Monday, October 24, 2016

IED found in Marawi City’s power plant

From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Oct 24): IED found in Marawi City’s power plant


CAGAYAN DE ORO. The improvised explosive device composed of an 81 millimeter mortar round connected to a radio transceiver with wires and concealed in small black bag. (Richel V. Umel)

SOLDIERS from the Army’s Explosive Ordnance Detection (EOD) unit foiled an attempt to bomb the National Power Corporation’s Agus 1 Hydro-electric power plant around 6 a.m., Saturday, October 22, in Marawi City.

The improvised explosive device (IED), an 81 millimeter mortar round connected to a radio transceiver with wires and concealed in small black bag, was left below a steel iron post of the plant’s front gate.

Police Senior Inspector Epream Paguyod, chief of the Regional Police Safety Battalion (RPSB) of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said around 8:30 p.m. on October 21, unidentified armed men also lobbed a grenade at the gate of Agus 1 but no one was hurt during the incident.
The grenade’s safety lever was recovered at the crime scene.

Paguyod said a policeman checking the front gate on the morning of October 22 found the black bag containing the IED and relayed the information to the EOD and the military troops of 65th Infantry Battalion (IB) stationed at the 103rd Brigade in Kampo Ranao.

Paguyod said he believed the series of incidents could be an offshoot of the continuing anti-drug campaign.

The Maute terrorists group may also be responsible, Paguyod said, adding the foiled bombing attempt may have been a test mission of the group’s newly trained recruits.

“We will not tolerate this kinds of activities that may affect the peace and order situation of Marawi City and some other towns in Lanao del Sur,”Paguyod said.

Colonel Joselito Pastarana, commanding officer of the 65th IB, said the two incidents may be perpetuated by the Maute group as an offensive move against the military and Philippine National Police personnel of the RPSB in Marawi City.

“As of the moment, we are on the heightened alert status. I have directed my men, particularly in patrol bases and checkpoints, to be more vigilant,” Pastarana said.

Ali Fauzi Names Three Indonesia's Top Terrorists

From Temp.Co (Oct 24): Ali Fauzi Names Three Indonesia's Top Terrorists

Former leader of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Ali Fauzi said that Indonesia is still prone to terror attacks even though authorities have cracked down on the local terrorist cells. Ali, the younger brother of death row convicts of the first Bali bombing Ali Ghufron and Amrozi, names three top terrorists in Indonesia who are capable of building new networks: Aman Abdurrahman, Ali Kalora, and Bachrumsyah.

Aman, currently imprisoned in Nusakambangan, Cilacap, Central Java, played an important role in recent terror attacks, Ali said. Two of the attacks were launched on Solo Police Precinct by Nur Rohman and on a police outpost in Cikoko, Tangerang City, by Sultan Azianzah.

“Similar to drug trafficking, terrorism can also be controlled from prison. In this case, Aman still has a role,” Ali said in a journalism training on terrorism in Surabaya on Sunday, October 23, 2016.

Ali Fauzi also highlighted Ali Kalora, Santoso’s successor in the East Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) in Poso, Central Sulawesi. Santoso’s real successor was Basri but he was later arrested by police, paving the way for Kalora to assume command. The East Indonesia Mujahideen has been decimated but in a guerilla war. The lesser men you have, the more difficult for you to get detected,” he said.

As for Bachrumsyah, who is may still be in Syria, Ali said he is dangerous because he is allegedly been funding a number of terror attacks in Indonesia, including a bomb attack on Jalan M.H.
Thamrin, Jakarta, early this year. “Terror attacks in Solo Police Station, St Joseph Church in Medan and a police outpost in Tangerang were carried out by youth, which proves that terrorist recruitment efforts continue to be made,” he said.

Pay hike for uniformed men possible in 6 years – lawmaker

From the Manila Times (Oct 23): Pay hike for uniformed men possible in 6 years – lawmaker

A LAWMAKER has assured men in uniform that President Rodrigo Duterte’s pledge to double the salaries of uniformed men or the members of Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will be realized in six years.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, senior vice chairman of the House ways and means committee and vice chairman of its appropriations committee, over the weekend said the promised salary hike for PNP and AFP members may cost about P163 billion or roughly P18,000 each, P8,000 of which has been sourced through Executive Order (EO) 3.

EO 3 provides an average P5,000 in combat duty and incentive pay starting September 1 this year, and an additional rice allowance of P3,000 on January 1, 2017.

Current salaries of PNP personnel now cost the government P95 billion and pensions, P25 billion while the AFP men’s salaries are at P68 billion and pensions, P43 billion.

Salceda, also vice chairman of the House local government and economic affairs committees, said in an interview that he is committed to help formulate the financial programs of the PNP and AFP to ensure the delivery of President Duterte’s pledge.

The Bicol Regional Advisory Council on PNP Transformation and Development recently elected Salceda as its chairman.

The body focuses on the PNP’s roadmap to reach long-term and lasting organizational and service reforms to further strengthen law enforcement and enhance the welfare of policemen and their families.

Salceda took over the position from Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo, who headed the council when she was Camarines Sur representative.

He said he will pursue activation of the police emergency assistance 911 scheme in Bicol.

Salceda has donated P1 million to the PNP’s stalled research on the incidence of rapes in the region, the low number of successful PNP trainees and performance evaluation of the KASUROG COP program of the PNP regional office.

He has been closely working with the PNP and the AFP, the officers and men of which he tapped when he organized Team Albay for his pioneering disaster risk and reduction programs during his term as governor.

DepEd, military team up to enhance youth education

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Oct 23): DepEd, military team up to enhance youth education

THE Department of Education (DepEd) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), through the Joint Task Force Sulu (JTFS), teamed up as part of the continuing education enhancement program for the youth in areas influenced by recruitment and indoctrination of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

The two agencies distributed volumes of books, such as Math and Science kits, to 26 schools in Sulu in a week-long operation that started on Saturday, October 22.

The distribution of books started just after DepEd officials, led by Dr. Rhaiyan Pulalan, met with JTFS Commander Arnel Dela Vega where they discussed literacy enhancement plans and measures to be undertaken in Sulu.

“Education is our most effective weapon against poverty, criminality and terrorism. An educated individual will not easily fall prey to the deception and manipulation of criminal elements,” Dela Vega said, citing the joint project with DepEd is timely.

It can be recalled that Pauji Asgari, the latest arrested ASG member, revealed that he and most ASG members who never went to school or have limited education were not aware that they are committing crimes due to lack of appropriate knowledge and indoctrination of their leaders.

The military troops arrested Asgari around 5 a.m. Tuesday, October 18, in Talipao, Sulu.

Recovered from his possession were M16 Armalite rifle, ammunition, electric cords, combat pack, mobile phone, hammock, motorcycle and a Marine Battle Dress Attire.

