Philippine Lawmaker Digging Up New Intelligence on Pressure From China

A Philippine opposition party legislator has been drawing attention for the release of privileged information that suggests China is infringing on offshore islets that the two countries dispute, a potential threat to a recently strengthened diplomatic relationship.

But some people reading his feed suspect personal political motives, including an effort to weaken President Duterte.

Congressman Gary Alejano is using social media to spread intelligence gathered on Chinese activity in the South China Sea. The former marine captain elected in 2013 charged China had planted its flag on a sandbar in Philippine-controlled waters in late July and in mid-September chased a Philippine patrol vessel away from three sandbars in the same waters.

Showing the public

Alejano is giving out this information on Facebook and Twitter to remind Filipinos to be careful of their friendship with China forged under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte over the past year.

This administration and even the government in China are saying that everything is already OK now that we’re talking with each other, the congressman told VOA in a phone interview.

There are so many things happening in the West Philippine Sea [South China Sea] that are not coming out in the open, and I don’t want that the government would just be silent and do nothing,” he said.

Duterte and his foreign affairs secretary acknowledged the report of a Chinese flag at Sandy Cay but said China had not occupied it.

The cay is within 22 kilometers of Philippine-held Thitu Island, part of the Spratly archipelago. The roughly 100 Spratly features belong to the bigger South China Sea.

After Alejano’s claims about the chased patrol boat, the defense secretary told Philippine media it was natural that China would be spotted in the Spratlys.

Beijing claims more than 90 percent of the sea extending from its south coast to Borneo. It has alarmed four rival claimants in Southeast Asia by letting coast guard vessels operate in disputed waters and by building artificial islands, some for possible deployments of radar systems and combat aircraft.

Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam as well as the Philippines contest many of China’s maritime claims.

This is something that the Philippines must be watchful for, Alejano said on Facebook Oct. 4 after charging that Chinese boats used sirens to chase away the Philippine patrol vessel. While the country is talking with China, we should not let our guards down.

That post had received 540 likes, 346 shares and 50 comments as of mid-Wednesday.

Since a world arbitration court ruled last year against the legal basis for much of China’s claim, the Beijing government has tried to get along with other countries.

Duterte set aside the Philippine maritime dispute with China after taking office in June 2016, to diversify Manila’s foreign policy. In October 2016, China pledged $24 billion in aid and investment to the Philippines, which wants outside help with a five-year infrastructure development plan.

Getting attention

Alejano’s reports have gotten attention from a Supreme Chief justice as well as overseas scholars, including one from the Washington-based RAND Corp., who follow South China Sea issues.

For the academia, of course we’re listening because his sources of information would be reliable, said Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines. My suspicion is he’s getting this information from frustrated military people who are concerned about what’s going on in the Spratly region.

Alejano acknowledged friends in the military but declined to disclose his sources. He said he talked to fishermen in March and April to document what he called “harassment” by the Chinese.

Calling attention to Chinese activity in the sea should deter China from testing its luck, said Collin Koh, a maritime security research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

I think to some extent he will serve as sort of a deterrent, because one thing is that if you look at the previous modus operandi, the Chinese will always want to bet on the other victim keeping quiet and trying to keep a low profile, not playing these incidents, not even publicizing it, Koh said.

China also has vexed countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia by moving ships through disputed waters despite overall friendly ties. Those countries seldom challenge China in public.

Alejano also filed a complaint earlier this year to impeach Duterte after learning that the president knew Chinese research vessels had parked off the Philippine Pacific coast in 2016.

The government sometimes withholds information, he said. We want to Duterte to be accountable to the people, he said.

Ulterior motives?

Alejano, who is allied with former anti-government protester and Sen. Antonio Trillanes, may be seeking attention through social media to win a future Senate race, some analysts believe. Alejano said he had not made such plans.

I wouldn’t bring much credence to this guy. His group is out to bring down President Duterte, that’s very clear, and he wants to inherit the mantle of Sen. Trillanes, by posing as a tough guy, said Eduardo Araral, associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s public policy school.

