Saturday, August 12, 2017

Davao’s SWAT members get new firearms

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 12): Davao’s SWAT members get new firearms

Turn over of arms

Davao City chief of police Sr. Supt. Alexander Tagum looks on as Philippine National Police director Ronald dela Rosa (in blue shirt) demonstrates one of the firearms he turned over to the Davao City Police Office (DCPO) SWAT team. (Photo courtesy of DCPO PIO)

Members of the Davao City Police Office (DCPO) Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) received new firearms from Philippine National Police (PNP) director Ronald dela Rosa on Friday.

DCPO spokesperson Sr. Inspector Ma Theresa Gaspan said high caliber firearms turned over by Dela Rosa to Davao City chief of police Sr. Supt. Alexander Tagum were 12 German-made assault high-powered Heckler and Kock HK 416/Caliber 5.56 rifles and another 12 high-powered Israel-made Gilboa rifles.

Gaspan said the Dela Rosa assured the firearms are accurate and has lasting durability.

Tagum was grateful for the new provision of arms. It came in time for the Kadayawan Festival when the city police implement a more intensified security measures and heightened alert.

Last week, DCPO’s 48 members of the SWAT and the Task Force Davao finished a strenuous advance course training. Gaspan said the training required them to undergo a more challenging tactical exercises to counter the increasing demands of threats of terrorism. The training was fully-funded by the Davao City government.

The Philippines Doesn't Want the U.S., but It May Need It

Stratfor Worldview (Aug 10): The Philippines Doesn't Want the U.S., but It May Need It

  • If Washington conducts anti-terrorism drone strikes in Marawi City it would be a marked expansion of U.S. military involvement in the country.
  • Even so, the Philippines will be able to maintain the relationship it has been fostering with China.
  • Securing the Philippine maritime periphery is still very much an imperative for the Duterte administration, but that can't be done until the country gets its internal affairs in order — and Manila needs Washington to achieve that order
A fierce battle has been raging in Marawi City since late May when Islamic State-aligned militants began occupying the Philippine municipality. Since then, President Rodrigo Duterte has been grasping for anything to help him win back his city. U.S. military personnel have been on the ground in Marawi since at least mid-June, assisting with intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance. Now, unconfirmed reports say that assistance could be expanded to include U.S. drone strikes. Details are scant, and Philippine defense officials have denied the reports — saying there is no need for the expansion and that such a shift in strategy would require presidential approval anyway.

But if direct U.S. airstrikes do materialize in Marawi, it would be a marked escalation of U.S. involvement in the country. More succinctly, the strikes would showcase the limits of the Philippines' relationship with China — which Manila has been fostering — and emphasize the island nation's continued reliance on U.S. security support.

The Turn Toward China

Embracing U.S. drone strikes would be politically risky for Duterte. The president has become notorious both for his tough talk against the United States and for his departure from predecessor Benigno Aquino III's more hardline stance toward China. Though the Philippines has long had a fraught relationship with its more powerful South China Sea neighbor, Duterte's administration has embraced a conciliatory approach to Beijing, playing down a court victory over conflicting South China Sea claims and even feeling out agreements about shared fishing zones and joint energy exploration. (Other maritime claimants, such as Vietnam, have taken much more aggressive postures toward China.)
But in spite of this progress, Manila's reorientation toward China can only take it so far. Though it has the capacity to provide major economic and infrastructure assistance to the Philippines, Beijing cannot and does not want to match Washington's military clout there — at least in the near term. China's security approach has been incremental and focused on non-intervention, for example providing light arms and offering reconstruction aid for Marawi. Though in the long-term China has plans to knit the southern Philippine island group into the fabric of its regional Belt and Road Initiative, it has never harbored the illusion that the Philippines will sever ties with the United States.

Duterte's administration, for its part, is working to balance its external priorities in the region with pressing domestic needs. Currently, the Philippines is somewhat volatile because of deep geographic and ethnic fragmentation, exacerbated by disparities in the development of its various regions. An ethnic-Moro separatist insurgency in the predominantly Muslim region of Mindanao further threatens stability. Manila has slowly made progress on peace deals and on plans for the devolution of power, but it also faces militants elsewhere in the form of the communist New People's Army. Ultimately, more sympathetic overtures toward China are pragmatic for the Philippine administration, allowing it to focus more on domestic problems rather than on a contentious South China Sea fight against China it knows it cannot win.
Rough Relations With the U.S.

