of Love and Struggle.” He sang in that album, which was set to music by several artists. The second trivia is that he was President Duterte’s professor at the Lyceum of the Philippines University. And I think a lot of people know this already, but can you guess what subject it was?

John Nery, Editor in Chief: Political Science.

Sabillo: Yeah. It’s Political Science, but actually during my first interview with our guest, he said it was Political Thought. The last one is that, and this is a giveaway, his nom de guerre was Amado Guerrero when he wrote the book Philippine Society and Revolution or Lipunan at Rebolusyong Pilipino, which has become the manifesto of the Philippine revolutionary movement.

Our guest, ladies and gentlemen, is no other than Communist Party [of the Philippines] (CPP) Founder Joma Sison, who is now in Oslo, Norway for the formal peace talks.
Unfortunately our guest could not join us for the full hour today because they are in the middle of the talks actually in Norway.

Nery: Yes, right now it’s 8:18 pm in the Philippines. It’s 2:18 pm in Oslo. The royal Norwegian government is once again hosting the peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front. Our guest left his place of exile in the Netherlands to join the rest of the NDF peace panel in Oslo.

Sabillo: We have been actually seeing a lot of videos and photos from Norway from the account of the government and the representatives of the NDF as well. And it seems that they are having a good time actually, meeting members of the peace panel, both sides were actually members of peace panel from previous talks as well. That’t one of the things that we would talk about later when we talk to Ka Joma, about what he thinks is the prospect of the peace process now that is ongoing again after being stalled for several years.

Nery: What excites us this particular INQ&A is that we are talking to this member of the peace panel who is taking some time away from the peace panel to talk to us. So, right now they are in that hotel in talk sponsored by Norwegian government. Last December, Tine was able to interview Ka Joma in the Netherlands.

Sabillo: Actually if you remember we were in Paris to cover the climate change negotiation, and after that we went to the Netherlands to have a quick interview with the CPP founder. A lot of the things I would ask today would be a follow up to the things that we discuss then. The time that elections was still a couple of months off and we asked him about what he thought about the different presidential candidates and one of them is President Duterte who eventually won.

Nery: Good afternoon, Ka Joma.

Joma Sison: Good evening po diyan.

Sabillo: Good afternoon.

Nery: Maraming salamat for taking time out from the peace negotiations. If we can go straight to our questions, I know you don’t have all the time. How was the first day and a half of the negotiations?


Sison: The ceremony yesterday was very successful and then we started the, what you might call the work meeting. We were able to finish three of the five items and the agenda that set na yung (joint) na statement. We are running very well. But of course items four, five concerning amnesty and a mode of ceasefire will be more complex I suppose. What we have just finished doing is reaffirming the existing agreements between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines or GRP and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

At the second item that we were able to finish was the submission of the reconstituted list of the document holders who are entitled to the protection of the joint agreement on safety and immunity guarantees. And the third item concerns the accelerated plan in the peace negotiations and the panel-to-panel decision was to let the reciprocal working committees on social and economic reforms and the working groups on political and constitutional reforms and the working groups on end of hostilities and disposition of forces to hold a meeting this afternoon. And submit later the technical details of the scheduled plan of work.

Nery: Ka Joma, thank you. Yung sa agreement on the accelerated timetable sounds exciting. The last time there were negotiations, I think five or six years ago, there was also an attempt to have an 18-month timetable and so on. But they quickly ran aground. What makes this particular agreement now more solid?

Sison: President Duterte, in comparison to previous presidents, is more open to really accelerating the peace negotiations. The previous ones were more interested in the capitulation and pacification of the revolutionary forces under the guys of the protracted ceasefire. That was the problem. Now there seems to be greater determination on the part of the Manila government to make substantive agreements.

Sabillo: Ka Joma just going back to what you mentioned already. So, you have already finalized the list of the JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees)-protected consultants. Has the government panel accepted it? Because I remember that was one of the reasons why the peace talks were stalled in the past. They had problems with the list. So now we have a new list it’s final?

