Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Aircraft carrier spotted off Scarborough Shoal

From ABS-CBN (Apr 9, 2019): Aircraft carrier spotted off Scarborough Shoal

Watch also in iWant or TFC.tv
(UPDATED) - Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal have gotten used to the presence of foreign vessels in the disputed waters, but they were surprised by a new sight: an aircraft carrier.

Planes were seen landing and taking off from the ship, some 3 miles away from the Filipino fishermen's boat. ABS-CBN News has yet to confirm the identity of the aircraft carrier as of this writing.

China has had effective control of Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground, since the end of a naval standoff between Filipino and Chinese ships in 2012.

The Scarborough Shoal standoff was part of Manila's international arbitration case against Beijing, which it won in 2016. However, President Rodrigo Duterte refused to flaunt the victory and instead sought closer economic and diplomatic ties with China.

Photo courtesy of USS 7th Fleet

Meantime, the United States has deployed its USS Wasp amphibious assault ship to the Philippines for the annual Balikatan exercise from April 1 to 12, US military publication Stars and Stripes said Tuesday.

The 844-ft vessel "employs 31 aircraft and can launch Marine amphibious craft from its well deck," the Stars and Stripes said.

In a report by The Japan Times, a U.S. military spokeswoman did not confirm or deny the Wasp’s presence near Scarborough Shoal.

The spokeswoman, however, said that the Wasp “has been training with Philippine Navy ships in Subic Bay and in international waters of the South China Sea … for several days.”


Russian Pacific Fleet commander says visit not connected with PH-US Balikatan Exercises

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 9, 2019): Russian Pacific Fleet commander says visit not connected with PH-US Balikatan Exercises

The Commander of Detachment of the Russian Pacific Fleet, Captain Sergey G. Alantiev, said that, contrary to the belief by some, the Russian Navy maintains good rapport with the United States Navy.

Russian warships Admiral Tributs and Admiral Vinogradov arrived in Pier 15 South harbor in Manila for a 5-day goodwill visit in the country. Live firing, sports events and naval demonstrations activities that will be participated in by their Philippine counterpart. (ALI VICOY / MANILA BULLETIN)

Alantiev made the remark even as he denied speculations that the Russian Navy’s (RN) five-day goodwill visit to the country was connected with the ongoing PH-US Balikatan Exercises from April 1-12, 2019.

He also emphasized that as far as he was concerned, their visit to the country was not in anyway counterproductive.

“Furthermore, I would like to inform you that we have outstanding relations and a good rapport with the US Navy and all efforts aimed at peace and stability in the region be it Russian or American, our efforts in the name of peace and stability serve the same purpose,” Alantiev, who was speaking through an interpreter, said.

He also explained that when they planned the visit to the country with their Filipino counterparts, they did not actually discuss the Balikatan.

“In fact, I only found out it’s going on very recently. And since it doesn’t prevent us from carrying out this visit in any way, it does not create any inconvenience, we decided to carry it out on these dates. That’s all,” Alantiew reiterated.

Alantiew said the main objective of their visit to Manila was to further enhance their naval cooperation with the Philippines and to make a tangible contribution to the peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific Region.

He said that included in the activities with their Filipino counterparts are joint drills on navigation, communication and also special training with the quick response team of the forces of the Philippines.

Three Russian Navy vessels – the large anti-submarine ships Admiral Tributs and Vinogradov, and large sea tanker Irkut – arrived Monday (April 8) at Pier 15, South Harbor, Manila, for a five-day goodwill visit to the country.

In a speech he delivered following their arrival, Alantiev said their visit was aimed at further developing the naval cooperation with the Republic of the Philippines. He said the visit will also give them time to replenish supplies and give rest to the crew.

“I am glad to note that for the last years friendly port calls of Russian and Philippine navy vessels have been taking place on a regular basis and by now have become a good tradition,” Alantiev said.

“It is a clear evidence of successful implementation of relevant bilateral agreements at the highest level. Such port calls make a tangible contribution to the peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific Region,” he added.

Captain Alantiev expressed belief that the only way to cope with present-day threats and challenges is through partnership and by combining efforts and resources.

He mentioned international piracy and international terrorist threats as present-day threats and challenges they are facing.

The Russian Navy official said the program of the visit includes numerous important events. These include a wreath laying ceremony at the monument of the Philippine national hero – Jose Rizal and courtesy calls to Vice-Admiral Robert A. Empedrad, Flag Officer in Command of the Philippine Navy, as well as the commanding officers of the Philippine Fleet and the Philippine Coast Guard.

He said top officials of the Department of National Defense, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Department of Foreign Affairs as well as the representatives of other governmental and social entities of the Republic of the Philippines, will be on hand for a ship tour.

“We attach a big importance to the strengthening of mutual trust and friendly ties between the servicemen and servicewomen of our two nations. For this reason, tours of our ships will be arranged for officers and cadets of the Philippines Navy and the Coast Guard. Friendly sporting events are also in the pipeline,” Captain Alantiev said.

Captain Alantiev also said that he finds it highly symbolic that the start of their visit occurred on the eve of the Day of Valor in the Philippines.

“We consider ourselves honored to be able to pay our deep respect to the World War II veterans of the Philippines. My country was deeply affected by that War which occupies a special place in our history. The memory of the veterans and the profound respect for their timeless heroic deeds are among the fundamental values that unite the Russian society at all levels,” Captain Alantiev said.

“I strongly believe that we share this approach with the people of the Philippines and through it we shall achieve a new level of mutual understanding and trust. I think this purpose will be best served by holding an Open Door Day on April 9,” he added.

Meanwhile, Philippine Navy’s Staff Officer for Education and Training, Capt. Constancio Arturo Reyes Jr. thanked the officers and men of the Russian Navy for visiting the country once again.

Reyes said the arrival of their Russian Navy counterparts underscores the continuing efforts to further strengthen the relationship between the two governments and navies.

“This (visit) will further enhance and sustain the promotion of peace, stability, and cooperation through naval diplomacy. During the visit, there will be confidence building activities aimed to enhance the camaraderie among our navies. We are looking forward to further strengthening this bilateral relationship to the next level,” Reyes said.

Captain Jonathan V. Zata, the Director of the Naval Public Affairs Office, said large anti-submarine ships Admiral Tributs and Vinogradov, and large sea tanker Irkut, will be at Pier 15, South Harbor, Manila up to Saturday, April 13, 2019.

Prior to the Russian ships arrival, Philippine Navy (PN) vessel BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS16) rendered customary meeting procedure at the vicinity of Corregidor Island and escorted the vessels to their designated berthing area.

PN delegates led by Capt. Reyes then accorded the visiting Russian Navy (RN) a welcome ceremony upon arrival. The activity was followed by a port briefing on security and health aboard one of the Russian ships.

