Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Behind Duterte’s Break With the U.S., a Lifetime of Resentment

From The Wall Street Journal (Oct 21): Behind Duterte’s Break With the U.S., a Lifetime of Resentment (By Trefor Moss)

Philippines president, driven by a sense of grievance over colonial history and perceived slights, threatens to undo a vital American relationship in Asia

“When you pick a fight with him, he will not let it pass—he will deal with you,” says Jesus Dureza, a former classmate who serves in the Duterte cabinet. “This is very deep in him.”

His anti-U.S. rhetoric flared last month when he declared Mr. Obama shouldn’t lecture him on human rights. In an aside directed at no one, he used an exclamation of frustration meaning “son of a whore,” which some in the international press interpreted as a dig at the U.S. president. Mr. Obama then canceled plans for a one-on-one meeting with him at the regional summit in Laos. It was two days later that Mr. Duterte approached Mr. Obama there.

In recent weeks, Mr. Duterte has canceled U.S.-Philippine military exercises. He said he might annul a 2014 U.S.-Philippines defense pact, a key aspect of Mr. Obama’s “Asian pivot,” that lets the U.S. deploy soldiers to Philippine bases. And he has threatened to “cross the Rubicon” and ditch the countries’ 65-year-old treaty in favor of accords with Russia and China.

In Beijing, he signed business deals with President Xi Jinping, who promised the Philippines over $9 billion in loans in return for Mr. Duterte’s agreement to restart bilateral talks.

 “I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow,” Mr. Duterte said in the Beijing speech, “and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world—China, Philippines and Russia.”

Mr. Duterte also set aside his country’s territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea, where China controls a contested reef, Scarborough Shoal, about 125 miles off the Philippine coast, that it took over in 2012.

Souring relations could leave the U.S. with fewer options for expanding its military presence in the South China Sea—a resource-rich and strategically important area claimed almost entirely by China, and in part by several Southeast Asian states—and make it harder to portray itself as a guarantor of regional security, as it has done since World War II.

Before Mr. Duterte’s talk of “separation,” U.S. defense officials said the relationship continued to function. Afterward, a State Department spokesman called his comments “inexplicably at odds” with the bilateral relationship, which officials including the president have described as “ironclad."

Philippine defense officials have said publicly they are largely in the dark about Mr. Duterte’s plans. They nonetheless make clear he intends to forge a more independent foreign policy than his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.

Mr. Duterte is “trying to liberate us” from a “shackling dependency” on America, wrote Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. in a Facebook post this month. Filipinos are treated as “little brown brothers” of the U.S., he wrote. Mr. Yasay didn’t respond to inquiries.

Mr. Duterte’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment for this article. Publicly, he has faulted Washington for failing to halt China’s territorial grabs and for refusing to give explicit guarantees it would protect all Philippine territory, including remote possessions in the South China Sea.

Mr. Duterte’s nationalism, displayed in his angry reaction to Mr. Obama’s admonishments, echoes sentiments common among left-leaning Filipinos that America never atoned for invading the archipelago in 1898 and violently subduing the former Spanish colony. With independence in 1946, the Philippines passed into the hands of what many left-leaning politicians such as Mr. Duterte regarded as a corrupt Manila elite installed by Washington.

History’s scars

The son of a provincial governor on Mindanao, Mr. Duterte grew up in a troubled region with ample cause to resent both Manila and Washington. A largely Muslim area in an overwhelmingly Catholic nation, it was never fully conquered by Spain. When the U.S. took over, Mindanao’s sultanates put up stiff resistance.

For the people Mindanao, the colonial experience left scars and a hatred of perceived oppression and disrespect, says Ms. Duterte, the president’s sister, who lives in Davao City, Mindanao’s largest. She says their grandmother, a Muslim, helped Mr. Duterte come to believe that Washington was guilty of crimes during its invasion and colonization.

He was a rebel from the start, say friends and family. As a boy, he was expelled from his strait-laced Jesuit school for squirting blue ink on a priest, recalls Mr. Dureza. At high school he was a brawler. “He always had that hair-trigger temper,” says Carlos Dominguez III, a childhood friend and now Mr. Duterte’s finance secretary.

He staggered into the family home one night, clutching a stab wound from a street fight, his sister says. He later shot a college classmate in the leg in reprisal for an attack on a friend, Mr. Dureza says, noting that the other man recovered and Mr. Duterte faced no legal blowback.

At university in Manila, he studied politics under Jose Maria Sison, who later founded the Communist Party of the Philippines and in 1969 launched an armed insurrection. Mr. Sison, now in exile in the Netherlands, says he schooled Mr. Duterte in what he viewed as the evils of American imperialism and the corrupt nexus of business and political families who have ruled the Philippines at the expense of ordinary Filipinos—a system Mr. Duterte has pledged to upend.

The Philippine communist party is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Mr. Duterte has said he sympathizes with the party, which he never joined.

His views on law and order coalesced in the 1980s when violent criminal gangs terrorized Davao City. Mr. Duterte was robbed at gunpoint, leading him to swear to destroy the gang responsible and others such as them, says Leo Villareal, who worked with Mr. Duterte at Davao City Hall.

Mr. Duterte worked through the mid-1980s as a city prosecutor, having surprised his family by finishing law school, his sister says. The country was descending into chaos, ruled by U.S.-backed strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

After a “People Power” revolution ousted Mr. Marcos in 1986, the criminal-justice system deteriorated, with wealthy Filipinos often escaping prosecution through bribes while other cases could drag on for years. Mr. Duterte came to see the legal process as “something that can be delayed or derailed,” Mr. Dureza says, with direct action the only way to effect change.

Elected mayor of Davao City in 1988, he adopted a strict approach that his sister, Ms. Duterte, says was modeled on Singapore’s disciplinarian leader, the late Lee Kuan Yew. He imposed curfews, and smoking and drinking restrictions.

He declared a crackdown on suspected drug dealers, and vigilante death squads in Davao killed more than 1,400 alleged criminals, according to Human Rights Watch and other rights groups. Mr. Duterte has said in speeches and interviews he encouraged police to be tough and shoot anyone resisting arrest but never personally ordered murders.

‘The Punisher’

His measures were popular, and locals gave him the nickname “The Punisher.” He served seven terms, with interruptions for term limits, until 2016.

Along the way, Mr. Duterte nursed grievances over perceived U.S. slights, including a 2002 incident in which an American slipped out of the country under mysterious circumstances after a bomb exploded in his Davao City hotel room. Mr. Duterte suspected a CIA plot and brooded over the episode for years, friends say.

The U.S. embassy in Manila says: “We took no action beyond providing routine consular services assisting a U.S. citizen with a medical evacuation. As services were rendered, we consulted closely with Philippine authorities.”

Soon after the 2002 incident, the U.S. denied Mr. Duterte a visa, and his partner, a nurse, had her U.S. work visa canceled, say a friend and an associate of Mr. Duterte’s who are familiar with the incidents and attribute the moves to U.S. concerns about extrajudicial killings in Davao City. The U.S. embassy in Manila declined to comment on the matter.

