Saturday, January 19, 2013

PRWC/NDF: The revolutionary movement in Southern Tagalog will frustrate the US-Aquino regime’s intensified war of suppression

Posted to the PRWC Blog (Jan 14): The revolutionary movement in Southern Tagalog will frustrate the US-Aquino regime’s intensified war of suppression

Patnubay de Guia
NDF-Southern Tagalog Region

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines-Southern Tagalog Region (NDFP-ST) denounces the unceasing military operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Southern Tagalog despite ceasefire and suspension of military and police operations (SOMO/SOPO).

After the AFP declared its yuletide truce from December 16 to January 2, battalion-size operations continue in the town of Rizal in Laguna. Moreover, military operations carried out by the joint forces of the 1st Special Forces Battalion (SFB) and 202nd Infantry Brigade persist in San Pablo City, particularly in the barangays of San Antonio, Santisimo, San Miguel, San Bartolome and Santa Monica. Regular combat operations have also commenced in the nearby towns such as Victoria and Pagsanjan.

In the Quezon province, military elements carried out Special Warfare Group (SWAG) operations in the town of Real, pretending to be members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in an attempt to deceive the people. Peace and development teams under the 201st Infantry Brigade conducted combat operations in several barangays along the towns of Guinayangan, Calauag and Tagkawayan.

The military also actively pursued combat operations in the Quezon-Bicol border. Forces of the 49th Infantry Battalion under the 9th Infantry Brigade conducted complementary military offensives in Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte in the Bicol region parallel to the combat operations of the 201st Infantry Brigade in the towns of Tagkawayan, Calauag and Guinayangan in the Quezon province. Elements of the 201st Infantry Brigade in Quezon also covered the town of Sta. Elena in Camarines Norte. They set up a military camp in Barangay Maulawin and stationed peace and development teams in Barangay Guitol, both in Sta. Elena, and relentlessly conducted operations in the adjacent barangays along the towns of Sta. Elena, Guinayangan, Calauag and Tagkawayan. Furthermore, elements of the 76th Infantry Battalion stationed in Barangay Bagong Silang in Tagkawayan stretched over the boundary of Labo and Tagkawayan and launched combat operations in Casispalan, Busignon and Kabatuhan until the end of December 2012. On the other side, the barangays of Sta. Elena approaching the Labo-Capalongga border were covered by the 49th Infantry Battalion. They focused their attacks in Barangay Bulala where they stationed a platoon, then extended to three more barangays in Sta. Elena, adjacent to Capalongga and the seaside of Basyad, and stationed a company-size formation in the area from November to December 2012.

In preparation for escalating Oplan Bayanihan in the whole country, movements of state security forces were also carried out during the truce. Just recently, the brigade headquarters of the 202nd Infantry Brigade has been transferred from the town of Rizal to Cavinti in Laguna. The Battalion Headquarters of the 1st Infantry Battalion was also transferred from Kalayaan to the town of Pangil, also in Laguna province. A platoon of the Philippine Marines was deployed in Infanta, Quezon. The 201st Infantry Brigade shifted its focus to the Quezon-Bicol border. Companies of the 76th IBPA and 22nd DRC were redeployed from Catanauan to Tagkawayan in Quezon. Special Action Forces (SAF) and Maneuver Platoons of the Philippine National Police (PNP) were also geared to assist the AFP in its combat operations in the province of Rizal.

These incidents refute the statements of the AFP that they were complying with the ceasefire even after the Aquino regime belatedly extended its SOMO/SOPO until January 15. Because in reality, it was like no truce was declared. After all, peace and development teams were not pulled out in the communities. And these have resulted to numerous human rights violations such as illegal arrests, detention and torture. These only affirmed the lack of sincerity and genuine interest by the AFP, PNP and the Aquino administration to honor the synchronized ceasefire agreement between Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the NDFP.

From the start, the US-Aquino regime was never committed in looking for common political solutions acceptable for both the NDFP and GPH to address the roots of the civil war in the country. The regime only exploits the peace negotiations and ceasefire to cause damage to the revolutionary movement and force the revolutionary people to capitulate. And now, with the failure of Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan, state security forces are in frenzy exhausting everything in its capacity to keep up with its target of significantly reducing, if not totally annihilating, the revolutionary movement in the region to no avail. The deliberate violation of ceasefire by the AFP and the PNP that fortify the redeployment and reshuffling of forces in the region is geared for intensified offensives in the succeeding months. Since they are already carrying out combat operations during the ceasefire, it is certain that they will escalate their offensives after the SOMO and SOPO are lifted.

Aquino’s ceasefire declaration, the AFP’s SOMO and the PNP’s SOPO are just parts of their grandiose show in covering up the continuous suppression perpetrated by state security forces in the pretext of peace and development operations. The pretenses of Oplan Bayanihan have already been unmasked to the vast masses. The bloody and violent track of Aquino’s “righteous path” has been unleashed. With these, the Aquino regime has gone desperate. They are outraged with the resoluteness exhibited by the Filipino people to resist the regime’s fascist rule in the country.

The persistent struggle of the Filipino people defied the regime’s Oplan Bayanihan. Surely, the AFP will become more aggressive in suppressing the political struggles of the people, especially the armed struggle being waged in the countryside. They will meet the abhorrence of the Filipino people with further atrocities. For certain, the military situation in the region will change. The revolutionary movement across the country must heighten its fight against the counterrevolutionary war of suppression by the fascist reactionary government.

In the face of these events, NDFP-ST calls on the NPA, allied organizations, organs of political power and the entire revolutionary people of Southern Tagalog to heighten and bolster their resolve to frustrate the counterrevolutionary onslaughts of the US-Aquino regime, raise their ability to fight in all fronts and gear up for more intense armed and political struggles to effectively deliver the share of the revolutionary movement in Southern Tagalog in achieving the dramatic leap of the people’s war in the whole country to a new height.

4ID opens 14-day reenlistment training

From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Jan 19): 4ID opens 14-day reenlistment training

THE Division Reenlistment Office of the 4th Infantry "Diamond" Division (4ID) opened Saturday the Restructured Reenlistment Training (RRT) at the Division's Grandstand. The program started with an opening prayer offered by CMS Rodrigo A. Litang Sr., Division Sergeant Major. It was followed by the presentation of students by Lieutenant Colonel Juanito B. Vertudez, division reenlistment officer. Lieutenant Colonel Rene R. Cañete, assistant chief of staff for Education and Training of G8, then declared the opening of the training for Batch 01-2013.

A total of 118 enlisted personnel from the line units under 4ID are joining the 14-day training, which serves as a refresher for soldiers to review the basic skills necessary in the performance of their task as combatants in the battlefield. The training is mandatory for soldiers, to be conducted every three years of service, as a pre-requisite for them to be re-enlisted to the regular force of the Armed Forces.

The soldiers will be taught air-to-ground operations, combat lifesaver, immediate action drill, communication security, mechanized infantry drill, forward observer, marksmanship and cultural sensitivity, which are all basic for a soldier to learn.

The Disaster Emergency and Rescue Training (Deart) was also incorporated to prepare soldiers for any disaster, while the Election related Resolutions and Laws were added to the program to help the soldiers in the discharge of their duties during election.