During the press briefing, Capt. Reyes emphasized that the activity is part of the continuing efforts to further strengthen the relationship between the two navies.

On the other hand, Capt. Sergey Alantiev stated that their visit “is a clear evidence of successful implementation of relevant bilateral agreements at the highest level.”

Zata said Capt. Alantiev, along with the commanding officers of the three vessels are scheduled to pay a courtesy call to the Flag Officer in Command, PN, Vice Adm. Robert A. Empedrad at the PN headquarters in Roxas Blvd., Manila.

Also lined up are confidence building activities between the visiting navy and their Filipino counterparts which include shipboard tour, reciprocal receptions, sports events and joint training on live firing demonstration and VBSS (Visit, Board, Search and Seizure) with Naval Special Operations Group personnel.

Zata said this is the second visit of RN ships in the country this year following their goodwill visit in January. This visit also came shortly after the visit to the country of their commander in chief, Adm. Vladimir Korolyov, last month.

“This reception is another manifestation of the PN’s commitment in promoting naval diplomacy and camaraderie and fostering goodwill with foreign navies,” Zata said.

“The frequent engagements between the Philippine and Russian navies in the recent years have been helpful in the development of diplomatic relations between the two countries,” he added.

Deployment of USS Wasp, F-35Bs shows US commitment to Philippines, commander says

From the Stars & Stripes (Apr 9, 2019): Deployment of USS Wasp, F-35Bs shows US commitment to Philippines, commander says

F-35B Lightning II aircraft are secured to the flight deck of the USS Wasp during the Balikatan exercise in the South China Sea on April 4, 2019.  DANIEL BARKER/U.S. NAVY

The first deployment of the USS Wasp and F-35B Lightning II fighters to the Philippines for this month’s Balikatan exercise shows the value that the U.S. places on military ties to the island nation, according to the commander of a Navy amphibious squadron participating in the drills.

Capt. Jim McGovern, commodore of Amphibious Squadron 11, which comprises four warships including the Wasp, spoke about the importance of the mission during a call from aboard the flat-deck amphibious assault ship in the South China Sea on Monday.

“Nothing says ‘you’re important’ like sending a ship with the capability of the Wasp,” he said of the vessel, which deployed to Sasebo, Japan, in January 2018.

Navy officials declined to disclose the number of servicemembers or the assets aboard the Wasp due to operational security concerns.

The vessel typically includes a crew of about 1,000 sailors and can embark more than 1,600 Marines. The 844-foot ship employs 31 aircraft and can launch Marine amphibious craft from its well deck.

Photographs of the warship on its current mission show it’s carrying at least 10 F-35Bs, four MV-22 Ospreys and two MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopters.

“We have a lot of capability on this ship,” McGovern said.

Philippine military personnel have been aboard this week and seem impressed by its capabilities, he said.

U.S. Navy Airman Braxton Reese, of Jacksonville, Fla., measures wind speed onboard the USS Wasp during a replenishment-at-sea with the USNS Pecos during the Balikatan exercise in the South China Sea on April 4, 2019. SEAN GALBREATH/U.S. NAVY

“It’s great to be out at sea with our Philippine navy counterparts,” he said.

American sailors got a warm welcome from locals when they made a port call in Subic Bay last week ahead of the drills, he said.

The F-35Bs are only operating from the Wasp and haven’t touched down at any air bases in the Philippines, McGovern said.

“The F-35Bs bring a lot of capability no matter where we are operating,” he said, but noted that the fifth-generation fighters are only one component of a Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force that includes a battalion landing team from the 4th Marine Regiment and a command element.

The Wasp is also carrying assault amphibious vehicles and landing craft air cushions, he said.

This week the amphibious force is focused on training for humanitarian operations and building relationships with Filipino counterparts, he said.

During Balikatan, an annual exercise that this year runs April 1-12, U.S. and Philippine forces will conduct amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban operations, aviation operations and counterterrorism response training on the islands of Luzon and Palawan, officials said.

“One thing we are doing with our allies is bilateral amphibious drills where we are doing landings,” McGovern said.

The Navy and Marines are practicing ship-to-shore movement with the Filipinos and training ashore, he added.

McGovern didn’t comment on recent friction between China and the Philippines over disputed island territory.

“We are just conducting routine operations in the South China Sea,” he said. “We are focused on operating with our treaty allies.”

However, David Johnson of the Center for Advanced Defense Studies in Washington, D.C., said the deployment of the Wasp and the F-35Bs is an example of U.S. concern about rising Chinese influence and the importance of the Philippines to stability in the region.

“There is a lot of symbolism involved in these things we do forward,” he said, but noted that building relationships is more important than deploying high-tech gear.

“There is already so much effort in the Pacific that there is only a little more that can be done,” he said.

The U.S.-Philippines relationship is likely to continue on a positive trajectory, Johnson said.

Twitter: @SethRobson1


U.S. Amphibious Assault Ship Loaded With F-35s Operating Off Disputed South China Sea Shoa

Posted to The Drive/The War Zone (Apr 9, 2019):  U.S. Amphibious Assault Ship Loaded With F-35s Operating Off Disputed South China Sea Shoal (By Joseph Trevithick)

China and the Philippines have competing claims to the area, which has turned into a major flashpoint in the past.

Filipino fishermen have spotted the U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS Wasp sailing and conducting flight operations off the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. The vessel's presence there, along with its unusually large complement of stealthy F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, is sure to irk China, which sees the area as a lynchpin in its larger efforts to assert control over the bulk of the region.

Fishing boats in the region first noticed the first-in-class Wasp near the shoal, which is at the heart of a long-running territorial dispute between Filipino and Chinese authorities, on Apr. 9, 2019, according to Filipino media outlet ABS-CBN. The amphibious assault ship has been in the South China Sea since March 2019 and arrived in the Philippines on Mar. 30, 2019, to take part in the annual Exercise Balikatan. This is the first time F-35s of any kind have taken part in these drills.



Wasp had already drawn attention after pictures showed it carrying at least 10 F-35Bs, a significantly larger fixed wing force than ships of this class normally deploy with. The U.S. Marine Corps and the Navy have been working for years to examine new concepts of operation for Marine air combat elements, or ACEs, equipped, in part, with Joint Strike Fighters when embarked on amphibious assault ships, which you can read about in more detail here. The force of at least 10 F-35Bs from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron One Two One (VMFA-121) that are onboard Wasp now reflects proposals that could turn amphibious assault ships effectively into light aircraft carriers, if necessary, during major conflicts.

"Together they [Wasp and the F-35Bs] represent an increase in military capability committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific region," the Navy said in an official statement regarding the exercise. 