From 2002, the U.S. military was providing counterterrorism support in parts of Mindanao at Manila’s request to help subdue Muslim separatists. In 2007, the government suggested holding an annual joint U.S.-Philippine exercise in Davao.

That provoked Mr. Duterte, who persuaded the Davao City council to pass a resolution permanently preventing American forces from exercising in the area. “I don’t want American soldiers in my city,” he told the council, local media reported. “Because of their arrogance and pretended superiority, the Americans invaded Iraq to kill Saddam Hussein but ended up destroying the country. We don’t want that to happen to us.”

Mr. Duterte initially refused supporters’ entreaties to run for president. He reversed course last November because he said he couldn’t stomach the idea that then-poll leader Grace Poe, who held American citizenship until 2012, might win.

His victory in May’s election came after he promised to wipe out crime and spread the benefits of a fast-growing economy more evenly. “It’s going to be bloody,” he predicted during a January interview with the Journal. “People will die.”

Mr. Duterte is popular at home, with 76% of Filipinos saying in a poll this month by Social Weather Stations, a research group, that they are satisfied with his work.

His presidential campaign featured only mild criticism of the U.S. That changed after he took office and faced foreign criticism.

At the Laos summit, he lashed out at Mr. Obama for alleged American war crimes over a century ago, holding up a photo of slain Filipinos and describing them as his own ancestors, says a person who was there.

Some of Mr. Duterte’s colleagues say they are caught off-guard by his outbursts, in which he departs from prepared remarks.

“We can only write the speeches,” says one communications official, “we can’t make him read them.”
—Carol E. Lee, Cris Larano and Chun Han Wong contributed to this article


America’s grip on the Pacific is loosening

From The Financial Times (Oct 25): America’s grip on the Pacific is loosening (By Gideon Rachman)
There is more than bluster involved in the Philippines’ pivot towards China

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are criss-crossing America in the last frantic weeks of the presidential election campaign. But events will not stand still, while “America decides”. On the other side of the world, the US has just suffered a significant strategic reverse.

That setback is the apparent decision by the Philippines to switch sides in the emerging power struggle between the US and China. On a visit to Beijing last week, Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, announced a “separation” from the US and a new special relationship between his country and China.

In one of the odder diplomatic pronouncements of an odd year, Mr Duterte proclaimed in the Great Hall of the People in the Chinese capital: “There are three of us against the world — China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.” This statement was greeted by warm applause from his audience.
Mr Duterte has a tendency to shoot his mouth off. In an appearance soon after taking office, he made headlines by calling US president Barack Obama the “son of a whore”. But there is more than mere bluster involved in the Duterte pivot. The Filipino leader has also said that he intends to end military co-operation with the US. Joint naval patrols in the Pacific will apparently come to a stop, as will joint counter­terrorism operations on the southern island of Mindanao. Some American strategists are worried that the Philippines might even now become a base for the swiftly expanding Chinese navy.

Mrs Clinton, in particular, will understand the significance of all this. A central theme of her period at the state department was an effort to bolster America’s position in Asia and the Pacific. It was Mrs Clinton who proclaimed in 2010 that the US has a “national interest” in freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. This statement outraged the Chinese, whose famous “nine-dash line” on oceanic maps appears to claim that almost all of the South China Sea lies within Beijing’s territorial waters.

As Mrs Clinton told Goldman Sachs, in a speech given in 2013 and recently leaked, she is worried that China’s maritime claims will give it a “chokehold on sea lanes and also on the countries that border the South China Sea”. Those concerns have since been further stoked by China’s programme of “island” building in the disputed waters.

The Philippines was at the centre of America’s strategic and legal efforts to loosen China’s potential chokehold over the South China Sea. Some of the tensest disputes in the sea — such as arguments over the ownership of Scarborough Shoal — involve a face-off between China and the Philippines. It was Manila that brought a legal challenge against Beijing’s claims over the South China Sea, winning a ruling at an international tribunal in July. This ruling is crucial to Washington’s argument that its dispute with China is not a crude power struggle but rather an effort, by the US, to protect the international legal order in the interests of all.

On a purely strategic level, the Philippines is (or was) also vital to America’s efforts to counter the military facilities that China seems to be building on its artificial islands. Earlier this year, Manila and Washington agreed to increase America’s military presence in five bases on Filipino territory, including an air base on the island of Palawan, very close to the disputed Spratly Islands. Those US-Philippine agreements now look likely to be revoked. More broadly, America’s moral case for “standing up to China” looks much weaker if China’s own neighbours no longer seem so worried by its territorial claims.

Some American strategists take comfort from Mr Duterte’s obvious eccentricity. They argue that, in the long run, the Philippines will rediscover its strategic interest in seeking the protection of Uncle Sam. But it is also possible that Mr Duterte, for all his wild man antics, is actually part of a larger trend in Southeast Asia.

Next year, the Philippines will lead the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. And this will happen just as two other important US allies in the region — Thailand and Malaysia — have begun to tilt towards China. The military coup in Thailand in 2014 led to a downturn in relations between Bangkok and Washington, as the Americans called for a swift return to democracy and the Thai generals resisted. In 2015, Thailand announced the purchase of Chinese submarines. Najib Razak, the prime minister of Malaysia, has also looked to Beijing for succour as he has attempted to fend off corruption investigations in the west.

Faced with all these setbacks in Southeast Asia, the US will be on the lookout for some new diplomatic and strategic opportunities. One country that seems certain to continue to push back against Chinese dominance of the region is Vietnam. This month, the USS Frank Cable and the USS John S McCain became the first two American warships to visit the Vietnamese naval base of Cam Ranh Bay since the end of the Vietnam war in 1975.
At the height of that war, Cam Ranh Bay served as a crucial base for both the US Navy and Air Force in the fight against North Vietnam. It is a historic irony, and a sign of how the rise of China is changing Asia, that Vietnam could yet invite the US military back to Cam Ranh Bay — this time as an ally, not an enemy.


Indigenous peoples’ meet with Gina Lopez turns into 3-way talk with AFP chief

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct 25): Indigenous peoples’ meet with Gina Lopez turns into 3-way talk with AFP chief

Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez INQUIRER FILE PHOTO / RICHARD A. REYES

Indigenous peoples (IP) calling for the demilitarization of their communities had a chance to air their gripes directly to the military chief yesterday during a dialogue with Environment Secretary Gina Lopez at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

The indigenous peoples from across the Philippines are holding a weeks-long campout on the campus of the state university to bring to national attention their plights in their communities.

Lopez listened to various concerns—from calls to close mining sites to demands for justice for the killing of indigenous peoples in the past year

When she heard that one of the calls of the indigenous groups was to demilitarize their communities, she phoned Gen. Ricardo Visaya on the spot and put the Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff on speaker phone to allow him to explain the military’s side.

