Saturday, October 1, 2016

Kidnapped fisherman returns home

From The Star Online (Oct 2): Kidnapped fisherman returns home

KOTA KINABALU: Family links across the border have helped a kidnapped fishing boat owner return home within 70 hours.

Ruslan Saripin turned up unscathed at the Lahad Datu jetty after he was brought back by a relative at 7am yesterday. He was abduc­ted off Pulau Gaya in Semporna at about 10.50pm on Tuesday.

Apparently, Ruslan, a local of Bajau-Suluk mix, had help from family members living in the southern Philippine chain islands of Tawi Tawi, close to the sea borders of Lahad Datu and Semporna.

Relatives apparently worked towards securing his release though it could not be immediately established if any ransom was paid.

When contacted yesterday, Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun said the case was different from the other cross-border kidnap cases whereby victims were whisked straight to the Abu Sayyaf stronghold of Jolo island in southern Philippines.

“It looks like they were very close to our border. I cannot say anything right now as we need to talk to Ruslan on all aspects.

“My men will take some time as we need to know many things,” Abdul Rashid said.

He said Ruslan had families across the border which might have played a role in his release.

It is learnt that after recording his statement, police allowed him to return home and be reunited with his family.

Ruslan, a father of five children, is owner of two fishing trawlers. His brother helps in the business.

Ruslan was the skipper of the boat when he was snatched by six people who were armed with M16 and M14 rifles.

Ruslan and his crew were fishing in waters off Pulau Gaya in Semporna waters when pirates struck.

The gunmen then went on to rob another fishing vessel in Tungku waters, off Lahad Datu, before fleeing to Tawi Tawi.

Philippine intelligence sources suspect that small localised group with familiarity to Semporna and Lahad Datu waters might be behind Tuesday’s double kidnap and piracy cases.

This is because the main Abu Sayyaf leaders were pinned down by military operations in Jolo.

The suspicion is that the group might also be responsible for the kidnapping of three Filipino fishermen within the high security waters off Pulau Pom Pom in Semporna on Sept 10.

Abu Sayyaf frees 3 Indonesian tugboat crewmen in Philippines (Photos)

From the Mindanao Examiner (Oct 2): Abu Sayyaf frees 3 Indonesian tugboat crewmen in Philippines

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Moro National Liberation Front chieftain Nur Misuari hands over 3 Indonesian sailors freed by the Abu Sayyaf to Sulu Governor Toto Tan, chairman of the provincial crisis management committee and provincial disaster risk reduction management office on Sunday, October 2, 2016 in these photos on the Facebook account of the respected and influential politician. (Mindanao Examiner)
Moro National Liberation Front chieftain Nur Misuari hands over 3 Indonesian sailors freed by the Abu Sayyaf to Sulu Governor Toto Tan, chairman of the provincial crisis management committee and provincial disaster risk reduction management office on Sunday, October 2, 2016 in these photos on the Facebook account of the respected and influential politician. (Mindanao Examiner)
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 14457305_1147418265326184_1691468649110135152_n 14502787_1147418661992811_7195743978011384779_n

SULU – Abu Sayyaf militants on Sunday freed 3 Indonesian hostages to the former rebel group Moro National Liberation Front or MNLF in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials said the Indonesians Muhammad Mahbrur Dahri, Ferry Arifin and Edi Suryono, all crew members of the tugboat Charles who were kidnapped in Sabah on June 22. The boat – owned by PT Rusianto Brothers – was heading to Samarinda in East Kalimantan following a trip from the Philippines when gunmen on speedboats intercepted the vessel.

Nur Misuari, the MNLF chieftain, escorted by dozens of armed followers, personally handed over the hostages to Sulu Governor Totoh Tan – who heads the provincial crisis committee and chairman of the Sulu Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office – in his house in the capital town of Jolo. Tan immediately turned over the Indonesians to the Philippine military after feeding them.

Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza also confirmed the release of the trio, saying, Misuari phoned him about it and told him to tell President Rodrigo Duterte that the hostages had been freed. 

It was unknown if ransom was paid for the safe release of the hostages, but the MNLF had previously interceded or negotiated with the Abu Sayyaf for the freedom of over a dozen kidnapped Indonesian and Malaysian sailors in Sulu, one of 5 provinces under the Muslim autonomous region.

In August this year, two other crewmembers of the tugboat Charles – Mohamad Soyfan and Ismail – allegedly escaped from the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu’s Luuk town. Indonesian media previously reported that the Abu Sayyaf demanded 20 million ringgits for the safe release of all the hostages, who were held by the group of Alhabsi Misaya, a former member of the MNLF, which signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996.

Misaya had split with the MNLF and joined the Abu Sayyaf several years ago after Misuari reportedly ordered his execution for a still unknown reason, according to military intelligence reports. There was no immediate statement from the military or police on the release of the hostages, but the Abu Sayyaf is still holding at least 9 other captives, including Malaysian sailors.

Just recently, Malaysia has ordered its negotiators to intensify talks with the Abu Sayyaf in an effort to secure the freedom of 5 Malaysian tugboat crew members being held captive in Sulu.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed said he would direct the police to intensify communication and negotiations with the kidnappers to free the victims, according to the Malaysian newspaper The Star.

The Abu Sayyaf contacted the newspaper and allowed one of the hostages Mohd Ridzuan Ismail to speak to its staff. Mohd Ridzuan was kidnapped in Sabah on July 18 with four other sailors – Tayudin Anjut, 45, Abd Rahim Summas, 62, Mohd Zumadil Rahim, 23, and Fandy Bakran, 26.

The 32-year old Mohd Ridzuan said they were constantly being beaten up and threatened by the Abu Sayyaf and pleaded desperately with their employer and Malaysian government to immediately secure their safe release. “We can’t bear it anymore. We are in pain. All of us are sick. We have cuts on our bodies. We are weak. No food to eat. What’s more, we are beaten. There are people who want to shoot us. Please help us,” The Star quoted the sailor as saying during the eight minute conversation.

It said a man who introduced himself as Abu Rami demanded P100 million ransoms for the Malaysian hostages, who are allegedly being held in three separate groups in Luuk town.

“We’re suffering in Jolo (Sulu) Island. We appeal to the Malaysian government and our boss to negotiate for our release as we want to return home as soon as possible,” Mohd Ridzuan said, adding, their captors only give them rice and rarely feed them. “We are frightened. This is not our place. They whack us and they told us that they can shoot us.”

CA orders DBM, PNP to pay INP retirees worth PHP3.9-B

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 2): CA orders DBM, PNP to pay INP retirees worth PHP3.9-B

The Court of Appeals has affirmed its decision released last April 2016 upholding the Manila City Regional Trial Court's verdict ordering the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to release the amount of PHP3.9 billion for the pension differentials of retirees of the defunct Integrated National Police (INP) from 1991 to 2006.

