Friday, January 6, 2017

Water Wars: Laying the Groundwork for Competition and Cooperation in 2017

From Lawfare (Jan 6): Water Wars: Laying the Groundwork for Competition and Cooperation in 2017

Duterte administration charts Beijing-friendly course in South China Sea

Duterte accepts gavel to symbolize handing over of ASEAN chair from Laos PM (Photo: PhilStar)

Philippine officials started 2017 with a bang as Manila began its one-year tenure at ASEAN’s helm. Manila’s theme for its ASEAN chairmanship is “We Are Partners for Change Engaging the World.” Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Enrique Manalo confirmed that South China Sea disputes, and the unfinished Code of Conduct in particular, would be on ASEAN’s 2017 agenda. However, at the same press conference Undersecretary Manalo contended that “’there’s no need to really discuss The Hague ruling because it already exists. It’s already part of international law, so it’s there.” Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay made a similar point, telling reporters that, “The PCA arbitral ruling on the South China Sea is final and binding only between the parties. No discussion of the ruling by ASEA is going to change it or result in its implementation without the use of force except through our peaceful bilateral engagements with China.”

Manila has articulated this more Beijing-friendly tilt foreign policy in increasingly concrete terms since the beginning of Duterte’s administration (see, e.g., here, here, here, and here). This week was no different. The new Philippine Ambassador to China, Jose Sta. Romana, told reporters that, before Duterte, Manila was “one-sidedly imbalanced in favor of the US.” He went on to say that whereas “the Chinese viewed the Philippines as a geopolitical pawn or Trojan horse of the US[,] [n]ow they look at us as a friendly neighbor.” Additionally, Sta. Romana explained that the Duterte administration is looking to “delink” the South China Sea dispute from more robust bilateral cooperation on other issues.

This week provided a few hints of this policy’s future contours.  Ambassador Romana said that Manila is studying the prospect of jointly exploring natural resources with China in disputes areas of the South China Sea. At the same time, President Duterte asserted that Manila would confront China, and bring up the arbitral ruling in negotiations, if China unilaterally explores resources in contested areas of the South China Sea. This statement, however, should not be seen as heralding renewed bonhomie with Washington. President Duterte asked Defense Secretary Lorenzana to move joint naval exercises with the United States away from the South China Sea so that Manila might be “sensitive of our neighbors.”

Manila’s renewed focus on relations with Beijing may extent to cooperation with a wider range of States traditionally at odds with the United States. Two Russian warships arrived in Manila for what the Philippine Navy called a “goodwill visit.” Russian Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov also expressed the hope that Russia, the Philippines, China, and Malaysia would conduct military exercises in the South China Sea “in a few years.” This was only the third visit to the Philippines by Russian military vessels. Russian Ambassador Igor Anatolyevich Khovaev encouraged Manila’s “diversification” of foreign partners, saying that, “your traditional partners should respect the interest of the Philippines and Russia.” Khovaev went further, offering to supply a wide range of “[s]ophisticated weapons. Not the second-hand ones.”

Philippine officials were keen to note, however, that less dependence on the United States wouldn’t require wholesale capitulation. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, for example, asserted that, “Our entitlement to our EEZ [Exclusive Economic Zone] remains. We are not giving up our EEZ. President Rodrigo Duterte’s statements on setting aside [the arbitral ruling’ means ‘not to discuss it yet.’” Additionally, at the same time as two Russian vessels docked in Manila three Japanese warships ported in the former US base at Subic Bay.

In other news...


President Xi Jinping pledged to defend China’s sovereignty and maritime interests in a New Year’s address published on Saturday. Xi said that the “Chinese people will never allow anyone to get away with making a great fuss” about China’s sovereign claims and hoped that relations with Taiwan would progress in the “correct direction” of greater ties, peace, and stability.

To this end, officials defended last week’s military exercises by China’s sole aircraft carrier (the Liaoning). The People’s Liberation Army – Navy announced that the carrier’s J-15 fighters conducted flight exercises in the South China Sea. The carrier group also conducted helicopter exercises, though a location was not disclosed. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters that, this week, the Liaoning and its accompanying ships “are testing weapons and equipment and running exercises in the relevant waters of the South China Sea.” The Deputy Political Commissar of the Liaoning told reporters that the aircraft carrier would “increase the difficulty and intensity” of training in 2017. The People’s Daily Online also defended China’s right to deploy missile systems to artificial islands in the South China Sea, responding to reports in western media to that effect last week.

Beijing also took a variety of other steps to consolidate its position in the South China Sea. The Yomiuri Shimbun reports that in 2016 China extensively researched underwater features near Japan’s claimed EEZ and filed fifty applications with the International Hydrographic Organization to give the features Chinese names. The Chinese State Oceanic Administration also began reporting weather forecasts from three Chinese-controlled reefs in the South China Sea. Beijing also started building its first offshore nuclear power plant, announced last year, that will serve as a model for powering Chinese projects in the South China Sea. In other news, Beijing and Seoul agreed to a framework to reduce fisheries conflicts near the North Korean border, including reduced fishing quotas in jointly administrated waters.


The Liaoning’s sail-by of Taiwan last week reinforced heightened tension between Taipei and Beijing that has existed since President Tsai Ing-wen came to power. Tsai condemned Beijing’s “gradual[] returning to the old ways of dividing, suppressing and even threatening and intimidating Taiwan,” saying that Taipei “will not yield to the pressure.” Reports indicate that the People’s Liberation Army may not heed these calls. Officials are considering a range of options to retaliate against perceived moves towards Taiwanese independence, including crippling economic measures and conducting war games off the island’s coast. Taipei Defense Ministry Spokesperson Chen Chung-shi responded to these reports by asserting that, “we are fully prepared, and plan for the worst while preparing for the best.”