Visaya explained to the indigenous peoples: “The soldiers assigned to your place are not there to disturb you but to respond to the presence of the NPA (New People’s Army) who are exploiting you.”

“It’s not militarization. When you speak of militarization, the military interferes with the barangay—how your place is to be run. They just guide you. They will just teach you so there will be quiet and happiness,” Visaya said, to increasing murmurs from the gathered tribal folk.
‘The NPA recruit lumad’
From Agusan del Sur province, where he was at the time, Visaya said, “Each encounter with the NPA, those who are killed are lumad. The NPA recruit lumad. We don’t want you to join them.”

Lopez, upon hearing the reactions of the indigenous people’s leaders, told Visaya that “they’re concerned the military is killing civilians.”

Visaya responded: “There are lumad who die because they joined the NPA.” This was met with jeers from the crowd, which gave way to cries of “berdugo!” and chants of “militar sa kanayunan, pagbayarin!”

Earlier, Lopez assured the indigenous peoples about Visaya: “He’s for you… He doesn’t want the militarization of ancestral domains. If something happens after he says it’s enough, you just contact him, or contact us. Let’s fix it.…So we will work together.”
Cancel permit, stop violence
Minda Dalinan, representing the B’laan tribe from South Cotabato, noted the perceived link between mining in their area and the military presence. “Cancel [the permit of] Sagittarius Mining. If it’s cancelled, the violence from the military and police will stop.”

She also spoke out against the heavy-handed response to the indigenous peoples’ rallies in Metro Manila over the past week. “Despite the violence we suffer in the countryside, they still inflict violence on us in Metro Manila. What does the AFP and especially the police want? Why don’t they allow us to say what we feel?”

A rally by the IPs at AFP headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, was met with a water cannon. At the US Embassy in Manila, tear gas cannisters were lobbed and a policeman ran over protesters with a van.

Baybay City earns stable internal peace and security area declaration

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 25): Baybay City earns stable internal peace and security area declaration

The Philippine Army’s 802nd Brigade has declared Baybay City as stable internal peace and security (SIPS) area, a step away from being declared as insurgency-free.

Some parts of Baybay City’s upland villages are formerly known as hotbed of communist insurgents. Although armed rebels were sighted in these areas, there had been no firefight between government troops and rebels.

The SIPS declaration would mean economic stability since it will attract more investment and generate jobs, said 802nd Brigade Commander Col. Francisco Mendoza.

Baybay City hosts one the world’s biggest virgin coconut oil producers and suppliers of certified organic coconut oil by at least three international standards setting organization - the SC Global Oil Corporation located in Caridad village.

The company also supplies banana chips to international market.

Another major industry in Baybay City is the Specialty Pulp Manufacturing, Inc, that processes high-quality specialty pulp made mainly from Manila hemp or abaca fiber. The firm supplies raw materials for currency production to Hong Kong and Japan.

Recently, the city government signed a memorandum of agreement with officials of the Metro Retail Stores Group for the setting up a branch of the retail giant.

Baybay City Mayor Carmen Cari welcomed the SIPS declaration and hopes that the status would result in more development in upland villages.

The declaration will also support the local government’s tourism campaign promoting the city as one of the top destinations in Eastern Visayas.

The city offers tourist destinations such as the Lintaon peak, which is comparable to Tagaytay. Other attractions are heritage sites at the city center where houses from Spanish to American and Japanese Era are well-preserved.

The city is also a popular destination during Lenten season where pilgrims from other parts of the country visit St. Anthony de Padua in Pomponan village.

Baybay City, the third largest city in Eastern Visayas in terms of land area, also hosts the Visayas State University, one of the premier universities in Southeast Asia for agriculture research.

The city is also the home of Mount Pangasugan, the last remaining rainforest in the Philippines and the last forest frontier in Eastern Visayas where animal species listed by the World Conservation in the Red List of Threatened Animals are found.


PNP confirms gun seized in anti-drug operation issued to fallen SAF 44 member

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 25): PNP confirms gun seized in anti-drug operation issued to fallen SAF 44 member

Police authorities in Region 12 on Tuesday said physical and macro-etching examination conducted on a rifle recovered from the son of a police officer in Pikit, North Cotabato belonged to one of the members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) who died in a clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last year.

The firearm, according to Supt. Romeo Gaglgo Jr, information chief of Police Regional Office No. 12, said the firearm was described as Ferfrans cal. 5.56mm rifle with defaced serial numbers. Its new serial number was "FF 090465."

Galgo said based on the inventory of lost firearms with accessories submitted to PNP National Headquarters in relation to Mamasapano incident, the rifle was issued to PO2 Ephraim Mejia, one of the casualties in the Mamasapano incident that left 44 police special unit members killed.

The SAF operation (Oplan Wolverine) was successfully accomplished with the death of the country's most wanted Indonesian terrorist - Zulkifli bin Hir alias "Marwan."

Two weeks ago, the Regional Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Group led by Supt. Maximo Sebastian Jr conducted joint operation in Pikit, North Cotabato with the Philippine Army and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA 12) that led to the arrest of Nasser Karim, son of Senior Insp. Sindatu Karim, Pikit deputy police chief.

The operation resulted in the recovery of assorted high powered guns and ammunition, including rifle grenades from Karim, including the rifle that belonged to the fallen SAF 44.

“This proves that some of the firearms of SAF 44 are still in the hands of private individuals, thus, deeper investigation is being conducted as to how said firearm falls into the hand of said suspect," Galgo said.

"We are hoping that through this breakthrough some of the questions behind the Mamasapano incident will be answered,” he added.


PNP on full alert status on All Saints' Day

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 25): PNP on full alert status on All Saints' Day

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa has ordered a full alert status nationwide in observance of All Saints' Day.

Likewise, the PNP chief also directed that there will be no "break" such that all leaves are cancelled on that day.

"Sa ating mga kapulisan (To our policemen), we expect na wala tayong break, wala tayong (we have no) leave dahil tayong lahat ay magdu-duty sa lahat ng sementeryo at sa subdivision na iiwan ng mga tao na pupunta sa sementeryo (because all of us will be on duty in cemeteries and subdivisions)," Dela Rosa said.

"Full alert status tayong lahat at doon naman sa mga mamamayan natin (all of us are on full alert status and to our countrymen...), we are advising you to please secure your premises, 'yung households ninyo bago kayo pumunta sa sementeryo dahil yung mga akyat-bahay diyan, magpipiyesta sa bahay ninyo kung hindi ninyo na-lock properly yung mga pamamahay ninyo (secure your households before going to the cemetery because unscrupulous individuals would likely take advantage while you're away)," he added.

At the same time, the PNP chief urged the public to observe Undas (All Saints' Day) in a very serene way.

"Please observe Undas in a very serene way. Basta hindi magulo, hindi magi-inuman, hindi mag attract ng pansin ng ibang tao dahil magagalit yung ibang tao dahil (Please don't drink liquor and refrain from being noisy because the others want it solemn)," Dela Rosa said.