"Participating in Balikatan demonstrates their ability to quickly forward deploy in support of an ally should a crisis or natural disaster occur."

[Video: Aircraft carrier spotted off Scarborough Shoal/ANC

Even before arriving near the disputed Scarborough Shoal, the comment about a "free and open" region had already seemed directed at the Chinese, in particular. For years now, China has physically occupied a number of shoals and reefs in the South China Sea and has worked to turn them into man-made military outposts equipped with airfields capable of support heavy combat aircraft and port facilities to enable local naval operations. The Chinese have also deployed shore-based anti-ship cruise missiles and long-range surface-to-air missiles on these artificial islands to challenge the ability of outside actors, including the United States, to operate freely in the region.

Full, uncontested control of Scarborough Shoal could give the Chinese a "strategic triangle," with the other major points being Woody Island to the northwest in the Paracel Island chain and a cluster of outposts in the Spratly Islands to the south. Aircraft and ships operating from these islands, along with shore-based defenses, would offer overlapping coverage and present a major threat to any potential opponent trying to move through the region during a crisis.

NASA: A satellite image of Scarborough Shoal as it existing 2000.


A general map of China's potential "strategic triangle" in the South China Sea, consisting of Woody Island to the northwest, various sites in the Spratly islands to the South, and Scarborough Shoal to the northeast, closer to the Philippines.

“China’s island-building and military activities in the South China Sea threaten your sovereignty, security, and therefore economic livelihood, as well as that of the United States,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters in Manila during a visit on Mar. 1, 2019. “Any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations.”

Wasp, with its F-35-heavy aviation component, certainly offers an American challenge to China's regional claims and a clear demonstration of U.S. commitment to its alliance with the Philippines. If the ship is conducting activities directly related to Exercise Balkistan, it could reflect a more active effort to use those drills to directly assert Filipino claims than in the past, when American and Filipino forces generally stayed clear of the disputed shoal itself. 

USN: The USS Wasp, with 10 F-35Bs visible on the deck, sails in the South China Sea with the Philippine Navy's BRP Tarlac landing platform dock, at left, and BRP Ramon Alcaraz, an ex-US Coast Guard Hamilton-class cutter.

The area has already been hotly contested between China and the Philippines for years now. In 2012, Filipino Navy ships moved to arrest Chinese fishermen illegal operating within the Shoal's lagoon, leading to a protracted standoff with Chinese "Marine Surveillance" vessels – now part of China's Coast Guard – and elements of a paramilitary fishing fleet, which has since become commonly known as the "Little Blue Men." The latter is a reference to the "Little Green Men," a mix of Russian special operations forces and local proxies, who appeared in Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014 before Russia invaded and illegally annexed the peninsula.

The video below shows interactions between Chinese and Filipino ships during the 2012 standoff.

[China-Philippines confrontation at Scarborough Shoal (2012)

The outcome of the standoff was embarrassing to the Philippines, who withdrew, effectively ceding control to the Chinese. Since then, China has continued to assert their authority over the area since and routinely chase Filipino fishermen away.

Wasp's appearance in the area is not the first time U.S. forces have made moves to dispute China's control over Scarborough Shoal. In January 2018, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Hopper conducted a so-called Freedom of Navigation Patrol, or FONOP, near the shoal. In April 2016, U.S. Air Force A-10 Warthog ground attack aircraft on a rotational deployment to the Philippines had also flown a mission over the contested area. China responded angrily in both cases, declaring that the United States had violated its sovereignty.

Still, how China might react now to Wasp operating in the vicinity of the Shoal isn't clear. Chinese forces have been increasingly aggressive throughout the South China Sea, even toward American ships, since the beginning of 2018. At the same time, after taking office in 2016, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had also pledged to largely drop the Scarborough Shoal issue, so long as China did not try to further expand its physical presence there, in favor of improving ties with Beijing.

However, in recent months, Duterte has faced increasing criticism for his stance toward China and its aggressive actions in the region. Just days ago, the Philippine military said that Chinese Coast Guard vessels and Little Blue Men had "swarmed" Pag-asa Island in the Spratly chain, which the Philippines occupies with its own military garrison, prompting an unusually strong response from the Filipino president.

DOD: A map of Chinese military outposts in the Spratly island chain. Pag-asa is situated just to the northeast of Subi Reef.

"I will not plead or beg, but I am just telling you that lay off the Pag-asa because I have soldiers there,” Duterte said on Apr. 4, 2019. “If you touch it, that’s another story. Then I will tell my soldiers 'prepare for suicide missions'."

The United States and China are also in the midst of a protracted trade war, rising tensions over Chinese threats toward Taiwan, and other disputes beyond the South China Sea. So, with Chinese ties with the Philippines cooling off, and a chill in relations between Beijing and Washington, it remains to be seen how China will react, directly or indirectly, to Wasp's sudden appearance with its contingent of F-35Bs near the Scarborough Shoal.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com

Water Wars: Fear and Loathing in Manila

Posted to the Lawfare blog (Apr 9, 2019): Water Wars: Fear and Loathing in Manila (By Doug Stephens, IV)

USS Wasp enters Subic Bay for the Balikatan 2019 joint exercises. (Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Benjamin F. Davella.)

Tensions around the contested island of Thitu (Tagalog: Pag-asa; Chinese: Zhongye) are escalating as China and the Philippines continue to press their claims. In March, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) and other observers counted up to 275 Chinese vessels near Thitu, up from December’s high of 95. On April 1, the Philippines registered an official protest against China’s Thitu presence, citing worries that what appear to be fishing boats are actually part of China’s maritime militia. The following day, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivered an address in which he implied an unwillingness to take military action, noting that Chinese missiles could reach Manila in “seven minutes” were war declared. Yet on April 4, the Philippine government released a firm public statement on Thitu that included the unusually forceful claim that the Chinese presence is “illegal.” Chinese officials responded swiftly, telling the Wall Street Journal later the same day that their ship movements are “beyond reproach.” Duterte ended April 4 with a fiery speech at a rally in Puerto Princesa in which he told China not to touch Thitu: “If you make moves there ... I will tell my soldiers, ‘Prepare for suicide mission.’”

All of these events have taken place against the backdrop of Balikatan 2019, a major annual U.S.-Philippines-Australian joint exercise scheduled for April 1-12 in Luzon and Palawan. Balikatan’s latest iteration involves a combined total of 7,000 service members, as well as deployment of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp carrying an unusually heavy complement of F-35B fighters. U.S. weapons systems are moving all over the region, whether through joint exercise or sale. Singapore announced in March that it is making a preliminary purchase of four F-35 jets from Lockheed-Martin as it begins the process of replacing its aging fleet of F-16s. And Vietnam received six Metal Shark patrol boats from the United States on March 31, a gift worth approximately $12 million. One of the few places the United States has decided against sending materiel is the upcoming celebrations of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s 70th anniversary. The Trump administration has rejected Beijing’s invitation to send several warships to participate in the ceremonies, citing worries that it could be seen as supporting the legitimacy of China’s maritime claims.

