Tuesday, February 19, 2013

1 dead, 3 hurt as NPA rebels launch simultaneous attacks in Bukidnon

From InterAksyon (Feb 19): 1 dead, 3 hurt as NPA rebels launch simultaneous attacks in Bukidnon

CAMP PHILIPS, BUKIDNON - Around 150 fighters of the Communist Party of the Philippines' New People's Army (NPA) launched a series of raids here at about 6 p.m. Tuesday, catching the security guards of Del Monte Philippines off-guard and leaving one dead and three others injured.

Resident physician Larson Taruq of the Camp Phillips Memorial Hospital identified the fatality as Alfredo Neri, who succumbed to two gunshot wounds on his upper right torso. Taruq said Neri was the guard on duty at the gate when the guerrillas entered the camp.

Seriously injured, Taruq said, were Franklin Millanes (two gunshot wounds on his shoulder blades), Jofol Jumawan (gunshot wound on the right thigh) and a civilian bystander Mario Ayuban (gunshot wound on the left thigh). Neri, Millanes and Jumawan, Taruq said, worked for Kadre Security Forces and General Services - a private security agency contracted by Del Monte Philippines.

“As soon as Millanes, Jumawan and Ayuban were stable, we transferred them to CUMC (Capitol University Medical Center),” Taruq added.

Jorge Madlos, spokesman of the National Democratic Front in Mindanao, confirmed over a local radio station that the NPA carried out the raid on Camp Philips as he blamed Del Monte for the deforestation that contributed to the deadly flashflood that struck Cagayan de Oro City during storm “Sendong” in December 2011.

Lieutenant Colonel Eugenio Osias, spokesman of the Army's 4th Infantry Division, said the rebels arrived in two trucks at the facility of Del Monte at Camp Philips in Manolo Fortich town at around 6 p.m.

The Maoist rebels simultaneously attacked at least three sites here. The rebels burned Del Monte's fertilizer warehouse and logistics office at Vista Villa, Sumilao, Bukidnon; an office of Dole Philippines in La Fortuna, Impasug-ong, Bukidnon and burned three trucks inside a motor pool garage in front of a Caltex gas station in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon.

Another report said about 20 rebels took the cellphones and valuables of the employees of Dole after setting up a checkpoint in Impasug-ong.

Senior Police Officer 2 Jayson Sabac of the 1st Platoon of the Bukidnon Provincial Public Safety Company said their unit responded to a report of a “supposed armed robbery” at a Caltex station, in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon at about 6:20 p.m. Tuesday.

“As we were nearing the gasoline station, we saw what appeared to be a checkpoint and we thought it was manned by other government troops, like the army. Our commander shouted to ask what unit they belonged. When one of the group at the checkpoint answered back 'NPA,' we immediately engaged them in a firefight,” said Sabac, adding that they were at least “20 to 50 meters from the rebels and the firefight lasted around 20 minutes.”

He added that while they were engaged in the firefight, he could hear the heavy equipment inside a motor pool garage in front of the Caltex gas station and that there were some explosions.

Sabac said they were the first to respond because their detachment was in Barangay Alae, Cagayan de Oro City which was only “about 10 to 11 kilometers away from the gas station.”

In a text message Tuesday evening, Bukidnon Governor Alex Calingasan said that three officers of the Manolo Fortich Municipal Police Station while en route to La Fortuna on board their patrol car was blocked by another group of rebels on Atugan Bridge, Malaybalay City.

“Police Supt. Jumalon, PO1 Mandar, PO2 Neri led by Police Insp. Galagala were en route to respond to the incident in Camp Phillips where the main target of the armed group was launched when they were blocked by the rebels at the Atugan Bridge. Taken from the police officers were an M14 rifle, a 9mm pistol, M16 rifle and a .45 caliber pistol,” Calingasan's text message read.

A Kadre security guard—who requested anonymity since he was not authorized to speak on the matter—opined that the communist rebels “may have confiscated two M16 rifles, four .38 caliber pistols, six VHF hand-held radios and two cellphones when they assaulted the Office of the Chief Security of Del Monte and a shotgun from the guard at the motor pool garage in front of the Caltex gas station.”

“The NPAs burned one canter truck, one grader, two motorcycles and one boom sprayer truck inside the motor pool garage,” the Kadre security guard said.

In an interview Wednesday dawn, Captain Christian Uy, Executive Officer of the 4th Civil Military Operations Battalion based in Camp Edilberto Evangelista, Barangay Patag, Cagayan de Oro City, said the “403rd Infantry Brigade, based in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon have been deployed for pursuit operations.”


Rebel group hits military’s ‘bounty-hunting activities’

From the pro-CPP Bulatlat (Feb 19): Rebel group hits military’s ‘bounty-hunting activities’

The Cordillera People’s Democratic Front (CPDF) criticized the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for making a fortune out of bounty for the capture of New People’s Army (NPA) members.

