Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Suspected rebels abduct North Cotabato police officer

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 16): Suspected rebels abduct North Cotabato police officer

Suspected communist guerillas abducted a police officer assigned in Makilala, North Cotabato on Wednesday, police said.

Supt. Ma. Joyce Birrey, the spokesperson of the North Cotabato police office, confirmed the abduction of Police Officer 1 Briston Catalan assigned at the Makilala town police station. But Birrey refused to give further details saying pursuit operation was ongoing.

Catalan, a resident of Purok 3, Barangay Katipunan, Makilala, was driving his motorbike and was sending his two children to school when flagged down by three armed men at about 7 a.m.

The suspects armed with hand guns, forced Catalan to board a separate motorbike driven while leaving his children and his motorbike by the roadside.

The abduction came a week after police arrested a suspected commander of New People’s Army Guerilla Front 73, also in Makilala, North Cotabato, and seized three M-16 Armalite rifles and explosives.

Bombmaker who supplied militants killed by Philippine troops

From the Gulf News (Aug 16): Bombmaker who supplied militants killed by Philippine troops

Extremist militant group BIFF is now divided into three factions

Philippine troops have killed a bombmaker from one of the three factions of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Central Mindanao.

Ebrahim Ali was killed in a combined police and military operation close to the headquarters of the Army 6th Infantry Division in the village of Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao on Tuesday evening, the town’s police chief Insp Achmad Alibonga said.

Army personnel and members of the Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao were conducting an operation when Ali was sighted by authorities near a fuel station.

Ali reportedly tried to engage in battle with the security forces, using his pistol, prompting government forces to shoot him fatally.

The slain suspect ranked high on the Department of National Defence’s list of wanted persons, for making improvised explosive devices that were being used against government forces and to spread terror among the public.

The death of Ali comes in the wake of numerous attacks carried out by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in recent days.

Meanwhile the BIFF, which was formed by the late Ameril Umbra Kato in 2011 from disgruntled members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has reportedly split into three groups with one cell claiming allegiance to a black flag group of fundamentalists led by a certain Esmail Abdul Malik.

The slain Ali was said to be a member of Abdul Malik’s group which specialises in making Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

Aside from Abul Malik’s group, another BIFF faction is tied to Imam Kalarian while a third splinter is led by another former member of the MILF.

The MILF, which is bound by a 2014 peace agreement with the Philippine government, is going after groups of the BIFF such as the Abdulmalik faction in an effort to control the spread of Islamic extremism espoused by groups such the Lanao del Sur-based Maute and the Abu Sayyaf.

The BIFF and the MILF had been engaged in clashes in recent days resulting in the death of 20 BIFF fighters and the wounding of at least four members of the MILF.

Philippine lawmakers reject leftist cabinet minister in latest cabinet exit

From Reuters (Aug 16): Philippine lawmakers reject leftist cabinet minister in latest cabinet exit

Philippine lawmakers rejected the appointment of the social welfare minister on Wednesday after more than a year in office, marking the fourth exit from President Rodrigo Duterte's cabinet this year.

Judy Taguiwalo, a left-wing activist who was jailed during the 1970s martial law era of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, failed to acquire the 13 votes needed to get approval by the 24 member Commission on Appointments in Congress.

In the Philippines, all cabinet ministers must be approved by the panel and hearings can take place long after they start work. Taguiwalo's appointment had been bypassed five times.

It was not immediately clear why she was rejected, but speculation had been rife that Taguiwalo's future was in doubt after the near-collapse of Duterte's peace process with Communist rebels, which was one of his top objectives when he took office.

Duterte is furious at what he sees as repeated attacks by rebels and duplicity by exiled political leaders to whom he says he has made numerous concessions.

Taguiwalo was nominated to the post by the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and Duterte hoped to show inclusivity and demonstrate his commitment to peace talks by giving two leftists cabinet positions.

