Thursday, December 15, 2016

Philippines says US on its own in South China Sea patrols

From the Philippine Star (Dec 8): Philippines says US on its own in South China Sea patrols

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana gestures during a conference in Makati on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. Lorenzana said it is highly unlikely the Philippines will allow the U.S. military to use the country as a springboard for its freedom of navigation patrols in the disputed South China Sea to avoid antagonizing China. AP/Aaron Favila

Defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday it's highly unlikely his country will allow the U.S. military to use it as a springboard for freedom of navigation patrols in the disputed South China Sea to avoid antagonizing China.

Lorenzana said U.S. ships and aircraft could use bases in Guam, Okinawa or fly from aircraft carriers to patrol the disputed waters.

Under President Rodrigo Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, some U.S. aircraft and ships stopped in the Philippines on the way to patrolling the disputed waters to challenge China's territorial claims.

Duterte, who took office in June, has taken steps to mend ties with China and became hostile toward the Obama administration, after it raised concerns over Duterte's deadly crackdown on illegal drugs.
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Asked if the Philippines will continue to host U.S. ships and aircraft patrolling the disputed waters, Lorenzana said that Duterte will not likely allow that to happen "to avoid any provocative actions that can escalate tensions in the South China Sea. It's unlikely."

"We'll avoid that for the meantime," Lorenzana said. "Anyway, the U.S. can fly over there coming from other bases."   

U.S. officials did not comment immediately. The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Adm. Harry Harris, said last month that despite Duterte's rhetoric, military cooperation with Manila has not changed.

Duterte has publicly threatened to scale back the Philippines' military engagements with the U.S., including scuttling a plan to carry out joint patrols with the U.S. Navy in the disputed waters, which he said China opposes.

U.S.-Philippine annual combat exercises have been reduced and will be redesigned to focus on disaster-response and humanitarian missions. Among the maneuvers to be dropped starting next year are amphibious landing exercises and beach raids, aimed at enhancing the country's territorial defense.

Duterte's actions have become a hindrance to U.S. efforts to reassert its presence in Asia, although the U.S. military has vowed to continue patrolling one of the world's busiest commercial waterways.

After Duterte met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in October, China allowed Filipinos to fish at the disputed Scarborough Shoal. China took control of the rich fishing area in 2012 after a tense standoff with Philippine government ships.

Philippine coast guard ships have also resumed patrols at the shoal.

Aside from the easing of tensions at Scarborough, Chinese coast guard ships are no longer blocking Philippine resupply ships from Second Thomas Shoal, farther south in the Spratlys, Lorenzana said.

Use of Philippines for US sea patrols thumbed down anew

From the Philippine Star (Dec 12): Use of Philippines for US sea patrols thumbed down anew

In this July 2013 photo, the guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 88) is underway in the Philippine Sea. Lassen recently sailed near China's artificial island on Subi Reef in the disputed sea, US defense officials said on Tuesday. US Navy/Declan Barnes/Released, File

The Philippines has again thumbed its nose at the US, its longtime defense ally, saying it won't be used as a springboard for US ships and planes conducting operations that challenge China in the South China Sea.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the Philippines will not allow its territory to be used as a staging ground for US patrols — a possible departure from the current policy that allows US aircraft, ships and submarines access to designated Philippine military bases under a 2014 defense agreement.
Lorenzana said US ships and planes can use Guam or Okinawa in Japan for South China Sea missions. But he said they can still refuel and resupply in the Philippines after conducting such maneuvers, not before.
State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said she could not comment on Lorenzana's remarks as she hadn't seen them, but added: "Our adherence to freedom of navigation is well known. You know, we will fly, we will sail anywhere within international waters and we will continue that."
Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, the commander of the US Army's I Corps who leads international military exercises in the Pacific, said that the US military was prepared to change next year's joint exercises with the Philippines to humanitarian and disaster relief training.
"If we change the training, we would probably look at putting a different force and a different capability in the Philippines versus the initial one that had been planned to go there," he told Voice of America, referring to the initial focus on the Philippines' territorial defense.
President Rodrigo Duterte has reached out to China to try to smooth over the territorial disputes. He also said he wants to scale back the Philippines' military engagements with the US, including scuttling a plan to carry out joint patrols with the US Navy in the disputed waters, which he said China opposes.
But Manila still continues to rely on Washington. On Friday, the Philippine navy took delivery of a third frigate decommissioned from the US Coast Guard.

Philippines acquiring Air Search Radars for Navy warships

From Update.Ph (Dec 15): Philippines acquiring Air Search Radars for Navy warships

The United States government has approved the possible sale of two (2) AN/SPS-77 Sea Giraffe 3D Air Search Radars and related equipment, support, and training worth approximately USD25 million.

“The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on December 12, 2016,” US Department of Defense – Security Cooperation Agency said in a news release dated December 14.