Following a widely noted name change for Japan’s liaison to Taiwan, Japanese Representative to Taiwan Mikio Numata called upon leaders from both sides to “work together on bilateral ties, which are already at their best in history.” More provocatively, President-elect Trump left open the possibility of meeting with Taiwan’s president if she visits the United States after his inauguration. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang responded to the news by reiterating that, “the Taiwan question is the most important and sensitive one in China-US relations.”

United States

It was a week of military deployment news for Washington. The USS John McCain rang in the new year with a patrol of the South China Sea. The aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, along with a group of destroyers and cruisers, was scheduled for a western Pacific cruise late this week. Moving forward, the Pentagon is considering a permanent South China Sea presence for the Coast Guard.


Relations between Jakarta and Canberra hit a rough spell this week as Indonesia suspended some bilateral military cooperation over insulting training materials on display at an Australian Special Forces base in Perth. Indonesian military spokesperson Major General Wuryanto told reporters that, “Indonesia and Australia will resolve this technical matter and then the co-operation will continue.” Confusingly, a spokesperson for Indonesian President Joko Widodo said that, “this was not a decision of the president.” Indonesia last suspended military ties with Australia in 2013. For more on ties between these two countries, see this great piece by Allen Behm at The Strategist.

In other news, Conservative Party members are calling upon the Turnbull government to consider joining Washington in freedom of navigation exercises near Chinese-controlled artificial islands.


Four Chinese Coast Guard vessels again entered territorial waters around Japanese-controlled Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Chinese vessels last sailed these waters on December 26th. The Japanese Foreign Ministry lodged a protest with a Chinese minister in Tokyo.


Hary Tanoesoedibjo (Hary Tanoe), a billionaire developer and media mogul, announced that he may run for president in the 2019 elections. He is President-elect Trump’s business partner and unsuccessfully ran to get his party’s vice-presidential nomination in 2014.


The saga of nine troop carriers seized in Hong Kong late November en route back from routine military training in Taiwan continues.  A spokesperson for the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department said that, “the suspected controlled items are still kept at a customs storage place in Tuen Mun.”

Analysis, Commentary, and Additional Information

The new year led to a lot of deep thinking on what events of the past twelve months mean for the region going forward. First, three great retrospectives from East Asia Forum. Ronald Holmes warns that 2016 heralds a slide towards illiberal politics in the Philippines. Sheryn Lee explains why Tsai Ing-wen is stuck between a rock and a hard place notwithstanding her landslide electoral victory. Finally, Sam Bateman argues that the South China Sea has prevented the United States and China from addressing more existential threats to regional and global security (namely, North Korea).

China’s seizure of a US underwater drone continued to propel scholarly commentary. Stephen Chen at the South China Morning Post explores whether China is developing a submarine signals network in the Pacific. Kristin Huang, also at the South China Morning Post, finds that the US and China need a framework for dealing with underwater drone clashes. For more on the strategic implications of this new type of hybrid warfare, see Tobias Burgers and Scott Romaniuk’s piece at The Diplomat.

Finally, the new year would not be complete without a handful of contrarian voices. Steven Stashwick at The Diplomat argues that emplacing new weapons on China’s artificial islands does not violate Beijing’s understanding of non-militarization in the South China Sea. James Holmes at The National Interest asserts that too much has been made of the Liaoning’s blue water expedition. Eric Gomez similarly shows that much more time and money will be needed to make a Chinese aircraft carrier on par with that of the United States.

[Water Wars is our weekly roundup of the latest news, analysis, and opinions related to ongoing tensions in the South and East China Seas. Please email Chris Mirasola with breaking news, relevant documents, or corrections.]

Japan naval force enjoying Subic

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 6): Japan naval force enjoying Subic

FRIENDLY FORCES — The JS Suzutsuki (left) and the JS Inazuma are docked at the Alava Wharf of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone yesterday, a few moments before their departure. Inset is Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Commander of the Escort Division Four Captain Atsushi Minami. (Jonas Reyes)

FRIENDLY FORCES — The JS Suzutsuki (left) and the JS Inazuma are docked at the Alava Wharf of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone yesterday, a few moments before their departure. Inset is Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Commander of the Escort Division Four Captain Atsushi Minami. (Jonas Reyes)
Subic Bay Freeport may be a lot of things to a lot of people, but is certain of one thing – a great place for rest and relaxation.

This purview comes no less than from visiting Japanese Naval Fleet Commander Atsushi Minami, who expressed the overall pleasure of the crew members of the “JS Inazuma” and “JS Suzutsuki” in Subic as their current site for RNR (rest and recreation).

During their three-day port visit, the Commander of the Escort Division Four of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and the 360 crewmembers (160 JS Inazuma crewmembers, 200 JS Suzutsuki crewmembers) of the two ships toured the ins and outs of the area and found great food here.

“I have tried a stew that is salty, is it Adobo? It was very delicious,” Minami said. The commander and his entourage also went out for some seafood at one of the local restaurants in Subic Freeport.
“We had a very nice dinner last night at the Seafood by the Bay. In Tokyo, fresh seafood is very, very expensive. Here, we enjoyed the fresh red snapper (Maya-maya) and trout,” he added.

“This is my first time in Subic. Subic is a very big port and the quality here is very good,” Minami said. When asked about having routine port calls, the commander pointed out that JDMSF would like to have more port visit not only in Subic, but in Manila. “But the details and schedule hasn’t been decided yet.”

Views on Russia

When asked about the port visit of the Russian Navy in Manila, the commander replied: “Interesting.” But he added that when they conducted counter piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, both the Japanese and Russian Navy cooperated in the security of the area.

“Not only Russians, but also People’s Liberation Army (PLA) navy, we cooperated with each other in terms of counter piracy. Not only with the US Navy, Royal Navy, Indian Navy, Pakistani Navy, and PLA Navy, we cooperated with each other. Naval ships from other countries cooperated with each other for the same purpose of countering piracy in the Gulf of Aden,” he said.