Lieutenant Colonel Rolando C. Dumawa, assistant chief of staff for CMO, G7 who was the keynote speaker, encouraged the students to be more disciplined. Dumawa asked them to do the right thing as prescribed by the Army's vision of "A World Class Army that is a source of national pride."

He emphasized to everybody that by being a more responsive and motivated soldier, "we can help the Army in the attainment of its vision." Dumawa also reminded the soldiers that they should be able to understand the Internal Peace Security Plan "Bayanihan" as the contribution of the Armed Forces to the permanent closure of the armed conflict in the country. "As agents of the state, we are first expected to advocate and adhere to human rights law as one of our good tools in winning peace," he said.

Lieutenant Colonel Eugenio Julio C. Osias IV, 4ID spokesperson, said RRT students should be attentive and take the training seriously for them to be more proficient in combat and other skills necessary for them to efficiently perform their tasks as soldiers of the people. "This training will also help the individual soldier to enhance their ability to lead and develop their time management skills. Also, they should also remember the importance of having a healthy mind and body which is essential in our profession as soldiers,” Osias added.

Police: Loose firearms proliferate in Central Mindanao

From the Sun Star-Davao (Jan 19): Police: Loose firearms proliferate in Central Mindanao

Close to 18,000 firearms are considered "loose" in Central Mindanao, data from the police regional headquarters said. Senior Inspector Benjamin Mauricio, chief of the information office of the Central Mindanao, said there are about 13,000 gun licenses that have expired as of September 2012.

Data also showed that around 4,600 firearms are being kept by rebel groups, including the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples' Army; Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF); Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF); kidnap-for-ransom gangs; wanted persons; and other armed lawless elements.

In Cotabato City, around 3,000 loose firearms have been proliferating since last year, according to Aniceto Rasalan, secretary to the City Mayor.

Unlicensed firearms are also monitored in Kabacan, one of the towns in North Cotabato where crimes perpetuated by riding-in-tandem gunmen are high. The latest casualty in Kabacan by motorcycle-riding attackers was the town's vice mayor, Pol Dulay, who was shot dead in a broad daylight along Poblacion on January 11. Kabacan police chief Superintendent Leo Ajero, said that, most, if not all, weapons used to silence the victims of the riding-in-tandem suspects were unregistered or unlicensed.
"In our analysis, using as basis the results of the ballistic examinations conducted by the Scene of the Crime Operatives in North Cotabato, the criminals have used loose firearms," Ajero said.

Cotabato provincial election supervisor, lawyer Duque Kadatuan, said the implementation of gun could help bring to an end the problem on loose firearm and the use of private armies during the election. But since the firearm ban has been enforced on January 13, no one was arrested during checkpoint, reports said.

"Mas marami pa ang napatay kaysa nahuli ng mga pulis no'ng magsimula ang gun ban (It seems there were a number of persons killed than arrested when the gun ban was enforced)," said M'lang Mayor Lito Pinol during the Municipal Peace and Order Council meeting held Friday where they discussed, among other things, the killing on Thursday of 26-year-old Shernan Mark Duerme. Duerme was the commandant of the Citizens Army Training of the M'lang National High School-Annex in Barangay Lepaga.

Pinol was surprised that Duerme's attackers were able to execute the killing without being detected by authorities. "If the police were dead serious in the enforcement of gun ban, how come Duerme's killers were able to pass through the highway?" asked Pinol.

Ajero said that lawless elements will not respect the gun ban since they do not use firearms that are easily traceable. Despite this, Ajero said they will help ensure the safety of the civilians in his area of responsibility by complementing the gun ban through regular conduct of "Oplan Kapkap Bakal," "Oplan Sita," and the enforcement of the "No Helmet, No Travel" policy.

The operations, he stressed, are among the measures they had undertaken to strengthen police security, following the series of shooting incidents in Kabacan town.

The Oplan Kapkap Bakal is a security measure which would monitor the proliferation of unlicensed firearms through the establishment of mobile check points, the police official said.

Meantime, in nearby Datu Montawal town in Maguindanao, some politicians and individuals are keeping unlicensed firearms, data from PNP said. The PNP, however, has no exact data as to the number of loose firearms that are being kept by politicians' private goons, criminal elements, and other armed lawless groups, according to Mauricio.

Police release cartographic sketch of 2nd suspect in Fabella abduction

From the Zamboanga Today (Jan 19): Police release cartographic sketch of 2nd suspect in Fabella abduction

The local police office yesterday released the cartographic sketch of the 2nd suspect of the Pata Hauz owner Edgar Fabella y Mortera who was abducted by five armed men last January 11, 2013 in Maasin, this city.

City police director Sr. Supt. Edwin de Ocampo said that the cartographic sketch was based on the description of the eyewitness at the scene.De Ocampo said that the second cartographic sketch was the suspect who bought a stick of cigarette and the driver of the color black getaway motorcycle.

The city peace and order council (CPOC) released the first cartographic sketch of one of the suspects as described by Fabella’s son, Zandie, who had a fistfight with the former.

Earlier, Police Regional Office 9 (PRO9) regional director Chief Supt. Juanito Vaño Jr. announced that the kidnappers have already communicated with the family of Fabella. Vaño said the unidentified kidnappers have already stated their demand to the victim’s family but he refrained from elaborating the details not to jeopardize their ongoing operation.

Meanwhile, De Ocampo express optimism on the present update of the kidnapping case as the suspects and the family have already establish an initial contact with each other.

Fabella was abducted by unidentified gunmen on January 11, 2013, outside their restaurant about a few meters from the coastal area of Maasin at about 6:45 p.m. Fabella was forced to board a getaway pump boat together with the three suspects while the other two sped off on board a motorcycle heading towards the downtown area.

The New Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines LT. GEN. Emmanuel T. Bautista

Editorial in the Manila Bulletin (Jan 17): The New Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines LT. GEN. Emmanuel T. Bautista

Lt. Gen. Emmanuel T. Bautista has been named by H.E., President Benigno S. Aquino III, as the 44th Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), succeeding Gen. Jessie D. Dellosa, who relinquished the post three days before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56 on January 20, 2013. The Change of Command ceremony was on January 17, 2013 in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
General Bautista is the fourth AFP chief appointed by President Aquino, after Gen. Ricardo A. David Jr., Gen. Eduardo S. L. Oban, and Gen. Dellosa after their retirement.

Prior to his appointment, General Bautista had been the 54th Commanding General of the Philippine Army, since November 11, 2011. He was previously the Commander of the 3rd Infantry Division (ID) operating in Western and Central Visayas, and Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations or J3. He helped craft the Internal Peace and Security Plan “Bayanihan,” a program he implemented as Army Chief. The Bayanihan veers away from the traditional military approach and focuses on a “people-centered approach.” General Bautista’s record has been exemplary both in the field and in staff positions. He was Commander of the Army’s 702nd Infantry Brigade (IB) and 7th ID, the 24th IB, and the 7th Scout Ranger Company. He also served as Internal Auditor of the AFP, Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans (J5); and Senior Military Assistant to the Secretary of National Defense. A decorated soldier, he was awarded five Distinguished Service Stars, the Gold Cross Medal for Gallantry in Action, the Bronze Cross Medal for bravery, two Outstanding Achievement Medals, 25 Military Merit Medals, and several Military Commendation Medals and Campaign Medals and Ribbons.