In a three-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Pedro Corales and concurred in by Associate Justices Sesinando Villon and Rodil Zalameda, the CA’s 11th Division denied the appeal of the DBM and the PNP seeking the issuance of a writ of injunction enjoining the Manila RTC from implementing several orders it issued in 2014 in connection with the pension claims of the INP retirees.

“The motion for reconsideration is a mere reproduction of the arguments raised in the petition. We do not find any bona fide effort on the part of petitioners to present additional matters or reiterate their arguments in a different light,” the CA pointed out.

“Thus, there is no need to revisit what was already presented before this Court when we rendered the April 29, 2016 decision,” it added.

The appellate court noted that the DBM and PNP failed to raised new arguments that would warrant the reversal of its decision.

The case stemmed from the civil case filed by the Manila’s Finest Retirees Association Inc. (MFRAI), which represents the retirees of the defunct Integrated National Police (INP).

In its April 29 decision, the CA affirmed the orders issued by the Manila RTC on Feb. 20, 2014 directing the DBM to implement the Supreme Court’s final ruling on May 9, 2007; the May 19, 2014 order denying DBM’s motion for reconsideration of the Feb. 20, 2014 order and directing the issuance of a writ of execution in favor of the INP retirees; and the June 26, 2014 order denying DBM’s motion to recall and quash the writ of execution.

Also upheld by the CA were the notice to comply, notice of garnishment addressed to the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and the follow-up on garnishment addressed to LBP.

The CA held that there was no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Manila RTC in issuing the said orders.

The CA added that the Manila RTC’s ruling was in accordance with the May 9, 2007 decision of the SC which declared that the INP retirees are entitled to the same retirement benefits of the PNP under Republic Act No. 8551 which provides for the reorganization of the said law enforcement agency and the modification of its retirement scheme.

In the same ruling, the SC directed the concerned government agencies to implement retroactively the proper adjustments on the INP retirees’ retirement and other benefits and to release the same immediately.

In opposing the release of the money, the DBM and PNP argued that the amount of PHP22.9 billion appropriated for the PNP under Republic Act No. 10633 (General Appropriations Act of 2014) does not cover the requirement for the pension differentials from 1991 to 2006.

They added that allowing the use of the funds for a purpose not provided in the appropriations would constitute unlawful release of public funds.

Furthermore, the petitioners insisted that all amounts appropriated and released under R.A. 10633 are exempt from garnishment.

The, CA however, did not give credence to the argument of the DBM and PNP saying that one of the purpose of Congress in appropriating PHP22.9 billion to PNP is to pay the pension differentials of the INP Retirees pursuant to the May 9, 2007 decision.

Sulu troops helping in curbing 'cocolisap' threat

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 2): Sulu troops helping in curbing 'cocolisap' threat

The Joint Task Force-Sulu, the military force running against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) terrorists, has been deployed in the government's ongoing campaign against "cocolisap" which has devastated coconut plantations in the province of Sulu.

This was after the Office of the President teamed up with local residents and soldiers in Sulu to conduct assessments on how to address the "cocolisap" threat on Saturday.

The Malacanang team was headed by Office of the Cabinet Assistance System undersecretary Maia Chiara Halmen Reina A. Valdez.

She and her party was escorted by Joint Task Force-Sulu troopers and barangays officials in Kajatian, Indanan, and Upper Tambaking.

Concerned agencies in collaboration with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are set to provide assistance in areas of de-infestation and crop pest control, crop management, technology transfer and agri-entrepreneurship.

Joint Task Force-Sulu commander Brig, Gen. Arnel dela Vega said his soldiers are active partners of local residents in community livelihood programs.

The collaboration of different agencies with soldiers in areas like Sulu is to ensure the safety of the technical team and provide mechanism for the safe and unimpeded transport of agri-products.

"This is the AFP's way of strengthening institutions of national government and capacitating local government units to bring basic services like livelihood opportunities to their constituents to negate one of the causes of insurgency and criminality," Dela Vega stressed.

Sulu is the hotbed of the ASG , the group responsible for the kidnapping of several local and foreign individuals.

A total of 13 kidnap victims; six Filipinos, six Indonesians and one Norwegian have been rescued or released since July and soldiers continue focused military operations to destroy the ASG and rescue the remaining hostages.

Drugs is known to be the source of funding by the ASG and many of its members have been been killed or arrested in several encounters and drug buy-bust operations.

"Strengthening the agriculture and fishery programs in Sulu will greatly improve the lives of the people. It will have a direct impact on the peace and order situation as it will address one of the causes of criminality and insurgency," Dela Vega concluded.

3 more Indon captives of ASG freed in Sulu

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 2): 3 more Indon captives of ASG freed in Sulu

Three more Indonesian captives of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) terrorists were released in an undisclosed location in Sulu Saturday night.

Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Major Filemon Tan said the victims who were identified as Ferry Arifin, Dan Edi Suryono, Mohammad Mahbrur were released to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and were quickly turned over to Sulu Gov. Toto Tan who then had the three brought to Joint Task Force-Sulu headquarters in Jolo.

Arifin, Edi and Mahbrur are crew of M/T Tugboat Charles 00 and were kidnapped on June 22 at the area of Simisa Island, Sulu.

The victims were brought to Camp Teodulfo Bautista Station Hospital for proper medical examination and debriefing before being turned over to proper authorities.

"The release of the kidnap victims is an offshoot of the ongoing military operations to sustain pressure against the ASG and the assistance of the MNLF," Tan said.

This brings to 16 the number of kidnap victims rescued or released from ASG clutches since July.

This includes six Filipinos, nine Indonesians and one Norwegian have been rescued or released since July and soldiers continue focused military operations to destroy the ASG and rescue the remaining hostages.

Combat pay hike ready

From The Standard (Sep 30): Combat pay hike ready

QUALIFIED members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police will receive increases in their combat duty pay and combat incentive pay starting this month after President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 3, the Budget Department said Thursday.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said that this increase in allowance is separate from their salary increase as provided by Executive Order No. 201, s. 2016.

From P500 per month, the Combat Duty Pay of the officers and enlisted personnel of the AFP and uniformed personnel of the PNP is increased to P3,000 per month.

“Officers and enlisted personnel of the AFP performing combat duties/activities and uniformed personnel of the PNP engaged in actual police operations as defined in regulations to be issued by the Secretary of National Defense and the National Police Commission, respectively, are entitled to receive Combat Duty Pay,” Duterte’s new Executive Order read.

Diokno said that members of the AFP and the uniformed personnel of the PNP who participate in actual combat against members of various insurgent, terrorist and lawless elements, shall be entitled to an additional Combat Incentive Pay of P300 per day provided that they are valid combat missions.

Diokno on Tuesday earlier ruled out President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise to increase the salaries of the military and uniformed personnel towards the end of the year, citing budget constraints.