Value of PH

The commander pointed out that the Philippine port visit is very important for Japan in terms of having interaction with the Philippine Navy. Aside from demonstrating the “Freedom of Navigation” in the South China Sea, it is important for the JMSDF to have interaction with their Philippine counterparts.

“This is also due to Japan Defense Minister’s agreement with the Philippines to enhance disaster management operations and humanitarian operations since both countries are hit hard by typhoons,” Minami said.

The Growing Russia-Philippines Partnership

From The Diplomat (Jan 7): The Growing Russia-Philippines Partnership

Moscow and Manila are pursuing closer economic and security ties.

The Growing Russia-Philippines Partnership

Image Credit: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office
On January 3, 2017, the Russian navy deployed two warships to the Philippines. According to Russian Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, the deployment aimed to showcase Russian military technology to the Philippine navy and to lay the groundwork for joint exercises with the Philippine military. Russia’s naval deployment was well received in Manila, as it builds closely on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s calls for strengthened security links with Moscow.

Even though the Kremlin is unlikely to agree to a binding military alliance with the Philippines, the Moscow-Manila relationship is likely to strengthen considerably in 2017. As the Philippine economy has grown rapidly in recent years, Russian business leaders see opportunities for a better trade partnership with Manila. The close synergy between the leadership styles of Duterte and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, along with Russia’s willingness to export sophisticated weaponry to the Philippines, have also bolstered prospects for a Moscow-Manila security partnership.

The Economic Dimension of the Russia-Philippines Partnership

Although Russia has historically possessed a limited, oil-dominated trade partnership with the Philippines, Russian policymakers have recently begun to view the Philippines as a linchpin in their strategy to economically engage the ASEAN bloc. This change in perspective has been triggered by the Philippines’ economic vibrancy in recent years. In 2016, the Philippine economy grew by 6.7 percent, the fastest rate of growth in Southeast Asia.

Even though trade negotiations between Russian and Philippine diplomats have encompassed a wide range of industries, Russian investors have highlighted the Philippines’ agriculture sector as a particularly lucrative area of cooperation. During the November 2016 APEC leaders’ meeting in Lima, Russia agreed to increase its imports of Philippine agricultural products from $46 million to $2.5 billion per year.

Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez announced that this trade expansion would be achieved through a massive increase in Russia’s purchases of Philippine bananas and mangoes. Philippine officials hope that Moscow’s purchases of Philippine fruits will be matched by Russia’s increased willingness to export non-GMO meat products, which are in short supply in the Philippines.

The Philippine government has also worked aggressively to attract Russian tourists to the country. Even though the Philippines still trails Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia as a travel destination for Russians, a 2015 Russia-Philippines air services agreement has increased travel between the two countries. Filipino travel agencies have emphasized the country’s Christian faith to highlight the country’s cultural synergy with Russia and increase the Philippines’ attractiveness as a destination for Russian tourists.

These lucrative trade linkages have caused some Russian analysts to argue that the Philippines could be the key in Moscow’s ambition to forge a free trade agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the ASEAN bloc. This idea has gained positive feedback from Philippine policymakers.

In May 2016, Philippine Ambassador to Russia Carlos Sorreta responded positively to Russia’s calls for tighter EEU-ASEAN economic links. As Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia have also strengthened their relationships with Russia in recent years, Filipino support for an EEU-ASEAN trade pact could greatly bolster Moscow’s bargaining power over more reluctant Southeast Asian leaders.

The Underpinnings of a Potential Russia-Philippines Security Partnership

Although many Western analysts have described Duterte’s pro-Russian rhetoric as an unprecedented breach of the Washington-Manila alliance, a closer examination reveals that Philippine policymakers have viewed Moscow as a potential ally for decades. In 1976, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. This diplomatic breakthrough was attributed to Marcos’ fear of U.S. disengagement from Southeast Asia, and his belief that Soviet influence in the Asia-Pacific region was on the ascendancy after the reunification of Vietnam under communist rule.

Marcos’ diplomatic outreach to the USSR was largely unsuccessful, due to his repression of communist insurgents and the Philippines’ economic dependency on exports to the United States. Despite this failure, Duterte’s diplomatic outreach to Moscow is likely to have a more durable impact on the Philippines’ foreign policy trajectory for two reasons.

First, some Philippine analysts have highlighted the deep synergy between the leadership styles of Putin and Duterte. Jaime Bautista, the former Philippine ambassador to Russia, recently argued that Duterte admires Putin’s ability to keep Russia stable, despite tremendous political challenges and economic pressures. Parallels can also be drawn between Duterte’s hardline approach to preserving law and order in the Philippines and Putin’s crackdown on crime in Russia during the early 2000s.
Duterte has also publicly praised Putin for his willingness to challenge the Western-dominated international legal order. On November 17, Duterte described the International Criminal Court (ICC) as “useless,” and stated that the Philippines could emulate Russia’s withdrawal from the organization if Western criticisms of his war on drugs continue. Duterte has also blasted the European Union (EU) for its criticisms of extrajudicial killings of drug dealers in the Philippines. This rhetoric has further strengthened normative links between Manila and Moscow.

Second, the United States’ recent decision to withhold the shipment of 26,000 rifles to the Philippines has caused Manila to view Russia as a potentially reliable provider of weaponry. Russia’s Su-25 and Yak-130 aircraft are especially appealing to the Philippine military.

Journalist Rakesh Simha also noted in a recent article for RBTH that Russia could provide the Philippine navy with short-range missile boats. These vessels, which have been effectively used by the Russian military in Syria, could help the Philippine military protect the country’s largely unguarded coastal sea lanes. If Duterte’s proposed 14 percent defense budget increase takes effect, Russian defense contractors will be able to greatly increase the number of ships they sell to Manila, as Russian naval technology is typically lower-priced than similar quality U.S. arms.