In a statement sent through email, CPDF spokesman Simon “Ka Filiw” Naogsan accused the AFP of inventing positions for alleged NPA returnees to get higher reward money. He cited as example the case of alleged rebel returnee Connie Santiago Valera aka Yasser, 29, from Lacub, Abra whom the AFP tagged as one of the top five leaders in the Ilocos-Cordillera Region’s Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) hierarchy.

Naogsan slammed the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG)Joint Order No. 14-2012, raising the bounty for some 235 revolutionary leaders. He added that the said joint order resulted to heightened human rights violations against innocent civilians due to bounty-hunting activities of AFP generals. He also accused AFP generals of pocketing reward money for alleged NPA returnees.

“From then on, bounty hunting became the preoccupation of generals who inflicted human rights violations against the oppressed masses. Every alleged revolutionary captive or surrenderee is tagged a high ranking official of the armed revolutionary movement ostensibly to qualify for the reward money,” Naogsan said.

Naogsan stressed that the AFP “psy-war experts” spun lies about supposed criminal activities of the revolutionary movement as the reason for Valera’s surrender. “In truth, the AFP fear most is the revolutionary movement’s ‘crime’ of halting the historical perpetuation of national oppression against the indigenous people that has reached ethnocidal levels,” he said.

According to the rebel leader, among the atrocities against the national minorities that the NPA combats is the non-respect for the integrity of ancestral lands, and the widespread plunder through destructive large scale corporate mining, hydropower power dams and geothermal plants. He added that military encampment in schools, health centers and barangay facilities only exacerbate the social discrimination against the minorities as they are deprived of their right to basic social services.

The rebel leader lauded the indigenous people’s response of forming revolutionary mass organizations to resist destructive and repressive development projects to protect their territories and resources.

“These are not “crimes” to the indigenous people, but heroic acts to stop the eradication of national minorities in genocidal proportions. What the AFP spins fail to obscure is the military’s crime of protecting and securing the economic aggression of multinational firms acting as investment defense forces,” he said.

Moreover, Naogsan condemned the illegal arrest, arbitrary detention and torture of several civilians including a 14-year-old in Lagangilang, Abra last January 30. He added that the incident happened after a clash between the NPA and government troopers where two soldiers were wounded.

CPDF data showed that four farmers from Kayapa, Lagangilang, accosted near the encounter site were held for three days, then freed after being cowed into silence for fear of retribution. Another civilian working in a small-scale mine nearby was manhandled for no apparent reason by an intelligence asset wearing a bonnet who was accompanying the soldiers.

The same data showed that two other youngsters who were tending their carabao in nearby Palpalitpit, Lagangilang were also accosted by the operating troops. Sensing danger, one scampered for safety but his other companion, the 14-year old was illegally detained, harassed and accused as an NPA. He was dragged to the municipal hall the next day to be presented as a captured NPA. Only after it was found out that the boy was not an NPA but a relative of the Mayor did the soldiers of the 503rd Brigade admit their mistake and released the minor.

“These are real crimes of the AFP against the people, one which the NPA will surely bring to justice alongside the advancing people’s war,” Naogsan said.


PNoy Tasks Almendras to Implement MILF Community Projects

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 19): PNoy Tasks Almendras to Implement MILF Community Projects

One of the trusted allies of President Benigno S. Aquino III in the Cabinet has been appointed to head a new task force on the development of the Bangsamoro community.

In Administrative Order No. 37, the President designated Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras as chairman of the inter-agency task force that will develop and implement socio-economic programs for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) community in Mindanao.

The Task Force on Bangsamoro Development was created a few days after the government launched the Sajahatra Bangsamoro, a socio-economic program for the MILF community, in Maguindanao. The project was part of the government's confidence-building measure following the signing of a preliminary peace deal with the MILF.

“The Government acknowledges its commitment to exert all efforts towards realizing the full implementation of the Framework Agreement,” the order read. “The Framework Agreement states that the Government and the MILF shall intensify development efforts for rehabilitation, reconstruction, and development in Mindanao, and institute programs to address the needs of MILF combatants, internally displaced persons, and poverty-stricken communities throughout Mindanao,” it added.

Members of the new task force are Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles, Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon Soliman, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, Health Secretary Enrique Ona, Education Secretary Armin Luistro, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Presidential Management Staff chief Julia Abad, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Commission on Higher Education Secretary Patricia Licuanan and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority chief Joel Villanueva.The President’s communication group is also part of the new task force on Bangsamoro development. In AO 37, the President directed the Almendras-led task force to “develop and implement programs and projects to respond to the health, education, and livelihood needs of MILF priority beneficiaries, internally displaced persons, and poverty-stricken communities throughout Mindanao.”

The Sajahatra Bangsamoro program will be the government’s initial support for the MILF members and their families following the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. The task force was asked to coordinate with Transition Commission as well as consult with concerned stakeholders in the implementation of such program.

The President also ordered the new government group to develop and implement a communications strategy on the Sajahatra Bangsamoro Program. It must also submit regular reports to the Office of the President concerning the implementation of the project.