“I can almost say that that’s not possible by the end of the year, simply because there’s nothing there in the budget for that,” Diokno said in a Palace press briefing.

In many of his visits to military camps, President Duterte vowed to members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines that their pay will be doubled come yearend.

Diokno stressed that the current 2016 budget does not have appropriations to effect the President’s promise of an incremental increase that can be realigned to increase salaries.

Despite these, however, Diokno promised that the government has earmarked P39.59 billion of the proposed 2017 national budget for the salary increase of soldiers, policemen and other uniformed personnel next year.

Duterte: 2016 Philippines-US Balikatan to be the last

From the Philippine Star (Sep 30): Duterte: 2016 Philippines-US Balikatan to be the last

President Duterte on Wednesday declared an end to joint military exercises with US forces, saying the upcoming scheduled war games would be the “last one.”

“I am serving notice now to the Americans. I will maintain military alliance because of RP-US pact which our country signed in the early 1950s,” Duterte said.

Duterte said during a two-day visit to Vietnam that he wants to establish new trade and commercial alliances with China and Russia, and that the war games were something Beijing does not want.

“And I will serve notice that this will be the last military exercise,” Duterte declared before the Filipino community at the Grand Ballroom of Intercontinental Hotel here.

Duterte added the Philippines would not participate in joint patrols in the South China Sea “with gray ships.”

“Anyway, I have this ruling of the international arbitration court which says that the South China Sea, the entitlements there are ours,” he said.

The UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in July ruled that China has no historic rights to resources within the South China Sea areas falling within their nine-dash line claim.

China reacted furiously, saying it “neither accepts or recognizes” the ruling.

“Our conflict with China is not really... is more of an imaginary thing. What I mean to say is, we cannot go to war (with China) just because there is that award,” he said.

Duterte reiterated he will not abandon the arbitration ruling with regard to China but stressed Manila cannot win if it launches a war with Beijing even with the help of Washington.

“Either we go to war or we talk. We cannot prevail over China. I am telling you, even with the help of America,” he said.

Duterte stressed he does not want to join patrols with the US in the South China Sea amid the maritime dispute with China.

“There will never be an occasion that I will send a gray ship there. Not because I am afraid,” he said.
Duterte also told the gathering of a supposed plan of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to assassinate him.

He appealed to the CIA to allow him to get used to being president first.

Duterte has had an uneasy relationship with the US since he won a presidential election in May. He said he is charting a foreign policy not dependent on the US, and has taken steps to revive ties with China, which had been strained under his predecessor over longstanding territorial conflicts in the South China Sea.

Earlier this month, Duterte said he would not allow government forces to conduct joint patrols in disputed waters near the South China Sea with foreign powers, apparently scrapping a deal his predecessor reached with the US military earlier this year.

Duterte has said he wanted the US military forces out of Mindanao and blamed America for inflaming local Muslim insurgencies there.

Duterte has said he was considering acquiring military equipment from Russia and China.

Difficult foreign policy direction

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. explained Duterte does not want the Philippines to have joint control with any country in the South China Sea outside of the country’s territorial jurisdiction.

“There will be no joint military patrol in the area as if we want to protect our entitlements there because our entitlements there are not territorial but simply our right under the UNCLOS to exploit both living and non-living resources,” Yasay said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“You have to understand the President’s statement in the context of what he was saying. He was talking about the arbitral tribunal. He was talking about our EEZ,” Yasay said.

Yasay said the “gray ships” that Duterte was referring to are war ships, not necessarily of the US, but from other countries.

Yasay, however, would not comment on the scheduled joint military exercises with the US.
His predecessor, former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario, described Duterte’s foreign policy direction as “unfortunate.”

Del Rosario said the Duterte administration’s foreign policy could “alienate its major economic partners” and create “an unwelcoming environment to foreign investors.”

Malacañang said the Philippines is undergoing a “difficult” shift towards an independent foreign policy that would positively affect its wellbeing and prosperity.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the Philippines should be allowed to chart its own course and fulfill its destiny on its own terms.

“There is a shift that’s happening. So it is not unfortunate but it is part of a process, difficult as it may be, but it is part of a process which the President sees is setting our own independent chart, our own independent course,” Abella said.

“It may be difficult and it may be challenging, but definitely the President sees it as something that will actually add to our wellbeing and prosperity as a nation,” he added.

Abella reacted to the statements of Del Rosario.

“He (Del Rosario) is welcome to his own perception. However, we need to bring into consideration the particular policy that the President is bringing us into. In a sense, he’s really bringing a shift in the direction,” Abella said.

Abella said the public should “see the substance” behind Duterte’s style, which involves colorful language and harsh statements.

“As the President says, again and again, and said earlier, look behind my words and see the actual situation on the people and the nation,” Abella said.
“So beyond the style, which is what you termed as harsh, is the substance which is to set the direction of an independent and free Philippines,” he said.

As to the joint military drills with the US, Abella said no timetable has been set. He, however, pointed out Duterte had made clear his intention in his speech in Hanoi on Wednesday.

Last ‘for the year’

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. also believed the President was referring to the last of the war games “for the year.”

“We have treaties, right? The Mutual Defense Treaty… We have the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, so that would continue,” he added.

“We are going to some kind of demilitarization in the area,” Esperon said. “What I understand that it’s the last for the year.”

Despite Duterte’s anti-US pronouncements, Abella said the fundamental relationship between Manila and Washington has not changed.

Abella noted Duterte had promised to honor all treaties and pacts during his inaugural address. The joint exercises of the Philippines and the US were in line with the Mutual Defense Treaty forged by the two countries in 1951.

“However, there are also certain modifications in their relationship and so the relationship remains solid according to the agreements, but also there will be other activities that will be more open to other nations too,” Abella said.

MILF: Editorial -- Brinkmanship?

Editorial posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Oct 1): Editorial -- Brinkmanship?

Critics and even some friends have described President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s domestic and international approaches or policies as unconventional. Some say they are “unorthodox”. His has never been like any other previous Filipino presidents’.  The case of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos is another matter. He did the real sordid thing. 
Of course, it is natural that friends will never portray each other negatively. That is why, in the first place, they are friends. But truth is that even his critics are generally cautious or modest in their comments. This goes to show the extent of his popularity.  The general public are still very much with him.

But this lull is not an assurance that they will not pound on him when the precise moments come. Silence is oftentimes chilling. They are just waiting for the “big slip” to happen. Former President Benigno Aquino III was practically untouched until the Mamasapano tragic incident exploded on January 25, 2015. After that Aquino was painted black by his “political enemies” or critics as if he had not done anything good for the country.

Reckoning will always take place in the end. Right now, we view Duterte’s style as his natural way. Nothing is cosmetics. But in another sense, wrongly or rightly, it can also be interpreted as an act of brinkmanship. Leaders, especially effective leaders, usually walk the tight-rope when they make decisions or policies.  In many instances, their decisions are unpopular but in the end they are proved correct.