Dela Vega said the joint project is part of the inter-agency and stakeholder collaborative efforts to deliver basic services and address the root causes of insurgency and criminality in Sulu.

He added several National Government agencies visited Sulu in the past weeks and conducted planning activities to address the problem in the province.

Opinion: Communist Party of the Philippines

From the Breakthrough column of Efren S. Cruz in the Philippine Star (Oct 23): Communist Party of the Philippines 

The ongoing peace negotiation between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has aroused a lot of curiosity about this organization. I have always thought that it is necessary to have a working knowledge of the history and principles of the CPP in order to truly appreciate contemporary Philippine history.

Here are some books that I would recommend for those who want to learn more about the CPP.

The COMMUNIST PARTY of the PHILIPPINES 1968-1993: A Story of its Theory and Practice by Kathleen Weekley, University of the Philippines Press 2001.

This book focuses on the origin of the present CPP. I recommend the book partly because Weekley is clearly sympathetic but, at the same time, attempts to be historically factual and neutral. In her acknowledgment she says:
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“ Not all of those CPP cadres (former and continuing) who encouraged and assisted me will likely like what I have written, but I trust they will know that my version of the story of their struggle is presented in good faith, as a contribution to conversation about the endless struggle in human liberation. I learned much from all of them and hope that they may find the results of the collective effort in some way – even if it is only as an example of how an analyst can get everything wrong.”

The book is not just a history book but also analyzes the evolution of the CPP in terms of theory and practice. In her introduction, Weekley writes:

“This is a story about the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) which in the 16 years from its founding in 1968 until the end of the Marcos regime grew from a small number of intellectuals and a slightly larger armed group, into the biggest threat facing the Philippine state. It is one of the world’s tales of extraordinary determination and self-sacrifice of a group of people inspired by Marxist ideas to assert economic justice for the wealth-producers of the country against the powerful interests of wealth-appropriators.

It is also another familiar story of radicals in a (post) colonial state who sought to assert the nation’s right to genuine self determination against the interests of its (past) colonial master and who articulated that demand through a Marxist discourse...But when the Marcos dictatorship was finally overthrown, it was not the CPP’s doing. This study attempts to explain why this happened and how the CPP managed under post-Marcos political conditions with specific conditions, with specific reference to the role of theory in the fortunes and misfortunes of the Party.”

PHILIPPINE SOCIETY AND REVOLUTION, by Amado Guerrerro ( Jose Ma. Sison), originally published as a mimeograph, 1970.

This book was written by Jose Ma. Sison, founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Amado Guerrerro was his pen name. Here is the author’s Introduction to the book:
Philippine Society and Revolution is an attempt to present in a comprehensive way from the standpoint of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought the main strands of Philippine history, the basic problem of the Filipino people, the prevailing structure and the strategy and tactics and class logic of the revolutionary solution – which is the people’s democratic revolution.

This book serves to explain why the Communist Party of the Philippines has been established to arouse and mobilize the broad masses of the people, chiefly the oppressed and exploited workers and peasants, against US imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucratic capitalism now regnant in the present semicolonial and semifeudal society...The author offers this book as a starting point for every patriot in the land to make further class analysis and social investigation as the basis for concrete and sustained revolutionary action.”

BROKERING A REVOLUTION: Cadres in a Philippine Insurgency, Edited by Rosanne Rutten, Ateneo de Manila University Press 2008.

This book is a collection of nine essays that focuses on CPP-NPA cadres in different regions and settings. In Chapter 1:  Introduction: Cadres in Action, Cadres in Context, Roseanne Rutten begins by pointing out that the oldest active revolutionary movement in Southeast Asia “...the CPP-NPA is certainly not a spent force after an almost four decade effort to capture state power – an insurgency that has so far, cost the lives of some forty thousand lives.”

In Chapter 2 Repression and the Making of Underground Resistance, Vincent Boudreau examines the process by which different undergrounds emerge and how state repression shapes that practice. He focuses on repression under the Marcos regime.

In Chapter 3, “Igorotism,” Rebellion, and Regional Autonomy in the Cordillera, Gerard Finin writes about the rift between highland and lowland cadres in the Cordillera. In Chapter 4, “ Mindanao Peoples Unite!” Failed Attempts at Muslim-Christian Unity, Tomas McKenna looks at various efforts by the National Democratic Front to find common cause with Muslim students and intellectuals in Mindanao.

In Chapter 5, Kahos Revisited: The Mindanao Commission and its Narrative of a Tragedy, Patricio Abinales writes about the purge of alleged government spies in Mindanao, that had such a traumatic impact on the Movement. In chapter 6, Development, Gender and the Revolution: Everyday Politics of Cordillera NGOs, Dorothea Hilhorst discusses how gender and development became contentious issues in the relationship between NGO workers and National Democratic leaders in the Cordillera region.

Chapters 7 and 8  discuss the NPA in Ifugao and Negros Occidental. In Chapter 9, Quimpo writes about CPP-NDF Members in Western Europe: Travails in International Relations Work.

The Communist Party of the Philippines was re-established on December 26, 1998. It continues to be a force in Philippine society.

31 rebel returnees get cash assistance

From the Sun Star-Davao (Oct 23): 31 rebel returnees get cash assistance    

THIRTY-ONE rebel returnees received their cash assistance worth P15,000 each from the Provincial Capitol of Nabunturan in Compostela Valley Province.
A total of P465,000 was divided among the 31 members of the New People’s Army (NPA) coming from the province of Davao Oriental, Davao del Sur and Comval who had now surrendered to the authorities and whose age ranged from 15 to 45.

Minors covered under the program were given care and educational assistance by the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office through their head, Josephine Frasco.

The Department of Interior and Local Government DILG-Compostella Valley Provincial Director Noel Duarte said the former rebels will start up a business through the cash assistance worth P50,000, which will be distributed next together with the firearms remuneration

Officials of the DILG also added they will continuously give their support to the former rebels through the comprehensive local integration program.

Prior to this, four rebels had surrendered to the authorities with their firearms and had stated that they can no longer bear their situations in the mountains

"Ini-encourage natin ang grupong NPA na mag-surrender kasi may programa tayo nito na para sa inyo (We are encouraging the members of the NPA to surrender to the authorities because we have a program that will help them)," Captain Rhyan Batchar, spokesperson of the 10th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, said.

With the on-going peace talks, the army is asking the rebels to be reunited with the law and celebrate with the rest of the people on Christmas day and live peacefully with their families.

The awarding ceremony was headed by Governor Jayvee Tyron Uy and DILG-Compostella Valley.

South China Sea: US Navy Destroyer Asserts Freedom of Navigation in Paracel Islands

From The Diplomat (Oct 22): South China Sea: US Navy Destroyer Asserts Freedom of Navigation in Paracel Islands

The FONOP is the first to take place since a July ruling on China’s claims in the South China Sea.

