Thursday, April 18, 2013

PAMANA allocates P10-M for road project in Eastern Samar

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 18): PAMANA allocates P10-M for road project in Eastern Samar

About P10 million has been shelled out by the national government for the initial implementation of a road project that will connect the remote and upstream municipality of Maslog in Eastern Samar.

Mayor Septemio C. Santiago said that travelling from Maslog to the nearest town of Dolores will be easier as soon as the road project will be implemented through the government’s Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) program.

“From the usual three to four hours by boat, it is expected to lessen about two hours of travel from the town center to the next town of Dolores. The road project of PAMANA will not only bring convenience to residents. It is also expected to improve their livelihoods,” Santiago said.

Maslog is a fifth class municipality and majority of residents depend on agriculture. Like other interior towns in Eastern Samar, it delivers its products to larger neighboring towns. The place is also known for its cool climate and lush rainforest.

The mayor said the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP), in coordination with partner agencies has already conducted an information caravan with social services package from PAMAMA projects in Maslog.

Engr. Nida de la Cruz, chief of Operations Performance and Capability Development of the Department of the Interior and Local Government(DILG), said the information caravan was part of the social preparation program of the road rehabilitation project in Maslog.

The project forms part of the 42-kilometer road that will traverse the towns of Can-avid and Dolores. The 18-kilomer stretch will connect Dolores to Maslog.The project total cost is P446 million.

PAMANA is the government’s program and framework for peace and development in areas affected by armed conflict and communities covered by existing peace agreements. It seeks to reduce poverty, improve governance and empower communities.

Samar, N. Samar to be insurgency-free by 2016 says Army official

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr  18): Samar, N. Samar to be insurgency-free by 2016 says Army official

Samar and Northern Samar will already be among the provinces in Eastern Visayas to be named as insurgency-free and manageable conflict-ready for development by 2016.

Lt. Col. Leo Lorenzo Madroñal, assistant chief of staff for Civil-Military Operation (CMO) of the 8th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army (PA) here, said on Thursday that the government is now winning the hearts and minds of the people with their new approach in dealing with the insurgency problem.

The military has adopted a holistic approach and people-centered programs in trying to respond to the problem.

In previous months, Madroñal said that the military has already handed-over to local government units (LGUs) in the provinces of Leyte, Eastern Samar, Biliran, and Southern Leyte the responsibility for Internal Peace and Security.

Recently, the military presented before the Regional Development Council (RDC) its efforts in achieving a peaceful environment that would lead to economic development in areas affected by insurgents.

Ex-rebel testifies in 'mistaken identity' case

From the Philippine Star (Apr 18): Ex-rebel testifies in 'mistaken identity' case

A former communist rebel on Thursday testified in court that the security guard arrested by the military last year is a high-ranking member of the New People's Army named Benjamin Mendoza.

Luis Rayos, 40, identified Mendoza during the writ of habeas corpus hearing at the Court of Appeals.

Rights group Karapatan is claiming that the person arrested by the military was a security guard identifiedas Ronaldo Panesa and that he was just a victim of mistaken identity.

During the cross examination, Rayos claimed to have worked with Mendoza for three years, from 2003 to 2005. He said that during those three years, he was meeting with Mendoza once a month to get his NPA unit's monthly budget.

During the same years, Panesa was working as a security guard at the Megaforce Security Co.

Panesa, through the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, earlier presented in court the documentary evidence such as Social Security System contributions and employment pay slips to support his claim that he is not “Benjamin Mendoza.”

Rayos, at one point in the cross examination, said yes it was Mendoza who is in the picture but after several questions, he retracted and said that the Mendoza he saw did not have a swollen and bruised face.

"Galos lang ang nasa mukha niya," Rayos was quoted as saying during the court proceedings.

For its part, members of Karapatan who attended the hearing said Rayos should be charged with perjury for lying under oath.

"His statements were inconsistent and did nothing to prove that security guard Panesa is “Mendoza”. All he did was to point his finger to Panesa, the lone person in the court who was wearing a BJMP (Bureau of Jail Management and Penology) prison shirt," Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay added.

The Office of the Solicitor General, through Atty. Sarah Jane Fernandez, was unable to present its second and third witness.

"It is ridiculous that after 10 hearings the identity of the AFP’s third witness is unknown even to the OSG and the CA Justices. The AFP comes up with every excuse and lie to delay the proceedings," Palabay said.

Karapatan said Panesa was taken together with his wife and step daughter on Oct. 7, 2012 in Quezon City under the arrest warrant for Benjamin Mendoza.

Panesa was tortured and made to confess that he is Mendoza, the group said.
Panesa is now detained in Special Intensive Care Area of the Bicutan Jail.

MILF: Multi-Stakeholders oriented on Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in Malapatan, Sarangani

From the MILF Website (Apr 17): Multi-Stakeholders oriented on Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in Malapatan, Sarangani

 Close to five hundred stakeholders attended the Advocacy on Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro(FAB) in the Barangay gymnasium of Barangay Tuyan, Malapatan, Sarangani Province on April 13, 2013.

The gathering which pooled community members, local officials, religious leaders, women and youth leaders from various tribes of Malapatan provided an opportunity for them to understand the framework agreement that was signed in Malacanan Palace on October 15, 2012 by the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Three resource persons namely Nash Polindaw, Duma Mascud and Ike Dianal were sent by the MILF Central Committee to explain the details of the FAB.

Polindaw related the history of the struggle of the Bangsamoro people way back from the Spanish era up to the present Philippine Republic. He said that the struggle have resulted to loss of thousands of lives, destruction of properties and billions of pesos wasted.

Moreover, he said that the conflict in Mindanao has created wall between the Muslims and non-Muslims building mistrust and hatred.

The three visitors discussed the salient points of the FAB and said should the initial truce will be realized, there will be Bangsamoro government by 2016 that shall give the realization of the Bangsamoro people to have its own governance.

The audience were also given the opportunity to ask questions and clarification with regards to the FAB.

Sugoda Buayan Province Political Chair Haji Puad Japal thanked the audience and the resource persons for the success of the activity. He also commended the efforts of the organizers which include the local political committees and the Social Welfare Committee headed by Ma’mor Aripin.

Malapatan Municipal Chair Bidairi Harid also expressed gratitude to those who shared their efforts and resources for the gathering.

Provincial Secretary of Sugoda Buayan Tommy Nawa looked forward for the support of the Indigenous Peoples and Christian Settlers of Malapatan and Sarangani Province as a whole to the GPH-MILF Peace Process.

The audience were also thankful for the information shared and they hoped that the resolution to the conflict in Mindanao will be achieved.