PAF looking for S-70A engine assy

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 25): PAF looking for S-70A engine assy

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has allocated the sum of PHP26 million for the acquisition of an engine assy needed for the maintenance of its sole Sikorsky S-70A medium transport helicopter with tail number 739.

Submission and opening bids is on Nov. 9, 9:00 a.m. at the PAF Procurement Center Conference Room, Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.

The Sikorsky S-70A is manufactured by Sikorsky Aircraft. It was developed for the US Army in the 1970s, winning a competition to be designated the UH-60 Black Hawk and spawning a large family in US military service.

The PAF initially has two S-70A units delivered in 1984 but one of the aircraft crashed and was written off in 1992. It was used for VIP transport.


DND, S. Korean firm ink deal for PHL's first missile firing frigates

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 25): DND, S. Korean firm ink deal for PHL's first missile firing frigates

The Department of National Defense (DND) and South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) finally signed the contract for the country's first two missile armed frigates.

This was confirmed by DND public affairs office chief Arsenio Andolong in a message to the Philippines News Agency.

He said the contract was signed by DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and HHI representatives around 3:00 p.m. Monday at the Philippine Navy Headquarters, Roxas Boulevard, Manila.

"Notice of Award (NOA) was formally served to HHI last Aug. 4," Andolong said.

"NOA was given to HHI as GRSE (Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd) was post-disqualified after it was determined that their Net Financial Capacity was insufficient and therefore not in compliance with Republic Act 9184 (Government Procurement Policy Board)," he added.

GRSE along with HHI was one of the six proponents in the DND's frigate program.

In the NOA, HHI offered PHP15,744,571,884 for the two frigates.

The DND has allocated the sum of PHP18 billion for the acquisition of two missile-capable frigates, with PHP16 billion going to the construction of the ships and PHP2 billion for its munitions.

The ships will be armed with a variety of sensors and weapons capable of detecting and neutralizing air, surface, and submarine threats.

It will be also capable of electronic warfare.

Aside from this, the frigates, according to their technical specifications, must be capable of performing of extended maritime patrol with an embarked naval helicopter and extended maritime surveillance capability through air-and-surface-search radar, and sound navigation and ranging (sonar) for sub-surface search.

It will be armed and fitted a variety of air-to-air, anti-ship, and anti-submarine weapons.


Signing of missile firing frigate deal highlights PN's goal to strong, credible

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 25): Signing of missile firing frigate deal highlights PN's goal to strong, credible

The signing of the contract for the country's purchase of missile firing frigates highlights the Philippine Navy (PN)'s goal to be a strong and credible Navy by 2020.

This was stressed by PN spokesperson Capt. Lued Lincuna in a statement Tuesday.

"The acquisition of the two brand new and modern frigates serves as a 'big step' in realizing a once a dream of a world class and well-equipped PN, capable and credible in protecting its people, and the sovereignty of the land and the interest of its national territory," he added.

On Monday, Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana formally inked the contract for the Frigate Acquisition Program, as the principal signatory together with officials and delegates from South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI).

The signing took place at the PN's headquarters in Naval Station Jose Andrada, Roxas Boulevard, Manila.

The project involves the construction and delivery of two missile firing frigates to the PN.

The signing of the contract signals the start of the construction and is the culmination of the long and tedious procurement process for the project.

As background, the Notice of Award was approved, issued and was duly conformed by HHI on Sept. 13 with the amount of USD336,912,000 or PHP15,744,571,584.

Witnessing the event were Ambassador of South Korea to the Philippines Kim Jae Shin; Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Installation and Logistics Jesus Rey Avilla; Undersecretary for Financial Management Josue Gaverza Jr; Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics Major Gen. Job Yucoco and his assistant, Brig. Gen. Arnulfo G Rafanan; Senior Military Assistant Brig. Gen. Arnel Duco; and PN Vice Commander Rear Admiral Rafael Mariano.

On the other hand, distinguished members of HHI delegation included the Senior Vice President/Owner HHI, Ki Sun Chung; Senior Sales Officers Ki Young Sung and Jae Rak Kim; Technical Sales Officer, Unchul Kim; Project Consultant, Myeongok Han; and Local Representative, Yolanda Lim Gamba.

Also present in the signing were the Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Gaudencio C. Collado; Commander of Philippine Fleet, Rear Adm. Bayani Gaerlan; Commander of Western Command, Vice Adm. Ronald Joseph Mercado; Philippine Fleet Commander, Rear Admiral Bayani Gaerlan; Naval Sea Systems head Commodore Virme Torralba; and Project Management Team Chairman, Commodore Robert Empedrad and members.

The activity is of utter significance to the DND and to the PN, in particular. It is the single most expensive modernization project signed by the Duterte administration as of this time.


Pres. Duterte's Tokyo visit to bolster strategic partnership between PHL and Japan

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 25): Pres. Duterte's Tokyo visit to bolster strategic partnership between PHL and Japan

President Rodrigo Duterte is scheduled to arrive here Tuesday for an official visit from Oct. 25 to 27 following his back-to-back state visits to Brunei and China, to discuss the economic and defense cooperation and scale up the strategic partnership between the Philippines and Japan.

The state visit, which will involve meetings with Emperor Akihito, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and business leaders, coincides with the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Japan.

“As you are aware, the reason for the visit of the President is because (Japanese) Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe reiterated an invitation he has been extending to the President to come to Japan. And this invitation was in fact reiterated and accepted in the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Laos,” Consul General Marian Jocelyn Tirol-Ignacio said.

The lease of TC 30 military planes and the development assistance and investments are among the items President Duterte may seek in a bid to capitalize the country's economic and defense alliance with Japan.

Ignacio said the Philippine-Japan relationship is quite multi-faceted, covering the range of political, economic, and cultural interests that affect Filipinos working and living in Japan.

Japan has also received more than 400,000 Filipino tourists for the first half of the year alone.
A growing professional community of engineers and technical interns in the IT sector consists of 1,600 Filipinos.

“Japan is very keen to continue with the relationship that it has had with the Philippines for a long number of years. In the economic area, for example, Japan continues to be the top trading partner for the Philippines,” Ignacio said.

“On the political level, we have seen quite an interest in high-level visits. The high-level visits constitute the coming of Foreign Minister Kishida to the Philippines, and what I want to note here is that when he came, he called on the President. His visit to the Philippines was in fact, the first visit that he has ever made outside of Japan after his reassignment as Foreign Minister. So this is a very big signal of the importance that the Philippines has for Japan,” she added.

Ignacio said the country can expect several signing of letters of intent from Japanese companies during President Duterte's visit.

"We understand that there might be about eight businesses that will be signing Letters of Intents and Memorandum of Understanding and this is intended to generate investment into the Philippines so we have big companies both in the manufacturing and in the investment sector, in the agricultural sector," she said.

Meeting with the Filipino community

First in the order of President Duterte's visit is a meeting with the Filipino community in Japan.
Joseph Philip Banal, founder of the 200-member Dabawenyos' Organized Society-Japan or DOSJ, is from Davao City and came to Japan in 1994 with his family.