South China Sea: US Navy Destroyer Asserts Freedom of Navigation in Paracel Islands

On Friday, October 21, a U.S. Navy destroyer sailed near features in the Paracel Islands, challenging “excessive maritime claims” as part of a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP), Reuters reported, citing U.S. officials.

The USS Decatur, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer sailed near China-occupied features in the Paracel Islands that are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. The destroyer specifically sailed near Triton Island and Woody Island, but did not sail within 12 nautical miles of either feature.

The operation is the fourth U.S. FONOP in the South China Sea since last year and the first since an international tribunal released a landmark ruling in a case between the Philippines and China, finding China’s capacious nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea invalid.

On October 27, 2015, the USS Lassen sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef and other features in the Spratly Islands.

On January 30 this year, the USS Curtis Wilbur sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, challenging prior notification requirements for innocent passage.

Finally, on May 10, the USS William P. Lawrence sailed within 12 nautical miles of Fiery Cross Reef.

Two points stand out immediately about Friday’s FONOP. First, as I’ve discussed before at The Diplomat, though the U.S. Navy sought to stage FONOPs regularly in the South China Sea, an unusually long period of time elapsed between the William P. Larence‘s FONOP and the Decatur‘s operation on Friday.

Specifically, while only 95 days elapsed between the Lassen’s operation and the Curtis Wilbur‘s operation, and 105 days elapsed between the Curtis Wilbur‘s operation and the William P. Lawrence FONOP, Friday’s operation comes 164 days after the most recent publicly reported South China Sea FONOP.

It is possible that the U.S. Navy could have conducted FONOPs without ever publicizing them in the meantime, but all previous operations have drawn a reaction from the Chinese foreign ministry.

It’s unclear that China would choose not to draw attention to a U.S. FONOP given its assertion that the activities represent “militarization” in the South China Sea.

Second, it’s notable that the USS Deactur reportedly did not sail within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island given that the January FONOP challenged prior notification requirements by China by carrying out an innocent passage through Triton’s claimed territorial sea.

The decision to sail near Woody Island is notable as well. Woody Island is the largest naturally formed island in either the Spratly or Paracel group and is a major Chinese military outpost with a permanent posting of some 1,400 personnel.

Beijing has drawn attention for placing advanced military assets on Woody Island, including surface-to-air missile systems, anti-ship cruise missiles, surveillance drones, and multi-role fighters.

As of this writing, the Chinese foreign ministry has not publicly reacted to the USS Decatur‘s FONOP in the Paracel Islands. China reacted to the FONOP by having three vessels shadow the U.S. destroyer, a source told Reuters.

3 Chinese Navy Ships Visit Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay

From The Diplomat (Oct 24): 3 Chinese Navy Ships Visit Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay

The visit is the first by the Chinese Navy since Vietnam opened the Cam Ranh international port facility.

Three Chinese warships with the People’s Liberation Army-Navy made a port call in Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam on Saturday, where they will remain for a five-day visit intended to promote military-to-military ties between the two countries.

The ships belong the 23rd Chinese naval escort task force and include two Type 054A frigates, the PLAN Xiangtan and the PLAN Zhoushan, and one Type 903A replenishment ship, the PLAN Chaohu.

According to Senior Colonel Wang Hongli of the PLAN in Xinhua, China’s state news agency, the “visit to Vietnam is the last stop of the fleet on their way home after completing escort missions in the Gulf of Aden, the waters off Somali and visiting Myanmar, Malaysia and Cambodia.”

“This visit will enhance mutual understanding and promote friendship, thus contributing to bilateral relationship at the government and military levels,” Wang added.

Though the Chinese Navy has made regular visits to Vietnam, this particular port call marks the first since Vietnam opened an international port facility capable of accommodating visiting warships at Cam Ranh Bay earlier this year.

Since the inauguration of the international port at Cam Ranh, ships from various navies, including the U.S. and Japanese navies, have visited the strategically important Vietnam port, which sits on the South China Sea.

U.S. Arleigh Burke-class destroyers visited Cam Ranh Bay earlier this month, marking the first visit by U.S. warships to Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam War. The visit followed a decision by the United States to fully lift its arms embargo on Vietnam earlier this year.

In April 2016, two Japanese destroyers visited Cam Ranh Bay in a historic move that underlined Japan’s increased interest in expanding defense cooperation and ties with Southeast Asian states, including Vietnam.

Relations between China and Vietnam remain cordial, but strained by differences in the South China Sea, where the two dispute the sovereignty of features in the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Tensions between the two countries spiked in the summer of 2014, when China moved an oil rig into disputed waters, drawing sharp protest from Vietnam.

China seized the Paracel Islands from South Vietnam in 1974, in what came to be known as the Battle of the Paracel Islands. The countries fought a longer war in 1979, which resulted in a small loss of Vietnamese territory to China.

The Limits of Duterte’s US-China Rebalance

From The Diplomat (Oct 24): The Limits of Duterte’s US-China Rebalance (By Prashanth Parameswaran)

A deeper look at Rodrigo Duterte’s effort to ‘rebalance’ ties between the United States and China.

The Limits of Duterte’s US-China Rebalance

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after a signing ceremony held in Beijing, China October 20, 2016. Image Credit: REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool
Looking at some of the sensationalist headlines and commentary coming out of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s China visit this week, one might think that the Philippines is engaged in nothing short of a 180-degree turnaround in its foreign policy where it is set to abandon its decades-old treaty alliance with Washington to embrace Beijing after years of bearing the brunt of its South China Sea assertiveness.

After a nearly 30-minute rant at a Chinese-Philippine Trade and Investment Forum at the Great Hall of the People on October 20, Duterte announced a “separation” from the United States in a statement that sparked a media frenzy. And during his time in Beijing, the Philippine president and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping witnessed the signing of no less than 13 bilateral cooperation documents, with Duterte meeting a total of four of the seven members of the Chinese Communist Party’s powerful Politburo Standing Committee. Officials from both sides emphasize that this is just the beginning and more impressive deliverables could soon follow.

Yet a close reading of these developments in broader perspective, along with discussions with aides close to Duterte and with observers and policymakers in Beijing and Washington, D.C., over the past two weeks, indicates that this shift is much less dramatic and far more complex than it is being made out to be, at least thus far.

Historical Perspective

Duterte’s embrace of China is not as new or unexpected as some suggest. He is, in fact, just the latest in a line of Philippine leaders who has tried to balance relations with the United States and China in addition to other partners with varying degrees of success during the three decades that have elapsed since the end of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

Fidel Ramos, who dealt with the last wave of China’s South China Sea assertiveness in the 1990s (and was initially tapped to serve as Duterte’s special envoy to Beijing), sought to engage Beijing in talks, but also secured a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, recognizing that American hard power was necessary to at least slow down the pace of China’s “creeping assertiveness.” Thereafter, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo sought to deepen the Philippines’ hedging position vis-à-vis Washington and Beijing, but ultimately ended up going too far in her engagement with Beijing (See: “The Risks of Duterte’s China and South China Sea Policy”).

Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, moved Manila much closer to the United States, in large part due to China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea. Though there were attempts later on by the Aquino administration to move towards repairing ties with China, the filing of a South China Sea case had so poisoned the relationship that few in Beijing saw good prospects for better Sino-Philippine ties until a new president took office. Duterte is now trying to move the dial back towards Beijing, a shift that was ultimately bound to happen irrespective of who Aquino’s successor would be, but is also far from assured.

Arroyo’s experience is a good demonstration of the limits of any warming of Sino-Philippine relations. For those blown away by the 13 pacts Duterte inked with Xi, it is worth noting that Arroyo signed no less than 65 agreements with China during her presidency. But that cooperation was eventually sullied by a controversial joint development deal in the South China Sea inimical to Manila’s interests that was cut with Beijing in exchange for Chinese-backed infrastructure projects, which ended up being embroiled in one of the largest corruption scandals in Philippine history.

Of course, these shifts have also taken place amid a vast asymmetry in favor of the U.S.-Philippine alliance across the security, economic, and people-to-people realms (See: “The US-Philippine Alliance Under Duterte: A Path to Recalibration“). In terms of security, the Philippines has been part of the original U.S. hub-and-spoke alliance network formed in the post-WWII period for over six decades, with the Mutual Defense Treaty signed back in 1951. Though defense ties have had their ups and downs, progress during the Aquino years, with the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and Manila’s central role in measures like the Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative (MSI), it has become a key part of the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific (See: “Why the Philippines is Critical to the US Rebalance to Asia“).

Economically, though China may be the Philippines’ largest trading partner, the United States is its biggest foreign direct investor; second major source of official development assistance (ODA); and key source and conduit for remittances for Philippine workers, which still contributes around one tenth of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Socioculturally, strong people-to-people linkages date back even further to the U.S. colonial legacy in the first half of the twentieth century and today Filipino-Americans, who number over four million, make up the second-largest Asian-American diaspora group in the United States.

The close bonds between the United States and the Philippines is a notion widely appreciated within much of the Philippine bureaucracy and wider elite, which is in part why many are already pushing back against Duterte’s drift away from Washington. The Filipino people also consistently have a highly favorable view of the United States and a very unfavorable one of China, with some minor shifts in the data over the years (See: “The Truth About Duterte’s Popularity in the Philippines”). One recent poll by the respected Social Weather Station (SWS) survey, released just ahead of Duterte’s China visit, indicated that in terms of net trust rating – the difference between the percentage of Filipinos who distrust vs. trust a certain country – the United States was at +66 while China was at a dismal -33.

A Still-Evolving Foreign Policy

Apart from this historical perspective, Duterte’s attempt at a U.S.-China rebalance also needs to be placed in the broader current context of a still-evolving foreign policy. We are just more than three months into the six-year term of a domestic-focused president who has little foreign policy experience, but has signaled quite a lot of foreign policy change without much specifics about how that would take place.

Duterte and other administration officials have talked about his China embrace as part of an “independent foreign policy,” which means (at least rhetorically) relatively less dependence on the United States and more diversification with other players including Beijing. But we do not yet know how Duterte’s initial approaches to the United States and China will end up actually playing out when it comes to concrete policy and how these two countries will fit into his broader foreign policy vision (See: “The Trouble with the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte“).

Figuring out how Duterte’s attitude towards the United States will eventually play out is especially difficult. His decision to move more towards China and away from the United States is not based purely on pragmatism, as some have suggested, but also a mix of other factors including his own historical experiences and personal leanings. And though he does have a deep-seated dislike and distrust of the United States, which some of his close aides confirm, it is not clear how flexible that position is when it comes to eventually cooperating with Washington. His expletive-laden and hyperbolic statements make for good headlines, but tell us little about his actual views. Duterte himself has admitted that they represented expressions of frustration to get people to listen rather than policy pronouncements to be translated into action, something his spokesperson Ernesto Abella has also told media outlets.

On the one hand, it is clear that Duterte’s experiences with the United States have led to a fierce anti-American sentiment built up over decades. The mix of factors that comprise his anti-Americanism include his leftist orientation, grievances about the U.S. colonial legacy in the Philippines, as well as a string of personal incidents, including what he believes was the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) involvement in helping an American escape charges for an explosion that occurred in Davao City back in 2002, when he was mayor – the so-called Meiring Incident.

Duterte was already publicly stating his opposition to aspects of U.S.-Philippine security cooperation during his time as mayor, including the Balikatan exercises being held in the Davao Gulf and the United States wanting to use an airport for drone surveillance. And in October 2015, before he even confirmed that he was running for president, he offered a preview of his foreign policy in an interview with Philippine media outlet Rappler, saying that the Philippines would be “better off” if it made friends with China.

Duterte’s deep dislike of the United States was on full display during his speech at the Forum, which came almost exactly a year after that Rappler interview. Though the media fixated on the soundbite about his “separation” from the United States, what was really shocking about his speech at the Forum – even, The Diplomat understands, to some members of the audience at the Great Hall of the People – was that he spent much of his half-hour address laying out a Manichean worldview comprising of America on the one hand and “Orientals” on the other, going into the reasons why he disliked the United States from experiences with immigration officials to the way they speak.

But part of Duterte’s frustration with the United States is also specific to this administration. In an interview with Al Jazeera on October 16 just before his trip to China – his first exclusive interview since taking office – he said his anger was also tied to a series of incidents since taking office, including misinterpretations of his insults, criticism of his ongoing war on drugs, as well as perceived threats to cut assistance. These specific incidents only strengthen his belief that Beijing rather than Washington is the better partner for Manila.

Though addressing Duterte’s deep-seated distrust and dislike of the United States may be difficult, it remains to be seen whether smoothing over the differences between the two countries is possible. On the one hand, with new ambassadors on both sides, a fresh administration in the United States in January, and the next U.S. president expected to visit the Philippines next year when it chairs ASEAN, the opportunity is there if there is the willingness to use it.

Then again, after arriving in the airport in Davao City after his China trip, Duterte told reporters he would not go to the United States “in this lifetime,” and would even find a way not to fly through the United States when he has to attend the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit meeting in Peru.

“It’s difficult because for him it’s policy, personal, historical, ideological, et cetera, combined,” an aide close to Duterte told The Diplomat on Saturday after his visit to China.