These domestic issues are what have also encouraged the Philippines to maintain its counterterrorism relationship with the United States, despite the firebrand Duterte's penchant for speaking out against U.S. military activities, particularly in Mindanao. As president, Duterte has had to adopt a pragmatic approach marked by the careful balancing of disapproval and acquiescence. In October 2016, for example, Duterte said that he would reject the U.S.-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement — but the agreement proceeded. Then Manila canceled its 2017 Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise with Washington and adjusted the 2017 Balikatan exercises while at the same time quietly allowed U.S. special operation troops to help with security operations in Mindanao. Finally, when fighting broke out in Marawi, Duterte claimed he was not aware of U.S. assistance and had not requested it. But he also thanked Washington and allowed the aid to continue.

Potential U.S. drone strikes in the Marawi battle have certainly caused concern within the Philippine government. Defense officials have said that such moves would not fall under the mantle of the two countries' mutual defense treaty and would require long legal and political processes as well as presidential approval. And the last time the United States allegedly carried out drone strikes on the island-nation — reportedly against the Abu Sayyaf group and Jemaah Islamiyah in Sulu, Mindanao — the Philippine government was quick to challenge the claims and assert control over the event. Officials explained that, while U.S. personnel guided Philippine forces to identify the target with its drones, Philippine aircraft carried out the strike using precision-guided munitions.

Ultimately, Manila will continue to cooperate with Washington, and even if the U.S. carries out airstrikes, they won't majorly challenge the Philippines' warming relations with China. In fact, enhanced airstrikes by the United States would be no more politically fraught for the Philippines than potential plans to cooperate with China on the drilling of Reed Bank in the South China Sea. Neither event would prevent the other from occurring, enabling the Philippines to maintain the balance it needs to deal with both Washington and Beijing.

Looking forward, the Philippines will face continued terrorism and insurgent threats even after the siege in Marawi ends. The highly fragmented militant landscape in Mindanao means unrest there will likely endure in spite of peace deals, as disaffected fighters form radical spinoff groups. The more Manila turns inward, the less capable it is of pursuing an aggressive regional posture. So even with Washington's increased security overtures in the Philippines, China's strength in the region is relatively certain for now. Of course, securing the Philippine maritime periphery is still very much an imperative for the Duterte administration, but that can't be done until the country gets its internal affairs in order. And even with more U.S. involvement, that will be a long and challenging endeavor.

Photos disprove China's claim of halting land reclamation

From the Philippine Star (Aug 10): Photos disprove China's claim of halting land reclamation

China has reclaimed new land at the southern end of North Island and has begun to construct new facilities on it. CSIS AMTI via DigitalGlobe

In response to the joint communique of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers issued last Sunday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that Beijing has completed its land-filling two years ago.

The statement noted "concerns expressed by some Ministers on the land reclamations and activities in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence."

Wang insisted that China is definitely not carrying out reclamation and accused Vietnam of being the only country reclaiming land in the South China Sea.

"Thus, if such phenomenon of sea-filling for land-reclamation still exists, it will never happen in China," Wang said on Monday.

Vietnam led the push for a stronger statement on the South China Sea despite objections from Cambodia and the Philippines.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano himself admitted that he did not want to mention "land reclamation" and "militarizations" in the joint communique.

 "I didn’t want to include it. It’s not reflective of the present position. They (China) are not reclaiming land anymore," Cayetano said earlier this week.

READ: Philippines admits wanting land reclamation, militarization out of ASEAN communique

On the other hand, satellite imagery obtained by Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) showed that China's reclamation activities did not stop in mid-2015, contrary to Wang's claims.

"Beijing continues to reclaim land farther north, in the Paracel Islands. The two most recent examples of this are at Tree Island and North Island in the Amphitrite Group," the AMTI reported.

AMTI's report in February showed that Beijing completed a new helipad and installed wind turbines and two photovoltaic solar arrays on Tree Island.

Tree Island has seen substantial upgrades in the last year. China has dredged a new harbor off the southwest end of the islet, considerably expanding its land area in the process CSIS AMTI via DigitalGlobe

In 2016, China started its reclamation to connect North Island with neighboring Middle Island in the Paracel Islands. The land bridge was washed out by a typhoon in October 2016 but China has started additional reclamation on the southern end of North Island, building a retaining wall to prevent erosion.