US Defense Security Cooperation Agency said the Government of the Philippines has requested the said possible sale. The principal contractor will be VSE and Saab.
These radars will be installed to two Gregorio del Pliar-class frigates of Philippine Navy. The said class of warships were formerly used by the US Coast Guard as Hamilton class high endurance cutters.

“The AN/SPS-77 Air Search Radars will be used to provide an enhanced ability to detect and track air contacts,” US Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

“The Philippines seeks to increase its Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) capabilities in order to improve monitoring of its vast territorial seas and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). An effective Philippine MDA capability strengthens its self-defense capabilities and supports regional stability and U.S. national interests,” US Defense Security Cooperation Agency said.

“Implementation of this proposed sale will not require the assignment of any US or contractor representatives to the Philippines. US contractors, under US government oversight, will be in the Philippines for installation and associated support of this new radar on these Philippine Navy ships,” the US agency said.

US Approves $25 Million Radar Sale to Philippines

From the Voice of America (Dec 14): US Approves $25 Million Radar Sale to Philippines

FILE - Relatives of crew of BRP Tarlac of the Philippine Navy wave Philippine flags to welcome its arrival at the South Harbor in Manila, Philippines, May 16, 2016. The radars Manila is purchasing from the U.S. will be mounted on Navy ships.

FILE - Relatives of crew of BRP Tarlac of the Philippine Navy wave Philippine flags to welcome its arrival at the South Harbor in Manila, Philippines, May 16, 2016. The radars Manila is purchasing from the U.S. will be mounted on Navy ships.

The U.S. government has approved the sale to the government of the Philippines of two Sea Giraffe radars and related equipment, support and training for about $25 million, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency said on Wednesday.

The Philippines requested the sale to improve monitoring of its territorial waters. The radars will be installed on two Philippines Navy ships and the principle contractors will be VSE Corp and Saab.

The radar sale will allow the Philippines to beef up its maritime security and helps reinforce an important U.S. regional security relationship at a time when Washington is concerned about what it sees as China's overreaching claims in the South China Sea.

The Philippines has for decades been one of the closest U.S. allies in Asia, but the relationship has been strained recently as President Rodrigo Duterte has voiced disdain and mistrust of Washington while U.S. officials are worried over potential human rights violations under his government.

The U.S. Congress was informed of the radar sale and did not object.

A recent sale of assault rifles to the Philippines' national police was blocked in the U.S. Senate over concerns that they could be used against civilians.

TRADOC donates 48,600 cc of blood to AFP Medical Center

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 15): TRADOC donates 48,600 cc of blood to AFP Medical Center

CAPAS, Tarlac -- Soldiers of the Philippine Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) donated 48,600 cc of blood to the Armed Forces of the Philippines Medical Center (AFPMC) through a recent bloodletting activity.

Brigadier General Herminigildo Franciso Aquino noted that this would provide AFPMC with adequate supply of blood to sustain its requirements for the soldiers, dependents and civilians who are undergoing treatment or in need of blood.

“The blood we donated will help save and prolong lives of patients,” Aquino stressed.

VIRAL: Filipino soldiers do mannequin challenge

From ABS-CBN (Dec 15): VIRAL: Filipino soldiers do mannequin challenge

MANILA -- Soldier trainees of the First Scout Ranger Regiment have found online fame after a video of them doing the mannequin challenge in San Miguel, Bulacan went viral on Facebook.

The video, which lasts one minute and 42 seconds, showed different scenes of 10 SROC Malawi Class 86-16 trainees seemingly frozen in place while preparing for battle in a forested area.

The second scene shows the trainees undergoing military training inside Camp Tecson in Bulacan, while the third scene shows the trainees clowning around - still frozen in place.

As of posting, the mannequin challenge video has received 125,000 views and 2,545 shares.

In an interview, freelance videographer John Mark Gatchalian said he was approached by a friend about doing a mannequin challenge video for an upcoming Christmas party.

They then conceptualized the mannequin challenge video with the help of Technical Sergeant Cesar Barrameda Cuenca, drill instructor of candidate soldiers of the First Scout Ranger Regiment, and the permission of Col. Rene Glen O. Paje INF (GSC) Philippine Army Commander First Scout Ranger Regiment.

During the shoot last Friday, Gatchalian - who also does drone videos for weddings, corporate shoots and prenups - had to explain the concept of the mannequin challenge to the trainees and even showed samples.

"Hindi kasi nila alam 'yung mannequin challenge kasi nasa training, walang internet... Mabilis naman nila na-gets," he said.

Each scene took two to three takes to get right, he said.

Gatchalian said the purpose of the video was to show the hardships of soldiers during training and war, as well as their fun side.

"We thought of three scenes for the mannequin challenge: war, training and wacky scenes. We thought of thinking a wacky scene in the end because soldiers are always shown as being serious, not smiling. They can be fun too," he said.

For his part, Cuenca said the trainees also enjoyed doing the shoot.