MNLF: 3k fighters reinforce royal forces

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 17): MNLF: 3k fighters reinforce royal forces

At least 3,000 Moro National Liberation Front fighters have allegedly landed in North Borneo to reinforce the “royal security forces” of the Sultanate of Sulu in case fighting resumes in the troubled Malaysian state, an MNLF official claimed on Tuesday.

MNLF peace panel member Absalom Cerveza claimed the 3,000 MNLF guerillas arrived in small groups at different areas in Sabah over a span of three weeks after the fighting between RSF and Malaysian forces subsided.

“They sailed to Sabah in different batches using various routes undetected either by Philippine and Malaysian naval forces,” Cerveza said.

“The MNLF group came from Jolo and Tawi aboard fast boats and slipped through the naval blockade imposed by the Philippine Navy and the Coast Guard,” he added.

The sultanate’s spokesman Abraham Idjirani said they were not aware of the arrival of such a force and the MNLF has not contacted them about it. Idjirani noted that it would take at least 60 motorboats to transport a force of that many people.

Cerveza, however, said the contingent has already regrouped and is now formulating military strategies in case Malaysian forces renew violent attacks against the forces sultanate which dispatched more than 200 men to Sabah last February to reassert the sultanate’s claim to Sabah.

“[But] they are not contemplating any assault on Malaysian forces. [They are] merely devising an effective and efficient strategy tactic in the event fighting resumes,” Cerveza said.

He claimed the MNLF fighters did not bring any arms with them because they have enough weapons stored in a secret armony in Sabah, the same armaments that Libya smuggled through Sabah during the Mindanao uprising in the 1970’s.

Cerveza had earlier claimed slain Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi sent to Moro National Liberation Front rebels thousands of firearms through Sabah, Malaysia in the 1970s.

“Some of those firearms are in the possession of thousands of [former MNLF] rebels who are presently residing in Sabah,” Cervesa said in confirming that Libya smuggled arms to the Moro rebels through Sabah in cooperation with some Malaysian officials.

Cerveza made the remark after international whistleblower group WikiLeaks published two declassified diplomatic cables from the United States Department of State and the American embassy in Manila revealing the role of Malaysian officials in supplying the Moro rebels.

According to a cable, dated March 10, 1973, Indonesian Ambassador to Washington Sjarif Thajeb admitted to then assistant state secretary Marshall Green that Mustapha bin Harun, the first governor of the state of Sabah, connived with Libya to supply arms to the MNLF.

Three years later, another US diplomatic cable, dated April 26, 1976, revealed that then Sabah chief minister Fuad Stephens admitted to an American diplomat that some Malaysian officials were helping the MNLF because of Manila’s claim on the north Borneo territory that is now known as Sabah.

“He said it was no secret that his predecessor, former chief minister Tun Mustapha, had been running guns and money from Libya’s Gaddafi to the Philippine guerrillas,” according to the cable written by an unnamed American Embassy official in Kuala Lumpur.

US-PH defense sea force eyed

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 18): US-PH defense sea force eyed

Joint move to protect territorial waters

A high-ranking US military official said on Wednesday that the US government was considering establishing a “strong” defense force with the Philippines’ armed forces capable of handling the country’s “strategic interest” in the South China sea.

Speaking during the sidelines of the closing ceremony of the Balikatan 2013, Gen. Terry Robling, commander of the US Marine Corps Forces in the Pacific, said he hoped to get the defense force to the point of becoming a “national maneuver force” that is best designed for territorial defense.

“One of the things that I talked to (Philippine military chief) Gen. (Emmanuel) Bautista about was a roadmap for us training with the armed forces of the Philippines,” Robling told reporters.

“I think, at some point, that will happen, but probably, not in the next exercise,” he added.

Robling added that while the territorial disputes in the Asia-Pacific region will have to be worked on through diplomatic channels, “having a strong defense” is also one tool that can be used.

The Philippines and China remained locked in a territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea, specifically in the islets surrounding the Spratly Islands, and the resource-rich Panatag Shoal in Palawan.

But Robling added that the military ties between the US and the Philippines may have helped prevent the escalation of territorial dispute.

Other claimant countries of some of the territories in the South China Sea are Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia.

The Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises have been going for the past several years as provided in the PH-US 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty that later gave birth to the Visiting Forces Agreement.1

And for the first time, China has sent a representative to the Balikatan to observe round-table discussions that focused on humanitarian affairs and disaster relief operations.

“Very significant,” said Robling of China’s participation. “There is no one country that has domain over that (disaster relief operations) and we need every country in the region to be able to hold together and help countries in need. Certainly, having China for the very first time at least (to) watch how we do table top exercises and the things that we talked about I think will help them be better partners in the future.”

Beijing’s representative joined other delegates from Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Thailand, South Korea and Vietnam.

Maj. Gen. Virgilio Domingo, the Balikatan 2013 exercise director from the Philippine side, said officials for Balikatan 2014 will have to discuss whether similar drills will be held again in Palawan.

Robling said that Balikatan 2013, which opened April 5, not only strengthened the Philippines and U.S. forces’ combined ability to defend each other, but it also “improved the multinational military and civilian disaster response coordination in Southeast Asia and throughout the region.”

Even with the fresh threats from North Korea, Balikatan proved to be an opportunity for the Philippines and the United States to ensure their “operational readiness” against “any emergency that both our countries may face,” Domingo added.

Robling also touched on North Korea’s threat of a nuclear attack in the region, saying that the US has at least seven defense treaty partners that can deal with the situation.
Robling said they are now looking forward on the possibility of conducting a multi-lateral military exercises with partner countries.

“We will begin that planning next week and we’ll take a look at that. Well, we certainly are looking at other countries like Japan and Australia,” he said.

As this developed, a congressional reports said that the US was footing more of the bill for overseas bases in Germany, Japan and South Korea even as the military reduces the number of American troops in Europe and strategically repositions forces in Asia.

The exhaustive, yearlong investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee focused on costs and burden-sharing as the United States spends more than $10 billion a year to back up the U.S. military presence overseas, with 70 percent of the amount expended in the three nations. The figure does not include military personnel costs.

‘Balikatan’ holds media day, disaster training

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 17): ‘Balikatan’ holds media day, disaster training

Media members from the local, national, and associate press toured the significant events of “Balikatan 2013” at Fort Ramon Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija while civilian rescue teams underwent rigid training in disaster response at the Subic Freeport in Zambales.

Members of media visited four areas where the RP-US Balikatan Joint Exercises are being held; first of which was at Special Operation Command (SOCOM), where US Army personnel are being trained of Arnis – a distinctive Filipino Martial Arts.

They were toured by Maj. Isaac Taylor, of the United States Air force; Maj. Teresita B. Gangan; and Capt. Mark Anthony B Ruelos, Acting Chief, Public Affairs office of the 7th Infantry Division.