Banal, a staff member of the Embassy of Algeria, said his group's main objective is to help the less fortunate children of Davao. The first fund-raising project of DOSJ was the "Kadayawan sa Tokyo" held in 2011, which was able to donate a day care center in Mati, Davao Oriental.

Aurora Dobashi, founder of the Filipino English Teachers in Japan Global (FETJ Global) in 2000, has lived in Japan for almost 27 years. “I have been teaching all my life and practically I teach, I train, I organize events for Filipinos in Japan. We train them,” she said. Members of the FETJ are mostly BS Education graduates or with at least two years of college education.

Business and economic interests

Consul Ignacio said President Duterte would address the Philippine Economic Forum.

“The economic forum is important because for the first time, our Japanese business partners will have their first look at the President. He has generated a lot of interest here in Japan and as you are aware, there is a lot of investments by the Japanese in the Philippines,” she said.

Ignacio said the Japanese business partners have been waiting for the President to expound on his 10-point agenda.

On other matters, President Duterte is also expected to meet with the Japan-Philippines Parliamentarians Friendship League.

Another highlight of the President's visit is the possibility of the HARVEST loan coming into fruition.

"This is important because the focus will be on Mindanao. There is a lot of interest, I think, between the Philippines and Japan to try to extend some kind of assistance that goes beyond Metro Manila but goes all over the region. Cebu, for example, and in Mindanao, even in Davao," Ignacio said.


PHL, Japan to formally sign TC-90 lease agreement Wednesday

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 25): PHL, Japan to formally sign TC-90 lease agreement Wednesday

The Philippines and Japan will formally sign the lease agreement for the five TC-90 training aircraft, which will be used to patrol the country's vast territories on Wednesday.

This was confirmed by Department of National Defense (DND) Undersecretary for Finance, Ammunitions, Installations and Materials Raymundo De Vera Elefante who is now in Japan for the signing.

He added the country will pay USD7,000 each for the first four aircraft yearly and only USD200 for the fifth, or total of USD28,200 for all TC-90s.

Elefante said the lease agreement is renewable every year.

"It's almost for free and we will free training (to fly and handle the aircraft) and it will help us (in) guarding our shores, from the air," he said in Filipino.

The TC-90s will come from the stocks of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and it also useful for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and maritime security.

The DND official said that they are looking at the possibility of using for 20 years as it will prove very handy for the Philippines while its military is upgrading its equipment.

The TC-90, which is part of the Beechcraft King Air aircraft family, was offered by Japan shortly after the Agreement Concerning the Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology was finalized last Feb. 29.

The TC-90's patrol range is double those of small Philippine aircraft which only has a maximum range of 300 kilometers.


Pres. Duterte looks forward to see no foreign soldiers in PHL

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 25): Pres. Duterte looks forward to see no foreign soldiers in PHL

President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday said he looks forward to a Philippines without foreign troops around, only Filipino soldiers.

Pres. Duterte made the remark in a media interview before leaving for his three-day official visit to Japan upon invitation extended to him by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

”I would like to say this with all candor, I look forward to the time when I no longer see any military troops or soldier in my country except the Filipino soldier,” Pres. Duterte said.

He said his goal of zero foreign troops in the country is part of his efforts to pursue an independent foreign policy as provided in the Philippine Constitution.

”I said I do not have to dovetail what the policies of our countries are and especially in the matter of stationing of military troops in my country. I really hate it. I don’t want it. We don’t need it. We are not going to war and there’s not going to be any war in the future,” the President said.

The president said he will visit Japan "with full trust that we can understand each other and Japan will understand my position vis-à-vis with the foreign policy that I want to implement."

"It’s just a question of a policy that is really truly Filipino," he added.

When asked if his administration intends to rescind the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States, Pres. Duterte said he would like to discuss it with US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel.

”We have the EDCA, forget it. If I stay here long enough, if it is an executive agreement, then I’ll just…I don’t want to see any military man of any other nation except for the Filipino soldiers. That’s all I want,” Duterte said.

Russel arrived last Sunday in the Philippines and met with Secretaries Delfin Lorenzana of National Defense and Perfecto Yasay of Foreign Affairs.

The US official reportedly warned Pres. Duterte over the latter’s fiery rhetoric remarks and deadly crime war, an interference that irked the Filipino leader.

”Russel says Duterte comments causing worries in business communities. Then go away, we can endure, we will recover I assure you. We will live and survive. We have gone to the worst of times in this planet,” President Duterte replied while holding copy of Inquirer newspaper which bannered the story about Russel’s warning.

The president said he is not a "tuta" (lapdog) of any country, including the US.

”You count me out. I’m not one of them. I am not also a tuta (lapdog) of any country. Mind you, only the Filipino can make me 'tuta'. Period,” the President said.

During state visit in China last week, President Duterte announced his separation from the United States while pursuing an independent foreign policy.

EDCA is a supplemental agreement to the previous Visiting Forces Agreement signed between the US and the Philippines in 1998.

The EDCA was signed by former Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg in April 28, 2014. The Supreme Court had upheld its constitutionality.


Conflict monitoring system covers more provinces in Mindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 25): Conflict monitoring system covers more provinces in Mindanao

A conflict monitoring system developed by non-government organization International Alert Philippines now covers more provinces in Mindanao, enabling a more comprehensive analysis of conflict and better formulation of interventions and development plans.

Conflict Alert, launched Tuesday, covers the 15 provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Davao Region and Caraga, as well as Cotabato and Isabela cities, which are located within the ARMM but are not administered by it. It is the only existing tracker of violent conflict at the subnational level in the Philippines.

“These regions are major sites of rebellion and insurgency, criminal violence, and shadow economy-based conflicts. With this new system, we can generate the evidence to check the causes and costs, and trends and directions of violent conflict in these three regions. This will greatly help in policy making, development planning and peace-building for these areas,” said Francisco J. Lara Jr., country manager of International Alert Philippines.

Conflict Alert combines two previously separate monitoring systems and databases: the Bangsamoro Conflict Monitoring System (BCMS) and the Southern and Eastern Mindanao Conflict Database (SEMCD).

The BCMS, launched in 2013, covered the ARMM and Cotabato and Isabela cities. It pioneered systematic conflict monitoring but its analysis was bounded by its geographic reach. The SEMCD, launched in 2015, extended the analysis to the Davao and Caraga regions.

Conflict Alert is funded by the Korea Trust Fund for Economic and Peace-Building Transitions, the World Bank, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Royal Norwegian Government.

2011-2015 panel data from the ARMM, Davao Region and Cotabato and Isabela cities can be downloaded from the Conflict Alert website, www.conflictalert.info. Data from Caraga are now being encoded into the database.

The 2011-2015 data show that most of the conflicts in the ARMM are related to the shadow (or informal) economies, in particular, the illicit trade in illegal weapons and drugs. In the Davao Region, most violence stems from common crimes, in particular, robbery, alcohol intoxication and community-level disputes over properties.

