Saturday, February 11, 2017

As rebel ceasefire fully ends, NPA ordered to go on offensive

From InterAksyon (Feb 12): As rebel ceasefire fully ends, NPA ordered to go on offensive

Saying hopes for a positive response to goodwill gestures had been met by "intransigence" and the cancellation of peace negotiations, the New People's Army ordered its forces to go on the offensive with the full termination of the rebels' unilateral ceasefire on February 10.

Ironically, after swiftly heeding President Rodrigo Duterte's orders to resume the counterinsurgency campaign, the military command in the Caraga region appealed to the rebels on Saturday not to resume the war to allow government troops to carry out uninterrupted their rescue and retrieval operations in areas struck by Friday night's magnitude 6.7 earthquake.

In a statement sent to media by the Communist Party of the Philippines’ Information Bureau, New People’s Army spokesman Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos said “all NPA commands and territorial units, as well as people’s militia and self defense units, can now take the full initiative to defend the people and advance their interests, especially in the face of the declaration of all-out war of the Duterte regime.”

At the same time Madlos reported that in the 10 days since he announced the termination of the rebels’ unilateral ceasefire, when the NPA was ordered to go on “active defense,” their units “carried out almost 30 military actions to defend the rights and welfare of the people primarily against troops occupying barangays and conducting strike operations.”

He cited the killing of three Army soldiers in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon the same day he announced the ceasefire termination. The government claimed the troops were abducted and executed but the NPA command in Bukidnon said they were killed when they chose to shoot it out with the rebel unit that stopped them.

“No longer restricted by the active defense policy, the NPA, from hereon must frustrate the all-out war of suppression of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) by launching launch tactical offensives against any legitimate military target,” including police, “paramilitary or AFP-supported armed vigilante groups, intelligence operatives, and warlord private armies.”

Despite the order, Madlos said the NPA “remains open to peace talks while fighting rages in the countryside.”

No collateral damage

From the Mindanao Times (Feb 10): No collateral damage

AFP: foremost concern is civilians’ safety, protection
THE ARMED Forces of the Philippines (AFP) assures there will be no collateral damage on the civilian populace in the all-out war against the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).
“Yes of course, we will make sure that in our all-out war against the CPP-NPA, the AFP shall adhere to the rule of law — respect human rights and observe the international humanitarian law,” AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Año, told TIMES.

“Our foremost concern is the safety and protection of innocent civilians,” Año added. “There will be no collateral damage.”

Año said they will assess the overall situation in Davao region so they can have the basis of adjustment in their campaign plan to include the possibility of redeploying of additional battalions to Davao and Caraga regions.

Last year, three battalions of the Davao-based 10th Infantry Division (ID) were deployed to Basilan to help in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf Group.
Maj. General Rafael Valencia, 10th ID commander, said the military offensive is always guided with the rules of engagement under the current Development Support and Security Plan kapayapaan.

“The focus of our operations is targeted against the armed groups not the civilian, and one of the requirements is that there should be no collateral damage,” Valencia said during Wednesday’s AFP-PNP press conference held at conference room of Davao City Police Office.

“Because the civilians are the one we are securing,” Valencia said. “That is why we will address the armed group.”

The army general said that he already directed all the brigade and battalion commanders to be on defensive mode.

For now, the division is operating against 11 guerilla fronts and three section committees under their area of responsibility.
Valencia said the AFP has accounted 973 NPA forces before the ceasefire.

He said they are revalidating the figure because during the five-month ceasefire the NPA conducted recruitment and training.

“We have enough forces to provide security in Davao and Socsksargen regions against this armed group,” he said.

Guarding an estimated population of 6.4 million, the 10th ID encompasses 4 regions, 12 provinces, 7 cities, 72 municipalities and 1, 681 barangays. It covers the Davao Region, parts of Region 12 (Sarangani, South Cotabato, 2nd District of North Cotabato and Columbio, Sultan Kudarat), Trento in Agusan del Sur and Lingig in Surigao del Sur.
Meanwhile, the 10th ID soldiers dropped 5,000 copies of leaflets, enclosed with the message urging NPA guerillas to surrender, in the area of 67th Infantry Battalion in Davao Oriental.

Capt. Rhyan Batchar, the division spokesperson, said they dropped the leaflets through the use of two Huey helicopters to encourage rebels to surrender.

Cash reward awaits rebel who surrenders with the firearm.

They would get P60,000 for surrendered M14; P58,000 for AK 47; P45,000 for M16; P34,000 for garan; P33,000 for light machine gun; P30,000 for 357 revolver; P29,000 for carbine and P16,500 for .45 caliber pistol.

They will also be enrolled into the Comprehensive Local Integration Program of the provincial government of Davao Oriental.

City on lockdown after peace talks suspended

From the Mindanao Times (Feb 10): City on lockdown after peace talks suspended

AUTHORITIES have intensified patrols and intelligence monitoring activities in order to preempt possible attack from the New People’s Army (NPA) following the suspension of the peace talks with the communist rebels.
“We want to assure that such threats will not come in the city but will be interdicted outside,” said Benito de Leon, chief of the Public Safety and Security Center. “Before it will enter the city, it’s important that we can see them right away.”

Brig. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, commander of Joint Task Force Haribon, said they already deployed additional troops in strategic areas. K9 units and bomb squads are also on standby in case of threat.
“We’ll be actively working together with the Regional Public Safety Battalion in line with the proactive security measures,” Gapay said.

He said the communist rebels have been taking advantage of the ceasefire to consolidate their forces, and also to ramp up their recruitment activities.
“They have also conducted some atrocities in some parts of the region, including extortion and arson incidents, (as well as) attack our troops,” he said.

President Duterte has suspended the peace talks and lifted the ceasefire with the NPA following the killing of three soldiers in Northern Mindanao. All three soldiers sustained a total of 76 bullet wounds, which the army decried as “overkill.”

Mr. Duterte also said that he’s now considering the NPA as a terrorist group.

Gapay said they could not discount NPA alliances with other terrorist groups since they have similar modus.

“They are similar in doing extortion, abduction, burnings, and attack,” he added. “Even though there were no reports on alliance but they are into doing in similar ways.”

“This NPA is a threat to Davao city especially after the setback on the peace talks and we already anticipated the effects on this and that they may conduct atrocities in the city,” he further said.

Meanwhile, based on the records of the 10th Infantry Division there were already 43 atrocities attributed to the New People’s Army since August last year.
Capt. Rhyan Batchar, the division spokesperson, said the incidents included nine attacks, one ambush and abductions of five civilians and one soldier.

Also, he blamed the rebels for the series of torching incidents involving buses, heavy equipment and passenger vans. They were able also to record one coercion incident, two disarming incidents and murder of two civilians.

Surigao NPA declares ceasefire due to quake

From MindaNews (Feb 12): Surigao NPA declares ceasefire due to quake

The communist guerilla front operating in Surigao del Norte and portions of Agusan del Norte has declared a unilateral ceasefire effective 6 a.m. Saturday (Feb. 11) “until the province will recover from the disaster” wrought by the magnitude 6.7 earthquake that struck the city at 10:03 p.m. Friday and left at least seven persons dead, over a hundred injured and several structures damaged.