On funding requirements, the President authorized the member-agencies of the task force to charge against their budget any amount for the implementation of the Bangsamoro development projects.

“Additional funds as may be necessary for the implementation of the Order may be allocated from the President’s Social Fund and Contingent Fund, subject to the approval of the President,” AO 37 read.

The order took effect immediately after it was signed by the President last February 13.


Op/Ed: Analysis--The Sabah standoff: Revolt left out sultanate’s heirs

Analysis by Amando Doronila in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 19): The Sabah standoff: Revolt left out sultanate’s heirs

For 50 years, the Philippine claim to Sabah in the former British North Borneo has remained dormant like a ticking time bomb. On Feb. 12, this tranquility was disturbed when some 300 armed Filipinos led by Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of a descendant of the Sultan of Sulu, landed on the seaside village of Tanduo in Lahad Datu town in Sabah after crossing the sea from Island in Tawi-Tawi, the Philippines’ southernmost province in the Sulu Archipelago.

Agbimuddin was reported to have claimed that the expedition was launched to press the claim of the Sulu sultanate to Sabah, which the administration of President Aquino appeared to have shelved to avoid a confrontation with Malaysia, which has been brokering the government’s peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The landing threatened to wreck the framework agreement signed by the Aquino administration with the MILF, a “peace in our time” accord to create a Bangsamoro entity, carving out an autonomous Moro homeland from the sovereign territory of the Philippine republic.

The expedition also created a dangerous armed impasse as Sabah security forces surrounded the landing group, which refused demands to leave the village, saying it should not be expelled because Sabah is part of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo. Negotiations are underway between Philippine and Malaysian authorities to prevent the standoff from escalating into an explosive confrontation. The impasse has also reignited demands in the Philippines to put the claim to Sabah on high profile in the relations between Manila and Kuala Lumpur—a step that may open rifts in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which the two countries are original founding members.

The heirs of the Sultan of Sulu decided to press their claim to Sabah after feeling betrayed and left out in the peace process between the Aquino administration and the MILF, according to a report in the Inquirer. In an interview with the Inquirer, Agbimuddin said the government appeared to have neglected the heirs and ignored their stand that their claim to Sabah is an “integral and essential” aspect of any peace agreement with any armed group in Mindanao. Abraham Idjirani, secretary general and spokesperson of the sultanate, said the decision to show not just physical presence but actual occupation of Sabah came late last year, shortly after the Aquino administration signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the MILF on Oct. 15.

“They are not interested, this government and the previous governments, so we decided to act on our own,” Agbimuddin said. On Feb. 11, he and 1,000 followers, including armed men from what he called the “Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo,” left Simunul Island on speedboats and headed to Sabah. He described the action as, not an act of aggression, but “a journey back home.”

Idjirani said that before the signing of the framework agreement, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process invited the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu to what was supposed to be a consultation on the peace deal with the MILF. Idjirani said the heirs thought the government wanted a comprehensive resolution to the peace, security and economic problems of territories in Mindanao by consulting with them. “But it was just talk,” he said. “The framework agreement was finished without even the shadow of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo. They just pretended to consult us.”

The next thing the heirs knew, Idjirani said, the framework agreement had been signed without any mention of the “historic and sovereign rights of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo” in it. “Until the government includes the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, no lasting and significant peace will come to Mindanao,” he said. “They should have seen the failure of the peace agreement with Nur Misuari. ”

According to Idjirani, the signing of the framework agreement with the MILF led to the unification of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu and their decision to proceed with claiming Sabah on their own. He said the “meeting of the minds” of the heirs occurred on Nov. 11 last year in a relative’s house.

It was during that meeting that Sultan Jamalul Kiram III issued the royal decree that authorized his brother’s “journey” to Sabah. Among the 70 Tausug men rounded up by Malaysian authorities was Agbimuddin.

Over more than a century, the Tausug of Sulu have crossed the sea to Sabah, the former homeland of the sultanate, and had trade intercourse with the inhabitants.

The former British North Borneo, which used to be under the Sultan of Brunei, was ceded to the Sultan of Sulu in 1704 after he helped crush a rebellion against the Sultan of Brunei.

Sabah was leased by the British North Borneo Co. to the British colonizers of the former federation of Malaya. It became Malaysia in 1963, when the British relinquished sovereignty. Subsequently, Sabah became part of Malaysia, with which the Philippines has a dispute over Sabah. The Philippines lost interest in pressing its claim at the International Court of Justice in 1963. This vacuum opened the way for the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu to press their claim on Sabah on their own initiative.


Rebels attack pineapple plantation in Bukidnon

From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Feb 20): Rebels attack pineapple plantation in Bukidnon

Undetermined number of armed men believed to be members of the New People’s Army (NPA) stormed the main office and plantation of Del Monte Philippines in Camp Philips, Bukidnon, Tuesday evening.

Radio reports said the rebels, numbering about 100, burned the company’s equipment and engaged in a firefight with the security guards of Del Monte.