Judy Taguiwalo, a left-wing activist who was jailed during the 1970s martial law era of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, gestures during a news conference after Philippine lawmakers rejected the appointment of her as social welfare minister during a Commission on Appointment hearing at the Senate headquarters in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines August 16, 2017.Romeo Ranoco

Taguiwalo suffered the same fate as former foreign secretary Perfecto Yasay, who was found to have lied about holding U.S. citizenship, and environment and natural resources secretary Regina Lopez, who was deemed unsuitable over her widespread suspensions and closures of mines.

Ismael Sueno was sacked by Duterte as interior and local government secretary over corruption allegations.

Judy Taguiwalo, a left-wing activist who was jailed during the 1970s martial law era of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, clenches her fist while walking past anti-riot police officers, after Philippine lawmakers rejected the appointment of her as social welfare minister during a Commission on Appointment hearing at the Senate headquarters in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines August 16, 2017.Romeo Ranoco

Four senators took to the floor of the chamber on Wednesday to defend Taguiwalo, among them Ralph Recto, who said the Philippines "can never ask for a package as complete as her".

"She holds the post by virtue of her ability, not by her affiliation," he said. "If she's an ideologue, then the ideology she subscribes to is the same one we believe in and that ideology is to serve the people."

Duterte has insisted he does not try to influence the commission, even though he has a legislative supermarjority.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella expressed sadness at the rejection of Taguiwalo, who he said had impacted the lives of many Filipinos and served the Duterte administration with passion, professionalism and integrity.

Philippines Weighs China Energy Deal in Disputed South China Sea

From Bloomberg (Aug 15): Philippines Weighs China Energy Deal in Disputed South China Sea
  • Any deal wouldn’t affect Philippine sovereignty: Cayetano
  • Duterte to bring up arbitration award at a later time
The Philippines is considering potential ways to jointly develop oil and gas resources with China in a disputed part of the South China Sea, according to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.
Any joint ventures would conform to Philippine law and wouldn’t lead to the loss of Philippine territory, Cayetano told a House of Representatives hearing on Tuesday in Manila. Shortly afterward, he sought a closed-door meeting with legislators, citing national security.
“If we can come up with a commercial deal better than Malampaya in the disputed areas, how can any Filipino argue with that?” Cayetano said. He was referring to the country’s largest gas field, which is set to run out of supply in 2024.
The remarks are the latest indication of warmer ties between the Philippines and China after years of tension under the prior administration of Benigno Aquino. Since taking power last year, President Rodrigo Duterte has sought closer investment and trade links with Beijing, including over resources in the South China Sea.
Aquino brought China before an international arbitration tribunal over its claims to 80 percent of one of the world’s most strategic waterways, and won. He also strengthened the Philippine alliance with the U.S. to try to check China’s expansion in the South China Sea, where it has built a series of artificial reefs, creating a platform to assert its claims.
‘Going Nowhere’
Duterte isn’t ignoring the arbitration award, and will bring it up at a later time as the Philippines builds mutual trust with China, Cayetano said.
“There was no opportunity to talk to China because we had consistent confrontations with them,” he said. “We won the legal part, but on the ground we were going nowhere.”
Last month, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi backed the idea of joint energy ventures with the Philippines in disputed waters, saying it was “full of political wisdom.” Unilateral development could lead to tensions and hurt both countries, Wang told reporters during a visit to Manila.
Any deal may also impact Vietnam, which rejects China’s expansive sea claims as a basis for jointly developing energy resources. The BBC reported last month that Vietnam had ordered Repsol SA, a Madrid-based oil-and-gas company, to halt activities in the South China Sea after China threatened to attack Vietnamese bases in the Spratly Islands.

China May be Finished with Island-Building Campaign

From The Maritime Executive (Aug 15): China May be Finished with Island-Building Campaign

Construction at Mischief Reef (satellite image via NASA/DigitalGlobe)

On Tuesday, Philippines defense minister Delfin Lorenzana announced that Manila has reached an understanding with Beijing about Chinese expansion in the South China Sea, and that China has promised not to seize any additional land features in the region. "The Chinese will not occupy new features in the South China Sea nor they are going to build structures in Scarborough Shoal," he told a congressional hearing.

