Sunday, September 11, 2016

What Countries Are Taking Sides After the South China Sea Ruling?

Fro the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (Sep): What Countries Are Taking Sides After the South China Sea Ruling?

On July 12, a tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued its long-awaited ruling on Manila’s case against Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea. How many countries recognize the decision as legally binding on both parties and call for it to be respected will determine its ultimate value, as international pressure is the court’s only enforcement mechanism. In recent months, AMTI scoured publicly available, official statements in an effort to determine the real positions taken by countries toward the ruling. It is enlightening to compare the level of global support expressed since the July 12 ruling to the positions of countries in the months leading up to the verdict. A full list of official statements, both pre- and post-ruling, is available at the bottom of this feature.

Shifting Sands

In the first half of 2016, Beijing recognized that a ruling on the merits of the case was imminent and launched a diplomatic effort to convince governments around the world to voice support for its position that the arbitral tribunal was illegitimate and lacked jurisdiction in the case. On the eve of the ruling, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that more than 60 countries supported this position, but had not provided a comprehensive list or, in most cases, evidence for this claim. Eventually, AMTI identified 31 countries that had publicly voiced support for Beijing’s position, along with 4 that had denied any such support and 26 that had remained publicly silent despite China’s claim of support or had issued statements that were considerably vaguer than indicated by China. In contrast, 40 countries had said that the arbitral award would be legally binding and had called on both China and the Philippines to respect it.
Before the Ruling…

In the month since the ruling was issued, AMTI has identified 7 countries that have publicly called for the arbitral award to be respected, 33 that have issued generally positive statements noting the verdict but have stopped short of calling for the parties to abide by it, 9 that have made overly vague or neutral statements without addressing the ruling, and 6 that have publicly rejected it. A few differences are clear between the level of support pre- and post-ruling
After the Ruling…

The 28 members of the European Union, along with several non-members, voiced support for binding arbitration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in a March joint statement about the South China Sea, but then failed to endorse the final ruling as legally binding in an otherwise positive statement following the award. These included Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom, all of which signed onto a statement at the May G-7 meeting in Japan that had called on China to abide by the forthcoming ruling. One of the non-EU members that voluntarily signed onto the March statement—Montenegro—even reversed position following the July 12 award and sided with China in rejecting the ruling.
There is a strong correlation between the level of support shown for the South China Sea arbitration, and a country’s level of corruption and strength of governance/rule of law …
Several Asian nations that had remained silent before the ruling—India, Malaysia, Myanmar, and South Korea—have since issued positive statements regarding the award, without explicitly calling on China to submit to the court’s judgment. Taiwan, meanwhile, has rejected the ruling based on the court’s finding that Itu Aba, Taipei’s only occupied feature in the Spratly Islands, is legally a rock rather than an island. But most of the support that China previously claimed has not been in evidence since the ruling. The majority of China’s backing before the judgment, including from the 22 members of the League of Arab States, took the form of joint statements which included mention of the right of countries to exempt certain types of disputes from compulsory settlement as provided for by article 298 of UNCLOS (which China claims invalidated the arbitral proceedings because they actually touched upon boundary delimitation, from which it has exempted itself). That support for a general principle has not translated into public opposition to the recent judgment.

There is a strong correlation between the level of support shown for the South China Sea arbitration, and a country’s level of corruption and strength of governance/rule of law, as measured by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) and Freedom House’s Freedom in the World scores. There are exceptions, mostly involving states directly involved in the South China Sea or similar disputes, but generally countries with greater respect for rule of law at home and more insulated from Chinese economic coercion have been more willing to speak in defense of the arbitral tribunal and international law more broadly.

Countries that have voiced support for the ruling have an average CPI of 67 and Freedom House score of 81, while those positively acknowledging the award without calling for compliance have averages of 62 and 86. By comparison, those that have publicly opposed the ruling have an average CPI of 37 and a Freedom House score of 50.

AMTI defined support for China’s position ahead of the ruling as an explicit public statement that 1) the arbitral tribunal lacked jurisdiction or legitimacy; 2) the right of states to choose their own method of dispute resolution should be respected (and therefore compulsory dispute mechanisms such as the tribunal are invalid); or 3) the right of states to exempt certain types of disputes from compulsory settlement as provided for by article 298 of UNCLOS should be respected.

Duterte’s Colorful Diplomatic Debut

From the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (Sep 8): Duterte’s Colorful Diplomatic Debut (By Richard Javad Heydarian)

The Philippines’ newly minted president couldn’t have asked for a more high-profile diplomatic debut when he attended this week’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, which saw the participation of the leaders from across the Asia Pacific, including the United States, Japan, China, Russia, and India, along with the secretary-general of the United Nations.

It was a unique opportunity for Rodrigo Duterte, the firebrand Filipino leader, to showcase a more statesmanlike demeanor, build his international profile, and seek support for the Philippines amid intensified disputes in the South China Sea. Duterte was also expected to officially accept the Philippines’ chairmanship of ASEAN for 2017—the grouping’s 50th anniversary—which carries significant symbolic value.

A scheduled meeting with President Barack Obama, who was on his final trip to Asia as president of the United States, was the most anticipated of Duterte’s nine planned bilateral meetings during the summit. Yet, to the astonishment of even Duterte’s most avid followers, the Philippine leader couldn’t keep himself from uttering expletives against his U.S. counterpart, provoking uproar in Washington and across the global media landscape.

In response, Obama decided to cancel the bilateral meeting, raising concerns about a potential diplomatic crisis between Washington and Manila. The Duterte administration subsequently released a statement of “regret” and the White House said that U.S.-Philippine relations remain ”rock solid,” leading more sanguine observers to hope that the two allies had quickly settled the matter.

But such optimism is premature, as the dust-up could signal the start of a painful reconfiguration in Philippine-U.S. relations under Duterte. Bilateral relations are too institutionalized to be disrupted by a short-term diplomatic hiccup, but they no longer look as special and sacrosanct as before.

More than Meets the Eye

Duterte represents many firsts for the Philippines. He is the first president from conflict-ridden Mindanao, which is racked by insurgences, constantly plays host to American-assisted counter-terror operations, and suffers from a massive development deficit. He is the first Filipino leader who is a self-described “socialist,” with deep ties to leftist progressive groups which have gained unprecedented access to the upper echelons of power within the Duterte administration. And he is the first Philippine president with a policy agenda focused almost exclusively on law and order, particularly the fight against illegal drugs. Added to these firsts is his penchant for off-the-cuff statements, spontaneous rants, and long-winded tirades, which have embarrassed polite society but deeply endeared him to the disillusioned lower-classes.
Crucially for the United States, Duterte is also the first Philippine president to have so explicitly called for a more independent foreign policy. Upon his election, Duterte declared, “I will be charting a [new] course [for the Philippines] on its own and will not be dependent on the United States.” It was a brazen and audacious policy pronouncement in a profoundly pro-American society, where much of the intelligentsia and security forces feel deep affinity with the United States.

A reliable iconoclast, Duterte has consistently encouraged diplomatic outreach to China, which is deeply unpopular in the Philippines, specifically in light of the South China Sea disputes. For Duterte, confrontation with China is not only futile but foolish. He is interested in reviving heavily-strained bilateral ties, with a focus on inviting back large-scale Chinese infrastructure investment.

