Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Hyundai offers glimpse of upcoming Philippine Navy frigates

Quwa Defense News and Analysis Group (Oct 24): Hyundai offers glimpse of upcoming Philippine Navy frigates

Illustration of the forthcoming Philippine Navy frigate. Photo credit: Hyundai Heavy Industries

Illustration of the forthcoming Philippine Navy frigate. Photo credit: Hyundai Heavy Industries

The South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) has offered a glimpse into the two frigates it has been contracted to produce for the Philippine Navy.

In the beginning of September, HHI was awarded the $337 million U.S. deal to construct two multi-mission frigates for Manilla. HHI’s proposal was based on its HDF-3000 design, which in turn was derived from the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN)’s Incheon-class frigate.

HHI was selected in favour of India’s Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers Ltd. (GRSE), which was the rival frontrunner for the Philippine Navy’s requirement.

As per HHI’s press release, it seems that the frigates will have a displacement of 2,600-tons and will incorporate hull design elements from the much heavier HDF-3500 platform. In other words, Manilla’s new frigates will essentially be lighter versions of the ROKN FFX-3.

The 107-metre long frigates will also be configured for anti-ship, anti-submarine, and anti-air warfare, and will benefit from “the latest combat management system” alongside an electronic warfare suite. These frigates will can reach a maximum speed of 25 knots and a range 4,500 nautical miles (at a cruising speed of 15 knots). The hull will be built to operate in Sea State 5 conditions.

Notes & Comments:

It appears that the Philippine Navy contract is inclusive of the hulls as well as the onboard electronics and munitions suite. At $169 million a ship, the Philippines have gotten a competitive package from HHI. For comparison, Egypt ordered four DCNS Gowind 2500 corvettes (which have the comparable displacement of 2,500-tons) for €1 billion in 2014, which would translate to $345 million per ship at that time.

Further observation of the HHI contract will be necessary to determine if the price does include the sensor and weapons suite. However, even if the onboard suite has not been finalized, it is almost certain that the unit-cost of the HHI frigate will be markedly lower than the Gowind 2500.

This is an important point to observe as it lends credence to the notion that the bulk of naval shipbuilding is shifting away from Western Europe, which has traditionally dominated the space.

Cost advantages, which are accrued from a lower cost of labour and material alongside superior quantitative scale (in South Korea and India), are the primary advantages available to emergent shipbuilders.

This enables newer shipbuilders to possess stronger competitive footing in cost-sensitive markets, which could potentially grow as general accessibility to modern naval solutions increases. One may refer to the example of the Equatorial Guinea Navy inducting a Ukrainian-designed and Bulgarian-built multi-mission frigate in 2014. Alternatively, markets once considered key for Western European shipbuilders may pivot to lower-cost competitors.

Regarding the Philippines. It appears that the South Korean defence industry has formed a strong platform for long-term growth within that market. With the key naval and air warfare contracts firmly in the hands of HHI and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), respectively, entrants from rival industries (e.g. India) may find access to the Philippines market increasingly difficult, at least in some respects (most certainly in the area of naval warships and combat aircraft).

Philippines positions new frigates as primary ASW platforms

From IHS Jane's 360 (Oct 26): Philippines positions new frigates as primary ASW platforms

Key Points
  • Hyundai Heavy Industries has unveiled further details of the two frigates that it will construct for the Philippines
  • The frigates are set to become the Philippine Navy's most capable ASW platforms
Amid a proliferation of submarines in the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines appears to have positioned the two frigates on order from South Korea as the country's primary anti-submarine warfare (ASW) platforms, new details released about the ships suggest.

A digital visualisation of the Philippine Navy's new frigate released by Hyundai Heavy Industries on the occasion of the programme's contract signing in October 2016. (Hyundai Heavy Industries)

A digital visualisation of the Philippine Navy's new frigate released by Hyundai Heavy Industries on the occasion of the programme's contract signing in October 2016. (Hyundai Heavy Industries)
South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) unveiled the details in a press release on the occasion of the programme's contract signing on 24 October.

The platforms, which have been described by HHI as inheriting the main design features of the Republic of Korea Navy's (RoKN's) Incheon-class guided-missile frigates, will have an overall length of 107 m and a standard displacement of about 2,600 tonnes.

A computer-generated image released by the company indicates that the platforms will feature two triple torpedo tubes, each located on the port and starboard sides. Also pictured on the flight deck, which can take aircraft of up to 12 tonnes, is what appears to be an AW159 helicopter.

The Philippine government has selected the AW159 to fulfil its ASW helicopter requirement, IHS Jane's reported in March 2016. The Philippine Navy (PN) is not known to have any other substantial submarine prosecution capabilities before this acquisition.

Other weapon systems depicted in the image include an eight-cell vertical launching system installed at the forward section, just behind its primary weapon, which will most likely be a 76 mm naval gun, and four (two twin) anti-surface missile launchers mounted athwartships.

It also seems that the frigates will be equipped with a pair of MBDA-SIMBAD anti-air defence system turrets above the bridge, one each to the left and right of its fire-control radar pedestal.
The platforms are scheduled to be delivered to the PN from 2020, said HHI.

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8 soldiers, 3 militiamen dismissed for drug use

From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Oct 26): 8 soldiers, 3 militiamen dismissed for drug use

EIGHT soldiers and three militiamen were booted out of service after testing positive for illegal drug use, the 4th Infantry Division’s (4ID) top official said on Wednesday, October 26.

Major General Benjamin Madrigal Jr., 4ID commanding general, said the three members of the Citizen’s Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) and eight enlisted personnel were found positive of drug use out of 988 soldiers who underwent random drug tests.

Madrigal said the random drug tests were part of the government’s anti-illegal drugs campaign.

He said the drug tests were also done ahead of the Philippine Army’s new role in law enforcement operations in Northern Mindanao and Caraga regions.

The joint military and police operations have so far resulted to the confiscation of more than 96,000 fully grown marijuana and marijuana stalks and P28 million worth of metamphetamine hydrochloride, locally known as "shabu," weighing about 848 grams.

The joint operations have likewise resulted to the arrest of 11 drug personalities and the surrender of 562 confessed drug users.

Madrigal said the military is exploring the possibility of utilizing Camp Kibaritan in Bukidnon as a drug rehabilitation area.

Madrigal made the comments at the sidelines of the demilitarization of 164 assorted firearms at the 4ID’s headquarters in Camp Evangelista on Wednesday.

The destroyed firearms were among the 4ID’s inventory of confiscated, captured, surrendered and recovered (CCSR) firearms from December 19, 2015 to August 30, this year.

Among the firearms destroyed with the use of a circular saw were four 12 gauge shotguns, 16 caliber .38 revolvers, three 9mm pistols, four caliber .380 pistols, three caliber .22 pistols, one 5.56 caliber rifle, 35 caliber .45mm pistols, two caliber .22mm rifles, two SMGs, and two RPGs.

Another 69 serviceable firearms were set aside to be integrated to the supply line of the armed forces.
Nineteen firearms with defaced serial numbers will be subjected to macro-etching at the nearest Regional Police Office to determine the original serial numbers.

Firearms determined to be owned by the PNP will be turned-over to the PNP including those with legal impediments while the remaining firearms with defaced serial numbers will be segregated for demilitarization regardless of serviceability status.

The Limits of Duterte’s US-China Rebalance

From The Diplomat (Oct 24): The Limits of Duterte’s US-China Rebalance

A deeper look at Rodrigo Duterte’s effort to ‘rebalance’ ties between the United States and China.

Looking at some of the sensationalist headlines and commentary coming out of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s China visit this week, one might think that the Philippines is engaged in nothing short of a 180-degree turnaround in its foreign policy where it is set to abandon its decades-old treaty alliance with Washington to embrace Beijing after years of bearing the brunt of its South China Sea assertiveness.

After a nearly 30-minute rant at a Chinese-Philippine Trade and Investment Forum at the Great Hall of the People on October 20, Duterte announced a “separation” from the United States in a statement that sparked a media frenzy. And during his time in Beijing, the Philippine president and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping witnessed the signing of no less than 13 bilateral cooperation documents, with Duterte meeting a total of four of the seven members of the Chinese Communist Party’s powerful Politburo Standing Committee. Officials from both sides emphasize that this is just the beginning and more impressive deliverables could soon follow.