“So that’s why I say we need to see how much adjustment room is there and it takes time,” the aide, who declined to be identified so he could speak freely about the nature of the president’s views, added.
It is also still unclear how both the United States and China fit into Duterte’s broader foreign policy vision. Some of this, some diplomats say, will become clearer once Duterte engages not just China and the United States, but other important countries as well like Japan (which he visits this week) as well as others when it chairs ASEAN next year (See: “Japan-Philippines Relations Under Duterte: Full Steam Ahead?“). In some of his rhetoric, including the Forum speech in Beijing, one can detect a bit of an “Asia for Asians” bent, with rhetoric directed against the West and an affinity for Asian countries like China, Japan, and South Korea.

And in response to Duterte’s “separation” from the United States comment, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and National Economic and Development Agency Director General Ernesto Pernia also issued a statement clarifying that the focus of the Cabinet would be to “move strongly and swiftly towards regional economic integration,” which is why the government has prioritized foreign trips to ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific. If this is indeed part of the vision that centers on wider Asian economic integration, it would imply engaging more not just with China, but other major Asian economies as well.

Policy Continuity and Change

One also needs to be cautious about the extent to which Philippine policy towards the United States and China is actually changing beyond the headlines and even Duterte’s own rhetoric. Take, for instance, Duterte’s claim to sever military ties with the United States. His most serious statements have been those suggesting an ending of bilateral exercises, the ending of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed in 2014, and even revisions to the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

But when Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana was asked during his Senate confirmation hearing this week whether the government would move ahead with any of these declarations, he responded by saying that Duterte had been issuing statements without consulting his cabinet.
Everything in the U.S.-Philippine defense relationship is currently running as planned, Lorenzana added.  However, he also added that he would be presenting findings on these various aspects of U.S.-Philippine security cooperation during a cabinet meeting in early November, since Duterte said he would need inputs from the cabinet to make a decision on them.

“As of now, there is no decision to suspend training next year, the VFA is still on, everything is going, sir,” Lorenzana said.

One Philippine defense official told The Diplomat that he was “uncertain” whether Duterte “understood the full value” of the exercises held between the two countries each year, which total 28 and extend beyond just traditional security but also other key areas like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

As Duterte’s own advisers and spokesperson have often said, we should pay more attention to any policy actions that are concretized and followed through on rather than just rhetoric.

Similar caution is warranted in the case of the Sino-Philippine relationship. The 13 bilateral cooperation documents, which cover a wide range of economic and security fields – including trade and investment, industrial capacity, agriculture, media, tourism, drug control, and even coast guard collaboration – are no doubt an impressive list of deliverables.

But if you look at the documents listed, most of them (eight) are memorandums of understanding (MOUs), which are not binding commitments and look less developed than some of the others, like an implementation program of the MOU on tourism cooperation, a memorandum of agreement on news and information exchange, or an action plan on agricultural cooperation. Scrutinizing the nature and of these documents is important because anyone familiar with China’s economic ties with Southeast Asian states has become used to the reality of initial pledges not being realized.

To be sure, these documents may indicate only the beginning of a set of more concrete, binding agreements that are even more significant. But given the fact that we know very little about the exact content of these agreements, it is difficult to assess how significant they are. We may know more in the coming weeks, however, after which we may be able to make a better assessment either way. Some Philippine lawmakers are already supporting a resolution calling on senate committees to conduct an inquiry into the overall foreign policy direction of the government, including learning more about what exactly the terms of the 13 agreements are.

Future Scenarios

Ultimately, the fact is that while there has been a lot of brouhaha around Duterte’s approach towards the United States and China, it is still early days and we will have to see how things evolve for the rest of his six-year term.

One scenario would see Duterte acting on the zero-sum premise that better relations with China must necessarily come at the expense of close ties with the United States, eventually resulting in a downgrading of ties with Washington as Manila continues to move much closer to Beijing. Since Duterte already sees little value in U.S.-Philippine security cooperation and its various components, one cannot dismiss the possibility that he, in spite of opposition from some of his cabinet, will move to downgrade that if Beijing is willing to meet his price.

That said, even if he attempts to do so, Duterte’s pragmatism, the wisdom of his advisers, and the institutional constraints of the presidency probably means that downgrading will be selective, perhaps targeting certain exercises that Beijing finds most problematic or even not having them in the South China Sea.

Such a scenario would create a downward spiral that could affect the U.S.-Philippine relationship more severely, and perhaps provide even more opportunities for Beijing and Manila to cooperate. If Duterte continues spewing anti-U.S. rhetoric, exacerbating human rights concerns, and moving towards severing elements of bilateral cooperation, it will be very difficult for supporters of the alliance to prevent critics in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere from taking punitive actions like funding cuts or reacting with rhetoric that would spark a war of words that benefits neither side. As it is, Duterte’s “separation” statement has already resulted in a publicly tougher response from both the U.S. State Department as well as the U.S. embassy in Manila that we had not seen previously.

But on the other hand, given the recent history of Sino-Philippine relations, one cannot discount the possibility of an alternate scenario where Manila’s ongoing rapprochement with Beijing could be halted or at least slowed considerably by number of factors, leading Duterte to moderate his approach towards Washington. History has demonstrated that as more channels open in Sino-Philippine relations, including among business networks as well as think tanks and other institutions, managing the complexity of coordinating various channels and avoiding capture by specific interest groups is even harder, and this can give rise to everything from corrupt deals to conspiracy theories around certain big businesses (See: “China and the Philippines Under Duterte: Look Beyond a Voyage“). If this ends up playing out, that could see Duterte move a little closer to the United States having not been able to get as much diversification as he initially desired.

This caution is shared by more seasoned observers of the Sino-Philippine relations in Beijing. During a conversation last week on the sidelines of the Xiangshan Forum, one Chinese interlocutor familiar with the planning of Duterte’s China visit told The Diplomat that Duterte’s treatment of the United States, along with the rocky history of Beijing’s ties with Manila, suggested that caution was in order in case bumps were ahead.

“If this is how he treats old allies, how will he treat new friends?” the interlocutor, who did not want to be identified, said. “He [Duterte] is bold, but also at the same time unpredictable.”

Another scenario would see the gradual improvement in U.S.-Philippine relations take shape alongside the more dramatic shift towards China, thereby preserving more balance in Manila’s alignments with respect to Beijing and Washington. With new ambassadors on both sides, a fresh administration in January, and the next U.S. president expected to visit the Philippines next year when it chairs ASEAN, the two countries have an opportunity to craft a framework for at least selective cooperation in certain areas if they so desire. Adjusting to shifting alignments is not new to the United States or even the Obama administration, as the management of the U.S.-Thai relationship demonstrates (See: “Managing the Strained US-Thailand Alliance“).

Getting there, however, will not be easy. The United States would need to convince Duterte that it can play a greater role in the advancement of some his administration’s priorities that are in the national interest in spite of his own personal biases against Washington. Given the state of the relationship now, simply advertising the good work that already goes on in the alliance – including drug seizures that have occurred at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport with the help of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) – will be insufficient.