General Bautista is a distinguished alumnus of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Dimalupig” Class of 1981, where he graduated among 161 graduates, and received the Commanding General Philippine Army Award, the JUSMAG Saber Award, and the Distinguished Cadet Award (Starman). An Army camp in Jolo, Sulu, was named in honor of his father. He obtained his Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of the Philippines-Diliman. He is a graduate of the Joint and Combined Warfighting Course at the Joint Forces Staff College in Virginia, United States of America; the Grade II Staff and Tactics Course in New Zealand; the Symposium on East Asian Security in Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America; and the Security Sector Development at Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, also in Honolulu. He is married to Bernardita Pardo-Bautista, and they have a son, Paolo Gabriel.

The Manila Bulletin, led by its Chairman of the Board Dr. Emilio T. Yap, President and Publisher Atty. Hermogenes P. Pobre, Executive Vice President Dr. Emilio C. Yap III, Editor-in-Chief Dr. Cris J. Icban Jr., Business Editor Loreto D. Cabañes, Officers and Employees, congratulate Lt. Gen. Emmanuel T. Bautista on his appointment as the new Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. We wish him all the best and success in all his endeavors. CONGRATULATIONS AND MABUHAY!

An encounter for peace in Al-Barka

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 19): An encounter for peace in Al-Barka

MEMBERS of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine Army’s 103rd Brigade test their strengths in a game of tug-of-war in October last year to celebrate the formal signing of the framework peace agreement between the government and MILF negotiators in Malacañang. RICHEL V. UMEL

The last time they met, heads rolled as blood flowed in what was seen as one of the most grossly lopsided encounters between soldiers and Moro rebels in Basilan.
On Jan. 4, pleasantries, not bullets, were exchanged in Al-Barka town. The erstwhile protagonists shared food and coffee in a meeting arranged by the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT), which was overseeing the ceasefire between the military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Lead peace negotiators of the government and the MILF signed in Manila in October last year a historic framework agreement on the Bangsamoro toward ending the decades-long Moro insurgency in Mindanao. Many of the rebels who came to Barangay Magkawa in Al-Barka, like Dan Asnawi and Hud Limaya, have been wanted by the law for their supposed roles in the deaths of 42 government troopers in 2007 and 2011.


Fourteen of the soldiers were beheaded. The military has filed murder charges against Asnawi and Limaya for their alleged roles in the deaths of 19 soldiers and officers on Oct. 18, 2011, and the deaths of 23 Marine soldiers on July 10, 2007.

Col. Carlito Galvez, commander of the Basilan-based 104th Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army, said the Al-Barka meeting was born out of a short notice. “It was actually not part of our scheduled activities. A member of the IMT suggested to us to make a surprise visit to the [MILF] camp there. We agreed and we went there without any fanfare,” Galvez told the Inquirer by phone.

TWO MONTHS after the signing of the peace agreement, gestures of reconciliation abound between Moro guerrillas and government soldiers. Col. Carlito Galvez, head of the 104th Army Brigade, embraces Dan Laksaw Asnawi, head of a Moro Islamic Liberation Front command. JULIE S. ALIPALA

Aware of past military debacles in the town’s jungles, Galvez said he agreed to meet with the MILF leaders, including Asnawi and Limaya, because “if we want to achieve genuine peace with the rebels, we must start somewhere, and this is an opportunity we cannot easily ignore.”


Maj. Franco Alano, acting spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command based in Zamboanga City, said the meeting was part of the series of dialogues tied to the signing of the framework accord. Families of soldiers who died in the 2007 and 2011 attacks in Al-Barka might resent the meeting, Alano said, but he stressed that the “healing process is a must, and we need to make them understand.” Striking peace was also important for the military, he said.

While the cases and the arrest warrants against Asnawi and Limaya are still live, Alano said “legal actions are beyond the AFP now.” “We are doing this as part of the confidence-building measures and to facilitate and increase coordination between our tactical units so that development programs will flourish in Al-Barka, with the help of the Japanese government,” Galvez said.

Abdurasad Sirajan, MILF action officer of Ad Hoc Joint Action Group for Western Mindanao, described the meeting “as historical and very festive.” “It was the first time in the history of Basilan for military commanders from both sides to come face-to-face, embrace each other, share food served on banana leaves and dreams for Basilan,” Sirajan said.

Storm victims get $4M in fresh aid

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 19): Storm victims get $4M in fresh aid

The United States government has given $4 million in additional aid for survivors of Typhoon “Pablo,” according to a top official of an international relief agency.
Stephen Anderson, World Food Programme (WFP) director for the Philippines, said the additional funds from the United States Agency for International Aid (USAID) would benefit at least 170,000 more people in the next two months. Anderson said the latest funding assistance from USAID would allow WFP to purchase 3.4 million kilograms of rice to feed at least 170,000 people for two months. Gloria Steele, USAID Philippine mission director, turned over the funding to WFP.

“The additional support will help thousands of affected families recover from the impact of the disaster and enable them to rebuild their lives,” said Anderson in a press conference here. He said WFP has also received the first installment of a P50-million funding aid that allowed WFP to “roll out cash-for-work activities” like debris clearing and livelihood support in Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley and the Caraga region.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) said they are also continuing efforts to help the typhoon survivors in Southern Mindanao. Aside from distributing food, the ICRC and PNRC said they are also focusing on providing clean water, shelter, health care and other needs of people in areas devastated by Typhoon Pablo.

In Baganga, Davao Oriental, the ICRC and PNRC have put up a field clinic as government- operated health facilities there are still not in operation. “Most of the health facilities in Baganga were either damaged or totally destroyed,” said Dr. Gundula Epp-Graak, who works at the newly established Red Cross Basic Health-care Unit in Baganga.

In his press conference, Anderson admitted that challenges are confronting relief distribution in typhoon-hit areas. “For the past weeks, the relief operations drew complaints that some affected areas were not reached and affected families have not been served,” he said. Anderson admitted that “there might be some gaps in the relief operation system,” which led to fewer relief goods for some survivors than others. This, he said, is a real challenge that relief workers should be able to overcome through a consolidated and united effort.

US Navy sends assessment team for extraction of marooned minesweeper

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 19): US Navy sends assessment team for extraction of marooned minesweeper

The United States Navy has sent an assessment team that would plan and execute the delicate extraction of an American minesweeper from the Tubbataha Reef with the least damage on the marine sanctuary where it has been trapped since Thursday, the unit’s Japan-based fleet has said. The forward-deployed US Navy’s Seventh Fleet also admitted that the grounding of the 68-meter USS Guardian could have damaged the reef just as the incident spurred a demand among concerned Philippine groups for US accountability over the destruction of what is considered a national treasure.

The US Navy has yet to clarify how the ship found its way into the protected marine park while sailing to Puerto Princesa, Palawan. “Without speculating about this particular case, there are potential risks of damage from physical contact between the ship and the reef or sea floor, and from the effects of material from the ship being introduced into the environment,” Lt. Brian Wierzbicki, a public affairs officer the Seventh Fleet, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “We won’t know more until the assessment team arrives on scene,” he said in an e-mail response sent from the fleet’s base in Yokosuka, Japan.

The Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship was en route to its next port call following a routine stop in the Philippines when it struck the reef and got stuck some 128 kilometers off Palawan before dawn on Thursday. The US Navy said the ship was not leaking oil. An official of the Tubbataha marine park earlier said the ship was lying on around 10 meters of coral. Manned by 79 sailors, the ship had arrived at the former US naval base at Subic Bay in Olongapo City on January 13 for a routine resupply, refueling and rest and recreation stop and a quick visit in Puerto Princesa before sailing off to its next destination.

Wierzbicki said the Navy was still investigating how the ship, known to be equipped with top-of-the-line navigational equipment, ran aground the reef in the vast Sulu Sea. “The Navy recognizes that Tubbataha Reef is a unique and treasured environment. The cause of this incident will be thoroughly investigated,” said Wierzbicki when asked for comment on the concern of environment groups. “The full extent of any damage to the reef won’t be determined until the ship is freed from the reef,” he said.

The Seventh Fleet and the US Embassy in Manila said separately that initial attempts to release the Guardian had been unsuccessful. Wierzbicki said the US Navy’s assessment team, dispatched from Puerto Princesa on Friday, would “assess conditions, assist in salvage operations and develop a recovery plan. “[T]heir focus will be to get onboard, get a workable plan in place and work to extract Guardian from the reef with as little damage as possible,”

In a separate statement, US Seventh Fleet commander Vice Admiral Scott Swift said other support vessels have arrived on scene. “Seventh Fleet ships remain on scene and essential Guardian Sailors will continue conducting survey operations onboard the ship as needed until she is recovered. Several support vessels have arrived and all steps are being taken to minimize environmental effects while ensuring the crew’s continued safety,” Swift said. Wierzbicki said 72 of the Guardian’s crew were evacuated Friday and transferred to MV C-Champion, a Military Sealift Command chartered ship, for their safety.

The Embassy said a small team of engineering and bridge personnel would remain aboard the Guardian to work with the assessment team “in an attempt to free the Guardian with minimal environmental impact.” “The remaining seven sailors, which include the commanding officer and executive officer, will also be transferred if conditions become unsafe,” the Embassy said. The Embassy said US authorities “are in close communication” with their Philippine counterparts, including the Tubbataha Management Office.

Solons to AFP: What’s a US warship doing in RP waters?

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 20): Solons to AFP: What’s a US warship doing in RP waters?

Senators Francis Escudero and Loren Legarda are demanding an explanation from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) why a United States Navy warship was in Philippine waters as President Aquino remains mum on the incident that is said to have damaged the country’s precious coral reefs.  Escudero said the US government should also be held liable for all the damage after the USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper, ran aground on Tubbataha Reef. “Did it have authorized access in the first place? Were we informed of its presence in our territory? Why can’t we have official word from concerned authorities about the official status of the ship in our waters?” Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on environment and natural resources, said in a press statement yesterday.

Legarda, on the other hand, wants the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to explain how the USS Guardian was allowed to venture into the Tubbataha Reef.  “The VFACOM is tasked to monitor, in coordination with appropriate government agencies and NGOs, the activities of foreign military and civilian personnel,” Legarda said. “What kind of coordination was carried out when officials on board the USS Guardian refused to respond to the radio calls made by Philippine authorities who were investigating their presence in our protected area?” Legarda asked.

Calling the incident a “very serious one,” Escudero said his committee may launch a probe to uncover possible violations of Philippine and international laws. The PCG stationed in Tubbataha Reef said it radioed in the Guardian’s unauthorized entry and that it caused damage to the reef. Escudero said even Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Raul Hernandez could not say if the warship’s entry was authorized or not. “The reef’s protection status has been severely violated, neglected. We are also looking at what other violations were incurred. We should demand not only for indemnity for damages but also for the restoration costs. Reefs are grown over centuries, the extent of the damage and what it will leave cannot be quantified in any amount,” Escudero said.

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a 97,030-hectare Marine Protected Area in Palawan.
It is 150 kms southeast of Puerto Princesa City at the heart of the Coral Triangle, acknowledged as the global center of marine biodiversity. The Coral Triangle is home to at least 40 percent of the world’s fish and 75 percent of corals. Being in the center of the Coral Triangle, Tubbataha Reef plays a critical role in marine biodiversity preservation, Escudero said.

Reports say the USS Guardian ran aground in the South Atoll, one of the two atolls comprising the reef.  The warship has started to sink, and most of its 79-man crew have abandoned ship. “The US government is in no position right now to act like the Big One in this matter. Our territory, our rights were violated. Therefore, we must demand excellent care when they free the ship from the reef. They already ignored the protection status of the reef once, and here they are again,” Escudero said. He also called on authorities to fully supervise and monitor the immediate extraction of the ship from the area to ensure that no further physical damage will be done to the reef.

Legarda expressed concern over what she said was a “troubling pattern of environmental assault” that has resulted from the visits by United States naval ships in the country. Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on foreign relations, noted the failure by the US authorities to coordinate the movements and route of the USS Guardian while in Philippine waters. “Our Visiting Forces Agreement and other treaties with the United States government is not a free pass so US ships and military personnel can do as they wish in our country, including the destruction of the environment and protected sites in our country,” Legarda said.

Meanwhile, the youth group Anakbayan expressed its outrage over the continuing silence of President Aquino regarding the grounding of the US warship on the protected coral reef. Vencer Crisostomo, national chairperson of Anakbayan, noted that the only statement from Malacanang, which was issued by Palace spokesperson Abi Valte as of the other day, “conveniently skirts the issue of the U.S Navy’s arrogant behavior.”

“While claiming to be more concerned with the extent of the damage to the coral reef, the Palace omits any mention of how the US warship blatantly entered the protected area, ignored the Tubbataha Park officials contacting them, and then pointed their guns at the Park rangers sent to investigate the damage,” he said.

Crisostomo pointed out that only the officials of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) and the Tubbataha Management Office made any mention of the fact that the USS Guardian did not have any permit to enter the Park area, that they repeatedly contacted the ship’s captain to no avail, and that the warship’s crew went on ‘full battle alert’ when they were approached by Park rangers.

“Are the PAWB and Tubbataha Park officials the only ones concerned about the impunity with which US troops violated an important part of our national patrimony? Why has Noynoy kept silent two days after the incident?” said the youth leader.
“Is Noynoy still waiting for the ‘official line’ from the White House and the US State Department so that he can echo it, word for word?” the youth leader asked.

As this developed, the Philippine Navy yesterday announced its naval assets in Palawan are on stand-by to extend possible assistance to USS Guardian. Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Favic, acting PN spokesperson, said that BRP Rizal (PS-74) is now on station at the grounding area and on stand-by to provide what help it could to the stranded Americans. Another PN ship, BRP Mangyan (AS-71), is expected to reach the area later in the day. Favic added the USS Guardian is in no danger of foundering and spilling oil on the marine sanctuary. The acting PN spokesperson also stressed that US Navy personnel are now determining the best way to remove the minesweeper from the reef with the least damage to the environment.

The 68-meter (224-feet) Avenger-class mine counter-measure vessel which is part of the US 7th Fleet, is home ported in Sasebo, Japan. It just made a port call in the former US naval base in Subic Bay, Zambales and supposedly on its way to Persian Gulf to assist in reducing tension along the Strait of Hormuz when it hit a shallow portion of the Tubbataha Reef last Jan. 17.

