Tuesday, April 15, 2014

4 soldiers wounded in clash with NPA in Compostela Valley

From InterAksyon (Apr 16): 4 soldiers wounded in clash with NPA in Compostela Valley

Four soldiers of the 101st Division Reconnaissance Company were wounded in an encounter with an estimated 30 New People's Army fighters in Barangay Teresa, Maco town, Compostela Valley in Monday afternoon, the military said.

Belated reports from Colonel Elmer Quiros, officer-in-charge of the 1001st Infantry Brigade, said the firefight broke out around 4: 30 p.m. and lasted for an hour and 45 minutes, with the rebels supposedly suffering an undetermined number of casualties after artillery fire was brought to bear on the NPA positions to force them to retreat.

Quiros said the NPA band were responsible for torching the equipment of Apex Mining Corporation at Sitio Sawmill, Barangay Masara, Maco town last April 10.

He claimed rebels attacked the firm because of its refusal to give in to extortion demands but the NPA, in an earlier statement, said the raid on Apex was to punish the company for alleged environmental destruction and the oppression of workers, farmers and indigenous people.

The military said the rebel positions had dug trenches and foxholes that could accommodate more than 60 people.


Sabah police believe photo shows kidnapped tourist still alive

From the Malaya Mail Online (Apr 16): Sabah police believe photo shows kidnapped tourist still alive

Police are confident a Chinese tourist abducted from a Semporna resort here is still alive after her captors sent them a photograph of her, The Star reported on its website today.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib confirmed receiving a photo of Chinese national Gao Huayun, 28, but declined to reveal when the photo was taken or the time it was received.

Gao, 29-year-old Shanghainese, and Marcy Dayawan, a 40-year-old Filipina receptionist from the Singamata Reef Resort near Semporna, were nabbed from the resort on April 2 after a group of gunmen stormed the venue.

Last week, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had confirmed receiving a ransom note demanding RM36.4 million in exchange for the Chinese tourist. The Abu Sayyaf, which is a small band of Filipino militants known for abductions for ransom, are the suspected perpetrators.

Suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen also abducted a Taiwanese tourist last November from Pulau Pom Pom, off Sabah’s east coast, killing her husband during the abduction.


Palace to ‘modify’ Bangsamoro draft law

From the Manila Times (Apr 15): Palace to ‘modify’ Bangsamoro draft law

CONTRARY to reports that the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law that was submitted to Malacañang on Monday is already ripe for submission to Congress, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the measure still has to be “modified.”

Describing the document as a “working draft,” the Palace official explained that it still has to pass the scrutiny of government lawyers.

“Only this morning, I sent a text message from the Office of the Executive Secretary regarding the submission yesterday [Monday] of a working draft. By definition, a draft is something that can be supplemented and that can be modified until it is finalized,” Coloma said.

The official was reacting to claims that the submitted draft was lacking in details in terms of policing structure and the Bangsamoro waters. He said though that he was not aware of the missing details but that he would verify it with the Office of the President.

“Even if we knew it, what is most material and what is most important, I believe, is that the legal team will be able to do everything that is necessary to be able to submit the draft bill to the President for his own review and approval,” Coloma pointed out.

Nevertheless, he said he is confident that the Palace review will be done the soonest so that the final version of the bill can be submitted for Congress’ approval.

“The commitment of both panels is to come up with a draft bill that the President will review and certify as urgent to Congress. So this is a joint effort and both sides are doing what is necessary with the sense of urgency to be able to complete the task at hand within the indicative timetable,” Coloma added.

He assured that the government and MILF panels have exercised “due diligence, industry and determination” in order to complete the agreement.

“I think we can say with a reasonable degree of confidence that there is reason to be optimistic that the timetable can be met,” Coloma said.

According to him, the Palace legal team has been monitoring developments in the talks since Day 1 and that the government panel headed by Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer consulted regularly with the same Palace lawyers now reviewing the draft.

“We can be assured that the people that are doing the reviewing are quite familiar with the agreement, and the Bangsamoro Transitory Commission would have referred extensively to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro [CAB] itself,” Coloma said.

Government lawyers, he added, have studied each annex that had been approved to find out how they can come into play in the draft bill. There are four annexes comprising the CAB that was signed on March 27.

“Even when we were in the earlier stage of drafting the Comprehensive Agreement, there was already close coordination on both sides, and the people that are now tasked to review it are quite familiar with the provisions of the agreement, and we would expect them to be familiar with the provisions of the proposed law, which are anyway based on the agreement itself,” Coloma said.

On Monday, the BTC headed by Mohaqer Iqbal submitted the draft measure to the Office of the President and it was Undersecretary Mike Musngi who officially received it.