The US Army personnel demonstrated their learned Arnis skills and techniques under the tutelage of Arnis Master Rosario V. Melchor.

In lieu of Balikatan’s joint exercises on combat interoperability, PH and US troops trained in mortar exercises at Special Operations Command (SOCOM). The media people were cautioned to stay only at the safe part of the exercise area as 2nd Infantry Division (2ID) Army personnel from the 80th Infantry Battalion (80IB) demonstrated mortar exercises.

In line with the Human Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) focus of this year’s Balikatan, the US Marines together with US Ret. Army, Jim Muldeon, US Pacific Science Advisor, 4th Charter Hawaii, has loaned the Philippines Water Purification Machines called ASPEN 2000DM, and four of them are being used in the Water Purification Area of the Pahingahan Dam in Fort Magsaysay.

7ID Army personnel noted that the water purifying machines have helped Fort Magsaysay donate fresh and clean drinking water to calamity-affected areas in Mindanao during typhoons Quiel, Pedring, and Sendong, among others.

Sgt. Melecio Portuguese, the first Filipino Army personnel trained to operate the said machine, demonstrated how the water purifier is operated to the media. Sgt. Portuguese explained that the machine uses Ultra Violet (UV) light which turns the lake water into 100% germ-free water.

The Sgt. further said that the machine can process 100 gallons of freshwater per hour and 50 gallons of saltwater per hour. He also indicated US Army’s generosity of loaning the machines to the Philippine Army, costing the machines only 10% of its original price.

US Ret Army Muldeons explained the technical aspect of the process by demonstrating a test which shows that the water from the Aspen 2000DM contains zero solid parts per million, proving how safe and pure it is for human consumption. The US Pac Science Advisor, also iterated that the US Army will continue to work hand-in-hand with the Philippine Army in its HADR efforts.

For security and policy reasons, the media were not allowed to take interviews but photographs at the Obstacle Course of Special Forces (SF) School, Fernandez Hill, Molave Complex of Fort Magsaysay.

Meanwhile, a scenario was laid out to some five groups of rescue teams inside the Subic Freeport aimed at enhancing their response in times of natural disasters.

The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority’s (SBMA) Earthquake Response Simulation Exercise was laid out before the SBMA’s own Emergency Response Team (ERT), Olongapo Rescue, Sta. Rita Rescue, National Red Cross and the Philippine Army to prepare these groups in case a disaster of seismic proportions came.

The exercise was part of the Balikatan 2013 as the Hawaii National Guard and the CBRNE Emergency Response Package Team (CERP-T) trained these rescue groups in Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) training and Swift Water Rescue (SWR) training.

Balikatan exercises benefit marginalized communities

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 18): Balikatan exercises benefit marginalized communities

The PH-US Balikatan 2013 (BK 13) exercise ended yesterday but it left behind a lasting impact on the lives of thousands of marginalized Filipinos.

After 17 days of joint training that focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster response between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the United States Military, the 29th PH-US Balikatan Exercise officially closed yesterday at the AFP Commissioned Officers Club (AFPCOC) in Camp Aguinaldo.

Present during the closing ceremony were Undersecretary Honorio Asqueta who representend Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin; Brian Goldbeck, the Deputy Chief of Missions of the US Embassy (Manila); AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista ; US exercise director Lt. Gen. Terry G. Robling ; and PH exercise director Maj. Gen. Virgilio O. Domingo.

As the Filipino and American troops returned to their normal duties, thousands of marginalized Filipinos in Central Luzon will be grateful for the projects the troops have delivered to their communities in line with Balikatan 2013.

Like in the past Balikatan exercises, the joint PH and US forces again worked shoulder-to-shoulder to accomplish eight engineering civic action projects (ENCAP), six cooperative health engagements, eight community relations activities (COMREL), and two medical COMRELs that benefited eight communities in Zambales province.

Salvage operations begin as new tugboat arrives in Tubbataha

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 18): Salvage operations begin as new tugboat arrives in Tubbataha

The tugboat, M/T Limay is expected to remove the Chinese vessel from Tubbataha Reef in Palawan after it arrived on Thursday at the grounding site, according to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

Commander Armand Balilo, spokesperson of the PCG, said M/T Limay proceeded directly to the protected marine sanctuary to commence with the salvage operations for the Ming Long Yu.

“The tugboat arrived at 2 p.m. at the site,” he said in an interview.

The salvage operations to remove the grounded fishing vessel from the Tubbataha Reef were put on hold Sunday because of the engine problem encountered by the initial salvage vessel, the BRP Corregidor.

This prompted the PCG to hire M/T Limay, property of Malayan Towage Salvaging Corp., as the lead salvage vessel.

Its extraction teams, however, have to make an assessment on the condition of Ming Long Yu before they could get to work.

Balilo said the fishing vessel moved slightly from its original position while its hull and propeller remain intact and are in good condition.

“Once the vessel (Ming Long Yu) is inspected, they will then tow it from Tubbataha Reef to Puerto Princesa,” he said.

“In Puerto Princesa, it will undergo another inspection. The remaining pangolins onboard the vessel will also be inspected there,” Balilo added.

Coast Guard authorities are tracking down the scales of the confiscated pangolins to determine if these are local species.

They are also closely working with other agencies and gathering information from coastal communities that could lead to the wildlife trader.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard’s vessel BRP Romblon, the first vessel to arrive in the area, will stay in the grounding site to help M/T Limay in the removal operations.

Top ASG chiefs escape AFP drive

From Malaya (Apr 17): Top ASG chiefs escape AFP drive

TWO Abu Sayyaf leaders, including one on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists, escaped Monday’s military offensive that killed eight militants and led to the seizure of their jungle lair and bomb materials in Basilan, Col. Carlito Galvez, commander of the Army’s 104th Brigade, said yesterday.

The assault by more than 100 army troops early Monday targeted Abu Sayyaf commanders Isnilon Hapilon and Puruji Indama in the outskirts of Tipo-Tipo town on Basilan, but the two managed to escape and were still being hunted by government forces, said Galvez.

At least three soldiers were wounded in the main assault and two separate gun battles afterward with about 30 Abu Sayyaf gunmen. Troops captured the militants’ lair, where they found bomb-making materials and equipment, along with sniper rifle parts, Galvez said.

The bodies of two of the gunmen were recovered by troops, he said.

Washington has offered a $5 million reward for the capture or killing of Hapilon who has been accused of involvement in deadly bomb attacks, kidnappings and beheadings, including of Americans in the past, landing him on the list of the FBI’s most-wanted terrorists.