It is highly likely that Duterte will choose Beijing for his first official state visit, a remarkable departure from his predecessors, who usually chose Washington as their first diplomatic destination. Meanwhile, Duterte has adopted a hardline position against any criticism of his “shock and awe” anti-crime campaign, which has drawn negative reaction from the United Nations, the United States, and international media. No wonder, then, that Duterte felt provoked when President Obama made it clear that he would raise human rights concerns in their planned bilateral meeting.

Earlier Duterte had threatened, in dark humor, to pull his country out of the United Nations if the latter pushed ahead with human rights-related investigations in the Philippines. He also shunned any formal meeting with UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit.

A Fluid Landscape

Aside from the high-profile diplomatic misstep with Washington, Duterte’s bilateral meetings with Asian leaders, especially with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, went smoothly and were highly cordial. His decision to effectively de-multilateralize the South China Sea disputes, calling for peaceful dialogue and downplaying the Philippines’ arbitration case against China, has struck a chord with many ASEAN leaders, who are eager to avoid any diplomatic collision with China.

In fact, many ASEAN leaders quietly relish the fact that the new Philippine leader is adopting a more pragmatic and conciliatory approach toward China, as opposed to the previous Benigno Aquino administration which constantly pressured its regional peers to rally against Beijing. In this sense, Duterte is seen as a diplomatic dove.

Hardly any Asian leader has expressed concern with human rights conditions in the Philippines. Some may enjoy, or even admire, Duterte’s spirited criticism of the United States’ human rights record and his strongman aura. Nevertheless, the Duterte administration, which is simultaneously grappling with terrorism and maritime threats from China, can’t fully alienate the United States.

Duterte has made it clear that he will not scuttle existing security agreements with Washington, which are crucial to the Philippines’ minimum defense requirements. Burgeoning negotiations with Beijing could go awry, especially amid fears that China may soon move ahead with building facilities on the bitterly-contested Scarborough Shoal. If China refuses to make any tangible concessions on the South China Sea, particularly over fisheries resources at Scarborough, the Duterte administration will have no choice but to revert to a more confrontational approach lest it provoke domestic political backlash.

This is precisely why security relations with the United States will remain indispensable for the Philippines. Nonetheless, it is clear that under the Duterte presidency, the United States can no longer expect the same level of strategic deference and diplomatic support. This is the new normal in Philippine-U.S. relations.

[Richard Javad Heydarian is an Assistant Professor in political science at De La Salle University, and a policy advisor at the Philippine House of Representatives (2009-2015). He is the author of the forthcoming book Asia’s New Battlefield: The US, China, and the Struggle for Western Pacific.]

Signs of Diminishing Returns for US Military Investment Against A2/AD

From The Diplomat (Sep 2): Signs of Diminishing Returns for US Military Investment Against A2/AD (By )

Trends show U.S. could maintain its military edge and still fight to a draw in the future.

Assuming Chinese technological trajectories stay on the path they are on, trying to win wars by exploiting dominance of the air and sea is going to become increasingly expensive and come with a lower likelihood of success for the United States. Two of the Pentagon’s biggest acquisition programs, the Ford-class supercarrier and the F-35 jet fighter, already show evidence of the United States paying much more for a proportionally smaller increase in combat performance, a diminishing future operational return on increasing military investments.

In other words, the cost curve and the performance curve for some major U.S. military upgrades do not match, and the cost curve is much steeper, something that may eventually force a change in U.S. strategy against the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) threat. Consequently, both the assumption that U.S. strategy and procurement can continue as normal or that the U.S. should massively invest in radical new technology to dominate and defeat Chinese A2/AD may be misplaced. Instead, it may be technologically infeasible or too expensive to decisively “win” an A2/AD war in the Pacific in the next two decades. Consequently, future U.S. strategy may need to focus on preventing a Chinese victory rather than ensuring a U.S. one.

Competing essays in the fall issue of Foreign Affairs by prominent U.S. national security figures confidently proclaim contrasting assessments of the U.S. military and what it must do to preserve its advantages in a potential clash with China. But for all their differences, both assert U.S. success in a conflict against China (so long as their respective remedies are followed by the next Administration). Contrary to these broad pronouncements, recent academic and think tank studies are pessimistic that U.S. primacy would unambiguously prevail against future Chinese A2/AD capabilities, whether or not the U.S. makes drastic strategic and technological changes to counter them.

In their Foreign Affairs essay, “America’s Awesome Military,” Brookings military analyst Michael O’Hanlon and retired General and former CIA Director David Petraeus assert that the U.S. military is “awesome”, plays “in a totally different league”, and that this is unlikely to change soon. “Preserving Primacy,” by Texas Congressman Mac Thornberry and former CEO of the influential Center for Security and Budget Analysis Andrew Krepinevich, claims alternately that the U.S. faces “mounting threats,” “diminished stature” and “growing uncertainty.” Both believe U.S. interests in the Pacific can be defended against an ascendant China; O’Hanlon and Petraeus think this can be done “without radical changes or major buildups,” while Thornberry and Krepinevich insist “major changes” are necessary to preserve access to the sea, air, and cyberspace against China’s A2/AD capabilities.

Optimism about U.S. primacy and technological edge against China ignores the trends that make maintaining that edge increasingly expensive. It also ignores inherent defensive advantages of A2/AD systems that require disproportionate technology and capability to counter. This means that the ability to translate that U.S. military edge into decisive victory will continue to erode in the face of maturing Chinese capabilities, even if they remain technologically inferior. Biddle and Oelrich, writing in International Security, find that by 2040 “Chinese A2/AD [will be] a real threat to U.S. interests in the Western Pacific that cannot be averted at a sustainable cost.” Instead of trying to defeat A2/AD offensively, they believe the United States and its allies should invest in their own comparatively cost-effective A2/AD capabilities to contain any possible Chinese offensive.

The U.S. Navy’s next-generation aircraft carrier demonstrates how the cost of maintaining a qualitative technological edge is increasing disproportionately to the operational advantage it is meant to provide. The Pentagon’s top acquisition official is reviewing the still-under-construction Ford-class carrier over concerns about the performance of critical subsystems and the ship’s delivery schedule, calling the decision to incorporate so much unproven technology in the ship’s design premature in hindsight. Retired U.S. Navy Captain and Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, Dr. Jerry Hendrix, is critical of the Navy’s future carrier strategy, even assuming the unfinished systems work as advertised. He highlights the disproportionate costs of planned carriers’ advantages, particularly in an A2/AD environment where they are increasingly vulnerable:
[Current] carriers can generate approximately 120 sorties a day. The Ford-class carriers…are projected to launch around 160 sorties per day, a 33 percent increase in launch capacity. This seems very impressive until one realizes that the USS George H.W. Bush, the last Nimitz carrier, cost $7 billion and the USS Gerald R. Ford is coming in at $13.5 billion. In the end, the nation is paying nearly 94 percent more for a carrier that can only do 33 percent more work.
Escalating costs aside, the U.S. Navy remains confident of its ability to operate within China’s A2/AD envelope. Admiral John Richardson, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, told The National Interest that achieving A2/AD’s promise is a complicated endeavor for potential adversaries, and stated unequivocally that U.S. carriers and their air wings could fight successfully in an advanced anti-air and anti-ship missile environment. However, as I discussed two weeks ago, recent analysis by scholars Biddle and Oerlich, and another by RAND, does not question the United States’ current advantage over China. But technological trends suggest the U.S. advantage will deteriorate over the coming decades regardless of increased U.S. investment in counter-A2/AD capabilities, and they conclude that in a future Pacific conflict, “neither power enjoys wartime freedom of surface or air movement.”

