Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Philippines asserts rights over Pag-asa island

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 9): Philippines asserts rights over Pag-asa island

The Philippines has asserted the country’s exclusive right to develop those parts of the disputed Spratlys archipelago within its exclusive economic zone in the wake of China’s objections to the government’s reported plan to rehabilitate and build new infrastructures on Pag-asa island in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).  The Philippines was well within international law in asserting administrative powers over the Kalayaan island group (KIG), which is part of the Spratly group that China claims in its entirety, said Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, the spokesperson of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Pag-asa is an island in the Kalayaan chain some 285 nautical miles (roughly 528 kilometers) from Palawan where the Philippines has long established a military and civilian presence. “Pag-asa island is part of the KIG over which the Philippines exercises territorial sovereignty, jurisdiction and effective administration in accordance with international law,” Hernandez said in a statement. “The waters and continental shelf around and between the KIG and the Philippine archipelago form part of the national territory of the Philippines. The development of Pag-asa island in the West Philippine Sea is an exercise of [Philippine] sovereignty, which all countries should respect,” he said.

Hernandez was reacting to a Beijing statement opposing the fortification of Pag-asa island, where the Philippine military has made plans to rehabilitate the deteriorating runway and to build new infrastructure facilities. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei had said in a press briefing on Monday that China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratlys, a resource-rich group of islets and atolls that the Chinese call Nansha. He called on the Philippines to “comply with established parameters of conduct among claimant nations in the disputed waters,” the same appeal the DFA had made to China in response to Beijing’s recent activities which the Philippines regards as incursions in the West Philippine Sea.

Even as it expressed opposition to the Philippine plans for Pag-asa’s development, the Chinese government is pursuing plans to spend $1.6 billion to develop Sansha, the controversial administrative city that Beijing established last year to ostensibly govern the Spratlys. The Philippines has a standing protest against the establishment of Sansha City, saying its administrative scope encroached into territories within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Just last week, the DFA called on China to “act responsibly and refrain from taking further action that will heighten tensions” in the disputed waters following reports that China’s has been conducting military drills and sea patrols in the West Philippine Sea.


Drone was launched during US-only exercise in Sept.’—US Embassy

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 8): Drone was launched during US-only exercise in Sept.’—US Embassy

The United States-made drone recovered off Ticao Island in Masbate on Sunday morning was launched during a week-long US-only exercise in September, the US Embassy in Manila said Tuesday. “The unarmed target drone that washed ashore off the coast of Masbate Island is an expended BQM-74E Aerial Target drone that was launched from the USS Chafee (DDG 90) during exercise Valiant Shield 2012 on September 19, 2012 off the coast of Guam,” spokeswoman Tina Malone said in a statement.

The Valiant Shield 2012, held every two years since 2006 which focuses on the cooperation between US military branches, took place in Guam last September.

“It appears that ocean currents brought the drone to where it washed ashore last week off Masbate Island,” it added.

The military has already dispatched an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team for investigation.

“We sent an EOD team for initial investigations on the navy drone. The EOD team found that the drone already has some barnacles and assessed to be safe for transport,” military spokesman Colonel Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr. said.


Protest US drone found in Masbate, P-Noy urged

From the Philippine Star (Jan 9): Protest US drone found in Masbate, P-Noy urged

Masbate-based fishermen have asked President Benigno Aquino III to protest the incident involving a US-made aerial vehicle that crashed off the waters of Ticao Island in Masbate, fisherfolk group Pamalakaya said on Wednesday. "We call your presidency to rescind the relationship with Washington D.C, protest the horrible incident and tell US President Barack Obama that it is time to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement," Pamalakaya said in a statement.

The group also asked MalacaƱang to direct the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to immediately send a diplomatic protest against the incident. "Mr. Aquino is politically, constitutionally and morally obliged to stand up against this de facto declaration of war against nearly 100 million Filipinos," the group added.