Indama has been wanted by Philippine authorities for his alleged involvement in deadly bombings and kidnappings of several people, including a former Australian soldier who was freed last month after 15 months of jungle captivity after ransom was paid.

Indama has been blamed for the 2007 beheadings of 10 Marines in Basilan, a widely condemned atrocity that prompted a major military offensive against the militants.

Galvez said Hapilon and Indama are also accused of trying to sabotage infrastructure projects, including the construction of a road and a power barge, and of trying to extort money from several business firms.

“Both their signatures appeared on the extortion letters,” he said.

Galvez also said the bodies of the two slain Abu Sayyaf men were retrieved during clearing operations after the fighting and have been turned over to relatives.

Galvez did not identify the two but a military report named them as Abu Digod and Buga Teddy.

Six more Abu Sayyaf men are believed to have been killed in the fighting at the lair of the terrorists Silangkum village.

Galvez said a sub-leader of the Abu Sayyaf was among those believed to have been killed. He declined to name the sub-leader, saying they are still in the process of validating the report.

The military report said the operation was mounted by forces of the Joint Special Operations Group, 3rd Light Reaction Company of the 1st Light Reaction Battalion, and 11th Scout Ranger Company of the 4th Scout Ranger Battalion.

Three soldiers were wounded in the operation.

Galvez said at least six more Abu Sayyaf bandits are believed injured in the operation, based on information gathered. Among them is Hapilon who was grazed by a bullet in the head.

Galvez also said that two members of the Southeast Asian regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiah are believed to be with the Abu Sayyaf in the assaulted lair. Earlier reports said several JI men are in the country.

He said they got prior information that the two JI men, identified as Malaysian Amin Baco and one Imram, were in the Abu Sayyaf camp.

However, he could not categorically say if the two JI men were in the camp at the time of the fighting or if they helped the Abu Sayyaf in the skirmishes.

The attack took place near a community-like encampment of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group in the country with which the government has been negotiating a peace accord for years.

The Moro rebels said they were the ones attacked by Army troops, adding the assault violated a years-long truce and may have been aimed at undermining their Malaysian-brokered peace negotiations with the Philippine government.

Galvez denied troops attacked the MILF camp, which is some 300 meters from the Abu Sayyaf encampment that they targeted. Abu Sayyaf gunmen have deliberately encamped there, thinking they would be backed by the Moro rebels in case of fighting with troops, he said.

The MILF rebels, however, did not help the Abu Sayyaf in Monday’s clashes, Galvez said.

The Abu Sayyaf, which was founded in early 1990s on the predominantly Muslim province of Basilan, has been blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist organization for deadly terror attacks and kidnappings for ransom.

US-backed offensives have killed or captured many of its commanders in recent years, leaving the group without an overall leader to unify its factions on Basilan, nearby Jolo island and the Zamboanga Peninsula.

The Abu Sayyaf, however, has survived with about 350 armed fighters, mainly through kidnappings for ransom and extortion and remains a security threat in the south.

US relying on PH support to diffuse tension in Korea

From Malaya (Apr 17): US relying on PH support to diffuse tension in Korea

UNITED States deputy chief of mission Bryan Goldbeck yesterday said the US is confident that the Philippines will come to its aid in helping diffuse the tension between North Korea and South Korea.

North Korea has threatened to launch nuclear attacks against the US, a known ally of South Korea.

At the closing ceremony for this year’s Balikatan exercises between Philippine and US forces, Goldbeck said Americans were with Filipino forces during the Bataan death march during World War II.

“We have not left you since. We remain with you not just for an annual exercise but whenever our partnership is truly needed,” he said.

Goldbeck said Balikatan “is our commitment to you, the commitment of American people to the Filipino people…We stand with you, by your side through national disasters and common threats such as transnational terrorism.”

“Now, we know it’s a two-way street. As Secretary Del Rosario has stated at the opening of Balikatan (last April 5), we know you would come to our aid as well. We have built bridges that brought us together. Now, we can cross those bridges together in a bright future,” he said.

Goldbeck was referring to a statement made by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario when asked by media if the Philippines will offer its bases for US forces once attacked by North Korea.

“I think as treaty allies, if there is an attack, we should help one another which is what the treaty alliance is all about,” Del Rosario had said.

The US and the Philippines were joined by several other countries, including China, in a discussion on disaster scenarios in international waters and responses to be taken.

Goldbeck said the involvement of China in the table top exercise is “very significant” because it revealed the type of operations that they discuss for humanitarian affairs and disaster response.

“There is no one country that has domain over that (disaster response) and we need every country in the region to be able to hold together and help countries in need and certainly, having China for the very first time to at least watch how we do table top exercises and the things that we talk about, I think we’ll help them be better partners in the future,” said Goldbeck.

The Philippines is in a territorial dispute with China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea. The Philippines and China also have disputing claims over the Scarborough Shoal off Zambales.

Gov’t troops discovers abandoned NPA camp

From the Leyte Samar Daily Express (Apr 17): Gov’t troops discovers abandoned NPA camp

Government troops have seized an abandoned New People’s Army (NPA) camp in a village in Northern Samar, a military officer said.

Army Lt. Col. Noel Vestuir, commanding officer of the 20th Infantry Battalion, said on Sunday that the camp, located at Happy Valley, San Isidro, Northern Samar, was overtaken by elements of the 20th IB without a single shot fired.

Recovered from the camp were four calibre .38 revolvers.

Vestuir said the rebels hastily abandoned the camp after they learned that government forces were on their way to the area.

“The camp was seized after the 20IB launched sustained combat operations in the area in response to the information tipped-in by some residents in the nearby barangays of the presence of armed men roaming in the area,” Vestuir said in a statement.

“They were enforcing their permit to campaign strategy, extorting money and foodstuff from the people and as well as from politicians,” he added.

According to Vestuir, the camp had 15 bunkers that accommodate more or less 20 people, a kitchen, a comfort room and three outposts.

“The recent accomplishments by the 20IB troops against the NPAs in the area have disrupted the impending terroristic activities that are being hatched by the NPA. The government troops has dislodged them from their guerilla camps and cut-off their supply support lines that they forcibly take from the residents in the area,” he said.

The discovery and seizure of the said camp in the area, he claimed, was made possible by the information provided by residents of the area.

The seizure of the said NPA encampment and the recovery of their firearms, he further said, was a big blow to the NPA.

It is the seventh NPA camp recovered by the military since January.

In 2012, a total of 131 NPA camps were seized or discovered by the military. Eight camps were recovered with NPA resistance and 123 of these camps were seized without resistance.