China has built a string of seven artificial islands in the Spratly chain, all of them on land features claimed by the Philippines and other nations. The government of former Philippine president Benigno Aquino opposed Chinese expansion in the region, but under the current leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, Manila has downplayed the dispute in favor of strengthening economic ties.

Also on Tuesday, foreign secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said that the Philippines is pursuing an oil and gas exploration agreement with China in disputed parts of the South China Sea, with revenues to be split 60/40 in favor of the Philippines. Last week, Cayetano admitted that there could be sovereignty issues for a partnership with China in contested waters, noting that the joint venture would have to be within a framework that would be consistent with the Philippine constitution.

The project would involve the exploration of Reed Bank, a seamount at the northeastern end of the Spratly Islands with strong oil and gas potential. It is within the Philippine EEZ, and the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague rejected Chinese claims to its ownership in a landmark ruling last year. Drilling nearly began in 2012 after Philippines-based Philex Petroleum secured an E&P lease from the Philippine Department of Energy, but China objected and the project came to a halt. Philex and Chinese oil firm CNOOC held sporadic talks regarding joint development, but the sovereignty issue – that is, the appearance that China would be recognizing Philippine claims by joining an agreement, or vice versa – was a persistent obstacle.

For its part, Beijing recently warned its neighbors to avoid unilateral development of energy resources within China's sweeping "nine-dash line" claim in the South China Sea. "In waters where there are overlapping maritime rights and interests, if one party goes for unilateral development, and the other party takes the same action, that might complicate the situation at sea," Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said in Manila last month. "That might lead to tension, and as the end result, nobody would be able to develop resources."
Last month, following similar Chinese pressure, Vietnam ordered Spanish oil firm Repsol to halt drilling at a leased E&P block near Vanguard Bank in the South China Sea. The area is within Vietnam's EEZ claim, but its ownership its disputed by China.

Battle for Marawi Exposes Philippines’ Military Intelligence Crisis

From The Diplomat (Aug 16): Battle for Marawi Exposes Philippines’ Military Intelligence Crisis

The ongoing Marawi crisis has pointed to well-known capability gaps that Manila is now attempting to urgently fill.

Over the weekend, during remarks at the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP), Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana dwelled a little on the increased capability requirements that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is looking for, particularly in the intelligence realm, as it confronts Islamic State-linked militants in the southern city of Marawi. Lorenzana’s comments are yet another indication of the challenges that the Southeast Asian state continues to face as it deals with a rising terror threat.

As I noted last week, the AFP has struggled during the Marawi crisis that began on May 23, and that has not been surprising to those familiar with both the general challenges it faces as well as the specifics of the current situation. The AFP remains one of the region’s weakest militaries despite some improvements, and Marawi has been an uphill battle for it because of various factors including the fact that it is a densely populated city with dense, forested terrain outside of it, and the reality that the allegiances between various insurgent groups and foreign fighters can be much looser than the headlines often suggest (See: “Why Has the Philippines’ Military Struggled in its Terror Fight Under Duterte?”).

Last week, Lorenzana disclosed that the military offensive, which had killed 552 militants and 128 security forces, had cost the AFP roughly 2.5-3 billion pesos, and that a recent assessment from military commanders indicated that the battle could continue for another one or two months. He also emphasized a sober reality that I had warned about before the crisis had started: that some of the money for immediate needs – such as the procurement of more equipment like bullet-proof vests, helmets, night vision goggles, and bullets – had diverted money from other longer-term projects and that those funds would need to be replenished with Congressional approval at some point (See: “What’s Next for Philippine Military Modernization Under Duterte?”).

At the same time, Lorenzana also stressed that the AFP would need to ask for a further increase in funding to acquire some capabilities that it lacked, especially in the intelligence realm. Though he declined to specify the exact amount being sought, he did cite some examples of equipment being prioritized, including facial recognition technology, more capable drones that can operate for long periods and at long range, and other means to develop human intelligence on the ground including CCTV cameras and networks that extend deep into the barangay level.