Yet a close reading of these developments in broader perspective, along with discussions with aides close to Duterte and with observers and policymakers in Beijing and Washington, D.C., over the past two weeks, indicates that this shift is much less dramatic and far more complex than it is being made out to be, at least thus far.

Historical Perspective
Duterte’s embrace of China is n
ot as new or unexpected as some suggest. He is, in fact, just the latest in a line of Philippine leaders who has tried to balance relations with the United States and China in addition to other partners with varying degrees of success during the three decades that have elapsed since the end of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

Fidel Ramos, who dealt with the last wave of China’s South China Sea assertiveness in the 1990s (and was initially tapped to serve as Duterte’s special envoy to Beijing), sought to engage Beijing in talks, but also secured 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.” Thereafter, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo sought to deepen the Philippines’ hedging position vis-à-vis Washington and Beijing, but ultimately ended up going too far in her engagement with Beijing (See: “The Risks of Duterte’s China and South China Sea Policy”).

Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, moved Manila much closer to the United States, in large part due to China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea. Though there were attempts later on by the Aquino administration to move towards repairing ties with China, the filing of a South China Sea case had so poisoned the relationship that few in Beijing saw good prospects for better Sino-Philippine ties until a new president took office. Duterte is now trying to move the dial back towards Beijing, a shift that was ultimately bound to happen irrespective of who Aquino’s successor would be, but is also far from assured.

Arroyo’s experience is a good demonstration of the limits of any warming of Sino-Philippine relations. For those blown away by the 13 pacts Duterte inked with Xi, it is worth noting that Arroyo signed no less than 65 agreements with China during her presidency. But that cooperation was eventually sullied by a controversial joint development deal in the South China Sea inimical to Manila’s interests that was cut with Beijing in exchange for Chinese-backed infrastructure projects, which ended up being embroiled in one of the largest corruption scandals in Philippine history.

Of course, these shifts have also taken place amid a vast asymmetry in favor of the U.S.-Philippine alliance across the security, economic, and people-to-people realms (See: “The US-Philippine Alliance Under Duterte: A Path to Recalibration“). In terms of security, the Philippines has been part of the original U.S. hub-and-spoke alliance network formed in the post-WWII period for over six decades, with the Mutual Defense Treaty signed back in 1951. Though defense ties have had their ups and downs, progress during the Aquino years, with the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and Manila’s central role in measures like the Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative (MSI), it has become a key part of the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific (See: “Why the Philippines is Critical to the US Rebalance to Asia“).

Economically, though China may be the Philippines’ largest trading partner, the United States is its biggest foreign direct investor; second major source of official development assistance (ODA); and key source and conduit for remittances for Philippine workers, which still contributes around one tenth of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Socioculturally, strong people-to-people linkages date back even further to the U.S. colonial legacy in the first half of the twentieth century and today Filipino-Americans, who number over four million, make up the second-largest Asian-American diaspora group in the United States.

The close bonds between the United States and the Philippines is a notion widely appreciated within much of the Philippine bureaucracy and wider elite, which is in part why many are already pushing back against Duterte’s drift away from Washington. The Filipino people also consistently have a highly favorable view of the United States and a very unfavorable one of China, with some minor shifts in the data over the years (See: “The Truth About Duterte’s Popularity in the Philippines”). One recent poll by the respected Social Weather Station (SWS) survey, released just ahead of Duterte’s China visit, indicated that in terms of net trust rating – the difference between the percentage of Filipinos who distrust vs. trust a certain country – the United States was at +66 while China was at a dismal -33.

A Still-Evolving Foreign Policy

Apart from this historical perspective, Duterte’s attempt at a U.S.-China rebalance also needs to be placed in the broader current context of a still-evolving foreign policy. We are just more than three months into the six-year term of a domestic-focused president who has little foreign policy experience, but has signaled quite a lot of foreign policy change without much specifics about how that would take place.

Duterte and other administration officials have talked about his China embrace as part of an “independent foreign policy,” which means (at least rhetorically) relatively less dependence on the United States and more diversification with other players including Beijing. But we do not yet know how Duterte’s initial approaches to the United States and China will end up actually playing out when it comes to concrete policy and how these two countries will fit into his broader foreign policy vision (See: “The Trouble with the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte“).

Figuring out how Duterte’s attitude towards the United States will eventually play out is especially difficult. His decision to move more towards China and away from the United States is not based purely on pragmatism, as some have suggested, but also a mix of other factors including his own historical experiences and personal leanings. And though he does have a deep-seated dislike and distrust of the United States, which some of his close aides confirm, it is not clear how flexible that position is when it comes to eventually cooperating with Washington. His expletive-laden and hyperbolic statements make for good headlines, but tell us little about his actual views. Duterte himself has admitted that they represented expressions of frustration to get people to listen rather than policy pronouncements to be translated into action, something his spokesperson Ernesto Abella has also told media outlets.

On the one hand, it is clear that Duterte’s experiences with the United States have led to a fierce anti-American sentiment built up over decades. The mix of factors that comprise his anti-Americanism include his leftist orientation, grievances about the U.S. colonial legacy in the Philippines, as well as a string of personal incidents, including what he believes was the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) involvement in helping an American escape charges for an explosion that occurred in Davao City back in 2002, when he was mayor – the so-called Meiring Incident.

Duterte was already publicly stating his opposition to aspects of U.S.-Philippine security cooperation during his time as mayor, including the Balikatan exercises being held in the Davao Gulf and the United States wanting to use an airport for drone surveillance. And in October 2015, before he even confirmed that he was running for president, he offered a preview of his foreign policy in an interview with Philippine media outlet Rappler, saying that the Philippines would be “better off” if it made friends with China.

Duterte’s deep dislike of the United States was on full display during his speech at the Forum, which came almost exactly a year after that Rappler interview. Though the media fixated on the soundbite about his “separation” from the United States, what was really shocking about his speech at the Forum – even, The Diplomat understands, to some members of the audience at the Great Hall of the People – was that he spent much of his half-hour address laying out a Manichean worldview comprising of America on the one hand and “Orientals” on the other, going into the reasons why he disliked the United States from experiences with immigration officials to the way they speak.

But part of Duterte’s frustration with the United States is also specific to this administration. In an interview with Al Jazeera on October 16 just before his trip to China – his first exclusive interview since taking office – he said his anger was also tied to a series of incidents since taking office, including misinterpretations of his insults, criticism of his ongoing war on drugs, as well as perceived threats to cut assistance. These specific incidents only strengthen his belief that Beijing rather than Washington is the better partner for Manila.

Though addressing Duterte’s deep-seated distrust and dislike of the United States may be difficult, it remains to be seen whether smoothing over the differences between the two countries is possible. On the one hand, with new ambassadors on both sides, a fresh administration in the United States in January, and the next U.S. president expected to visit the Philippines next year when it chairs ASEAN, the opportunity is there if there is the willingness to use it.

Then again, after arriving in the airport in Davao City after his China trip, Duterte told reporters he would not go to the United States “in this lifetime,” and would even find a way not to fly through the United States when he has to attend the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit meeting in Peru.

“It’s difficult because for him it’s policy, personal, historical, ideological, et cetera, combined,” an aide close to Duterte told The Diplomat on Saturday after his visit to China.

“So that’s why I say we need to see how much adjustment room is there and it takes time,” the aide, who declined to be identified so he could speak freely about the nature of the president’s views, added.

It is also still unclear how both the United States and China fit into Duterte’s broader foreign policy vision. Some of this, some diplomats say, will become clearer once Duterte engages not just China and the United States, but other important countries as well like Japan (which he visits this week) as well as others when it chairs ASEAN next year (See: “Japan-Philippines Relations Under Duterte: Full Steam Ahead?“). In some of his rhetoric, including the Forum speech in Beijing, one can detect a bit of an “Asia for Asians” bent, with rhetoric directed against the West and an affinity for Asian countries like China, Japan, and South Korea.