One security guard identified as Alfredo Neri, a resident of Miranda, Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon, and under Cadre Security Agency, died while two guards were injured. A civilian was also reportedly wounded in the crossfire.

One of the wounded security guards is identified as Mario Ayuban. They were rushed to the hospital inside Del Monte but were transferred to Capitol University Medical City in Cagayan de Oro.

The wounded civilian identified as a certain Mario said over Magnum Radio that around 10 armed men, who wore military uniforms, asked him if he is an employee of Del Monte. When he said no, he was told to lie down.

Mario, who was hit in his legs, said an exchange of gunfire occurred between the rebels and the company’s security guards.

He said the rebels ordered them to give their cellular phones.

“Ang mga civilian gipang-abog ug gipalayo,” he said.

Reports also said police authorities from Alae in Manolo Fortich also engaged in a firefight with the rebels.

At the national highway, NPA rebels allegedly blocked Atugan bridge in Impasug-ong town using a bus owned by Rural Transit of Mindanao Inc. and held military and police authorities who were supposed to provide reinforcement.

Spikes were also reportedly scattered in the national highway, affecting some passing vehicles.

Ka Oris, spokesperson of the National Democratic Front-Mindanao, confirmed over Magnum Radio that NPA rebels belonging to the North Central Mindanao were responsible for the attack.

He said the rebels simultaneously attacked at 6 p.m. the main camp of Del Monte Philippines and Dole plantation in La Fortuna, Impasug-ong town.

“The main target of the coordinated attack was the equipment and main office of Del Monte Philippines. This is to send a message and to demand for Del Monte to stop their operation tungod kay sila ang major cause sa kadaut nga nahiagoman sa katawhan gikan kang Sendong. Ang main cause sa delubyo sa Sendong mao ang logging ug gidugangan sa pineapple plantation. Ang mga loggers wala na diha, apan ang padayon nga nagpabilin mao ang dako nga kumpanya sama sa Del Monte ug Dole. What the NPAs did is to give justice to all victims of Sendong,” Ka Oris said.

He did not confirm the number of NPAs but said “enough to launch a simultaneous attack in both the plantation of Del Monte and Dole.”

Ka Oris said the attack would not be the first as the revolutionary movement is planning to launch more attacks to Del Monte and Dole in the future if they still won’t stop their operation.

He said they were saddened about the reported death of a security guard.

“Gikasubo kaayo namo. Dili man unta angay mamatay ang walay labot. Pero kaning Cadre mga abusado, mga bangis nga mga security guard,” he said.

Ka Oris also asked for understanding for those who were stranded in the national highway.

“Among ihangyo nga unta masabtan ninyo nga kabahin kini sa operation aron mababagan dayon ang military reinforcement. Wala kini gihimo aron madisturbo mo kung dili kabahin kini sa operasyon,” he said.

Ka Oris added that the rebels have confiscated around 10 assorted firearms and denied any casualty on the part of the NPA, citing the “rebels are all accounted for and are now in safer places.”

Senior Superintendent Graciano Mijares, acting chief of the Cagayan de Oro City Police Office (Cocpo), said in a radio interview that more or less five equipment of Del Monte were burned by the rebels.

Mijares said the Philippine National Police is now in full alert not only in Bukidnon but all over the region. “Because of what happened, we are on full alert,” he said.
He said Cocpo personnel were dispatched to clear the highway from Alae in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon toward Barangay Puerto in Cagayan de Oro after receiving reports that massive spikes were scattered on the road.

“We are here in the area to see what we can do to help,” Mijares said.

Ka Oris said that burning the equipment of Del Monte is the only practical way to stop the operations of the company even just for a few days.

He denied that the movement is demanding for revolutionary taxes from Del Monte. “Wala namo gikinahanglan ilang kwarta. Ang among hangyo lang nga mo-evacuate sila.”

As of 11 p.m., Mijares said all is clear in the national highway but police personnel are still manning checkpoints near the area.


Crane ship returns to Tubbataha, readies tactics

From GMANews (Feb 19): Crane ship returns to Tubbataha, readies tactics

A crane ship that arrived last weekend to help extricate the US minesweeper USS Guardian from Tubbataha Reef proceeded to the site before noon Tuesday to resume salvage work.

But Commodore Enrico Evangelista, head of Task Force Tubbataha, said the progress of the work will still depend on weather conditions in the area.

"Nakarating kanina ang JASCON 25 sa Tubbataha at pumupwesto [na]," Evangelista said in an interview on dzBB radio.

When asked if the JASCON 25 may retreat if weather conditions worsen, he said: "Pag kinakailangan [bumalik], ganoon [ang] mangyayari... for safety purposes."

The JASCON 25 arrived last weekend but could not immediately start work due to bad weather conditions.

JASCON 25 is expected to be the lead ship in the salvage operations to reemove the USS Guardian, which ran aground on Tubbataha Reef last Jan. 17.

It is valued for its dynamic positioning capability, which allows it to establish position without need for an anchor.