While conflicts due to shadow activities and violence from common crimes are more numerous, the conflict deaths they cause are less compared to conflicts arising from political issues such as rebellion or tied to identity such as clan feuds or rido. Any developmental, law enforcement, or peace-building initiatives and priorities must primarily take this into consideration rather than the level of conflict incidence per se.

To underscore the importance of settling political conflict, the data show there were more conflict deaths in the ARMM, host to a variety of rebel and other armed groups, than in the Davao Region in the 2011-2015 period.

The deadliest province was Maguindanao, where clashes involving the separatist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters had claimed many lives especially in 2014 and 2015. The number of deaths could have been higher had not the ceasefire agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the government continued to hold despite the Mamasapano tragedy in January 2015.

Meanwhile, Sulu has overtaken Basilan in terms of conflict deaths as government forces bore down on the Abu Sayyaf based in the province.

In the Davao Region, Compostela Valley and Davao del Sur posted the highest conflict deaths. Many were due to political conflict related to the communist insurgency.

Evidence has shown how conflict has evolved into an urban phenomenon. In the ARMM, conflicts are concentrated in cities such as Cotabato and Marawi and in large towns such as Parang, while in the Davao Region, these are in the cities of Tagum, Digos and Panabo, and in the big towns such as Nabunturan. The type of conflicts that predominate in urban centers are common crimes and shadow economy-related conflicts.

The Conflict Alert findings have several policy implications.

One, a political settlement in the form of a law that establishes the Bangsamoro has gained expediency to address the huge human costs (or conflict deaths) from political conflict, as well as growing threats from extremist groups.

Two, a final political settlement with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-New Democratic Front has become imperative, especially as it will have knock-on effects on the scale of violence associated with resource capture or inter- and intra-lumad violence.

Three, peace-building initiatives targeting crime, violence and instability in the cities and towns must be given prominence and the same emphasis given to rebellion and political contestation. Criminal activity easily intertwines with shadow enterprises such as the illegal weapons and drugs trades, presenting serious threats to peace and stability.

And four, peace-building organizations must invest in research, conflict monitoring, and peace-building advocacy and action in the major cities and municipalities of Mindanao.


Soon-to-be acquired frigates from SK, a smaller version of Incheon class

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 25): Soon-to-be acquired frigates from SK, a smaller version of Incheon class

Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), the winner of the Philippine missile firing frigate program, said the two ships they will supply are a smaller version of their Incheon class.

The latter are the most-up-to date coastal defense frigates of the South Korean Navy and programmed to replace ageing fleet of Pohang-class corvettes and Ulsan-class frigates, and take over multi-role operations such as coast patrol, anti-submarine warfare and transport support.

In a statement Monday, the South Korean shipbuilder said the Filipino frigates will be constructed using good marine standard under naval rule from Lloyd Register, classification society.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and HHI officials formally signed the contract for the ships at the Philippine Navy headquarters, Naval Station Jose Andrada, Roxas Boulevard, Manila last October 24.

As background, the Notice of Award was approved, issued and was duly conformed by HHI on Sept. 13 with the amount of USD336,912,000 or PHP15,744,571,584.

The 107 meter frigates, which are expected to weigh 2,600 gross tons, to be propelled with CODAD (combined diesel and diesel) propulsion system with maximum speed of 25 knots can cover a 4,500 nautical miles range at cruising speed of 15 knots.

These ships will inherit the enhanced survivability, seakeeping and maneuvering capability of her mother ship operable up to Sea State 5.

It will be armed with missiles, torpedo, guns and sensors controlled by the latest combat management system are capable of conducting anti-air warfare, anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare and electronic warfare.

The frigates are scheduled to be handed starting from 2020.


CA junks MR of 8 Navy men charged in Pestaño murder case

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 25): CA junks MR of 8 Navy men charged in Pestaño murder case

The Court of Appeals denied the motion for reconsideration filed by eight of the 10 Philippine Navy personnel seeking to nullify the arrest warrants issued against them by the Manila City Regional Trial Court (RTC) in connection with the murder of Ensign Philip Pestaño in 1995.

The Court denies the petitioners’ motion for reconsideration absent valid legal basis to modify, reverse, and set aside the decision,” the CA said in a two-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Nina Antonio-Valenzuela, the former Special Sixth Division.

The appellate court also said that petitioners failed to present new arguments that would warrant the reversal of its decision issued on April 29, 2016.

In the said decision, the CA did not give credence to the claim of the accused that there was no probable cause for the issuance of an arrest warrant against them because the evidence of the case shows that the petitioners were not guilty of murder.

The CA pointed out that at the stage of determining probable cause for the issuance of a warrant of arrest, a judge is not yet tasked to review in detail the evidence submitted during the preliminary investigation.

The appellate court did not give merit to the claim of the petitioners that Manila RTC Judge Josefina Siscar committed grave abuse of discretion in issuing directing the issuance of a warrant of arrest against them last July 23, 2013.

The petitioners argued that Judge Siscar’s verdict was not based on the evidence submitted at the preliminary investigation but on the resolution of the investigating officer and on the memorandum of the Office that conducted the preliminary investigation.

“As we stated in the decision of April 29, 2016, the respondent judge based her finding of probable cause and issued the corresponding warrant of arrest after personally examining the records of the case,” the CA stressed.

“At the stage in the proceedings before the RTC, the respondent judge’s duty was to determine mere probability (and not certainty) of the guilt of the petitioners,” it added.

Among the Navy personnel issued with arrest warrants were Retired Navy Capt. Ricardo Ordoñez, Cmdr. Reynaldo Lopez, Lt. Cmdr. Luidegar Casis, Lt. Cmdr. Alfrederick Alba, Lt. Cmdr. Joselito Colico, Hospital Man 2 Welmenio Aquino, Machinery Repairman 1st class Sandy Miranda, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Mil Leonor Igcasan.

Retired PO1 Carlito Amoroso and retired Lt. Cmdr. Ruben Roque, who were among the accused in the murder of Pestano, were not among those who filed the appeal before the CA.

The CA had earlier affirmed its decision allowing the Manila RTC to proceed with the trial of the murder case filed against the Navy officers.

It also directed the transfer of the accused navy officers from the military custody to the Manila City jail.


BBL essential in transition to federalism, says former negotiator to MILF talks

From InterAksyon (Oct 25): BBL essential in transition to federalism, says former negotiator to MILF talks

Former chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer (file)

 Congress should pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law to help stabilize Mindanao as the country prepares to transition to federalism through Charter change, the former chief government negotiator to peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front said.

Miriam Coronel Ferrer, under whose watch the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was reached, said the Duterte administration is on the right track in continuing efforts to pass the BBL ahead of Charter change, but cautioned against allowing the process to take too long.

“It is very important because the non-peace and war situation is a potential for instability and also, you cannot continue with all the other programs that are part of the agreement, the important aspects of which are the socio-economic development and the decommissioning of weapons and combatants,” she said in an interview.