During his remarks over the weekend, Lorenzana touched on this point again. He noted that one of the lessons of the Marawi crisis was that the Philippines needed to improve its intelligence capabilities. In addition to welcoming Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to boost intelligence funds available for the government, he also pointed to other efforts either underway or being mulled, such as improving urban warfare training and increasing reserve forces to back up regular units in the Philippine military.

This is no surprise. As I have noted previously, the gap that the Philippines has in terms of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities (or ISR for short) has long been clear. It is why the Philippines has moved forward on acquiring equipment like drones within its own military modernization efforts while at the same time drawing on the capabilities of other allies and partners during the Marawi crisis, be it Australia’s AP-3C Orion military planes, Singapore’s UAVs, or U.S. Cessna 208B “Caravan” ISR aircraft which Washington had handed over to Manila recently (See: “What’s Behind the New US-Philippines Drone Hype Under Duterte?”). And it is why we see Philippine officials such as Lorenzana pointing to this general capability gap as a priority, even though it may not receive nearly as much attention as specific kinds of equipment like aircraft or drones.

Of course, the degree to which the AFP will be able to receive the sorts of capability upgrades it actually desires is another question altogether. As things move forward on the legislative side, that will be something to watch closely.

Duterte witnesses turnover of binoculars, donation to military

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 16): Duterte witnesses turnover of binoculars, donation to military

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte witnessed the turnover of binoculars and the signing of a deed of donation on Tuesday, August 15, at Malacañan Palace.

The Commander-in-Chief witnessed the turnover of binoculars to Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, facilitated by Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.

The binoculars were given by an anonymous donor.

President Duterte also witnessed the signing of the deed of donation from the Golden Rooster Foundation, represented by Monica Louise Prieto-Teodoro to Armed Forces of the PAfter each of the turnovers, Duterte had a short meeting with Senate President Pimentel and Mrs. Prieto-Teodoro.

The Chief Executive also met with Lanao del Sur Rep. Ansaruddin Adiong, Lanao del Sur Vice Governor Mamintal Adiong, Jr., and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong.

Also present in the said meeting were Lorenzana, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Leonor Briones, Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Mark Villar. Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año.

AFP vows to neutralize remaining Maute terrorists in Marawi

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 16): AFP vows to neutralize remaining Maute terrorists in Marawi

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) vowed to exert all possible efforts to ensure that the remaining Maute Group terrorists, now pocketed in a square-kilometer area in Marawi City, are neutralized and all accounted for.

"We are firm in ending this rebellion in Marawi, and we are going to exert all efforts within the limits and bounds of the law, (and existing rules of engagement) to get the remnants of the Daesh (anoher name for ISIS)-inspired Maute Group," Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Edgard Arevalo said in an interview with reporters on Tuesday.

Surviving Maute Group terrorists are estimated to be around 40 to 60 as their numbers continue to be whittled down by pursuing government troops since fighting started last May 23.

As of Aug. 13, Maute Group elements killed are placed at 562 along with 128 troops and 45 civilians executed.

Firearms recovered are placed at 619 along with 11 improvised explosive devices and 1,728 civilians rescued from the hands of the enemy.

Based on the military's latest monitoring, Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, Omar and Abdullah Maute, the three ranking leaders of the terror group, are still inside the city.

But Arevalo declined to comment on where these terrorist leaders are located for security and operational reasons.

DND mulls acquisition of medium tanks

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 16): DND mulls acquisition of medium tanks

Instead of heavily-armored and gunned main battle tanks, the Department of National Defense (DND) is looking at the possibility of acquiring some medium tanks for its armored units.

This was emphasized by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana when asked by the PNA Wednesday on whether the ongoing conflict in densely-packed Marawi City, where Maute Group terrorists converted concrete houses and buildings into fortified fighting positions, necessitates the acquisition of a main battle tank fleet.