We are surely certain that many of those negative happenings attributed to him are not his. But the problem is that it is hard to make the separation.

That Duterte is a leader, an effective one, is beyond doubt. Davao City progresses in heaps and bounds, and in term of security, it is one of the five safest cities in the world today. But for him to succeed this time cannot be determined as yet. He has just been in the presidency for barely more than three months. It is too early to tell. We, for one, hope that he succeeds in his war against drug trafficking, crimes, and corruption in government.

The other matter that we hold high in him is his efforts to return to the leaders of this country that sense of respect and integrity. It seems only few do not barter their souls in exchange for things that glitter. Materialism and worldliness have their heydays in current times.

However, while we respect Duterte very much, but his ways to accomplish his mission is another matter. We have our own peculiar way to handle things. They have dissimilarities, as well as similarities!

On another issue, we expect the Executive Order creating or reconstituting the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to be signed by the President very soon, so that the BTC can start immediately in crafting the new Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). The government sets July 2017 for the BTC to submit their draft to the Office of the President (OP) and right away to be submitted to Congress

Time is ticking away fast and it is not returning. Before we realize, it is already 2017, which is barely three (months)  away from now.

NDF: NDF-EV remembers Balangiga uprising, urges GRP President Duterte to end US control and make independent foreign policy a reality

Propaganda statement posted to the National Democratic Front Website (Sep 28): NDF-EV remembers Balangiga uprising, urges GRP President Duterte to end US control and make independent foreign policy a reality

Fr. Santiago “Ka Sanny” Salas
Spokesperson, NDFP – Eastern Visayas

The National Democratic Front-Eastern Visayas (NDF-EV) welcomes GRP President Rodrigo Duterte’s stand against US intervention, as it remembered today the 115th anniversary of the victorious people’s uprising against US occupation troops in Balangiga, Eastern Samar on September 28, 1901. “The Balangiga uprising was a victory for patriotic Filipinos, and the so-called “Balangiga massacre” wasn’t committed by Filipinos but by US troops who in revenge killed up to 50,000 people in the town and the rest of Samar,” said Fr. Santiago “Ka Sanny” Salas, NDF-EV spokesperson. “In that light, we cite the Balangiga uprising as additional historical support for GRP President Duterte’s calling attention to US atrocities in Mindanao during the Filipino-American War and afterwards. and to laud his seeking to end subservience to the US and pursue an independent foreign policy.”

Fr. Salas said the NDFP was ready to enter into a tactical alliance with the Duterte government in the framework of the current peace negotiations. “We look forward to fruitful peace negotiations with the Duterte government to achieve an agreement on socio-economic reforms that will include ending the US neoliberal control of the Philippines. This is on top of our calling on GRP President Duterte to immediately end the unequal military treaties with the US including the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, Visiting Forces Agreement, Mutual Logistics Support Agreement and others.”

The NDF-EV called on the people, especially the youth, to take a patriotic stand against US imperialism and fight for national freedom and democracy. “Let us support the Duterte regime’s stand against US interventionism, even as we criticize the anti-people war on drugs and urge instead the addressing of the root causes of poverty and underdevelopment. Let us continue the unfinished revolution of our revolutionary ancestors who rose up against US troops in Balangiga. To do so, the NDF-EV urges the youth to support and join the New People’s Army to defend the motherland against US imperialism, fascism and all reaction.”

NDF: NDFP gears up for talks on socio-economic reforms, Reds see positive signs for a land reform deal, sets sight on steel industry

Propaganda statement posted to the National Democratic Front Website (Sep 29): NDFP gears up for talks on socio-economic reforms, Reds see positive signs for a land reform deal, sets sight on steel industry

Utrecht – The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) are optimistic of striking an agreement with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) pointing to President Rodrigo Duterte’s encouraging gestures that promotes the atmosphere of peace.

The NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms (RWC-SER), whose members are now in Utrecht, The Netherlands in preparation for the second round of peace negotiations in Oslo, Norway from October 6 – 10, 2016, said that there are “positive signs” that both parties would agree on agrarian reform.

NDFP consultant and RWC-SER member Randall Echanis said that “one manifestation is that despite the vacuum on agrarian reform due to the expiration of the government’s comprehensive agrarian reform program in June 2014, the government, like the NDFP, has included agrarian reform as one of the talking points.”

“Another encouraging gesture is Duterte’s order to condone unpaid arrears on land amortization of farmer beneficiaries and the moratorium on land-use conversion,” Echanis said adding, “writing-off unpaid amortizations is a step towards free land distribution.”

“On the other hand,” Echanis said, “a moratorium on land-use conversion on a nationwide scale could provide relief to farmers facing threats of eviction.”

NDFP consultant and RWC-SER member Adel Silva, for his part said that “the development of the steel industry will be one of the priorities in the discussions on national industrialization.”

“The development of a Filipino integrated steel industry is a crucial component of national industrialization. The country’s natural resources must be used by Filipino industries, not exported to benefit foreign economies, and must serve the needs of the local economy,” Silva said.

Silva added that a Filipino steel industry “will provide jobs and livelihood for our people as well as increase local domestic economic activity.”

“We urge those who are interested in helping out to build our steel industry to submit proposals to both parties,” Silva said.

He noted that “the country could also seek the help of other countries in developing the steel industry especially in light of Duterte’s overtures and deepening relations to other countries.”

However, the NDFP consultants said they “still expect the negotiations on land reform and national industrialization to be exciting, complex, and a bit tough.”

“It is important that Duterte’s gestures connect to the GRP negotiating panel for the talks to be smooth. Or else, we expect bumpy discussions in Oslo,” the NDFP RWC-SER committee statement stressed.

The substantive agenda on social and economic reforms is next to be negotiated by the two parties according to the framework agreement set by The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992.

ADAS 2016: PT PAL readies for rectification works on the Philippine Navy's first SSV

IHS Janes 360 (Sep 29): ADAS 2016: PT PAL readies for rectification works on the Philippine Navy's first SSV

PT PAL is working with the Philippine Navy to assess the extent of damages sustained by Tarlac, seen here during its commissioning in June 2016. Source: Philippine Navy

Indonesian shipbuilder PT PAL has confirmed that it is working with the Philippine Navy (PN) to determine the extent of damages sustained by the service's first-of-class strategic sealift vessel (SSV) in a collision on 19 September.

The landing platform dock (LPD)-like ship, BRP Tarlac, was anchored off Naval Station Romulo Espaldon in Mindanao when it was rammed by a Liberian-flagged product tanker, MT Tosca .

Initial assessments suggest the damages suffered in the incident are minor, and mostly localised in the ship's bow section at the point of impact.

"However, we are not taking any chances and our technicians are currently on the vessel to check the ship's vital components," said Tjahjono Yudo, PT PAL's general manager of corporate strategic planning, in a meeting with IHS Jane's at the ADAS 2016 defence exhibition in Manila on 29 September.