In addition to the Ford’s greater cost, there are doubts about the performance of its future air wing in a mature A2/AD environment. The multi-service F-35 program has been plagued with massive cost overruns, delays, and questions about its technology and combat effectiveness. A decade after its selection, the plane has only just been declared to have initial operational capability, even as recent Pentagon tests still find major deficiencies with its combat capability.

Still, the Navy is confident of the as-yet undeployed F-35’s future promise. The admiral in charge of air warfare told The National Interest that “The F-35 is a quantum leap in air superiority—survivable, supersonic, comes with fighter agility and unbelievable, revolutionary comprehensive sensor suite,” providing naval air wings of 2025 major increases in capability. However, the other major customer for the F-35, the U.S. Air Force, has determined the aircraft will be unable to deliver required air superiority in the expected A2/AD environment by 2030 and is already developing requirements for a replacement “Penetrating Counter Air” platform. Given the F-35’s decade-long procurement journey, and the fact that it is still not fully deployment-ready, the requirement for an even more advanced follow-on aircraft to be available in the next 15 years underscores the long-term questions about a counter-A2/AD strategy.

The U.S. military may be in a “different league,” but defeating advanced A2/AD is like a playing a different game and by someone else’s rules. U.S. efforts like the “third offset” may yet produce disruptive new technologies that would enable a genuinely decisive U.S. victory over mature A2/AD systems, so faith in both the present U.S. military advantage and the obstacles for ascendant competitors to realize an effective A2/AD shield is not misplaced. But current acquisition challenges and technological trends suggest it will become increasingly expensive just to maintain the ability to fight to a stalemate in the next two decades. At that point, the difference in cost of ensuring a U.S. victory versus simply denying victory to a competitor may motivate fundamental shifts in U.S. strategy, force structure, and military objectives.

Philippine Defense Policy Under Duterte: What’s in a Budget?

From The Diplomat (Sep 8): Philippine Defense Policy Under Duterte: What’s in a Budget?

A closer look at the first budget the president has submitted to Congress since taking office.

Late last month, the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte submitted its first budget proposal to Congress. Though it still has to go through an approval process and we are just over two months into his six year term, it is worth taking a closer look to see what this tells us about his potential priorities in the defense realm.
Duterte has asked Congress for a 15 percent year-on-year increase in the country’s defense budget, taking it to 130.6 billion pesos ($2.9 billion). Those glancing at that figure alone might conclude that the Philippines is engaged in a major defense buildup. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the country currently has one of the weakest militaries in the Asia-Pacific following years of neglect in this realm, so it is in fact building from a low base and is rushing to catch up with some of its regional peers (See: “The Truth About Philippine Military Modernization and the China Threat”).

As with defense budgets more generally, the distribution of the budget among the services tells us much more than the total amount which often makes the headlines. Within the budget, the bulk of it is going to the Philippine Army ($1.2 billion), with the rest going to the Philippine Navy ($442 million) and the Philippine Air Force ($405 million).

The focus on the Army – as well as the significant, separate 25 percent budget boost for the Philippine National Police (PNP) – is in line with the administration’s priorities as well as its greater relative focus on internal rather than external threats, at least at the outset. As Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, who introduced the budget, said, the key focus was on boosting the administration’s triple wars against crime, illegal drugs and terrorism and insurgency.

That said, as much as this national budget was called “A Budget for Real Change,” it is important not to overstate the differences between this one and the ones prior to it. Though it is still early days, as an example of continuity, the Duterte administration looks set to continue the plans and funding amounts under the Armed Forces Modernization Act initiated in 2013. Under that plan, military modernization is divided into three “horizons” or phases – the first from now till 2017; the second from 2018 to 2023; and the third from 2024 to 2028 – with 83 billion pesos allocated for the first horizon.

As part of this first horizon, the Philippines is still set to spend 25 billion pesos for its military modernization efforts this year, similar to the amount spent last year. This includes funding for items already prioritized, such as fighter jets, helicopters, frigates, radars, and base upgrades. And all this is happening in spite of Duterte’s controversial suggestion back in June that money was being wasted on items like FA-50 jets from South Korea when the country was confronting more pressing internal security needs like resolving raging insurgencies in the south. That suggests, once again, that we ought to pay as much if not more attention to what the Philippines is doing rather than what Duterte is saying.

In the Philippines, the 'Punisher' Takes on Terrorism

From Stratfor (Sep 10): In the Philippines, the 'Punisher' Takes on Terrorism


Recently elected Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is taking on one of his country's most prominent jihadist groups. Duterte, nicknamed "The Punisher," launched a long-awaited military operation against Abu Sayyaf militants on the far southwest island of Jolo on Aug. 26, hoping to disrupt the group's kidnapping base. Since July 2015, Abu Sayyaf cells have abducted 38 foreigners and dozens more locals. After declaring its allegiance to the Islamic State earlier this year, the group escalated its aggression. In the spring, Abu Sayyaf decapitated two Canadian hostages, suggesting that its kidnappings are now driven by more than financial concerns. Combating the Moro Islamic insurgency in Mindanao state and on the Sulu Archipelago is among Duterte's chief priorities, and the recent operation, along with coordinated patrols in the Sulu Sea, is an important step toward realizing that goal. Nonetheless, success will be a relative term for the president's campaign against Abu Sayyaf.


So far, Duterte's mission has yielded mixed results. During the initial Aug. 26 offensive, Philippine forces killed Mohammad "Ama Maas" Said, whom authorities suspect of orchestrating the abduction and execution of the two Canadian hostages. Even so, as of Sept. 9 the group was still holding 14 foreigners, including Kjartan Sekkingstad, a Norwegian man who has been in captivity for nearly a year. In the week leading up to the military operation, two Indonesian hostages managed to escape, suggesting that discipline and operational security may be slipping in the militant camps and that the captives are becoming more desperate. With beheadings on the rise, hostages have less to gain from waiting to be released and less to lose in attempting risky escapes. The two escapees were likely an intelligence boon for Philippine security forces, who could have gleaned important intelligence on camp structure and personnel from them.

Curbing Piracy, One Way or Another

In addition to the Jolo offensive, the Philippines, in cooperation with Malaysia and Indonesia, began coordinated maritime patrols and escort missions in the Sulu Sea on Aug. 4 to deter piracy and abduction operations. Abu Sayyaf uses maritime operations to capture most of its foreign hostages, a majority of whom are Malaysian and Indonesian crewmembers taken from boats traversing the Sulu and Celebes seas. Between March and July, the group carried out five kidnapping raids.

Its increased activity in the first half of 2016 paid off handsomely for the group, which received over $2 million in publicly raised donations for the release of five Malaysian sailors in June. During an Aug. 24 press conference, Duterte, in an apparent gaffe, hinted at having paid $1 million for the release of Sekkingstad, who was abducted in 2015. The looming threat of kidnapping and pirate attacks has also ginned up tension among the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, though they have evidently overcome their differences enough to collaborate in patrolling the seas. So far, their efforts seem to have paid off: No piracy attacks by Abu Sayyaf have been reported since the patrols began.