In Other News

In Diplomatic Developments

Countries all over the region lodged diplomatic protests against China in late March. On March 21, Vietnam protested the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing ship by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel in the contested Paracel Islands. A day later, Vietnamese officials complained about a series of Chinese live-fire exercises, also in the Paracels. On March 29, the Philippines filed a protest regarding the increasing Chinese presence around Thitu. The following day, Taiwan registered complaints with the press and regional partners about Chinese jet fighters crossing the centerline of the Taiwanese Strait that morning. Most dramatically, two former Philippine government officials have sued Chinese President Xi Jinping in the International Criminal Court, arguing that his government’s actions in the South China Sea amount to crimes against humanity.

In a shift from their past silence, both the EU and NATO have begun acknowledging China’s potential threat to Atlantic stability. On March 12, the EU Commission released a brief report describing China as a “systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance.” The commission proposed 10 actions for EU heads of state to discuss at their next conference. And NATO ministers have scheduled their first meeting on the topic of China for early April. The Wall Street Journal cites several officials as saying that the meeting is driven by concerns about Chinese involvement in transport and data infrastructures around the world. Both bodies find themselves in the difficult position of articulating principled concerns even while many of their constituent countries have begun relying heavily on Chinese trade and investment.

The United States is moving its de facto embassy in Taiwan to a new site in Taipei. On May 6, some 500 personnel attached to the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) will set up shop in a new 16-acre campus in Taipei’s Neihu district. On April 3, AIT officials confirmed for the first time that military service members have been stationed at its facilities since 2005 and that those deployments would continue.

Early in March, former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull weighed in on Australian-Chinese relations. In an address to the Henry Jackson Society (a foreign policy think tank headquartered in London), Turnbull emphasized a need to be wary of China’s geographic and technological endeavors but admitted that the militarization of the South China Sea is now an “irreversible” feature of the region.

In the Air

Japan scrambled fighter jets on March 20 to intercept two Chinese spy planes in the East China Sea. While the PLA Air Force aircraft did not ultimately cross into Japanese airspace, it was the second such incident this year and the sixth since October. The confrontation took place a week after China reported a deadly fighter crash on Hainan province in the South China Sea that killed two pilots.

Hot on the heels of the announcement of U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the U.S. Army is seeking funds to prototype next-generation artillery, including a long-range strategic cannon and hypersonic missiles. Neither of these would have been barred under the INF Treaty, but both moves signal a renewed commitment to long-range strike capabilities in the Asia-Pacific theater.

On the Ground

U.S. General Robert Brown, commander of Army forces in the Pacific, has announceda significant expansion to the Pacific Pathways deployment program. Based on the new Dynamic Force Employment strategic program, these rotations would see up to 10,000 additional soldiers stationed in partner nations around the Pacific at any given point. Details on when this surge will take place have not been released. As part of the same focus on Pacific relationship-building, the U.S. military is in talkswith the Federated States of Micronesia to open new naval and air facilities on their islands, as well as to conduct joint military exercises in their territory. Micronesia lies midway between Hawaii and the South China Sea, and Washington has long understood it as a vital U.S. strategic partner in the region.

The Philippines is seeking more infrastructure loans from China despite warnings from allies. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad addressed Duterte directly on March 7, saying that “you have to be very careful” owing money to the Chinese. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a similar message on March 12. He characterized Chinese “debt traps” as “political transactions” rather than economic. Nevertheless, a Filipino delegation, headed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, traveled to Beijing on March 19 seeking funding for construction of a new dam. The project promises to alleviate Manila’s severe water shortages. Philippine Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio noted on March 22 that the credit arrangement for the Chico Dam project requires forfeiture of Filipino gas fields upon a default. But the Duterte administration doubled down three days later, saying that seizure was “not possible” because default was so unlikely.

China made two announcements in March regarding future development of its island holdings in the South China Sea. The first and most significant revelation is that China intends to turn Woody Island in the Paracel chain into an “island city.” Secretary Zhang Jun of the Paracel administration described the project in vague terms as development of a “key national strategic service and logistics base.” Then, on April 1, PLA Daily relayed reports of a new kind of communications and sensor infrastructure platform designed for offshore and reef use. These platforms are claimed to be suitable for both scientific and state use but will have a special capacity for “defending … islands and reefs, and continuous monitoring of targeted waters.” China anticipates that in two to three years these waters will be patrolled by a new, larger class of patrol vessel, the contract for the first of which was signed on March 26. Details are scarce on the proposed ship, but it is planned to have a displacement of 10,700 tons and measure 165 meters in length.

In the Deep

The Indo-Pacific submarine arms race remains in full swing. The 2019 edition of “The Military Balance” (discussed here on the Lawfare Podcast) estimates 280 full-size and miniature submarines in operation in the region. The South China Morning Post reports on a series of calls for new operational rules that could prevent accidents or collisions in crowded waterways. The U.S. and China are both party to the 2014 Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), which provides rules to mitigate the risk of ship collisions and miscommunication, but as of this writing, there is no agreed-upon set of guidelines for managing underwater interactions.

The Global Times reports on a new Chinese program that intends to build an underwater navigation system for deep-sea submarines. The system purports to be paired with China’s existing BeiDou satellite navigation framework and use sound waves to penetrate the ocean. An early demonstration area aims to cover approximately 250,000 square kilometers of the South China Sea. The system’s implications for foreign submarine activity are unclear.

The battle between Huawei and its loose coalition of detractors has developed an undersea dimension as Chinese technology is being used in data cable projects around the world. Huawei Marine Networks, a subsidiary of Huawei Technologies, has participated in around 90 different undersea cable projects worldwide. U.S. regulators have little hard evidence to point to in defending their claims, but they maintain that Huawei’s very close relationship to the hack-happy Chinese state renders its technology presumptively insecure. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow reported on April 3 that Chinese officials have conceded for the first time that the U.S. “ha[s] a point” regarding the cyber concerns.


The U.S. Navy released its Cybersecurity Readiness Review on March 4. Commissioned in October in response to “significant compromises” of Navy systems, the review excoriates the current state of Navy cybersecurity and offers a new set of best practices. It concludes that cyberwar is both an “existential threat” to the Navy and Marine Corps, as well as an ongoing conflict that they are “losing.”

In the “Naval War College Review,” Andrew Erickson, Joshua Hickey and Henry Holst analyze the composition and capabilities of China’s maritime law enforcement (MLE) forces, now easily the world’s largest. Incorporation of features such as helicopters, deck guns and interceptor craft into MLE vessels has given China the tools needed to assert influence through force without involving its formal warships.