The inspections will cover components including the vessel's hydraulic systems, electrical systems, and hull scantlings to ensure the platform's structural integrity has not been compromised.

"We are standing by for the possibility that the vessel may be sent back to Surabaya for repair works in the worst-case scenario," said Tjahjono. But he added that this looks highly unlikely unless the technicians find major rectifications are required.

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Recalibrating US-Philippine alliance under Duterte

From Rappler (Oct 1): Recalibrating US-Philippine alliance under Duterte (By Prashanth Parameswaran)

Both sides need to bear in mind several realities as they manage ties amid changing leaderships

For those familiar with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, his string of insults directed at the United States – from the (mis)reported obscenity directed at outgoing US President Barack Obama last month which led to the cancellation of their bilateral meeting in Laos to a threat to end US-Philippine military exercises this week – has hardly been a surprise.
While the tough-talking mayor of Davao City may have hit the ground running on some of his national priorities, leaving insulted institutions and countries in his wake, he is still very much finding his footing internationally.
What is less clear, though, is what this will ultimately mean for the US-Philippine alliance, which will face another transition when a new US administration takes office in January 2017. If both sides are serious about moving beyond the rough start we have witnessed in the past few months and want to both seize the opportunities, as well as navigate the challenges in the relationship, they each need to keep in mind several realities that will help them recalibrate bilateral ties.
The real challenge
The attention to any one of Duterte’s comments directed at Washington or his rhetoric more generally misses the point. His personal distrust of the United States is deep-seated, and his rhetoric, offensive though it may be, taps into a broader, often understated sentiment within a segment of the Philippine population that has long been suspicious of the US role in the country.
Furthermore, though headlines like the cancellation of the Duterte-Obama meeting or the Philippine president’s call for the withdrawal of US Special Forces continue to serve as distractions, officials from both sides emphasize that other high-level visits, as well as working level meetings that often do not make as many waves are nonetheless continuing to run, with some of them actually progressing smoothly.
US Secretary of State John Kerry’s July meeting with Duterte went quite well, while Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay’s visit to the US earlier this month provided an early opportunity to address lingering concerns in Washington about the direction of the alliance.
The longer-term question, however, is how the US-Philippine alliance will fare under new leaderships in Washington and Manila over the next few years. Under Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino III, ties between the two allies had reached a level not seen in decades, with the establishment of new senior-level dialogues, the signing of a new defense pact, and Manila’s interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) being just some of the highlights.
Indeed, relations were so warm that irrespective of which candidate had triumphed in the 2016 Philippine elections, officials from both sides had braced themselves for a more complicated period for the alliance. “Really, we’d be happy if we can hold what we have,” one US official told me in a candid conversation shortly after the US-Philippine Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in March, when Duterte was still far behind his rivals in the race for the presidency.
Thus far, the trajectory of US-Philippine relations under Duterte has made even that reasonable expectation seem idealistic. From his softer line on the South China Sea to his hard-hitting insults at the outgoing US ambassador and Washington more generally; from rights concerns in his war on drugs to his wrong-headed views about external security (including questioning existing purchases like fighter jets and threatening to end US military exercises), the alliance has gotten a rather rude awakening, with little indication of how much worse it could get.
It is certainly true that the relationship has been through its share of ups and downs historically. But a familiarity with that checkered past should not lead to complacency about the future, and both sides need to work hard at recalibrating the US-Philippine alliance for a new era.
Duterte’s rethink
The initiative must begin with Duterte and those advising him on foreign policy.
Those who know the President well say his views on the United States are the product of both broader beliefs – including his preference for independence and distrust of external interference – as well as specific concerns about US transgressions in the past from the colonial period up to his time as mayor of Davao City.
Apart from his own ideological inclinations, they say Duterte also does genuinely believe that pursuing his so-called “independent foreign policy” – which would mean more distance from Washington relative to Aquino and perhaps closer ties with Beijing – would be a pragmatic vision in Manila’s interest, and that he has a strong mandate to pursue this.
Though some are quick to dismiss Duterte’s hang-ups about past US actions, they are not without substance. For instance, too few Americans remember what some call the Bud Dajo massacre that took place near Jolo’s Bud Dajo volcano in 1906, which Duterte referenced during his oft-cited, offbeat intervention at the East Asia Summit earlier this month. During the incident, US troops, on the orders of Major General Leonard Wood, killed over 600 Moros – including unarmed women and children – sparking outcry not just among the Moros, but even anti-imperialists in the United States such as Mark Twain.
And when Yasay, the foreign secretary, told the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the Philippines was no longer America’s “little brown brother,” few Americans in the audience seemed to recognize that he was referring to the paternalistic term coined by former President William Howard Taft who had served as the first Governor-General of the Philippines.
Besides, contrary to the knee-jerk reaction some might have, charting a more independent foreign policy is not necessarily all that bad for the US-Philippine alliance.
All Southeast Asian countries are trying to balance their alignments between the United States and China (and other states too) to some degree to maximize benefits and minimize risks, and the Philippines has not been an exception to this rule.
Indeed, Duterte is just the latest in a line of Philippine leaders who have tried to do so with varying degrees of success. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo initially and explicitly sought to deepen the Philippines’ hedging position vis-à-vis the US and China but ultimately ended up going too far in her engagement with Beijing, while the Aquino era saw Manila move closer to Washington in large part due to China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea. Duterte now appears to be trying to move the dial slightly back towards Beijing, a shift that was both ultimately bound to happen and far from assured.
BALIKATAN. US soldiers and their Filipino counterparts join force in an Amphiibous Landing operation as part of the annual Balikatan Exercises at the Naval Education and Training Command (NETC) of the Philippine Navy in San Antonio, Zambales province on April 21, 2015. File photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler
BALIKATAN. US soldiers and their Filipino counterparts join force in an Amphiibous Landing operation as part of the annual Balikatan Exercises at the Naval Education and Training Command (NETC) of the Philippine Navy in San Antonio, Zambales province on April 21, 2015. File photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler
That said, assuming Duterte does end up charting this independent foreign policy, he also needs to acknowledge and factor in two key realities.
First, irrespective of his views on past US actions and his future foreign policy vision, at present the reality is that the Philippines is still heavily dependent on the United States. This is most clearly seen in the security realm, where, through capacity-building programs, engagements and the very exercises that Duterte called into question, Washington and its network of regional allies and partners have been critical in helping Manila address its internal and external security challenges. But even on the economic side, the US is Manila’s top foreign investor and third largest trading partner, which makes it central to the realization of Duterte’s economic goals laid out in his 10-point economic plan back in July.
Indeed, if Duterte were truly pragmatic, given this reality, he would set aside his personal views of the United States and further his country’s interest by building on the US-Philippine alliance and then use that to secure better ties with other nations, including China from a position of strength. For inspiration, Duterte need only look to his predecessor Fidel Ramos, a close friend whom he has tapped as special envoy in Manila’s ongoing rapprochement with Beijing. Even as Ramos sought to engage China following the Mischief Reef incident in 1994, he also simultaneously worked to secure a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, recognizing that American hard power was necessary to at least slow down the pace of China’s "creeping assertiveness" in the South China Sea.
Second, even if Duterte advances a domestic-first foreign policy and tries to enlist Washington’s help to achieve Philippine goals at home and abroad, he must realize that US-Philippine relations is a two-way street. US support is not a constant to be always assumed but a variable that is periodically assessed with each new administration. And the reality is that the degree to which a US administration can help Manila achieve its internal priorities is contingent on both the amount the Philippines is willing to contribute bilaterally, regionally, and globally, as well as the extent of domestic political support in Washington.
On the former point, as the United States has more comprehensively engaged a growing list of countries in the Asia-Pacific under its “rebalance” and asked this network of friends to "do more." This has upped the ante for Washington’s older allies and partners in terms of their regional and global contributions.
Under the Aquino years, the Philippines was clearly pulling its own weight in the alliance to a level not seen in decades. This included not just focusing more on external defense within its own military modernization program and agreeing to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), but also supporting the US rules-based order through various means, from pushing back against China in the South China Sea to expressing interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