Sison: Previously the other side before, during the time of Aquino, stood or took a position rather that the JASIG was inoperative and therefore did not serve to protect the NDF personnel involved in the peace negotiation. But there is now a reconstitution of the list of those who are entitled to the protection of JASIG and this was what the NDFP is asking from the so-called GPH side, from the side of the Manila government and the negotiators of Aquino they simply said JASIG was inoperative and that was a big obstacle to the peace negotiation, but now JASIG is considered as valid and operative and the NDFP has just submitted the reconstituted list and so those involved in the peace negotiation in the side of the NDFP enjoyed the protection of JASIG.

Nery: Ka Joma, yung sa accelerated timetable I know you started by saying while some agreements, marami pang kailangang pag-usapan. Gusto ko lang sna maintindihan talaga, how long does this process take?

Sison: Ang pinagkasunduan na the reciprocal committees is working to draft the comprehensive agreement on social economic reforms or CASER will try to finish their drafting job within the next six months. So there’s definite timeline and then at the same time the reciprocal working groups on political and constitutional reforms and on the end of hostilities would work at the same time. And one of the other, the reciprocal working committees shall be formed accordingly and in order to finalize what would be ready made draft agreements prepared by the reciprocal working groups, so more or less within six months you have the drafts of the comprehensive on the social and economic reform as well as preliminary drafts on political and constitutional reforms and end comprehensive agreement on the end of hostilities.

Nery: If I would try to understand that in simpler fashion, Ka Joma, when can we expect you back in the Philippines?

Sison: My going to the Philippines?

Nery: Yes, for a lot of people that’s a sign that the peace agreement is progressing.

Sison: The panels are supposed to meet in Oslo either on their own account or the supervision of their bodies that are responsible for drafting the comprehensive agreements. So, paspasan ang trabaho so I suppose I will be in Europe for the next six months to participate in the drafting work so there is no hurry and I was supposed to go the Philippines to attend the premier showing of Tibak, the story of Kabataang Makabayan. President Duterte and I supposed to attend the premier showing in order to receive the Gawad Supremo but that has to be postponed and instead I sent a video message, and I don’t know if President Duterte would be able to attend. So there was a definite target for my going to the Philippines but of course I give priority to the peace negotiations in Oslo.

Sabillo: Ka Joma how are the peace panels now? We’ve been seeing a lot of videos, it seems the two sides even if they are coming from the different parties, and they get along. I believe a lot of them have been involved in peace talks previously.

Sison: They’re laughing and well half of the time I suppose. And they manage to agree in the serious matter between exchanges of jokes. That’s the atmosphere. So anyway there is the spirit prevailing to make the agreements according to the time schedule.

Sabillo: When is the next round of talks and when can we expect after the six months when the agreements are finally drafted. The full agreements are represented.

Sison: I think the next meeting would be a meeting to draft the compressive agreements and I suppose after this meeting in Oslo, there is going to be another formal meeting next month or early October.


Nery: Ka Joma if you don’t mind we’ll talk about something not directly related to the peace talks. But may have an impact on them. I’m sure you heard reports that the Philippine military, some of the rank and file, are feeling a little restive especially with the release of the Tiamzon couple. How do you read?

Sison: You know in any army, the first rule is to obey all orders of the command. And so the commander in chief, the president of the Philippines, President Duterte made the decision that the army, the military, has to follow. There has been no objection and legal processes had been followed. And at the same time, the joint agreement on safety and immunity guarantees had been involved to justify the releases. Because indeed the consultants of the NDFP had been imprisoned for quite some time, had been arrested in violation of the JASIG. So it’s very important that the GRP side, the Manila government side, accepts the validity of the JASIG and in accordance with JASIG, the release had been made.

Sabillo: Ka Joma we have a question from Facebook. We’ve been getting questions from social media. This is not directly involved in the peace talks. But I think a lot of the young people, the young people involved in the political discourse right now especially online, they didn’t live through Martial law for example. They weren’t able to see how the revolutionary movement prospered at that time. So this question is from Jojo Castillo, he’s asking is the arm struggle still necessary?