Likewise, the PCG announced that its marine environmental protection vessel, the BRP Corregidor (AE-891), is now enroute to Tubbataha Reef to render whatever assistance to the stranded USS Guardian. Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena, PCG chief, said that BRP Corregidor is carrying rescuers and marine environmental protection personnel on board. Aside from the two rescue teams from the Coast Guard Special Operations Group and another two teams from the Marine Environmental Protection Command (MEPCOM), a medical team was also dispatched to check the condition of the distressed crew members. Isorena added that MEPCOM personnel also brought marine pollution extraction equipment such as oil spill boom, skimmer and oil dispersant chemicals to prevent any oil spill incident.’s-a-us-warship-doing-in-rp-waters?

US Navy to probe faulty charts in Tubbataha

From Rappler (Jan 19): US Navy to probe faulty charts in Tubbataha

The US Navy will determine if it was faulty navigational charts that caused the USS Guardian to veer off its course. The Navy's own investigation team will "assess the circumstances surrounding" the grounding of one of its ships inside the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park marine protected area on Thursday, January 17. The probe "will include information on faulty navigation chart data that misplaced the location of Tubbataha Reef," a statement from the US Pacific Fleet said on Saturday, January 19.

The statement added that the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency had provided "preliminary findings of a review on Digital Nautical Charts (DNC) that contain inaccurate navigation data and may have been a factor" in the crash. US Navy chief navigator Rear Adm Jonathan White confirmed that DNC mapping was used by the USS Guardian and "initial review of navigation data indicates an error in the location of Tubbataha Reef" on the digital map.

"While the erroneous navigation chart data is important information, no one should jump to conclusions. It is critical that the US Navy conduct a comprehensive investigation that assesses all the facts surrounding the Guardian grounding," said US Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt Darryn James.

Rangers finally aproach stuck ship

Also on Saturday, Park rangers were finally able to approach the USS Guardian for the first time since the American minesweeper ran aground in Tubbataha on Thursday, a park official said. "[The] coordination has improved a lot," chief supervisor Angelique Songco told Rappler after the US Navy had ignored her staff for two consecutive days.
Songco explained that park rangers approached the stuck ship assisted by a marine environmental protection vessel sent by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

PCG commandant Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena ordered on Friday the deployment of the BRP Corregidor to carry personnel from the the Marine Environmental Protection Command, as well as rescue and medical teams from the Special Operations Group (CGSOG) to first help evacuate the 80 US servicemen on board the USS Guardian and then begin assessing the damage to the coral.

The Philippine Navy control craft BRP Ismael Lomibao is also set to arrive in the area to bring CGSOG divers who will take part in the search and rescue operations.
Songco said the US Navy allowed her staff and the Coast Guard to approach the USS Guardian, but civilians have yet to be allowed on the American ship.

Gov't agencies to probe incident

The park management lodged on Friday a formal protest with the US embassy in Manila over the behavior of the commanding officer of the minesweeper. According to Songco, he deployed armed soldiers on deck to discourage the rangers from approaching the ship.

The extent of the damage could not be immediately determined, but the World Wildlife Fund suggested on Thursday that at least 10 meters of the minesweeper's hull had ran aground into the reef.

Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte announced on Saturday that various government agencies will be conducting their own investigation on what happened.
The US Navy may be charged with violating sections 19 and 26 of Republic Act 10067 or the Tubbataha Reefs National Park (TRNP) Act of 2009. It can also expect to pay P12,000 per sqm of damaged coral.

Tubbataha – a multi-awarded conservation project and one of the world's best dive sites – is a 97,030-hectare World Heritage Site with two main atolls home to a huge variety of marine life species, including large pelagics such as manta rays and sharks, as well as pristine coral.

Communist rebels still holding seized cop, soldier

From the Sun Star-Davao (Jan 19):  Communist rebels still holding seized cop, soldier

TWO days after both the New People's Army (NPA) and the Armed Forces lifted the holiday truce on January 15, communist rebels has resumed military offensive against government security forces, abducting an off-duty soldier and a policeman in Laak, Compostela Valley on Thursday. The NPA admitted to have "arrested and detained" the two law enforcers. It said in a statement the two are "being treated well."

The abducted law enforcers were identified as Private First Class Jezreel Culango of the Army's 60th Infantry Battalion and Police Officer 1 Ruel Pasion of San Isidro police. The two were seized at around 8:30 a.m. at a checkpoint set up by at least 30 communist rebels belonging to Guerilla Front 34 Operations Command, in Barangay Imelda.  The NPA also confiscated a .45 caliber pistol in their possession.

Colango was held at gunpoint while Pasion, who passed by during the incident, was also collared by the rebels, who fled towards Barangay Tugpahan with their captives.
In a statement e-mailed to Sun.Star Davao Friday, Rigoberto Sanchez, spokesperson of the NPA's Merardo Arce Command, admitted to have "arrested and detained" the two law enforcers.

"The two prisoners of war are being treated well, their safety are of primordial consideration, as the NPA abides the tenets of international humanitarian law," Sanchez said.

He said the abduction was in retaliation to the attack conducted by the Army's 67th Infantry Brigade and 72nd IB troops on a detached team of NPA political officers belonging to the Guerilla Front 15 Operations Command in sitio Limot in Barangay Binondo in Baganga town, Davao Oriental at around 7 an January 16.

"The Red fighters were alerted and battled it out in a counter-defensive measure, but the team left its two high-powered rifles at the scene," Sanchez said in the same statement.

Army troopers launched on Friday a hot pursuit operation against communist rebels who abducted the two law enforcers. Major Jacob Thaddeus Obligado, commander of the Philippine Army's 10th Infantry Division's Civil Military Operation Battalion (CMOBN), said troops from the 60th Infantry Battalion and Laak Municipal personnel are now working together to rescue the two NPA captives. Obligado said that based on the information they gathered, some of the rebels were wearing military uniforms and the others were in civilian clothes.

Initial investigation conducted by Laak police revealed that Culango was on his way to visit his girlfriend in sitio Mangloy when the rebels conducted the checkpoint in the town. The rebels seized Colango and Pasion, who happened to be just passing by, and were reportedly brought to sitio Tugpahan in Barangay Imelda in Laak.

Obligado said the abduction only showed how desperate the communist rebels are after their legal fronts failed in its propaganda while the soldiers and policemen are busy in providing humanitarian assistance to those families affected of the Typhoon Pablo last December.

"This is a desperate move of the lawless armed group NPA because their legal fronts failed in their propaganda. While the AFP and PNP is busy in providing humanitarian assistance to civilians, typhoon Pablo victims and government agencies, the NPAs are busy initiating violent criminal acts," Obligago said.

Eastern Mindanao Command deputy commander Naval Captain Severino David, in text messages to Sun.Star Davao, also condemned the NPA's action and has committed his support on the pursuit operations against the militant group.

"Kasalukuyan pa rin naming hinahanap ang mga na-kidnap. Pero hindi pa ma-disclose ang ibang details para hindi ma-compromise ang pursuit operations (We are still trying to rescue those abducted, but we cannot disclose details in order not to jeopardize the pursuit operations)," David said.