Meanwhile, Anakpawis party list vice chairperson Fernando Hicap said the Masbate crash incident is not the country's first encounter with a U.S. drone. He cited that in 2005, a drone crashed in Sultan Kudarat. In 2009, a drone was discovered off the coast of Pio V. Corpuz town in Masbate during the Joint US- Philippine Balikatan exercises. Last year, a U.S. drone airstrike reportedly killed 15 Jeemayah Islamiyah rebels in Jolo, Sulu.


PNP reorganization continues

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 9): PNP reorganization continues

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, Director General Alan Purisima, yesterday formally installed 12 more police officials to key positions in the Command Group, Directorial Staff and Police Regional Offices.The latest round of reorganization was triggered by the upward movement of third level PNP officers occupying key positions in different levels of command.

Designated to new positions are: Deputy Director Rommel Heredia, Acting Deputy Chief for Administration; Director Ager Ontog, Acting Deputy Chief for Operations; Director Felipe Rojas, Acting Chief of Directorial Staff; Chief Supt. Manuel Barcena, Acting Director, DIPO-Eastern Mindanao; Chief Supt. Ricardo Marquez, Acting Regional Director, Police Regional Office 1; Chief Supt. Clarence Guinto, Acting Regional Director, Police Regional Office 5; Chief Supt. Noel delos Reyes, Acting Regional Director, PRO-ARMM; Chief Supt. Getulio Napenas, Acting Regional Director, PRO 13.

It can be recalled that last Dec. 26, the Chief PNP effected a minor reorganization in the upper echelon and designated five PNP officials to new posts, namely: Director Catalino Cuy, Acting Director for Personnel and Records Management; Director Cipriano Querol Jr., Acting Director for Intelligence; Chief Supt. Napoleon Estilles, Acting Director for Plans; Chief Supt. Carmelo Valmoria, Acting Director, Special Action Force; and Chief Supt. Juanito Vano Jr., Acting Regional Director, Police Regional Office 9.

Meanwhile, Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the PNP needs to intensify its peacekeeping efforts so as not to spoil the economic gains seen in 2012 and the start of 2013. “We are being eyed by foreign investors and tourists alike, and all the government’s efforts will be for naught if we are unable to address these alarming cases of gun-toting elements gone wild,” Pangilinan said.

“The last thing we need right now is for the public to feel unsafe outside their homes, and for our police to be mired in yet another controversy. Our economic gains will mean nothing if we can’t maintain peace and order in the country. We will all need to work together to make progress happen, and we will need a PNP that is resolute in its efforts to maintain peace and order in a country that is on the verge of making great breakthroughs in the Southeast Asian Region. Key to economic progress is a modernized criminal justice system, and critical in this modrnization is a professional police organization,” the senator said.


Answer Bangsamoro suit, SC orders SolGen

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 9): Answer Bangsamoro suit, SC orders SolGen

Government lawyers have been tasked to comment on a suit filed by lawyer Ely Pamatong challenging the government’s agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for a Bangsamoro homeland.  In a press briefing, acting spokesman Ma. Victoria Gleoresty Guerra announced that “no restraining order” or other relief had been granted by the tribunal on the suit filed last December. “The solicitor general was asked to comment” Guerra pointed out.

Erstwhile presidential candidate Elly Pamatong, and his group, the International Ministries for Perfect and Party Against Communism and Terrorism Inc. (Imppact) urged the tribunal to stop the implementation of the agreement. Pamatong, however, failed to include a copy of the agreement in his pleadings but alleged in his separate petitions that the government peace panel (GPP) committed grave abuse of discretion. He pointed out that while the Constitution provides for an Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the creation of a “Bangsamoro” is not cited and that the GPP, as a result, “has usurped the power of Congress to enact, amend or repeal laws vested on it by the Constitution.”

Pamatong insists that the agreement is similar to the Bangsamoro juridical entity formed during the Arroyo administration but was struck down by the high court. By replacing the ARMM with Bangsamoro, the GPP “acted without or in excess of its jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction,” petitioners claimed. The petition also assailed the description of the Bangsamoro government in the agreement as that of a ministerial form.

