Philippines may become region’s ‘defense industry hub’

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte brandishes an AK-47 assault rifle as Russian minister of defense Sergei Shoigu applauds. Russia is weighing up a possible partnership to manufacture AK-47 rifles in the Philippines. (Reuters)
Updated 20 September 2018

Philippines may become region’s ‘defense industry hub’

  • Israel wants to manufacture UAVs in the Philippines
  • Russia and South Korea looking for arms and defense manufacturing facilities

MANILA: The Philippines may become the region’s defense industry hub after several countries expressed an interest in basing their arms and defense manufacturing facilities in the country.

Among the facilities are firearms and force protection plants, as well as ones for aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul.

Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson, Arsenio Andolong, cited at least three countries — Israel, Russia and South Korea — as among those with a keen interest to undertake such projects.

However no agreement has been signed yet and proposals are still in the exploratory stage, Andolong said.

There are plans, however, to create a zone processing defense material at the 370-hectare Government Arsenal (GA) in Limay, Bataan. It will be called the Government Arsenal Defense Industrial Economic Zone (GADIEZ), which will accommodate foreign defense firms that want to establish their manufacturing plants in the Philippines.

With Israel, negotiations have been ongoing. “It all began when we purchased our latest acquisitions from them, the force protection equipment during the time of (then Defense Secretary Voltaire) Gazmin,” Andolong said.

“They became more aggressive when we started doing market research for the many things that we wanted. In one of our meetings the plan to put up an export processing zone for war materiel was discussed and that’s when they expressed interest,” he said.

But Israel now changed its focus; they now want to enter into partnership with Philippine Aerospace Development Corporation.

An agreement has yet to be signed however between the Philippine government and an Israeli firm for its entry through aircraft repair.

“I think eventually it will lead to setting up a UAV manufacturing facility,” a highly placed source said.

Russia, meanwhile, is more likely to have a firearms factory in Bataan province, in central Lozun region.

That is despite the ceremonial signing of a Letter of Intent (LoI) of Silver Shadow Advanced Security Systems (SASS) and Rayo Illuminar Corporation (RIC) to “explore opportunities in the manufacturing and refurbishment of small arms and ammunition,” during Duterte’s recent visit to Israel. The project is estimated to be worth $50 million.

Russia, according to Andolong, has been sending representatives to the country to discuss their offer for a joint production facility to produce Russian assault rifles, or AK47s.

“The Russians verbally communicated that they would like to go into a partnership with the GA to manufacture AK47 rifles in the Philippines. But at this time it’s still a verbal proposal. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has required them to submit a feasibility study.”

A proposal by a South Korean firm that also wanted to set up a firearms factory in the Philippines was put on hold after they gave terms and conditions that were not acceptable — such as “there will be capitalization from the government.”

“So everything is still fluid but Russia is in the running because they are offering many nice goodies,” the DND spokesperson said. “Like the submarines, for example; they said if the Philippines can’t afford to purchase then they can give a soft loan to finance it. And they also mentioned about packages they can use to start up the business.”

Andolong said that the reason that these countries chose the Philippines to set up their facilities was mainly because “they want to create a hub here in the Southeast since they don’t have a presence here yet.”

“It may also be “because of our location. Aside from that we are I think the first Southeast Asian country who offered this,” he said.

“The Philippines is close to many potential markets of Russia and Israel, because these two countries, their main exports really are armaments and they have no footprint in this region,” he said.


Taliban rule out cease-fire until it is agreed in talks

Updated 12 August 2020

Taliban rule out cease-fire until it is agreed in talks

  • President Ghani’s order to release 400 hardcore Taliban prisoners opens way for negotiations

KABUL: The Taliban have rejected calls for a truce before the long-awaited talks with the government get underway. They said that the possibility of a cease-fire could be debated only during the talks.

“When our prisoners are released, we will be ready for the talks,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News on Tuesday.

“A cease-fire or reduction of violence can be among the items in the agenda of the talks,” he said.

This follows President Ashraf Ghani signing a decree for the release of 400 hardcore Taliban prisoners on Monday — who Kabul said were responsible for some of the worst attacks in the country in recent years — thereby removing the last obstacle to the start of the negotiations set by the Taliban.

However, Kabul has yet to announce the date of their release.

Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for the government-appointed peace council, said that Doha, Qatar, would be the likely venue.

“Deliberations are continuing, and no decision has been made on a firm date yet,” he said.

Ghani pledged to release the prisoners after the Loya Jirga, or traditional assembly, voiced support for their freedom.

After three days of deliberations the Jirga, which comprises 3,400 delegates, said that its decision was for the sake of “the cessation of bloodshed” and to remove “the obstacle to peace talks.”

After the Jirga’s announcement, Ghani said that “the ball was now in the Taliban’s court” and that they needed to enforce a nationwide cease-fire and begin talks to bring an end to more than 40 years of war, particularly the latest chapter in a conflict that started with the Taliban’s ousting from power in the US-led invasion in late 2001.

The exchange of prisoners between the government and the Taliban was part of a deal signed between the insurgent group and the US in Doha in February
this year.

The prisoner swap program — involving the release of 5,000 Taliban inmates in return for 1,000 security forces held by the group — was to be completed within 10 days in early March, followed by the crucial intra-Afghan talks.

February’s deal between the Taliban emissaries and US delegates, led by the US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, came after 18 months of intensive and secret talks, amid growing public frustration in the US about the Afghan war — America’s longest in history.

Ghani, whose government was sidelined from the February accord, initially voiced his opposition to freeing the Taliban inmates.

However, faced with increasing pressure from the US, Kabul began releasing 4,600 prisoners in a phased manner.

The intra-Afghan talks are also crucial for US President Donald Trump, who is standing for reelection in November and is keen to use the pull-out of forces and the start of negotiations as examples of his successful foreign policy. However, experts say the next stage will not be easy.

Analyst and former journalist Taj Mohammad told Arab News: “The talks will be a long, complicated process, with lots of ups and downs. It took 18 months for the Taliban and US to agree on two points; the withdrawal of all US troops and the Taliban pledging to cut ties with militant groups such as Al-Qaeda. Now, imagine, how long it will take for the completion of a very complicated process of talks between Afghans who will debate women’s rights, minorities rights, election, Islamic values, … the form of government and so on.”

For some ordinary Afghans on the streets, however, the planned talks have revived hopes for peace and security and “are more needed in Afghanistan than in any other country.”

“I am more optimistic now than in the past. All sides have realized they cannot win by force and may have decided to rise to the occasion and come together,” Fateh Shah, a 45-year-old civil servant from Kabul, said.

Others spoke of their dreams to “go back home.”

“I have been away from my village for 19 years, and as soon as peace comes, we will pack up and go there,” said Rasool Dad, a 50-year-old porter who lives as a war-displaced person in Kabul, talking of his desire to return to his birthplace in southern Helmand province.

However, 30-year-old banker Sharif Amiri wasn’t very optimistic about the future.

“Even if the talks turn out to be successful, that will not mean an end to the war or the restoration of security. There are spoilers in the region, at home and at an international level who will try to sabotage peace here,” he said, hinting at rivalries among countries in the region, including major powers such as Russia, China and the US, who have used Afghanistan as a direct and indirect battleground for years.