"Enjoy naman sila sa ginagawa nila. Bigay todo, yung iba grabeng pawis. Hindi sila humihinga," he said in a separate interview.

Cuenca also participated in the mannequin challenge and is seen wearing a black beret in the first part of the video.

The drill instructor said the mannequin video shows a snapshot of what a regular soldier undergoes during training. He said that after joining the Army, trainees for the Scout Rangers must undergo an orientation course, deployment and then the regular Scout Ranger training.

"Nakaka-boost din ng morale...Ang kagandahan kasi, napapakita yung samahan namin," he said.

Feature: NPA rebels quit from the revolutionary movement

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 15): Feature: NPA rebels quit from the revolutionary movement

Agusan del Sur -- Significant number of New People’s Army (NPA) surrenderees were recorded in this province, according to an official from the 26th Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army.

Lieutenant Colonel Rommel Pagayon, commanding officer of 26IB, Philippine Army underscored that these surenderees used to live in fear and hunger while they were far away from their families and loved ones. Their lives were burdened on series of hardships and always on evasion. They used to be on the other side of the mainstream society, fighting against the government. “But things were changed when they laid down their arms and were welcomed back to the folds of the government,” he said.

Pagayon further emphasized that with the initiatives and efforts of the Philippine Army to neutralize the left-leaning groups, several NPA rebels have already surrendered and returned to the mainstream society.

It can be recalled that last July 31, 2016, Yoyoy Bat-aw and Rey Pasado Carlos alias ‘Rex’, both from Guerilla Front 34 came down from the mountains of Loreto, Agusan del Sur and surrendered with their M1 Garand rifle and KG9.

Also, on November 10 of same year, Wengweng Gumansel of Guerilla Front 89 and Erwin Mansumangkay alias ‘RR’ of Guerilla Front 88 gave up their arms and hoped to live a better and safer life. They brought along with them three high-powered firearms (1 AR18 rifle, 1 carbine and 1 Garand rifle) to attest their sincerity in surrendering to the government that they once challenged.

“We used to run for our lives if our masses inform us of the presence of the army in their community, for we were afraid to die. We walked on the mountains even at the middle of the night or intense heat of the day with little food just to evade them,”  Gumansel said as he tearfully recalls his past experience in the revolutionary movement.

In August  2016, Jason Istar Behing, 28 years old and Jeffry Azarcon Maca, 28 years old, both members of SPP21C, Guerilla Front Committee 21 (GFC21), North Eastern Mindanao Regional Committee (NEMRC), voluntarily surrendered with two M16 rifle with bandolier and three magazines to 29IB, Philippine Army in Barangay Del Pilar, Cabadbaran City, Agusan del Norte.

Also, in Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur, another member of the NPA who surrendered to the 3rd Special Forces Battalion was presented to Agusan del Sur Governor Adolph Edward Plaza on November 9, 2016. The rebel returnee also surrendered his M16 rifle to the government.

Ricky Salinas Bocales, known as ‘Ka Javelan’, 25 years old of Brgy. La Purisima, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur also realized that he was deceived by the wrong ideology. According to him, he was with the NPA for four years and just like the other surrenderees, he also experienced a hard life because their group was often moving from one place to another with limited food.

It was learned that the aforementioned surrenderees decided to quit the rebel group due to the NPA's broken promises. Accordingly, they used their firearms in extorting small and large business firms and instill fear to the minds of the people. They also expressed their gratitude to the army who helped them live a new life.

The surrender was made possible through the successful negotiations of the 26th Infantry (Ever Onward) Battalion and the continuing effect of the resolution of the different issues in the communities through the Bayanihan Team Activities (BTA) in collaboration with the municipal local government units (LGUs) and provincial government of of Agusan del Sur.

These former rebels (FRs) are now enrolled to the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) to assist them to live a peaceful life and become productive citizens.

With the onset of attaining just and lasting peace, the 401st Brigade with all its battalions is gaining its ground in winning the hearts and minds of the people and bridging resolutions to their concerns which will eventually lead to the realization of its mission as stated “to help the LGU maintain an environment conducive for sustainable development and a just and lasting peace by year end 2016.”

Joint exploration of West PH Sea pushed anew

From Rappler (Dec 15): Joint exploration of West PH Sea pushed anew

Joint exploration will benefit all claimants while the arbitral ruling is being resolved, says Senator Gregorio Honasan, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security    

EXECUTIVE SESSION. Senator Gregorio Honasan convenes the Senate committee on national security and defense. Rappler photo

EXECUTIVE SESSION. Senator Gregorio Honasan convenes the Senate committee on national security and defense. Rappler photo

Senator Gregorio Honasan has joined calls for a joint exploration of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), citing the controversial arrangement adopted during the time of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The chair of the Senate committee on national defense and security said it is time for Philippine policy makers to "modernize their thinking" and consider joint exploration of the disputed sea, he told Rappler in an interview after the Senate held an executive session to get a security briefing on Wednesday, December 14.
"The first thing we should modernize is our way of thinking. It goes beyond airplanes and ships...Be imaginative and out of the box," the retired military officer said.