Ka Oto, spokesperson of the Guerilla Front 16 of the New People’s Army (NPA) told MIndaNews in a telephone interview at around 7 p.m. that they ceased tactical offensives against government forces effective 6 p.m. Saturday “until the province will recover from the disaster.” (Corrected: effective 6 p.m. not 6 a.m. as earlier reported) 

He said they will focus on humanitarian efforts to help the quake victims.

New People’s Army Guerrilla Front 16 spokesperson Ka Oto declares ceasefire in Surigao del Norte and three towns of Agusan del Norte to help assist quake victims. This photo was taken last December 26, 2016 somewhere in the hinterlands in Surigao del Norte.Photo by ROEL N. CATOTO

Guerilla Front 16 operates here and in the rest of Surigao del Norte, and  Agusan del Norte’s Kitcharao, Jabonga and Tubay towns.

“Rest assured we will not do any harm to the military as long as they will not come to our areas,” he said.

Ceasefire effectivity

The 6 p.m. effectivity of the ceasefire at 6 p.m. is 20 hours after the quake jolted the city and neighboring areas and 18 hours after the termination of the unilateral ceasefire the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA) they declared in August.

To recall, NPA spokesperson Jorge Madlos aka Ka Oris announced on February 1 that they were terminating the unilateral ceasefire they declared on August 28, by 11:59 p.m. of Friday, February 10. The quake struck an hour earlier.

NPA spokesman Ka Oris announces they will terminate the unilateral ceasefire they declared i n August, by 11:59 p.m. on February 10. Screengrab from the Philippine Revolution Web Central’s Facebook page
Madlos explained they were terminating their unilateral ceasefire because government had “not complied with its obligation to amnesty and release all political prisoners” and that it had “treacherously taken advantage of the unilateral declaration of interim ceasefire to encroach on the territory of the people’s democratic government,” claiming the AFP had occupied at least 500 villages nationwide “which are within the authority of the revolutionary government.”

Hours after Madlos’ announcement, three soldiers were killed in an ambush by the NPA in Malaybalay City and a junior officer was killed in Manay, Davao Oriental.

In response, President Rodrigo Duterte on February 3 terminated “effective tonight” the unilateral ceasefire he declared last year; called off the peace talks on February 4,  and on February 5 called the CPP-NPA-NDF (National Democratic Front)  a “terrorist group” and NDF chief political consultant Jose Ma. Sison, his professor in Political Thought, a “terrorist.”

Ka Oto urged the military,  CAFGU and police strike force unit to go back to their barracks,” adding they will remain in “active defensive mode.”

“Naglikom pa kami og pondo para matabangan ang mga biktima sa linog diri sa Surigao” (We are still mobilizing resources so we can help the quake victims here), he said.

Come and help 

Fresh from their combat operations against communist rebels, troops under the 30th Infantry Battalion immediately shifted to humanitarian assistance and  disaster response operations in areas badly hit by the quake.

An hour after the quake struck, Lt. Col.  Rico Amaro, 30IB chief directed his troops to immediately respond and assist communities affected by the quake within his area of responsibility.

This is one of the bridges damaged by the earthquake that hit Surigao City and neighboring areas late Friday evening (10 February 2017). The bridge connects Surigao City to the municipality of San Francisco (formerly Anao-aon) in Surigao del Norte. Photo courtesy of 1Lt Ryan Layug / 30IB

Amaro assured Surigaonons they will provide  local government units all the necessary assistance in their rehabilitation efforts.

“As we conduct our humanitarian assistance and disaster response operation in the area, we remain vigilant against the terrorist NPAs that are still causing havoc in the entire region,” he said.

But Amaro said he is glad the NPA declared a ceasefire to. He urged them to come to the city, “mag-uniform at walang armas para sama-sama matulungan ang mga tao para sa victims of calamity” (in uniform, without firearms and together let us help the victims of calamity).

Philippine Marines chief to retire, praises Sulu leadership

From the Mindanao Examiner (Feb 11): Philippine Marines chief to retire, praises Sulu leadership

16559112_1912705028952220_1023555594_n   16651578_1912705102285546_506689510_o

Philippine Marines Commandant Major  General Andre Costales with Sulu Governor Toto Tan. Costales thank Tan and other provincial officials, including former governor Sakur Tan and Undersecretary Nabil Tan, of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process during his exit call on Friday, February 10, 2017. (Photo by Ahl-franzie Salinas)  16709702_1912705072285549_824205275_o

Philippine Marines Commandant Major General Andre Costales with Sulu Governor Toto Tan. Costales thanks Tan and other provincial officials, including former governor Sakur Tan and Undersecretary Nabil Tan, of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process during his exit call on Friday, February 10, 2017. (Photo by Ahl-franzie Salinas)

The Commandant of the Philippine Marine Corps Major General Andre Costales on Friday thanked Sulu Governor Toto Tan and praised his leadership and support to the soldiers as he prepares to turn over his post to Brigadier General Emmanual Salamat.

Costales is set to retire on February 22 after serving the Philippine Marines for only six months.

He, along with other senior marine officials, met with Tan to thank him and other provincial leaders, including former governor Sakur Tan and Undersecretary Nabil Tan, of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, for their unwavering commitment to peace and development not only in the province, but the whole nation.

In his exit call, Costales said the many peace and development projects of Tan helped the military in its mission to promote unity and patriotism not only among soldiers, but civilians and the community as a whole.

For his part, Tan also thanked Costales and the Philippine Marines for providing safety to the public and security in Sulu, one of 5 provinces under the Muslim autonomous region. And for partnering with the provincial and municipal government for many humanitarian projects here.

Costales also headed the security forces in the Kalayaan Island Group in the disputed Spratlys in the South China Sea as commander of the 3rd Marine Brigade. And was an assistant superintendent of the Philippine Military Academy, and superintendent of the Marine Corps Training Center and served as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Education and Training of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

He was the deputy of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 2 that fought Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels during the presidency of Joseph Estrada and earned him a Gold Cross medal in recognition for his gallantry.

Two lady NPA rebels yield to army troopers in DavOr; skirmish reported in ComVal

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 11): Two lady NPA rebels yield to army troopers in DavOr; skirmish reported in ComVal

The Philippine Army on Saturday reported the surrender of two New People’s Army (NPA) amazons in Compostela Province.

This happened after elements 67th Infantry Battalion concluded a dialogue with displaced families in the town of Caraga, Davao Oriental.

Captain Rhyan Batchar, chief information officer of 10th Infantry (Agila) Division identified the two amazons as Joy, 20 and Rose, 17.“Their names are being held as of press time for security reasons,” Batchar said.

The two belonged to Guerilla Front 15 of the NPAs operating in Davao region, he added.

“The 67th IB soldiers just concluded their talks with the 150 displaced families who are temporarily housed at the Caraga Municipal Gymnasium when the two NPA amazons voluntarily submitted themselves,” Batchar said.

Batchar added that earlier, six NPA members also returned to the folds of the law in Davao Oriental through the 67th IB while two others submitted to the 73rd IB in Davao Occidental.

“These latest surrenders brought the total of ten NPA members who decided to go back to their normal lives due to the relentless combat operations being conducted by the army since the lifting of the ceasefire by the government,” Batchar said.

Major General Rafael C. Valencia, commander of 10th ID, lauded the two amazons for deciding to return to the folds of the law.