The Framework Agreement stipulated the creation of a Bangsamoro government in five provinces — Basilan, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi and the cities of Marawi, Cotabato and Isabela and six other municipalities of North Cotabato. “These provinces and cities are all covered by the 1976 Tripoli Agreement. Both the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) and the MILF are representing the same people and the same territory. Surely, the implementation of the Framework Agreement will nullify the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement,” Pamatong argued.

He pointed out that the existence of the ARMM was by virtue of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, an international treaty recognized by the Organization of Islamic Conference and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement. “The dissolution of the ARMM will mean the dissolution of the two agreements. Indeed, in 1987, the Philippine government honored its commitment to an international agreement by including in the Constitution the creation of an ARMM,” he stressed.

The petitioner also questioned why the GPP-MILF exploratory talks were held in Malaysia. He said it is not a neutral country because of its claims over the disputed Sabah Island, which the Philippines is also claiming. Pamatong filed the petitions as a taxpayer and also as president of Imppact. He was joined by Rev. Vicente Libradores Aquino and Rev. Mercidita Redoble.

The peace panel was headed by newly appointed SC Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, who earlier vowed to inhibit in any petition in the high court questioning the framework deal that was signed last Oct. 15. It can be recalled that an earlier deal, the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain, was declared unconstitutional by the SC in 2008.

The new Muslim autonomous region (a new autonomous political entity or NPE) would replace the existinlgeg Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) comprised of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao and Maguindanao provinces. It covers a smaller area compared to what was identified in the failed MoA-AD during the Arroyo administration: the five provinces of the ARMM, six Lanao del Norte municipalities, and villages in sixmunicipalities in North Cotabato, Cotabato City, and Isabela City in Basilan.


US claims wayward drone drifted from Guam drill

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 9): US claims wayward drone drifted from Guam drill

The United States yesterday confirmed it owned a drone found in the sea off Masbate but claimed that the craft only drifted into Filipino territory after crashing at sea four months ago. The “unarmed target drone” was deployed from the guided missile destroyer USS Chafee in war games off the coast of Guam in September last year, the US Embassy in Manila said in a statement.

The militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) wanted a Senate probe into the crash of a United States-made  drone in waters off Masbate, calling the incident a “violation of national sovereignty.”

The drone, a BGM-74E Chuckar III — described as an aerial target drone used in military exercises crashed off Ticao Island Sunday morning and was discovered by local fishermen. Police said locals initially thought it was a bomb and panicked. The US Embassy said the drone was unarmed and not used for surveillance. “It appears the ocean currents brought the drone to where it washed ashore last week off Masbate island,” it said.

Fishermen found the drone drifting just off the coast of the island in central Philippines, about 2,500 kilometers from Guam, during the weekend. President Aquino had previously said US drones are allowed to conduct reconnaissance missions in the Philippines as part of efforts to contain a range of security threats.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has said drones are used during annual joint military exercises with the US in its waters, while some 600 US forces have been in Mindanao since 2002 to help train local troops to deal with Islamic militants.

Nevertheless the discovery of the drone stirred controversy in the Philippines, prompting local authorities to insist the machine was not being used for spying or to fire weapons at targets.
“It is not a spy plane. It is unarmed. It is used by the US Navy in its training,” Philippine military spokesman Colonel Arnulfo Burgos said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs released a similar statement, although qualifying it by emphasizing its comments were based on assurances from the US government. “At this point, we have been assured by the US Embassy that the reported aerial vehicle is by design and purpose solely used for target practice and not armed or used for surveillance,” the statement said.

Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes alleged the drone was proof the United States, a former colonial ruler of the Philippines, was violating Filipino sovereignty. “No sovereign nation would allow a foreign power unhampered use of domestic airspace,” Reyes said in a statement. “Whether it is an aerial target drone, a surveillance drone or an attack drone, there are no clear guidelines on the use of these unmanned aerial vehicles in Philippine territory,” Reyes added.