Despite the falloff, Malaysian, Indonesian and Philippine law enforcement have yet to announce any seizures or arrests of pirate boats or kidnappers swept up in the patrols. Their silence is surprising, considering each country's government stands to benefit from the positive press that catching Abu Sayyaf pirates would win. Another, perhaps more likely, explanation for the decrease in maritime crime is the southwest monsoon, which lasts from July to January. Monsoon season creates rough seas, making it harder for Abu Sayyaf militants to navigate the choppy waters in their small crafts to board other boats. Most of the group's cross-strait raids into Malaysia occur between March and July, when seas are calmer. Abu Sayyaf militants may be focusing their attention — and attacks — elsewhere to wait out the off-season, as evidenced by a bombing at a market in Davao City on Sept. 2. Until the southwest monsoon abates in early 2017, the true efficacy of the coordinated patrols will be difficult to ascertain.

A Formidable Threat on Land or at Sea

Even if the patrols reduce Abu Sayyaf's piracy, they will not stop the group's activities elsewhere. Abu Sayyaf is not strictly a maritime threat. The group periodically storms resorts in Malaysia and frequently targets southern Philippine states, where kidnapping for ransom makes up about one-third of its attacks (shootings and bombings account for the remaining two-thirds). In past monsoon seasons, Abu Sayyaf has shifted its focus to the more sheltered waters around Mindanao, attacking marinas in cities on the island such as General Santos City and Davao City.  In fact, the group carried out some of its most high-profile kidnappings of the past year in Mindanao during the last southwestern monsoon season in 2015. Over the course of those attacks, Abu Sayyaf nabbed an Italian cafe owner, as well as Sekkingstad and the two Canadians who were later beheaded.

In spite of Duterte's promises to crush Abu Sayyaf, the task is likely too great for any one administration to take on. The jihadist group has been active since the early 1990s, and in that time it has endured numerous security operations and attempted negotiations designed to put an end to militancy in the southern Philippines. After this operation, too, Abu Sayyaf will survive to keep fighting. Still, Duterte's operation could be considered a success if it puts the group on its heels for the duration of the southwest monsoon and prevents it from conducting another spate of high-profile abductions comparable to last year's. By the time conditions are right to resume piracy operations in the Sulu Sea, the coordinated task force patrolling the area will have had at least six months to work out routes and operational protocols.

The Philippine president is more interested in containing the group than defeating it. After all, the world tends to ignore Abu Sayyaf as long as it is not kidnapping foreigners. In denying the group a repeat of last year's kidnappings, Manila will also deny it the global attention that comes with parading foreign hostages and threatening Islamic State-style executions.

AFP chief to ASG: Surrender or die

From Malaya Business Insight (Sep 12): AFP chief to ASG: Surrender or die

ARMED Forces chief Gen. Ricardo Visaya has told the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)members to surrender or be “neutralized,” a term that means getting killed, apprehended, or arrested, in military parlance.

Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the AFP public affairs office, said Visaya issued the call to the Abu Sayyaf during a visit to troops of the Joint Task Force Sulu last Saturday.

Joint Task Group Sulu spokesman Col. Rodrigo Gregorio said the visit “aims to boost the morale of troops, be abreast of the conduct of operations and hear for himself the needs of the operating units as well as provide guidance and convey the message of President Rodrigo Duterte to ground troops on the war against terror.”

It was Visaya’s fifth visit to Sulu since assuming the top AFP post last July. Visaya is the first AFP chief of President Duterte who has said he wants the Abu Sayyaf, which is notorious for beheading some kidnap victims whose families could not pay ransom, destroyed during his term,

“Those in the Abu Sayyaf who want to surrender, the AFP will accept them, provided that they will release their hostages. If not, our soldiers will hunt them down and pursue them until all them are neutralized,” Visaya said.

Visaya said there is no timetable as to the Abu Sayyaf should be defeated. “No deadline is given on how long the focused military operations will last. We will hunt and pursue them as long as needed,” he said.

Government forces intensified operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Basilan last month. The operations have so far left 59 Abu Sayyaf men and 18 soldiers dead and scores wounded on both sides.

The bandit group is keeping around 20 foreign and Filipino hostages in Sulu, including eight Malaysian tugboat crew members.

Arevalo clarified that the military would still welcome Abu Sayyaf members who want to surrender, even without hostages getting released.

“If anyone of them would like to surrender even without KVs (kidnap victims) they will be received by the AFP. But if surrendering and freeing their victims is not their option, then they will be hunted down and [they will] face annihilation with the full might of the AFP,” Arevalo also said.

The military has beefed up its forces in Sulu as part of the renewed campaign against the Abu Sayyaf. There are about 7,000 soldiers now involved in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu, where bulk of the Abu Sayyaf’s 480 members are based, compared to just 2,500 troops in Basilan.

Arevalo said government forces are giving primacy to the safety of the hostages in the ongoing operations against the Abu Sayyaf.

Indonesia can nab pirates in Philippine waters

From Hellenic Shipping News (Sep 12): Indonesia can nab pirates in Philippine waters

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will allow Indonesian maritime authorities who are in pursuit of pirates to enter his country’s waters to capture them.

“We can make it clear that if the chase begins in Indonesia and continues in international waters, and inside Philippine waters, they can go ahead and blast them off,” the firebrand leader said yesterday.

Mr Duterte was telling the Filipino community in Jakarta what he had told his Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo at the recently concluded East Asia Summit in Laos.

“That’s the agreement. Blow them up. That’s my word actually with Widodo. I said, ‘Blow them up’… and maybe if there are sharks around, then we can just feed them to the sharks,” he said at the lunch event at Shangri-La Hotel, the first stop of his inaugural state visit to Indonesia.

His comments came just hours before he and Mr Joko signed an agreement to enhance maritime security in the South China Sea.

Piracy in the sea lanes, through which more than US$5 trillion (S$6.8 trillion) in trade passes each year, is a perennial security bugbear.

Recent cases of vessels carrying coal and crewman from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines being hijacked by Abu Sayyaf pirates have prompted the three countries to consider joint patrols in the area.

Calling piracy a crime against humanity, Mr Duterte said the agreement signed yesterday is a tripartite one which includes Malaysia.

“It means that there will be some interdiction by their armed forces and the armed forces of the Philippines,” he said, adding that the leaders of the three countries “have decided to end this problem once and for all”.

Mr Joko yesterday thanked the Philippines for its cooperation in ensuring security in the South China Sea. “We hope that there will be no more security issues in the Sulu Sea in the future. We will conduct joint patrols to ensure security,” he said.

Mr Joko took Mr Duterte on one of his trademark blusukan, or impromptu visits, to Jakarta’s Tanah Abang textile market before the bilateral meeting at Istana Merdeka.
The Indonesian leader noted the similarities he shares with Mr Duterte, who, like Mr Joko, is a former governor in his own home town.

“We both always want to be around the people. We are not too uptight about state protocol, (which can) sometimes give headaches to the presidential staff and security officers,” he said at the start of the bilateral meeting.

Mr Joko also wished the Philippines well as it takes over the Asean chairmanship next year.

Mr Duterte said the ties that bind their two countries are “long and enduring”, and that “Indonesia is not only a friend but (also) a brother” to the Philippines. He also said after the meeting that the discussion was “very productive” and he was pleased that the two nations agreed to have more people-to-people exchanges, as well as cooperation on security, especially when both countries are under the constant threat of terrorism and violent extremism.