If Duterte were truly pragmatic, he would set aside his personal views of the United States and further his country’s interest by building on the US-Philippine alliance and then use that to secure better ties with other nations, including China from a position of strength.

Duterte has already said he will adhere to existing security agreements like EDCA, and on the economic side, negotiations on outstanding issues in the alliance like the General Systems of Preferences (GSP) program are also continuing. But the standard by which Manila will be judged will be much higher than just preserving the status quo on these items. If Manila now backtracks and appears to be of little value in advancing US regional interests relatively speaking, then it risks moving down the hierarchy of Washington’s allies and partners under an incoming administration.
In this sense, some of Duterte’s words and actions since coming to power – including skipping certain ASEAN meetings, downplaying the South China Sea issue, and minimizing human rights concerns – have understandably raised eyebrows in Washington, even though his advisers, diplomats, policymakers, and in some cases Duterte himself, have sought to subsequently explain them away.
US assistance in the advancement of Philippine interests also partly depends on the domestic political support in Washington, not just within the White House and its National Security Council (NSC) but also other actors like the US State Department and the US Congress. Irrespective of the merits of Duterte’s arguments, anti-US rhetoric and human rights concerns make it more difficult for various actors in US policy circles, as well as backers of the alliance to call for more support for the very goals the Philippine president is trying to advance.
In particular, with the US Congress now back in session following its summer recess, there is a risk that such comments could put pressure on the administration to take punitive actions against Manila, which could result in funding cuts and a downward spiral of mutual hostility. There are already early warning signs, with US Senator Patrick Leahy saying on Monday that “additional conditions” may have to be attached to American aid to the Philippines, should extrajudicial killings continue. If Duterte wants the US to understand the domestic context under which he is operating, he must also demonstrate the same empathy for his interlocutors in Washington.
Washington’s balance
Just as Duterte must find the balance between achieving his ideal of a more independent foreign policy and the realities of Philippine dependence and US support, Washington, too, must find its own balance. In its case, the balance is between addressing its legitimate concerns about the future direction of the US-Philippine alliance while also keeping in mind the realities that inform the Duterte administration’s approach to the United States and shape what might be possible for both Manila and Washington to accomplish during his tenure.
If Duterte is entitled to raise old grievances about America’s half century-long colonial legacy and Philippine overdependence on its ally thereafter, then Washington is also right to express its anxieties about the relationship’s future given its turbulent past.
For longtime observers of the US-Philippine alliance, friction over the extrajudicial killings in Duterte’s war on drugs and worries about a return to a focus on internal security in Philippine military modernization strike raw nerves that have imperiled bilateral cooperation before. And suffice it to say that a return to the intermittent debates about human rights during the era of Ferdinand Marcos or burden-sharing that had only begun to subside during the Aquino period would be far from ideal for both sides.
Moreover, there is also a sense that the stakes are much higher now than they were in the past. From a US policymaker’s perspective, Asia is a region of both growing opportunities as well as rising challenges – from a more confident and assertive China to an increasingly troubled ASEAN, all amid a dizzying array of other global problems that Washington also has to contend with including the Islamic State, conflicts in the Middle East, a resurgent Russia, frail Europe, and a still weak global economy.
In such an environment, the recent gains made by Washington and Manila over the past few years have significant value not only for the alliance, but the region as well, and their reversal would similarly be viewed from that broader perspective.
To take but just one example, I have emphasized that maritime security cooperation between the US and the Philippines has a vital regional component as well, since the Philippines’ National Coast Watch Center is a key initial hub for Washington help build a networked, common operating picture in the South China Sea out onto the rest of the region through its Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative (MSI).
Given this, it is reasonable that Washington would draw red lines to ensure that progress in certain areas, such as on the EDCA, would not be held up as Manila engages China, which has been less than thrilled about the pace of US-Philippine security cooperation over the past few years.
That said, legitimate concerns about the future state of the US-Philippine alliance must be accompanied by the acknowledgment of two key realities on Washington’s part.
First, it is still early days. Duterte’s initial position on the US-Philippine alliance is an evolving one that is contingent on both popularity at home as well as shifting alignments with other states abroad, both of which need to be appreciated, but could also end up changing much faster than his administration perceives. That means that US policymakers will need to react proportionally when needed, but give the administration time to find its feet in the event that it eventually shifts its approach towards the United States.
It is worth recalling here that it is not uncommon for Philippine (or US) presidents to take a while to settle into their new position. Aquino took about a year, and Duterte could either take longer or shorter since things are much more unpredictable in his case. Domestically, since he is an outsider challenging the established elites on so many fronts simultaneously, he may very well alienate elements of certain bureaucracies or institutions such as the military or legislature, leading him to lose political capital and recalibrate (as it is, his comments on the United States have already alienated some domestically in the foreign policy and defense establishments).
And internationally, his bold reset with China may end up sinking or sailing precariously amid continued uncertainty in the South China Sea, leading him to ultimately view keeping US-Philippine relations afloat as a key strategic objective. It is too early to tell whether this is, in fact, the case given that we have incoming new administrations on both sides, as well as fresh envoys from the two countries. But what is clear is that for all his rhetoric, Duterte knows – and, at times, has admitted rather grudgingly – that close cooperation with the United States in areas like maritime security is vital for Manila, even as it boosts ties with Beijing.

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump share Obama’s cool temperament on matters foreign and domestic, and are likely to react more harshly in the face of any future transgressions by Duterte.