A separate report by dzBB's Carlo Mateo quoted Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Armand Balilo as saying that JASCON 25 arrived near Tubbataha Reef at 9:30 a.m.

It said the JASCON 25's crew studied possible tactics, including the movement of the waves, to see how they can get their job done soonest.

"Pero lahat yan nakadepende sa weather condition. Malaki ang magiging alon doon bukas, yan isang kino-consider, ang weather condition sa area," Evangelista said.

Evangelista also said that while the ship's crew will seek to speed up its work, it also has to be careful.

He also said the impact of the salvage work on the environment is another major factor.

"Kailangan maingat din, kailangan iwasan ang accident. I-consider din dapat ang impact sa environment," he said.

Rebel leader nabbed in Batangas

From the Manila Times (Feb 20): Rebel leader nabbed in Batangas

JOINT police and government intelligence agents have arrested a ranking communist rebel leader in the Bicol region in an operation on Monday in Batangas province, police reports said on Tuesday.

Reports reaching the Philippine National Police central operations center in Camp Crame identified the communist rebel leader as Ramon Ariente, alias Ka Ramon Arente, 53, married.

Reports said that Arente was arrested by joint operatives from the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency 5, Regional Intelligence Unit 5 and regional intelligence division elements at about 1:45 p.m. at Barangay Balayong, Bauan, Batangas.

Arente is reportedly the political officer and executive member of the Camarines Norte Provincial Party Committee; Front Committee 71 and of the Romulo Jallores Command.


Army inflicts another setback to NPA

From the Manila Times (Feb 20): Army inflicts another setback to NPA

ANOTHER major camp of the New People’s Army (NPA) in the hinterlands of northern Samar province had been seized by government forces following security operations that also led to the recovery of landmines and explosive devices.

Lt. Col. Noel Vestuir, commander of the Eighth Infantry Division (ID), 10th Infantry Battalion (IB), on Tuesday, said that the recovery of explosive devices was a clear indication that the Maoist rebels was planning to conduct terror attacks against government forces and civilians in the area.

“The presence of NPAs and the recovery of improvised explosive devices is a clear indication that the terrorist group is planning to conduct atrocities against the peace-loving people in the area that were prevented due to the timely response of government troops,” Vestuir said.

The military officer also pointed out that the use of landmines is a gross violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, wherein the militants are signatories.

The seized communist rebel camp was located in Barangay Happy Valley, San Isidro in Samar. It was discovered by government troops on Monday after they received information from civilians on the presence of unidentified armed men in the area.

Recovered were two improvised antipersonnel mines, detonating cords, electric firing wire, improvised explosive device switch, a rifle grenade, four backpacks, personal belongings and subversive documents.

Vestuir said that the rebels hastily destroyed the bunkers and other facilities in the camp before they left to evade the responding elements of the 20th Infantry.

Capt. Gene Orense, spokesman of the Eighth Infantry Division, said that had the soldiers failed to arrive on time, the rebels may have been able to carry out their terror plans that could have caused unmitigated damages to life and property.

“The leadership of Eight ID commends this life-saving accomplishment of 20th IB troops headed by Lt. Col. Vestuir for foiling another terrorist attack through the recovery of these landmines,” Orense said.


NPA raids Del Monte compound in Bukidnon

From InterAksyon (Feb 19): NPA raids Del Monte compound in Bukidnon

At least one security guard was killed and three others wounded when New People’s Army guerrillas raided the compound of multinational fruit company Del Monte Philippines in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon, Tuesday evening.

Jorge Madlos, spokesman of the National Democratic Front in Mindanao, confirmed over a local radio station that the NPA carried out the raid on Camp Philips as he blamed Del Monte for the deforestation that contributed to the deadly flashflood that struck Cagayan de Oro City during storm “Sendong” in December 2011.

The Army’s 4rth Infantry Division said the rebels arrived in two trucks around 6:10 p.m. and set fire to a number of trucks inside the Del Monte compound.


Philippines trumpets handling of ‘USS Guardian’ incident

From the Mindanao Examiner (Feb 19): Philippines trumpets handling of ‘USS Guardian’ incident

Manila has trumpeted its handling and care of the Tubbataha Reef in the wake of the damage it sustained as a result of the grounding of the USS Guardian which ignored warning from park rangers that it was heading to the World Heritage Site.

The U.S. Navy minesweeper remains grounded since January 17 in Tubbataha Reef, but the Philippines said its prompt and proficient response to the unfortunate incident was enabled by an exemplary law, hailed by environmental experts as a model piece of legislation in coral reef conservation, and the presence of effective institutional mechanisms.

These mechanisms have since provided the accountable party clarity on its obligations under the law, as well as paved the way for efforts towards restoring the damaged area and that it is a testament to the country’s capability in upholding the values of the World Heritage Committee (WHC), according to a statement sent by the Department of Foreign Affairs to the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

The Philippines sat in the World Heritage Committee from 1991 to 1997, and served in the Committee Bureau from 1992 to 1996.