The Washington-based think tank also documented Vietnam's activities in the Spratly Islands including dredging and reclamation work at several islets.

The think tank stressed that the South China Sea does not only include the Spratly Islands. For Vietnam, China's activities in the Paracel Islands are just as destabilizing.

"Vietnam and all the Southeast Asian claimants also have an interest in deterring future island-building, for instance at Scarborough Shoal," the report read.

Both China and Vietnam have conducted dredging and reclamation work as early as 2017 but neither approaches the scale of Beijing's activities from late 2013 to mid-2015.

AMTI, however, noted that such work is "environmentally destructive, undermines regional stability, and warrants mention in diplomatic statements."

LOOK: US Marine Corps chief visits PH

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 11): LOOK: US Marine Corps chief visits PH

General Robert Neller, Commandant of the United States Marine Corps met with General Eduardo Año, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and other top military officials at Camp Aguinaldo on Aug. 10, Thursday to discuss current military to military partnership and support. (AFP PAO)

The Commandant of the United States Marine Corps General Robert B. Neller was in the Philippines from Wednesday to Friday to discuss security and partnership concerns with US embassy and Philippine military officials, the US Embassy in Manila said on Friday.

“The meetings focused on upcoming bilateral engagements in the country, regional security, and the future of diplomacy and interoperability between our two nations,” the embassy said in a statement.

He met with Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Gen. Eduardo Año, Commandant of the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat, US Ambassador Sung Y. Kim and US Marines on assignment at the Embassy in Manila.

He also found the time to honor the fallen Philippine Marines who were killed in Marawi last Aug. 10 at the PMC Heroes Memorial.

Indonesia arrests alleged recruiter for Marawi siege

From ABS-CBN (Aug 11): Indonesia arrests alleged recruiter for Marawi siege

An explosion is seen after a Philippines army aircraft released a bomb during an airstrike as government troops continue their assault against insurgents from the Maute group in Marawi city June 27, 2017. Jorge Silva, Reuters

Indonesian police on Friday arrested an alleged recruiter and fundraiser for pro-Islamic State (IS) militants locked in a bloody battle for control of the southern Philippine city of Marawi.

Nearly 700 people, 120 soldiers among them, have been killed in the conflict after an alliance of militant groups launched an audacious assault to capture the Philippine city on May 23.

Philippine military and police have yet to regain control of all of Marawi, a city of about 200,000 people, amid ferocious urban fighting that has destroyed most of its centre.

The man detained at a residential complex on the outskirts of Jakarta is believed to be a member of Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), an Indonesian radical group that has pledged allegiance to IS, police spokesman Inspector General Setyo Wasisto said.

"He finds people to send to Marawi and Syria," Wasisto said in a text message to Reuters. "How many is still unclear."

Police also suspect he raised funds for recruitment.

Indonesian counter-terrorism authorities believe at least 20 Indonesians were among the fighters, along with some from Malaysia and the Middle East, who flocked to Marawi, on the island of Mindanao, long afflicted by Islamist insurgencies.

Indonesian JAD members make up most of the senior leadership of the Southeast Asian military unit fighting for IS in Syria known as Katibah Nusantara.
Two of the leaders, Bahrumsyah and Bahrun Naim, have directed and inspired a series of militant attacks in Indonesia, Indonesian police say.

Members of Katibah Nusantara have also organised funding and international recruits for the Marawi assault, the Jakarta-based Institute of Policy Analysis of Conflict said in a report.

Southeast Asian nations have vowed to step up law enforcement and intelligence cooperation to fight the rising threat of violent Islamist extremism in the wake of the Marawi siege.

Fuelling concern is the possible return to Southeast Asia of hundreds of hardened IS fighters from the Middle East as its self-styled caliphate collapses.

US Marine Corps commandant honors fallen PHL Marines in Marawi

From GMA News (Aug 11): US Marine Corps commandant honors fallen PHL Marines in Marawi

United States Marine Corps commandant General Robert Neller has honored members of the Philippine Marines who have died fighting the ISIS-inspired Maute group in Marawi City.

Neller, together with Philippine Marine Corps commandant Major General Emmanuel Salamat, offered a wreath Thursday at the PMC Heroes Memorial in Fort Bonifacio to render honor to the fallen Filipino Marines.

"These Marines were our friends, our partners and our allies, so on behalf of the entire US Marine Corps, I wanted to honor their sacrifice," he said.