Gov't seeks continuous assistance from IMT

From the Sun Star (Jan 19): Gov't seeks continuous assistance from IMT

The Government of the Philippines (GPH) has urged the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) to continue to assist the negotiating panels to reach a just and lasting peace in Mindanao. The government made the call as the GPH peace panel convened for the first time the full contingent of the IMT recently to brief them on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) that the Aquino administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed in October last year.

"With you on the ground and as one of our great partners in committing peace, I think it is very important that you should be kept updated on what's happening in the peace talks," peace panel member Yasmin Busran-Lao said, acknowledging that since its establishment in 2004, the IMT has efficiently helped in the significant decrease of recorded ceasefire violations between the GPH and MILF.

"We have to work together in this because the end goal is the same. The government as well as the MILF, together with all the peoples of Bangsamoro want a just and lasting peace," said GPH peace panel member Senen Bacani.

"There will be deliberate efforts made in that regard so that hopefully the final product, will have ownership of all of the governed," he added, explaining further that many of the details will have to be done after due consultations with the stakeholders. Whatever inputs they may have, the result will embody the true aspirations of the Bangsamoro," Bacani said.

The 55-member IMT is tasked to monitor the ceasefire, humanitarian, rehabilitation and socio-economic agreements between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Member-countries of the IMT are Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, Libya and Norway. In addition the European Union has two persons. Four non-government organization (NGOs) also sit in the Civilian Protection Component of the IMT.

IMT-7 Head of Mission Dato' Abdul Rahim Bin Mohd Yusoff vowed "that the IMT will continue to work in sustaining the ceasefire and security of the current GPH-MILF peace process." The panel members said that the negotiating panels will be working out the remaining issues in the next round of talks in Kualal Lumpur this month.

The IMT operates in the provinces of Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga-Sibugay, Zamboanga del Sur, Maguindanao, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Bukidnon, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Palawan.

Tug boats arrive in Tubbataha to remove US ship

From ABS-CBN (Jan 19): Tug boats arrive in Tubbataha to remove US ship

The Philippine Navy's patrol boat spotted two tug boats approaching the Tubbataha Reef at around 7 a.m. Saturday, Major Oliver Baniarya of the Western Command said. Authorities are expecting that the two vessels will help remove the USS Guardian, a US Navy Minesweeper, which ran aground the coral area of the reef on Thursday. All US Navy personnel aboard the USS Guardian were transferred to a support vessel and left Tubbataha.

The 68-meter-long ship is still stuck at the reef, damaging at least 10 meters of corals at approximately 80 miles east-southeast of the Palawan Island. The Protected Areas and Management Board in Palawan (PAWB) chaired by Gov. Abraham Mitra said the United States may be fined for reef damage. “We are very much concerned about the damage. Wala naman sanang exception, kahit kanino, kahit ally, kahit hindi ally,” said Mitra.

The reef’s management, meanwhile, expressed concern that it may take a hundred years before the corals can be restored. As of 5 p.m., the stranded ship slightly moved but remained stuck, causing damage to more corals in the reef. Authorities have called a closed door interagency meeting, which will include military forces, Philippine Coast Guard and the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, to discuss steps in assisting in the ship’s removal. Three ships of the Western Command are also on standby.

Damaged US warship sinking into Sulu Sea

From ABS-CBN (Jan 19): Damaged US warship sinking into Sulu Sea

An environmental disaster looms at one of the nation’s five World Heritage Sites as a freshly refueled US Navy minesweeper has started sinking in waters around Tubbataha Reef. Informed sources told The STAR yesterday that the 1,300-ton, 68-meter-long USS Guardian, which ran aground on the reef at around 2 a.m. Thursday, had started taking in water and sinking, prompting 72 of the 79 crew to abandon ship. No injuries were reported. The seven who remained aboard, including the commanding and executive officers, would try to free the ship from the reef with minimal environmental impact, according to a statement from the US Navy’s 7th Fleet. The cause of the grounding is still under investigation.
Philippine officials said the weather was choppy yesterday with strong winds and rough seas. The sources, who asked not to be named, said the weather added to the difficulty of freeing the Avenger-class ship, which incurred major damage when it struck the reef. The Guardian is forward-deployed to Sasebo, Japan. Eight Filipino-Americans are among the crew.

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Marine Park in the Sulu Sea, one of the country’s most extensive coral networks, is a protected area. Swimming or diving in the park requires a special permit from the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

An initial visual inspection showed that the Guardian damaged at least 10 meters of the reef, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines. Aerial photographs provided by the Philippine military showed the ship’s bow sitting atop corals in shallow turquoise waters, with the stern floating in the deep blue waters.

No oil leaks were reported, but environment groups expressed concern about the ship’s fuel. The Guardian was on its way to Puerto Princesa in Palawan after routine refueling and supply replenishment in Subic Bay last Sunday when it ran aground.

The ship crew reportedly declined assistance from the Philippine Navy, leaving the listing ship only upon the arrival of a US-chartered civilian vessel, the MV C-Champion, at around 10 a.m. yesterday.

Maj. Oliver Banaria, commander of the Palawan-based 6th Civil Relations Group of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the Guardian informed local counterparts about the mishap.

Angelique Songco, head of the government’s Protected Area Management Board, said it was unclear how much of the reef was damaged. She said park rangers were not allowed to board the ship for inspection and were instead told to contact the US embassy in Manila. Their radio calls to the ship were ignored, she said.

A US Navy statement said that “the government of the Philippines was promptly informed of the incident and is being updated regularly.”

P12K per square meter

In 2005, environmental group Greenpeace was fined almost $7,000 after its flagship struck a reef in the same area. PAWB Director Theresa Mundita Lim said the US must be made to pay for damage to the reef. She estimated the cost at P12,000 per square meter of damaged coral.

The Philippine Coast Guard sent the BRP Corregidor, a marine environment protection vessel, to extend assistance to the Guardian. A Navy control craft, the BRP Ismael Lomibao, was also deployed from Puerto Princesa to assist the distressed ship.

In a statement, Coast Guard chief Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena said they sent two rescue teams from the Special Operations Group, two teams from the Marine Environmental Protection Command, and a medical team to the site of the accident.

The Coast Guard detachment in Tubbataha established radio contact with the Guardian and informed the ship that ithad violated Republic Act 10067, the 2009 law governing the Tubbataha marine park, for unauthorized entry and damage to the reef.

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez said director Edilberto Adan of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFACom) was in touch with the US embassy and the Tubbataha Management Office. “There’s an investigation that would be undertaken by appropriate agencies,” Hernandez said. “It’s difficult to say whether this was authorized or not.” He said the government was assessing “the damage and legal violation on the part of that ship.”

Defense cooperation between the Philippines and the United States has intensified in recent years amid China’s increasingly assertive actions to support its maritime territorial claims in the region. During a standoff last year in Panatag or Scarborough Shoal off Zambales between Philippine and Chinese ships, nuclear-powered US submarines surfaced in Subic.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated five sites in the country as World Heritage Sites: Tubbataha, cultural houses in the town of Vigan in Ilocos Sur, the Puerto Princesa SubterraneanRiver National Park in Palawan, the Rice Terraces in the Cordilleras, and agrouping of baroque churches – San Agustin in Manila, Miag-ao in Iloilo, Paoay in Ilocos Norte and Santa Maria in Ilocos Sur. Tubbataha, which covers 130,028 hectares, was designated a World Heritage Site in 1993.