And in response to Duterte’s “separation” from the United States comment, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and National Economic and Development Agency Director General Ernesto Pernia also issued a statement clarifying that the focus of the Cabinet would be to “move strongly and swiftly towards regional economic integration,” which is why the government has prioritized foreign trips to ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific. If this is indeed part of the vision that centers on wider Asian economic integration, it would imply engaging more not just with China, but other major Asian economies as well.

Policy Continuity and Change

One also needs to be cautious about the extent to which Philippine policy towards the United States and China is actually changing beyond the headlines and even Duterte’s own rhetoric. Take, for instance, Duterte’s claim to sever military ties with the United States. His most serious statements have been those suggesting an ending of bilateral exercises, the ending of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed in 2014, and even revisions to the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

But when Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana was asked during his Senate confirmation hearing this week whether the government would move ahead with any of these declarations, he responded by saying that Duterte had been issuing statements without consulting his cabinet.

Everything in the U.S.-Philippine defense relationship is currently running as planned, Lorenzana added.  However, he also added that he would be presenting findings on these various aspects of U.S.-Philippine security cooperation during a cabinet meeting in early November, since Duterte said he would need inputs from the cabinet to make a decision on them.

“As of now, there is no decision to suspend training next year, the VFA is still on, everything is going, sir,” Lorenzana said.

One Philippine defense official told The Diplomat that he was “uncertain” whether Duterte “understood the full value” of the exercises held between the two countries each year, which total 28 and extend beyond just traditional security but also other key areas like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

As Duterte’s own advisers and spokesperson have often said, we should pay more attention to any policy actions that are concretized and followed through on rather than just rhetoric.

Similar caution is warranted in the case of the Sino-Philippine relationship. The 13 bilateral cooperation documents, which cover a wide range of economic and security fields – including trade and investment, industrial capacity, agriculture, media, tourism, drug control, and even coast guard collaboration – are no doubt an impressive list of deliverables.

But if you look at the documents listed, most of them (eight) are memorandums of understanding (MOUs), which are not binding commitments and look less developed than some of the others, like an implementation program of the MOU on tourism cooperation, a memorandum of agreement on news and information exchange, or an action plan on agricultural cooperation. Scrutinizing the nature and of these documents is important because anyone familiar with China’s economic ties with Southeast Asian states has become used to the reality of initial pledges not being realized.

To be sure, these documents may indicate only the beginning of a set of more concrete, binding agreements that are even more significant. But given the fact that we know very little about the exact content of these agreements, it is difficult to assess how significant they are. We may know more in the coming weeks, however, after which we may be able to make a better assessment either way. Some Philippine lawmakers are already supporting a resolution calling on senate committees to conduct an inquiry into the overall foreign policy direction of the government, including learning more about what exactly the terms of the 13 agreements are.

Future Scenarios

Ultimately, the fact is that while there has been a lot of brouhaha around Duterte’s approach towards the United States and China, it is still early days and we will have to see how things evolve for the rest of his six-year term.

One scenario would see Duterte acting on the zero-sum premise that better relations with China must necessarily come at the expense of close ties with the United States, eventually resulting in a downgrading of ties with Washington as Manila continues to move much closer to Beijing. Since Duterte already sees little value in U.S.-Philippine security cooperation and its various components, one cannot dismiss the possibility that he, in spite of opposition from some of his cabinet, will move to downgrade that if Beijing is willing to meet his price.

That said, even if he attempts to do so, Duterte’s pragmatism, the wisdom of his advisers, and the institutional constraints of the presidency probably means that downgrading will be selective, perhaps targeting certain exercises that Beijing finds most problematic or even not having them in the South China Sea.

Such a scenario would create a downward spiral that could affect the U.S.-Philippine relationship more severely, and perhaps provide even more opportunities for Beijing and Manila to cooperate. If Duterte continues spewing anti-U.S. rhetoric, exacerbating human rights concerns, and moving towards severing elements of bilateral cooperation, it will be very difficult for supporters of the alliance to prevent critics in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere from taking punitive actions like funding cuts or reacting with rhetoric that would spark a war of words that benefits neither side. As it is, Duterte’s “separation” statement has already resulted in a publicly tougher response from both the U.S. State Department as well as the U.S. embassy in Manila that we had not seen previously.

But on the other hand, given the recent history of Sino-Philippine relations, one cannot discount the possibility of an alternate scenario where Manila’s ongoing rapprochement with Beijing could be halted or at least slowed considerably by number of factors, leading Duterte to moderate his approach towards Washington. History has demonstrated that as more channels open in Sino-Philippine relations, including among business networks as well as think tanks and other institutions, managing the complexity of coordinating various channels and avoiding capture by specific interest groups is even harder, and this can give rise to everything from corrupt deals to conspiracy theories around certain big businesses (See: “China and the Philippines Under Duterte: Look Beyond a Voyage“). If this ends up playing out, that could see Duterte move a little closer to the United States having not been able to get as much diversification as he initially desired.

This caution is shared by more seasoned observers of the Sino-Philippine relations in Beijing. During a conversation last week on the sidelines of the Xiangshan Forum, one Chinese interlocutor familiar with the planning of Duterte’s China visit told The Diplomat that Duterte’s treatment of the United States, along with the rocky history of Beijing’s ties with Manila, suggested that caution was in order in case bumps were ahead.

“If this is how he treats old allies, how will he treat new friends?” the interlocutor, who did not want to be identified, said. “He [Duterte] is bold, but also at the same time unpredictable.”

Another scenario would see the gradual improvement in U.S.-Philippine relations take shape alongside the more dramatic shift towards China, thereby preserving more balance in Manila’s alignments with respect to Beijing and Washington. With new ambassadors on both sides, a fresh administration in January, and the next U.S. president expected to visit the Philippines next year when it chairs ASEAN, the two countries have an opportunity to craft a framework for at least selective cooperation in certain areas if they so desire. Adjusting to shifting alignments is not new to the United States or even the Obama administration, as the management of the U.S.-Thai relationship demonstrates (See: “Managing the Strained US-Thailand Alliance“).

Getting there, however, will not be easy. The United States would need to convince Duterte that it can play a greater role in the advancement of some his administration’s priorities that are in the national interest in spite of his own personal biases against Washington. Given the state of the relationship now, simply advertising the good work that already goes on in the alliance – including drug seizures that have occurred at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport with the help of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) – will be insufficient.

Washington no doubt recognizes this, and its most senior Asia diplomat Daniel Russel is already in Manila where he will discuss bilateral ties. But the reality is that this may be difficult to do in some cases. The fact is that the United States and China operate very differently as countries, including in how they approve foreign assistance. Washington has more strings attached to new aid it can provide in sensitive areas, and it may take a long time before fresh funding is approved depending on the channel in question.

For example, while China and Chinese businessmen have already moved forward with visibly greater cooperation with the Philippines on drugs in spite of rights concerns – including the construction of a rehabilitation center – the United States would not be able to do so in a similar manner and to the same degree, and even if it does try to boost cooperation, it cannot stay silent on the concerns that are part of its long-held ideals.

“We’re not a command kind of economy or government, so we have to think these things through,” outgoing U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg said in an interview with local media outlet Rappler on Thursday.

“We have certain laws, certain obligations under U.S law to follow,” he added.

One also needs to entertain the possibility of scenarios that are a little more mixed and more difficult to manage. For example, we could enter a scenario where Duterte continues to advertise his pivot to China while having fierce public disagreements with the United States over a range of issues, even as selective U.S.-Philippine cooperation in certain areas is ongoing but remains under the radar. This could either occur with or without Duterte’s knowledge. Indeed, Duterte’s lack of foreign policy experience arguably increases the chances of this scenario occurring, since he may continue to rail against bilateral security cooperation, but then actually not follow through on severing ties at the working level. The situation would then somewhat resemble what we saw in U.S.-Malaysia relations under Mahathir Mohammad in the 1980s and 1990s.