As of August 10, 7 p.m., a total of 128 government troops and 552 Maute members have been killed in Marawi. A total of 45 civilians have also perished in the conflict.

Neller visited the Philippines to discuss matters of partnership and future engagements with his Philippine counterpart as well as US Embassy officials.

Aside from Salamat, Neller also met with Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año, US Ambassador Sung Y. Kim, and US Marines on assignment at the Embassy in Manila.

The meetings focused on upcoming bilateral engagements in the country, regional security, and the future of diplomacy and interoperability between the two countries.

Captives escape Philippine militants after fake ransom

From The Sun e-paper (Aug 12): Captives escape Philippine militants after fake ransom

Philippine troops are battling Islamist militants on the southern island of Jolo where the Abu Sayyaf group is holding more than a dozen hostages including several foreigners. — AFP

Three men kidnapped by Islamist militants in the southern Philippines escaped while their captors prayed, dodging bullets as they ran, police said Saturday after a ruse using fake ransom money failed.

The fate of a fourth man who ran off in a different direction was unclear.

The construction workers were taken to the police on Jolo island on Friday, four weeks after being abducted by the Abu Sayyaf group, which is holding more than a dozen other hostages including several foreigners in remote jungles.

The gunmen had received an undetermined amount of cash for the hostages on Thursday, but refused to release them after realising the money was fake, regional police chief Reuben Sindac told AFP.

"While the abductors performed their afternoon prayer, the victims took advantage and (ran) but they were chased and fired upon," Sindac said, citing an official report.

The Abu Sayyaf, blamed for the worst terror attacks in the nation's history, is known to behead hostages unless ransom payments are made.

Sindac said a village official found three of the hostages near the Jolo town of Talipao early Friday, one with a gunshot wound to the head that was not thought to be life-threatening.

The official brought them to the police hours later.

The three told police their fourth colleague had run in another direction and it was unclear if he had escaped or been recaptured by the militants.

Sindac said he did not know who paid the fake ransom money.

The Philippine government as a policy does not pay ransom, and the gunmen are known to negotiate directly with the victims' families or employers.

The militants beheaded two Canadian hostages last year and a German captive in February after ransom demands were not met.

Police said the militants also beheaded seven loggers on the southern island of Basilan last month, during which a Vietnamese hostage was also killed in a gunbattle between his captors and the security forces.

A Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf faction has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and joined up with militants who seized parts of the southern city of Marawi in May.

The militants have withstood a US-backed military offensive in Marawi that has claimed 725 lives and displaced nearly 400,000 people.

President Rodrigo Duterte has imposed martial law across the southern third of the Philippines, including Marawi, Basilan and Jolo, to quell the militant threat.

3 Zamboanga workers escape Abu Sayyaf

From Rappler (Aug 11): 3 Zamboanga workers escape Abu Sayyaf

Jason Pon Vailoces, Joel de Meza Adanza, and Filemon Francisco Guerero Jr were taken from their construction barracks on July 15, and threatened with beheading

FREE. Three of the 4 captives below are now free, escaping and finding assistance from the members of Task Force Sulu. Photo by Richard Falcatan.

FREE. Three of the 4 captives below are now free, escaping and finding assistance from the members of Task Force Sulu. Photo by Richard Falcatan.

Three of the 4 Zamboangueño workers held by for ransom by the Abu Sayyaf escaped from their captors early Friday, August 11.

Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana of Task Force Sulu said rescue operations conducted by the military created pressured on the bandits, giving the kidnap victims a chance to escape.

Jason Pon Vailoces, Joel de Meza Adanza, and Filemon Francisco Guerero Jr are residents of Barangay Tumaga in Zamboanga City. They were forcibly taken from their construction barracks at the Provincial Sports Complex in Barangay Bangkal, Patikul, Sulu, on July 15.

They were threatened with beheading by the Abu Sayyaf, and underwent a stress debriefing with Sobejena.

They revealed that because of continuous military operations in the area, they moved together with their Abu Sayyaf abductors, led by Almujer Yadah, from one place to another. This pushed them away from the ASG stronghold, where they could not acquire support, such as food provisions.

What's Behind the New US-Philippines Drone Hype Under Duterte?

From The Diplomat (Aug 11): What's Behind the New US-Philippines Drone Hype Under Duterte?

A recent controversy has much deeper roots and broader realities which the headlines miss.

