Wednesday, November 25, 2015

US raises military funding for PH

From ABS-CBN (Nov 25): US raises military funding for PH
MANILA - The Philippines is set to receive a "high amount" of foreign military funding in 2016 after receiving $79 million in bilateral assistance from the US this year, US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg confirmed Wednesday.

Speaking to ANC's Headstart, Goldberg said US President Barack Obama has promised that a big part of $140 million in foreign military funding in the region in 2016 will go to the Philippines.

"A good sum of that will go to the Philippines. We have upped our foreign military funding for the Philippines. It will be somewhere in the range of US$79 million this year. It was originally targeted at $50 million. And 2016 will be a high amount as well. It's increasing and what has been proposed is something called maritime security initiative in the region," he said.

The White House earlier said the Philippines remains the largest recipient of maritime security assistance, which is largely focused on "building the training and logistical base for expanding the Philippine Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Forces’ ability to conduct operations within waters off the Philippines’ coasts."

Goldberg also confirmed the US government will be donating two vessels - the research vessel R/V Melville and the US Coast Guard cutter, the Boutwell - to the Philippines next year.

US President Barack Obama earlier said the R/V Melville can be used for research in maritime areas, while the Boutwell can be used to beef up patrols in the West Philippine Sea.

Obama: US to give 2 more ships to PH

The ambassador said the two vessels will be donated to the Philippine government as part of the US' Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program to rapidly enhance the capability of the Philippines.

"The hydrographic ship, the research ship, will be here sometime in the middle of next year," he said.
He added the Coast Guard cutter will be transformed into a frigate by the Philippines and brought to the country by the second half of 2016.

Goldberg said that under the EDA program, equipment retired by the US military is offered to its allies. This is what happened to the BRP Del Pilar, which was formerly the high endurance cutter "Hamilton" that was commissioned into the US Coast Guard in March 1967.

The 3,390-ton naval ship was transferred to the Philippine government and commissioned into the Philippine Navy on December 2011.

"The Coast Guard cutter was highly desired by many countries but because of our close relationship with the Philippines, we decided... and the need here got the Philippines bumped up in the list. They are getting the Coast Guard cutter. There are costs involved. There are transfer costs, there are upgrades, there are training costs and those are incurred by the receiving country but the ship itself is donated," Goldberg said.

The ambassador said the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which is now being questioned before the Supreme Court, will also be beneficial to Manila's territorial claims.

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks to reporters after touring the Philippine Navy's BRP Gregorio Del Pilar at Manila Harbor. Reuters

EDCA was among the topics discussed by President Aquino and US President Barack Obama last week.

Although the agreement is not directly tied to the West Philippine Sea, Goldberg said it will help boost US presence in the region and promote peace while boosting the military capabilities of the Philippines.

"EDCA is in the mutual security interests of both countries. The reason that it is in the interests of the Philippines is because of what we propose to do under the EDCA. We proposed more cooperation in terms of maritime security, an issue that has emerged as a new interest and a new challenge for the Philippine armed forces. We will be able to pre-supply equipment and put things here. We will be able to have rotational forces all on sovereign Philippine territory, these are not bases and not anything like what we have in the past," he said.

Goldberg said he is disappointed that China did not participate in the UN arbitration process with regards to its competing claims in the West Philippine Sea.

He said the US supports a peaceful diplomatic solution to the sea row, which is one of the steps agreed upon with the Philippines to ease tension in the disputed territory.

"And that's why the United States has supported the Philippines to bring that case even if we haven't made our claims ourselves, even if we haven't had any positions on the claims themselves. We think those should be settled in the context of international arbitration or through bilateral negotiation whichever way is done in a peaceful manner, not through unilateral steps," he said.

US President Barack Obama earlier said China must stop land reclamation in the disputed South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea. He said he and President Aquino "agreed on the need for bold steps to lower tensions including pledging to halt further reclamation, new construction, and militarization of disputed areas in the South China Sea."

"As President Aquino indicated, disputes need to be resolved peacefully, that's why the United States supports the Philippines' decision to use arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to peacefully and lawfully address differences," Obama said.

Senators agree to augment Defense department budget

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 25): Senators agree to augment Defense department budget

Legarda 2

Sen. Loren Legarda is one of the senators who believe that the Department of Defense needs a bigger 2016 budget considering “multifarious threats” facing the Philippines. PHOTO from Office of Sen. Loren Legarda

The proposed budget of the Department of National Defense (DND) for 2016 did not only get the nod of the Senate on Tuesday but senators also agreed to raise its appropriation to address possible security concerns of the country.