Palace deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said the measure will be reviewed by the Palace legal team composed of Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Secretary Benjamin Caguioa, “as well as other legal minds in the executive branch of government.”

She added that the Office of the Solicitor General will also be “lending their help” on the matter.


US: No pressure on PH to sign enhanced defense pact

From the Philippine Star posted to ABS-CBN (Apr 15): US: No pressure on PH to sign enhanced defense pact

While encouraged by the ''positive'' outcome of the eighth and possibly last round of negotiations with the Philippines for enhanced defense cooperation, the United States is urging Manila not to be pressured into signing an agreement by the April 28 visit of US President Barack Obama, diplomatic sources said yesterday.

Sources also ruled out a connection between Obama’s visit and the enhanced defense deal or the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s upgrade of the Philippines’ commercial aviation industry status to Category 1.

“These two are not related. It is a technical matter. If the Philippines did not comply it would not have gotten (Category 1),” a source said.

“That is not the case,” another source confirmed. “They have been coming here for the last six years… and there is technical assistance to CAAP. It has nothing to do with the visit. It just so happened. It is a coincidence.”

But they agreed that under current circumstances, it would be good for the Philippines and the US to sign an enhanced defense partnership.

Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, chairman of the Philippine negotiating panel, earlier stressed that a deal would reflect full respect for Philippine sovereignty, as well as guarantee non-permanence of US troops and a prohibition against weapons of mass destruction.

Last week, the FAA restored the Category 1 rating for the Philippine aviation industry six years after it was downgraded to Category 2 due to safety concerns.

With the Category 1 upgrade, Philippine flag carriers can now operate normally and expand their operations in the US.

Still for review

At Malacañang, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. also stressed the FAA upgrade should not be tied with the enhanced defense cooperation agreement being finalized.

In a press briefing yesterday, Coloma said details of an accord on increased rotational presence of US troops in the Philippines would be made public to dispel suspicion that the US had dangled the proverbial carrot to have the deal approved.

“If the agreement has been finalized, then the next step would be for that agreement to be submitted for review by the President, because that is an executive agreement. Definitely, it will have to be reviewed and finally approved by the President,” Coloma said.

Coloma reiterated the agreement was not being rushed in time for the visit of Obama on April 28 to 29.

Aside from the upcoming visit, the US Department of Agriculture announced it was considering importing more mangoes from the Philippines after the FAA upgrade.

“We are aware that the Federal Aviation (Administration) of the US, as with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), had already previously noted some concerns regarding aviation safety. And those concerns were duly addressed by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, resulting in the favorable outcome that was announced to us last week, so that is what it is all about,” Coloma said.

“If in another front we get good news, then we welcome that news with total appreciation, and we hope that it will result… in even more beneficial outcomes to our farmers and to our industry,” Coloma pointed out.

“Let us be aware that there is an entire spectrum of relationships in the international field – both multilateral and bilateral,” he added.

While citing “many interdependencies,” Coloma said the aviation issue came way ahead of the talks on enhanced defense cooperation and should be appreciated differently.

Meanwhile, militant fishers group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said it would be “treacherous” for the government to allow greater American troop presence in the country through an enhanced defense deal with the US.

In a statement, Pamalakaya vice chairman Salvador France said the government had begun construction of a P500-million “mini naval base” for the US military in Oyster Bay in Palawan even before a pact on enhanced defense cooperation could be signed.

The group called the deal “a wholesale sellout of national sovereignty” that “should be challenged in the parliament of the streets, in the court of public opinion and other venues including but not limited to the halls of Philippine Congress and Supreme Court.”

The group noted that in October 2013, Philippine Navy Commodore Joseph Rostum Peña said the “mini-Subic Naval Base” being set up in Palawan could accommodate the navy’s two frigates, both former US Coast Guard cutters.