Washington no doubt recognizes this, and its most senior Asia diplomat Daniel Russel is already in Manila where he will discuss bilateral ties. But the reality is that this may be difficult to do in some cases. The fact is that the United States and China operate very differently as countries, including in how they approve foreign assistance. Washington has more strings attached to new aid it can provide in sensitive areas, and it may take a long time before fresh funding is approved depending on the channel in question.

For example, while China and Chinese businessmen have already moved forward with visibly greater cooperation with the Philippines on drugs in spite of rights concerns – including the construction of a rehabilitation center – the United States would not be able to do so in a similar manner and to the same degree, and even if it does try to boost cooperation, it cannot stay silent on the concerns that are part of its long-held ideals.

“We’re not a command kind of economy or government, so we have to think these things through,” outgoing U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg said in an interview with local media outlet Rappler on Thursday.

“We have certain laws, certain obligations under U.S law to follow,” he added.

One also needs to entertain the possibility of scenarios that are a little more mixed and more difficult to manage. For example, we could enter a scenario where Duterte continues to advertise his pivot to China while having fierce public disagreements with the United States over a range of issues, even as selective U.S.-Philippine cooperation in certain areas is ongoing but remains under the radar. This could either occur with or without Duterte’s knowledge. Indeed, Duterte’s lack of foreign policy experience arguably increases the chances of this scenario occurring, since he may continue to rail against bilateral security cooperation, but then actually not follow through on severing ties at the working level. The situation would then somewhat resemble what we saw in U.S.-Malaysia relations under Mahathir Mohammad in the 1980s and 1990s.

Though this would not be an ideal scenario for the United States given where it started off at the end of Aquino’s tenure, it would at least limit the damage on U.S.-Philippine security ties as Washington awaits a friendlier administration that is willing to boost ties. In the meantime, Washington could continue to look for other opportunities to ‘balance’ Manila’s ‘rebalance’ to China, including through its principled security network. Indeed, one of the most underappreciated advantages that the United States enjoys is its wide range of allies and partners, whom it can draw on to forge cooperation indirectly with others even if its own reach is curtailed.


Duterte’s ongoing U.S.-China ‘rebalance’ has understandably dominated conversations about the region over the past few months, and it may even intensify in the short term. But irrespective of the fate of this ongoing realignment, observers should be clear not just about the opportunities that are available, but also the limitations that exist.

[Prashanth Parameswaran is Associate Editor at The Diplomat Magazine and a PhD candidate at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He writes extensively about Southeast Asia, Asian security affairs and U.S. policy in the Asia-Pacific.]

Army reaches out to religious leaders in working for peace in Mindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 24): Army reaches out to religious leaders in working for peace in Mindanao

The military here has reached out to different religious leaders as it sustained shifting of advocacy from war to peace.

On Sunday, Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr, 6th Infantry Division commander, invited to this camp leaders of various faith for an ecumenical peace rite.

Lt. Colonel Markton Abo, civil military relations chief, said the objective of the gathering was to disprove notion that the military is only for Christians.

Galvez said primarily, the gathering of religious leaders aimed to instill in the minds of all people that spiritual solidarity is important in attaining peace in the island which for decades had been hounded by war and violence.

The 6th ID chief said the simple peace rite is in support of Malacanang's peace programs with Moro sectors and to sustain Mindanao's peace process.

The 6th ID covers the provinces of Maguindanao, known as hot bed of Moro rebellion, part of North Cotabato, part of Lanao del Sur and the whole of Sultan Kudarat.

It was the first ecumenical prayer initiated by the Army since this camp was established in 1987.

Among the participants was a Kenyan Catholic nun, Scholastica Mutua, who has been in the region since year 2000. She stressed the importance of promoting religious understanding among various faith to attain genuine peace.

Galvez said Sunday's gathering of religious leaders was not the first but the beginning of partnership between the military and religious sectors.

Philippines: 11 members of Daesh-linked group surrender

From Anadolu Agency (Oct 24): Philippines: 11 members of Daesh-linked group surrender

Surrenders bring number of Abu Sayyaf members to hand themselves in since gov't offensive began in July to 34

Philippines: 11 members of Daesh-linked group surrender

Young Abu Sayyaf recruits after surrendering to Philippines military Monday (Photo Hader Glang)

Eleven more members of a Daesh-linked group have surrendered to government forces in the Philippines south, military officials announced Monday.
The surrenders -- including a sub-leader -- bring the total of Abu Sayyaf members to hand themselves in to 34 since a government offensive ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte began in Basilan province in July.
In a statement Monday, Colonel Thomas Cirilo Donato, commander of the Philippine Army's 104th Sultan Brigade, said the men surrendered themselves, assorted high-powered firearms and several ammunition and magazines in southern Sumisip town at around around 10.00 a.m. (0300GMT) Monday.
Donato added that the 11 would be referred to Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujiv Hataman “for rehabilitation and integration into the mainstream of our society".
In a separate statement, Major Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, confirmed that among those who surrendered was sub-leader Moton Indama.
"Moton, second cousin of Furuji Indama, is the leader of more or less 20 Abu Sayyaf members operating in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan. His group is responsible for the laying of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) along the Basilan Circumferential Road in Barangays Baguindan and Silangkum, Tipo-Tipo," Tan added.
Indama has a multi-million bounty on his head and has been blamed for murder, kidnapping, deadly bomb attacks and the beheading of marines.
Last month, 21 members of the Abu Sayyaf also surrendered in Basilan.
Army troops and marines have been engaged in offensives since Duterte ordered security forces to "destroy" the group, which is still holding several local and foreign hostages in southern Sulu province.
Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortion in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.
The group is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release,
It is one of two militant groups in the south to have pledged allegiance to Daesh, prompting fears during the stalling of a peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebel group that it could make inroads in a region torn by decades of armed conflict.

Presence of 6 Abu Sayyaf members monitored in Cebu

From the Sun Star-Cebu (Oct 24): Presence of 6 Abu Sayyaf members monitored in Cebu

Photo courtesy of PRO-RID-Central Visayas

SIX members of Abu Sayyaf group reportedly arrived in Cebu last Friday, October 21, according to an official of the Regional Intelligence Division (RID) of Police Regional Office-Central Visayas.

Superintendent Julian Entoma, RID-Central Visayas chief, said the bandits led by sub-commander Alhabsi Misaya came in the province to reportedly kidnap "prominent" persons, but they left the province last Sunday, October 23.

The police official, however, said they are still monitoring if there are still members of the group in Cebu and other parts of the region.

The group might also target commercial establishments like malls and public markets, he said.

Entoma told reporters they are coordinating with the Muslim communities, managements of malls, pension houses, lodges, and beach resorts to tighten their security.