Though this would not be an ideal scenario for the United States given where it started off at the end of Aquino’s tenure, it would at least limit the damage on U.S.-Philippine security ties as Washington awaits a friendlier administration that is willing to boost ties. In the meantime, Washington could continue to look for other opportunities to ‘balance’ Manila’s ‘rebalance’ to China, including through its principled security network. Indeed, one of the most underappreciated advantages that the United States enjoys is its wide range of allies and partners, whom it can draw on to forge cooperation indirectly with others even if its own reach is curtailed.


Duterte’s ongoing U.S.-China ‘rebalance’ has understandably dominated conversations about the region over the past few months, and it may even intensify in the short term. But irrespective of the fate of this ongoing realignment, observers should be clear not just about the opportunities that are available, but also the limitations that exist.

[Prashanth Parameswaran is Associate Editor at The Diplomat Magazine and a PhD candidate at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He writes extensively about Southeast Asia, Asian security affairs and U.S. policy in the Asia-Pacific.]

Will Duterte End the US-Philippines Military Alliance?

From The Diplomat (Oct 27): Will Duterte End the US-Philippines Military Alliance?

A deeper look at the future prospects of the relationship.

Since coming to power in June, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly threatened to end various components of the longstanding defense relationship between his country and its ally the United States as he seeks closer ties with China (See: “China and the Philippines Under Duterte: Look Beyond a Voyage“).

On Wednesday, in remarks to a group of Japanese and Philippine businessmen in Tokyo, Duterte doubled down on his earlier rhetoric. He said that he wanted American troops out of the country, perhaps within two years, and that he was willing to “revise or abrogate agreements” to do so. He also reiterated his previous statement that U.S.-Philippine exercises would end.

But as I noted in a recent long essay for The Diplomat, one needs to be cautious about the extent to which Philippine policy toward the United States and China is actually changing beyond the headlines and even Duterte’s own rhetoric (See: “The Limits of Duterte’s US-China Rebalance”)

Current State

As I specified in the piece, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana publicly said last week that though Duterte had been issuing statements without consulting his cabinet, everything in the U.S.-Philippine defense relationship is currently running as planned.

These includes not only exercises, but defense agreements including the foundational Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) inked back in 1951, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) of 1998, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a defense pact inked in 2014 (See: “A Big Deal? US, Philippines Agree First ‘Bases’ Under New Defense Pact”). U.S. troops are also still currently operating in the south of the country in spite of Duterte’s announcement that they would be asked to leave.

Whether or not Duterte follows through on his threat to downgrade or sever the U.S.-Philippine military relationship remains to be seen. Lorenzana mentioned that that he would be presenting findings on various aspects of U.S.-Philippine security cooperation during a cabinet meeting next month, and that Duterte could make a decision after receiving input from other cabinet members too.

On October 26, Reuters quoted an unnamed Philippine army general as saying that things could become even clearer after Washington and Manila hold an annual meeting to discuss military ties in late November.

Clear Constraints

There is a chance that Duterte’s advisers may be able to convince him to at least moderate his position. Though Duterte wants to advance an “independent foreign policy,” the reality is that the Philippines is still heavily dependent on the United States, especially in the defense realm.

As one of the region’s weakest militaries, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) relies significantly – in some areas even exclusively, defense officials admit – on the United States to address manifold challenges even apart from the South China Sea, including piracy, terrorism, and natural disasters. Since the 1950s, the Philippines has gotten around 75 percent of its arms imports from the United States, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. There are also additional advantages it gets from being part of the U.S.-led alliance and partnership network in the Asia-Pacific that goes along with its centrality in the U.S. rebalance (See: “Why the Philippines Matters to the U.S. Rebalance to Asia“).

Duterte appears to recognize at least part of the value of the U.S.-Philippine defense relationship following conversations with his advisers and other officials (though he is far less likely to give much weight to the broader regional implications of downgraded bilateral security ties) (See: “America’s New Maritime Security Initiative for Southeast Asia“). For example, though he initially called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country’s south, he later walked this back and said that the Philippines would need Washington’s presence for the South China Sea. He and his aides have also previously said that existing treaties would remain and that changes would be restricted to things like exercises and engagements.

He has also been unable to answer the question of where the Philippines can turn to for its security right now if it gives the United States the cold shoulder. Duterte’s proposal for the Philippines to consider buying equipment from China and Russia has already seen pushback in defense circles both privately and even publicly, with issues including quality and interoperability being highlighted. If Duterte is sufficiently convinced that reducing Manila’s reliance on Washington will take decades and is impossible to accomplish in his single six-year term, he may see that his rhetoric cannot really be translated into reality.

But in the end, it might be the domestic considerations that could matter most. The Philippine military enjoys close ties to the United States, and would not be pleased to see the severing of its relationship with a central contributor to its capabilities. Duterte knows that he needs the military’s support for the realization of his domestic goals, including peace processes with communist rebels and Muslim insurgents that are already unpopular among some in the military. If he is persuaded that this could alienate the military to the degree that it could threaten his rule, he may be more cautious about ending the defense relationship with Washington.

Duterte also faces institutional constraints to ending certain components of the U.S.-Philippine defense relationship. Terminating or revising the MDT, as several senators reminded him last week, would require Senate consultation, though this may be a moot point since one defense official told The Diplomat over the weekend that he recognizes that abrogating it would be “going too far.”

As for EDCA, though Duterte’s assertion that it is not valid without Aquino’s signature is flat out wrong, the pact itself stipulates that the parties can terminate it with just a year’s notice. Therefore, that would be possible but it would not take effect immediately. And given the long process we just witnessed with EDCA in the Philippines up till the Supreme Court upholding its legality earlier this year, it could take even longer if there is some domestic opposition to its revision or abrogation.

Relative to these other agreements, exercises themselves would be the easiest to discontinue or downgrade following agreement in the cabinet as well as with the United States. That would of course depend on the exercises Duterte has is in mind, and as of now, sources say he does not even have an understanding as to the breadth and depth of these interactions.

Indeed, the Philippine defense official who spoke to The Diplomat that he was “uncertain” whether Duterte “understood the full value” of the exercises held between the two countries each year, which total 28 and extend beyond just traditional security into other key areas like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

These domestic considerations are not occurring in a vacuum. There is already elite and bureaucratic resistance to Duterte both generally as a bold, crude outsider calling for radical change as well as specifically on the kinds of policies he has been advocating. And there is no question that in the case of U.S.-Philippine ties, he is also going against the grain of public opinion, which has long been highly favorable toward the United States, even if there is a small but vocal portion of the population that has an anti-American view.

Given this, there is a case to be made that the U.S.-Philippine relationship would only serve as yet another rallying cry for those seeking to oppose Duterte within the elite and that he is better off not wasting his political capital on this front as opposed to the several others which will also require significant support.

Stubborn Realities
But it is important not to assume that wisdom will prevail when it comes to Duterte and the U.S.-Philippine defense relationship for several reasons.

First, strategically, Duterte does not see the United States as being as important to Philippine national interests relative to other countries like China. In his view, described by a defense official in a conversation with The Diplomat over the weekend, since Washington is unlikely to come to Manila’s defense in the event of a conflict, which is itself unlikely, there is little use for an alliance that brings only limited security benefits to the Philippines while also restricting the economic rewards it can get from Beijing.

“War is unlikely. U.S. support also unlikely. Not much from China economically presently because we made it a security threat. So is it really a good deal for us?” said the source, laying out in detail Duterte’s thinking.

Second, as I mentioned in the essay, Duterte’s distrust and dislike of the United States is deep-seated and longstanding and is not restricted purely to strategic considerations, but experiences he has had with the United States over decades. The mix of factors that comprise his anti-Americanism include his leftist orientation, grievances about the U.S. colonial legacy in the Philippines, as well as a string of personal incidents, including what he believes was the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) involvement in helping an American escape charges for an explosion that occurred in Davao City back in 2002, when he was mayor – the so-called Meiring Incident.

“It’s difficult because for him it’s policy, personal, historical, ideological, et cetera, combined,” an aide close to Duterte told The Diplomat on Saturday after his visit to China.