The incident has brought to fore the Philippines’ capable stewardship of a World Heritage Site, and hopes to bring this competence to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee where it is seeking a seat for the term 2013 to 2017 at elections scheduled in November this year during the 38th Session of the UNESCO General Conference.

The DFA said the Philippines hopes that its experience in caring for World Heritage Sites will enhance the Committee’s effectiveness as it carries out its mandate of conserving nature and cultural priorities.

Tubbataha Reef was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993. And in 2009, the Philippine government enacted the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act (Republic Act 10067) and declared Tubbataha a protected area and mandated its protection and conservation through a no-take policy.

The law also created the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board, which counts as its members’ stakeholders from the national and local governments, and groups from the academe, civil society and the private sector, including the Philippine chapters of the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International. The park’s day-to-day administration is supervised and directed by the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO).

The reef, which sits in the center of the Sulu Sea, is about 157 kilometers southeast of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan province and located within the Coral Triangle, an area of important biological and marine diversity.

Covering almost 97,030 hectares, it serves as a sanctuary for over 350 species of corals, almost 500 species of fish, and one of the few remaining colonies of breeding seabirds in the region.

Tubbataha park rangers said they tried to approach the ship to talk to its officers, but the crew instead went to battleship position forcing the Filipinos to back off. The arrogance of the officers and crew of the ship drew wild protests from various patriotic and environmental groups.

The 68-meter USS Guardian, which came from Subic Bay in Zambales province in Luzon Island, hit the protected atoll of Tubbataha Reef after ignoring warning from Filipino authorities that the ship is nearing the marine sanctuary.

DFA said since the grounding of the USS Guardian, the TMO has been ensuring the enforcement of the relevant provisions of Republic Act 10067, including the payment of fines and compensation for damages and added that it is also readying its resources, through its vast network of marine and conservation experts, for the assessment of the extent of the damage and subsequent restoration efforts.


Tawi-Tawi fears violence from standoff

From Rappler (Feb 19): Tawi-Tawi fears violence from standoff

The local population in Tawi-Tawi fears potential violence spilling over from the standoff in Sabah a week after a group of militants crossed over there to assert a historical claim over the territory.

Armed supporters of one of the self-proclaimed heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu are now riding on a boat back to the Philippines from the island of Borneo, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov Mujiv Hataman said on Tuesday, February 19.

Hataman added that Tawi-Tawi locals are afraid that the gunmen, supporters of the Kiram family, will provoke further in the province, located just a few kilometers away from Sabah.

The livelihood of business owners has also been affected by the tension.

"Muslims [should] stop fighting. It's important to talk about this conflict in a peaceful manner," the ARMM governor said.

The Kiram family is one of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu, which ruled over many islands in the Sulu Sea including what was known then as Northern Borneo, now Sabah.

Sulu and its sultan once controlled parts of Borneo, including the site of the current standoff between a group of Filipinos and Malaysian security forces.

The heirs of the sultan have been receiving a nominal yearly compensation package from Malaysia under a long-standing agreement for possession of Sabah, a claim that has not been actively pursued by the Philippines since 1964.

Hatarman said that Sultan Jamalul Kiram, who on Sunday told the media in Manila that his followers would not leave Sabah despite being cornered by Malaysian security forces, plans to stay for now in the capital, where he is undergoing dialysis treatment.

Raja Muda Abimuddin Kiram, the sultan's brother and presumed leader of the Sabah group, traveled to the area last week from Simunul, a small town in this province.

Simunul Mayor Nazif Abduraman told Rappler on February 15 that the alleged "publicity stunt" by the self-proclaimed Royal Sulu Sultanate Army will affect thousands of Filipinos living without passports in Sabah if Malaysia decides to tighten its immigration laws because of the standoff.

Between 245,000 and 637,000 undocumented Filipinos live in Malaysia, the majority of them in Sabah, where they work in the palm oil plantations and are constantly threatened by immigration crackdowns.


Landmines, explosives recovered in abandoned NPA camp

From the Philippine Star (Feb 19): Landmines, explosives recovered in abandoned NPA camp

Two landmines and other explosive devices were recovered by soldiers in an abandoned communist camp in Northern Samar on Monday.

Cpt. Gene Orense, spokesman of the Army’s 8th division, said the explosives were recovered at about 1:05 p.m. in a rebel detachment located in Barangay Happy Valley in San Isidro town.

“The recovery of landmines is a clear and direct manifestation of the NPA’s (New People’s Army) wanton disregard to human life,” said Lt. Col. Noel Vestuir, chief of the 20th Infantry Battalion.

“The use of landmines is also a blatant violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and is already banned internationally since landmines cause unmitigated damages to life and property,” he added.

The military has discovered a total of nine abandoned rebel camps in Samar and Leyte since January.

The military claims the use of landmines violates the 1997 Ottawa Convention and the amended Geneva Convention in 1998.

Communist rebels have claimed that their explosives are legitimate weapons of war and are allowed by existing international treaties.