Over at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Strategist, Ankush Wagle offers perspective on how the Andaman Sea is increasing in strategic importance. Once protected by the Thai peninsula from the scrum in the South China Sea, recent years have seen Chinese submarine activity in the Andaman and a corresponding increase in Indian presence. Wagle argues that this region’s significance will only increase as Myanmar and Thailand accept Chinese investment.

The AMTI has published a brief paper anticipating how a future Chinese claim to straight baselines around the Spratly Islands might interact with China’s larger goal of enclosing much of the South China Sea. The authors analyze four potential baseline-drawing methods and conclude that, while only two would extend Chinese claims beyond the nine-dash line, any of the four would seriously escalate tensions with Vietnam and the Philippines by transmuting merely contested areas into Chinese-claimed internal waters.

At Voice of America, Ralph Jennings reports on a growing scholarly consensus that China’s land acquisition in the South China Sea is finished, at least for the time being. Questions remain, however, on whether this pause is because the current claims are sufficient to accomplish China’s final policy goals, or if this pause is merely the end of “stage one” in a longer program.

Finally, Premesha Saha argues at the Observer Research Foundation that Indonesia’s new military base in the Natuna area of the South China Sea marks a turning point for Indonesia’s regional stance. Officials characterize it as primarily for deterrence of the Chinese, but Saha contends that Indonesia is positioning itself to become more than a “middle power” in the region.

[Doug Stephens IV is a joint JD/LLM student at Harvard Law School and the University of Cambridge. He holds a B.A. in English from Liberty University and a M.A. in English from James Madison University.]

    Army captures BIFF camp, seizes war materials

    From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 9, 2019): Army captures BIFF camp, seizes war materials

    Story image for bangsamoro islamic freedom fighters from INQUIRER.net

    COTABATO CITY – The military here announced finding a Moro rebel camp and war materials after a brief firefight with Islamic State-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao on Sunday.

    Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said in a statement that joint elements of the 40th Infantry Battalion, 61stReconnaissance Company, and 10th Special Forces Company discovered the BIFF encampment on Sunday.

    The military reported five BIFF members and two soldiers injured in the 20-minute gunfight.

    The camp in Sitio Mungkas, Barangay Malingao had foxholes that could accommodate 25 persons.

    Soldiers also found medicine and dextrose containers in the foxholes along with eight cal. 38 revolvers, a shotgun, an Uzi submachine gun, first aid kits, unexploded ordnance, one anti-personnel mine and magazines for M-16 and M-14 rifles.

    “The terrorists are on the run and their capability to sow terror is certainly reduced,” Sobejana said. “We will continue to go after the bandits to put an end to the menace of terrorism.”

    Soldiers were in the area as part of surgical operations against lawless elements in four adjoining towns of Maguindanao.

    The “surgical” military operation were concentrated in the towns of Shariff Aguak, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Shariff Saydona and Mamasapano, the area of operation of the BIFF under Abu Toraife.

    Toraife and his group were believed to be behind the bombing of the roadside eatery Carlito’s Chicken House in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat on April 3 that left 18 persons injured.

    Sobejana appealed to the public to remain vigilant for possible retaliatory or diversionary attacks by the BIFF to avenge the death of their companions.

    Earlier, the military reported at least 11 BIFF members killed and five soldiers injured since April 3 when skirmishes started.

    Among those reported killed in the April 3 encounter, was BIFF member Ali Abdulmalik, a bomb maker and brother of Abu Toraife, BIFF leader who pledged allegiance to ISIS.


    Duterte declares ISIS will never gain foothold in the country

    From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 9, 2019): Duterte declares ISIS will never gain foothold in the country

    President Duterte has voiced confidence the Islamic State would never gain a foothold in the country amid the military’s recent achievements in combating the Abu Sayyaf Group and other lawless elements.


    The President lauded the government troops for their bravery, promised to provide P500 million for their medical needs, and sustain the military’s modernization program during the commemoration of the Araw ng Kagitingan in Jolo, Sulu late Tuesday.

    “As the entire country commemorates the gallant stand of the thousands of Filipino who defended Bataan in 1942, we also honor and acknowledge our troops today for their relentless efforts against lawless elements that continue to threaten the security of our nation,” Duterte said during his visit to a military camp in Jolo.

    “I am especially pleased with our military’s recent accomplishments against the Abu Sayyaf Group. Your efforts have brought us even closer to our ultimate objective of totally crushing the violent extremism at its roots,” he said.

    “With this, I can confidently declare that ISIS will never gain a foothold anywhere in the Philippines,” Duterte added.

    As he promised to look after their welfare and upgrade their equipment, he said government troops must continue the fight to thwart the threat from Islamic State-linked elements. “There is the ISIS that we have to worry here in — well in this part of Sulu, up and down Basilan. We’ll just have to fight and fight,” he said.

    The President earlier skipped the annual Day of Valor rites in Mt. Samat, Bataan and decided to commemorate the historic event in the south.

    Duterte explained that he wanted to mark Araw ng Kagitingan in Jolo mainly to express his gratitude to the government troops for their “enduring patriotism in the face of adversity.” The Filipino nation, he said, is eternally indebted to the country’s soldiers.

    “Lahat ng Pilipino deserves the title kagitingan. But here in Jolo, ‘yung pinaka — ang pinaka nandito. Kaya to the gallant men of Jolo, you have my everlasting gratitude for what you are doing to our country,” he said.

    The commander-in-chief also said he salutes the valiant soldiers who were injured or who gave their lives during the recent operations in Sulu.

    He promised that the government would continue to prioritize the welfare of the soldiers and their families, particularly pour more funds for them. He said education assistance will also be given to the soldiers’ children.

    He noted that he released P500 million to provide for the medical needs of the soldiers during the war against terrorists in Marawi City. “I will continue to release 500 more and 500 more millions to my soldiers who do something for their country,” he added.

    Apart from improving their benefits, Duterte vowed to continue to implement the modernization program of the military. But he asked the military to give him enough time to find money for the acquisition of modern equipment including high-speed boats.

    “We are doing everything to ensure that our military personnel will be able to perform their mandate efficiently and to the best of their ability,” he said.

    “We will, therefore, continue to implement the AFP Modernization Program even as we remain committed in looking after the welfare of our men and women in uniform,” he said.

    Duterte acknowledged that it was his job to take care of the government troops.

    “I’m very happy. I’d like to embrace you. I really love you as a human being,” he said, admitting that his day is ruined whenever he learns about casualties of troops in the field.

    “That’s part of my job to worry about you. All you have to do is just to worry about your personal safety,” he said.