Third, he has a proven track record of calling for downgrading and even opposing certain specific components of U.S.-Philippine defense cooperation. Duterte was already publicly stating his opposition to aspects of U.S.-Philippine security cooperation during his time as mayor, including the Balikatan exercises being held in the Davao Gulf and the United States wanting to use an airport for drone surveillance.

Fourth, it is unclear how flexible Duterte is with his current beliefs and how willing he is to actually factor in advice he is getting from advisers and officials into actual policy. His rhetoric thus far does not give us much confidence in this regard.

In one worrying public demonstration of this, during his first exclusive interview since coming to office, with Al-Jazeera, Duterte was confronted by one of the interviewers about how he was putting his country at risk by downgrading defense ties with the United States, since Washington had played a key role even in non-military areas like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as was demonstrated during Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Shockingly, Duterte suggested that either other countries would come or he would be willing to live with the fact that the death toll would be much higher.

“Other nations will come. Or we will die. Double the number. And so?” Duterte said.

Future Scenarios

What most observers seem to be hoping for is that Duterte will eventually realize the error of his ways after fully hearing the advice of defense officials and his advisers and will not actually downgrade U.S.-Philippine defense ties at all.

If that occurs, we will see no change in policy accompanying Duterte’s rhetoric. If the first few months of his administration are an indicator, the rhetoric itself is likely to stay, though that too may ease if there is some kind of reset under a new U.S. administration as well as a fresh U.S. ambassador (See: “The U.S.-Philippine Alliance Under Duterte: A Path to Recalibration“). After all, Duterte continues to maintain that his current frustration with Washington is partly due to the outgoing U.S. ambassador Philip Goldberg’s comments directed against him during his campaign, as well as the unfair treatment he has received from the Obama administration.

But given Duterte’s fierce anti-American stance, his record of opposing the U.S. security presence in the Philippines, and his belief that Manila does not really need Washington as much as defense officials and some of his own advisers think it does, the possibility of the president forging ahead with a significant downgrading of the relationship cannot be discounted.

A significant downgrading of ties would include the eventual ending of major exercises (or perhaps all 28 of them if Duterte really is that ambitious), and even revisions to or a complete nullification of EDCA as well as other changes like the withdrawal of all U.S. personnel from the country. This could come either now or in response to future perceived transgressions by Washington, and it would no doubt have significant, longer-term impacts on U.S.-Philippine military relations. If things continue as is, it will be difficult for the United States not to react in some way.

If this is paired with closer defense ties with other countries like China, Russia, or others, this could start to truly look like an about-face in Philippine defense policy. Nonetheless, it is still worth keeping in mind though that Duterte has not said he would also end ties with key U.S. allies and partners – such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia – which are also security providers. That means that despite this downgrading, the Philippines would still remain part of the broader U.S. alliance and partnership network in the Asia-Pacific, or, if you prefer, the principled security network (See: “US Hits Right Note At Shangri-La With Principled Security Network“).

But one also needs to entertain the possibility of mixed and messier scenarios in between these two extremes, which could in fact be the eventual outcome. Duterte could, for example, cancel a few key exercises or adjust some specifics (like making sure exercises do not occur in or near more provocative parts of the South China Sea or are focused primarily on less contentious areas like HADR) just to irk the United States and please China. He could also try to revise the terms of agreements like EDCA to ensure that the Philippines gets a better deal, or ask the United States to clarify its commitment to Manila if it wants existing pacts to stick as is.

This slight or selective downgrading in defense ties could coexist with fierce public disagreements as well as continued cooperation in other areas – like law enforcement or counterterrorism or even some aspects of maritime security cooperation. Though Duterte may seem to have a more black-and-white view of defense ties now, he may become convinced of the wisdom of this moderate approach if he sees that the Philippines would be left too vulnerable on the South China Sea issue or other rising threats like the Islamic State make a cleaner break more difficult.

As I have argued before, Duterte’s lack of foreign policy experience, poor understanding of the workings of the bilateral defense relationship, and relative disinterest in foreign military issues as opposed to domestic economic and security ones, makes it more likely that selective U.S.-Philippine cooperation in certain areas could go on but remain under the radar. Though the circumstances would be different, the outcome would somewhat resemble what we saw in U.S.-Malaysia relations under Mahathir Mohammad in the 1980s and 1990s.

Irrespective of what actually happens, it is important to keep a longer-term perspective in mind. The U.S.-Philippine alliance has been through its share of ups and downs. When the United States had to close its bases in the country in 1992 after a close vote in the Philippine legislature, many were quick to declare the end of the alliance. But China’s South China Sea assertiveness in the years following that drove Manila to negotiate the 1998 VFA; a rising terrorism threat following the September 11 attacks saw a significant upgrading of bilateral security cooperation on that front; and yet another round of Chinese South China Sea assertiveness during the Aquino years saw the inking of EDCA in 2014.

To be sure, current trends are still far from encouraging. But it is a useful reminder that even if dramatic reversals do occur in the U.S.-Philippine defense relationship, history suggests that the tides can turn much quicker than the naysayers believe.

[Prashanth Parameswaran is Associate Editor at The Diplomat Magazine and a PhD candidate at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He writes extensively about Southeast Asia, Asian security affairs and U.S. policy in the Asia-Pacific.]

NDFP vows to continue pushing for national minorities’ agenda in peace talks

From the pro-Communist Party of the Philippines/National Democratic Front online propaganda publication Bulatlat (Oct 27): NDFP vows to continue pushing for national minorities’ agenda in peace talks

“Natural resources are being plundered from the ancestral lands of our national minorities.”

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) has included the national minorities’ agenda in its peace talks with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

Speaking before members of Sandugo, an alliance of national minorities, at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Oct. 26, NDFP consultants Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria Tiamzon said the NDFP’s draft on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socioeconomic Reforms (Caser) addresses the absence of national industrialization and backward agriculture, which stunted national development.

Wilma said the NDFP’s 12-point program recognizes the right of Bangsamoro, the Cordillera, Lumad and other indigenous peoples to self-determination. “Genuine right to self-determination can only be achieved if the exploitation and oppression by the ruling elite of landlords and big business and their U.S. master would have been ended,” she said.

Wilma said the NDFP fully support the national minorities’ stand against foreign intervention in the nation’s affairs.

On Oct. 19, Sandugo staged a protest in front of the United States Embassy to call for an independent foreign policy. Elements of the Manila police violently dispersed the protest action.

“Ang imperyalistang US ang pangunahing nakatapak sa likod ng lahat ng pambansang minorya at ng mamamayang Pilipino” (US imperialism is the main oppressor of national minorities and indigenous peoples.) Wilma said.

Wilma said U.S. imperialism dictates national policies that are detrimental to the Filipino people.

“Our national minorities know this. Natural resources are being plundered from the ancestral lands of our national minorities,” Wilma said.

She added that if all mining permits from the Cordillera to Mindanao would be approved, the country’s mountains would be flattened.

Nenita Condez, a Lumad leader from Zamboanga Peninsula and Minda Dalinan from Socksargen called for the cancellation of all large-scale mining and logging permits in ancestral domains.

Wilma said the NDFP supports the demands of national minorities to save their schools from military attacks, repeal of laws that are anti-indigenous peoples and anti-Moro and the dissolution of government agencies and institutions that deceive and harm the national minorities.

Wilma said the most immediate demand is the pullout of military troops in Lumad communities.

“We know the difficult the situation of Lumad evacuees,” Wilma said. They must be allowed to return to their homes immediately.”

Benito said the NDFP has repeatedly raised with the GRP panel the reported violations of ceasefire by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Majority of the reported violations came from Mindanao, he said.

According to human rights alliance Karapatan, ten indigenous peoples have become victims of extrajudicial killings since Duterte assumed office.

In the same period, 26 cases of military attacks on Lumad schools in the Southern Mindanao Region have been recorded by the Save Our Schools Network.

During the open forum, Josephine Pagalan, a Manobo leader from Surigao del Sur, lamented that authorities are not effecting the warrant of arrest against the perpetrators of the Sept. 1, 2015 Lianga massacre.