They claimed that the landmines used by their fighters were command-detonated explosives and not pressure-triggered to ensure the safety of civilians. The NPA also claimed that the explosives are triggered on command and are only used on legitimate targets.

The military said there are about 4,000 communist rebels in the country.


DND to spend P3.9B for fuel requirements this year

From the Philippine Star (Feb 19): DND to spend P3.9B for fuel requirements this year

The Department of National Defense (DND) will purchase P3.9-billion worth of petroleum, oil and lubricants to support the military’s security operations.

The acquisition will cover the fuel requirements of military units and the DND for this year.

In a bid bulletin, Defense Assistant Secretary Efren Fernandez said the bidding for the project would be held on Feb. 26.

The fuel supplies would be purchased through open competitive bidding as required by the procurement law.

The acquisition is divided into six projects or lots.

Lot 1 costs P1.04 billion and covers he military's fuel requirements for Metro Manila. The fuel requirement for the rest of Luzon or Lot 2 costs P801.3 million.

Lot 3 or the military’s fuel requirements for Visayas costs P269.48 million while Lot 4 or the fuel supply for Mindanao costs P1.04 billion.

The government will spend P774.68 million for the armed forces' aviation requirements or Lot 5. Lot 6 covers the ground fuel requirements of the Defense department and costs P70.59 million.

Bidders should satisfy the eligibility requirements set by the DND Bids and Awards Committee (BAC).

Interested parties may buy bidding documents worth P75,000 from the DND-BAC Secretariat in Camp Aguinaldo.

The deadline for the submission of bids will be at 10 a.m. on Feb. 26. Bids will be opened on the same day. Fernandez said bids that came in late or those higher than the budget allotted for the project will be rejected.

The company that offers the lowest bid will advance to the post-qualification stage. This stage seeks to determine whether the bid is responsive to the technical and financial requirements of the project.

To be declared the winning bidder, the firm that offered the lowest bid should satisfy the requirements in the post-qualification phase.


44 children benefit from Army’s feeding program

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 19): 44 children benefit from Army’s feeding program

Some 44 identified malnourished kindergarten and elementary pupils of Jaena Norte Elementary School have benefited in Monday’s feeding program initiated by the Army’s 6th “PAGHILIUGYON” Light Armor Company based in Camp Peralta, Jamindan, Capiz.

Maj. Russel V Mascardo, commander of the 6th Light Armor Company, said the activity proved to be beneficial. "We did not only gain new friends in the area but also promoted doing things together as partners.”

Mascardo said “little as it may seem, but the tangible results outweigh the cost and the effort that has been exerted. The children need not to express their gratitude yet a simple smile from them was enough to relieve everyone who participated in the activity.”

Segundina V. Fano, school principal, expressed the gratitude of other school staff and parents for the efforts of the "PAGHILIUGYON" troopers in addressing their concern. "Through this program, it only shows that the Army is always ready to give care to those who are in-need and ready to provide assistance when needed.”

Jaena Norte Elementary School is some 3 kilometers away from Camp Macario Peralta Jr. and considered to be a second home to 181 children mostly living near the municipal road and in interior communities of Brgy. Jaena Norte.

From the main road, the school is located on a plateau near a river about 300 meters away, accessible by foot or by a motorcycle plying a single 3-meter wide feeder road. In 2012, the Department of Education reported that 562,262 pupils in kindergarten and elementary levels (Grades 1 to 6) enrolled in public schools here have been considered “severely wasted.”

The feeding program was conducted with the help of the students’ parents, the faculty and staff of Jaena Norte Elementary School, who assisted in cooking and preparing the lugaw (congee) cooked with malunggay leaves (moringa) and topped-off with hard-boiled eggs.


Four injured Army soldiers in landmine survive attack –Army

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 19): Four injured Army soldiers in landmine survive attack –Army

Four Army soldiers, hit by shrapnel from a landmine blast at 1 a.m. on Friday in far-flung village in Ibujan in San Mariano town here, have been recuperating at the 5th Infantry Division military hospital in Gamu town here after getting initial treatment from the nearest hospital, the military said.

Colonel Loreto Magundayao, Army’s 5th Infantry Division spokesman, said the soldiers, identified as Sgt. George Gaybon, Corporal Roger Ayangao, Private First Class Jeorge Banatao and Private First Class Ronnie Velonza were having security patrol in the village when they chanced upon a landmine planted by a group of suspected New People’s Army rebels.  A clash between the reinforcement military teams and communist guerrillas later ensued and some belongings, including a backpack, a magazine for an M-16 rifle and landmine detonating cords were found at the blast site.


Aquino signs AO creating Task Force on Bangsamoro

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 19): Aquino signs AO creating Task Force on Bangsamoro

President Benigno S. Aquino III has created the Task Force on Bangsamoro Development to develop and implement programs and projects for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) communities as well as internally-displaced and poverty-stricken communities throughout Mindanao.

The Chief Executive ordered the creation of the task force by virtue of Administrative Order No. 37, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte announced during the regular press briefing in Malacanang Tuesday. The AO No. 37 was signed by Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr. Feb 13.