Concerns raised

Senators Loren Legarda and Francis Pangilinan expressed concern about the incident, which came on the heels of the discovery of a US unmanned aerial vehicle floating in Philippine waters. US officials said the drone came from Guam.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who chairs the chamber’s committee on national defense and security, said a closer examination of the incident was needed.

The left-leaning Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said the ship mishap raised questions about the unhampered entry and presence of US forces in the country under the VFA.
“Our officials should have the political will to decisively make (the Americans)accountable,” said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes. “The disrespect by the US toward Tubbataha authorities should be looked into as well.”

The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas and Kalikasan PNE revived calls for the abrogation of the VFA, calling the ship mishap “yet another manifestation of US intervention at the expense of our national sovereignty and patrimony, as well as our people’s livelihood and marine environment.”

US, PHL to search for remains of WWII American soldiers in the Philippines

From GMA News (Jan 18): US, PHL to search for remains of WWII American soldiers in the Philippines

Philippine and US officials will begin preliminary search on the possible locations of the remains of some 80 American soldiers who have been prisoners of war (POW) or have been missing in action (MIA) in the Philippines during World War II. The joint investigation, which will begin this week according to the US Embassy in Manila, is an offshoot of a June 3, 2011 agreement between the two allies “to collaborate in researching, investigating, recovering, and conducting forensic reviews” of remains of American soldiers.

Honolulu-based Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), whose humanitarian mission is to conduct global search, recovery, and laboratory operations to identify more than 83,000 unaccounted-for Americans from past conflicts, will work with Philippine authorities to locate the unaccounted soldiers. “A nine-member investigation team will work with Philippine partners to authenticate leads from eyewitnesses and conduct field research at numerous locations throughout the Philippines to determine whether a return visit for excavation is merited,” the US Embassy in Manila said in a statement Friday.

As part of the agreement, “JPAC personnel are required to respect all Philippine national and local laws and regulations, local customs, traditions and courtesies,” it added. “These investigations have the potential to bring long desired closure for the families of American service members who went missing while serving their country in the second World War,” said Embassy Charge d’Affaires Brian Goldbeck. “We are truly grateful to our Philippine partners for working closely with us to facilitate this project.”
All activities are being closely coordinated with and facilitated by the Philippine government, the US Embassy said. It will be under the supervision of Philippine Departments of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Health, Interior and Local Government, Environment and Natural Resources; the National Museum of the Philippines; the Bureaus of Customs and Immigration; the Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement; the National Bureau of Investigation; the National Commission on Indigenous People; the Armed Forces of the Philippines; and the Philippine National Police.

Palace: Extricating US warship from Tubbataha is main concern

From GMA News (Jan 19): Palace: Extricating US warship from Tubbataha is main concern

While Philippine authorities have started investigating an incident where a US warship ran aground on Tubbataha Reef, Malacañang’s main concern is ensuring the ship is pulled from the site and ensuring the damage to the reef is minimal. Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte also assured the public the government will implement appropriate laws once the investigating agencies submit their recommendations.

“The primary concern is extricating the ship out of the reef with minimal damage. Hindi pa natin makita ang extent hanggang makababa ang divers to check what would hopefully be very minimal damage," she said on government-run dzRB radio on Saturday.

On Thursday, the US Navy said the USS Guardian, its mine countermeasures ship, ran aground on Tubbataha Reef at 2:25 a.m. Jan. 17 while transiting the Sulu Sea.

“The Avenger-class ship had just completed a port call in Subic Bay, Olongapo City, and was en route to her next port of call when the grounding occurred,” the US Navy said.It added the ship got stuck on the reef, and the crew is working “to determine the best method of safely extracting the ship." It added that the USS Guardian, forward-deployed to Sasebo in Japan, was commissioned on Dec. 16, 1989. It has a crew of about 80.

Why was the ship there?

Amid calls for an investigation into the incident and for the US to explain why the ship was in the area, Valte said the Department of Foreign Affairs already said the concerned agencies will be conducting an investigation on how the warship ended up somewhere on Tubbataha Reef. “As we all know, world heritage site 'yan, 'di basta basta nakakapunta riyan. It’s a highly protected area," she said.

She declined to comment on reports about damaged corals. However, she said that once the investigating bodies come up with their findings, “there are laws we have to implement because it is a world heritage site.”

Spanning 97,000 hectares in the central Sulu Sea, Tubbataha is one of the most biologically diverse and productive areas in the Coral Triangle, the world’s cradle of marine life, WWF Philippines said in an article on its website.Also, it said two-thirds of the 68-meter long warship sits on corals in the protected marine area.

No report of oil spill yet

A separate report on "Balitanghali" said the USS Guardian has taken in water but the ship is compartmentalized. It also said there was no report of an oil spill yet.

For its part, the US Navy said the USS Guardian's 79 crew members were temporarily removed and safely transferred by small boat to the nearby support vessels USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) and MSV C-Champion. "Seventh Fleet ships remain on scene and essential Guardian Sailors will continue conducting survey operations aboard the ship as needed until she is recovered," said Vice Admiral Scott Swift, US 7th Fleet commander.

"Several support vessels have arrived and all steps are being taken to minimize environmental effects while ensuring the crew's continued safety," he added. The US Navy said small boats continue to be used to transfer personnel between Guardian and Military Sealift Command ships Bowditch and C-Champion. It added it is operating in coordination with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

PHL Coast Guard sends ships

The Philippine Coast Guard ordered the deployment of their marine environmental protection vessel to the area. PCG commandant Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena ordered the dispatch of BRP Corregidor (AE-891) with rescue and marine environmental protection personnel.

Aside from the two rescue teams from the Coast Guard Special Operations Group (CGSOG) and another two teams from the Marine Environmental Protection Command (MEPCOM), a medical team was also dispatched to check the condition of the distressed crew members. The Coast Guard will be bringing an oil spill boom, skimmer and oil dispersant chemicals to prevent any oil spill.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Navy Control Craft BRP Ismael Lomibao (PG-383) left Puerto Princesa City and also went to Tubbataha Reef Management Park. It had a Coast Guard team to help in the ongoing rescue and evacuation operations of the 79 US personnel aboard.

Should be held liable

The militant umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said the latest incident involving a US warship raises more questions against the unhampered entry and the "permanent" presence of American forces in the country under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

“The violations being committed by American warships in the country through the VFA are already disturbing and our officials should have the political will to decisively make them accountable," said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. “What was its (USS Guardian) mission in Palawan? Is the US operating a base there? What was the approved joint activity that allowed the US to move around our waters?" Reyes added.

NDF calls Oplan Bayanihan a failure

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jan 19): NDF calls Oplan Bayanihan a failure

If the National Democratic Front is to be believed, the Oplan Bayanihan and similar campaign plans implemented by the Armed Forces Central Command and Army’s 3rd Infantry Division in Negros, a priority area for clearing of local insurgents since 2008, ended as a failure. Frank Fernandez, the NDF-Negros spokesman, said that contrary to military claims that the number of New People’s Army rebels is fast dwindling and the revolutionary movement continues to weaken, “the truth speaks otherwise because every year the revolutionary forces accumulate strength.”