This can be done, he said, through "joint exploration to benefit all the claimants while the arbitral ruling is being resolved."

President Rodrigo Duterte has made pronouncements during the campaign that he is open to the joint exploration of the West Philippine Sea, arguing that the Philippines should not insist on ownership at the outset.
He maintained this position even after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in its dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea.
The joint exploration proposal was not tackled during Duterte's state visit to China in October and has not been discussed since. In what appears to be a shift in his tone, Duterte back then said he will consult Congress on how to best exploit the country's resources in the West Philippine Sea.
Better than JMSU?
Honasan said the joint exploration agreement agreement may be patterned after the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU), a tripartite agreement between the Philippines, China, and Vietnam that was adopted by the Arroyo administration.

"From talking about ownership, we will probably consider joint exploration. We have a model for that – not to adopt it en toto but as confidence building measure," Honasan said.

"We will examine that (JMSU) again as a basis for considering that option....We will look at it, not adopt it," Honasan added.
He said a new agreement on joint exploration should be based on "mutal respect and mutual benefit and based on our national interest."

Arroyo's critics alleged that the then chief executive was liable for treason over the JMSU because about 80% of the coverage of joint exploration is inside the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

The JMSU – the first phase of the joint exploration – lapsed on June 30, 2008, and was not renewed by the Arroyo government amid criticism. Bayan Muna filed a petition before the Supreme Court in 2008, asking it to void the JMSU.

Bayan Muna asked the High Court to rule on its petition in 2014, arguing that the agreement is "capable of repetition" if not voided. It reiterated a Court ruling on its petition in July 2016, following the Philippines' victory over China in its sea dispute.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s policy on West Philippine Sea is a stark contrast from the previous Aquino administration, which filed a historic arbitration case against China’s sweeping claims in the disputed seas. (READ: Aquino: The president who brought China to court)
Duterte now wants warmer ties with China, prompting him to end joint patrols between the Philippine and US militaries.

"It is the policy of our President that all of our actions should not be provocative of any other country. Our objective is instead of antagonizing anyone, we would like to develop harmony in the region," said Defense Undersecretary Cardozo Luna, the second highest official at the Department of National Defense.

Back to internal security focus

Luna said the modernization efforts of the Philippine military will continue to develop a "fully credible defense force."

"The most important is the Air Force. Next is the Navy. And then the Army," Luna said.

But internal security problems keep diverting the military's focus. The military has shifted back its focus to counter-terrorism efforts, particularly against the Abu Sayyaf Group operating in Sulu and Basilan and the Maute Group in Lanao del Sur. These two groups have pledged allegiance to the foreign terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS).

"As of now we are still at the stage that we are still dealing with internal security problems. A lot of priorities to go into the Army. But in the future, we should develop the Air Force and the Navy because we are a littoral nation," said Luna.

Honasan said the Senate remains committed to the modernization of the Philippine military, but added that there is a need to audit the performance of the military before it decides which capabilities it should acquire.

Soldier, 4 civilians hurt in 2 Marawi blasts

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 15): Soldier, 4 civilians hurt in 2 Marawi blasts

Improvised explosive devices (INQUIRER FILE PHOTO)

Improvised explosive devices (INQUIRER FILE PHOTO)
Marawi City -- An Army soldier and four civilians were wounded following two explosions in Barangay Rorogagus here on Wednesday afternoon, a belated military report said Thursday.

Lt. Col. Joselito Pastrana, the commander of the 65th Infantry Battalion, said the explosions took place as a convoy of military trucks was passing by the area past 5 p.m.

Pastrana said based on the accounts of those in the convoy, the lead vehicle was hit in one of the blasts, wounding one of the soldiers. A motorcycle passing by the area rammed into the lead military truck, which abruptly stopped when the explosion took place. The motorcycle driver and his three passengers were injured.

He said the explosions were caused by two improvised explosive devices, made up of C4 and packed with nails.

Pastrana identified the wounded soldier as Sergeant Adrian Gaon while the injured civilians were identified as Fathma Nawira, 39, a public school teacher; Hafi Daluma,11; Hasbea Daluma, 8; and Adatu Gulam, the motorcycle driver.

All the wounded victims were rushed to the Amai Pakpak Hospital here for treatment.

Pastrana believed the explosion was set off by the Maute group, which has been the target of a massive military operation in Lanao del Sur since early this year.

Mitigating Maritime Violence In Sulu Sea: Regional Cooperation Needed – Analysis

From the Euraisa Review (Dec 15): Mitigating Maritime Violence In Sulu Sea: Regional Cooperation Needed – Analysis (By BA Hamzah)

Suggestions that kidnappers/extortionists make money from ransom do not explain the root causes of maritime violence in the Sulu Sea. The main solution lies in development of the impoverished region in Mindanao and granting the Muslims self-rule in their homeland, coupled with regional cooperation to enforce law and order at sea.