Witnesses identified paramilitary leaders Calpet Egua, Loloy Tejero, Bobby Tejero, Margarito Layno and 32 others as the killers of school director Emerito Samarca and Manobo leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo.

Benito said the AFP has been saying that paramilitary groups are not covered by the government’s ceasefire.

Wilma said that if government fails to give justice, the New People’s Army guerrillas could implement revolutionary justice and go after the most rabid violators of human rights.

Wilma said the government reactionary forces are there to maintain the status quo. Amid the repressive attacks on the Filipino people’s rights, Wilma said it is the democratic right of citizens to take up arms against an exploitative and oppressive system.

Wilma called on national minorities to continue to assert their rights outside the peace talks and enjoin the support of other sectors here and abroad for their struggle.

Thousands protest alleged ceasefire violations in Masbate

From InterAksyon (Oct 26): Thousands protest alleged ceasefire violations in Masbate

The caravan in Cawayan, Masbate to protest alleged military ceasefire violations in the province. (Bayan-Bicol photo)

Thousands of people staged a caravan and rallied in Cawayan town, Masbate Tuesday to protest alleged military violations of the government’s unilateral ceasefire, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in the Bicol region said.

As formal peace negotiations between the government and National Democratic Front of the Philippines resumed, both parties declared separate unilateral ceasefires as they hammer out details for an indefinite bilateral ceasefire.

The Cawayan rally, which drew more than 3,000 people, was the second mass action in the province this month following a larger event attended by some 4,000 in Dimasalang town on October 14, Bayan-Bicol said in a statement.

It quoted Pedring Delarama, spokesman of the Masbate People’s Organization, as saying the military has continued deploying troops to communities in Palanas, Dimasalang and Cawayan.

The soldiers have allegedly occupied barangay halls, day care centers and even schools, and have also been conducting a census of residents in the communities, Bayan-Bicol’s Vince Casilihan said.

Peasant leader Enrique Tumapil also accused the soldiers of conducting maneuvers in the guise of the government’s anti-drug campaign, Oplan Tokhang, going house-to-house and questioning residents.

Analyn Sabares said her family fled their home in Barangay Calapayan after a dozen soldiers visited their village on October 23 interrogating residents about the New People’s Army.

However, she said, soldiers also went to Barangay Cabungahan, where her family sought refuge with relatives.

Fr. Rene Invento of the Masbate chapter of the human rights group Karapatan urged the Duterte administration to act on the complaints and order the military back to barracks.

Duterte’s Double Play With China And The US – Analysis

From the Eurasia Review (Oct 26): Duterte’s Double Play With China And The US – Analysis

A new dawn for Philippine-China relations was said to have taken place nearly six months ago when Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte met with China’s Zhang Jianhua in Davao in early June 2016.
Their talks represented a major departure from the attitude taken toward China by the Aquino government, which steered the country for six years. Jianhua recently spoke of the sun “shin[ing] beautifully on a new chapter of bilateral relations.”

Before Duterte whisked his way into office, the Philippines filled the spot for the fastest economic growth in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region. Then, nobody really knew what to make of Duterte’s economic policy and his economic aims for the country. That course become much clearer during the second half of 2016, most notably over the past week given Duterte’s trip to Beijing to cozy-up even further to Xi Jinpiang like a lovestruck schoolgirl.

Like a petulant child, Duterte renounced Washington, calling Barack Obama a “son of a bitch” and describing America’s ambassador as a “gay son of a whore.” Washington, among others sharply criticized Duterte’s nasty “kill them all” style war on drugs throughout the Philippines. Duterte’s statements and attitude coincided with calls for ending joint American-Filipino military operations and training, and a ban on US warship maneuvers and patrols in the Philippines’ territorial waters.

So, what is Duterte up to? His alleged pivot seems inherently disingenuous, an attempt to play both ends against the middle. His aims strike one as remaining staunchly economic with military goals, rather than principally military in purpose. There is also reason to question the substance of Duterte’s pronounced “seperation” from the United States (US).

Duterte’s rhetoric though, made his intentions fairly evident, asserting that to ‘get the guns he needs’ he would turn to Russia and like-states – essentially anyone willing to sell him the armaments he needs to meet his domestic political objectives and to vamp up the military capacity that’s critical for achieving his foreign policy aims. His trip to China, however, was a bold move that might have brought him further in meeting his economic objectives, but at the expense of his closest ally the United States.

Saying “good-bye” to Washington, Duterte has set out on a path to build a rosy new relationship with China after years of horn-locked tension between Beijing and Manila. For China, the situation surrounding the South China Sea dispute has became a bit clearer. For Washington, Duterte’s actions have called for quick and decisive damage control (or a patient waiting-game). For the Philippines, the country’s economic course has received a healthy dose of stability, but one that could end-up being Duterte’s five minutes of glory.

In 1965, Indonesia’s President Suharto carried out a drug war using patriotic and nationalistic discourse. He put forth the principles of PANCASILA, namely: (1) One God; (2) Civilized Humanity; (3) Unity; (4) Consultative Democracy; and, (5) Social Justice. Similarly, immediately after his rise to office in June 2016, Duterte launched an all-out war on drugs using patriotic and nationalistic discourse. Duterte espouses the New Filipinism of the late-President Ferdinand Marcos, which means no more clinging to the West.

The principles of Filipinism are as follows: (1) One God – the merger of nationalism, religion and communism where religious cultism is fostered; (2) Unity – the adoption of an independent foreign policy; (3) Civilized Humanity – the promotion of distinct Filipino values such as respect for elders; (4) Democratic Consultation – the implementation of regular consultation with Indigenous Peoples and Bangsamoro Groups as well as the formation of a coalition of nationalist and patriotic officers; (5) Social Justice – the promotion of full-scale industrialization such as railway development and the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Program to uplift the poor. Duterte is a National Democratic Front (NDF) member who adopts an anti-imperialist and an anti-American stance.

There are efforts to revisit the “Golden Age” of Philippine-China relations where Chinese Overseas Development assistance reached $800 million USD. Both countries have expressed interest in pushing through with their bilateral talks. The main caveat: (1) No one is obliged to yield any territory; (2) No territory will be taken from any country; and (3) The two countries will focus on functional areas of cooperation encompassing people-to-people exchange, scholarships for Filipinos, cultural exchange, and counterterrorism cooperation.

The Philippines further hopes to be included in the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative of China. The Philippines is now meeting the requirements to fulfil its commitment to be part of the Asia Investments and Infrastructure Bank (AIIB) so as to be able to access infrastructure funding. For the time-being, Duterte’s initatives and adventures in China offer-up the impression that he is devoted to economic development for his country – this remains his priority even in his wider, regional policies.

Yet Duterte’s visit to China and his supposedly warm embrace of China strikes as being misinformed and misinforming. Over the long-term, his actions will likely translate into heightened instability for the whole region and those involved, including the China and the US. Duterte appears to be acting on his interest to make the Philippines less reliant on external assistance (in this case from the US) and puruse a freer, more autonomous foreign policy. It is a poorly-calculated gamble.

His sentiments about foreign assistance was shared by others in his government, notably, Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana, who said, “I think we can live without [that] aid. Our Congress is actually giving us money now for the procurement of equipment. I believe they will give us more if we don’t have a source of other funds.” In this, turning away from the US is essentially a (partial) turn from the European Union (EU).

The calculation is likely as simple as looking for the biggest spender. So does this mean that Duterte found his new “sugar daddy?” Does he even need one? The Philippines is a country of some 101 million people, a country comprising of thousands of islands, an uninspiring GDP per capita, and a dreary military budget. It also boasts one of the longest ongoing civil conflicts consisting of a dual insurgency and ongoing counterterrorism operations against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Abu Sayyaf, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Khalifa Islamiyah Mindanao, and the Maute Group. This is a tall order for any state to handle.

Manila’s military budget spending has risen slightly since 2014, which then stood at a meagre $2.6 billion USD whereas China’s stood at a whopping $132 billion that same year. Due to its current domestic problems and a need to focus more of its attention on the South China Sea dispute, Duterte is likely acting on a combination of misapprehension and desperation fuelled by the demands that will increasingly fall on Manila in the near and distant future, and Duterte’s personal ambitions as opposed to party are country consensus.