"Not really. We do not expect a lot Marawi-type conflict in the future. Therefore a couple of medium tanks would do: for contingency in urban warfare and for training," he added.

Lorenzana also defines main battle tanks as vehicles weighing 40 tons or more and carrying a large-caliber gun while medium tanks are those weighing 20 tons or less and equipped with a medium-caliber but powerful cannon but capable of breaching reinforced concrete walls.

As this develops, Mechanized Infantry Division spokesperson Capt. Emman Adriano said they are now using with great effect the newly-acquired armored vehicles in their ongoing operations in Marawi City.

"Our current capability can surely sustain the operations in Marawi City," he added.

Adriano earlier said a large portion of the country's armored assets are now seeing action in the ongoing operations to clear Marawi City of the remaining Maute Group terrorists.

"(Armored assets deployed ) are four mechanized battalions, one cavalry squadron and one light armored troop. All of our newly acquired armored vehicles are now deployed in Marawi City," he said. These units consists of more than 120 armored vehicles of various types.

DND chief sees need to invest in missile defense technology

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 16): DND chief sees need to invest in missile defense technology

With the threats of long-range missile bombardment now a looming reality, there is a need for the Philippines to invest in missile defense technology to fully protect itself against these threats.

This was disclosed by Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday when asked on whether the country is planning to acquire such defensive capabilities in wake of North Korea's cancelled attempt to fire four intermediate-range missiles off the waters of Guam.

"Yes, definitely. Since future wars will be fought off with stand-off weapons, meaning those missiles launched from a great distances. We need to invest on defenses to protect ourselves," he added.

While acquisition of these capabilities are not slated for Armed Forces of the Modernization Program (AFP) Horizon 2, which will run from 2018 to 2022, the DND chief said it is possible that the country might initially acquire detection capabilities before the actual missile batteries themselves.

Horizon 2 is the phase where the AFP will begin the acquisition of multi-role fighters and other advanced weaponry.

Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island no cause for alarm: DFA

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 16): Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island no cause for alarm: DFA

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on Wednesday said the mere presence of Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island should not be a cause for alarm.

Cayetano made the statement following the revelation of Magdalo Partylist Rep. Gary Alejano citing information from a military source that Chinese vessels were spotted north of Pag-asa island.

Cayetano also did not confirm or deny if Alejano’s claim but he assured the public that the situation in the disputed Pag-asa Island is “very stable”.

“I can’t confirm or deny because nga this is part of the discussion with command center but I’ll tell you continuous 'yan. We will tell you if this is a cause for diplomatic or a military alarm,” Cayetano said in a press conference at the House of Representatives.

“So, while I can’t tell you the details, I can tell you the communication is there. There are reasons for certain presence of certain vessels, but it’s the situation in the area is very stable,” he added.

Cayetano said his department is taking upon itself to do all diplomatic actions necessary while noting that its new strategy now is focused on peace, stability, and dialogue.

“Our strategy now is to have peace, stability, and dialogue. and so far, it is working,” Cayetano said.

The military, for its part, said it is verifying reports of alleged Chinese activities near Pagasa Island.

Armed Forces of the Philippines public affairs office chief, Col. Edgard Arevalo Arevalo, said the AFP will not issue any other comment until they have verified the said information.

AFP to help DA in curbing bird flu outbreak

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 16): AFP to help DA in curbing bird flu outbreak

The Armed Forces of the Philippines will help in the government's campaign to cull chickens in Pampanga infected with bird flu.

This comes after the Department of Agriculture (DA) requested the assistance of 400 soldiers to help in the ongoing campaign to curb the outbreak of the disease.

AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said Wednesday that an initial 100 soldiers will be deployed in the affected areas Thursday after being briefed by the DA on their role.

Arevalo said "warning orders" were already forwarded to the Tarlac-based Northern Luzon Command so that the necessary troops can be provided to the DA.

AFP and DA officials have already met to discuss on how military personnel can be utilized in this threat.