Sison: The arm struggle is necessary, has been necessary, because of what President Duterte has described for himself as corrupt character, rottenness of the system. And you know he’s not far from the left in saying that the oligarchs have oppressed and exploited the people and of course he recognizes that the oligarchs are servile to foreign power like US. So he himself says that he is the first left president. So, that explains why he has a political will that goes along with the political will of the NDFP in the resuming the formal talks of the peace negotiations. It seems that he is determined and so we can hoe for better results and then previously, because the previous administrations were only interested in the capitulation and pacification of the revolutionary forces. President Duterte has expressly declared that he’s for justice.
He’s against the oppression and exploitations suffered by the people. So along this time the peace negotiations are being conducted and so the first comprehensive agreement that will be worked out in the time of President Duterte concerns social and economic reforms to be followed by political and constitutional reforms.

Nery: Ka Joma, the revolutionary movement was born in a particular context and that context was defined by the presidency of Marcos. I know that you already…


Sison: The most brutal form of oppressive government was the fascist dictatorship of Marcos. Instead of this fascist dictatorship succeeding in suppressing the revolutionary movement, it stimulated it. It laid the ground. We used to call Marcos the chief transport and supply officer, the chief recruiter of the New People’s Army because of his oppressive rule, extremely oppressive rule, the people rose up and the New People’s Army became strong. But even after Marcos, even after the pseudo-democratic regimes from Cory Aquino to Noynoy Aquino came, there was only a masquerade that went on. There was the facade of democracy but in fact are behind it are the other worms of the rocking system. There is a continuous process of rotting and worsening of the prices, and the naturally because the people continue to suffer, exploitation and oppression. The New People’s Army has managed to become strong and forced to be reckoned with. There would be no peace negotiations if in the first place the New People’s government has no value whatsoever. The […] tribes among the people as an instrument for justice against oppression and exploitation. So you have peace negotiations. In other words, the pseudo, the false democratic regimes that followed the outrightly brutal anti-democratic regime of Marcos were not really democratic, especially in the very substantive terms. Peasants continued to be exploited. Land problem continue to be worse.

Nery: But it’s the same pseudo-democratic government system that elected you are now conducting peace negotiations with.

Sison: But you know this is a president that you might call that beat the system too. He is a product of the system, but he beat the system with much less money with other wealthier candidates. He won by properly adopting the campaign line. I’m not saying that he’s a sure fire perfect president, but you know among the candidates he was the one who effectively attacked the rotten Aquino regime and the candidate Mar Roxas. And then he adopted the campaign methods he would characterize a mass movement, and of course he availed of the social media.

Nery: Ka Joma, speaking of rotten regimes. You did classify the Marcos regime as the worst, and yet it is okay with you for Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani?

Sison: I said that my bottomline is Marcos should be buried in the Batac, because the real remains are already buried there beside the mother as he wish. What is going to be brought to the Libingan ng mga ‘Traydor’ at mga Bayani to be more precise about the Libingan ng mga Bayani, don’t just say it is an exclusive cemetery for heroes. It includes a lot of non-heroes. Most likely you’re going to have the wax here with a big mausoleum to be built to sort of to make a monument for the dictator.


Sabillo: Ka Joma you mentioned a while ago that President Duterte is not the perfect president. I remember when I interviewed you in the Netherlands at the time I think Duterte wasn’t leading in the surveys yet. The two of you had a long relationship. He was your student and you said you don’t think he is the best president but you liked that he has strength of character but at the same time he has a loose mouth. And the past few months were a bit of a rollercoaster for the two of you. You were trading barbs for a while because of the unilateral ceasefire issue. And the last statement I read from is that you have reaffirmed you friendship. How is your relationship with the president with those controversial kinds of issues?

Sison: There was a miscommunication. I call it a communication leech so frankly our friendship that grew out of our student-teacher relationship has been able to prevail over the communications leech. I would say that President Duterte has been concerned anyway about the public welfare, what’s good for the people and that is the line that I also take. We’ve come to continue pushing the peace process forward. I’m the pointed out in the many instances that Duterte is a mixed bag, but he has shown in Davao city that for some three decades he was to able to cooperate with the revolutionary movement as well as the legal progressive forces and so he knows how to mix his fallacies. He tries to be inclusive and of course as I said he is not perfect. He is still born out of the system and what we have is the promise too fundamentally better than the previous presidents. Let us see. He’s only 5o days in his office. As far as the peace process is concerned, he beats the previous presidents except probably Ramos, because Ramos in his time, allowed some agreements to be made including the framework agreement, the […] declaration in 1992 and the comprehensive agreement on respect for the human rights and international humanitarian law. We still have to see whether during the time of Duterte we can have comprehensive agreement on social and economic reform. We still have to see if we can go further than that and really establish the ground for a just and lasting peace.