Despite praiseworthy attempts by the current and previous governments at force-modernization, the Philippines military has a long way to go and still has to contend with a major lag in its budgets from previous years. Decades of poor funding has left the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in tatters with even greater logistical challenges placed on it. A few years after Bush’s “War on Terror” (WoT) took stage, Manila was jet-fighter-less, and sailed just one small warship dating back to the days when US marines were “island-hopping” all over the Pacific.

It is probably apt to claim that Manila is not at all prepared to fight for its interests in the South China Sea dispute given its limited and already stretched resources and lacklustre military spending capacity. Incapable at present of deterring even the most miniscule of military adventurism, it is fitting to apply the age-old adage, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

It should come as no surprise that Duterte retains a self-styled loathing for the US supported by hatred for the US felt by Filipinos, who see their country as a colony historically squeezed by Washington’s longstanding rule (though we should not forget that a lot of Filipinos have always been very pro-American). However, we might question whether Duterte is actually aware of how much he needs Washington’s support despite his abhorrence for his former ally’s actions over the course of many decades and indeed over a century ago.

The longevity of Duterte’s new crush will probably depend on who is able and willing to put more money in the Philippines’ purse. In 2015, Manila received some $40 million USD from Washington, and $50 million USD the year before that. If Beijing can outmatch those numbers, which is probably what Duterte’s is betting on, he will likely maintain his course in this new relationship with Beijing.

Resources have also come from one of the Washington’s closet allies in East Asia – South Korea – who sent FA-50 Golden Eagle fighter aircraft to the Philippine Air Force (PAF) in 2015. A turn away from Washington could see other sources of support dwindle, and the millions of dollars in military support does not include other forms of valuable military aid already received. Whether Beijing is ready to start sending military equipment to Manila remains both highly speculative and questionable.

Still, Duterte’s decision might also be based on the calculus that if he continues to shun the US then Washington might shower the Philippines with even more funding, aid, and equipment in an attempt to win back its fly-by-night ally – two is better than one!

For now, Beijing is perhaps comfortable flirting with Manila on the political front but hesitant to make any hard commitments leading to the transference of sophisticated weaponry and other forms of aid. Duterte, however, has set the Philippines up for a nearly-impossible military transition, in terms of force modernization, readiness for possible state-on-state conflict in the South China Sea, more capable counterinsurgency operations within its own difficult-to-defend/manage territory, and higher demands that will be placed on its military personal as the AFP transitions to more advanced weapons systems at full tilt.

As the year draws to a close, Duterte has impulively taken the Philippines beyond the comfortable confines of being in an alliance with the US and its strong/rich friends and allies. Through his deparutre, he has moved his country into highly uncertain and volitile territory in the form of partnership with China that has so far offered no real guarantees for the still-developing country.

This article was published at Geopolitical

Malaysian terror suspect nabbed in the Philippines

From the Straits Times (Oct 26): Malaysian terror suspect nabbed in the Philippines

Philippine security officials have arrested a Malaysian suspected of helping to train militants belonging to the Abu Sayyaf terror group in bomb-making.

Colonel Cirilo Donato, commander of the Army's 104th Infantry Brigade, said on Tuesday Ahmad Tarmizi Muhamad Sayoti was captured early this month at a port in Maluso town in Basilan - 880km south of the capital Manila - while attempting to slip back to Malaysia.

Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, the military's spokesman, told The Straits Times yesterday Ahmad Tarmizi is now being investigated by the national police's elite anti-terror unit.

Col Donato said the Malaysian was tracked down using leads provided by civilians who saw him armed and bearing the black flag of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) at an Abu Sayyaf camp in Baguindan village, Tipo-Tipo town, also in Basilan.

The military captured the camp in August.

"As getting to Syria becomes increasingly difficult for South-east Asian fighters, Mindanao may be the next best option." - MS SIDNEY JONES, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, on ISIS setting up a new caliphate
Col Donato said Ahmad Tarmizi was nabbed as he was about to board a boat that would have taken him to Malaysia. He had on him materials for making improvised explosive devices.

In Kuala Lumpur, Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar confirmed yesterday that the suspect was Malaysian and from Kelantan, and that he was "a supporter of the Islamic struggles in southern Philippines".

A Jakarta-based think-tank, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (Ipac) reported on Tuesday that the Abu Sayyaf and three other Islamist groups in the southern Philippine island group of Mindanao were getting funding and training from ISIS operatives in Malaysia and Indonesia. These operatives, in turn, receive refuge and protection at the militants' camps spread across Mindanao.

It said the Sept 2 bombing of a popular night market in President Rodrigo Duterte's home city of Davao in Mindanao that left 15 dead was a collaborative effort of these groups.

On Oct 4, security officials arrested three suspects said to be part of the Maute group and schooled in bomb-making by Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Hir, alias Marwan, who was killed in a police raid in January.

The bombing was an attempt to win support from ISIS and to derail military offensives against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Basilan, according to security officials.

Ipac director Sidney Jones said extremists have identified Mindanao as their "next best option" for a caliphate, as it has become more difficult for them to slip into Syria.

She added: "Over the last two years, ISIS has provided a new basis for cooperation among extremists in the region. That cooperation could take on a new importance as ISIS losses in the Middle East increase and the incentive to undertake violence elsewhere rises."

Reds mull peace talks sans ceasefire amid heightened military ops

From the pro-Communist Party of the Philippines/National Democratic Front online propaganda publication Bulatlat (Oct 26): Reds mull peace talks sans ceasefire amid heightened military ops

“If the AFP continues to violate the ceasefire, it will not be long and it is highly probable that the NPA would retract its unilateral ceasefire.”

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultants Wilma Austria Tiamzon and Benito Tiamzon share the updates on the ongoing peace talks between the GRP and the NDFP with members of Sandugo, an alliance of national minorities, Oct. 26 at the University of the Philippines Diliman. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea/ Bulatlat)

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultants Wilma Austria Tiamzon and Benito Tiamzon share the updates on the ongoing peace talks between the GRP and the NDFP with members of Sandugo, an alliance of national minorities, Oct. 26 at the University of the Philippines Diliman. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea/ Bulatlat)

Amid mounting reports of violations to the unilateral ceasefire by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) is considering peace talks without ceasefire.

Speaking before members of Sandugo, an alliance of national minorities, at the University of the Philippines Diliman, Oct. 26, NDFP consultant Benito Tiamzon said the AFP is “exploiting the ongoing ceasefire to crush the revolutionary bases of the New People’s Army (NPA).”

Benito said the NDFP received documented reports of “aggressive military operations in the guise of peace and development operations.” These included psywar, intelligence, civil-military and combat operations in several areas. Majority of the violations, he said, came from the regions in Mindanao.

“If the situation gets worse, it would be better to pursue the talks without ceasefire. In the past, the peace talks continued even without a ceasefire,” Benito said. “If the AFP continues to violate the ceasefire, it will not be long and it is highly probable that the NPA would retract its unilateral ceasefire.”

Benito said the AFP’s ceasefire violations are contrary to the spirit of unilateral ceasefire, which aims to foster trust between the two parties and create favorable atmosphere for the advancement of peace talks.

Benito said the call of national minorities to junk the counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan is just. He blamed the Oplan Bayanihan for the militarization and widespread terror in Lumad communities.

Benito added that the Duterte administration has yet to fulfill its commitment to release all political prisoners through amnesty. He said that President Rodrigo Duterte himself promised to release all political prisoners several times already.

During the first and second round of formal talks held in Oslo, Norway, the GRP panel expressed its strong commitment to release all political prisoners.

The GRP panel has pledged to facilitate the first wave of releases of political prisoners this Oct. 27, according to NDFP consultant Wilma Austria Tiamzon.

Wilma said the GRP panel said the series of releases of political prisoners would be done until December this year.

Benito said the filing of common crimes against activists is prohibited by the Hernandez political doctrine and violates the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

Benito said that in lieu of rebellion, common crimes, which are based on lies and planted evidence, are filed against activists.