Pursuant to the President's Social Contract, Malacanang said the government endeavors to attain a broadly supported, just, and lasting peace that will redress decades of neglect of the Moro and other peoples of Mindanao.

The President said the comprehensive peace process agenda in Mindanao is an indispensable component of real and inclusive regional and national development goals.

The government and the MILF entered into the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro Oct 15, 2012, envisioned to pave the way for the peaceful resolution of the armed struggle in Mindanao.

The President said the government acknowledges its commitment to exert all efforts towards realizing the full implementation of the Framework Agreement. "The Framework Agreement states that the Government and the MILF shall intensify development efforts for rehabilitation, reconstruction, and development in Mindanao, and institute programs to address the needs of MILF combatants, internally displaced persons, and poverty-stricken communities throughout Mindanao," he said.

The President designated Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras as the chairperson of the task force. He likewise designated as members of the task force Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, Health Secretary Enrique Ona; Education Secretary Armin Luistro, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala Jr., Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Presidential Management Staff Secretary Julia Abad; Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Ricky Carandang, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., Commission on Higher Education Chairperson Dr. Patricia B. Licuanan; Technical Education and Skills Development Authority Chairperson Joel Villanueva, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and president of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation.

The task force shall develop and implement programs and projects in response to the health, education, and livelihood needs of the MILF priority beneficiaries, internally displaced persons, and poverty-stricken communities throughout Mindanao.

"For this purpose, the Sajahatra Bangsamoro Program shall be implemented as the Government’s initial support for identified MILF combatants and families and other affected persons; and communities after the signing of the Framework Agreement," the President said.

The task force shall coordinate with the Transition Commission, created pursuant to Executive Order No. 120 (s. 2012), in the development and implementation of the foregoing programs and projects. It may likewise consult with other relevant government instrumentalities and/or non¬government organizations in carrying out the functions of the task force.

The President also directed the task force to develop and implement a communications strategy on the Sajahatra Bangsamoro Program. The task force shall monitor, in coordination with the Transition Commission, the implementation of development projects and programs of the Sajahatra Bangsamoro Program, and submit regular reports to the Office of the President.

The Task Force may create technical committees and designate members thereof, and may engage the assistance of experts and professional advisors, subject to government rules and regulations.

The member-agencies of the Task Force are hereby authorized to charge against their current appropriations such amounts as may be necessary for the implementation of this Order, subject to the usual government accounting arid auditing rules and regulations, Aquino said.

Subsequent funding requirements shall be incorporated in the annual budget proposals of the respective member-agencies through the General Appropriations Act. Additional funds as may be necessary for the implementation of the Order may be allocated from the President’s Social Fund and Contingent Fund, subject to the approval of the President. The Order shall take effect immediately.


China rejects PHL UN arbitration on WPS

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 19): China rejects PHL UN arbitration on WPS

China officially rejected on Tuesday a Philippine move to bring long-running territorial issues over the South China Sea before a U.N. arbitration tribunal, saying Manila’s claim was legally infirm and carried unacceptable allegations against Beijing.

However, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the arbitration process would proceed even if China would decide to ignore it.

Chinese experts have asserted otherwise. China’s move has been widely expected. Beijing has preferred one on one negotiations with other rival claimant countries over the resource-rich waters, called West Philippine Sea by Manila, which have long been a source of diplomatic and maritime tensions.

Manila initiated an arbitration process under the UNCLOS on January 22 to try to declare as “illegal” China’s expansive claim to the South China Sea.

The DFA said Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing gave Beijing’s official response through a diplomatic note to Philippine diplomats at the DFA and at the same time returned the Philippines’ Statement of Notification and Claim outlining the complaint it filed before the U.N.

“The department stresses that China’s action will not interfere with the process of Arbitration initiated by the Philippines....The Arbitration will proceed under Annex VII of UNCLOS and the 5-member arbitration panel will be formed with or without China,” a DFA statement said.

The DFA said China’s note verbale “reiterated its often stated position that it has indisputable sovereignty over the entire South China Sea encompassed by its 9-dash line claim.” “This excessive claim is the core issue of the Philippines’ arbitration case against China,” the DFA said.

“The Philippines remains committed to Arbitration which is a friendly, peaceful and durable form of dispute settlement that should be welcomed by all.”

Apart from China, four members of Association of South East Asian Nations – Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia - have claims in the South China Sea, where Chinese rival Taiwan is also a claimant.

Manila has maintained that a rules-based approach is the only legitimate way in addressing disputes through a legal framework such as the UNCLOS. UNCLOS is a 1982 accord by 163 countries that aims to govern the use of offshore areas and sets territorial limits of coastal states.

The Philippines and China are both signatories to the treaty. China is citing historical entitlements as basis for its huge claims over the waters, a strategic sealane dotted with islands, shoals, cays, reefs and rock formations and is believed to be rich in oil and natural gas. Many have feared the conflicts could be Asia's next flashpoint.