The Philippine military is now on the hunt for Abu Sayyaf extremists who are holding five Malaysian hostages in the mountainous jungles of Jolo island. At least 25 Indonesians have also been taken by the group this year.

Mr Duterte said he and Mr Joko would also join hands in fighting the “menace” of illegal drugs.

“We agreed to work together to prevent, arrest and prosecute all those who seek to sow fear and terror in our societies,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Mr Duterte denied directing an expletive at United States President Barack Obama during a press conference in Davao.

“I never made any reference to Obama,” said Mr Duterte. “I never made that statement, you can check it out. Check it out.”

He also defended his tough stance on crime, despite criticisms of his human rights record over widespread vigilante and extrajudicial killings since he became President. “I do not have any pity for them,” he said, referring to criminals, adding that he wants people to be able to “walk freely” in the Philippines.
Source: Straits Times

Three Kidnapped by Gunman in Malaysia

From the Maritime Executive (Sep 11): Three Kidnapped by Gunman in Malaysia

Three Filipino crew members on board a Malaysian fishing boat were kidnapped by gunmen in waters near Pulau Pom Pom, Sabah, in Malaysia early on Monday.

The owner of the vessel reported that three crew members, including the captain and a mechanic were kidnapped. The attackers were armed with M-16 assault rifles and are believed to be associated with the Abu Sayyaf.

Malaysian security forces have been on full alert for people fleeing southern Philippines after its government launched a full scale offensive against the Abu Sayyaf militant group and its affiliates in Sulu.

In August, two crew members of the tug Charles, which was boarded by Abu Sayyaf members in late June, managed to escape. The group abducted seven seafarers and let another six go. The attack was part of a months-long string of Abu Sayyaf tug hijackings off of Sabah, Malaysia, near the maritime boundary with the Philippines.
In July, a group linked to Abu Sayyaf kidnapped five crew members from a tug found abandoned off of Sabah.

Abu Sayyaf has kidnapped the crews of multiple tugboats this year; many slow-moving tugs hauling coal barges pass through the strait between the Abu Sayyaf stronghold of Tawi-Tawi and the Malaysian state of Sabah, the southern entrance to the Sulu Sea.

In April, Indonesian officials suggested that the shipments would be suspended, but the nation’s coal mining industry is heavily opposed to an export ban and insiders suggest that the prohibition has not had an effect.

The Sulu Archipelago has been the home base of the Abu Sayyaf Group for decades, especially the larger islands of Sulu, Jolo, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi. Abu Sayyaf has built a reputation for killing prisoners when ransoms go unpaid.

Duterte brings ‘new normal’ to PH-US ties

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 12): Duterte brings ‘new normal’ to PH-US ties

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte addresses delegates of the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit, a parallel summit in the ongoing 28th and 29th ASEAN Summits and other related summits Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016 in Vientiane, Laos. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte  (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
RELATIONS between the Philippines and the United States have been historically stormy but close, but the arrival of a roughneck in Malacañang who says he is no fan of the Americans has brought a “new normal” to those ties and Washington is not unlikely to keep Manila at a distance in the next six years.

While China’s increasing aggressiveness in the South China Sea keeps US-Philippine security relations “indispensable,” according to Richard Heydarian, a political science professor at De La Salle University, it is clear that under the administration of President Duterte, “the United States can no longer expect the same level of strategic deference and diplomatic support” from the Philippines.

“This is the new normal in Philippine-US relations,” Heydarian wrote in a commentary published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

Mr. Duterte’s declaration that he is adopting an independent foreign policy for the Philippines, Heydarian said, is a “brazen and audacious policy pronouncement in a profoundly pro-American society, where much of the intelligentsia and security forces feel deep affinity with the United States.”

Falling out with Obama

Mr. Duterte, who has made it clear to his supporters and opponents from the get-go that he is no ordinary politician—uncouth, brutally frank and even murderous at times—declared an independent course for the Philippines on Saturday after a spectacular falling out with US President Barack Obama that became the buzz at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit in Laos last week.

It was Mr. Duterte’s maiden outing as the new leader of the Philippines and he was to meet Obama for talks on the sidelines of the summit, but he busted it by spewing “son of a bitch” in a tirade that he launched after being told as he was about to leave for Laos on Monday that the US leader would raise human rights with him during their meeting.

The White House brought down the ax: No US-Philippine meeting.

Although Mr. Duterte said he regretted his intemperate language, Obama was aloof when they met before the Asean leaders’ gala dinner on Wednesday night.

Mr. Duterte said he told Obama that he never called him a “son of a bitch” and that the US president told him, “My men will talk to you.”

Got message across

In a news conference wrapping up his last visit to Asia as US leader, Obama said he told Mr. Duterte to conduct his war on drugs “the right way.”

So Mr. Duterte, who brooks no opposition to his decisions, chose to go his own way.
Call it roughneck diplomacy or whatever, but Malacañang insisted on Sunday that Mr. Duterte was able to get a plain-spoken message across to the world.

“The most important message is [that] we have our own foreign policy to follow,” Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said on dzRB radio.

“It’s also important that the President showed other countries that we support foreign trade and calls for respect for rule of law in the Asean region,” he said.


“Perfect” is how Mr. Duterte himself described his first interaction with world leaders, including Obama.

Mr. Duterte, however, failed to muster enough support from the 10-member Asean to nudge China into respecting an international tribunal’s ruling against its claims to almost all of the South China Sea.

Critics also observed that his acerbic attitude toward the United States and the United Nations was the complete opposite of his friendliness to China, with whom he wanted bilateral talks to resolve the South China Sea dispute despite a ruling for the Philippines by the tribunal.

But European Union Ambassador to the Philippines Franz Jessen described as “interesting” the way Mr. Duterte presented his policies and views at the Asean summit.

In an open letter posted by the EU Delegation on Facebook, Jessen said the Philippines “is an important member of the international community, and the statements of its President are carefully noted.”

He said he was reading Robert A. Fulton’s 2007 book “Moroland.”

“I am well aware that it offers just one perspective of a very turbulent and difficult period, but I do believe, as President Duterte does, that we all should seek to learn from history,” he said.

AFP Chief of Staff visits troops in Sulu; Duterte greets Muslims on Eid’l Adha

From the Manila Bulletin (Sep 12): AFP Chief of Staff visits troops in Sulu; Duterte greets Muslims on Eid’l Adha

General Ricardo R. Visaya, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff, visited Jolo, Sulu over the weekend and rallied troops involved in the offensive against the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), while President Duterte greeted Muslims on the occasion of Eid’l Adha – the “Feast of Sacrifice” – today.
The President’s greeting to the Muslim community came with an appeal on all Filipinos to do their share of personal sacrifices for the greater good as he strives hard to steer the nation towards peace and prosperity.
“Let this celebration stand as a reminder that real change requires the sacrifice of our personal interest in favor of the common good of our citizens. Together, we can achieve progress, prosperity and harmony for all,” the President said.