    At the same event, Duterte remembered the valor of Filipino troops who defended the country’s liberty and democracy more than seven decades ago.

    He said he hopes the nation will be inspired by the shining example of the forefathers to triumph against terrorism, corruption, illegal drugs and criminality. He noted that these problems have hampered the country’s growth for so long.

    “And while we may no longer face the same enemy that the heroes of Bataan faced 77 years ago, we must nonetheless be as strong as they were able in facing overwhelming odds,” he said.

    In the same speech, the President highlighted that most of his Cabinet members came from the military. He admitted that he has a “special fondness” for the military since they are “fundamentally honest at industrious.”

    He said he has faced many failures in the bureaucracy since some civilian officials have been involved in corruption and inefficiency.

    “The very best and the very brightest of you na tumulong sa akin magpadala ng bayan natin. Hindi ko man kaya kung ako lang mag-isa [who are helping me lift the country. I can’t do it alone]. There are so many things to do and I function through Cabinet members,” he said.

    Also present in the Kagitingan event in Jolo were Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista, Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, and Defense Undersecretary Ricardo David Jr.


    ISIS rears its ugly head in the islands

    Opinion/commentary posted to the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 9, 2019): ISIS rears its ugly head in the islands

    A Philippine Marine in a captured Maute Group camp. INQUIRER FILE

    NEW YORK—Now that the Syrian city of Raqqa, once the capital of the self-proclaimed caliphate of the extremist group ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), has been liberated, its most fanatical adherents have moved to other continents, other countries.

    Peninsular Southeast Asia has emerged as one such location where this backward ideology of sectarian hatred and violent fanaticism, with only the most tenuous connection with Islam, has set down roots. In the southern part of the Philippines there is no doubt that ISIS has managed to secure a foothold.

    This past January, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo was rocked by two bombs, resulting in at least 20 deaths among the Catholic faithful who had come to attend Sunday Mass. The city of Jolo, capital of Jolo Island, has been the front and center of various Muslim insurgencies that have bedeviled Mindanao—and the country—since the 1970s, in attempts first, to secede from the republic, and, failing that, to gain autonomy, which it now has to a certain extent.

    But that has not been enough for those who seek a caliphate ruled by a narrow, extreme vision of what they believe is the true Islam. The spread of this particularly violent and intolerant ideology to the Philippines can be traced to the 1990s, when Filipino jihadists returned from the U.S.-backed war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Returnees included those who had fallen under the sway of extremist madrassas that adhered to Saudi Arabia’s Wahabism. Consequently, local grievances became linked to this global call for jihad. Thus, Jemaah Islamiyah, affiliated with Al Qaeda, set up training camps in Mindanao’s jungles. The group claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Bali nightclub in 2002, killing more than 200 people.

    The call to violent jihad has resonated with the Abu Sayyaf Gang (ASG), and it has pledged itself to ISIS. For the most part, until its proclaimed alliance with ISIS, the ASG was mostly a small criminal, kidnap-for-ransom gang with an Islamist veneer and given to beheadings. The island of Basilan, off the Mindanao province of Zamboanga, is its base.

    ISIS terrorists before they were drive out of Raqqa, Syria. AP PHOTO

    Civil authorities on the island claim that the ASG is now down to 20 fighters and that the foreign jihadists are either dead or have left. That is almost certainly wishful thinking. A Colonel Besana of the AFP has estimated the overall number at approximately 200. The Armed Forces of the Philippines, due mostly to incompetence and corruption, despite regular triumphalist pronouncements, has been unable to defang the group.

    In 2016, ISIS targeted Mindanao in its recruitment efforts, with online videos urging those who could not make their way to Iraq and Syria to travel instead to the southern Philippines. The result? According to intelligence officials, jihadists from Somalia, Yemen, and Chechnya responded.

    In May of 2017, ISIS militants, headed by the local Maute clan, held Marawi City hostage. Marawi, built around Lake Lanao and the capital of Maguindanao Province, is the largest Muslim-majority city in the Philippines. By the time the army retook the city five months later, Marawi lay in ruins. Among those killed were Isnilon Hapilon, the militants’ head, and 900 insurgents, including foreign fighters from Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Chechnya.

    The desolation of Raqqa in Syria is a mirror image of the desolation of Marawi. The devastation in both reminds me of that adage, the operation was a success but the patient died.

    Predictably, President Duterte has ordered the military to crush the militants. Certainly, tighter border patrols on the seas and policing on land will help but the real solution lies not in more firepower and militarization, certainly not in continuing martial law in Mindanao and possibly throughout the archipelago, but in allocating more economic resources to the development of the region. Duterte, as he likes to remind us, is after all from Mindanao.

    Interestingly, the takeover of Marawi seemed to have been funded by drug trafficking, with the Maute clan suspected to be the main distributor of these drugs. And where do these drugs come from? Mostly from China. There are connections here that need to be fully understood if this crisis is to be dealt with effectively.

    Instead of the constant drumbeats of a drug war—really a manufactured crisis that targets the marginalized and does nothing to stem the flow of drugs into the country—; instead of persecuting, imprisoning, and even allowing the killing of those who raise their voices against the daily, endemic injustices suffered by the masa; the Duterte administration needs to get real and come up with a strategy not just for the battlefield, but for the social and economic upliftment of the very people his administration has cruelly targeted.

    But that might be expecting the crow to turn white.

    Copyright L.H. Francia 2018

    PNP honors 8 cops wounded in clash with NPA in Mountain Province

    From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 9, 2019): PNP honors 8 cops wounded in clash with NPA in Mountain Province

     8 cops wounded in PNP-NPA clash in Baguio get medal

    Philippine National Police chief General Oscar Albayalde awards Patrolman Erwin Calixto, one of the eight police officers wounded in a clash with communist rebels in Mountain Province. Photo courtesy of PNP

    MANILA, Philippines — Eight police officers who were wounded in skirmishes with communist rebels in Mountain Province were duly commended and honored in Baguio City on Tuesday.

    Philippine National Police (PNP) chief General Oscar Albayalde awarded medals to the wounded personnel at the Baguio General Hospital in Baguio City.

    PNP spokesperson Colonel Bernard Banac said the police officers who received medals were Corporals Marcelo Bayeng Jr., Ramadick Meloy, Clifford Gama, Edwin Keya, John Calcalugong and Terence Dulnuan, Patrolman Erwin Calixto and Master Sergeant Alphedes Alvaro.

    Clashes between the police and New People’s Army rebels in Bauko and Tadian, Mountain Province have been reported since March 29.


