Saturday, March 15, 2014

Philippines offers U.S. forces access to military bases

The Philippines has agreed to allow the United States access to its military bases under a new security deal being negotiated by the two allies, amid mounting concern over China's increasing assertiveness in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

The offer was made during a sixth round of talks held in Washington last week, Filipino officials said on Friday. The two sides hope to finalize terms before U.S. President Barack Obama embarks on a visit to Asia, including the Philippines, next month.

"Consensus was arrived at on many provisions of the draft agreement," Pio Lorenzo Batino, defense undersecretary told a news conference, adding the deal is 80 percent done.

"The proposed agreement will allow the sharing of defined areas within certain AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines)facilities with elements of the U.S. military."

The United States plans to "rebalance" its forces in Asia-Pacific region, and has similar arrangements with Australia and Singapore, as part of its strategy to counter China.

The new agreement on enhanced defense cooperation will allow the United States increased deployment of troops, ships, aircraft and humanitarian equipment.

U.S. military access in the Philippines is currently limited to during annual joint-exercises and port visits. The Philippines kicked the United States out two large military bases, including Subic Bay, in 1991.

While that ended a special relationship going back 40 years between the United States and its former colony won its independence in 1946, an alliance has endured.

Manila would welcome the return of a U.S. military presence to deter China's ambitions in the South China Sea, and to help provide humanitarian assistance during natural disasters.

"It will not stop China from its bullying tactics, but it will become more cautious and might exercise self-restraint due to the U.S. presence," Rommel Banlaoi, an analyst at Philippine Institute of Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, said.

"The Philippines will also benefit from more exercises and more assistance from the U.S. and it will elevate the Philippines to a major non-NATO ally in the Pacific."

Friction between China and the Philippines and other states in the region, over disputed territories in the South China Sea has increased since last year despite diplomatic efforts to forge an agreement on maritime conduct.

The dispute revolves round competing claims over the Spratlys, a group of 250 uninhabitable islets spread over 165,000 square miles.

On Sunday, three Chinese coast guard ships stopped two Filipino civilian vessels from delivering food, water and construction materials to troops based on a ship that was deliberately run aground on reef in the Spratlys in 1999 to reinforce the Philippines' claim.

Manila called the Chinese actions "a clear and urgent threat to the rights and interests of the Philippines".

Under the draft accord, the Philippines will allow U.S. forces joint use of facilities in several military bases like Manila, Clark, Palawan, Cebu, Nueva Ecija, and La Union, a military official with knowledge of the negotiations.

"We are only offering U.S. military forces access to fewer military bases," Ambassador Eduardo Malaya, a member of the panel negotiating with the Americans, said.

Manila refused a request for use of civilian airfields and ports, like Subic Freeport Bay, Laoag and Davao international airports, according to the military official.

Batino said the agreement will be legally binding but will not require ratification by the Philippine Senate, which could delay the actual U.S. deployment.

Article Source: Yahoo News

Manila air-drops supplies to troops on disputed reef

The Philippines air-dropped food and water to soldiers posted on a grounded transport ship on a disputed South China Sea shoal, after China blocked two supply ships from reaching the troops, a senior navy official said on Wednesday.

Chinese ships patrolling waters around Second Thomas Shoal, known in China as the Ren'ai reef, on Sunday ordered the Philippine ships carrying construction materials to leave the area.

Beijing claims Manila is trying to start construction on the disputed reef after it ran aground an old transport ship in 1999 to mark its territory and stationed marines on the ship. Manila claims the Shoal is part of the Philippine's continental shelf.

"We only intend to improve the conditions there, we have no plans to expand or build permanent structures on the shoal," said a Philippines navy official, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

"On Monday, we sent a navy Islander plane to drop food and water, but it will only last a few days. We really have to send back the civilian boats. Since last year, we've been resupplying our troops using civilian ships to avoid confrontation and this was the first time China blocked them."

On Tuesday, Manila summoned the second highest Chinese embassy official to hand over a strong-worded protest, calling the blockade "a clear and urgent threat to the rights and interests of the Philippines".