The President earlier declared September 12 as a nationwide holiday in observance of the Muslim feast of sacrifice. For the Muslim community, Eid’l Adha commemorates the day the willingness of prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son upon the orders of God.
In the same message, the President extended his “heartfelt and warmest greetings” to the Muslim community in celebration of Eid’l Adha. He said the occasion is a reminder of the virtues that strengthen the very foundation of Islam.
“I join you in commemorating the ultimate obedience and trust of Ibrahim when he submits to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, according to the will of Allah. This occasion truly invigorates our common aspirations and rekindles the true significance of our faith,” he said.
Duterte said he also appreciates the support of the Filipino Muslims for the government’s peace and development efforts in Mindanao.
Meanwhile, for Visaya, his fifth visit to troops taking the brunt of the fighting in the effort to destroy the ASG and rescue the remaining hostages came with a warning to the ASG.
Visaya told the armed bandits to take the path of peace “if not, our soldiers will hunt them down and pursue them until all of them are neutralized.”
“Those Abu Sayyaf Group members who want to surrender, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will accept them, provided that they will release their hostages,” he added.
Three of those visits were done after the beheading of Patrick James Almodvar, a local Muslim Jolo resident.
Top brass of the AFP including the Commanding General of the Phil Army, Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano; Western Mindanao Command Chief, Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo dela Cruz; the Chief Surgeon, Brig. Gen. Mariano Mejia and other Generals from the General Headquarters accompanied the Chief of Staff in rallying the troops headed by Joint Task Force Sulu Commander, Brig. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega together with 101st Brigade and 501st Bridage Commanders; Col Jesus Manangquil and Col Jose Faustino including Battalion Commanders and other key officers and troops.
Dela Vega led government troops in Sulu in greeting all Muslims and Christians alike a happy Eid’l Adha as Muslims around the world gather and celebrate.
This is the message of solidarity of troops as mass is celebrated yesterday during the blessing of a newly constructed hospital inside Camp Bautista.
The newly constructed station hospital is expected to enhance the survival of wounded troops and widen the medical care that can be given to soldiers and their families while stationed in Sulu.
Dela Vega, commander of Joint Task Force Sulu (JTFS), said soldiers in Sulu and those assigned generally in Mindanao have learned to understand and respect the religion and culture of Moros.
“We extend our sincere desire for a peaceful Eid’l Adha and we again appeal to the people of Sulu for their continued cooperation to ensure the safety of all members of the community,” Dela Vega said.
The visit aims to boost the morale of troops, be abreast of the conduct of operation and hear for himself the needs of the operating units as well as provide guidance and convey the message of President Rodrigo Duterte to ground troops on the war against terror. The AFP chief also inspected the newly constructed camp hospital and status of its facilities.

Scout Ranger officer is new 6th ID chief

From Manila Business Insight (Sep 12): Scout Ranger officer is new 6th ID chief

A SCOUT Ranger officer who played a key role in preventing an escalation of hostilities between government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front forces during the Mamasapano incident in January 2015 has been named as commander of the 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao.

Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez, AFP deputy chief of staff for operations, will assume his new post today in rites to be presided by Army chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año.

Galvez, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1985, will replace Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan who was named the Army’s No. 2 man, or Army vice commander, last Thursday.

Galvez, before assuming the post of AFP deputy chief of staff for operations in October last year, was chairman of the government’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, a peace mechanism established in the peace process with the MILF.

Galvez and his MILF counterpart, Rasid Ladiasan, were involved in quelling hostilities between government and MILF forces during the Jan. 25, 2015 Mamasapano incident that left 44 PNP-Special Acton Force personnel dead.

The policemen were coming from a successful operation that left Jemaah Islamiah operative Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, killed when they were engaged by joint forces of the MILF, which signed a peace agreement with government in March 2014, and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the “timely intervention” of Galvez and his MILF counterpart “provided the much-needed relief to prevent an escalation of the incident which could have caused the reversal of the entire peace process with the MILF.”

Army spokesman Col. Benjamin Hao said Galvez “was there in the middle (of the conflict), trying to stop that Mamasapano incident.”

 Hao described Galvez as a “peace advocate” and a “combat commander” who is well-trained on operations and civil military operations.

Galvez has served as deputy commander of the military’s Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City and commander of the 104th Brigade which is fighting the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan.

Galvez is a decorated military officer. He is a recipient of numerous awards and decorations, including two Distinguished Service Stars, two Outstanding Achievement Medals, six Gold Cross Medals, and eight Bronze Cross Medals.

There is still no official word as to who will succeed Galvez as AFP deputy chief of staff for operations.

Filipino group kidnaps Malaysian fishers – report

From Malaya Business Insight (Sep 11): Filipino group kidnaps Malaysian fishers – report

THREE Malaysian fishermen were abducted allegedly by a group of Filipinos off Semporna in Malaysia on Saturday night, according to a report of Malaysia’s The Star Online.

AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, asked if the Abu Sayyaf was involved or if the victims were brought to Sulu or other parts of Mindanao, said the Philippine military is still verifying the abduction.

“There is an initial report but it’s still for validation,” he said.

The reported abduction occurred around a month after defense chiefs of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines held met in Indonesia to discuss measures to end the rising number of kidnappings in the region.

The Star Online said the incident took place around 10:20 p.m. near Pulau Pom Pom resort. It said the kidnapping was perpetrated by seven Filipino armed men who are believed to have taken the trawler crew members to the southern Philippines.

It did not mention the Abu Sayyaf which is blamed for a series of kidnapping of dozens of Malaysian and Indonesian tugboat crew members in Indonesian, Malaysian and Philippine waters over the past months. Some of the kidnap victims have been released after reportedly paying ransom.

The Abu Sayyaf is still keeping around 20 foreign and Filipino hostages in Sulu, including eight Indonesian and five Malaysian tugboat crew members.

The Star Online said the fishing trawler had 11 crew members but only three of them were seized. It said the rest of the crew members steered the trawler to the Semporna jetty.

It quoted Eastern Sabah Security Command chief Datuk Wan Abdul Bari Abdul Khalid as confirming the report. Khalid said they learned of the kidnapping from the owners of a fishing trawler at 1:59 a.m. yesterday.

The Malaysian New Straits Times quoted Khalid as saying: “The owner claimed that gunmen had stormed his vessel with three people on board and kidnapped the crew members, including boat captain and a mechanic... So far, they are believed to have been taken to a neighboring country.”

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana met last month with Malaysian defense minister Dato Seri HishammuddinTun Hussein and Indonesian defense chief General Ryamizard Ryacudu in  Bali to discuss common maritime concerns, including kidnapping.

The defense department said the three defense chiefs agreed, among others, to “encourage the operationalization” of a standard operating procedure “for maritime patrol and rendering immediate assistance.”

The three also agreed to explore “coordinated activities” among the armed forces of the three countries, a trilateral database-sharing mechanism, and joint border patrol to address maritime concerns.

The three aired their concern “over the repeated incidents of armed robbery and kidnapping at sea in the maritime areas of common concern to the three countries” and “re-affirmed their commitment to address such threats.”

Soldier, militiamen sacked over drug links

From Malaya Business Insight (Sep 11): Soldier, militiamen sacked over drug links

AN Army soldier was dishonorably discharged while 13 government militiamen, all assigned in Northern Luzon, were also terminated after testing positive for illegal drugs.

Brig. Gen. Paul Atal, chief of the Army’s 5th Infantry Division based in Isabela, said the soldier and the militiamen were found to be using illegal drugs during initial and confirmatory tests conducted during the time of his predecessor, Maj. Gen. Lysander Suerte, who retired last month.

Atal declined to name the soldier and the militiamen “because we have to consider their families.”

Atal said he acted on the recommendation to discharge the soldier and terminate the militiamen from the service but stressed that ridding the 5th ID of personnel hooked on illegal drugs is a continuing effort.