    10 war vets receive US Congressional gold medals

    From the Philippine Star (Apr 10, 2019): 10 war vets receive US Congressional gold medals

    Law also emphasized the duty of keeping alive the legacy of the fighters, preserving their memory and ensuring that their fight was not and will never be in vain. Ernie Penaredondo/File

    Over seven decades after World War II, 10 Filipino war veterans received the US Congressional Gold Medal yesterday.

    Privates First Class Florentino Platero, Macario Roque, Rogel Viray, Leopoldo Gunsay, Francisca dela Fuente and Democrito Domingo attended the awarding ceremonies yesterday at Emiliana Hall, Barangay Tenejero in Balanga City, Bataan.

    Posthumous awards were given to the four others: PFC Lewe Domingo, Staff Sgt. Gabriel Layug, Capt. Quirico Evangelista and Maj. Pedro Quezon.

    “The ceremony reminds us (that) the cost of freedom is not measured in pesos and dollars, but in the sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, husbands, neighbors and friends who lost their lives to defend it,” US embassy Deputy Chief of Mission John Law said yesterday during the 77th Araw ng Kagitingan commemoration at Mount Samat National Shrine in Bataan.

    Law also emphasized the duty of keeping alive the legacy of the fighters, preserving their memory and ensuring that their fight was not and will never be in vain.

    “Because of their exceptional legacy of valor, the (Filipino) people and the Philippine nation will always have from the people of the (US) our greatest respect and our most profound thanks,” Law said.

    Among the guests at the ceremonies were Assistant Director Kevin Mcallister of the US Department of Veterans Affairs; Department of National Defense Undersecretary for civil veterans and retiree affairs Reynaldo Mapagu and Defense Undersecretary Ernesto Carolina, administrator of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO).

    Also present were Japanese Ambassador Koji Haneda and Papal Nuncio Archbishop Gabriele Caccia.

    The Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor given by the US Congress, is awarded to Filipino veterans for their achievements and contributions during World War II.

    Rep. Jose Enrique Garcia III of Bataan’s 2nd district cited the heroic deeds and patriotism of the veterans.

    Speaking before the veterans and their relatives, guests and local officials, Garcia said the Congressional Gold Medal is a “much deserved and long awaited recognition of bravery and valor of our Filipino World War II veterans.”

    He said the medal recognizes what veteran-heroes have sacrificed during the war.

    “But more importantly, this medal symbolizes and acclaims their indelible contribution in keeping the flame of freedom burning brightly,” Garcia said.

    Bataan provincial board member Jose Villapando Sr. commended the “gallantry and patriotic exploits of Filipino-American soldiers during World War 2.”

    Villapando also pushed for an educational program to enrich the knowledge of the youth about the Second World War.

    For his part, Bataan Gov. Albert Raymond Garcia cited Mount Samat National Shrine as one of the tourism zones in the country.

    Few survivors

    About 5,000 World War II veterans are living and their number is dwindling.

    Due to deteriorating health, an average of 295 veterans die every month, the PVAO said as it provides support for their welfare and families.

    The PVAO is managing the pension accounts of nearly 160,000 veterans of World War II, Korean and Vietnam wars and the dependents of deceased or totally disabled veterans.

    Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, who represented President Duterte at the commemoration, told the audience of the President’s directive for the PVAO to speed up the processing of monthly pensions of veterans.

    Año also announced that a P50-million monthly support will be given to the Veterans Memorial Medical Center and pension increase from P5,000 to P20,000 has been set.
    Inspiration to PNP

    Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde said the heroism shown by Filipino veterans during the Japanese occupation in World War II serves as an inspiration to the entire 190,000-strong police force.

    “The undying gallantry of the Filipino heroes of Bataan and Corregidor lives on in the ranks of the police service, immortalized by modern day heroes who offered the supreme sacrifice for God, country and people; and those who continue to wage the national crusade against crime, drugs, terrorism and corruption,” he said in a statement.

    The PNP yesterday held flag-raising rites and wreath-laying ceremonies in all its police camps in honor of the war heroes.

    For their part, the Bulacan police conducted ceremonies for Gen. Alejo Santos for his contribution during the Japanese occupation.

    Col. Chito Bersaluna, police commander of Bulacan, said a wreath was laid at the bust of the general in Camp General Alejo Santos Provincial Police Office in Malolos City.

    Santos is best remembered as the founder of the Bulacan Military Area, the main guerrilla movement in the province that had 23,000 men under its command.
    Peace process

    Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Carlito Galvez Jr. urged yesterday Filipinos to draw courage from the heroes of Bataan to achieve peace in the country.

    “Let us remember the gallantry of these heroes who, even in the face of death, demonstrated to our nation and the whole world their immeasurable love for our motherland,” Galvez said.

    Meanwhile, the Philippine Army and local government unit in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon have constructed a bust in honor of Col. Osito Bahian.

    Bahian and eight of his men were on their way to negotiate a peace accord with the New People’s Army when they were ambushed in the outskirts of Butuan City.

    Bahian’s heroism inspired his sons to join the uniformed services.

    Robert Roy Bahian is now the provincial police commander in Camiguin province. Youngest son Neil Osito Bahain graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1995 but died in 1999 when his trainer aircraft crashed in Batangas.

    NPA kills soldier, wounds 6 in Lanao Del Sur fighting

    From the Manila Times (Apr 9, 2019): NPA kills soldier, wounds 6 in Lanao Del Sur fighting

    Communist insurgents killed an Army soldier and wounded six others in ferocious clashes in Lanao del Sur, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region in southern Philippines, the military said Tuesday. 

    It said soldiers from the 15th Division Reconnaissance Company clashed with about 50 New People’s Army (NPA) rebels at Barangay Malna in Kapai town. 

    The Monday fighting erupted following earlier clashed in Barangay Kalilangan of Iligan City, Lanao del Norte. 

    No immediate reports of enemy casualties in both clashes, but the military said “pursuit operations” were ongoing in both provinces to flush out rebel forces.

    Government troops had been battling communist rebels and pro-Islamic State (IS) bandits in the troubled Muslim region where the NPAs managed to establish strongholds in areas where caliphate fighters were operating.

    It was unclear if the communist rebels, who were fighting for secessionist for many decades now, had forged an alliance with pro-IS militants belonging to different groups in southern Philippines.

    AFP-CRS: ROTC to prevent CPP-NPA from RECRUITING students

    Posted to the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Civil Relations Service (AFP-CRS) Facebook page (Apr 8, 2019): ROTC to prevent CPP-NPA from RECRUITING students

    The military wants the mandatory ROTC to be revived to prevent students from getting recruited by the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines and other threat groups.

