Monday, April 22, 2013

US to pay Tubbataha damage in cash

From the Sun Star (Apr 22): US to pay Tubbataha damage in cash

The United States government has promised to pay in cash the compensation for the damage caused by its stalled Navy ship on the Tubbataha reef, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Monday.

"The US government will pay [the] appropriate compensation to the Philippines for the damage caused by [the grounding of the] USS Guardian [on the Tubbataha Reef]," Raul Hernandez, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said in a press briefing.

In addition to the payment of compensation, which is about P58 million for the 2,300-square meter damage on Tubbataha, the US government will also be providing "service program" for the protection of the reef and the marine environment, Hernandez said.

"The US government will cooperate with the Philippine government to ensure navigational safety is enhanced in the area," he said.

"The Philippine government officials, the US Embassy and officials from the US government agreed to pay the compensation," Hernandez said, downplaying reports that the US has offered to compensate the damages by providing a "second hand" aircraft that it used during the war in Afghanistan.

"The commitment is they will pay [to] compensate the Philippines because of the damage caused by USS Guardian," he added.

Although the US Navy has already spent more than P1 billion on salvage operations, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009 requires them to pay about P12,000 per square meter of damaged reef and another P12,000 per square meter for the rehabilitation.

Hernandez, however, refused to comment if the same payment will be required from the Chinese vessel that also recently ran aground in the Tubbataha Reef.

"That is being undertaken by the port in Puerto Princesa," the official said.

Meantime, the Philippine Maritime Casualty Investigation Team (MCIT) will finalize and soon release the findings of its separate inquiry into the grounding of the USS Guardian on the Tubbataha Reef in January.

The DFA said the team will finish the investigation after the second and last meeting with the US Navy investigators last April 18 at the Operations Center of the US 7th Fleet Coordination Group at its naval base in Yokosuka, Japan.

During the meeting, the six-member MCIT received additional documents from the US Navy investigators.

The MCIT is formed under the auspices of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to determine the cause of the grounding of the USS Guardian on the north side of the reef's south shoal on January 17.

It took almost three months before the salvage operations team was able to remove the ship from
the Unesco World Heritage Site. But by then, the damage has already spread to about 2,300 square meters.

"The inquiry also aims to identify new measures that may be undertaken by the Philippines and the US to prevent such grounding from happening again on the Tubbataha Reefs," the Foreign Affairs department said.

The US Navy officials also informed the MCIT that the final report on their investigation of the grounding of the USS Guardian will be released soon.

ASEAN girds for second chance to take a united stand on maritime rows with China

Posted to  InterAksyon (Apr 22): ASEAN girds for second chance to take a united stand on maritime rows with China

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN - Southeast Asian leaders will focus on rebuilding unity when they meet in Brunei this week after unprecedented rifts over how to handle territorial disputes with an assertive China.

The summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) convenes against the backdrop of China's increasingly aggressive stance in claiming sovereignty over nearly all of the resource-rich South China Sea.

ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan, also claim parts of the sea, which lies at the heart of the region.

But a push last year by the Philippines and Vietnam for ASEAN to join forces and stand up to China crumbled amid resistance from Cambodia, a close Chinese ally that held the rotating chair of the bloc in 2012.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa emphasized ahead of the two-day summit beginning Wednesday in Brunei's capital Bandar Seri Begawan that ASEAN must put up a united front on the South China Sea.

"ASEAN can only influence developments if we are strong... we need to be on the same page," Natalegawa told AFP.

Brunei has said one of its priorities as this year's ASEAN chair is to see a legally binding code of conduct on the sea agreed between the group and China by the end of year, more than a decade after it was first proposed.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino will push at the summit for an "early conclusion" of the code, foreign affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez told reporters in Manila last week.

Natalegawa said earlier this month that foreign ministers from ASEAN and China will hold a special meeting to hasten progress on a code of conduct, but no further details have been announced.

But analysts said an agreement was highly unlikely this year, given stalling from China which prefers to negotiate directly with individual countries rather than a united ASEAN bloc.

"No one should be expecting any kind of breakthrough on the code of conduct at the coming meeting," Ian Storey, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, told AFP.

"China's position is that it is not ready to talk with ASEAN about the South China Sea... if China does not want to move forward, nothing will as far as the code of conduct is concerned."

Feuds over how to deal with China overshadowed most senior-level ASEAN meetings last year. The highest tensions came at a foreign ministers' meeting in Phnom Penh in July, which ended for the first time in the bloc's 45-year history without a joint communique.

Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Hernandez said ASEAN had put last year's rifts behind it, but observers said the dynamics that led to the infighting had not changed.