The recent spate of kidnappings in the Sulu Sea seems to suggest that the sea is now under the control of the notorious bandits-cum-criminals and extortionists with their main sanctuaries/hideouts in southern Philippines. Their modus operandi is very simple. They extort money from families of captives or from their respective governments. It does not matter who pays the ransom so long as the right amount is paid. Very often, if the right amount of ransom is not raised in good time they would decapitate the captives as has happened to John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, both Canadians, in April and June 2016, respectively.

Kjartan Sekkingstad, a Norwegian hostage escaped death after a ransom was paid, reportedly around 100 million pesos. He became a “celebrity” overnight after his audience with President Duterte on 18 September 2016. Exactly a year before, the same group that abducted Sekkingstad and the two Canadians, killed Mr Bernard Then, a Malaysian engineer hostage, allegedly when it did not receive its share of the bounty.

Not Likely the Last

In September 2016, 13 Indonesians were kidnapped at sea; six were later released apparently without any ransom. This is the third time that Indonesians were kidnapped this year. In response to the spate of kidnappings, Jakarta has imposed a moratorium on the shipment of coal to the Philippines. The fate of the remaining seven is not known. They are probably held as captives in nearby Islands or on the mainland, waiting for ransom to be paid before they are released. Or, when the right amount cannot be raised in time, their heads will roll.

In an earlier incident (April 2016) four Malaysians were kidnapped and released after two months in captivity. A ransom of RM30 million (US$7.2 million) was reportedly raised for brothers Wong Teck Kang and Wong Teck Chii, their cousins, Johnny Lau Jung Hien and Wong Hung Sing.

Just last week, on 8 December 2016, there was a shootout between a group of armed extortionists, probably members of the outlawed Abu Sayyaf, and the members of the Tiger Platoon, the Royal Malaysian Police. In this incident off Lahad Datu, a coastal town in Sabah, Malaysia the Police claimed they killed the mastermind of several kidnappings of several foreigners from Sabah. Two other extortionists were killed and arrested two others.

The Police claimed the group was responsible for the kidnapping of four Indonesian crewmen in April 2016, as well as the beheading of the Canadians. Going by what happened in the past, this incident will not be the last. Vengeance and retribution in a tribal society that roams the Sulu Sea will be swift, for which the security forces must stay alert. No one knows how many are waiting to be freed and how much more ransom will be paid to the bandits, kidnappers and extortionists; and, by whom. Only time will tell.

Legacy of Lawlessness

According to one authority on Southeast Asian waters, James Warren, lawlessness in the Sulu Sea and the Celebes Sea is not new. It has existed as long as one could remember dating back to 1521, when the Spaniards colonised and christianised the Philippines. The local Muslims and natives waged a war of insurrection against the colonisers and in the Sulu Zone for occupying their lands as well interfering with their way of life.

Even before the Spaniards took control of the Philippines, the local chieftains in the South Philippines were reportedly trading in slaves. Human trafficking, people smuggling, piracy, sea robberies, and kidnappings were quite common in those days among the Sulu Sea community.

Most of the current problems associated with violence in the Sulu Sea could be traced to domestic politics in the Philippines, especially in Mindanao. The failure of the Manila-based government to give the Muslims (Moros) in South Philippines a real stake in national politics and economy have turned many impoverished to take the law into their hands. Some become bandits, kidnappers, extortionists, gun runners and many other jobless Moros engage in other forms of criminal activities for a living at sea, where enforcement is weak or in certain parts of the Sulu Sea, non-existent.
The most recent attempt to give the Moros an autonomous rule collapsed in June 2016, just before President Duterte took over the government. Since then President Duterte has launched a new initiative. He is now talking to Muslim leaders in Mindanao, most notably Nur Misuari, the former head of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who was disgraced by the previous three presidents.

The challenge to President Duterte is regaining the trust of the Moros who have been betrayed not once or twice but numerous times in their struggles for self-rule.

Way Forward

The suggestions that kidnappers/extortionists make money from ransom do not explain the root causes, which include granting the Muslims self-rule in their homeland and bringing development into Mindanao. Without this, the armed struggles will continue and the spill-over will be felt at sea. The overlapping territorial claims between Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia makes effective administration of the Sulu Sea more challenging.

In August 2016, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines signed a document on standard operating procedures (SOP) for trilateral maritime cooperation, marking the official start of coordinated joint sea patrols in the Sulu Sea.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The example of the coordinated maritime and air operations in the Strait of Malacca could be a useful start. The MOU on avoiding incidents at sea that existed between the Royal Malaysian Navy and the Indonesian Navy inked in 2001 could also be used. The principles of unity of command and intelligence /information sharing adopted by the multinational Combined Task Force 151 in dealing with piracy menace in the Gulf of Eden and Somalia in 2009 are worth revisiting.