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said China had called in Philippine diplomats in Beijing to lodge a protest in response.

"The Philippines' motive in trying to illegally occupy Ren'ai reef and create incidents in the South China Sea is abundantly clear. China calls on the Philippines to stop all its provocative actions," he added.

The Second Thomas Shoal, a strategic gateway to Reed Bank, believed to be rich in oil and natural gas, is one of several possible maritime flashpoints that could prompt the United States to intervene in defense of Asian allies troubled by increasingly assertive Chinese maritime claims.

WASHINGTON CALLS BLOCKADE "PROVOCATIVE"

On Wednesday, Washington said it was troubled by China's blockage of the Philippines ships, calling it "a provocative move that raises tensions."

"Pending resolution of competing claims in the South China Sea, there should be no interference with the efforts of claimants to maintain the status quo," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. She added that "freedom of navigation" in the area "must be maintained."

China has objected to efforts by Manila to challenge its territorial claims under the Law of the Sea at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

Ernest Bower of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank said new pressure on Manila could be due to China's perception that the United States has shown weakness in dealing with crises in Syria and Ukraine and will be similarly lacking in resolve in Asia - in spite of its declared policy "pivot" to the region.

It also reflected Chinese concerns about negotiations expected to bring about broader access for U.S. troops to the Philippines, he said.

"The Chinese see a very unhappy situation in the Philippines - that one of their smaller neighbors is taking them to court and working with the Americans for expanded military access," Bower said. "It does not fit with the Chinese script of where they want to be in terms of the South China Sea and their sovereign claims."

Bower said such incidents raised the risk that a small clash could escalate and it was important for the United States to make its commitment to the region clear ahead of a planned visit to Asia, including the Philippines, by President Barack Obama next month.

"The Chinese look at the situation in Syria and Ukraine and they look at the so-called Asia pivot and they don't think there is any political foundation that has been built that would support American action in Asia if push came to shove," he said.

Beijing's claim over islands, reefs and atolls that form the Spratlys, a group of 250 uninhabitable islets spread over 165,000 square miles, has set it directly against U.S. allies Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also lay claim to parts of the South China Sea. China also has competing territorial claims further north with Japan, a major U.S. ally in Asia.

The South China Sea provides 10 percent of the global fish catch, carries $5 trillion in ship borne trade a year and its seabed is believed to be rich with energy reserves.

Article Source: Yahoo News

Philippines protests China stopping troop resupply

The Chinese coast guard prevented delivery of supplies to Filipino soldiers guarding a disputed shoal in the South China Sea and an envoy rejected a Philippine protest over the interference, officials said Tuesday.

Chinese ships prevented two Filipino civilian vessels hired by the Philippine navy from reaching Second Thomas Shoal on Sunday, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. The shoal is called Ayungin Shoal by Manila and Ren'ai Reef by the Chinese.

"Ayungin Shoal is part of the continental shelf of the Philippines and therefore, the Philippines is entitled to exercise sovereignty rights and jurisdiction in the area without the permission of other states," the statement said.

China's actions "constitute a clear and urgent threat to the rights and interests of the Philippines" under the Law of the Sea, it added.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the resupply was a routine activity that hasn't been interrupted by the Chinese in the past.

"For 15 years we have conducted regular resupply missions and personnel rotation without interference from China," he said.

He said the Chinese ships used digital signs, sirens and megaphones in ordering the Filipino vessels to leave. The Filipinos returned to Palawan, the nearest Philippine province east of the Shoal.
China's charge d'affaires was summoned and handed the protest note. Hernandez said that as in the past, Beijing rejected the protest.

Less than a month ago, Manila also protested a Chinese water cannon attack on Filipino fisherman near another disputed shoal. No one was injured in the Jan. 27 incident at the Scarborough Shoal off the country's main island of Luzon in the north.