"The NPA members are encouraged to leave their group before the full brunt of military capabilities will catch up with them,” Valencia said, adding that NPA members were just victims of manipulations of their leaders.

Meanwhile, Batchar reported of a clash between government troopers and NPA rebels that took place Friday, in the town of Laak, Compostela Valley.

Soldiers belonging to 60th IB engaged in a half an hour gun battle with an undetermined number of NPAs belonging to Guerilla Front 34 and Pulang Bagani Company (PBC) 4.

Batchar said no soldier was hurt while the NPA was believed to have suffered casualties in the incident.

Pursuit operations are still on going in the area, he added.

35 former NPAs in ComVal receive Php 1.03-M cash assistance

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 11): 35 former NPAs in ComVal receive Php 1.03-M cash assistance

A total of 35 former members of New People’s Army (NPA) in the province of Compostela Valley received Php 1.03 million in cash assistance and remuneration of surrendered firearms, the Philippine Army reported Saturday.

10th Infantry (Agila) Division chief information officer Captain Rhayn Batchar said the handing over of cash assistance and remuneration were facilitated through a ceremony on Friday at the provincial capitol of Compostela Valley province.

The ceremony was led by Governor Jayvee Tyron Uy, 10th ID commander Major General Rafael Valencia, 1001st Brigade commander Brig. Gen. Macairog Alberto and other top provincial officials.

Batchar said the former rebels were presented jointly by the 1001st brigade and the Compostela Valley Police Provincial Office (CVPPO) to Governor Uy.

Each of the former rebels received the amount of Php 15,000 as initial cash assistance while 12 of the 35 former rebels received additional cash for the firearms they surrendered to the government.

Among the recipients was Roberto Hiyan, alias Bobby, a former NPA Milisya ng Bayan (MB) member who returned to the folds of law, together with 12 of his followers last March 19, 2016.

Hiyan brought with him an M60 general purpose machine gun (GPMG) and two rocket propelled grenades when he surfaced, Batchar added.

Hiyan received a total amount of Php 304,000 as remuneration for the high-powered firearms he surrendered.

"Dako kaayo akong kalipay sa gobyerno nga gituman gyud nila ang ilang panaad aron mapahimutang ang among pamilya (I feel very happy because the government fulfilled its vow to help our family),”Hiyan said.

In his message, governor Uy assured the group of Hiyan of the continued support of the provincial government.

Uy also serves as the chair of the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) in Davao region.

The assistance was part of the continuing implementation of the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) under the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).

Of the total amount handed over to the former rebels, Php 525,000 was in the form of cash assistance while the other Php 504,000 was in the form of remuneration to the firearms surrendered to the government.

During the ceremony, Major General Valencia also called on the other NPA members to go back to the folds of the law.

"We encourage other NPA members to follow their former comrades who have seen the light and finally return to the folds of law," Valencia said.

Dreams of a better life for their family, Valencia added, can be achieved through peaceful means and not through force, intimidation and deception.

Five Army soldiers hurt in Cagayan gun battle

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 11): Five Army soldiers hurt in Cagayan gun battle

Five Philippine Army soldiers were wounded in a Friday-clash with the New People's Army rebels in the mountains of Barangay Balanni, Santo Nino, Cagayan.

The one-hour gunbattle had resulted in the injuries of Sergeants Antonio Abarriao Jr. and Johndick Padua, Corporals Orly Camarao and Villamor Bumussao and Private First Class Recher Basyagon due to bullet wounds from unidentified number of suspected communist guerrillas operating in Cagayan, according to Police Senior Inspector Rogelio Catubag, Santo Nino police chief.

Catubag said no known casualties were reported from the rebel group.

Two days earlier, Private First Class Rowel Tabuada of the 17th Infantry Battalion was killed in an encounter in the same site.

Army engineers to work on road project in former Abu Sayyaf lair

From the Philippine Star (Feb 10): Army engineers to work on road project in former Abu Sayyaf lair 

Groundbreaking ceremony for a bridge project in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. File

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has signed an agreement with the Army on the implementation of a road project in Sampinit Complex, a former Abu Sayyaf lair in Basilan.
ARMM Regional Gov. Mujiv Hataman and Brig. Gen. Arnold Fernandez, chief of the 54th Engineering Brigade, led the MOA signing of for a road project worth around P200 million, with ARMM Public Works Secretary Don Mutapha Loong and Basilan Gov. Jim Hataman-Saliman.
The signing was done at Camp Arnaldo Fernandez in Zamboanga City.
Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda, Philippine Army commanding general, also witnessed the MOA signing and assured Gov. Hataman and Western Mindanao Command chief Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., that the Army will send personnel to ensure construction will not be disrupted by armed groups like the Abu Sayyaf.
Hataman entered into a MOA with the 54th Engineering Brigade after two failed rounds of public bidding for the project.
The project is located in the Transcentral Road of Basilan, which covers the high-risk and conflict-affected portions of Maluso, Sumisip, and Isabela City.
Hataman said the road project is considered the last frontier for roads in Basilan since the Basilan Circumferential Road has been completed.
The TRB road project includes the concreting of 3.5 kilometers covering the border of Sampinit and Isabela City with (P82.2 million) and the Upper Mahajie-Sampinit Road in Sumisip town (P117.5 million).

Foreign assistance to combat terrorist attacks on shipping in Philippine waters unlikely to have significant long-term impact

From IHS Jane's 360 (Feb 10): Foreign assistance to combat terrorist attacks on shipping in Philippine waters unlikely to have significant long-term impact

Philippine secretary of defence Delfin Lorenzana told the media on 7 February that he is seeking assistance from the United States to deal with kidnap-for-ransom attacks on vessels in the Sibutu Passage, a busy channel between the Sulu and Celebes seas for ships travelling from Australia to Northeast Asia.

Lorenzana said the government plans to ask the US government to hold joint naval exercises in southern Philippine waters to address the problem. His comments follow President Rodrigo Duterte's statement on 31 January that he would ask China to patrol the area. There has been no response from the US or China.

(102 of 369 words)

Equipment burning wasn’t about money -- NPA leader

From the Journal Online (Feb 10): Equipment burning wasn’t about money -- NPA leader

The burning of heavy equipment of a construction firm doing road projects in Quezon province had nothing to do with the alleged non-payment of ‘revolutionary tax’ that the New People’s Army  (NPA) imposes to big business establishments.