US warship in Southeast Asia to give 'punch' to American pivot to Asia

From InterAksyon (Apr 18): US warship in Southeast Asia to give 'punch' to American pivot to Asia

The littoral combat ship USS Freedom is shown here conducting flight deck certification with an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nathan Laird)

A US warship designed to fight in coastal areas arrived Thursday in Singapore for its Southeast Asian deployment, underlining President Barack Obama's new strategic focus on Asia.

The deployment of the USS Freedom comes at a time of heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula and as China publicly flexes its naval muscle in the South China Sea, where it has competing territorial claims with some Southeast Asian states.

US Navy officials said the Freedom, a new class of vessel called the littoral combat ship, sailed into Changi Naval Base at around 11:00 a.m. (0300 GMT) in Singapore, a long-standing US ally that assists in logistics and exercises for forces in Southeast Asia.

The ship, the US Navy's first LCS, which is designed to fight close to the shore, will be deployed for the next eight months in the region, where it will participate in naval exercises and visit other ports.

Regional security expert Ian Storey said the Freedom's deployment signals Washington's commitment to ensuring freedom of navigation in the region, which hosts some of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

"The forward deployment of these ships is part the US pivot, rebalancing away from Iraq and Afghanistan and towards Asia," said Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

"It demonstrates to US allies and friends that it is committed to maintaining a strong presence in the region to ensure stability. In naval terms, it also underpins the US' commitment to ensuring freedom of navigation," he told AFP.

Then US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced last year that Washington will shift the bulk of its naval fleet to the Pacific by 2020 as part of a new strategic focus on Asia, where China is an emerging power.

China is embroiled in a maritime dispute with four Southeast Asian countries -- Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam -- over territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Beijing claims nearly the entire sea, including areas much nearer to the other claimants. Manila and Hanoi have been the most vocal in criticising China over alleged heavy-handedness in enforcing its claims.

While not a claimant, Washington has said it has an interest in the area to ensure freedom of navigation.

"We plan on spending most of our time here in Southeast Asia. This will be Freedom's neighborhood for the next eight months," said US Navy Commander Timothy Wilke, the ship's commanding officer.

"We are eager to get out and about, work with other regional navies and share best practices during exercises, port visits and maritime security operations."

Singapore has agreed to the rotational deployment of up to four LCS. This means the vessels will not be permanently based in the country and crews will live aboard during ship visits.

Euan Graham, a maritime security expert at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said Beijing "is obviously cautious about any enhancement of the US military presence around the South China Sea."

But he added that China also understands that Freedom's presence is "not a major step-change in the naval balance in the region."

China however would be keen to learn about the performance of the ship, a versatile vessel that can be used for surface warfare as well as to hunt for mines and submarines and is suitable to maritime regions like Southeast Asia, Graham said.

He said the timing of Freedom's deployment also counters perceptions that US budget cuts would "undermine the sustainability of the US forward presence" in Asia.

NPA releases 7 militiamen

From InterAksyon (Apr 18): NPA releases 7 militiamen

The New People's Army has released seven militiamen in Mindanao on Wednesday,the military and rebels said Thursday.

In Agusan del Sur, four militiamen -- Rubio Asalan, Mario Libanda, Tuloy Libanda and Rejoy Francisco -- who were seized at a rebel checkpoint in Barangay Mahayaha, San Luis town on Monday were released 11 a.m. Wednesday in Barangay Don Alejandro, said Major Leo Bongosia, 4th Infantry Division spokesman.

This was confirmed as well by Jorge "Ka Oris" Madlos, spokesman of the National Democratic Front in Mindanao, who also said in a statement that three other militiamen -- Danny Sevillejo, 27, Evangeline Cabodbod,31, and Leonardo Sevillejo, 63 -- captured in Barangay Sta. Juana, Tagbina, Surigao del Sur were released the same day.

Madlos also said one of the four militiamen captured in Agusan, whom he named only as "Janjan" but who, going by the military list, is Asalan, is only 17-years old.

Madlos said the release of the militiamen was recommended by NPA Fronts 14 in Agusan del Sur and 88 in Surigao del Sur, for the following reasons:
  • For not having committed any serious offense against the people and the revolution
  • For having sworn never again to commit their minor offenses, and to take steps to rectify their mistakes
  • Humanitarian reasons
  • For having exhibited good behaviour during detention
The Agusan release "was attended by representatives and officials from the local government unit, religious, other personalities and the media. Under safe conditions, the POWs were turned over to them, including the minor."

The Surigao release, on the other hand, "was witnessed by Governor Johnny Pimentel and other officials of the LGU, the religious, local personalities and the media."

Bongosia said the militiamen released in Agusan were brought to the municipal building on their release and underwent medical check up and debriefing. He added they were found in good condition and were reunited with their families.

Madlos said the NPA's Front 03 in Southern Mindanao is still holding Police Officer 1 Ronal Mnuez and PO1 Nemuel Espana.

Military, MILF issue conflicting claims on Basilan firefight

From the Daily Tribune (Apr 17): Military, MILF issue conflicting claims on Basilan firefight

The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have issued conflicting claims over Monday’s firefight in the outskirts of Basilan province, with the MILF accusing the AFP of undermining the peace process while the military maintained the raid in Tipo-Tipo was not aimed at MILF forces.

In a statement over the MILF Web site, Abbas Salung, a member of the MILF coordinating committee on the cessation of hostilities, said that he reported the incident in Sitio Badja Maluha, Barangay Baguindan to the MILF headquarters in Camp Darapanan.

The MILF leadership reportedly has asked the MILF-CCCH to file the necessary complaint for ceasefire violations.

The MILF peace panel also expressed surprise over the incident.

“There must be something wrong with the government now,” the MILF said in its Web site quoting its peace panel.

Salung claimed that the attack launched by the Army’s 104th Brigade targeted the group of Ustaz Hamzah Sapanton, provincial committee chairman of the MILF.

“The encounter had already ceased but actions must be undertaken by the government to avoid recurrence of the firefight between the government and MILF forces and to prove that the government forces are indeed upholding the policy of the P-Noy government for the primacy of the peace process,” said Salung.

The MILF claimed that the MILF-CCCH and Ad-Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) were never informed by the government security forces of the movements or any activity in Barangay Baguindan, which is a known MILF community.

“Clearly there is a deliberate act to undermine the ceasefire and the peace talks between the government and MILF, which only compounds the increasing doubts of the public over the sincerity of the government in the peace process,” said Ustaz Sapanton as supposedly relayed to Salung.

The military reported that three hours of intermittent firefight erupted in Barangay Silangkum Tipo-Tipo on Monday which started at around 5:30 a.m. and not in Barangay Baguindan as claimed by the MILF.

The military’s Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), in a statement, stressed that the operation launched by Joint Task Force Basilan was not directed against the MILF.