On August 7, NBC News cited two unnamed U.S. defense officials as saying that the Pentagon was considering a plan for the U.S. military to conduct airstrikes on the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Philippines, likely with drones, alternately referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs). Though the vague report, since officially denied by both governments, may have generated some new hype, to seasoned observers of the U.S.-Philippine alliance, these sorts of conversations are neither new nor necessarily that revolutionary, particularly when viewed in the context of both its deeper roots and broader realities.

Not a New Debate

First, it is important to acknowledge that controversy about the role of U.S. drones in the Philippines is far from new. Over the past few years, drones had already become caught in the broader domestic politics of the U.S.-Philippine alliance, which – whether this involved the closing of U.S. bases in 1992 or the approval of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in 2014 – have centered around the core issue of the extent to which Washington is and ought to be directly involved in military operations within the country and how the Philippines should balance the need for security with the desire to preserve its sovereignty (See: “Recalibrating the US-Philippine Alliance Under Duterte”).

With respect to drone operations more specifically, among the more prominent controversial cases in the alliance over last decade include accounts that U.S. forces used a Predator drone in 2006 to try to kill Indonesian terrorist Umar Patek in the Philippines, during the aftermath of the war on terrorism and the U.S. battle against the so-called Al-Qaeda offshoot Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), and, more recently, reports that U.S. drones provided intelligence to Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) commandos in the Mamasapano incident back in 2015 that ended up seeing one of the greatest single-day combat losses in recent history.

In each of those two cases, there was scrutiny not just on the specific role that U.S. forces played – often without much substantiated evidence – but also on Washington’s presence in the Philippines and the U.S.-Philippine alliance more generally. It is therefore no surprise that, even though both governments officially maintain that no strikes have been authorized, some voices in the Philippines have already begun agitating against any kind of agreement.

Not a Revolutionary Move
Second, the idea of such an operation as reported would not be entirely revolutionary given both the extent of current U.S. involvement as well as the potential steps that could be taken in that direction.

As I have noted before, the United States has had a longstanding presence in the Philippines, including for counterterrorism efforts, and part of that presence, though reduced since the deactivation of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) which had been in place from 2002 to 2015, has been assisting with surveillance capabilities that Manila does not have (See: “US Terror Aid to the Philippines Signals Enduring Defense Ties Under Duterte”). Though U.S. and Philippine officials tend to be wary about disclosing the specific nature of that presence, in particular the shape of U.S. technical assistance to Philippine forces, they have occasionally given a general sense of where things stand publicly while privately indicating key data points.

For instance, in September last year, when Duterte was busy railing against the U.S. military presence in the Philippines, Lorenzana told the Philippine legislature what most close observers already knew: that there were already a small group of 107 U.S. soldiers based in Zamboanga City conducting surveillance operations in Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, using both aircraft as well as drones. He was careful, though, to publicly clarify that their role was restricted to sending those surveillance assets to areas that the AFP had identified, rather than authorizing strikes, approving targets, or being directly engaging in combat operations.

Accounts from U.S. and Philippine defense officials reveal that there has also been a bit of a stepping up in Washington’s role in recent months, even though some of this has been done quietly particularly in the wake of the siege in Marawi City by Islamic State-linked militants on May 23. In late July, for instance, Lorenzana offered a peek into this when he said that Washington would give the Philippines Boeing Insitu ScanEagle UAVs, aside from other related assistance earlier this year, including the Aerovironment RQ-11 Raven hand-launched UAVs given for the use of the Marine Special Operations Group and, beyond drones, new Cessna 208B “Caravan” ISR aircraft.

To be sure, the idea of greater U.S. involvement in such drone or surveillance operations – whether in terms of direct boots on the ground in the most extreme sense, or to lesser degrees like a more involved U.S. role in drone operations though still ensuring sufficient coordination with Philippine forces – would be substantively different from the advise, assist, training, and capacity-building role.

But as Philippine defense officials, including Lorenzana and AFP chief Eduardo Ano have said, variations of such a role would not be unfathomable; things would just need to go through a appropriate process, including discussions at the proper level and approvals from the necessary parties to make sure it is in line with Philippine law and would address potential concerns including ones related to sovereignty. On the U.S. side, there have also been some proposals floating around, including the one from U.S. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Paul J. Selva who told the Senate last month that he supported the idea of reinstating a named operation to provide for the necessary resources and authorities.