This was disclosed by Cleo del Mundo, spokesperson of NPA’s Apolonio Mendoza Command operating in southern Quezon.
In a statement, Del Mundo said that while the Armed Forces of the Philippines is busy in running after the rebel movement, the latter remains busy in looking after the welfare and interest of the masses.
Del Mundo was referring to four heavy equipment owned by Rapid Foremost Construction Company that were burned by 30 heavily armed rebels last Wednesday night.
The company which has been doing road projects in Bgy. Casay, San Francisco, is owned by a certain Joey Ang.
She said the rebels carried out the action in response to complaints they have been receiving from the company workers and residents it maltreated.
“Tinugunan lamang ng isang yunit ng Apolonio Mendoza Command-New People’s Army sa lalawigan ng Quezon ang kahilingan ng mga tao sa bayan ng San Francisco kaugnay sa kanilang reklamo sa isang kumpanya ng quarry ng buhangin at bato na pag-aari ni Joey Ang,” said Del Mundo.
She said the complaints include the very low and delayed salary given by the company to its workers, and its failure to pay the residents of the agreed amount after the hauling of rocks from the quarry site to the project site.
The rebels, armed with rifles and led by Joseph delos Santos, alias “Ka Bingot,” arrived at 10:30 p.m., took the workers’ mobile phones and started setting on fire two truck mixers, a dump truck and a bulldozer before fleeing on foot to the forested area of the village.
As a counter measure, Quezon police director Senior Supt. Rhoderick Armamento have already directed all units down to station level to monitor vital installations, malls and power lines to prevent any untoward incidents.
On the part of the military, Southern Luzon Comand (Solcom) spokesman Maj. Virgilio Perez said the rebels did it due to their inability to retaliate to military forces.

NPA planned to raid Philex Mining, says Army official

From the Philippine Star (Feb 11): NPA planned to raid Philex Mining, says Army official

In this photo taken Nov. 23, 2016, members of the New People's Army communist rebels with face painted to conceal their identities, stand in formation during ceremonies before a news conference held at their guerrilla encampment tucked in the harsh wilderness. AP/File photo

Thursday’s rebel attack could have been more damaging than mere torching of two Volvo trucks, the military said.

Brig. Gen. Roy Deveza, commander of the Philippine Army’s 503rd Infantry Brigade said there was a prior tip that members of the New People's Army (NPA) were planning to raid and ransack Philex Mining Corporation’s Padcal mines in Itogon.

Rebels however may have changed plans on the last minute Thursday morning “when they sensed movement of law enforcers even before they executed (such plan),” the military official said.

Four male rebels and a female guerilla flagged down two Volvo trucks, filled with gold ore concentrates at Sitio Pakak, Barangay Ampucao, some five kilometers away from the firm’s main gates, while enroute to Poro Point in San Fernando City, La Union 7:40 a.m. Thursday.
Close Ad X

Drivers and escorts were ordered to disembark from the trucks by the rebels and set the vehicles on fire before fleeing towards the mountains.

Up to now, Philex Mines has not issued any official statement on the incident, even as unconfirmed reports said that it received a demand letter from rebels asking for revolutionary taxes.

Caught rebels face raps

The three suspected NPA rebels, who police had accused as among those who participated in the Philex Mines attack, are now facing criminal cases before the Benguet prosecutors’ office.

Benguet police filed arson, robbery and illegal possession of ammunition against Sarah Abellon, Promencio Cortez and Marciano Sagun on Friday.

Military and police intelligence agents are tagging Abellon as secretary of the Sub-Regional Military Area Command (SMAC) of the CPP-NPA in charge with extortion activities on big projects, while Cortez who accordingly carries a P4.8-million reward for his arrest is also a high-ranking rebel official.

Benguet policemen raided on Thursday night a transient house along Tiptop, Ambuclao Road in Beckel, La Trinidad allegedly rented by Abellon, Cortez and Sagun. They seized personal belongings, several gadgets, assorted ammunitions and P850,000 cash believed to be revolutionary tax collection of Abellon.

The almost a million cash, according to authorities,  are also being used as NPA's operational fund to carry out atrocities in the area.

The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) however condemned the arrest of Abellon, who according to them is a board of director of the non-government organization Rural Development Center-Katinnulong Dagiti Umili ti Amianan a Luzon (RDC-Kaduami). The group, now demanding for Abellon’s release, claimed that his arrest was illegal.

Meanwhile, government forces are still pursuing the main body of the insurgents who were able to escape via Itogon mountains, by splitting up to different directions in Tuba and Itogon, Benguet, the Cordillera police said.

Abella: Duterte to consider CPP's call to resume talks

From the Sun Star-Manila (Feb 11): Abella: Duterte to consider CPP's call to resume talks

MALACAÑANG on Saturday was optimistic that President Rodrigo Duterte is amenable to communists’ call to revive the peace talks.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella, in an interview with state-run dzRB, said the President was paying attention to the plea of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to continue the peace negotiations.
 "I'm sure the President is a listening to the President and he will continue to consider the advice of his [Cabinet] Secretaries, advisers, and peace advisers. Let’s see in the coming days what would be the developments," Abella said.
Jose Maria Sison, CPP founding chair, recently urged Duterte to address the dissonance between the communist rebels and the government and eventually be able to resume the peace dialogue.
The communist rebels had announced that the unilateral ceasefire it declared in August ends on Friday, citing that the government failed to release hundreds of political prisoners and violated its own ceasefire.
Duterte had then decided to terminate the government’s truce and the talks with the communists, whom he referred to as “terrorists.”
The Chief Executive had also instructed to revoke the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees between the government and the communist group, in a bid to formally end the peace talks and be able to arrest the released rebel leaders.
The military had also declared an all-out war on the CPP's armed wing, the New People's Army.
Sison, however, remained hopeful that the talks would resume even if the lifting of ceasefire have been observed by both parties.
"I propose [that Duterte] consult thoroughly with his negotiating panel and the peace advocates in his own Cabinet and others outside of his government, and encourage and allow back-channeling efforts to clarify misunderstandings and solve immediately the current problems," Sison said.
"[The CPP] wish to pursue with the government the bright prospects that started with the first round of formal talks in August 2016 and overcome the peace spoilers that run counter to the progress that has been achieved in the third round of formal talks," he added.

NPA declares ‘heightened armed resistance’ vs. AFP’s all-out war

From GMA News (Feb 11): NPA declares ‘heightened armed resistance’ vs. AFP’s all-out war

The New People's Army (NPA) on Saturday announced a "heightened armed resistance" against the government's all-out war declaration.

"No longer restricted by the active defense policy, the NPA, from hereon, must frustrate the all out war of suppression of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) by launching launch tactical offensives against any legitimate military target," NPA spokesman Jorge "Ka Oris" Madlos said in a statement posted on the communist group's website.

Madlos said that among the target of the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), are active members of the AFP, Philippine national Police, AFP militiamen, police and detachments and camps.

"Starting today, the Unilateral Declaration of Interim Ceasefire is now completely terminated. All NPA commands and territorial units..." the NPA spokesman said.

Last week, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the AFP is launching an all-out war against the NPA following President Rodrigo Duterte's suspension of peace talks with the rebel group.

Before suspending the peace talks, Duterte declared that he is lifting the government's unilateral ceasefire declaration.

The announcement was made after the CPP-NPA lifted its own ceasefire declaration.

Delfin had also announced that despite Duterte's declaration, he is still open to talks with the communist rebels.

In his statement, Madlos also reiterated that the NPA is still willing to talk with the government. "The NPA remains open to peace talks while fighting rages in the countryside," he said.

AFP seeks ‘ceasefire’ with NPA in quake-hit Surigao del Sur

From GMA News (Feb 11): AFP seeks ‘ceasefire’ with NPA in quake-hit Surigao del Sur

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) urged members of the New People's Army (NPA) in Surigao del Norte on Saturday not to attack its soldiers conducting rescue and rehabilitation operations in the area hit by a magnitude 6-7 earthquake.