Nery: Ka Joma, if I can go back to our earlier conversation about Marcos, about rotten system, pseudo-democracy that you say we are living in. My question really has to with apprehension of people who support the peace process fully, who still fear that is it is precisely by statements like this by you that will undermine support for both the peace process and by the Duterte administration. Statements like – I’ll give two examples – one, that this os just a pseudo-democracy and two, that maybe we should rename the Libingan ng mga Traydor at ng mga Bayani that is not a popular idea, I can tell you. How do you respond to this? Just to recap, the apprehensions of the people who support the peace agreement who are happy that the first day and half of talks have gone so well. And then they here statements like this, and they wonder is this just a continuation of the revolution by other means?

Sison: The revolutionary movement is open to the possibility of achieving […] democratic reforms. And what do I mean by […] democratic reforms? National independence and doing away with unequal treaties and arrangements; having democracy; empowering the working people; economic development through national industrialization and land reforms; expanded free education at all levels – public; a patriotic and progressive culture and international solidarity; trained and diplomatic relations at all countries. So, what is there that is not possible. Duterte himself says he is a socialist, but you know in the Philippines you cannot be a socialist without first accomplishing the […] democratic reforms. As what I’ve already stated, what is the content of the […] democratic reforms, those are not impossible in a combination of what you might call left and middle forces that is not impossible and even when the left and the middle combine, maybe the right can even be split and give them the chance. Some of them can have the chance to participate in the process of accomplishing what we have always called national democracy. It would be possible to even buy out the landlords at a fair expropriation price and their […] with industrial bounds they participate in industrialization. Those are […] democratic reforms adopted in other countries. So now you have a president, quite different from all the other presidents. He said he is going to revolutionize the government. I haven’t heard of other president saying that.

Nery: Except Marcos. Marcos did proclaim himself to be the architect of the revolution from the center.

Sison: Marcos, one of a master of deception. He said revolution is democracy; he is making revolution from the center and so on and so forth. But Marcos wasn’t acquisitive man even as a congressman, we came from the same region. I know exactly how he built a mansion in Batac. He built his mansion by making money on Chinese immigration and on the foreign exchange control. That’s Marcos and of course when he became the president, he accelerated the spending of […] and got the big cut. So people are impressed with big public works projects, but Marcos made unprecedented cuts from those projects. That’s Marcos and of course when he said he would make the country great again, it would be at the price of suppressing the patriotic and progressive forces that’s why there was immediately a clash between his ambitions and attempt to put up a dictatorship on one side and the patriotic and progressive forces in the country as well as the entire Filipino people.


Sabillo: Ka Joma, I’ll go straight to the issue of drug killings, I think this issue has divided the Filipino people. Some are welcoming what has been happening with the drug campaign, with the anti-illegal drug campaign, while others are questioning the rising number of supposed extrajudicial killings. What is your stand on this?

Sison: I go along with the progressive forces. They have a critical views of this because when the numbers are rising, let’s say, you get standard explanation that they are resisting arrest but their family say that these people are being hit arbitrarily on the streets and on urban poor areas while the big drug lords get better treatment and they don’t get killed that way. Well that is something that Mr. Duterte has to answer for and he should answer you. I’m not his spokesman. But of course, honestly speaking you were asking me my opinion. My opinion is in the peace negotiations, we try to resolve radically different ideas and programs. And we try to seek common ground by evoking the interest of the Filipino people. Even in the peace process you must be able to recognize that it exist because of the armed conflict no less. The strongest kind of opposition to any government of the Philippines up to the time of Duterte is still the arm revolution. This matter, the arm conflict, can be settled only if you address the roots. And so the revolutionary forces with which I’m more associated more than anything else in the Philippines would stand its ground anywhere in any arena, debate and as well as in the arena of peace negotiations – peace negotiation is not a process so we’ll be into those in power, remember that.

Nery: Can you give us an example, Ka Joma, for instance sa usaping political and constitutional reforms. Can you give us an example of an issue that will be taken up in that particular category, that will be subject to negotiation sa political and constitutional.