Russia’s outreach to Manila could be complicated by a thaw in U.S.-Philippines relations under Donald Trump that results in Washington easing its restrictions on arms sales to Duterte’s government. But Duterte’s foreign policy independence doctrine will likely allow Manila to maintain security partnerships with both Moscow and Washington for the foreseeable future.

Even though the Philippines’ foreign policy is likely to continue to revolve around Duterte’s relationships with the United States and China, Russia has a unique opportunity to forge a durable economic and security partnership with the Philippines. A successful Russian diplomatic outreach to Manila would increase Putin’s influence over the ASEAN bloc and bolster Moscow’s ability to project power in the South China Sea in the years to come.

[Samuel Ramani is a DPhil candidate in International Relations at St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford. He is also a journalist who writes regularly for the Washington Post and Huffington Post. He can be followed on Twitter at samramani2 and on Facebook at Samuel Ramani.]

Military monitoring Maute personalities in Metro

From the Philippine Star (Jan 7): Military monitoring Maute personalities in Metro

A senior anti-terrorism official yesterday confirmed the presence of several members of the Islamic State-inspired Maute terror group in Metro Manila, who are suspected of plotting bombing runs during the Feast of the Black Nazarene.

The anti-terror official assured the public that government intelligence agents are closely monitoring the activities of the Maute group.

“Indeed, there are Maute group personalities already here but they’re not bombers. For now we don’t have any monitoring that they are plotting to launch any terroristic activities,” he said.

There are reports that the Maute and their cohorts from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters are plotting to conduct bombing runs in Manila to disrupt the Traslacion, the traditional procession of the Black Nazarene. 
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Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa said the police force has put in place the necessary security adjustments to ensure threats are thwarted.

This includes the deployment of augmentation forces from Central Luzon and Calabarzon police regional offices and from the national police headquarters in Camp Crame. Dela Rosa did not give the specific number of personnel involved.

“We have our actions taken but we cannot really divulge to the public all our plans because it will become ineffective if we reveal everything,” Dela Rosa explained.

National Capital Region Police Office chief Director Oscar Albayalde earlier said each police district in Metro Manila would deploy 319 personnel to augment the forces of the Manila Police District.

On Thursday, Dela Rosa also imposed a gun ban in Manila a day before and after the Traslacion.

The suspension of all permits to carry firearms outside of residence will be in effect from 8 a.m. of Jan. 8 until 8 a.m. of Jan. 10.

Around 12 million devotees of the Black Nazarene are expected to flock to Manila for the annual Traslacion.

Philippine Militant Tokboy’s Death a ‘Big Loss’ for IS in SE Asia: Experts

From BenarNews (Jan 6): Philippine Militant Tokboy’s Death a ‘Big Loss’ for IS in SE Asia: Experts


Philippine soldiers prepare to hunt for more than 100 escaped inmates in the mountains on the southern island of Mindanao, Jan. 5, 2017.

The killing of a militant leader in the Philippines has dealt Islamic State (IS) a significant blow by taking out the influential head of one of the group’s affiliates in Southeast Asia, terrorism experts said.

Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, who was known as Tokboy and was the founder and leader of Ansarul Khilafa Philippines (AKP), was tracked down and shot at a beach resort on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao by security forces on Thursday, police said. Three other suspected members of AKP, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, were arrested.

“The death of Tokboy is a big loss for IS groups in Southeast Asia. At the moment, IS’s options are greatest in the Philippines because separatists there can still move freely,” Nasir Abbas, an analyst with the Consultant Center for Police and Terrorism Research in Jakarta, told BenarNews.

“The loss is because Tokboy was influential among rebel groups in the Philippines, such as AKP or Abu Sayyaf. There’s a high probability of retaliation in the Philippines,” he added.

Rohan Gunaratna, director of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said the AKP headed by Tokboy is one of three militant groups that make up the official branch of Islamic State in the Philippines.

IS Philippines consists of AKP, al Harakat ul Islamiyah Basilan, led by Isnilon Hapilon, and Jund ul Tawhid, led by Amin Baco. The three groups have pledged allegiance to IS, which is based in Raqqa, Syria, and have been officially accepted by it, according to Gunaratna, a BenarNews contributor.

“Until the death of its leader, Tokboy was the most significant IS-centric threat group in the Philippines. Although its membership was largely Moro, AKP maintained extensive links with foreign terrorist groups. This included operational links with MIT, JI and several other threat groups in Southeast Asia, including provision of weapons from AKP to MIT,” Gunaratna told BenarNews on Friday.

He was referring to the militant groups Jemaah Islamiyah and the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT).

“Tokboy worked with a range of threat groups in the Philippines, especially with Islamic State Philippines, led by Isnilon Hapilon, to promote the IS agenda in Southeast Asia,” he added.

Philippines: a new base for IS?

Meanwhile, IS in Southeast Asia is assessing its resources because the group’s strength is diminishing in Iraq and Syria amid government offensives against it, said Pol. Gen. Hamidin, the director of prevention at Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), citing reports from various sources.

IS is no longer able to pay salaries and its ability to fund fighter operations is limited, he said. IS leader Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi is believed to be hiding at the IS headquarters in Rakka.

“IS at the moment is planning to move its army headquarters to northern Afghanistan, and the Philippines is being presented as a second alternative,” Hamidin told BenarNews.

Tokboy’s death creates an opportunity for the network to consider Indonesia, given its history of terrorist networks, according to him.

“The potential for revenge acts of terrorism is very high because the IS command is always the same: for those who want to fight, it’s not necessary to go to Iraq or Syria, instead you can carry out amaliyah (acts of terror) in your respective areas,” he said.

“What’s more, a characteristic of IS is that if they are attacked and defeated in one location, they order outside networks to move on their own,” he said.

The BNPT and other institutions have taken preventative measures against potential militant attacks such as tightening border security.