“It appears that the US government has been using the Visiting Forces Agreement to gain unrestricted movement in Philippine airspace,” he added. Reyes said the use of drones within Philippine territory poses more questions about the VFA, Article 8, Section 3 of which provides that “aircraft operated by or for the United States armed forces shall observe local air traffic control regulations while in the Philippines.” “This does not seem to hold true for US drones,” Reyes observed.

“The problem with US drones is that they can be used for surveillance and they can be used for actual combat operations. We have a situation where a foreign power can fly anytime and anywhere it wants, undertake surveillance, and on occasion, even participate in actual combat operations. Drones underscore US direct involvement in internal conflict in the Philippines,” he added.


Army, PNP seek civilians' vigilance vs bombers

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 9): Army, PNP seek civilians' vigilance vs bombers

Army and Philippine National Police (PNP) authorities have called on civilians and commuters in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat to remain vigilant in the face of the rash of bombings that hit the region. Colonel Prudencio Asto, speaking for the regional military's 6th Infantry Division, said while the Army, in cooperation with the police, is considering extortion as the motive in the bombings in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao and the town of Isulan in Sultan Kudarat and Tacurong City, it is not discounting sabotage as another possible motive. Asto noted four incidents since December 26 where civilians alerted the police and military and prevented the bombings in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

 The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, on the other hand, offered to work with the Army in determining the brains behind the bombings. Al Haj Murad, MILF chief, said the MILF which is talking peace with the government, has expressed alarm over the incidents. He said it could be the handiwork of a third party or saboteurs who would not want the peace process to succeed. He did not name names. "We are sad it is happening when we are in the thick of negotiations with the government and we are almost there," Murad told reporters.

An Army intelligence officer said those behind the bombings could be members of the al-Khobar extortion gang. Al-Khobar was blamed by police for previous bomb attacks against bus firms that ignore extortion demand from the group. The group is composed of former Moro rebels turned bandits. The same intelligence officer said the bombings and extortion activities could be the handiwork of local politicians who are raising funds as the campaign period draws near. Another police intelligence officer who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to talk to reporters, said the military has leads in all these bombings. He did not elaborate.

Maj. Gen. Ronnie Ordoyo, 6th Infantry Division chief, has ordered all brigade commanders under him to institute measures and back the PNP in containing the bombing threats. Bomb sniffing dogs are being procured by the military and the police to support the campaign against terrorism in the provinces of Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.

Cotabato City, which was rocked by three bombing attempts last December, and the provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat remained under state of emergency in the aftermath of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre.


NAVFORSOL transports US drone to Navy command in Cavite

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 9): NAVFORSOL transports US drone to Navy command in Cavite

The United States (US)-made unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone found in Masbate waters and which had been in the custody of the Philippine Navy’s Naval Forces for Southern Luzon (PN-NAVFORSOL) headquarters here, was transported Tuesday to the PN Sea System Command in Cavity City, a ranking Navy officer said Wednesday. Navy Capt. Rommel Jason Galang, NAVFORSOL deputy commander, said in a telephone interview that the 12-foot-long US drone was expected to arrive at the PN command in Cavite City this morning.

When asked on how the cargo was transported, Galang refused to give details. He said authorities in San Jacinto town in Ticao Island in Masbate turned over on Monday night the US UAV to a four-member Naval Special Operation Group (NAVSOG) that was sent there to look into the incident and take hold of the aerial machine.Galang said the four members of NAVSOG are highly trained on retrieval operations.

The NAVSOG immediately transferred the aerial  vehicle to the PG378 navy gunboat and sailed from San Jacinto Port in Masbate to  Pasacao Portin Camarines Sur where it arrived there at about 11:30 P.M. Monday from the Pasacao Port.  The US drone was then hauled to a navy truck and was brought to the NAVFORSOL headquarters at Barangay Rawis, this city. The cargo arrived at around 2 A.M. Tuesday.