But academics say his reports will likely keep coming � and being heard.

Source: Voice of America

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Indonesian House Speaker Tests Mettle of Corruption Eradication Commission

The tug-of-war over the corruption trial of Indonesia’s speaker of the House of Representatives, Setya Novanto, is testing the mettle of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Long rated the country’s most trusted institution, the KPK has a continuous uphill struggle to undo the deeply entrenched corruption of the Suharto era. The dictator embezzled over $35 billion over his 32-year reign.

Novanto has been linked to at least eight different corruption cases, but his imminent court appearance will be the first of his political life, which started in 1998, the same year modern Indonesia emerged from the Suharto dictatorship.

The difficulty of getting Novanto to even show up in court is a testament to the challenge of accountability in modern Indonesia. He is implicated in what is known as the e-KTP scandal, referring to electronic ID cards. Novanto is accused of graft for demanding a 10 percent cut from a company with a government contract to make the cards.

On April 10, the KPK banned Novanto from leaving the country while they investigated his involvement. A day later, a KPK investigator named Novel Baswedan was partially blinded in an acid attack. Novanto publicly disavowed any connection between the events.

Novanto, who made an appearance on Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign trail, has challenged his status as a target in South Jakarta District Court and checked into a hospital for what he claimed was vertigo related to playing ping pong, a move that was widely ridiculed on social media. He was briefly cleared, but the KPK bounced back, saying he will still be called to testify, along with six other suspects, this year.

The Teflon speaker

Novanto’s charges were suspended last month because a judge ruled that the KPK moved too quickly between a preliminary and advanced investigation. But the KPK has said it has no shortage of evidence on which to charge Novanto, and seems geared for a long fight.

The scale of the e-KTP affair is tidy in relation to a later extortion case involving Novanto that is considered one of the biggest corruption scandals in modern Indonesia. In 2015, he was recorded asking the director of the Freeport mining company for $4 billion in company shares in exchange for a contract extension.

Novanto resigned from his position as Speaker of the House, but then sued the Energy Minister who reported him for defamation under Indonesia’s controversial defamation law. The tape of Novanto’s extortion attempt was ruled inadmissible evidence because it was recorded in private, and the charges were dropped. Novanto returned to his post last November, cementing his reputation as a politician above the law.

His evasion of his court date last month spawned a spate of memes on #thepowerofSetNov, spoofing his seeming untouchability.

Commission under stress

The KPK, founded in 2002, has a nearly 100-percent conviction rate, although it has pursued fewer than 100 cases out of the thousands reported to it each year. Its mandate as an independent, extra-governmental body has been consistently challenged by members of Parliament, and it faced a 26 percent budget cut this year.

President Jokowi is still committed to support and strengthen the KPK, said presidential spokesperson Johan Budi. With regards to the budget cut, it has happened for many ministries and government institutions, at different rates. Budget cuts are a national policy, he said, meaning that they are decided in the House, not the executive branch, and they are not related to the President’s support for KPK.

Public support also remains high, and the acid attack on Novel Baswedan has cemented the Commission’s image as a tireless advocate for good governance.

There have been pro-KPK demonstrations all across Indonesia, like in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, where students stopped traffic to show support for the graft case against Novanto.

The pre-trial ruling says more about Setya Novanto’s ability to play the courts than KPK’s weakness, said Marcus Mietzner, an Indonesian politics expert at Australian National University. The KPK itself is split, but this had nothing to do with the verdict; rather, the KPK is internally undermined by the fight between reformist civilians and conservative police elements. Thus far, the former still have the upper hand, but in the long term, this could change.

If KPK itself decides to drop the Novanto case, he said, it would be a sign that power within the KPK is shifting towards the conservatives.

On the other hand, he said, a successful indictment of Novanto would take out one of the most central figures of Indonesia’s political patronage system � but that system itself would adapt quickly.

Source: Voice of America

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