Sison: There are two constitutions. There are two governments in the Philippines right now. You must recognize that there are two – the People’s Democratic government of workers and peasants; and the government of the big  […] and landlords. So despite the talk of President Duterte against all the oligarchs so far he has not yet revolutionized really the existing state. So , there is a lot of hard work attend in trying in arrive possibly in something new. I think when it comes to political and constitutional reforms, then there will have to be an agreement. What’s the working paper? Is it the constitution of the […] and landlords or the constitution of the workers and the peasants. The third working paper remains to be same because we because we haven’t really began the negotiations. Duterte’s interested in radically changing the constitution in favor of federalism and most likely parliamentary system.

Nery: For instance Ka Joma, he wants to do away with the party list innovation. What are your views on this?


Sison: As a concession to supposedly the marginalized, it’s a […] expression to refer actually to the majority of oppressed people. There are parties that stand for workers and peasants who don’t much say really within the system. So the party list should supposed to be an opening, but you look at the Congress now and there are so few of them. I don’t know how much better would be that Congress of […] and landlords agents, political agents of the oligarchy, would look if you remove the few party list progressives. If you remove the party list progressives, you may not hear anymore any patriotic and progressive sound. At least you get some of that sound now. We have to see what better system the Duterte government is trying to offer by doing away with the party list. But anyway I heard his argument; the party list system is now being taken over by the dynasties. That’s also a valid criticism. As a matter of fact there was concern on the part of the progressive party list groups that the dynasties might wipe the mouth and it remains to be seen whether the progressive can maintain their existence over time.


Sabillo: My last question, Ka Joma, would be that some of the people are asking what are your bottomlines in the negotiating table? What are your non-negotiables? What are the things that will make you leave the negotiating table? And related to that maybe you could just answer, you already mentioned the party list groups. Some of the former party list representatives are with the Cabinet of President Duterte right now. What do you think would make them leave eventually? It’s the same with the peace talks, parang parallel lang to that. What should make them leave the administration, if ever, in the future?

Sison: If for instance the Duterte government is only interested in the prolonged ceasefire, so that it can forget the demand of the people for social, economic and political reforms, then the revolutionary movement has to consider whether it is still useful to go on with the peace process. As what I have already told you, the reforms being demanded are really attainable if those negotiating on both sides have the interest of the people in mind. What is wrong about national independence and the doing away with unequal treaties and agreements? What is wrong with giving more leeway to the workers and peasants to empower themselves? What is wrong with economic development through national industrialization or land reforms? If those things are clearly impossible in the peace negotiations then there’s no reason really for pursuing it. Peace negotiation is not a process of surrendering, just having peace and peace of oppression, exploitation – that cannot be, because so long as oppression and exploitation continue, then there is always fertile ground for arm resistance by the people.

Nery: Ka Joma, thank you very much for spending more time than we though we would have with you. Maraming salamat po. We hope to have more conversation with you.

Sison: Maraming salamat po sa ating mga kababayan. Sa inyong mga tagapakinig, sa inyong binigay na pagkakataon sa akin magpaliwanag.

Philippines positions naval blockade against Abu Sayyaf

From UPI (Sep 8): Philippines positions naval blockade against Abu Sayyaf

The Philippine navy deployed its newest and largest ship to establish a blockade around the island province of Sulu to prevent the Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf from fleeing.

The BRP Tarlac will lead the blockade in the Sulu Sea after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the country's military to destroy the terror-linked group. Abu Sayyaf has claimed responsibility for a bombing that left 15 dead in Davao City and for multiple beheadings in the past months.

Brig. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, commander of a joint task force battling the group, said the ship will serve as a command and control center for naval operations. The navy is preparing to track down Abu Sayyaf members if they attempt to flee, he said.

 [Video report: Inside PH Navy's newest and largest BRP Tarlac]

Philippines: Case of Italian kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf

From Al Jazeera (Sep 8): Philippines: Case of Italian kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf  

Abner Muloc is accused of being involved in the abduction of a former Italian priest in the Philippines in October 2015.