Regional cooperation in the Sulu Sea could benefit from the current Brunei-Indonesia- Malaysia-Philippines-East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) framework signed in 1994 to promote commerce and trade between the three territories in Borneo.

Bringing development to the Moros in the South Philippines, just like the overlapping territorial claims in the Sulu Sea, cannot be resolved overnight. Ensuring order and peace in the Sulu Sea becomes a burning and pressing matter. The maritime enforcement agencies in the three countries responsible for the Sulu Sea must now implement the political decision as a matter of urgency.

[BA Hamzah is a lecturer at the Department of Strategic Studies, National Defence University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. He contributed this to RSIS Commentary.]

Report: Beijing Adds Weapons to South China Sea Islands

From the New York Times (Dec 15): Report: Beijing Adds Weapons to South China Sea Islands

China appears to have installed anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons on its man-made islands in the strategically vital South China Sea, a U.S. security think tank says, upping the stakes in what many see as a potential Asian powder keg.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a report late Wednesday that the anti-aircraft guns and close-in weapons systems designed to guard against missile attack have been placed on all seven of China's newly created islands.
The outposts were built in recent years over objections by the U.S. and rival claimants by piling sand on top of coral reefs, followed by the construction of military grade 3,000-meter (10,000-foot) airstrips, barracks, lighthouses, radar stations and other infrastructure.
CSIS based its conclusions on satellite images taken in mid-to-late November and published on the website of its Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.
In a statement, China's Defense Ministry repeated that development on the islands was mainly for civilian purposes, but added that defensive measures were "appropriate and legal."
"For example, were someone to be threatening you with armed force outside your front door, would you not get ready even a slingshot?" the ministry statement said.
The Philippines, which has troops and villagers stationed on some reefs and islands near China's new artificial islands, expressed concern despite recently improving relations with China.
"If true, it is a big concern for us and the international community who uses the South China Sea lanes for trade," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said. "It would mean that the Chinese are militarizing the area, which is not good."
China's new island armaments "show that Beijing is serious about defense of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea," CSIS experts wrote in the report.
"Among other things, they would be the last line of defense against cruise missiles launched by the United States or others against these soon-to-be-operational air bases," the report said.
Beijing says the islands are intended to boost maritime safety in the region while downplaying their military utility. They also mark China's claim to ownership of practically the entire South China Sea.
Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also claim territory in the waterway through which an estimated $5 trillion in global trade passes each year, while the U.S. Navy insists on its right to operate throughout the area, including in waters close to China's new outposts. China has strongly criticized such missions, known as freedom of navigation operations.
The U.S. has committed to beefing up its military presence in the area, although new uncertainty has been introduced by incoming president Donald Trump, who broke long-established diplomatic protocol by talking on the phone earlier this month with the president of China's longtime rival Taiwan.
"The timing is significant in that these first clear images come amid Trump's challenging comments about China and its South China Sea fortresses," said Alexander Neill, a senior fellow for Asia-Pacific security for the International Institute for Strategic Studies based in Singapore.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said on a visit to the U.S. last year that "China does not intend to pursue militarization" of the area, prompting some foreign experts to accuse China of going back on its word with its new deployments.
Despite that, China considers it vital to equip the islands with defensive means given their distance — 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) — from the Chinese mainland, together with the nearby presence of forces from rival claimants such as Vietnam, said Yue Gang, a retired colonel and military analyst.
"As the matter of fact, these occupied islands have been armed and fortified for a long time," Yue said. "No country in the world would only commit to providing civil services without considering its own security safety."
Looking forward, the nature of China's new military deployments will likely be calibrated in response to moves taken by the U.S., said the IISS's Neill.
"China will argue that they are entitled to place whatever they want there in reaction to U.S. actions," Neill said. "The big question is whether Trump will embark on a more strident or discordant policy in the South China Sea."

NDF: NDFP presents draft socio-economic reforms agreement in national consultation

Posted to the National Democratic Front Website (Dec 14): NDFP presents draft socio-economic reforms agreement in national consultation  

NDFP Media Office
Press release

One-hundred and forty leaders and members of various progressive organizations nationwide gathered at the University of the Philippines yesterday for a consultation on the NDFP’s December 6 draft of the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms (CASER).

The NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee on Socio-economic Reforms (RWC-SER) released the draft about two months after agreeing with the GRP last October on a common outline. The two panels will formally exchange their respective fleshed-out versions of CASER on January 11, and begin holding formal discussions to reconcile their exchanged drafts during the third round of talks from January 18 to 25.

The GRP panel had earlier announced that it would come up with its version of CASER on December 10, but has yet to present its draft.

RWC-SER officers and members led the discussion on particular topics, with former management professor Alan Jazmines giving an overview of CASER.