“Indonesian authorities have already reinforced security and mapped out terror groups quite well, so they are not able to move freely here. And we are doing massive undercover surveillance, including in cyberspace, so that we know what strategic steps must be taken next,” Hamidin said.


Philippine National Police released this undated photo of Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, also known as Tokboy. [AFP/Philippine National Police]

Malaysia: minimal effect

In Malaysia, the chief of the national police’s counter-terror special branch said he did not expect much to change in his country as a result of Tokboy’s death.

“The impact on ASEAN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and Malaysia is minimal because whenever a leader dies there will always be someone to replace him,” Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay told BenarNews.

He pointed out that the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which also aligns itself with IS, is the strongest militant group in the Philippines.

“Malaysian police acknowledge the group Tokboy is attached to, but doubt it has any effect on Malaysia. The group is just one of the four. There are three others that are still active,” Ayob said.

He named Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Maute group (IS in Lanao) as the other militant groups in southern Philippines.

Tokboy’s past

Tokboy is not particularly well known in Indonesia or important to militant groups there, according to Abbas, who at one time was a high-ranking member of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

He denied that Tokboy was linked to JI, the al-Qaeda-affiliated network that carried out the Bali bombings in 2002, or to the MIT group based in Sulawesi, which has been reduced to nine members following a two-year security operation in that region.

“Indonesian police have already proved that IS groups want to carry out acts of terror in Indonesia,” he said.

In November 2015, Tokboy managed to escape when Philippine Marines raided an AKP camp in Barangay Butril, Palimbang. Eight AKP members were killed during a four-hour firefight, the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) said in a report published in October 2016.

The Tokboy-led AKP was responsible for an August 2008 attack in Mindanao that left two civilians dead and a series of robberies and other crimes, IPCA reported. Tokboy was arrested in July 2008, but escaped from jail in March 2010 and had been on the loose since then.

Malaysian envoy upbeat on Philippine peace process

From the Sun Star-Davao (Jan 6): Malaysian envoy upbeat on Philippine peace process

A MALAYSIAN envoy is positive that the peace process between the Philippine government and rebel groups will push through under the Duterte administration.
Acting consul general of Malaysia MohonJafri Bin Mohd Sharif said during January 4's Habi at Kape at Abreeza-Ayala Mall that he is also hopeful that more countries will contribute in the realization of the peace initiatives.
For the part of Malaysia, the consul said that the Malaysian government acts as a third party to help with the administration's peace negotiations in Mindanao.
He said the 11th batch of Malaysia international monitoring team was sent to Cotabato City last year to monitor and report about the peace process and ceasefire mechanism in Mindanao concerning the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The team is part of Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT) that was first established in 2004, temporarily withdrawn in 2008, and came back again in 2010.
"We also have monitoring team sites in Iligan City, General Santos, and Zamboanga aside from the one in Cotabato City," he said.
The first monitoring team started March of last year until November.
Meanwhile, a team site was used to be established in Davao City as well but was later removed since the area was already reported to be peaceful.
  "No need for a monitoring to be done in Davao City. So we withdrew," said Sharif.
The team monitors and reports the updates of the ceasefire mechanism in Mindanao.
The members of the team underwent three different components of training to be equipped with the monitoring they were conducting regarding the ongoing peace negotiations in Mindanao: security component, socio-economic system component which was led by Japan, and the civilian protection component.
Development assistance, which was funded by Japan, will also be given to specific communities in Mindanao.
This assistance is under the economic system program where the Malaysian government also participates in.
They also make a report to the Philippine government to help out with against the damages caused by war in Mindanao to civilian villages.

A history of jailbreaks in the southern Philippines

From ABS-CBN (Jan 5): A history of jailbreaks in the southern Philippines

The escape of 158 inmates from a southern Philippine prison this week adds to a long history of jailbreaks in the troubled region, where rebels and criminal gangs hold sway.

Abysmal security and corruption that allows rampant smuggling into the rundown prisons are among the explosive cocktail of factors that allow the jailbreaks to happen.

Here are some of the successful jailbreaks:

- April 10, 2004: Fifty-three inmates break out of the main jail on Basilan island, which is a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf Islamic militant group. The Abu Sayyaf was blamed for the bombing of a ferry in Manila a few months earlier that killed 116 people. Twenty Abu Sayyaf militants were among the escapees.

Police later kill nine of the fugitives, including four Abu Sayyaf members, and recapture 15 others.
- February 2, 2007: The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the nation's biggest rebel group which has waged a decades-long separatist rebellion, free 49 inmates of Kidapawan jail, the same prison where this week's breakout took place.

One of the escapees is Khair Mundos, a top leader of the Abu Sayyaf. After the US government places a $500,000-bounty on his head, Mundos is recaptured in 2014 in Manila.

- December 13, 2009: More than 100 gunmen believed to belong to the MILF blast a wall of the Basilan provincial jail and spring 31 inmates. One prison guard and one assailant dies.

Among the escapees is a man accused of taking part in the beheading of 10 marines in an MILF ambush more than two years earlier.

- March 4, 2010: Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, alias Commander Tokboy, escapes from his prison cell in Alabel town, according to the government's Philippine Information Agency.

Maguid later founds and leads Ansarul Khilafa, a small militant organisation that pledges allegiance to the Islamic State group (IS) and becomes one of the nation's most wanted criminals. He is killed in a police raid at a southern beach resort on Thursday.

- August 27, 2016: Dozens of Islamic militants of the Maute group, another gang to pledge allegiance to IS, raids a jail in Marawi city and frees 23 inmates.

Eight of the escapees are Maute members who were arrested a week earlier carrying pistols and improvised bombs at a military checkpoint.

The Maute group is then blamed for a bombing a month later in southern Davao city that kills 15 people.

- January 4, 2017: About 100 gunmen storm the Kidapawan jail and engage in a two-hour battle with overwhelmed prison guards. One of the guards is killed and 158 inmates escape in what authorities say is the nation's biggest jailbreak.