In 2014, Muloc was also accused of a separate kidnapping case [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]

In 2014, Muloc was also accused of a separate kidnapping case [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]

Zamboanga Peninsula, Philippines - With the largest ever mobilisation of government troops under way against Abu Sayyaf fighters in the southern Philippines, an accused member of the armed group has appeared in court.
Abner Muloc, known as "Commander Red Eye" by the Philippines military, was flanked by around two dozen armed security personnel during his hearing on Thursday in Dipolog City, on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao, where he denied involvement in the kidnapping of a former Italian priest last year.
Through his lawyer, Muloc, with his distinctive red, bloodshot, right eye, asked to be released temporarily, saying there was "no case for the prosecution" to detain him related to the kidnapping of Italian Ronaldo del Torchio, who was abducted in October 2015.
Authorities accuse Muloc of assisting Abu Sayyaf kidnappers "select and stalk" the former Italian priest who owned a restaurant in Dipolog. The Italian was released after six months in captivity, and after a ransom was reportedly paid. 
Muloc, also known as Sehar Muloc, was arrested in June 2016, two months after del Torchio was released by Abu Sayyaf from their stronghold in the Sulu archipelago, where an ongoing military offensive has killed at least 32 fighters and left more than a dozen government soldiers dead.
Abu Sayyaf, whose name translates as "Bearer of the Sword", has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and has been involved in a spate of kidnapping cases in Muslim-majority Sulu and elsewhere in the southern Philippines.

The group emerged in the early 1990s as an offshoot of a separatist rebellion being fought by minority Moro Muslims in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines. Conducting bombings, kidnappings, beheadings and extortion, Abu Sayyaf's kidnap-for-ransom operations have become a lucrative business for the group.

In June and April, Abu Sayyaf claimed responsibility for the beheadings of two Canadians and is believed to be holding several other foreign nationals for ransom.

The group was also blamed for a bombing last week that left 14 people dead in Davao City, the hometown of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

The bombing, which occurred as the military pressed its attack in Abu Sayyaf's stronghold in Sulu, prompted Duterte to declare a nationwide "state of lawless violence".

The president also ordered the deployment of thousands more troops to hunt and finally destroy Abu Sayyaf forces in Sulu. The Philippine navy has also reportedly set up a naval blockade around the island chain to prevent any of the fighters from escaping.

With the country on a heightened state of alert since the Davao bombing, Muloc's appearance in court on Thursday prompted several court personnel to skip work.

Some feared that Abu Sayyaf might attack and attempt to free the "high-value" defendant, three court staff told Al Jazeera.

Muloc's wife, Sarifa, told Al Jazeera that her husband's arrest and detention is politically motivated [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]

'Easy target'

Inside the court, armed guards kept close watch as Muloc sat with other defendants in handcuffs.

Listening to the back-and-forth between his lawyer, a government prosecutor and the judge, Muloc, who was wearing a prison-issued yellow t-shirt, jeans and red rubber sandals, stared mostly in the direction of the judge, occasionally bowing his head.

Philippine army vows to eradicate Abu Sayyaf group
"I can tell you straight in the eyes that he is not a leader, or member of the Abu Sayyaf," Muloc's wife, Sarifa, told Al Jazeera.

Sarifa and Muloc's sisters, Nur-Ana and Selma, said his arrest and detention were politically motivated.

"He was not involved in the abduction," Sarifa said, adding that her husband was an easy fall guy for the military because he was a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The MILF, the Philippines' largest Muslim rebel group, signed a peace agreement with the government in 2014. That deal, however, stalled following the death of several government special forces in during a botched operation in 2015.

Nur-Ana said her brother was maliciously identified as a "terrorist" by his "enemies", who were jealous of his business dealings with the local government.

"If we are terrorists, then we would not be even here showing our face in public," Nur-Ana told Al Jazeera, adding that authorities should review the CCTV footage, which recorded the abduction of del Torchio and would exonerate her brother.

Following his arrest in June, Major Filemon Tan Jr, spokesperson of the Philippine Army, told reporters that Muloc had direct links to Abu Sayyaf.

The next hearing of the kidnapping case against Muloc is set for November.

In the meantime, President Duterte's campaign against Abu Sayyaf appears to show no sign of slowing.

Speaking in Laos for a summit of regional leaders on Monday, Duterte said that he would "eat" Abu Sayyaf "alive, raw".

Muloc and other defendants in court on Thursday. [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]