The Filipino troops awaiting fresh supplies are stationed on a decrepit military hospital ship that ran aground in 1999 on the shallow coral outcrop of the Second Thomas Shoal. The rusty ship has since become the symbol of the country's sovereignty over the area.

China has been demanding the removal of the ship, claiming that the area is part of Chinese territory.
Department of National Defense spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said "the Chinese coast guard ships blocked our two vessels which were en route to Ayungin to reprovision" the troops. He did not give other details.

The Chinese did not block Philippine marines and supplies to the station last June, a month after the deployment of Chinese ships to the area that also prompted diplomatic protests from Manila.

China's official Xinhua news agency on Monday quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang as saying that the two Philippine ships were loaded with construction materials and were driven away by Chinese coast guard vessels as they approached the shoal.

"China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters including the Ren'ai Reef," Qin said.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea. Nansha is the Chinese name for the Spratlys, a chain of resource-rich islands, islets and reefs claimed partly or wholly by China, Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Article Source: Yahoo News

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Philippine Military on alert for 2 Malaysian bomb experts

Military forces in Mindanao raised their alert level following reports on the alleged presence of two Malaysian bomb experts out to train local terrorists.

Intelligence reports circulating in Cagayan de Oro said the Malaysians are in addition to four Jemaah Islamiyah members – three Indonesians and one Singaporean – in the region engaged in training the Abu Sayyaf militants in Basilan and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Central Mindanao.

The report said a foreign terrorist and 10 BIFF members were targeting Cagayan de Oro for bombing.
The BIFF had earlier threatened to bomb key areas in Mindanao and Manila after it suffered heavy casualties from last week’s firefights with government forces in Central Mindanao. Some 50 BIFF members were reportedly killed in the armed conflict.

The reports named the Singaporean as Mawiya Husayfa who carries a $1-million bounty on his head, and the other three as Abdul Kiram, Mujair Algozi and Basit Usman, whose bounty was placed at $10 million.   

Article Source: Philippine Star

4 slain, 1 hurt in Basilan ambush

Two members of the government militia and two civilians were killed, while another was wounded in an ambush reportedly triggered by a clan war in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan Monday afternoon.

Village councilman Kasuyan Murang and Habir Callitut, both members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit, along with Wahid and Husin Upisalin, both sons of a militiaman, were on their way home when armed men waylaid them in the village of Bohe Lebong at about 3:40 p.m.

The name of the wounded victim was not available as of press time.

“The incident was triggered by rido (clan war),” said Capt. Ma. Rowena Muyuella, spokesperson for the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom).

The military said the victims, all of Barangay Bohe Tambak, were followers of Commander Mongon Agama, while the attackers were said to belong to a group led by Commander Bazir of Barangay Bakisung in Albarka town.

Reports said the attackers escaped after beheading two of the victims. Muyuella said they have yet to verify the report. She said soldiers have been deployed to the ambush site to retrieve the bodies of the victims and to avert a spillover of fighting between the two warring clans.

The military and local government officials have been working to settle the dispute between the two warring clans.

Meanwhile in Abra, four soldiers were wounded in a brief encounter with suspected New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas at the boundary of Barangays Baay-Liccuan and Lacub Monday.

A report from the 41st Infantry Battalion (IB) identified the wounded troopers as 1Lt. Jandon Ihoc, Cpl. Femmie Agcaoili, and Pfcs. Ulysis Ancheta, Bryan Apalin and Mark Joel Callueng.

The military said the soldiers were responding to reports about the alleged presence of rebels in the village of Lenneng, when the encounter broke out.

Although the Procopio Tauro Front of the NPA operating in Abra claimed that two troopers were killed in the incident, police director Senior Superintendent Benjamin Lusad said the soldiers were only wounded.

Diego Wadagan, spokesperson for the NPA in Abra, said they launched an ambush after they monitored the movement of the government troopers.

The attack, Wadagan said, was meant to foil the second phase of the militay’s Oplan Bayanihan in the province and as punitive action against the soldiers of the 41st IB.

Article Source: Philippine Star