The NDF’s 84-page draft includes elaborated sections on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, which was discussed by peasant leader Randall Echanis. Labor leader Adelberto Silva elaborated on National Industrialization and Economic Development. These sections are subsumed under the heading of “Developing the National Economy,” reflecting the NDFP’s view that genuine land reform and national industrialization are key to resolving poverty and economic backwardness.

Discussions on the agrarian reform provision are expected to be heated in the face of reports of renewed landlord violence at Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac and Lapanday Foods Corp. in Davao del Norte against peasants and farm workers asserting their right to occupy land already awarded to them under government land reform laws.

Under the heading of “Upholding People’s Rights,” which was discussed by peasant and Lumad organizer Loida Magpatoc, separate sections were also devoted to defining the rights of national minorities, women and children. The sections were the products of NDFP consultations held with organizations of national minorities last November and written proposals from women’s groups and cultural organizations in September.

UP Prof. Edberto Villegas discussed the sections on independent foreign policy and fiscal, monetary and financial policies.

RWC-SER members also held days-long Skype sessions twice in November, enabling their chair Juliet de Lima to preside over discussions from her base in The Netherlands where she lives in exile.

Joanna Cariño of the Cordillera People’s Alliance and GABRIELA women’s group representative Sharon Cabusao-Silva lauded the revolutionary organization for including their inputs in the draft CASER. A Moro representative proposed the addition of measures to implement land reform in Moro areas, and said that the NDFP should mention that it has been implementing land reform in revolutionary territories even before the peace talks began.

On the other hand, representatives from the drivers’ group PISTON were assured that the draft CASER’s provisions on improving mass transportation would not result in an immediate jeepney phaseout.

Suggestions presented during the consultation will be incorporated by the NDFP RWC-SER in an amended draft that will be ready by the end of December.

The consultation was likewise attended by NDFP panel member Coni Ledesma, and consultants Jaime Soledad, Porferio Tuna, Pedro Codaste, Ariel Abitrario, Eduardo Genelsa, Tirso Alcantara and Reynante Gamara. NDFP Senior Adviser Luis Jalandoni gave the closing remarks.

The day-long activity was organized by Kapayapaan and Pilgrims for Peace, both broad-based coalitions of peace advocates.

MILF: FBCSO conducts Orientation-Dialogue on Federalism and BBL in Maguindanao

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Dec 15): FBCSO conducts Orientation-Dialogue on Federalism and BBL in Maguindanao

The Federation of Bangsamoro Civil Society Organization (FBCSO) in partnership with the Kaladturan Community Development Association, Inc. (KCDAI) and Elamana Farmers Federation held an orientation-dialogue on BBL in the realm of Federalism on Tuesday, December 13, 2016 in Poblacion, Gen. Salipada K. Pendatun, Maguindanao.  

Over 1,300 participants mostly community leaders, farmers and local residents attended the activity.

In his overview of the program, Moidjoddin K. Talusob, President of the Kalilintad Development Foundation, Inc (KDFI) and Secretary General of FBCSO, demonstrated the role of CSO in the aspiration of the Bangsamoro.

He urged the participants to promote unity and deeply understand the peace track and fully support the GPH-MILF peace implementation process.

He also acknowledged the presence of Datu Bonie T. Kali, Vice Mayor GSKP, Datu Bimbo P. Ali, Barangay Chairman Poblacion Salipada K. Pendatun, Maguindanao and Esmail Kumam, a Moro community leader.

Shiekh Ibrahim Ali, BTC Commissioner and Chairman, Committee on Da’wah-MILF Central Committee told his audience to be patient and have strong determination and confidence, and understand the scheme of the peace implementation.

Atty. Haron Meling, Executive Assistant to former BTC Chairman motivated the participants by saying that the new administration seems to implement the GPH-MILF Peace Agreement.

Former BTC Chair Mohagher Iqbal, Chairman of Committee on Information-Central Committee and also MILF Chairman of the Implementing peace Panel (IPP) clarified the issues on the implementation of the signed agreements particularly the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), unitary system of government in comparison to federal form of government.
He said that under a federal system, there is a distribution of powers among federal states without relying much to the central government.

The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) as the basis of passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) with the proposed Bangsamoro Government being ministerial in form is similar to the federal system being pushed by the Duterte Administration.

He reminded the participants that the MILF is not opposing the so-called federalism if the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) becomes the template of Federal Government for the country.

 He challenged the new government to implement the peace agreement by passing the BBL in its original form as the only way to address the historical injustices committed to the Bangsamoro.

Nasser Pulindao, Vice President of the FBCSO told the participants, ”The Moro journey towards the right to self-determination has not ceased unless the Moro problem/question is addressed”.