No less than the chair of the Senate committee on finance, Senator Loren Legarda, admitted that the P116.2-billion proposed DND budget next year was not enough despite the P250-million augmentation contained in her committee report.

Legarda made this admission in response to a series of questions of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile.

“Given the security environment of the country, Madam Chair, do you think that is really a budget reflecting the concern of the government regarding the security of the country?” asked Enrile.

“Considering the multifarious threats not only domestically but internationally and in the region Mr. President, I personally believe that this is not a sufficient budget,” Legarda said.

READ: PH in record defense spending plan amid China tensions | DND hoping for approval of P25-B military budget

“In fact as we know, there had been already AFP modernization program to my mind, the first has not yet been fulfilled by Congress. In fact, there’s a second modernization plan which we are funding and so I’m certain that the National Defense establishment will say that they will make do with present resources allocated by Congress,” she added.

Legarda also pointed out that the DND’s proposed budget to the Department of Budget and Management was P202.3 billion but it was slashed to P115.8 billion at the House of Representatives. Her committee approved a higher budget of P116.2 billion.

“So if it’s not enough, is the chair of the finance committee defending and presenting this budget agreeable to augmenting the budget of this department in order to secure the safety and security of the Filipino people, given the (present) security environment of the country?” Enrile asked again.

“Of course, Mr. President. In fact before your interpellation and during the weekend when we were working, I already augmented their budget based on the amendments presented and contained in my committee report today and that includes a P250 million to the Office of the Secretary DND QRF (quick response fund) which was not grated by Congress for year 2015,” Legarda said.

“Apart from the P250 million, there were other requests of the Philippine Army… however, this is still not enough Mr. President. The chair is open within the limits of the P3.002 trillion budget to augment the budget of the Defense,” she added.

Enrile then saw the need to scrutinize the entire budget and “sacrifice some in order to protect ourselves.”

Legarda agreed to Enrile’s proposal, saying that “At a proper time, I would be happy to receive amendments from my colleagues or realignments from other agencies for augmentation to the defense budget.”

Suspected NPA leader in Bicol nabbed in Cavite

From GMA News (Nov 25): Suspected NPA leader in Bicol nabbed in Cavite

Police and military operatives arrested on Wednesday an alleged top leader of the New People's Army in Bicol.

Col. Cesar Idio, commander of the Philippine Army's 903rd Infantry Brigade, said Andres Hubilla alias Ka Magno was captured in Trece Martirez City, Cavite.

Idio said Hubilla is a member of the Bicol Regional Party Committee (BRPC) and a former secretary of Komiteng Probinsya ng Sorsogon (KOMPROB SORSOGON).

The suspect is facing charges of murder and attempted murder at the Regional Trial Court of Sorsogon.

Idio said seized from Hubilla during the arrest were hand grenades, cellphones and documents with alleged high intelligence value.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Japan defense minister supports US in South China Sea

From the Philippine Star (Nov 25): Japan defense minister supports US in South China Sea

Japan Minister of Defense Gen Nakatani, middle, visits the USS Arizona Memorial, Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, to lay a wreath in the Shrine Room of the memorial. Nakatani was scheduled to meet with U.S. Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris on Tuesday. The Pacific Command said Nakatani’s discussions were expected to cover security in the region, including in the East and South China Seas. Ballistic missile defense was also on the agenda. Bruce Asato/The Star-Advertiser via AP

Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani is expressing his support for the U.S. Navy's sailing of a warship close to one of China's artificial islands in the South China Sea.

Nakatani met Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris in Hawaii on Tuesday.

Nakatani told reporters he told Harris that the U.S. military was at the forefront of the international community's efforts to protect open, free and peaceful oceans in the South China Sea.

He told reporters he expressed Japan's support for U.S. actions to Harris.

The U.S. Navy sailed a guided missile destroyer inside what China claims is a 12-mile territorial limit around Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands last month.

The move was a challenge to what the U.S. considers Beijing's "excessive claim" of sovereignty in those waters.

China: Philippines breached consensus by filing arbitration case

From the Philippine Star (Nov 25): China: Philippines breached consensus by filing arbitration case

"Our position is crystal clear: we will neither accept nor participate in the arbitration," Chinese Foreign Ministry Spoeksperson Hong Lei said in a press conference on Tuesday. FMPRC

Beijing on Tuesday insisted that the Philippines breached the bilateral consensus between the two countries as it filed an arbitration case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration under the United Nations.