"Allow the soldiers every opportunity to help the victims of the earthquake," Marine Colonel Edgard Arevalo, Chief of AFP's Public Affairs Office said Saturday.

"We urge you not to attack our soldiers, or in any other ways [that will] disrupt the AFP's rescue and rehabilitation activities for our people," he added.

The military's appeal came as the NPA announced a "heightened armed resistance" against the government's all-out war declaration on Saturday.

The government recently declared an all-out offensive after the respective ceasefire declarations of the two parties were lifted.

On Saturday, Major General Benjamin Madrigal Jr., commander of the 4th Infantry Division, said his men have already been deployed to assist victims of the earthquake and to conduct an intial damage assessment.

Initial reports from the 4th Infantry Division indicated:

• San Nicolas bridge leading to San Francisco and Malimono Municipalities was severely damaged and impassable
• Surigao City is experiencing black out.
• The Airport is non-operational due to damages in the runway
• Communities are evacuating to Provincial Capitol
• There are buildings that were reported collapsed

Meanwhile, Army Lt. Col. Rico Amaro, commander of the 30th Infantry Battalion, has already coordinated with the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council of Surigao del Norte and City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office of Surigao City for disaster response operations in quake-hit areas.

Additional troops and vehicle were also prepositioned for disaster response activities and evacuation of affected families, the AFP said.

"Continue to carry out your duties and be ready to embark on the task of assisting local and national governments. But be on the look out for those who might be out to sabotage your rescue and rehabilitation efforts," AFP Chief Eduardo Año said.

2 ranking NPA members nabbed in Baguio City

From GMA News (Feb 11): 2 ranking NPA members nabbed in Baguio City

Police arrested three suspected members of the New People's Army (NPA) responsible for the burning of two mining trucks in Itogon, Benguet last Thursday.

The Benguet Police Provincial Office (PPO) identified the three suspected NPA members as Sarah Abellon, Promencio Cortez and Marciano Sagun.

Police arrested the suspects at the Tiptop transient house in Baguio City.

The Benguet PPO said Abellon is a secretary of the NPA's Sub-Regional Military Area Command (SMAC) while Cortez has a P4.8 million reward on his head.

The provincial police said complaints of robbery, arson and illegal possession of ammunition have been filed against the three suspects in connection with the torching of two trucks of the Philex Mining Corp. in Itogon.

A group of rebels stopped and torched the truck loaded with 20 tons of copper concentrate at a "rebel checkpoint" in Itogon town.

The Benguet PPO said the rebels' initial plan was to raid the mining site of Philex.

It said several gadgets, assorted ammunition and P850,000 cash were seized from the three suspected rebels.

5 soldiers wounded in firefight against NPA in Cagayan

From ABS-CBN (Feb 11): 5 soldiers wounded in firefight against NPA in Cagayan

Five soldiers were wounded during an encounter with members of the New People's Army at Sitio Lingapan, Barangay Balanni, Sto. Niño, Cagayan on Saturday.

The injured soldiers were identified as Sgt. Johndick Padua, Sgt. Antonio Abarriao, PFC Recher Basyagon, Cpl. Orly Camarao, and Cpl. Villamor Bumussao.

Padua suffered a gunshot wound to his right wrist, while Abarrio and Bumussao sustained leg injures.
Basyagon was hit in the chest, while Camarao sustained an arm wound.

The soldiers in question are now in stable condition, according to Lt. Col. Rembert Baylosis, commanding officer of the 17th infantry battalion, 5th infantry division.

The NPA rebels that attacked the soldiers were said to be under a certain Ferdinand Bautista at the Simoy of Danilo Ben Command.

Clashes between military, NPA erupt in 3 Mindanao provinces

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 11): Clashes between military, NPA erupt in 3 Mindanao provinces

Fresh clashes involving government forces and the New People’s Army (NPA) broke out in the provinces of Sarangani, Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental on Saturday, the military said.

Capt. Rhyan Batchar, spokesperson of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division – which has jurisdiction over the said provinces, said a soldier was injured when elements of the 73rd Infantry Battalion battled NPA rebels in Barangay (village) Little Datal Anggas in Alabel, Sarangani for two-hours starting 10:30 a.m.

Batchar said the wounded soldier, whom he did not identify, was immediately airlifted to the military hospital in Panacan here.

He said three separate firefights also took place between soldiers under the 60th Infantry Battalion and communist rebels in Barangay Bollucan in Laak, Compostela Valley.

Batchar said the first firefight in Laak occurred around 10:40 a.m. and lasted for about an hour.

Armored Personnel Carriers pursued the rebels and engaged them in a second clash. Foot soldiers later caught with the fleeing rebels and engaged them in another firefight, Batchar said.

He said in Davao Oriental, a brief clash also took place when NPA rebels ambushed three military trucks in Barangay San Jose in Caraga town around 2:45 p.m. Saturday. No casualties had been reported.

Batchar said the military had dispatched MG520 attack helicopters and fired artillery rounds against the rebels.

“Ground forces are now conducting clearing operations to determine and assess the effectiveness of the fire support while searching for possible enemy casualties,” he said.

NPA ceasefire termination takes effect

From Rappler (Feb 11): NPA ceasefire termination takes effect

The New People's Army orders its units to 'frustrate the all-out war of suppression' of the Armed Forces of the Philippines

CEASEFIRE ENDS. The New People's Army will heighten armed resistance after ending its ceasefire with the Philippine government. File photo

CEASEFIRE ENDS. The New People's Army will heighten armed resistance after ending its ceasefire with the Philippine government. File photo

The unilateral ceasefire termination earlier announced by the New People's Army (NPA) took effect Saturday, February 11, 10 days after the communist rebels announced it would be ending its 5-month ceasefire with the Philippine government.

"All NPA commands and territorial units, as well as people’s militia and self defense units, can now take the full initiative to defend the people and advance their interests, especially in the face of the declaration of all-out war of the Duterte regime," NPA spokesperson Jorge "Ka Oris" Madlos said in a statement.

The NPA's February 1 declaration ending its ceasefire was prompted by a series of encounters between the military and the communist rebels.

The NPA's declaration also prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to make a similar move, telling the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to "be ready to fight." A day later, Duterte scrapped peace talks with communist rebels.

In his statement, Madlos said NPA units had carried out "almost 30 military actions" primarily against AFP troops "to defend the rights and welfare of the people."

He added that NPA units are now ordered to "frustrate the all-out war of suppression of the AFP by launching tactical offensives against any legitimate military target."

The communist rebels, however, remain open to the resumption of peace talks. (READ: Joma Sison reaches out to Duterte, cites gains in peace talks)

2 Sayyafs killed in Tawi-Tawi clash

From the Sun Star-Manila (Feb 10): 2 Sayyafs killed in Tawi-Tawi clash

A SUB-LEADER of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group and one of his men were killed by security forces in Bongao, Tawi-tawi, where they are supposedly looking for potential kidnap victims, the military reported Friday.

Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Captain Jo-ann Petinglay named the fatalities as sub-leader Ninok Sappari and one of his men, Mahdi Abdurahman.

Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) Police Director Reuben Theodore Sindac said earlier that Abdurahman is also a sub-leader of the terrorist group.

Petinglay said military and police forces launched the operation against Sappari's group on Thursday, February 9, at the Almari Beach Resort in Barangay Pahut where the two are said to be staying while looking and eyeing possible kidnap victims from the said resort.