There are more than 400 political prisoners languishing in different jails.

For the Filipino people

Benito said the NDFP participates in the peace talks to address the root causes of the armed conflict.
The peace talks, he said, is one of the opportunities and avenues to push for socioeconomic and political reforms that would benefit the Filipino people. He added that the NDFP would not allow the other side to dilute the basic socioeconomic reforms needed by the majority of the Filipino people. including the national minorities.

Benito urged the national minorities to strengthen their struggle. “The peace talks is important but the struggle that you advance outside the peace talks is even more important.”

Philippine, US Military brass unfazed by Duterte tirade

From the Manila Times (Oct 26): Philippine, US Military brass unfazed by Duterte tirade

DESPITE President Rodrigo Duterte’s public display of anger against America, a number of activities between the US and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been lined up ahead of a meeting of the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board next month, sources at Camp Aguinaldo disclosed on Wednesday.

One of the sources, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the matter, said while the President Duterte has said he does not want anymore bilateral exercises with the US, he has not given concrete guidance or instruction what particular exercise he is against.

“For example, HADR [humanitarian assistance and disaster readiness], it has not thing to do with the West Philippine Sea [South China Sea]. The intelligence exchange program, it also has exercises but it also has nothing to do with the South China Sea. There may be moderation on bilateral exercises within the South China Sea],” the source, a military official, added.

The November meeting of the MDB-SEB is one in a series of defense and security-related dialogues held each year between the Philippines and the United States.

The meetings foster strong relationships between the Philippines and the US military and improve their abilities to work together on mutual defense and security that includes HADR, cyber security and anti-terrorism.

This year, the meeting had been scheduled for October 24 but was moved to November 22 because officials want to finish first the US elections.

“This is an annual meeting between the US Pacific Command and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. This is part of our treaty. As long as the treaty is not abrogated, this is part of the conditions of the treaty,” the source explained.

Among the range of activities scheduled for next month, according to the source are officers’ exchange visit, intelligence exchange, bilateral exercises and HADR.

The military official said these scheduled activities would be presented to Duterte on the first week of November during a Cabinet meeting.

Philippine military officials, he added, are still hoping that the President will clarify his anti-US stance even as he noted that when Duterte makes a statement, it does not mean it is already a policy.

“He made it clear to us that his statement is not the official policy line because it has to be discussed within the Cabinet,” the source said.

But another official said the MDB-SEB meeting may be postponed. He did not elaborate.

This source added that the officials of the AFP and the Department of National Defense (DND) have not received written orders from Duterte on his announcements against the US particularly on bilateral exercises.

He, however, said that after the US elections, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and other security officials would sit down with the President and present him the pros and cons of joint military exercises.

“From there, he [Lorenzana] will ask the President to decide whether to totally stop or reduce the military drills,” the source added.

Army optimistic about peace in Panay

From the Manila Bulletin (Oct 25): Army optimistic about peace in Panay

Aklan — The Philippine Army predicts that the island of Panay will be more peaceful as a result of the ongoing peace negotiations between the Duterte administration and the National Democratic Front (NDF).
“The peace process is necessary for our common good,” said Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tumnog of the 12th Infantry Battalion.
Panay(Photo courtesy of Google Map) Panay (Photo courtesy of Google Map)

Based on intelligence gathered, Tumnog said there are still 140 active members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), in Panay.
Additionally, there are also 150 communist rebels in legal front groups.
Tumnog added the army wants to declare the entire Panay Island (Aklan, Antique, Capiz, and Iloilo provinces) as insurgency-free by the first quarter of 2017.

Msian bomb-maker caught in Philippines is from Kelantan, says IGP

From New Straits Times Online (Oct 26): Msian bomb-maker caught in Philippines is from Kelantan, says IGP

KUALA LUMPUR: Police today confirmed that a militant arrested in Maluso by the Phillippines early this month, is a Malaysian.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said that the man, who hailed from Kelantan, had pledged allegiance to the Islamic militant movement in the southern Philippines.

The man is believed to be an expert bomb-maker.

“He is indeed a Malaysian citizen from Kelantan. From what we know, this man is a supporter of the Islamic struggle in the southern Phillipines,” Khalid told reporters at the Police Training Academy in Cheras today.

Khalid, however, denied claims that the man was caught carrying materials for Improvised Explosive Device. This, he said, were only claims made by the Philippines authorities.

He said the man was not under the watch of the Malaysian military.

According to a foreign news report, Philstar, yesterday, the man was arrested by the Phillipines security forces and is currently in the custody of its military intelligence.

The army's 104th Infantry Brigade commander Colonel Cirilo Donato had yesterday confirmed that the man was arrested at the port of Maluso town early this month while trying to slip back into Malaysia.

He said the military is checking if the suspect may have been training the Abu Sayyaf militants to make bombs.

Duterte to visit Cotabato for launching of Mindanao peace programs

From the Philippine Star (Oct 26): Duterte to visit Cotabato for launching of Mindanao peace programs

A traditional Moro welcome will greet President Rodrigo Duterte during his October 29 visit to the seat here of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to launch ARMM’s expanded humanitarian and peace programs.

His October 29 sortie at the ARMM capitol in southeast of Cotabato City is his first since his June 30 assumption to the presidency following the May 9 polls that catapulted him to power via a plurality electoral mandate from 16 million Filipinos.

ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman on Wednesday said Duterte’s launching of anti-poverty programs designed by regional officials is a tacit indication of his strong commitment to the southern peace process.

“We have a president who is so focused on addressing the issues and concerns besetting the Moro sectors and for that we are so thankful,” said Hataman, who was reelected to a second term also last May 9.
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The ARMM government has been implementing since 2012 major anti-poverty programs complementing the socio-economic components of the Mindanao peace process, particularly those meant to improve the welfare and productivity of residents in the autonomous region.

The ARMM, which covers Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, both in mainland Mindanao and the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, are common bastions of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

The Hataman administration is also engaged in extensive socio-economic interventions and infrastructure projects in impoverished towns in Sulu, touted as the country’s poorest and most dangerous province.

Peace activists in ARMM, among them members of the Catholic and Islamic communities, blame the poor performance by local executives for all the security woes besetting Sulu, known throughout the world as haven of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf.

The Abu Sayyaf is feared for its practice of beheading captives snatched from abroad and nearby Mindanao regions if ransom demands are not met.

Duterte has actively been reaching out to both the MNLF and the MILF to hasten the Mindanao peace process.

The largest of three factions in the MNLF, led by former Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema, and the MILF central committee already agreed to help each other push forward a common peace roadmap needed to put a diplomatic closure to the nagging Mindanao Moro issue.

Among the ARMM’s current poverty-alleviation programs are the community-based interventions “Apat na Dapat” and the Health, Education, Livelihood, Peace and Security Synergy, or HELPS.

The Apat na Dapat is focused on providing villagers with shelter, water and sanitation, power supply in houses, and food and livelihood.

The regional government earmarked P240 million for its poverty alleviation programs for calendar years 2015 to 2016.

Duterte thrice visited Maguindanao province in the past three months. Cotabato City, where ARMM’s capitol is located, is in the first district of the province. His planned October 29 official visit to the regional government center is his first.

Regional officials and representatives from the Presidential Management Staff are now planning the reception program for the president and his entourage.

Hataman on Wednesday also reaffirmed his administration’s support to Duterte’s effort to address the now four-decade Moro problem.

Hataman reiterated his promise to relinquish his post and facilitate a transition from ARMM to a more politically-empowered MILF-led self-governing outfit the group and Duterte may possibly establish based on the March 27, 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB).

The CAB is a product of 17 years of tedious negotiations between the MILF and the national government.

“I am ready to step down if there is a need to cut my three-year term as an implication of the ongoing Duterte-MILF peace initiative. No problem with me,” Hataman said.

Hataman’s office is presently implementing more than P5 billion worth of infrastructure projects in far-flung areas in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur where there are government-acknowledged MILF camps.

The costly projects were designed to hasten the restoration of normalcy in these war-torn areas by generating livelihood opportunities for guerrillas the MILF leadership and Duterte wants to usher back into mainstream society.