"In an attempt to negate China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, the Philippine side unilaterally initiated the arbitration in breach of bilateral consensus with China and its commitment in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said in a press conference.

Hong maintained that China will neither accept nor participate in the arbitration case in connection to the disputed South China Sea.

The first round of oral arguments on merits before the arbitral tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands has started on Tuesday and will last until November 30.

MalacaƱang assured that the Philippine delegation, headed by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, is fully prepared to present the country's case before the tribunal.

Meanwhile, China is set to install facilities on islands and reefs in the disputed sea to fulfill its "international responsibility and offer better public goods and services to countries in the region."

"For example, the two light houses constructed by us on relevant islands and reefs have made it safer and more convenient for personnel stationed there and ships passing by," Hong said.

The land reclamation project of China on some islands and reefs in the Nansha or Spratly group of islands has been completed since June.

Hong stressed that the construction of defense facilities in the artificial islands is not related to militarization in the region.

READ: China denies militarization in South China Sea

"We will also build a moderate amount of necessary defense facilities on some of the islands and reefs which have nothing to do with militarization, target no one and have no impact on the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea conferred by international law on all countries," the Chinese official said.

President Benigno Aquino III earlier called on China to respect the rule of law following its extensive claims over the South China Sea.

No clashes yet as troops intensify ops vs Abu Sayyaf

From the Philippine Star (Nov 24): No clashes yet as troops intensify ops vs Abu Sayyaf

"Operation Plan Gambit" has been ongoing in the areas of Patikul and Indanan towns, known to have strong presence of the Abu Sayyaf groups. File photo

The Abu Sayyaf group continues to evade the government troops in Sulu, three days after President Benigno Aquino III ordered to intensify the offensive against the bandits following the beheading of a Malaysian captive.

Navy Captain Roy Vincent Trinidad, chief of staff of Joint Task Force ZamBaSulTa, said the military mission dubbed as "Operation Plan Gambit" has been ongoing in the areas of Patikul and Indanan towns, known to have strong presence of the Abu Sayyaf groups.

“But so far there has been no engagement yet,” Trinidad said.

President Aquino, while attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nation Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines to intensify its operations against the Abu Sayyaf group.

Aquino's order came in the wake of the pronouncement of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak seeking justice for the beheading of his compatriot Bernard Then Ted Fen.

Fen was executed by the Abu Sayyaf group a week ago in Mt. Taran, Indanan after his family reportedly failed to pay a P40-million ransom.

The decapitated head of Fen that was recovered in a village of Jolo town has already been handed over to the family of the victim following the police's post-mortem examination.

Trinidad said the search for the headless cadaver of Fen continues in the vicinity of Indanan town.

“The efforts continued to locate the body of Bernard but there is no positive result so far from the ground forces,” Trinidad added.

Day 1 at The Hague: Philippines hits China's lack of basis on claims

From the Philippine Star (Nov 25): Day 1 at The Hague: Philippines hits China's lack of basis on claims

The entire Philippine delegation to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands is composed of 48 individuals, including six Philippine ambassadors from different posts in Europe, counsel, advocates, expert witnesses and support staff. Official Gazette

The Philippines focused on the lack of basis for China's historic claims over the nine-dash line in the South China Sea during the first day of the oral arguments of the hearing on merits at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, Netherlands.

Solicitor General Florin Hilbay took the floor to present the country's sequence of arguments before the tribunal, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said.

Meanwhile, principal counsel Paul Reichler focused in China's historic right claim and how it was derived under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

He pointed out that China's historic claims over the disputed sea do not exist under the provisions of the UNCLOS.

"Mr. Reichler mentioned that China has asserted exclusive rights over the areas covered by the Nine-Dash Line and has deprived the Philippines of fishing and exploration activities," Valte said.

Professor Bernard Oxman of the University of Miami School of Law pointed out the unlawfulness of China's claim to the South China Sea, which is beyond its maritime entitlements under the UNCLOS.

He stressed that China's massive claims over the disputed sea encroaches the rights of coastal states such as the Philippines.

"Andrew Loewenstein argued that even assuming, for the sake of argument, that a claim of historic rights can exist after the UNCLOS, China has failed to satisfy the requirements to establish the claim, namely: a continuous exercise of exclusive control for a long period of time over the said area," Valte said.

Loewenstein showed eight maps showing that China's territory did not include the nine-dash line. The said maps date back to the Ming Dynasty.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario heads the Philippine delegation to The Hague, which is comprised of representatives from the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government.

China reiterated on Tuesday that it will neither accept nor participate in the said arbitration case.