MILF: UBJP Southern Mindanao Region holds 1st Assembly

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Dec 12): UBJP Southern Mindanao Region holds 1st Assembly

The United Justice Bangsamoro Party (UBJP) Southern Mindanao Region held its 1st Assembly attended by more or less 700 officers from the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, South Cotabato, General Santos City, and Tacurong City at the MILF Administrative Camp in Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on December 9-10, 2016.

MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, also the President of the UBJP told before the participants that UBJP is a vehicle to reach democratic struggle. “In struggle, it is interplay of ideological, political and organizational that we are doing right now. It is very clear that our ideology is to establish Islamic way of life and our struggle is a long process”, Murad stressed.

The Secretary of UBJB Central Office, Sammy Al-Mansor disclosed that the creation of political party of the MILF is deemed necessary in preparation for the Bangsamoro government to carry out genuine good governance for the Moro people.

He recalled that once, the Institute of Autonomy and Governance (IAG) advised them to bring all the MILF revolutionary principles and objectives into its governance because if not, the MILF-led Bangsamoro Government will fail.

“How can we do that, it must be the people who devoted themselves in the revolution; in the struggle shall lead our governance because they bring with them those principles”, Al-Mansor opined, who is also the Chief of Staff of the MILF-Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.

Aleem Ali Pangalian Soliman, Vice President of UBJP-Northern Mindanao, the Vice President of UBJP in Western Mindanao Region Hadji Mamor Istino and the Eastern Mindanao’s UBJP Vice President Hussein Muños better known as Sonny Davao were all present as a show of solidarity with Mohagher Iqbal, the political party’s Vice President for Southern Mindanao, the host region.

The UBJP host region have extended their appreciation to the support of AK Party in Turkey, European Union, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Konrad Adenuer Stiftung based in Germany, the DEPAdev, and the IAG.

(In photo)- Participants to the 1st Assembly of United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP)- Southern Mindanao Region in Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao

MILF: USM PolSci Students hold Seminar on Contemporary Political Process

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Dec 12): USM PolSci Students hold Seminar on Contemporary Political Process

4th Year Students of Bachelor of Art in Political Science of the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) - Kabacan, Cotabato, held Seminar on Contemporary Political Process last December 10, 2016 at the College of Health Science-AVR, USM, Kabacan, Cotabato.

The theme of the program is Federalism: “Unraveling the What Is and Not’s of a Possible Future Government” attended by about two hundred (200) students.

Prof. Esmael A. Abdula , Executive Director of KalilintadPeacbuilding Institute Inc. (KPI)and a member of the Steering Committee of Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) lectured on “Understanding the Bangsamoro Peace Process and the Prospect of Federalism”. He reminded the participants that the main agenda of the peace process is ‘How to solve the Bangsamoro Problem?’

“Peace process is one of the diplomatic means of achieving the Bangsamoros’ right to self-determination. The international community recognizes the MILF as Non-State Armed Actor that represents the Bangsamoro people.” Abdula said…

“Federalizing the Philippines is good for Bangsamoro if the BBL is passed first into law, but when a federal system is passed before the passage of the BBL, and then it would have a big impact to the Bangsamoro people,” Abdula stressed.

He also said that the Duterte’s Administration wants to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) before a constitutional change from presidential to federal form of Government to end the decades of conflict in Mindanao.

“The Bangsamoro people demands the immediate passage of the BBL as the reflection of their identity as people with distinct culture, tradition and way of life as Muslims before shifting to a federal form of government”, Abdula emphasized

.Mr. Romel P. Nitafan lectured on Federalism‘s Stand on Democracy.

MILF: Malisbong Massacre documentary film presented on Int’l Human Rights Day

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Dec 12): Malisbong Massacre documentary film presented on Int’l Human Rights Day

A documentary film that depicts the horrifying experiences of Moro villagers of Malisbong in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat Province from the hands of government forces during the Martial Law years was presented on Friday (Dec 9) for public viewing at Shariff Kabungsuan Cultural Center in ORC Compound in Cotabato City in observance of the International Human Rights Day.

The film entitled "Forbidden Memory: the greatest Marcos horror story never told" was directed by multi-awarded Moro filmmaker Teng Mangansakan, II.

“Forbidden Memory summons remembrances and memories of the fateful days in September 1974 when about 1,000 men from Malisbong and neighboring villages in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat province, were killed while 3,000 women and children were forcibly taken to naval boats stationed nearby where they encountered unspeakable horror. The genocide and atrocities were perpetrated under the dark years of the Martial Law regime of Ferdinand Marcos,” the film synopsis stated.

Narratives of the Palimbang Massacre survivors were also documented and became part of the report of the Transitional Justie and Reconciliation Commission, an independent body tasked to undertake study and make recommendations with a view to promoting healing and reconciliation among the different communities affected by the conflict in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago.

The Commission on Human Rights had also enlisted survivors and families of the human rights victims during Martial Law era committed by the state forces to facilitate reparation to the victims of human rights violations by virtue of Republic Act 10368, or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.