Feature: DILG's CLIP provides over P101-million assistance to 1,573 former rebels

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 5): Feature: DILG's CLIP provides over P101-million assistance to 1,573 former rebels

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has provided a total of P101.67-million assistance to 1,573 former rebels for the past two years under its Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP).

CLIP is the National Reintegration Program for the New People’s Army (NPA) aimed at achieving permanent and peaceful closure of the armed conflict with a non-state group.

“The program has brought former rebels back into society with their families as productive, peace-loving, and law-abiding citizens,” said DILG Secretary Ismael ‘Mike’ D. Sueno.

Under the said Program, an immediate assistance amounting to P15,000 is given to a former rebel for mobilization expenses while his/her enrolment in the Program is being processed.

Aside from that, livelihood assistance in the amount of P50,000 is also given per former rebel.

A receiving unit such as a local government unit (LGU) or Philippine National Police (PNP) is given P7,000 reintegration assistance as a support to help defray the board and lodging of each former rebel in their custody.

It also covers other incidental expenses that may be incurred while processing requirements such as birth certificate and identification card which are needed to get certificate from JAPIC (Joint Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police Intelligence Committee), which certifies that an individual is a member of the NPA and is eligible to be enrolled in the CLIP.

Surrendered firearms of a former rebel have a corresponding amount to help returnees with additional financial assistance or capital for a livelihood in their communities while going back into the fold of mainstream communities.

This year, 80 firearms have been turned-in and 16 were surrendered last year from rebels in different regions of the country.

Other CLIP benefits Rebel returnees can also avail of services of a ‘halfway house’ while his/her enrolment to the CLIP is being processed.

Halfway house refers to the temporary residence that serves as the processing center for former rebels.

In Mati City, Davao Oriental, a one-storey, residential type halfway house was constructed.

The fund was sourced out from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP)’s PAMANA (Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan) program.

Under the CLIP, former rebels also get psycho-social support together with their families and communities through healing and reconciliation initiatives.

Former rebels further get enrolled in PhilHealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corporation) under the PAMANA-PhilHealth Sponsored Program with one-year validity and open for renewal, subject to availability of funds.

Former rebels may also get additional assistance, that may be sourced out from partner institutions or agencies, such as capacity-building, skills training, provision of shelter, and legal assistance.

This 2017, Sueno calls on rebels to be partners for real change by supporting Duterte administration’s peace efforts with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)/NPA/National Democratic Front (NDF).

“The President and the whole of government genuinely wish to put an end to one of the world's longest running insurgencies. Let’s talk and work together for a just and enduring peace this year and beyond,” he said. (DILG)

Opinion: Communists in Duterte’s gov’t: Good or bad?

Opinion piece by Roberto D. Tiglao in the Manila Times (Jan 6): Communists in Duterte’s gov’t: Good or bad? (By Roberto D. Tiglao)
SINCE the communist insurgency started in the 1950s led by a Soviet-influenced Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas, President Duterte is the first president to have appointed not only former communist leaders but probably even active communist cadres as members of his Cabinet and as lower-ranking officials.

His Cabinet Secretary—ranked as powerful as the Executive Secretary in Duterte’s Cabinet—is Leoncio Evasco, Jr., his former chief of staff for nearly a decade when he was Davao City mayor, who also supervises about 15 government agencies, including the powerful Philippine Coconut Authority, which during Marcos times was headed by the defense secretary, Juan Ponce Enrile.  Evasco left the priesthood to join the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in the 1970s, and in the 1980s was one of its top leaders in Mindanao, when that region became the center of the communist insurgency.
Others are Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, who in the 1980s was even a CPP central committee member; Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, chairman of the communist peasant organization Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas; Anti-Poverty Commission head Liza Masa, a former representative of the Red Bayan Muna party; and Joel Maglungsod, a former NPA commander and Anakpawis party-list representative, as labor undersecretary. I am not sure if she retains her Marxist ideology, but Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis-Briones together with her husband was a member of the Soviet-influenced Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas. There are a few other communist former or active cadres in sub-secretary positions, although most of these haven’t publicly disclosed their past or present affiliations.

While it was probably Evasco who convinced the President to get these communists into his government, I would think it was a brilliant move. Only this kind of irreverent President who doesn’t care what other people—or forces—think could have made so bold a move as appointing communists to high positions in his administration.

Five reasons

 First, at least for those positions held by these cadres or former cadres, he won’t be worried about corruption. There are of course exceptions, and I know a few high-ranking communist party members in the 1970s who became corrupt and even turned to a life of crime, but communists are like the Iglesia ni Cristo faithful in the workplace: mostly incorruptible. Communists indeed have been the refutation of that dogma that only those who believe in a personal, powerful Deity would have high moral standards.

Perhaps it is because of their extreme brainwashing and sense of membership in a community, akin I would surmise to that of the INC, that communists are known—which is ironic in view of their materialist philosophy—to be non-materialistic people.

Second, Duterte would in effect be co-opting not only the communists who have been given posts in government but others in the insurgency. In effect, Duterte is telling them that there are other, more realistic and effective, ways of “serving the people”—the Maoist formulation of giving one’s life in devotion to the masses’ welfare—than armed struggle to establish the party’s dictatorship.

These actually had been occurring since the late 1970s when many former communist cadres—either disillusioned over the party leadership, rebelling against the killings it had ordered, or losing faith that the New People’s Army would ever rout the Armed Forces of the Philippines—joined the mostly foreign-funded “nongovernment organizations” to organize oppressed farmers for nonviolent political actions.

Join government

 Some also even decided to join government through their own efforts, as I did when then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo recruited me into her government in 2001. Indeed, I learned from that experience, as I think communists in Duterte’s administration will, that government is the most powerful institution to change people’s lives, and it is a difficult struggle to change it from being an instrument of the elite.