The US drone was fished out on Monday by Fishermen in the waters off San Jacinto town on the island of Ticao in Masbate, according to reports reaching the Philippine National Police Bicol Regional Office here.


PRWC/CPP: CPP denounces persistent US violations of Philippine sovereign airspace amid discovery of crashed US drone

Posted to the PRWC Blog (Jan 8): CPP denounces persistent US violations of Philippine sovereign airspace amid discovery of crashed US drone

Information Bureau
Communist Party of the Philippines

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) today said the retrieval yesterday of a crashed US military drone off the coast of Masbate island "brings to the fore the persistent and gross violations of Philippine airspace by the US military. The Aquino regime no less," said the CPP, "has flouted the country's sovereignty in allowing the US to fly its jetfighters and surveillance drones at will within Philippine territory."

Fishermen last Sunday retrieved the drone near Sitio Tacdugan, San Jacinto, Masbate. Markings on the drone indicate it to be a BQM-74E Chukar III, a device manufactured by the Northrup Grumman Corporation. The US embassy claimed that the UAV is a target drone used by the US Navy in military exercises, although the device is regularly used in reconnaissance missions or surveillance operations by the US military and is also capable of delivering payloads.

As before, the AFP was fast to defend the US military, claiming that the drone did not fly and crash in Philippine waters but was only carried in by waves, even before any investigation could be carried out, and even before the US military could issue a definitive statement on the matter.

"Whatever the circumstances behind the crashed US military drone retrieved in Masbate, what cannot be denied is the fact that the US has long been flying not only surveillance drones, but military jetfighters within Philippine territorial airspace," said the CPP. "The US military uses so-called joint military operations as cover to fly its drones to carry out surveillance operations in the Philippines."

"Benigno Aquino III, the puppet chieftain of the US neocolonial state, has given the US the go-signal to carry out drone surveillance operations," the CPP said. "In an interview by the foreign press in 2011, Aquino claimed that he does not favor the operations of US strike drones but asserted that surveillance drones are fine, as if this violates Philippine sovereignty any less."

The CPP asserts that surveillance operations by US military drones constitute involvement in combat operations. "Aquino's claims that surveillance operations are not violative of Philippine sovereignty reveal his outrageously distorted concept of Philippine territorial integrity."

The CPP cited reports by the Associated Press that on February 2, 2012, the US military was involved in a Philippine military operation that dropped so-called "smart bombs" in Parang, Jolo to target alleged "key terrorist leaders."

The CPP also cited an incident on January 29, 2009, where top military and police officials at the 507th PNP Provincial Mobile Group camp in Uson, Masbate witnessed the operation of a US drone by American soldiers that would carry out surveillance operations on the island. The drone, however, caught fire and crashed as it flew over the towns of Pio V Corpus and Esperanza.

MILF: Maguindanao LGU conducts peace caravan for FAB

From the MILF Website (Jan 9): Maguindanao LGU conducts peace caravan for FAB

The provincial government of Maguindanao conducted a peace caravan yesterdy in support of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) - Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Framework Agreement on the Bangsmoro (FAB). Some 500 vehicles maked the peace caravan to jump start the provincial government's suppor program for the successful realization of the GPH - MILF Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
 MILF First Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar welcomed the peace caravan as manifestation of support to the Framework Agreement between the government and MILF. "The MILF commends the provincial government with this program. Our only prayer is that all the local governments will support the peace framework we signed woth the Republic of the Philippines and that they will hold on to their commitment," Jaafar said. The MILF will also send representatives to the forum tomorrow on the FAB, the highlight of the support program of the provincial government.

FAB was signed at Malacanang Palace last October 15, 2012 with the presence of the Malaysian government that has been facilitating the negotiation between the government and MILF since 2001.
The international community, powerful states, donor countries and aid agencies witnessed the signing of and committed their support a nd cooperation to the FAB.


Death in the Family

We have had a death in the family.  My blogging activity will be limited for the next week or so.