“All units under the 5th ID will have to undergo drug test. This will be continuing. We are very strict on this matter, in compliance with our commander-in-chief’s instruction,” Atal said, referring to President Duterte’s war on drugs.

The Army’s 81st Infantry Division has deployed 60 personnel along the national highway of Ilocos Sur and La Union to assist the PNP in the campaign against crimes, including illegal drugs.

Lt. Col. Eugenio Julio Osias IV, 81st IB commander, said the deployment is in support of President Duterte’s declaration of State of Lawlessness in the country after the Sept. 2 bombing in Davao City that left 14 civilians dead and over 60 others wounded.

The PNP yesterday clarified that Vice Mayor Abdul Wahab Sabal, of Talitay town in Maguindanao, was arrested last Thursday for his alleged involvement in illegal drugs and not for the Davao City blast last September 2.

“Sinabi naman ni chief PNP dela Rosa it has nothing to do with the Davao blast,” PNP spokesman Sr. Supt. Dionardo Carlos said.

Sabal was arrested upon arrival at the Cotabato Airport in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Cotabato City for an illegal drugs case and illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

He was flown from Maguindanao to Manila on Saturday and was detained at Camp Crame.

The cases against Sabal, his wife Mohanna Sabal, his security escort Nasser Maulana and driver Norodin Abas were referred to the Department of Justice last Saturday.

Sr. Supt. Albert Ferro, PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Group chief, said: “We are just investigating him (Sabal) sa illegal drugs. Kapag nakakuha kami ng information we will try to dig deeper kung mayroon talaga siyang involvement sa (Davao City) bombing.”

A barangay councilor was arrested in a buy-bust operation in Pasay City last Saturday night.

The Southern Police District said Jordan Garland of Barangay 43 was nabbed around 7:45 p.m. near Tramo St. while allegedly selling shabu to a poseur buyer. Recovered from him was suspected shabu with a street value of P70,000.

Garland denied that he was into the illegal drugs trade, adding he surrendered to police last July to clear his name since he was included in Pasay’s drug watch list.

Three suspected drug dealers and a cop who went absent without official leave last month after he tested positive for illegal drugs were shot to death on Saturday.

Sr. Supt Adriano Enong, Rizal PNP provincial director, identified the alleged drug dealers as Renato Adane and an alias “Satan,” residents of Barangay Dolores, Taytay, Rizal who were killed in a buy-bust operation at 1 p.m.

Recovered at the scene were a .38 revolver, an MK hand grenade, and 21 plastic sachets containing suspected shabu.

The other suspected drug dealer, killed by operatives of the Binan municipal police station during a buy-bust operation, was identified as one alias “Bay.”

PO1 Arnel Agadia, 40, of Phase 3 Lynville Subdivision in Barangay Calios, Sta. Cruz, Laguna, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen while driving his tricycle in Sitio 1, Barangay Bagumbayan, Sta. Cruz, Laguna.

SPO1 Manolito Binalay, officer-on-case, said Agadia went AWOL last month after testing positive for illegal drugs and was included in the Laguna PPO’s watch list allegedly over his illegal drug activities.

A report from the Laguna PPO said Agadia was driving his motorcycle on the provincial road when two men on a motorcycle tailing him suddenly peppered him with bullets.

Agadia died on the spot while the shooters fled.

Recovered from the scene were a caliber .9 mm Beretta with a loaded magazine, 13 spent bullet casings for .45 caliber pistol, a deformed .45 caliber slug, and a .45 caliber slug.

The PNP yesterday said the number of deaths under investigation or killings attributed to vigilantes are now pegged at 1,490 from July 1 up to September 8.

DSWD closely coordinating, monitoring situation of displaced families in conflict-affected areas in Basilan

From the Philippine Information Agency (Sep 11): DSWD closely coordinating, monitoring situation of displaced families in conflict-affected areas in Basilan

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is continuously monitoring and assisting local government units (LGUs) of Basilan that have been affected by the on-going clashes between government troops and the Abu Sayyaf (ASG).

To date, a total of 3,423 families or 18,783 persons from Albarka, Tipo-Tipo, Ungkaya Pukan have been affected.  The clash between military troops and the ASG in these towns first occurred on July 2 and 6 and escalated in August.  The government has sent more troops to the area.

Meanwhile, a total of 1,729 families or 6,218 persons from the four municipalities in Basilan, namely; Sumisip, Tuburan, Moh Ajul and Akbar  were advised by the Provincial Government to take pre-emptive evacuation even if there was no encounter between the ASG and the military.

However, no evacuation centers were opened, since the displaced families opted to stay with relatives and friends.  Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program personnel in the province continue to assist the provincial government in checking on the condition of the displaced families.

To date, disaster teams from DSWD-Field Office IX are continuously coordinating with the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office (PSWDO) which  is directly in contact with the affected families, for updates on the status of their needed augmentation support.

As of this reporting, the PSWDO is providing assistance to the  families.

“Nais naming masiguro ang kaligtasan at maibigay ng maagap ang mga pangangailangan ng mga pamilyang nakatira sa mga lugar na may bakbakan. Kadalasan na ang mga inosenteng sibilyan ang nagdurusa kapag may mga ganitong military operations (We want to ensure the safety and to immediately provide for the needs of the civilians living in the conflict affected areas. Most often, innocent civilians are the ones who suffer because of military operations),” Secretary Judy M. Taguiwalo emphasized. (DSWD)

World's top military leaders converge in Manila

From the Philippine Information Agency (Sep 11): World's top military leaders converge in Manila

Twenty-nine top military leaders from Indo-Asia Pacific region along with some of the world’s military powers gathered in this year's Chiefs of Defense (CHOD) Conference co-hosted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the United States Pacific Command.

Chiefs of Defense and senior military leaders from Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Vietnam, India, Nepal, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Fiji, Canada, China, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, Chile, Colombia, France, Mexico, Peru, United Kingdom, and the United States of America came in for the three-day conference which ran from September 5 to 7.

The annual gathering aims to strengthen military cooperation, promote collaboration, and discuss security challenges across the Indo-Pacific maritime and geopolitical sphere.

The discussion centered on regional military cooperation and challenges, as highlighted by discussions on "Future Regional Order in the Indo-Asia-Pacific," "Military Cooperation in Transnational Security," and "Prospects for Maritime Shared Awareness, Technology, and Innovation."

Separate programs were also held for the Senior Enlisted Leaders (SEL) and the Spouses Network comprised of professional development conferences, capability demonstrations and static displays for the SEL and guided tours, and humanitarian visits for the spouses.

This year’s hosting of CHOD took its cue from the 2014 conference in Brunei, where former AFP Chief of Staff Gregorio Catapang Jr agreed to the request of USPACOM to co-host. Started in 1998,

CHOD became a platform for multilateral military dialogue and sharing of regional and global perspectives on common security challenges.

"We've marked modest achievements in the realization of our aspirations as far as regional peace and stability are concerned. Through this, we are optimistic in the cooperative ties that we have forged together to address terrorism, trafficking in person, drug trafficking, and other transnational crimes. We will emerge empowered still despite our own preoccupations with our mandates at home," said AFP Chief of Staff General Ricardo R Visaya who led the AFP in the three-day conference.