Military conducts medical mission for MNLF families

From ABS-CBN (Oct 23): Military conducts medical mission for MNLF families

Story image for "basilan" from ABS-CBN News

BASILAN -- The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) launched simultaneous medical missions and civic organizational activities on Saturday to help families and followers of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
Several areas in the municipality of Albarka in the province that saw fierce fighting earlier this year have pledged alliances with the military, according to Andrew Bacala, commanding officer of 4th Special Forces Batallion.

In Barangay Bohe Piang, Albarka, different civic organizations from Luzon and in Mindanao have shared their resources to thank the community headed by MNLF Commander “Small Boy.”

He said he has been in Bohe Piang for 50 years and confirmed that bandits belonging to the Abu Sayyaf had frequented their area but they have long abandoned the idea of being one of them.

Doctors in the activity said most children suffer from respiratory problems such as the common flu.

The Children of War Foundation, another advocate of peace in Basilan, donated books, school supplies and sports equipment to Bohe Beggang Elementary School.

Bacala recalled that the school, which only had three classrooms, served as their temporary camp for 36 days while several barangays in Albarka were “attacked” by the Abu Sayyaf in March.

At the time, Bacala said it was the community who assisted them. Bacala said it was because of this commitment that they promised to return and “give back” to the community.

Aside from medical missions, the military also introduced alternative livelihood to farmers in the communities.

Boy, 10, among 11 Abus who surrendered in Basilan

From ABS-CBN (Oct 24): Boy, 10, among 11 Abus who surrendered in Basilan

Eleven members of Abu Sayyaf Group, including a minor, on Monday turned themselves in to authorities in Basilan.

Sumisip Mayor Gulam Boy Hataman said, among the bandits who surrendered was a 10-year-old child warrior, who sustained an injury on his back after he was hit by a mortar in a recent encounter in Baguindan, Tipo-Tipo town.

Hataman said, the boy grew up literally holding a gun, and he was also helping in the operations of the bandits against the military.

The boy’s older brother preferred to stay with the group while his other siblings decided to turn themselves in to the government.

Basilan Governor Jim Saliman said Moton Indama, one of the known Abu Sayyaf sub-commanders in Basilan, was also among the bandits who surrendered.

The bandits also surrendered their high-powered firearms and ammunition.

Indama said, he was fed up with the life of a bandit. He said he got tired of constantly having to run and hide.

Indama added he also wants to go to school and have a better life as a civilian.

Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) chief Major General Mayoralgo Dela Cruz said, Indama has a standing arrest warrant for his involvement in Abu Sayyaf’s past criminal activities in Basilan.

Dela Cruz welcomed the decision of Indama and fellow bandits to go back to the fold of government. He believes this is a step closer to achieving long-lasting peace in the strife-torn province.

Dela Cruz, however, said the bandits may still have to face the charges lodged against them.

He said, the provincial and regional governments have prepared a livelihood program for the bandits.

He added, these bandits were influenced by wrong interpretations of Islam, and exploited by some radical terror group leaders.

Meanwhile, Colonel Thomas Donato Jr., commander of 104th Infantry Battalion, confirmed that a suspected Malaysian terrorist was arrested in Maluso town last month.

Donato declined to identify the Malaysian terrorist, who had been helping the Abu Sayyaf Group for the past few months.

The Malaysian was arrested while he was about to escape from Basilan through the southern back-door.

3 Japanese navy ships arrive in Manila

From Rappler (Oct 24): 3 Japanese navy ships arrive in Manila

The 3 vessels – JS Kashima (TV-3508), JS Setoyuki (TV-3518) and JS Asagiri (DD-151) – bring 190 navy officials

GOODWILL VISIT. Japanese ships arrive in Manila on Monday, October 24, 2016. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

GOODWILL VISIT. Japanese ships arrive in Manila on Monday, October 24, 2016. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

On the eve of President Rodrigo Duterte's visit to Japan, 3 Japanese ships arrived in Manila on Monday, October 24, bringing navy officers for a series of meetings with their Philippine counterparts.

"The Training Squadron of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) berthed here today for a five-day goodwill visit to the Philippines from Oct. 23 to 27," the Philippine Navy said.

The 3 vessels – JS Kashima (TV-3508), JS Setoyuki (TV-3518) and JS Asagiri (DD-151) – ferried 190 navy officials.

A customary welcome was conducted by Philippine Navy vessel BRP Rajah Humabon (FF11) at the vicinity of Corregidor Island, where it escorted the Japanese vessels to their berthing area.

The Japanese navy officials will have a series of engagements with their Filipino counterparts.
Filipino navy officials will be given a tour inside the Japanese vessels.

"The visit is another gesture of fostering goodwill which contributes to the furtherance of friendship between the PN and JMSDF established through the years with continuing commitment to promoting naval diplomacy and camaraderie," the navy said in a statement.

Japan and the Philippines stepped up security cooperation during the previous administration of President Benigno Aquino III against the backdrop of China's aggressiveness in the South China Sea.
Japan donated ships to beef up the fleet of the Philippine Coast Guard.

In 2015, Philippine and Japanese navies flew together over the West Philippine Sea for the first time since the World War 2. The two countries also began talks on a possible visiting forces treaty that would allow Japanese troops in the Philippines.

How the Duterte administration is going to proceed remains unclear as the President pivots to China and away from the US, a key ally of Japan.

Duterte has said that Japan might, "depending on developments," join talks between the Philippines and China to resolve overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

Duterte's state visit to China last week resulted in, among others, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the establishment of "joint coast guard committee on maritime cooperation."

US' top Asia diplomat: Don't choose between America, China

From Rappler (Oct 24): US' top Asia diplomat: Don't choose between America, China

'This should be addition, not subtraction,' US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel says during a trip to the Philippines

The US' top diplomat for East Asia cautioned the Philippines on Monday, October 24, against choosing between America and China as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte moves away from Washington and closer to Beijing.

Daniel Russel, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, made this statement after meeting with Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr in Manila on Monday.
"We don't want countries that have to choose between the US and China," Russel told reporters.
"But we do want countries to be able to choose, to have choices, to have autonomy, to make their own decisions in keeping with their own democratic values and in keeping with international law," he added.
He is in the Philippines for a previously scheduled visit to clarify Philippine-US relations and meet with Filipino youth leaders.
'Addition, not subtraction'
Russel's visit comes after Duterte initially said he is cutting economic and military ties with the US – a statement that the President later clarified to mean it is not a "severance of ties."
During his trip to the Philippines, Russel also said it is "a mistake to think that improved relations between Manila and Beijing somehow come at the expense of the United States." (READ: PH-China ties 'should be at expense' of US – envoy)
"That's not the way that we think about it. This should be addition and not subtraction," Russel said.
At the same time, Russel told Yasay that Duterte's "controversial statements and comments…have created consternation in a number of countries," including the US.
The US official added that the Philippines' allies "are also concerned" about the loss of life in Duterte's war on drugs.
The war on drugs has killed more than 4,400 people since July 1.