In fact, the Wesmincom even praised the MILF for “supporting the government initiatives and success of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro because they allowed the said AFP operations to proceed unhampered without any interference from the MILF ranks.”

Col. Carlito Galvez, commander of the Army’s 104th Brigade, said that the military operation targeted the Abu Sayyaf band of Isnilon Hapilon and Furuji Indama.

Yesterday, Galvez claimed that eight Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed during the operation but only two were recovered.

Galvez said that Hapilon was also wounded in the head during the attack.

AFP officers call for transparency in promotion system

From the Daily Tribune (Apr 17): AFP officers call for transparency in promotion system

Concerned officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are urging transparency in the promotion system in the 120,000-strong military organization to stop the malpractice of favoritism and lobbying for juicy positions by some “unprofessional” officials.

The Tribune sources claimed that personal interviews for promotions in the military organization stop when officers are already gunning for 07 positions or one-star posts. Face to face interviews between candidates and the selection board are only held for positions of full-fledge colonels in the Army and Air Force and captains for the Navy.

During the interview processes, one of the sources stressed that a candidate-official will know for himself his weakness, including his place in the seniority and lineal list, compared to others who are also being considered.

“There is secrecy in the deliberation for 07 positions and up, while for colonels down, you are interviewed and informed,” the source claimed.

“Seniority, lineal listing and your specialization and positions previously held are considered right in your face. The board for 07 posts and up, there is no more transparency, you just play by ears,” he added.

The official claimed that deliberations of the Board of Senior Officers and Board of Generals are not transparent.

“Board Senior Officers and Board of Generals deliberations are not open and candidates are not required to face these boards. You don’t even know if your name is included among the candidates,” the officer said.

The official lamented that such practice gives room for officers, less deserving due to their being junior or lacking in credentials compared to others, to lobby for posts.

“These officers start elbowing others and seek padrinos to bag the posts. But if the selection process is transparent, with all of those considered being informed, then the promotion system will be preserved, and not prostituted,” the source said.

Another officer said that service reputation, which is one of the factors in the promotion, has also weakened due to the secrecy in the deliberations.

“The term ‘service reputation’ is based on rumor. The board will not ask you to explain what they heard others say about you. We have the military justice system, particularly the court of inquiry to clear your name (but you will not be asked),” the second source said.

“Besides, seniors should counsel you to improve. We are all human resources who are developed and trained by the state with people’s money,” he stressed.

The Tribune sources have scored favoritism and lobbying in the AFP, citing such malpractice have “prostituted” the promotion system in the military organization.

CPP/NPA: NPA checkpoints aimed at candidates campaigning in guerilla zones, an implementation of revolutionary policy in the conduct of elections

Posted to the CPP Website (Apr 16): NPA checkpoints aimed at candidates campaigning in guerilla zones, an implementation of revolutionary policy in the conduct of elections

Alan Juanito
NPA North Central Mindanao Regional Operations Command (Jiito Tito Command)

Politicians vying for power this coming reactionary elections are now in the homes stretch of their electoral campaign. The Filipino people could never expect genuine social change in this election, as was the case for all previous ones. This is a battle among the ruling classes for positions in the puppet government—positions which only serve to perpetuate oppression and exploitation of the people.

In advancing the national democratic revolution, we gradually establish a genuine people’s government in the countryside. Here, we gradually implement genuine land reform which empowers the peasants who constitute the majority of our country’s population.

While we are crystal clear on the futility of bourgeois elections in solving the basic problems of our country, this is an opportunity for the people to voice out their issues, advance mass movements promoting their interests and welfare, increase the membership of and strengthen their organizations and secure the support of political candidates. Thus, we open our guerilla zones to candidates and partylists who recognize the Red political power and respect the revolutionary policies to present their platforms and programs.

To ensure the peaceful conduct of the electoral campaign in the guerilla fronts, candidates must coordinate closely with the concerned territorial command of each area and observe the revolutionary policies, especially the following:

1.Prohibiting the traditional politicians’ vote-buying, fraud and terrorism

2.Prohibiting the use of firearms and armed escorts

3.Strict prohibition of the use of the electoral campaign as a front for intelligence operations aimed at spying on the activities of the NPA and revolutionary mass organizations

4.Ensuring that poor voters will not be intimidated or pressured by politicians
The putting up of checkpoints by the different units of the New People’s Army under the North Central Mindanao Regional Command in the areas of their operation is in accordance with these policies. We beg for the understanding and consideration of the affected passersby for the minor inconvenience.

These checkpoints also serve to ensure that despotic, anti-people and counterrevolutionary candidates and partylists will not be able to campaign freely within the guerilla zones. These include:

1.promoters of the expansion of plantations, large-scale mining operations and megadams, among other environmentally-destructive projects and programs;


3.usurers and loan sharks charging exhorbitant interest rates;

4.those who pay measly wages to workers and agricultural workers;

5.buyers who impose low prices for farm produce;

6.illegal drug traders;

7.cuddlers of criminal bandits;

8.those who work closely with the military in counterrevolutionary witchhunting;



Balikatan project boosts government infrastructure initiative

From the Business Mirror (Apr 16): Balikatan project boosts government infrastructure initiative

In Photo: Soldiers from the US Army and counterparts from the Philippine military build a footbridge over a swamp in sitio Matana, Masinloc, Zambales. (Henry Empeño)

SITIO MATANA, Masinloc, Zambales—In this part of Masinloc town, residents have to cross two hanging footbridges to reach their homes and farms in the remote hills of Barangay Tapuac.