"The wounds from last year have yet to fully heal," a Southeast Asian diplomat who asked not to be named, told AFP.

The Philippines and Vietnam are the most vocal critics of China, while Laos and Cambodia are regarded as Beijing's staunchest allies in ASEAN.

The South China Sea has immense regional and global importance because it is believed to sit atop huge deposits of oil and gas, while also being home to some of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

China insists it owns nearly all of the sea, even waters approaching the coasts of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

The rival claims have for decades caused tensions, with China and Vietnam involved in deadly military confrontations in 1974 and 1988 over islands in the region.

The temperature has risen again in recent years as China has become increasingly assertive in staking its claim.

The Philippines last year accused China of occupying a shoal about 220 kilometers (136 miles) from its main island of Luzon.

China's rivals grew more nervous in late March when China announced its navy had carried out wide-ranging patrols of the sea, with its ships reaching as far as 80 kilometers from Malaysia's coast.

One of the other main issues expected to be tackled in Brunei is establishing an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015.

The summit will go ahead without Malaysian premier Najib Razak, who is sending a lower-ranking official so he can concentrate on campaigning for expected close elections set for May 5.

Additional 500 soldiers will be deployed to Gingoog after attack kills 3, hurts mayor

From InterAksyon (Apr 22): Additional 500 soldiers will be deployed to Gingoog after attack kills 3, hurts mayor

An additional 500 soldiers will be assigned to Gingoog City this week, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said on Monday, two days after New People's Army (NPA) launched an attack on Mayor Ruthie Guingona.

The deployment of more troops will augment soldiers already in the area where Mayor Guingona and her convoy were ambushed, Major General Allan Luga, AFP vice chief of staff, said.

The ambush killed three and wounded Guingona.

Luga said the military will increase checkpoints in the area following the attack.

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said investigation is ongoing to determine the circumstances that led to the attack on Mayor Guingona.

Senator Teofisto Guingona III, Mayor Guingona's son, condemned the attack on his mother who is already "bowing out of politics."

The NPA has apologized over the incident but blamed the mayor's convoy for firing first at the rebels.

Seek permission before campaigning, Philippine rebels warn candidates

From InterAksyon (Apr 22): Seek permission before campaigning, Philippine rebels warn candidates

Philippine communist rebels warned politicians Monday to seek their permission before campaigning in the insurgents' strongholds following an ambush that wounded a town mayor and killed two of her aides.

The New People's Army (NPA) launched an attack with grenade launchers on a convoy carrying Ruth Guingona, the 78-year-old mayor of Gingoog on Saturday, killing two of her aides and leaving her and two policemen wounded.

Gingoog lies in a remote, mountainous area in the southern island of Mindanao where the rebel group has been fighting the government since 1969.

Jorge Madlos, a spokesman for the NPA, told AFP it would continue to man checkpoints to "impose revolutionary policies" on candidates for the May 13 local elections.

"They should secure permission and coordinate with our local forces when entering our area, and they should also not have armed escorts," he added.

Madlos said Saturday's ambush was unfortunate, but stressed that Guingona, a member of President Benigno Aquino's ruling party, had been previously warned that entering rebel areas with armed escorts could touch off violence.

"Our fighters are calling politicians on the phone to inform them we are serious in implementing our policy," Madlos said.

"They are free to campaign in our areas, but they should first coordinate with us."

The military has accused the communist guerrillas of extorting money from politicians in exchange for letting them campaign.

The NPA is the armed wing of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been fighting the government since 1969.

The military estimates it has about 4,000 fighters nationwide, down from more than 26,000 at its peak in the 1980s.

The attack came less than a month before local elections in May, when more than 18,000 posts are at stake, from town mayors and governors to members of congress.

In 2011, the military said the rebels earned at estimated 300 million pesos ($7.3 million) in illegal "revolutionary taxes" collected from individuals and businesses.

Taiwan conducts live-fire drills in Spratlys

Posted to InterAksyon (Apr 22): Taiwan conducts live-fire drills in Spratlys

Taiwanese soldiers launch a US-made FCM-148 javelin in the biggest live-fire drill ever on Pengshu islands. AFP PHOTO

TAIPEI - Taiwan's coastguards said Monday that Taipei had staged a live-fire drill within a hotly-contested island chain in the South China Sea, in a move that risks stoking regional tensions.

More than 2,000 rounds of ammunition were fired by garrison forces on Taiwan-administered Taiping, the largest of the Spratly Islands, Wang Chin-wang, chief of the Coast Guard Administration, told parliament.