“However, there is the danger that the process will take so long, in fact, to be overtaken by Charter change process and be sidelined by other political developments, so to that extent there is great concern,” she added.

Ferrer said peace advocates, especially in Mindanao, believe the process could be speeded up if Congress immediately passes the proposed BBL, so that the CAB can be implemented and continue to bring peace and development to conflict-affected areas in Central Mindanao.

“This is the concern of many groups, that the pace is a bit slow. Unless we move the process fast enough, then they should probably start rethinking having to rewrite a draft that will take several months to finish and go straight to Congress and work it out there,” she said.

Maguindanao Representative Sandra Sema has re-filed the BBL at the House. The measure was not passed by the 16th Congress. Currently, the measure is still pending at the committee level.

The BBL will allow the creation of the Bangsamoro homeland, seen as a more politically-empowered entity, to replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Ferrer urged President Rodrigo Duterte to put his foot down on the immediate passage of the BBL.

“You need the President to say to go this way rather than go to the longer route again and maybe you need an agreement between the MILF and the government to rethink the process that they have already set out because that process is too long, you might lose people to more radical extreme groups in the meantime and you might also create more instabilities that you need now,” she explained.

Ferrer said the Bangsamoro people want to see how the Charter change process will involve them, especially on the issue of federalism.

“They are not against changing the Constitution in principle, but in the process, they want to see it as a process that really involved them … they want to see how much of it will be something that they can own,” she said.


Korean couple in Philippines missing 6 months

From Korea JoonAng Daily (Oct 25): Korean couple in Philippines missing 6 months

A Korean married couple living in the Philippines has been missing since April, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here Monday.

The elderly couple was last seen on April 23 at around 8 a.m., when they took a ship leaving from Samar Island. The ministry said the couple had lived in Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, for about a year. No further details on the pair were revealed.

As soon as the disappearance of the married couple was reported, the ministry said it began tracing their whereabouts in cooperation with the Korean Embassy in the Philippines and local police and Coast Guard.

Korea currently has a travel ban on some parts of Mindanao due to safety concerns following several violent crimes against its nationals in the region.

The Korean government last November implemented the travel ban on regions in Mindanao, including Zamboanga and Sulu, after a 74-year-old Korean man surnamed Hong was found dead in October, nearly 10 months after being kidnapped for ransom by the Islamist terrorist group Abu Sayyaf in Zamboanga in January 2015.

Earlier this month, three middle-aged Koreans were found dead in a sugarcane field in the rural town of Bacolor, northwest of Manila, with gunshot wounds to their heads. Six Koreans were killed in the Philippines this year. Last year, 11 Koreans were killed in the country. Some 88,000 Koreans live in the Philippines.

Despite Duterte Pronouncement - 'About a hundred' US soldiers still in Mindanao —Amb. Goldberg

From GMA News (Oct 25): Despite Duterte Pronouncement - 'About a hundred' US soldiers still in Mindanao —Amb. Goldberg

American soldiers are still in Mindanao, though in a significantly reduced number, despite pronouncements from President Rodrigo Duterte opposing their presence there.

In a television interview on Tuesday, outgoing US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said the number of US soldiers currently in Mindanao is "far reduced," and the Philippine government has yet to formally request for further reduction.

"We have about a hundred, few soldiers helping to counterterrorism. That is far reduced from what it has been over the years since 2002 when our special operations task force was here," he said.

"That task force ended and in its place, we have advisers and others who are continuing to help the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) in their efforts," Goldberg added.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said the number of US soldiers in Mindanao has been slashed to 107 from about 600 from five to 10 years ago. They are currently stationed in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City.

Lorenzana said the bulk of the US servicemen's job involves managing their assets in Zamboanga City.

New intrusions

Apart from the Abu Sayyaf, the US government would continue helping the Philippines fight off other terrorist groups threatening the region, said Goldberg.

"We're not just dealing with the Abu Sayyaf but groups from the region like Jemaah Islamiya. We’ve seen increasing efforts by ISIS to become involved. This is our international efforts and one which we can work together very well so we want to help. It's in both our interest to do so," he said.

Goldberg said the US government is particularly concerned with "new intrusions" of "other groups that want to take advantage of open space in the South of the Philippines... so we want to continue doing that."


Goldberg also reiterated the US Embassy's earlier statement about Duterte's recent rhetoric favoring China over US causing "uncertainties." He said such statements make US efforts to support the Philippines "quite difficult to do."

"[We] want to know, are we going to have exercises? Are we going to do the things that we do to help create interoperability between our troops, to help the Philippines as it devices better techniques and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, as it increases its ability to do maritime security?" the ambassador said.

Duterte has openly voiced his opposition to the yearly US-Philippine military exercises, saying the one scheduled in October would be the last under his term. During his recent visit to China, he announced a military and economic split between the two countries, although he later clarified that this does not mean diplomatic ties would also be severed.

Duterte has also opposed joint patrols between US and Philippine forces, although Lorenzana had earlier said the US and the Philippines do not conduct joint patrols but only "passing exercises" in the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in South China Sea.


New batch of US troops already in Mindanao – military

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct 25): New batch of US troops already in Mindanao – military

ZAMBOANGA MISSION: Some 50 US soldiers on formation witness the ceremonial folding of the flag of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines at the Western Mindanao Command grandstand in Zamboanga City in this photo taken in February 2015. President Duterte has said American forces are magnets of terrorist attacks in Mindanao and should eventually leave. ( JULIE ALIPALA/INQUIRER MINDANAO Read more: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/815079/ph-not-cutting-ties-with-allies-duterte#ixzz4O5ErC7Wz  Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook

ZAMBOANGA MISSION: Some 50 US soldiers on formation witness the ceremonial folding of the flag of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines at the Western Mindanao Command grandstand in Zamboanga City in this photo taken in February 2015. President Duterte has said American forces are magnets of terrorist attacks in Mindanao and should eventually leave. (JULIE ALIPALA/INQUIRER MINDANAO)

US troops are staying despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncement that they should go and leave Mindanao.

Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo dela Cruz, the Western Mindanao Command commander, said while it was true that some US soldiers left a few weeks ago, they were immediately replaced by new ones.

“These are normal rotation. Those who have left were US Marines and they were replaced by US Army soldiers. Definitely, the Marines will bring back their own equipment,” he said

U.S. forces are still present here and “there are 107 (of them),” according to Dela Cruz.
“All of them are still here,” he added.

The US troops maintain a small camp inside the Westmincom headquarters here and have been training their Filipino counterparts on such skills as humanitarian and medical evacuation, including mobile treatment of wounded soldiers.

Dela Cruz said there has been no directive for the pullout of US troops yet.

“If there is an order (for them) to withdraw, the first ones to know are those in Manila,” he said.

In September, Duterte said US special forces “have to go” because their presence have complicated things in Mindanao and the situation would just “get more tense” if they remained.

“They have to (leave) Mindanao. There are many (Americans) there,” he said.