Not much of a problem there during summer, but in the rainy season, when the rivers get swollen and tree trunks and branches and other debris from the mountain float downstream and get entangled on the bridges, passage to this rural area becomes both unsafe and difficult.
“People here get stranded for days on end, especially when there’s a typhoon,” Mely Eclarinal said on Saturday while she tended her makeshift halo-halo stall by the roadside near the Tapuac footbridge. “Sometimes, the hanging bridge gets washed out and residents had to pass through another footbridge in the next sitio. Kawawa talaga sila.”
These days, however, residents consider themselves doubly blessed as workers from two separate engineering outfits race to complete their projects before the rainy season starts.
The first project would lay down a steel structure across the Tapuac River and replace the dilapidated footbridge that often loses its planking to turbulent current when the river gets flooded.
ON Saturday a crew of five cut the steel-rod innards of concrete posts driven into the silt. The posts had already hit rock-bottom and would no longer budge even with repeated blows from a steam hammer so they had to be trimmed down to the desired height.
“This is a project of Governor Ebdane,” one of the crew members said, identifying himself and his companions as coming from the Provincial Engineering Office.
“Farther up there is what you wanted to see,” he said, thumbing the direction across the river. “That’s the bridge being built by Balikatan.”
Past the rickety footbridge with planks replaced just last month when the Balikatan crew came to town, past groves of mango and barren fields baking in a fierce noonday heat, another footbridge is rising over a swampy waterway lined with nipa palms.
Helmeted men in fatigue uniform, numbering eight to 10, worked either end of the wooden suspension bridge, laying down concrete blocks and pasting over mortar. Between them, a brown-shirted US Army soldier and a Philippine Army trooper in black shirt manhandled the needed hollow blocks, nimbly traversing the narrow walkway suspended by cables some 12 feet high in the air.
Sgt. First Class Gerald Miller from the 130th Infantry Brigade 84th Engineering Battalion of the US Army’s 643rd Engineering Company, obliged for a brief interview on behalf of the senior officer in the work site.
“We built this from the ground up,” Miller said. “The construction materials and supplies were sourced from local suppliers, but all the equipment necessary for this project were shipped all the way from the United States.”
The new structure, which is 88 meters long, would replace a shorter and narrower footbridge nearby that has fallen into disrepair over the years.
Miller said the whole project, excluding labor, costs around $80,000 and along with the budget for other Balikatan projects this year, took all of three years to plan, source out logistics for, and execute.
A complement of about 30 US Army and 25 Philippine Army soldiers (no exact figures from Miller for reasons of security) started the project in mid-March. He said they hope to finish it all by April 17, or within a work period of 33 days.
Miller said the community projects implemented under Balikatan are chosen from various proposals endorsed by local government units, adding Balikatan teams do the projects where they are most needed.
A statement from the US Embassy in Manila said the Matana footbridge is just one of eight engineering civic action program missions performed by units of the Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force in support of Exercise Balikatan 2013, a bilateral training exercise and humanitarian assistance engagement between the armed forces of the Republic of the Philippines and that of the United States of America.
Elsewhere in the province, other Balikatan teams were repairing schoolhouses, providing dental and medical checkups, giving veterinary services and doing community-relations work for orphans.
Here in Matana, the project was well-received by local folks, Miller said, adding, “They are very cooperative.”
The two bridge projects, said Tapuac native Danilo Ejes, would be a big relief to some 20 or so families living in this far-flung sitio that borders the farming villages of Santa Rita and Baloganon and the mining barangay of Taltal.
The steel bridge project of the Zambales government, Ejes said, would give the residents a safe link to the Tapuac village proper even during stormy weather, and would also allow vehicles to reach Sitio Matana through a direct route for the first time.
Similarly, the new footbridge built under the Balikatan program would ensure safe, easy access to and from the hinterlands of Matana.
“It’s a complementary thing. One wouldn’t work as well without the other,” chimed in Ramon Esmele, who visited the area from the nearby village of Santa Rita on Saturday. “While the Balikatan project is small compared to the [government project], it will also be a big help for the farmers here.”
For a project built under Balikatan, which means “shoulder-to-shoulder,” that was certainly a very accurate observation.

Military stops pursuit operations against Abu bandits

From the Business Mirror (Apr 17): Military stops pursuit operations against Abu bandits

THE strategy of beleaguered members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) to mingle with civilian communities, where families of armed members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are found, has forced the military to temporarily stop pursuit operations in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan, Col. Carlito Galvez, commander of the Army’s 104th Infantry Brigade, said on Wednesday.
“They retreated to and mingled with civilian communities. The hardest part of our job is that we cannot just assault them because there are armed members of the MILF in those places. We don’t want to fall into this trap of the bandits because there is a possibility that if we pursue them, our soldiers might got in contact with MILF members,” Galvez said.
On Monday elite forces from the Scout Ranger and Special Forces stormed the lair of ASG sub-leaders Insilon Hapilon and Furuji Indama in Barangay Silangkum, Tipo-Tipo, and overran their camp after an hour of assault.
The running gun battle extended for two more hours before the soldiers got information that eight of the bandits were killed and one among the wounded was Hapilon. Three were wounded on the military side.
Galvez said two personalities of the Jemaah Islamiyah were also with the bandits.
He said another sub-leader, Nurhasan Jamiri, was also in the province.
Galvez said representatives of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and one from the MILF were already coordinating with the military in the area to talk about the resumption of pursuit operations against the fleeing bandits.
“Nag-uusap uli ngayon, nandito ’yung International Monitoring Team at saka ’yung MILF representative. I’m so happy na talagang walang nagre-enforce na MILF, walang nag-coddle sa mga bandido,” Galvez said.
At present, there are six battalions or more than 6,000 soldiers, majority are elite forces, deployed to hunt down more or less 200 Abu bandits in Basilan.
Most of the latest victims of high-profile kidnapping incidents were traced to the ASG in Basilan. 