Military records show that the number of armed NPA members significantly dropped from its peak of about 1,200 in the late 1980’s to about 200 this year. Col. Oscar Lactao, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, also reported the surrender of 77 rebels, who have availed of livelihood and financial assistance from the provincial government of Negros, as well as from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process.

NDF-Negros also strongly condemned the arrest of those it claims to be innocent civilians during an encounter in Isabela, Negros Occidental, who included a man mistaken to be a rebel leader in Manjuyod, Negros Oriental, with a P5.25 million reward on his head. “Col. (Francisco) Patrimonio and his men, including the PNP in Negros should be ashamed when they boast of big accomplishments that resulted to the weakening of the revolutionary movement,” Fernandez, who is also the alleged secretary of the Komiteng Rehiyonal-Negros, said in a statement he issued.

But Patrimonio debunked claims of a case of “mistaken identity”, referring to the arrest of Felimon Mendrez, commander of the Regional Strike Force of the Komiteng Rehiyonal-Negros, saying that, his identity had been confirmed by several sources.

Fernandez also said that the failure of intelligence units and strike operations of the Philippine Army and PNP is just a result of their desperate acts to recover from their disgrace, citing the alleged numerous casualties of the military in the recent Isabela encounter. He also said that the proposed localized peace talk aims to weaken and lead the surrender of the revolutionary movement.

‘Rebels kill informant’

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jan 19): ‘Rebels kill informant’

A civilian suspected to be a military informant was shot dead in Barangay Riverside, Isabela, Negros Occidental, by two alleged members of the New People’s Army, Wednesday, the day after the ceasefire ended.

Capt. Ariel Quirog, 11th Infantry Battalion Civil Military Operations officer, yesterday said the victim, Dennis Belando de la Paz, was shot by the two rebels, who were armed with an M-16 assault rifle and .45 caliber pistol, at his residence in the place on Wednesday. He succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds.

Quirog said the NPA got angry with civilians who tipped the Army about the presence of a rebel camp in Barangay San Agustin, Isabela, that led to an encounter and its seizure on Dec. 13, 2012. The killing of de la Paz, 28, also took place as members of the fact-finding team of the Commission on Human Rights were investigating the outcome of the Barangay San Agustin encounter.

Investigation by the Isabela police showed that the two armed men were also looking for firearms at the residence of de la Paz, and did not find any. A gun holster and spent shells were recovered at the crime scene. The 11th Infantry Battalion condemned the killing of a civilian, that it said was part of the rebel campaign to terrorize those who are cooperating with the authorities.

MILF: MILF negotiators invited to Japan

From the MILF Website (Jan 19): MILF negotiators invited to Japan

The six-man MILF negotiating team, including its alternate member, is invited to Japan by the Japanese Foreign Ministry, a source told Luwaran today. If the invitation pushes through, the trip would be in March this year.

In a talk with an MILF official, who was not identified in the report, it was disclosed that the MILF accepted the invitation in principle but failed to provide the names, citing overlapping of schedules due to increasing volume of activities of the MILF peace panel. The group, the same official said, will have to determine whether the whole team will go or a half of it will stay.

Currently the members of the MILF peace panel are as follows: Mohagher Iqbal, chairperson, Atty. Michael Mastura, Bobby Alonto, Abhoud Syed Lingga, and Abdulla Camlian. Datu Antonio Kinoc is alternate member. The itinerary of the group includes visiting various ministries to show and learn how the Japanese systems work. They will talk to some Japanese officials.

Muhammad Ameen, chairperson of the MILF Secretariat and speaking for the MILF central committee, thanked the Japanese government for the invitation. He said MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, when appraised of the gesture of the Japanese government, was upbeat of their continuing support to the peace and development in Mindanao especially the new Bangsamoro region.

The government of Japan has been very active in supporting the GPH-MILF peace negotiation as early as 2004 when Japan accepted membership to the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and later in the International Contact Group (ICG). Japan also heads the Socio-economic Component of the IMT. Moreover, it also contributed millions of dollars to relief, rehabilitation, and humanitarian projects in conflict affected areas in Mindanao.

On August 4, 2011, President Benigno Aquino III and MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim met in Tokyo, Japan, in what observers had provided the impetus to hasten the speed of their peace talks that led first to the signing of the Ten-point Decision Points on Principles on April 10, 2012 and finally the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro on October 15, 2012.

Gov't agencies to probe Tubbataha intrusion

From Rappler (Jan 19): Gov't agencies to probe Tubbataha intrusion

How did the USS Guardian end up near the Tubbataha Reef? Deputy Spokesperson Abigail Valte said various government agencies will be conducting their own investigation on how this happened, considering that Tubbataha had been declared a World Heritage site. As such, it is a highly protected area and is not supposed to be easily accessible. 
Protected area superintendent and head of the Tubbataha management office Angelique Songco earlier told Rappler that the ship "entered without a permit" in violation of section 19 of Republic Act 10067 or the Tubbataha Reefs National Park (TRNP) Act of 2009.

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a 97,030-hectare Marine Protected Area in Palawan. It is located 150 kilometers southeast of Puerto Princesa City, at the heart of the Coral Triangle, acknowledged as the global center of marine biodiversity. The Coral Triangle is home to at least 40% of the world’s fish and 75% of corals. Being in the center of the Coral Triangle, Tubbataha Reef plays a critical role in the preservation of marine biodiversity.

The USS Guardian, an Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship, ran aground at 2:25 am near Tubbataha, which is about 98 nautical miles from Puerto Princesa City. "We have to find out kung ano po muna ’yung mga circumstances. As I mentioned yesterday, the primary concern is extricating the ship out of the reef with minimal damage. So hindi pa ho natin makikita ‘yung extent hanggang maitanggal po ‘yan at makababa po ‘yung mga divers natin doon to check what will hopefully be very minimal damage," Valte said in a radio interview.
The extent of the destruction could not be immediately determined even as some reports said 10 meters of coral were damaged by the US navy ship's minesweeper. The ship, according to Valte, would have to be extricated. Besides unauthorized entry, the USS Guardian is also liable to be charged with destroying and disturbing resources inside the marine protected area under section 26 of the TRNP Act. Government will await the results of investigations and subsequent recommendations. "Then we move forward with the guidance of what the law provides," Valte said.

In an earlier statement, the US Navy said, "The Avenger-Class ship had just completed a port call in Subic Bay, Olongapo City and was en route to her next port of call when the grounding occurred. The ship is currently stuck on the reef, approximately 80 miles east-southeast of Palawan. The crew is currently working to determine the best method of safely extracting the ship."

Songco of the Tubbataha management office had said the US Navy should be liable for entering the marine reserve without a permit, damaging corals and not cooperating with local officers. The fine imposed on them, she said, will depend on the extent of the assessed damage.


Meanwhile, Sen Chiz Escudero, chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, said the US government should also be held liable for all damages. Calling the incident a “very serious one,” Escudero said his committee may launch a probe to uncover possible violations of Philippine and international laws. The Philippine Coast Guard stationed in Tubbataha Reef said it radioed the ship's unauthorized entry and reported that it caused damage to the reef.

In a press statement, Escudero said, "The reef's protection status has been severely violated, neglected. We are also looking at what other violations were incurred. We should demand not only for indemnity for damages but also for the restoration costs. Reefs are grown over centuries, the extent of the damage and what it will leave cannot be quantified in any amount."