Petinglay said a concerned civilian reported to authorities the suspicious movement of the two suspects.

Troops swooped down at the resort around 2 p.m., leading to a firefight.

The clash resulted in the death of Abdurahman, but Sappari, who was injured, managed to escape.

Pursuit operations led to the killing of Sappari around 9:30 p.m. Thursday in the nearby Barangay Nalil, said Petinglay.

"Ninok Sappari was able to evade apprehending forces and ran (after the initial firefight) to the forested area after noticing the apprehending troops. According to bystanders, Sappari, while evading the troops, appeared to be wounded since blood stains were seen along his tracks," said Petinglay.

"Sappari is the leader of the notorious ASG Lucky 9 group of Sulu which perpetrated the assassinations of military personnel. The group was also engaged lately on kidnapping of local victims in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi," she said.

Sappari was charged with 32 counts of murder.

Yasser Anji, another companion of Sappari, was arrested and placed under the custody of the Armm police for further investigation.

The military is aiming to defeat the Abu Sayyf during the first six months of the year.

The group, composed of around 300 to 400 men, is holding 27 foreign and Filipino kidnap victims in Sulu. The hostages included the following: a Dutch, a German, a Korean, seven Indonesians, five Malaysians, six Vietnamese, and six Filipinos.

 "All available forces are being deployed to pursue and neutralize the Abu Sayyaf Group. These recent operations have caused setbacks, casualties and losses on the terrorist group," Wesmincom commander Major General Carlito Galvez said.

  "We will not stop until we get them all or until they decide to return to the folds of the law and surrender," added Galvez.

ARMM gov. welcomes appointment of 21-man expanded BTC, vows support

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 11): ARMM gov. welcomes appointment of 21-man expanded BTC, vows support

Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) on Saturday welcomed the appointment by President Rodrigo Duterte of the 21 members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).

The BTC shall draft a new basic law for the proposed Bangsamoro region, which will then be enacted by Congress and ratified through a plebiscite by the residents of the envisioned core territory.

It is also in compliance with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, forged in 2014 by Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which came after 19 years of peace negotiations.

On Nov. 7 last year, President Duterte signed Executive Order No. 8 creating the commission but its members’ appointments were only released recently.

“The regional government of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao pledges to continue its unwavering support for the peace process and looks forward to working together with the Commission in laying down the foundations for genuine autonomy, coupled with building stronger social and political institutions in the region,” Hataman said in a statement.

“The new and expanded Commission is expected, more than ever, to uphold inclusivity in the peace process, while providing opportunity to more people of various personal and political backgrounds across the Bangsamoro to participate in the efforts towards just and lasting peace in the region.”

The regional governor, a peace advocate and supportive of Malacañang’s peace overture in southern Philippines, said he hopes the commission would live up to the expectations of the Bangsamoro people who have been longing for the elusive peace in their Muslim homeland.

“It is our fervent hope that the Commission would continue the good work that has led us to this point in our history, where our deepest hopes and aspirations as Bangsamoro people are closer than ever to becoming our reality,” he said.

On Friday, Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, announced the names of the 21 new BTC members, a body that will draft the new Bangsamoro enabling law.

“This will signal the start of the work to come up with an inclusive Bangsamoro law that will truly reflect and address the clamor for a genuine political autonomy for the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao,” said Dureza, who once served as government chief negotiator with the MILF.

The 10 nominees for the government are Atty. Jose Lorena, Atty. Maisara Dandamun-Latiph, Samira Gutoc, Datu Mussolini Lidasan, Dr. Susana Anayatin, Atty. Hussin Amin, Romeo Saliga, Hatimil Hassan, Atty. Firdausi Isma Abbas, and Atty. Omar Yasser Sema.

The 11 nominees from the MILF are Ghadzali Jaafar, Mohagher Iqbal, Abdulraof Abdul Macacua, Ibrahim Ali, Haron Abas, Atty. Raissa Jajurie, Said Shiek, Hussein Munoz, Melanio Ulama, Gafur Kunain, and Ammal Solaiman.

The BTC is one of the mechanisms under a comprehensive deal between the government and the MILF. Its task is to draft an enabling law that will establish a Bangsamoro political entity.

Under EO No. 8, the consultative body will be chaired by the MILF with 11 members, while the government nominates 10 members, including three members from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Muslimin Sema.

Dureza said the increase in the number of BTC members strives to bring together all key peace actors and stakeholders in the implementation of all Bangsamoro accords.

“In our initial talks with the MILF in August 2016, we have agreed to raise the members from 15 to 21, so we can have more representatives, more inclusive membership that represents other key sectors,” the peace adviser said.

The government has set a deadline for the BTC to submit the draft to Congress by July for deliberations and ratification.

EO 8 mandated the BTC to form an inclusive Bangsamoro assembly to serve as a consultative body to discuss the proposed enabling law with various stakeholders.

Army, communist rebels clash in Leyte

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 11): Army, communist rebels clash in Leyte

Government troops exchanged gunfire with communist rebels in an upland village in Albuera, Leyte Friday afternoon, days after the termination of their ceasefire.

Col. Francisco Mendoza, Jr. commander of the Army’s 802nd brigade based in Camp Jorge Downes here, said a platoon of soldiers engaged in a brief fire fight against six armed men believed to be members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

The troop, composed of 20 members, was conducting a combat operation in the area at about 4 p.m. on Friday when they encountered the armed men, heading towards the hinterland San Pedro village, carrying food supply.

The men allegedly opened fire at the soldiers. As government troops retaliated, the rebels scampered to various directions, leaving their items.

There was no reported casualty from both camps following the exchange of gunfire that lasted five to 10 minutes.

The troop scoured the area but did not find any trace of NPA presence anymore.

Mendoza said since the ceasefire has been lifted, combat operations will be held to ensure the protection and safety of people.

Recently, there were reported sightings of rebels in the area and nearby towns, however, Mendoza guaranteed that they will safeguard communities against any threat.

Westmincom downplays NPA capability to create havoc

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 11): Westmincom downplays NPA capability to create havoc

The military’s Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) has downplayed the capability of the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels to create havoc here in the Western Mindanao area.

Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Westmincom chief, on Saturday said the strength of the NPA in the region was only capable to do a “platoon-size” formation, of which the number of people ranged from 15 to 30 fighters.

Galvez said the NPA rebels had influence in only few of the barangays in the region.

The presence of the NPA rebels in only concentrated in the three Zamboanga provinces.

“We are now in the process of conducting operations (against the NPA rebels),” Galvez said as he assured the public that the threat posed by the NPAs was not as serious as that in Davao and Caraga regions.

He assured that the public had nothing to worry since there were troops designated to address the threats posed by the NPAs as well as by other groups like the Abu Sayyaf bandits and Maute terror group.

There are four Army brigades--101st, 102nd, 103rd, and 104th--and one Marine Brigade that are under the command of Westmincom. These are complimented by elite units of the Scout Rangers and Special Forces.

Earlier, Lt. Col. Virgilio Hamos Jr., Army’s 53rd Infantry Battalion commander, disclosed that seven of the 26 municipalities in Zamboanga del Sur were known to be NPA-influenced areas.