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    Posted to the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Civil Relations Service (AFP-CRS) Facebook page (Apr 8, 2019): AFP CHALLENGE NOT ACCEPTED

    “Its been been days since I challenged Ibon and Karapatan but still no response. "- MGEN PARLADE AFP



    AFP-CRS: 70 former rebels get free housing in Bukidnon

    Posted to the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Civil Relations Service (AFP-CRS) Facebook page (Apr 8, 2019): 70 former rebels get free housing in Bukidnon

    Around 70 Former Rebels who surrendered to the Philippine Army were among the beneficiaries of the housing project undertaken by the National Housing Authority as part of the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) benefits at Brgy. Poblacion, Impasugong, Bukidnon last Thursday, April 4.

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    AFP-CRS: ASEAN member states convinced of CPP-NPA-NDF’s international network threat

    Posted to the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Civil Relations Service (AFP-CRS) Facebook page (Apr 8, 2019): ASEAN member states convinced of CPP-NPA-NDF’s international network threat

    The Armed Forces of the Philippines has apprised security officials from Asia-Pacific countries about the threats posed by the CPP-NPA international network.

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    AFP-CRS: 5,400 Philippine Army slots open for recruitment

    Posted to the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Civil Relations Service (AFP-CRS) Facebook page (Apr 8, 2019): 5,400 Philippine Army slots open for recruitment

    The Philippine Army has opened 5,387 slots for recruitment. Of the total slots, 4,777 will be
    allotted for Enlisted Personnel, while 610 will be officers graduating from the Philippine Military Academy.

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    AFP-CRS: ROTC, a patriotic duty for students

    Posted to the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Civil Relations Service (AFP-CRS) Facebook page (Apr 8, 2019): ROTC, a patriotic duty for students

    Senator Richard Gordon has renewed his appeal to make the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program mandatory for students and urged the government to support proposals to revive the ROTC in preparation for any possible armed attacks.

    AFP-CRS: 6 local government units in Mindanao declare CPP-NPA as persona non grata

    Posted to the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Civil Relations Service (AFP-CRS) Facebook page (Apr 8, 2019): 6 local government units in Mindanao declare CPP-NPA as persona non grata

    Five Local government units in Davao Region and one in SOCCSKSARGEN have declared the CPP-NPA as “Persona Non Grata” in their respective communities in the first quarter of the year.

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    SOLCOM: Terrorists Killed in Masbate Clash

    Posted to the Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) Facebook page (Apr 8, 2019): Terrorists Killed in Masbate Clash

    No photo description available.

    CAMP ELIAS, ANGELES, Pili, Cam. Sur — Two communist terrorists were killed in a firefight between the government forces and Communist Terrorist Group (CTG) in Barangay Buri, Mandaon, Masbate, Monday morning, April 8.

    The said incident ensued when residents reported the the presence of the armed terrorists in their area which prompted combined elements of soldiers and police to launch an operation to verify.

    The brief firefight, which lasted for about five minutes, led to the death of two CTG members and confiscation of an M16 assault rifle, one cal. 45 pistol and personal belongings.

    No casualty on government troops while the cadavers of CTG members were turned over to Mandaon Municipal Police Station for proper disposition.

    Pursuit was immediately launched for the apprehension of the fleeing CTG members involved in the said incident.

    Maj. Gen. Fernando T Trinidad, Commander of JTF Bicolandia, once again lauded the accomplishment of the troops saying that the government forces will continue its effort to hunt down the remaining members of the CTG who continuously engage in terroristic activities and other form of lawlessness.

    “The timely information we received from the civilians led us to series of successful operations. These actions are clear manifestation that the CTG members are no longer welcome in the localities. They (CTG) do not have mass base anymore and they already lost their traditional guerilla bases.” the Commander said.

    Likewise, Maj. Gen. Trinidad said, “with the sustained operations we are conducting, they need to choose between abandoning their armed struggle or facing the full force of the law and suffer the same fate of their dead comrades”

    The AFP is offering that they lay down their arms and avail of the E-Clip and other government efforts to provide sustainable livelihood, while sustainable development is being undertaken through the whole of nation approach, identifying priority areas to converge all efforts to provide inclusive growth.

    WESTMINCOM: WestMinCom participates in the commemoration of the 77th “Araw ng Kagitingan”

    Posted to the Western Mindanao Command (WESTMINCOM) Website (Apr 9, 2019): WestMinCom participates in the commemoration of the 77th “Araw ng Kagitingan”

    As the nation celebrates the 77th “Araw ng Kagitingan”, the WestMinCom troops participated in the commemoration activity spearheaded by the City Government of Zamboanga held at the Freedom Memorial Shrine in Rizal St., Zamboanga City earlier today. 

    Part of the activity was the offering of flowers at the shrine to pay tribute to the brave souls who fought till their last breath for the country’s freedom from foreign invaders.

    Present during the activity were the government officials, representatives from the differents sectors, and several World War II veterans.

    Also present were troops from the different units under the jurisdiction of the Western Mindanao Command.

    “It is befitting that we make this solemn ceremony to offer our gratitude and to honor those who died, leaving a legacy of freedom, a beacon that we, Filipinos, enjoy today and that we shall always preserve for our posterity,” an excerpt of WestMinCom Chief Lieutenant General Dela Vega’s message that was read by JTF Zamboanga Commander Colonel Leonel Nicolas during the activity.

    WESTMINCOM: Dawlah Islamiya supporter yields in Lanao

    Posted to the Western Mindanao Command (WESTMINCOM) Website (Apr 9, 2019): Dawlah Islamiya supporter yields in Lanao

    A Dawlah Islamiya supporter laid down his arms to government forces in Lanao del Sur yesterday, April 8.

    Saiven Datukunug surrendered to the 49th Infantry Battalion and the municipal government of Lumba Bayabao, led by ABC president Minda Dagalangit and Municipal Administrator Mahar Dagalangit, at 10am yesterday.

    Datukunug, a resident of Barangay Cadayunan, Lumbanayague, also yielded a Caliber .30 US Carbine rifle. Datukunug provided food stuff to Dawlah Islamiya- Maute fighters engaged by troops during the Haribon operations in Butig, Lanao del Sur in 2016.

    He provided transport to Dawlah Islamiya-Maute membersfrom Lumbaca Unayan area to Bayang in Lanao del Sur during the conduct of combat operations of the 103rd Brigade from Lumbaca Unayan area to Bayang in Lanao del Sur.

    Datukunug underwent a custodial debriefing facilitated by the 49IB troops.

    The surrendered firearm was brought to the headquarters of the 49IB for proper disposition and safekeeping.

    Lieutenant General Arnel Dela Vega, Western Mindanao Command chief, said, “The Joint Task Force ZamPeLan sustains its campaign and coordination with the local government in Lanao del Sur to pursue Dawlah Islamiya fighters.”

    “Tactical operations, including intelligence buildup, continue on the ground. This will compel the rest of the fighters to surrender to government troops as we sustain the pressure in Lanao.”