The Obama administration, to its credit, seems to have internalized this need for calm and patience thus far, acknowledging the domestic significance of the war on drugs while honing in on the rights concerns more specifically, or giving Duterte the breathing room necessary to repair Manila’s strained ties with Beijing. But officials also admit that this is becoming harder to do. And beyond this US president, the next administration might not find this task to be that easy to accomplish in practice.
For one, neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump share Obama’s cool temperament on matters foreign and domestic, and are likely to react more harshly in the face of any future transgressions by Duterte. Furthermore, beyond personalities, acknowledging this reality in the face of the Philippines’ ongoing transition – and probably a few more Duterte outbursts – will require not just patience on the part of the executive branch, but perhaps also restraining an angry US. Congress that sometimes has a mind of its own, and battling it out with other bureaucracies that may not be as tolerant of perceived transgressions against the US ideals or international principles.
The second reality is much harder to acknowledge: that under the Duterte administration, the US-Philippine alliance, while still seeing some progress, may never ever reach a level anywhere close to the strategic alignment seen under Aquino. Given this possibility, and whatever its probability, Washington should not just hope and wait for Duterte to come around, but also simultaneously prepare for a more sobering outlook for the alliance, be it selective engagement on a number of areas or perhaps even minimal quiet cooperation amid public hostility. Doing so would not be an admission of potential defeat but an acknowledgment of possible – even likely – realities.
The former scenario of selective engagement would see Washington and Manila continue to have key differences but nonetheless cooperate on specific areas where US and Philippine interests intersect, especially ones which are aligned with Duterte’s own domestic goals like counterterrorism and law enforcement (though even these areas admittedly have not been free of disagreement).
Indonesia, Malaysia
This would be along the lines of what we have seen thus far in US-Indonesia relations under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, another Southeast Asian populist, where talk of a “strategic partnership” has vastly outpaced the reality of collaboration in specific areas such as maritime security and illegal fishing.
A more difficult scenario might be a repeat of one we saw in US-Malaysia relations under Mahathir Mohammad in the 1980s and 1990s (or perhaps one we are seeing in US-Thai relations under the current junta) where there would be much fiercer public disagreements over a range of issues – from human rights to regional leadership – even as some security cooperation continues under the radar.
Irrespective of which scenario actually materializes, Washington’s approach ought to be the same. It should first draw red lines to establish a clear floor for the alliance and preserve as much of the cooperation that has already been achieved, and then shape the contours of a reasonable ceiling by being direct about how it can contribute to the Philippines and its domestic priorities and what it expects in return.
If Duterte ends up wanting nothing more than a transactional relationship with the United States, then Washington must be prepared to bargain hard to ensure that it secures the best possible outcome for American interests.
Alliances and partnerships sometimes go through periods of change under new leaderships, and the US-Philippine alliance is no different. Under the new Duterte administration as well as a fresh US administration next year, this process will take its course, with its own share of twists and turns.
But given the rough start we have witnessed thus far, the two sides should think carefully and creatively about how to manage an alliance that is important not only for them both, but increasingly the region as well.
For all the alarm in the chattering classes following Duterte’s threat to “cross the Rubicon” with the United States, what is needed in the US-Philippine alliance is ultimately more of a recalibration, rather than a reset or a rethink, and one that both sides are fully capable of undertaking if their leaders have the willingness to do so.
[Prashanth Parameswaran is Associate Editor at The Diplomat Magazine and PhD candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He writes, researches and consults extensively on Southeast Asia, Asian security issues and U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @TheAsianist]

Philippine Marines to receive 8 Amphibious Assault Vehicles in 2018

From Update.Ph (Oct 1): Philippine Marines to receive 8 Amphibious Assault Vehicles in 2018

All the eight ordered Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs) for Philippine Marines from South Korean Hanwha Techwin, previously Samsung Techwin, will be delivered in 2018. According to Shephard Media, a Philippine Navy spokesperson confirmed at the Asian Defence and Security (ADAS) 2016 exhibition that first four AAVs will be delivered in August 2018 and the remaining four in December the same year.

The contract price for the acquisition of eight brand-new AAVs is PhP2.423 billion, and was awarded to Hanwha Techwin during the first quarter this year.

South Korean Hanwha Techwin and American BAE Systems are both producing AAV7A1 vehicles. Amphibious vehicles produced by the South Korean manufacturer are designated as KAAV7A1 (KAAV).

According to Shephard Media’s report all AAVs are personnel-carrying variants fitted with a one-man turret mounting a K4 40mm automatic grenade launcher and K6 12.7mm machine gun.

This project was among the seven multi-year contract projects that former President Aquino approved. The approval also included two frigates, two anti-submarine helicopters for Philippine Navy; two long-range patrol aircraft, six close-air support aircraft, munitions for FA-50 and three air surveillance radars for the Philippine Air Force.

Next round of government-NDF talks to tackle land reform, industrialization

From the Philippine Star (Oct 2): Next round of government-NDF talks to tackle land reform, industrialization

“The center of gravity of the peace negotiations is the twin necessity for national industrialization and land reform,”Jose Maria Sison declared in a message to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas during the launching of its “Campaign for Land and Peace.” 

 File photo

Land reform and national industrialization would be the focus of the second round of peace negotiations with the Philippine government in Oslo, Norway this month, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison said yesterday.

“The center of gravity of the peace negotiations is the twin necessity for national industrialization and land reform,” Sison declared in a message to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas during the launching of its “Campaign for Land and Peace.” 

“A self-reliant program for economic development cannot walk and advance without two legs: national industrialization and land reform,” he stressed.

Sison said land reform is needed to produce a definite and wealthy source of food, raw materials for industry and a broad market for industrial and agricultural products.

“National industrialization is needed to produce machines and other equipment for agriculture, create numerous and new jobs for the increasing population and destination of surplus agricultural produce,” he added.

Sison described as “fake and complete failure” the previous land reform program, saying the farmers are incapable of paying the high redistribution price imposed through the collusion between landlords and the government.

Asean, US to step up maritime security cooperation

From the Straits Times (Oct 1): Asean, US to step up maritime security cooperation

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter (left) shakes hands with Philippines Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana at an Asean security meeting in Hawaii, on Sept 30, 2016.

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter (left) shakes hands with Philippines Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana at an Asean security meeting in Hawaii, on Sept 30, 2016.PHOTO: AFP / DoD

Defence ministers from Asean and the United States on Saturday (Oct 1) agreed to work closer together to strengthen maritime security in the region to combat terrorism, respond to natural disasters and crucially, manage tensions at sea.

They were at the Asean-US Defence Ministers' Informal Meeting in Hawaii, where they discussed practical ways to prevent incidents from escalating in the South China Sea, amid heightened tensions in its contested waters recently.

Asean ministers welcomed the US' continued engagement in the region and its active role in the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus, a forum which also includes China, Japan, South Korea, India, Russia, Australia and New Zealand.