US plot to unseat Duterte? 'Absurd,' says envoy

From Rappler (Oct 24): US plot to unseat Duterte? 'Absurd,' says envoy

Outgoing US ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg reacts to the statement of ousted Philippine President Joseph Estrada   

Outgoing US ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg dismissed as "absurd" suggestions that the superpower will plot to oust President Rodrigo Duterte because of his hostility toward the US.

Goldberg on Monday, October 24, was asked to comment on a statement issued by former Philippine President Joseph Estrada who said he fears that the US would oust Duterte "like what they did to me."

Estrada claimed the US was behind his ouster in 2001 when various civil society, church, and youth groups gathered on the country's main highway, EDSA, to protest allegations he had amassed ill-gotten wealth. Estrada was forced to step down and replaced by his vice president then, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who put him in jail on plunder charges. Ms Arroyo however pardoned him on October 25, 2007, the same year he was convicted and detained. (READ: Fast facts: Presidential pardons)

"'Yun ang pangamba ko. Sa akin nga ginawa e (That is my fear. It's what they did to me.)," Estrada was quoted saying, in reference to a possible US plot against Duterte.

Asked to comment, Goldberg said: "I saw that [story]. I think it is absurd."

"The US is a great friend of the Philippines, respects the democracy of the Philippines, and the process that has happened to elect the president. These are fundamantinal core beliefs of the US and any statement that we would in any way be involved in such a thing is not right," said Goldberg.

Goldberg is ending his tour of duty in the Philippines this week, and is set to be replaced by Ambassador Sung Kim.
Duterte himself has suggested that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is plotting to oust him.

The US has been the subject Duterte's sustained tirades. He said he will chart a foreign policy that is independent of the US and and will forge closer ties with China. (READ: Duterte rhetoric causes 'head-scratching' in US – envoy)

It is a deviation from the foreign policy of Duterte's predecessor, President Benigno Aquino III, who sought the assistance of the US to deter China's aggressiveness in the West Philippine Sea.

US willing to 'constructively' discuss changes in PH ties

From Rappler (Oct 24): US willing to 'constructively' discuss changes in PH ties

Outgoing US ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg says ties between the US and the Philippines are 'unbreakable'

'UNBREAKABLE'. Ambassador Philip Goldberg says the ties between the Philippines and the US are 'unbreakable.' Rappler photo

'UNBREAKABLE'. Ambassador Philip Goldberg says the ties between the Philippines and the US are 'unbreakable.' Rappler photo

The US is willing to discuss "constructively" with the Philippines possible changes in its relationship with its longtime ally, according to outgoing US ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg.

"I would only say that we want to look towards the future and to the well-being of both our peoples. If there are changes that are suggested, we can constructively talk about it," Goldberg told reporters on Monday, October 24, on the sidelines of the formal turnover of a C130 cargo plane that Manila had bought from Washington.

US top officials are in the Philippines to clarify the policy direction of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has subjected the country's ally to sustained tirades. (READ: US to Yasay: Duterte tirades stir 'consternation')

'Strong commitment to Philippine defense'

Goldberg said the US remains committed to its defense commitment to the Philippines.

"We are seeking clarification because for our part, we have a very strong sense that the Philipines is an ally and a friend. We have a strong committment to its defense through our Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and also through all the cooperations that we have, today being an example of it but also the kinds of exercises and the kinds of different programs that we have under way including the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). Those are the kinds of clarifications that we need," Goldberg said.

"Some of the language we heard are not at all consistent with that constructive discussison," Goldberg added.

Duterte's scheduled meeting with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Laos in September was cancelled after he cursed Obama over US criticism of his war on drugs, a campaign that has been linked to more than 4,000 deaths.

Duterte's announcement in Beijing last week about his "separation from the US" triggered international attention. The President later clarified that he will not sever ties, but will chart a foreign policy that is independent of the US.

US, PH ties 'unbreakable'

Goldberg said ties between the US and the Philippines are "unbreakable," citing government-to-government and people-to-people links in areas of security and business.

The US and the Philippines are bound, under the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), to come to each other's aid when their sovereignty are threatened. The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) allows the rotational presence of US troops in the Philippines a few years after the Philippine Senate voted to evict US bases here. The newly signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) allows US troops to build facilities and preposition assets inside Philippine bases.

Goldberg also cited cooperation in the areas of climate change, terrorism, maritime security, and maritime domain awareness.

Goldberg said the US is the Philippines' largest foreign direct investor while American companies are among the largest exporters and largest private employers in the Philippines.

"Our links are really very, very strong on the military and security side, and some other areas. Even on the economic side, I think there are clarifications already on some of that. We need to explore it and we're willing to discuss it in a very constructive way," Goldberg reiterated.

There are 3.5 million Filipino Americans in the US and about 200,000 Americans in the Philippines.

US turns over C130 cargo plane to PH Air Force

From Rappler (Oct 24): US turns over C130 cargo plane to PH Air Force

This is the 2nd of two C130s bought by the previous Aquino government from the US for $35 million

The US formally turned over another C130 to the Philippine Air Force (PAF) on Monday, October 24.

“With this new addition to your C130 fleet, I know that the Philippine Air Force will be even more prepared to respond when called upon to deliver aid in case disaster strikes," said US ambassador to the Philipines Philip Goldberg in his speech during the ceremony held at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.

It is the 2nd of the two C130s bought by the previous Aquino administration after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) exposed the weakness in the military's cargo and transport capability.

The first was turned over in April 2016. The PAF now has a total of 5 C130 planes.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenza highlighted the role of C130 cargo planes in relief efforts to help the victims of last week's typhoon Lawin.

"This event significantly symbolizes the Philippines’ relations with the United States. It has served as a steady anchor in our recognition of the interlocking linkage between peacekeeping and peace-building towards lasting peace, security and development, not only in the Asia-Pacific region, but globally," said Philippine Air Force chief Lieutenant General Edgar Fallorina.

The Philippines paid $35 million (about P1.6 billion) for the two C130s. The actual cost is $55 million, but US Foreign Military Financing covered $20 million.

A C130 can lift about 100 troops or its equivalent weight, a critical asset in transporting immediate relief after disasters even to remote airfields.

The entire AFP, the Philippine National Police, and government agencies, especially the Department of Social Welfare and Development, rely on the Air Force in moving people and logistics to different parts of the archipelago.

The US State Department approved the request of the Philippines to purchase the cargo planes in August 2014.

"The sale of the two C-130s is part of the US government's commitment to help the Philippines develop its territorial defense and maritime security capabilities, as well as enhance its ability to respond to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief emergencies, which routinely occur in the Philippines," the US embassy had said.