These are the municipalities of San Miguel, Lapuyan, Bayog, Lakewood, Midsalip, Dumingag and Josefina.

Previously, Hamos said there were 12 towns in Zamboanga del Sur known to be NPA-influence places but reduced to seven as brought about by continuous military offensive against them.

Rebels asked not to attack troops involved in quake relief efforts

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 11): Rebels asked not to attack troops involved in quake relief efforts

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has requested rebel forces not to attack soldiers tasked to bring aid to victims of the earthquake that hit Surigao del Norte province Friday night.

"We urge you not to attack our soldiers, or in any other way disrupt the AFP's rescue and rehabilitation activities for our people," AFP public affairs office chief, Col. Edgard Arevalo, said Saturday.

"Allow the soldiers every opportunity to help the victims of the earthquake."

Government forces and the New People's Army (NPA) are again engaged in combat following the rebels' announcement that they were withdrawing their ceasefire effective February 10.

Prior this date, the NPA rebels reportedly conducted a series of unprovoked attacks against unarmed soldiers, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to terminate the government's ceasefire and peace talks with the insurgents.

Following the magnitude 6.7 earthquake in Surigao del Norte, 4th Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr. immediately deployed his men to assist the victims of the quake and conduct initial damage assessment for the use of national and local governments.

Initial reports reaching his headquarters in Cagayan de Oro indicated that:

- The San Nicolas bridge leading to San Francisco and Malimono municipalities was severely damaged and was rendered impassable;

- Surigao City is experiencing a power outage;

- The airport is non-operational due to damages on its runway;

- Communities were evacuating to the provincial capitol; and

- Some buildings reportedly collapsed.

Meanwhile, 30th Infantry Battalion commander, Lt. Col. Rico Amaro, immediately coordinated with the respective risk reduction and management offices of Surigao del Norte and Surigao City for disaster response operations.

"Troops, the vehicle and the ambulance of the 30th Infantry Battalion were prepositioned for casualty evacuation and the evacuation of affected families," Arevalo added.

At about 7 a.m. Saturday, 402nd Infantry Brigade head, Col. Franco Nemesio Gacal, proceeded to Surigao City for a disaster response emergency meeting at the provincial capitol of Surigao del Norte.

"(The headquarters of the) 402nd Infantry Brigade alerted additional troops and vehicles for possible complementary disaster response operations in the affected areas in Surigao del Norte," Arevalo stressed.

"Continue to carry out your duties and be ready to embark on the task of assisting local and national governments. But be on the look out for those who might be out to sabotage your rescue and rehabilitation efforts," AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año reminded his soldiers.

Chekhov's Gun and the Tangled US-Philippines-China Triangle

From The Diplomat (Feb 9): Chekhov's Gun and the Tangled US-Philippines-China Triangle (By

Trump’s second act in the South China Sea will have to be stronger than his first.

Lord Palmerston, the 19th century British leader and empire builder, famously noted that countries do not have eternal allies or perpetual enemies, only indefinite national interests. The tangled triangle of U.S.-Philippines-China relations is testing Palmerston’s maxim.

For more than a century, the Philippines has served a critical role in America’s rise as a world power. In turn, Manila has been one of the region’s largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid and military assistance. The people-to-people bond between the Philippines and United States is unique.

According to a 2015 poll by the Pew Research Center, 92 percent of Philippine residents held a favorable view of the United States (the highest in Asia). However, traditional U.S.-Philippine ties may be fraying under the new leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, the former mayor of Davao City on the southern island of Mindanao.

The mercurial leader in Manila has verbally lambasted Washington while extending a hand to Beijing. Chinese President Xi Jinping has reciprocated through inducements such as infrastructure mega-projects and the relaxing of tensions in the South China Sea. Perhaps the Philippine legal triumph at The Hague has provided an opportunity for both parties to reassess their positions?

Regardless, the Trump administration is facing unchartered waters in its dealings with the Philippines and China. Already, the new White House has made a splash: issuing – and then retracting – specific threats of action in the South China Sea. The theatre of international affairs continues in the Asia-Pacific.

A Complex Relationship

The Philippines and the United States have a long and complex security relationship dating back to U.S. intervention during the Spanish-American War (1898-1902) – Washington’s introduction onto the world stage. The foundation of the bilateral relationship is the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951. Under Articles IV and V, the countries have committed to protect the other against an “armed attack” in the “Pacific Area” of either party, including “on the island territories under its jurisdiction” or “on its armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft” in the Pacific. Washington has not formally extended the scope of its obligation to Philippines’ maritime claims in the South China Sea, such as over the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal. Nevertheless, President Barack Obama, when articulating his rebalance strategy, stated that “our commitment to defend the Philippines is ironclad.”

In the past, the Philippines-U.S. alliance has been subject to moments of revision and unease, owing in part to the trauma of U.S. colonial rule and dominant role in foreign affairs. For example, during the Cold War period, the U.S. maintained a large military presence at Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Force Base. Following a close vote in the Philippine Senate (12 to 11) to revoke the Military Bases Agreement, these U.S. military bases closed in 1992. Subsequently, the countries entered into a Visiting Forces Agreement in 1998 that mandates that U.S. military forces assume a non-combat role and permits only a temporary (non-permanent) base of operations in the Philippines, reflecting Manila’s sovereignty concerns.

More recently, the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) further deepened military ties. The EDCA is a 10-year, renewable arrangement, allowing for the rotation of U.S. military personnel and development of U.S.-built facilities and improvements, utilized rent-free by Americans, but owned by the Philippines. The EDCA allows for enhanced opportunities for joint-military exercises and modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). For instance, the EDCA calls for increased Balikatan (“shoulder-to-shoulder”) exercises; 2016 witnessed the 32nd iteration of the joint U.S.-AFP war games.

The Philippines has also been a strong partner in U.S. counterterrorism efforts. The Philippines received designation as a Major Non-NATO Ally in 2003 following Manila’s support for the U.S. intervention in Iraq. The Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines (JSOTF-P) has targeted Abu Sayaf and Jemaah Islamiyah in Mindanao. U.S. special forces operate according to specifically crafted rules of engagement respectful of Manila’s sensitivities, acting in a supportive role and using force only to defend themselves or when fired upon.

Increasingly, U.S. military support has been designed to increase the maritime capability of the AFP, considered one of the weaker militaries in the region. Last year, $42 million of more than $120 million in U.S. military aid to the Philippines fell under the U.S. Southeast Asia Maritime Initiative, which is designed to develop capacity of littoral states in the region. In March 2016, Washington and Manila identified five military bases for hosting rotating U.S. personnel, pursuant to the EDCA and consistent with Obama’s rebalancing strategy (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Sites Selected for the Rotation of U.S. Forces
Source: U.S. Congressional Research Service

Of particular interests will be the stationing of U.S. forces at Philippines military bases near “hot spots” in the South China Sea such as Basa Air Base on Luzon Island, adjacent to Scarborough Shoal, and Antonio Bautista Air Base on Palawan Island, close to Mischief Reef and the Spratly Islands.