The other more Machiavellian impact of getting communists to work in government is that after years of having a comfortable, rather normal way of life (compared to hiding in safe houses in the cities and in jungles in the mountains), even the most hardened communists become soft, and will not return to armed struggle, to that kind of harsh life ever. This is especially so in the case of several cadres in the cities whose children are in convent schools like St. Scholastic’s.

Have you heard of former communist party-list congressmen returning to the armed struggle? Even the CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison found a good excuse and, rather than return to his Red base here wherever it was, chose to spend the rest of his life in a capitalist welfare state that is the Netherlands.

Third, putting communists in key positions in government is Duterte’s way of telling the insurgents: “You’ve been fighting for this and that for more than four decades. So, I give you the machinery and resources of government, let’s see you undertake agrarian reform, uplift laborers’ welfare, help the poor, make education serve the poor. So, if you can’t undertake even agrarian reform, why would the nation let you capture power?

Fourth, Duterte in effect would have these communists in his government as his Fifth Column of sorts in the insurgency. After tasting power as high-ranking officials in government—even for instance having a driver and a car for the first time in their lives—these communists would find all the arguments and excuses for the CPP leadership not to break ties with the Duterte administration and to continue peace talks.

The party spokesmen for instance threatened to get out of the peace talks if Duterte allowed Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. The strongman’s bones were buried anyway, and the party and its cadres just let the issue fade away.
Not risk-less

 Having communists of course is not a risk-less strategy.

While communists in government will most likely be incorruptible, their revolutionary ethics would allow them to siphon off finances to the party’s cadres in the underground, and even to the New People’s Army, as allegedly happened in the case of government funds of Red party-list congressmen. Cadres and even NPAs could be given agrarian reform department IDs, for instance, so as to escape military dragnets.

I don’t think though that such resources siphoned off by communists in government to the insurgents would be significant. Believe it or not, government regulations are so strict in the handling of finances and other resources, and lower-ranking, career officials who will be the ones releasing these moneys won’t risk losing their jobs.

The biggest risk for Duterte is for those, especially the Yellow Cult and its Clerics planning to overthrow him through a coup d’état is to exploit his having communists in his Cabinet for black propaganda. They will claim that the President has become a puppet of godless communists, and therefore has to be overthrown by force.

This in fact was what happened in Indonesia in 1965 when Lt. Gen. Suharto overthrew the duly elected Sukarno on the excuse that the latter had become a puppet of the Indonesian Communist Party. The trigger for Suharto’s coup d’etat was the assassination of six generals by soldiers of the Presidential Guards, which to this day has been unexplained, but which was blamed on the communists. Suharto and his generals subsequently launched a pogrom against communists and everyone suspected to be communists, that resulted in about 1 million Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity murdered.

This also happened in Chile in 1973 when the leftist President Salvador Allende was overthrown in a coup led by General Augusto Pinochet, who claimed that the President wanted to establish a communist dictatorship. As in Indonesia, but on a much lower scale and intensity, the military rulers killed over 3,000 leftists.

The United States government in both cases conspired in the overthrow of these democratically elected presidents, with its Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) role in propaganda and execution of the coups d’état established without a doubt by historians.

DWDD: AFP Holds First Command Conference

From DWDD AFP Civil Relations Service Radio Website (Jan 6): AFP Holds First Command Conference

CAMP AGUINALDO, Quezon City – Key national security stakeholders and officials of the Defense Department held the First Quarter 2017 Command Conference 06 January 2017 at the Tejeros Hall of the AFP Commissioned Officers Club here.
Marine Colonel Edgard A Arevalo, AFP Public Affairs Office Chief disclosed that top military field commanders, major service commanders, Wide Support and Separate Unit commanders, and key staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines were in attendance at the high-level meeting presided by the Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
“The military top brass, and Panel Chairperson of Government Implementing Panel for Bangsamoro, and Peace accords were invited to attend the caucus,” Col Arevalo said.
“It was in that venue that the new AFP campaign plan officially named Development Support and Security Plan Kapayapaan — the one that replaces IPSP Bayanihan that expired on 31 December 2016— was presented to the conferees. The document will serve as the ’blueprint’ as to how the AFP shall conduct its campaigns.
“The highlight of the conference was the issuance of the Command Guidance by the newly promoted four-star General and AFP Chief of Staff Eduardo Año.
‘He was clear, concise, and direct in his pronouncement that the top priority of the AFP under his leadership shall be the destruction of the terrorist groups of the ASG, Maute Group, BIFF, and other foreign and local terrorist groups,” reports Col Arevalo.
To achieve this, General Año declares, “Apart from the conduct of focused combat operations employing the wherewithals of the AFP, I desire that we enhance stakeholder engagement to ensure robust participation of the religious sector and local government.
“From our end, I want everyone here to exercise the highest degree of Commandership. After all, the most important element of combat power is Leadership. Do and give your best and together we will create a winning team and get the job done.
“We will give priority to frontline units in the assignment of the best Officers, Enlisted Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, and Marines — our most important resource. And as such, we must take care of them. While we endeavor to give them the fighting edge, it is as essential that we increase their survivability rate.”
“We will, as we must, look at the welfare of our men —and loved ones—especially those who were combat casualties. Expedite the processing of the benefits due them; streamline the process and rationalize the requirements for promotion, schooling, and awards as well were disposition of cases.
“Under my watch, the AFP will be fully committed to the primacy of the peace process guided by the President’s Roadmap to Peace. We will support fully the government’s war on drugs and shall extend full support to the Philippine National Police and other law enforcement agencies both in terms of personnel and intelligence.
“Finally, I say there is no letter ‘I’ in the word ‘TEAM’. We shall all aspire for the collective accomplishment above individual fulfillment. Again, I urge the men and women of the AFP to work with me as we continue our journey together with our actions embed with the AFP Core Values of Honor, Service, and Patriotism,” General Año concluded.