Palace rejects return of US bases but…

From the Business Mirror (Apr 17): Palace rejects return of US bases but…

THE Aquino administration is not inclined to let the United States reestablish military bases in the country but indicated it was open to “temporary” basing arrangements with the US amid escalating tension in the Korean peninsula and brewing border conflicts between China and its neighbors, including the Philippines.
“We cannot allow the US to own bases the way they used to,” Secretary Ricky Carandang of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office said.
But Carandang quickly added that the Philippine government, which has a standing Mutual Defense Treaty with America, can give the US “temporary access to our bases.”
“They would still be our bases under our control,” Carandang clarified.
Palace Spokesman Edwin Lacierda, in a press briefing on Monday, told reporters that the government still needs to study the suggestions separately aired by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and other concerned officials to let the US set up bases here again, despite a constitutional prohibition banning the presence of foreign military bases in the country.
“That has to be studied in line with the Constitutional provision prohibiting foreign that will have to be studied,” Lacierda said.
“Again, these are only options and I spoke to Secretary Gazmin [and] the context to his answer there is that lf there was going to be an actual shooting war. No. 2, that in his view, the basing will only be temporary,” he added.
Lacierda explained that the prospects of allowing the return of US bases in the country was part of the “scenario-building options that the secretary of national defense is mandated to do.”
“Part of his mandate is to build, to look into several options, several scenarios, in case of conflict, if the Korean peninsula conflict would escalate,” he added.
Coast Guard joins ‘Guardian’ probe
A team of five ranking Coast Guard officers flew to Japan on Wednesday to participate in the next stage of the investigation into the grounding of the minesweeper USS Guardian at Tubbataha Reef on January 17.
The Coast Guard Marine Casualty Team will go to the United States’s naval base in Sasebo, Japan, to meet with their counterparts.
Rear Adm. Luis Tuason Jr., Coast Guard vice commandant and Marine Casualty Team chairman, and Commo. Enrico Evangelista, Coast Guard Palawan district commander and team vice chairman, lead the team.
Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena, Coast Guard commandant, said the five-member team will exchange information with the US Navy and may return as early as Friday.
Isorena added that the team will have 10 days to prepare and submit a report to Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya who, in turn, will submit it to President Aquino.
An investigation showed that the USS Guardian damaged 2,345.67 square meters (sq m) of the reef.
Salvage teams managed to cut and remove the ship from the reef only on March 30.
But a few days after the USS Guardian was removed from the area, a Chinese fishing boat with 12 crewmen aboard ran aground at the reef on April 8.
Writ of kalikasan sought
THE Supreme Court was asked on Wednesday to issue a writ of kalikasan and a temporary environmental protection order against the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in connection with the grounding of the USS Guardian at the Tubbataha Reef.
The petition was filed by environmentalists, scientists and activists before the Supreme Court (SC), seeking intervention on the policy of the government to enter into an agreement and allow the entry of foreign troops on Philippine soil to conduct joint military exercises that result to environmental destruction, such as the grounding of the US Navy minesweeper at the Tubbataha Reef, which is supposed to be off limits to all types of ships.
The petitioners, who include Bishop Pedro Arigo of Palawan, claimed that the grounding, salvaging and post-salvage operations at the Tubbataha Reef as a result of the minesweeper’s grounding caused and continue to cause environmental damage that violates the rights of Filipinos to a balance and healthful ecology.
The petition also claimed that the situation was aggravated by the fact that the culprits were not brought to justice for the destruction wrought to the reef.
“We filed this case because of the inaction of the government to exact justice from the USS Guardian grounding incident. The US Navy clearly violated our laws and trampled on our sovereignty yet the Aquino administration is inutile to make the US Navy and the USS Guardian personnel held accountable,” Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE said.
The petitioners said the current valuation and compensation demanded made by the Aquino administration is not enough and pale in comparison with the prior valuations and compensation made by the US Navy like the USS Port Royal’s 2009 grounding in Hawaii.
Lawyer Edsel Tupaz, the counsel for the petitioners, explained that the Tubbataha Reef Park is richer in biodiversity and has a higher ecological importance, thus the valuation of the the damage should be greater than the government earlier assessed.
He said that it would be detrimental to the country if the government pursues the said valuation.
The US Navy paid the State of Hawaii a total of $15 million as compensation for the 8,000 sq m of damaged reef and proposed a restoration value of $20 million to $45 million.
On the other hand, the Aquino administration is asking the US government for a mere $1.4 million for the damage at Tubbataha, a Unesco World Heritage Site and included in the list of Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance. 
The Philippine government used $596 per sq m. as monetary valuation of Tubbataha Reef while the US valuation used in Hawaii is $3,125 per sq m.
But more than the issue of compensation, Bautista said the country’s sovereignty is of utmost importance.
“The issue goes far beyond monetary compensation. The US Navy minesweeper’s grounding is brought about by the implementation of the VFA. The presence of US troops and the conduct of their military exercises and maneuverings in our country have brought about massive damage to our ecological systems. Worst, under the VFA, the US troops who commit environmental, civil nor criminal offenses while ‘visiting’ our country, are not arrested,” Bautista explained.
The petitioners cited that the US has not been made liable for environmental damage and degradation that resulted from the annual war games, such as coral reef destruction or toxic waste pollution from naval maneuvers, gas leakage, and live fire exercises.
“We are asking the Court to issue a writ of kalikasan against the VFA. The SC should immediately set guidelines to protect our environment, and put clear penalties and punishments for the violations and damages done and will be done by the US forces under the VFA. Better, the court should abrogate the VFA,” Bautista said.

Strong defense, partnership matter most–US Marines chief in Pacific

From the Business Mirror (Apr 17): Strong defense, partnership matter most–US Marines chief in Pacific

LT. Gen. Terry Robling, commander of the United States Marine Forces Pacific, said the strong military partnership between the US and the Philippines has been a big factor in holding the escalation of territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) against China.

“I believe it is. I think you have sovereign government that has to deal with the issues in the region and, of course, there are many countries that have historical claims on different parts of the Asia-Pacific region. Those are always issues that will come up, that are worked through diplomatic channels and, of course, having a strong defense is one tool our diplomats can use and hopefully the last tool,” Robling said in an interview on Wednesday after the closing ceremony of the 2013 RP-US Exercise Balikatan held in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
Exercise Balikatan has been held for the past several years by virtue of the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty, which later gave birth to the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that was stiffly opposed by left-leaning groups as another form of US military intervention in the Philippines.
For the first time, China sent a representative to participate in the discussion that focused on humanitarian affairs and disaster-relief operations.
“Very significant,” said Robling on China’s participation, “there is no one country that has domain over that and we need every country in the region to be able to hold together and help countries in need. Certainly, having China for the very first time at least watch how we do tabletop exercises and the things that we talked about, I think we’ll help them be better partners in the future.”
When asked if China shared any of its military and disaster and relief experiences, Robling said: “I don’t believe they did, you know they just observed.”
The Philippines and China are locked horns over the disputed Spratly Islands that is on the WPS. The Philippines claims at least seven islets and two reefs in the disputed area, which is now the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) town in Palawan led by Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon.
Other nation-claimants are Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia.
Also, Manila and Beijing are disputing ownership over the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, more than 120 nautical miles off Masinloc, Zambales.
On the issue of North Korea’s threat for nuclear attack, Robling said the US has at least seven defense treaty partners that can deal with the situation.
“You know, the US has seven treaty partners in the world and the Philippines is one of those, five of them in this region. Obviously, a better partnership we have in all things such as events, foreign investment, businesses, tourism, those kinds of things, the better partners we are.
“And this sends a signal to the rest of the countries in the world, and most specifically in the Asia Pacific, that as a coalition we are stronger together,” he said.
Robling said they are now looking into the future of the possibility of conducting multilateral military exercises with partner-countries.
“We will begin that planning next week and we’ll take a look at that. Well, we certainly are looking at other countries like Japan and Australia,” he said.
“I guess this Balikatan is a test of how we can work together shoulder to shoulder and so by way of making sure that our operational readiness in disaster mitigation, by any measure facing any threat or crisis requirements this will allow us to work together against any emergency that we may face, both of our countries may face,” he added.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario had said during the opening of Balikatan that the Philippine government is ready to give greater access to US military forces by virtue of the 1951 treaty.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has interpreted this that the Philippine government is open for the return of US bases in the country in “extreme situations” only.
Both government officials’ statements drew strong public criticisms that Malacañang quickly said does not necessarily reflect the position of the administration.
In 1991 the Senate refused to ratify the renewal of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement, prompting the closure of US military bases in the country, notably Clark Air Base in Pampanga and Subic Naval Base in Cavite.