“The statement reflects PRRD’s new direction towards coursing an independent foreign policy. He has made reference to the unrecognized, unrepented and un-atoned for massacre at Bud Dajo in Sulu by the Americans; hence our continued connection with West is the real reason for the ‘Islamic’ threat in Mindanao,” Communication Secretary Ernesto Abella said in a statement.

In October 2014, the Makabayan bloc filed a bill in Congress, which sought the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement, taking into account alleged violations made by US forces. These included the shooting of farmer Buyong-Buyong Isnijal in Tuburan, Basilan, in 2002, allegedly by American soldier Reggie Lane; the shooting of Arsid Baharon in Barangay San Roque in Zamboanga City on June 21, 2004 by an American soldier, who was never identified, among others.

Edgar Araojo, a political science professor at the Western Mindanao State University who was very vocal against the US presence in Zamboanga City, said since the presence of “US soldiers here is covered by Edca, their pull-out becomes circuitous, a legal circus.”

“If pull out is imminent, it won’t economically, militarily (have an) impact on Zamboanga City as (their) absence won’t be missed (at all). Life goes on, the Abu Sayyaf goes on, smuggling goes on,” Araojo said.

The presence of the US troops in Mindanao is covered by the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that both the Philippines and the US have signed over the years.  While President Duterte has announced his new foreign policy direction, he has not filed any formal notice with the US government to signify that he will soon enforce his statements.


Boy, 10, among 32 Abus who surrendered

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct 25): Boy, 10, among 32 Abus who surrendered

Thirty-two members of the Abu Sayyaf terror group surrendered to the military on Monday.

They included a 10-year-old boy, identified only as Tony, who said he could shoot an M4 Carbine assault rifle. Tony surrendered with his elder brother Halid and nine others.

Their faction of 11 was led by Moton Indama, a cousin of Abu Sayyaf leader Furuji Indama.

Moton had about 30 followers but only the 11 surrendered because “they were afraid to join me. They were afraid that after surrendering, we will all be killed,” he said.

Tony, who lost his parents in a military operation, said another older brother opted not to surrender.


Family of Cebuano seaman kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf seek Duterte's help

From InterAksyon (Oct 25): Family of Cebuano seaman kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf seek Duterte's help

The family of a Cebuano seaman kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf from a South Korean vessel in Tawi-Tawi has asked President Rodrigo Duterte to ensure his safe release.

Glenn Alindajao, 30, a master mariner, and the Korean captain of the Dongbang Giant 2 were reported seized by 10 gunmen last Thursday.

“Mr. President, I appeal for your help because we can’t do this on our own. This is too much for us,” Alindajao’s mother Pablita said.

Pablita said an hour before the kidnapping, her son texted her to ask if she was okay.

“Glen is a good son. He texted me ‘Mama lablab (I love you) Mama.’ As his mother, this pains me so much,” she said.

The Alindajao family is from Barangay Lahug, Cebu City.

The ship on which Glenn Alindajao worked was on its way to South Korea from Australia when it was boarded by gunmen.

The Alindajao family said the latest information from Glenn’s agency was that the ship had reached Manila.


White House looks to ride out Duterte storm

From ABS-CBN (Oct 25): White House looks to ride out Duterte storm

President Barack Obama has only a handful of months left in office, but facing the shock loss of a pivotal Asian ally in the Philippines, his White House is playing a long game.

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte says a lot of things. Most notably, the 71-year-old has told Obama to "go to hell."

This week he declared decades of US-Filipino ties over, although he later qualified that remark.

"We haven't heard any specifics" said White House spokesman Josh Earnest, "but those comments are creating unnecessary uncertainty in our relationship."

On the face of it, Duterte's casual desecration of a 65-year-old military alliance and his eager embrace of China are blows for US influence and for Obama's "pivot to Asia."

The United States risks losing presence and access to ports and bases in the heart of the South China Sea -- a contested geopolitical hotspot.

Under Duterte's predecessor Benigno Aquino, China and the Philippines were at loggerheads over the contested economically vital waterway -- to the point that senior US officials worried about being dragged into a war with China.

But since Duterte took office in June, he has suspended joint US-Philippine patrols and threatened an end to joint military exercises.

A split would have regional ramifications. Duterte's sinophile turn could further split the ASEAN regional bloc, which Washington has cultivated as a counter to Beijing's designs on dominance.

China's hardline territorial claims and confrontational stance had given Washington the upper hand.

"The region was in many ways coming to the realization that China is not a reliable long term partner," said Lyle Morris of the Rand Corporation.

But Beijing is picking off cash-strapped ASEAN members like Cambodia and drawing them into its orbit with vast infrastructure spending.

Duterte's recent visit to Beijing -- the provocative setting for comments on dissolving US relations, bagged him billions of dollars in deals.

"A key motivator driving the Philippine president to mend fences with China is economic," said Murray Hiebert of CSIS.

The souring with Washington could also hit counterterrorism operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group, which has been linked to Al-Qaeda and has carried out bombings, murder and kidnapping.


In its response, the White House has been wary of one lesson of Duterte's whole political career -- from mayor of Davao to president of the republic -- he has a short temper.

Officials have limited public chastisements, particularly over Duterte's war on crime, which has claimed about 3,700 lives in less than four months and raised fears about mass extrajudicial killings.

"He's very very sensitive to criticism," said Rand's Morris "So any time we do -- like with the extrajudicial killings -- he gets really really upset and that forces him to make decisions that might not be in the best interest of the Philippines."

Instead, the White House has largely been content to weather the storm as best it can and stress the relationship is bigger than Duterte.

As officials tweet about events around "Filipino American History Month" they point out that day-to-day contacts have little changed since Duterte came to office.

For all Duterte's bluster, he has not followed through.

Even some Philippine officials admit they are as befuddled by Duterte's intentions as their counterparts in Washington.

Many believe that his ability to carry out his "separation" may be limited by his own politics and popular opinion.

He would have to secure legislative support to withdraw from the mutual defense treaty, which underpins the relationship.

There is little sign that support is there. Despite being former US colonial subjects, Filipinos are overwhelmingly pro-American.

Within the armed forces -- particularly the Navy and Airforce -- there is already deep unease about his pivot to China.

In some quarters Duterte is being compared to Joseph Estrada -- the populist former president who was ousted in 2001 amid mass protests.


The Obama administration has begun to gently push back against the most egregious insults and actions.

It cancelled a planned meeting with Duterte in Laos and has warned ominously about "uncertainty" in corporate board rooms.

Aside from the war on drugs and America's perfidy, Duterte's favored topic of conversation is the economy.

Here, the United States has some leverage.

It is the second largest foreign direct investor to the Philippines -- after the British Virgin Islands, an off-shore tax haven -- according to Santander bank.

US-Philippines Trade ties date all the way back to 1797, when "the Astrea" was the first US vessel to return from the Philippines, loaded with indigo, hemp, spices and sugar.

Ultimately, that history and America's trading clout may provide Obama -- and his successor -- with a port in this storm.