DWDD: Defense Chief sees improved defense relations with Russia

From DWDD AFP Civil Relations Service Radio Website (Jan 6): Defense Chief sees improved defense relations with Russia


Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana expressed optimism for improved defense relations with his Russian counterparts in line with the independent foreign policy thrust of President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

Speaking aboard the Russian anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs docked at Pier 15 in the Manila South Harbor, Secretary Lorenzana said that he sees this latest goodwill visit of the Russian Navy as the ‘start of a partnership’ between the defense establishments of Russia and the Philippines.

“We thank you sincerely for this cordial gesture and we hope that this will be the start of a partnership between the One Defense Team – Philippines and its counterpart in the Russian Federation,” he said.

Lorenzana also mentioned his trip to Russia in early December when he met with Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov and Director Alexander Fomin of the Federal Service of Military Technical Cooperation to discuss mutual concerns such as terrorism and illegal drugs. They also talked about the possibility of future military to military engagements.

The Secretary also said that he conveyed to the same Russian officials his agreement to continue the long pending Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two Defense organizations which was initiated in 2014. Both sides agreed that the MOU should be finalized in time for signing during the forthcoming visit of President Duterte to Russia. Once signed, the MOU becomes the basis of all future military to military engagements which may include visits, exchange of students, conferences, joint exercises, among others.

“May our common aspirations for regional and global peace and security enable us to become good partners, cooperating and coordinating towards tranquil and safe seas for all,” Secretary Lorenzana said.

The Admiral Tributs is accompanied by another Russian ship, the Boris Butoma which serves as a tanker and supply ship.

NPA owns up to disarming, killing tribal chieftain, 2 others in Caraga town

From the often pro-CPP online publication the Davao Today (Jan 6): NPA owns up to disarming, killing tribal chieftain, 2 others in Caraga town

Guerrilla fighters of the New People's Army prepare their formation at the start of the ceremony for the release of its two captive police officers in a village in Lupon, Davao Oriental on Friday, August 26, 2016. (Earl O. Condeza/ file photo)

Guerrilla fighters of the New People’s Army prepare their formation at the start of the ceremony for the release of its two captive police officers in a village in Lupon, Davao Oriental on Friday, August 26, 2016. (Earl O. Condeza/ file photo)
A tribal Mandaya chieftain and two other members of a paramilitary group were killed by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Caraga town, Davao Oriental province on Dec. 30 last week.
The NPA also reported that four of their guerrilla fighters were wounded in its gunfight with the Mandaya Ancestral Defense Unit (MANADU).

In a statement on Friday, NPA-Comval Davao East Coast Subregional Command Spokesman Roel Agustin II said the NPAs were serving an order to disarm MANADU when they were attacked on the evening of December 30, 2016 in Sitio Calatagan, Barangay Poblacion, Caraga town in Davao Oriental.

“Acting on self-defense, the NPA fought and killed notorious warlord Cupertino Banugan, his brother Ramon and a relative, Dodo Banugan. The Red fighters also seized two high-powered rifles,” Agustin said.

The NPA alleged that Cupertino Banugan used his position as the tribal chieftain to usurp 14,000 hectares of land owned by five clans in Caraga. Banugan was an appointed tribal chieftain by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.

“He systematically extorted land rent from the poor Mandaya peasants,” Agusin said.

Agustin added that Cupertino collected 10 percent from the gross sale of abaca and other products of the farmers, including marijuana.

“He deducted 10 percent from any economic project established in his turf. He collected thousands from each of the 300 families who were victims of Typhoon Pablo,” Agustin said, adding that the tribal chief amassed at least P2 million yearly from his “extortion activities.”


In July last year, the military claimed that the NPA gave an ultimatum that they will attack a village in Barangay Pichon, Caraga if Banugan will not surrender.

Lt. Miguel Diorda of 67th Infantry Battalion in a previous interview told Davao Today that they were given a letter by the NPA to surrender Banugan.

The military launched operation to drive out the NPA in the area. The incident resulted in the displacement of 399 families.

Responsible in killings

The NPAs claimed that brothers Cupertino and Ramon Banugan were responsible for the murder of residents in the area.

“It is also common knowledge among the Mandaya communities of Caraga that Cupertino and Ramon Banugan were responsible for the murder of  Romeo Mapando, Modesto Lagungan and Male Lagungan. They also tried to kill Julieto Bayon and Bitoy Usto,” Agustin said.

“Most of the victims were Caragan residents who were unjustly dispossessed of their lands and tried to oppose the Banugans’ despotic rule,” he said.

Agustin maintained that paramilitary forces such as the MANADU that go into guerrilla zones are “legitimate targets” of the NPA.

While the incident happened, Agustin said the NPA Comval Davao East Coast subregional command respects and obeys the guidelines of the Communist Party of the Philippines Central Committee with regard to the unilateral ceasefire declaration.

As of press time, government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III and the Philippine Army have yet to issue their statements.

Police set to identify Leyte blast suspects

Frofm Tempo (Jan 6): Police set to identify Leyte blast suspects

CAMP RUPERTO KANGLEON, Palo, Leyte – The Philippine National Police in Eastern Visayas said yesterday they are now determining the identities of the suspects in the December 28 explosion in Hilongos, Leyte in which 32 persons were wounded.

Police Regional Office 8 acting Director Chief Supt. Elmer C. Beltejar said that based on initial investigation, three unidentified men were seen discreetly leaving the blast site at Plaza Rizal in Barangay Central Poblacion based on a review of the closed circuit television camera in the area.

“We already have a lead towards the solution of the incident but we cannot divulge information yet as it may compromise the ongoing investigation,” Special Investigation Task Group commander Senior Supt. Allan Cuevillas, Police Regional Deputy Director for Operations said.
Beltejar encouraged the public to immediately report any suspicious persons and items as well as help the police and other law enforcement agencies by providing relevant and timely information that will lead to the identification and eventual arrest of the suspects.