As a non-claimant, the United States has not taken a position on territorial disputes between the Philippines and China (or any other claimants) in the South China Sea. However, the Obama administration supported the Philippines’ efforts at The Hague and the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling, consistent with Washington’s desire for a peaceful resolution of disputes based on international law. Presumably the clear legal victory, a unanimous decision against China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, would lead to even greater coordination between Manila and Washington. With the 2016 election of President Duterte, however, old assumptions in the U.S.-Philippines security alliance are being questioned.

The Space Between
Following Duterte’s inauguration last June, new space is developing between the Philippines and the United States. For instance, last September, Duterte made headlines with his colorful remarks directed at Obama following the latter’s critique of extra-judicial killings in Duterte’s “war on drugs.” Subsequently, Obama cancelled a scheduled meeting with the Philippines leader at the ASEAN Summit in Laos. This tit-for-tat has become representative of an acrimonious cycle – instigated by Duterte – that has left U.S. diplomats searching for answers.

Simultaneously, Duterte appears to have warmed to China. Among ASEAN members, the archipelago nation has traditionally been the least economically reliant on China, but this may be changing. During his trip to Beijing in October, Duterte received a pledge of $15 billion in investments. The parties have since exchanged high-level delegations and agreed to reconvene the Joint Commission on Economic and Trade Cooperation (JCETC) to institutionalize closer bilateral cooperation. Although the Philippines has enjoyed greater than 6 percent growth rates since 2010 and is projected to experience continued growth, the country’s economy requires infrastructure development if the Philippines is to become an upper-middle-income economy.

In contrast, on his first day in the Oval Office, President Donald J. Trump abruptly withdrew from the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) without offering any alternatives and casting doubt on longstanding U.S. commitments. For example, the Philippines is one of four countries that participates in the U.S. Partnership for Growth, a U.S. interagency effort that is aimed, in part, to help the Philippines prepare for joining the TPP. In turn, the Philippines and China are cooperating under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a Chinese-led regional free trade agreement and alternative to the TPP. If Trump continues to make good on his campaign promises, then China may come to fill the void in world trade leadership.

Beyond the economic sphere, Duterte has signaled an intention to separate the Philippines from the long-standing U.S. security umbrella. Following his verbal skirmish with Obama, Duterte called for withdraw of U.S. special forces from Mindanao, part of the aforementioned JSOTF-P program, and directed his secretary of defense to buy weapons from Russia and China, as opposed to the United States. More recently, he has threatened to stop implementation of the EDCA, the agreement allowing the regular presence of rotating U.S. military personnel, claiming that the United States was creating a “permanent” weapons depot on Philippine soil, despite opposing restrictions under the VFA.

Even if the new Trump administration were to take a different or more aggressive interpretation of its treaty-relationship with Manila, it is an open question whether a Duterte-led Philippines would seek the additional protective cover. In comparison, newly-confirmed Secretary of Defense James Mattis recently reaffirmed U.S. policy that Japanese territorial claims in the East China Sea – the Senkaku Islands – are under the “administration” of Japan and, therefore, are included in the territories covered under Article V of the 1960 Japan-U.S. Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.

By itself, Trump’s surprise U.S. election win has added a new element of ambiguity in international affairs. Nowhere is this new dynamic more clear than in the murky waters of the South China Sea.

Threats, Bluffs, and Inducements
Chekhov, the Russian playwright, once noted that if you introduce a gun in the first act, then surely the gun will be used in the third act. Otherwise, if the gun is not to be fired, it should not be placed on stage. The Trump administration has wasted no time in producing a new gun in the South China Sea dispute – the threat of specific military action.

In his prepared remarks during his Senate confirmation hearing, General Mattis observed that China’s behavior has led countries in the region to look for stronger U.S. leadership. The new Secretary of Defense promised “to defend our interests there—interests that include upholding international legal rights to freedom of navigation and overflight.” He also committed to uphold the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, as a reflection of customary international law, and “support policy measures designed to preserve and protect the continued global mobility of U.S. forces,” a reference to freedom of navigation operations in the East and South China Seas.

While those remarks reflected a continuation of the Obama administration’s policies, the newly confirmed Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, threatened new and precise actions.

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Tillerson vowed to send China a “clear signal” that “first, the island-building stops, and second, your access to those islands also not going to be allowed.” In support of this two-part threat, the former oilman described China’s ability to “dictate” the terms of passage through the South China Sea – where nearly half of the world’s trade traverses – as a “threat to the entire global economy.” Provocatively, Tillerson then compared China’s militarization and artificial island-building as “akin to Russia’s taking of Crimea.” The explicit link between Chinese and Russian territorial aggrandizement, beyond recognized international boundaries, may be the first for a senior Trump administration official. More importantly for the Asia-Pacific, the Trump administration announced its initial position in the South China Sea.

Already, this threat appears to be more bluff than buff – Mattis recently walked back any suggestion of a military enforcement action at this time. This waffling posture must be extremely awkward for the Trump administration, which has attacked its predecessor, often in personal terms, for its perceived weakness and lack of resolve. At least Beijing was pleased by this “clarification.” In an editorial, the Global Times, controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, called Mattis’ statement a “mind-soothing pill.”

On the other hand, the White House surely vetted the confirmation testimony of Trump’s top diplomat with care and attention. Candidate Trump was not one to mince words. Now that specific military action has been promised as part of President Trump’s first act in the South China Sea, what can we expect in the third? The answer may lie somewhere buried in the hillsides of Luzon Island.

During his campaign, Duterte notably remarked that if China will “build me a train” then he “will shut up” about the South China Sea dispute. In January, Duterte secured Chinese funding for three large infrastructure projects on Luzon: a hydroelectric dam project costing $374 million, an irrigation project valued at $53 million, and a railway network appraised at $3.01 billion.

Duterte’s willingness to table enforcement of the PCA’s ruling has also led to informal cooperation in the Scarborough Shoal, where China has allowed the return of Filipino fisherman. He has even asked China for assistance with patrolling the high seas to combat maritime piracy and kidnapping, especially in the southern Philippines.

If Beijing can peel Manila away from Washington’s sphere of influence, then Trump may lose a key partner in his South China Sea strategy, to the extent he has formulated one. Superficially Presidents Trump and Duterte, both blunt-speaking leaders espousing a “law and order” philosophy, have much in common and, therefore, there may be an opportunity to reset the bilateral relationship. However, President Duterte’s apparent “pivot” towards China could evidence a deeper recalibration of the Philippines’ interests, instead of a quirk of personality, much like the United States is revisiting its posture on issues like free trade and globalization.

In the interim, China may take a “wait-and-see” approach with the new U.S. administration, as Beijing consolidates gains under warmer China-Philippines relations. I recently participated in a discussion on CGTN America’s current affairs show, The Heat, and one of my fellow panelists, Chen Xiaochen, a researcher at Renmin University in China, dismissed the recent bombast from senior Trump officials. He estimated that it may take a year before the relatively inexperienced U.S. administration adjusts to the “reality” of the new international environment.

But there is no intermission in the drama of the South China Sea. Trump’s second act will certainly have to be stronger than his first. It may arrive sooner than expected. And given his past rhetoric on tough leadership and enforcing threats, we cannot lose sight of Chekhov’s gun.

[Roncevert Ganan Almond is a partner at The Wicks Group, based in Washington, D.C. He has advised the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on issues concerning international law and written extensively on maritime disputes in the Asia-Pacific. The views expressed here are strictly his own.]