Unfortunately, the meticulous details that would be crucial to determine how such a role would work – as they have been in previous instances including during JSOTF-P’s tenure – are glossed over in the NBC report, making it of little value in terms of assessing how things might play out policy-wise. Authorization is said to come from collective self-defense, but the article admits that it is unclear how that process of authorization would proceed, what that authorization would be for – whether intelligence-sharing or strikes themselves – or even whether or not the drones sent would be armed or not.

But lest we get lost too far down in the weeds of these operations and the U.S. role in the Philippines, it is also important to recognize two other broader realities to properly contextualize the current controversy: reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities in general are a dire need for the Philippine military; and the United States is far from the only source of these capabilities and the only actor subject to the limitations of the Philippine domestic context.

Not a Luxury, But a Need
First, though the United States no doubt has its own interest in boosting security ties with an ally and deepening its own military presence there for various reasons, the starting point for any discussion on this subject ought to be the core of the issue: the sober reality that the Philippines has a deep and urgent need for surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, both generally as well as now amid this terror threat.

Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities (or ISR, for short) is a catch-all term for a whole range of capabilities that can address a wide spectrum of challenges which the Philippines has, from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) to maritime security to terrorism. And the fact is that Manila lacks these capabilities due to a variety of reasons, limiting its ability to surveil its own waters as well as the rural terrain in the southern part of the country (See: “The Truth About Philippine Military Modernization and the ‘China Threat’”).

With respect to counterterrorism more specifically, even with U.S. assistance following the September 11 attacks including JSOTF-P from 2002 and 2015, the Philippines had still struggled to crack down on militants because its capability gaps – from aging, barely capable aircraft to the lack of precise strike capabilities to the lack of training and other command and control issues – were so wide. One U.S. source familiar with the American role during this period in the Philippines told me on condition of anonymity this week that even despite being warned about these gaps before being on the ground, “just the range of issues…was just shocking to see when you put it together.”

These capability gaps have been evident as Philippine security forces have been addressing the Marawi crisis while also tracking threats developing in other hotspots in Mindanao as well (See: “Why Has the Philippine Military Struggles in its Terror Fight Under Duterte?”). Philippine defense officials are quite candid in private about these deficiencies, and Lorenzana in particular has been emphasizing this point publicly as well to highlight the gravity of the situation. Indeed, back in June, he was probably about as frank as a defense chief could be about this deficiency, saying that the Philippines would welcome “any technical assistance that our allies can provide” while the Philippine military was in the process of developing such capabilities.

Not Just About the United States
Second, as Lorenzana and other Philippine defense officials have noted, the United States is not the only country which the Philippines is seeking these capabilities from. Accordingly, Washington is far from the only country that is subject to some of the issues in Philippine that such a role raises, even though it does tend to dominate the headlines more so than others.

With respect to its own capabilities, the Duterte administration is beginning to take steps to acquire assets directly, including drones (See: “What’s Next for Philippine Military Modernization Under Duterte?”). On July 24, during a press conference following his annual State of the Nation (SONA) address, Duterte said that he would be acquiring drones to support Philippine security forces. Though Duterte has been known to get ahead of reality, there is evidence that this is actually moving along. For example, reports indicate that the Duterte administration is now moving forward with acquiring Israel’s Elbit Systems’ Hermes 900 Kochav (Star) unmanned aerial vehicle.

The Philippines has also been getting help from some of its external partners. For instance, Australia has already been providing its AP-3C Orion military planes to help with surveillance in Marawi. Meanwhile, Singapore, which has been upgrading its own drone capabilities over the past few years, last month pledged to send a detachment of UAVs to the Philippines as part of a broader assistance package (See: “Singapore Gives Philippines Military Aid to Fight Islamic State Threat”).

These actors are not immune to the vagaries of Philippine politics, though, of course, the degree to which this is the case tends to vary. To take just one example, when Lorenzana announced the deployment of Australian planes, he was careful to say that Canberra’s role in providing technical assistance to the Philippines would not require the embedding of Australian Defense Forces (ADF) personnel with Philippine troops on the ground.

This is not the first time we have heard about U.S. drone operations in the Philippines, and it probably will not be the last either from what we have seen over the past decade alone. Given how little is still publicly known about these engagements and how much they tend to be hyped up when they make the headlines, it is worth keeping in mind some of the deeper roots and broader realities as well moving forward.