The ministers also discussed direct lines of communication and forums to resolve disputes, Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said.

"We need not only the absence of tensions but established platforms to anticipate and defuse problems before they occur," Dr Ng told his counterparts.

He also called for a Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, which guides how military vessels should react to situations, to include coast guards and non-military ships, and for regional navies to develop a code of conduct for submariners to enhance underwater safety.

Asean ministers meet regularly with their counterparts from key partners, but this week's meeting comes as the US is keen to stress its commitment to its Asia rebalance.

US Defence Secretary Ash Carter told his counterparts the US will help build a "principled and inclusive security network" that will boost cooperation and enable the Asia-Pacific to continue to grow and prosper. "This network will help us uphold important principles, like resolving disputes peacefully; ensuring countries can make their own choices free from foreign coercion and intimidation; and preserving the freedom of overflight and navigation guaranteed by international law," he said.

Dr Ng said as a non-claimant state in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Singapore's key interest is in ensuring the region remains stable and there are mechanisms to prevent any escalation.

Asean ministers also stressed the importance of freedom of navigation in these waters. It was a point US Defence Secretary Ash Carter highlighted at a press conference, saying: "We all recommitted our militaries to keeping the region's waterways open and secure and to help all our nations see more, share more and do more in Southeast Asia's vital waterways."

"Together and on our own, we're going to improve our coordination and cooperation within and among our respective militaries and also with our coast guards," he added.

Dr Carter also said a US-Asean maritime dialogue next year will share best practices in maritime security, particularly on coordination between navies and coast guards.

The ministers also discussed the threat posed by terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has over 1,000 foreign fighters from Southeast Asia and is planning attacks in this region.

Terror cells are smuggling weapons and people by sea, and the ministers agreed to share intelligence and information to combat them, while lauding patrols in the Sulu Sea by Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines to counter the threat.

Dr Ng said on Facebook: "Many initiatives were proposed which need to be followed up. The most important point is that there is common understanding and partnership to keep our region safe and stable."

Navy to boost links with Esscom, police

From the New Straits Times (Oct 1): Navy to boost links with Esscom, police 

BUTTERWORTH: The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) will tighten its security tie-up with the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) and the police.

Deputy RMN chief Vice-Admiral Datuk Anuwi Hassan said safety had always been a top priority for seamen.

Anuwi said the navy would join hands with government agencies to support Esscom and police patrolling Sabah waters following rampant abductions and robberies.

“The navy will coordinate with agencies in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone."

“Our aim is to improve safety in Sabah waters,” he said when asked on the spate of kidnappings of fishermen in Sabah waters this year.

It was reported that police intelligence and Esscom officers had started investigations to find possible leaks of Esscom’s operations secrets.

This follows the latest kidnapping for ransom and robbery incidents at sea in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone, amid heavy security forces' operations in the sea.

It was also reported that Esscom had streamlined its standard operating procedures in restricted areas that covered 11 islands and two coral reefs in the Semporna district.

The restricted areas included Pulau Sibuan, Pulau Maiga, Pulau Bodgaya, Pulau Mantabuan, Pulau Sbangkat, Pulau Selakan, Pulau Tetagan, Pulau Bohey Dulang, Pulau Kulapuan, Pulau Bohayen, Pulau Timba Timba, Sibangkat reef and Batura reef.

These areas have been identified as staging points for cross-border crimes in the waters off Semporna and Lahad Datu.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had approved the declaration of the restricted areas on Nov 13 last year.

11 Filipinos arrested off Semporna

From the New Straits Times (Oct 2): 11 Filipinos arrested off Semporna

LAHAD DATU: The Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) has arrested 11 Filipinos after intercepting two boats, which tried to enter Mantabuan waters off Semporna on Thursday night.

Esscom commander Datuk Wan Abdul Bari Wan Abdul Khalid said yesterday an enforcement team from the Tun Sharifah Rodziah Marine Base near here intercepted the boats at 8.15pm.

He said those arrested — seven men, two women and two children — did not have identification documents.

The foreigners, aged between 11 and 42, had also violated the dusk-to-dawn curfew in the waters off Sabah, he said, adding that a Yamaha 40hp outboard engine and 11 drums of oil were also seized.

Bari said a 25-year-old man of Suluk descent was arrested last Saturday in Kampung Pangkalan here while trying to smuggle petrol to the Philippines.

On the same day, a boat was intercepted in Denawan waters and 12 Filipinos, aged between 12 and 59, were arrested.

They had no identification documents. Bernama

The 11 Filipinos arrested did not have identification documents.

Pulau Gaya kidnap victim freed – police

From the Borneo Post Online (Oct 1): Pulau Gaya kidnap victim freed – police

Source: Google Maps

KOTA KINABALU: Police have confirmed that the fishing boat skipper who was abducted by gunmen near Pulau Gaya in Semporna on September 26, has been released by his abductees earlier today (Oct 1).

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun said boat skipper, Ruslan Sarapin @ Nasir, 39, arrived at Lahad Datu at around 7am and was taken to Lahad Datu police station (IPD LD) for his statement to be recorded.

“I am told that Ruslan is currently at the IPD LD but still investigating how he was released."

“We are currently taking down his statement for investigation,” he said after receiving the Panglima Gemilang Darjah Kinabalu (PGDK) which carries the title ‘Datuk’ from Head of State Tun Datuk Seri Panglima Juhar Mahiruddin in conjunction with 63rd birthday anniversary today.

On Sept 26, a group of gunmen robbed two fishing boats and abducted a skipper within half an hour in the waters off Semporna and off Lahad Datu.

Ruslan was abducted by six armed men near Pulau Gaya in Semporna but left 26 other fishermen, aged 18 to 60, unharmed.

The kidnappers were also believed to be involved in robbing another fishing boat near Tungku in Lahad Datu about half an hour later.

The latest kidnapping incident happened just two week after three fishing boat crew members were reported to have been kidnapped from nearby Pom Pom Island off Semporna on Sept 11.

The owner of the fishing trawler claimed that gunmen, believed to be Filipino, charged at their vessel at gunpoint and took with them three crew members, including the boat captain, before fleeing in a speedboat towards southern Philippines.

Two months prior to the incident, five Malaysian sailors were believed to have been kidnapped after the tugboat they were sailing in was found abandoned in Dent Haven waters off Lahad Datu.

On April 15, four of 10 Indonesian crewmen aboard the TB Henry tugboat was abducted by armed men near Tawi-Tawi Island.

Moments after the 6.30pm incident happened, the six crew members were rescued by Malaysian security forces when their boat entered Malaysian waters.

While on April 2, four Sarawakians were grabbed from the MV Massive 6 tugboat off Pulau Ligitan by armed masked men as they were returning to Tawau after delivering timber cargo to Manila.

The four men from Sibu were however released after being held captive for 37 days by their Abu Sayyaf captors.