"As for the AFP, this conference became a venue for us to showcase our capacity for regional leadership, as we continue to promote trust, cooperation, and the peaceful advancement of our individual and common interests in the Indo-Asia Pacific region," General Visaya added. (AFP)

Message of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process on the Commemoration of the 2016 National Peace Consciousness Month

From the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) (Sep 6): Message of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process on the Commemoration of the 2016 National Peace Consciousness Month

This year’s National Peace Consciousness Month is filled with incomparable optimism and unprecedented accomplishments.

The opportunities to initiate the positive changes that we want to make and bring sustainable peace and progress in our land are within our grasp. It is only fitting that the theme of this year’s celebration centers on us—tayo—as a collective realizing our roles in pushing for change and peace: Tayo ang Pagbabago, Tayo ang Kapayapaan!

Prior to our term, we already extended to the National Democratic Front (NDF) our interest to resume our discussions on the negotiating table. The NDF welcomed our goodwill and we both agreed to continue the talks. To demonstrate our willingness to expedite the negotiations, we exerted our best efforts to facilitate the release of their detained consultants who will take part in the discussions. We also restored a unilateral ceasefire—as long as it is needed—to create an atmosphere conducive to our talks and cease the instability being experienced by our communities due to infightings.

Although we have experienced “humps and bumps” at the onset, the talks in Oslo, Norway sent us strong signals that concluding the longest running communist insurgency in the world is a near possibility.

On the Bangsamoro Front, our message is loud and clear—the period of negotiations are over and we are moving forward in implementing all our commitments in all signed peace agreements. What we intend to do exhibits our desire to bank on what has been done. More importantly, we want that people in the Bangsamoro have ownership in peacebuilding. Our peace and development roadmap seeks to make the process more inclusive, where all stakeholders are accommodated, as much as possible. This is at par with President Rodrigo Duterte’s intention to correct the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro—by giving voices to the once marginalized and underprivileged.

On top of our engagements with the different rebel groups, our people must feel the dividends of peace. Simultaneous to signing and implementing peace agreements, we will launch massive development programs in our conflict-affected communities. We must improve the lives of our people in our communities, while we are engaging on the negotiating table. Development binds all what we have achieved and sustains peace on the ground.

The administration of President Duterte has already walked the extra mile to achieve peace. His intention to permanently end the armed conflicts requires the support and participation of the stakeholders. Now is our time to own the process—our ownership of the peace process begets durable peace agreements. Working for peace is always a joint effort between our government and our people. Our peace and development roadmap directs us to a shared peace and prosperity.

As we celebrate the National Peace Consciousness Month, we call on every Filipino to support and participate in building a peaceful and progressive country. May we always allow unity to triumph over diversity; understanding and respect despite disagreements; and justice for all those who have been wronged. We invite you to walk the extra mile with us for peace. May we always be instruments of peace and agents for positive change wherever we are and in whatever we do, not only for this month, but also for the days and years ahead.

Japan coast guard detects 4 Chinese ships near E. China Sea disputed islands

From InterAksyon (Sep 11): Japan coast guard detects 4 Chinese ships near E. China Sea disputed islands

Four Chinese ships entered Japanese territorial waters on Sunday near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, the Japan Coast Guard said.

The uninhabited Senkaku islands, known as the Diaoyutai Islands in China, have soured relations between Tokyo and Beijing for decades. They are currently controlled by Japan.

The Japan Coast Guard said that trespassing Chinese vessels stayed in Japanese waters for one-and-a-half hours despite being asked to leave.

China says that the contiguous islands have been part of its territory since ancient times.

Japan argues it has been in control since 1895. The islands were briefly held by the United States and handed over to Japan in 1972.

China, Russia naval drill in South China Sea to begin Monday

From InterAksyon (Sep 11): China, Russia naval drill in South China Sea to begin Monday

China and Russia will hold eight days of naval drills in the South China Sea off southern China's Guangdong province starting from Monday, China's navy said.

The exercises come at a time of heightened tension in the contested waters after an arbitration court in The Hague ruled in July that China did not have historic rights to the South China Sea and criticized its environmental destruction there.

China rejected the ruling and refused to participate in the case.

The "Joint Sea-2016" exercise will feature surface ships, submarines, fixed-wing aircraft, ship-borne helicopters and marines, the Chinese navy said in a statement on Sunday on its official microblog.

The two countries will carry out defense, rescue and anti-submarine operations, as well as "island seizing" and other activities, it added.

Marines will participate in live-fire drills, island defense and landing operations in what will be the largest operation ever taken together by the two countries' navies, the statement said.

China announced that it had called the "routine" naval exercise in July, saying the drills were aimed at strengthening cooperation and not aimed at any other country.

China and Russia are veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council, and have held similar views on many major issues such as the crisis in Syria, often putting them at odds with the United States and Western Europe.

Last year, they held joint military drills in the Sea of Japan and the Mediterranean.

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

China has repeatedly blamed the United States for stoking tension in the region through its military patrols, and of taking sides in the dispute.

The United States has sought to assert its right to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea with its patrols and denies taking sides in the territorial disputes.

Russia has been a strong backer of China's stance on the arbitration case, which was brought by the Philippines.

Multiple murder charges vs bombers

From the Mindanao Times (Sep 10): Multiple murder charges vs bombers

THE SPECIAL Investigation Task Group (SITG) Night Market is now preparing documents to file multiple murder charges against those responsible in the Sept. 2 Roxas bombing.
SITG commander Senior Supt. Valeriano De Leon said they have almost completed the investigation on the incident.
“We are completing the affidavit of the wounded victims as well as the relatives of death victims so the case folder will be submitted to the prosecution office,” de Leon said in a press conference held at the conference room in Public Safety and Security Command Center (PSSCC).
De Leon, also the police regional deputy director for operations, said they already have 11 witnesses.
He said some of the victims, particularly those who are not from Davao City, have been moved back to their hometown.
“We have some victims as far as Maguindanao,” de Leon said. “We have investigators assigned to get affidavit of the victims who are no longer in the city.”
De Leon admitted they have yet to account the participation of the three other persons of interest in the case.
“We’ll gather more evidence,” he added. “We are trying to get more witnesses to collaborate the testimony.”
De Leon said that they are reviewing six closed-circuit television (CCTV) footages coming from establishments near the blast site.
He said that they are also looking into some personalities on their watch list of police characters.
“We have presented to the victims the list of personalities,” de Leon said.
He said they are making sure that they will be arresting the actual perpetrators.
“The primary task of the investigation team is to make sure that the responsible person is the one (arrested and brought to court),” de Leon said adding that some groups are muddling the case. “There’s a group which owned responsibility, then later denied involvement.”
He said they have yet to “really ascertain to the maximum the identity” of the perpetrators so they can’t associate yet any group to the explosion.
But the task force chief said they are still not discounting the involvement of narco-politicians in the incident.
Meanwhile, Col. Erwin Bernard Neri, the newly appointed Task Force Davao commander, said they have already requested additional forces from the 10th Infantry Division Reconnaissance Company (DRC).
“I will strengthen the security of the city,” he said. “We don’t want another incident.”
Neri said they are coordinating with the entire intelligence units the city.
“In coordination with Davao City Police Office, we are looking what groups are involved in the bombing,” Neri said.
Retired Col. Benito de Leon, the newly assumed PSSCC chief, also said that they are also doing their best in improving the security measures to ensure the safety of the city.
“We ask the public to be very vigilant and help the security forces to ensure the safety and security of our place,” the PSSCC chief. “Let’s help each other.”