Albay hosts anew Balikatan 2014

From Malaya (Apr 15): Albay hosts anew Balikatan 2014

Albay hosts again the Philippines-United States annual joint military exercises this year, Balikatan, with a month-long series of humanitarian and civic assistance (HCA) activities in this city and in Guinobatan town, from April 21 to May 22. 
Balikatan 2014 (BK14) organizers have booked about 400 hotel rooms for the purpose, for a full month period, representing about 60% of high-end quality room capacity in the province. The event is the fifth similar PHL-US military-related activities which Albay has hosted since 2007. 
Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said BK14 lends support to the provincial and local government units community outreach initiatives, enhances the program’s interoperability between the participants and local stakeholders, promote the BK14 Exercises and further enhance PHL-US bilateral relations.
Salceda said BK14 civic assistance activities will include Engineering Civic Assistance Program (ENCAP), Cooperative Healthcare (MED/VET) engagements, and Civil Military Operations and Community relations activities in Legazpi City. Guinobatan and several other nearby towns.
BK14 activities, held simultaneously in other parts of the country, involve some 5,500 US and Filipino military personnel. In Albay, some 400 US soldiers will participate in the HCA.
For this year, BK14 will hold three ENCAPs in Guinobatan. In Barangay Malobago, it will construct a barangat health center and two classrooms at the Malobago Elementary School, aside from the repairs of the school’s sanitary, water and electrical facilities. In Barangay Mercedes it will also construct one classroom and repair other facilities.
In Legazpi City, ENCAP activities include the construction of public toilet and water facilities in Barangay Pawa, and repair of the Tamaoyan Elementary School in Barangay Tamaoyan and its sanitary, water and electrical facilities. 
BK14’s Coopeerative health engagement includes health symposia with professional health workers in at least five barangays of Legazpi City and Guinobatan town where AFP and US soldiers are already deployed.
Balikatan is a long-standing joint military activity between the US and the Philippines. It is a process of continuous learning and enhancement the inter-operability of their respective mi8litary units which also serve to further strengthen the relationship between the two countries.
Salceda said BK14 activities include a series of field trainings Naval Station in San Miguel, San Antonio in Zambales; Puerto Princesa City in Palawan; Fort Magsaysay.


Rebels dispute report all they got from mayor’s home were shotguns

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 15): Rebels dispute report all they got from mayor’s home were shotguns
Communist rebels said they got more than just shotguns in Sunday’s raid on the house of Mayor James Joyce of the municipality of Jose Abad Santos in Davao Davao Occidental, which they said proved that the local executive was a warlord.

In a press statement on Monday, the National Democratic Front’s Far South Mindanao Command said guerrillas of the Alex Ababa Command of the New People’s Army who carried out the raid on Joyce’s house in Barangay (village) Culaman in Jose Abad Santos carted away high-powered firearms that included Armalite rifles and a grenade launcher.

Contrary to the police report that the raiders had taken 16 homemade shotguns, the local NDF spokesman Efren Aksasato said the guerrillas actually took four shotguns from Joyce’s “goons” along with an M203 grenade launcher, an M-16 Armalite rifle, two .30-caliber Carbine rifles, two M-14 rifles and a .38-caliber handgun and assorted ammunition.

“The attack was planned to punish Joyce, who is a political warlord and counter-revolutionary,” Aksasato said in the statement.

He said the mayor’s private army was being used against civilians with the blessing of the military.

Joyce also faces criminal charges such as land grabbing and murder in a revolutionary court, he said.

Joyce could not be reached for comment but a military report said the mayor’s guards were “peace and development volunteers.”

Joyce’s ownership of a large number of firearms caught the attention of the National Bureau of Investigation and Joyce men yield high-powered firearms such as AK47s during a raid on Aug. 12, 2012.

The mayor was subsequently sued for illegal possession of firearms but the charges were dismissed by prosecutors after he presented documents showing his ownership of the weapons was legal.


MILF fumes over ‘disturbed’ honeymoon

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 15): MILF fumes over ‘disturbed’ honeymoon

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Tuesday accused the military in Basilan for “disturbing” their “honeymoon period” with Malacañang after its operations against the Abu Sayyaf supposedly killed some of their members.

“That’s why my message to the military in Basilan is please do not disturb the honeymoon period between the MILF and Malacañang because after the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, there is a honeymoon period,” MILF Vice Chairman for Political Affairs Ghadzali Jaafar told reporters.

The government sealed a peace deal with MILF late last month, ending the decades-old armed conflict in Mindanao. On Monday, the government received the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a product of the peace negotiations between the two.

The military launched operations in Basilan against the Abu Sayyaf on Friday. Reports said that 18 were killed from the ASG while two soldiers died.

But Jaafar said he received reports that four members of the MILF were killed from the operations.

“The report that I’m getting is that our men in that area were affected directly although the target was not them….So we think dapat malaman ang dahilan bakit nagkaganun because probably someone committed a mistake again and dapat hindi ito maulit,” he said.

Jaafar said the issue has already reached the International Monitoring Team, but added that the MILF is also conducting its own investigation.

The IMT is tasked to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF.

Armed Forces chief General Emmanuel Bautista, meanwhile, said those MILF that joined the series of clashes were there in “personal capacity” as some of those involved were their relatives.

“We are in touch with the MILF. There were persons who joined in their personal capacity because they were relatives,” he told reporters.