It was Taipei's first live-fire drill in the Spratlys - claimed in whole or part by Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei - since long-range mortars and artillery were shifted to Taiping Island in August last year.

The exercise took place in the middle of the April, Wang said.

Taiwanese legislator Lin Yu-fang, who sits on the bench of parliament's defence and diplomacy committee, asked Wang to disregard possible reaction from other claimants.

"Taiping Island is part of our territory. You just did what you should do. You've done a good job," Lin said.

Wang said the live rounds included 40 millimetre artillery shells and 120 millimetre mortars, which were transported to the island last year causing Vietnam to express its anger over the new, longer-range weapons.

All claimants to the Spratlys, apart from Brunei, have troops based on the archipelago of more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls, which cover a vast area but have a total land mass of less than five square kilometers.

The potentially resource-rich sea, home to important trade routes, is a potential military flashpoint and there have been a string of diplomatic rows between countries with overlapping territorial claims in recent years.

The Philippines and Vietnam have complained that China is becoming increasingly aggressive in its actions in the area - such as harassing fishermen - and also through bullying diplomatic tactics.

Communist rebels violated human rights, election laws during Guingona ambush, AFP says

From InterAksyon (Apr 22): Communist rebels violated human rights, election laws during Guingona ambush, AFP says

New People's Army (NPA) rebels violated several provisions of election and human rights laws when they ambushed the convoy of Gingoog City Mayor Ruthie Guingona last Saturday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Monday.

The armed group of the Philippines' communist party committed nine violations of several laws including Republic Act 9851 or the Act Defining and Penalizing Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Crimes Against Humanity, Colonel Arnulfo Burgos Jr., AFP spokesman, said on Monday.

The NPA also went against Republic Act 9262 or the law against Violence Against Women and Children; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, Ombnibus Election Code; murder and frustrated murder, among others.

The NPA has apologized for attacking the convoy of Guingona late Saturday, wounding her and a policeman and killing two civilians. However, it claimed that the mayor's convoy fired at them first.

Guingona's group was on its way back to the city proper after attending a fiesta in Upper Kapitulangan when the ambush took place.

The AFP's Human Rights Office chief, Brigadier General Domingo Tutaan Jr. said the NPA's continued attack has affected the lives of civilians and has hampered growth of communities.

"The Filipino people demand justice for this horrendous act. Much more, the whole nation is asking the NPA to stop their so-called armed struggle," he said.

The AFP vowed to pursue the rebels behind the attack while adhering to humanitarian laws.

Major General Ricardo Rainier Cruz, commander of the AFP's Eastern Mindanao Command, said troops encountered the rebels Sunday night but reported no casualties.

Landmine found in Cotabato town

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 22): Landmine found in Cotabato town

Authorities recovered an improvised landmine, about three kilometers away from the national highway in Arakan, North Cotabato, around 6 p.m., on Saturday.

Senior Inspector Rolly Oranza, chief of the Arakan municipal police station, said the bomb, which weighed 5.8 kilos, was recovered at Sitio Sinayong, Barangay Bato-Bato in Arakan – near the place where Police Officer 2 Mike Ali was abducted on Friday by believed to be members of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA).

Oranza said they also recovered from the site a blasting cap and a firing wire at least 80 meters in length.

The area, which is located along the boundary of Arakan and President Roxas towns, is at least five kilometers away from the nearest detachment of the Alpha Company of the 57th Infantry Battalion.

Oranza, citing the statement of some residents of Barangay Bato-Bato, said the explosive could have been planted by still unidentified suspects from 2 a.m., until 3 a.m., on Saturday.

The incident took place a day after PO2 Ali of the Arakan PNP was abducted by communist guerrillas operating in the hinterlands of North Cotabato and Bukidnon provinces.

Ali’s wife told authorities the suspects identified themselves as members of the NPAs.

Oranza, however, has yet to know what particular group of the NPAs was behind Ali’s abduction.

The victim, together with his wife and 30 of his farm workers, were on their way to Barangay Tahontong in President Roxas, when waylaid by the NPAs. At gunpoint, the rebels took Ali and later brought him to still undetermined place.

Cotabato Governor Lala Mendoza has already called on the civilian populace in Arakan and President Roxas towns to help authorities in locating Ali.

“We condemn this abduction. We all must join hands together to help bring Ali back to his family,” said Mendoza.

Three days after the abduction, Ali’s family has not received any note from the NPAs, according to Oranza.

“There is yet no demand. We still have to know the leader of the NPAs that abducted Ali so we would know how the negotiations would be conducted,” said Oranza.

IED found on the campaign track of a mayoral candidate in Agusan del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 22): IED found on the campaign track of a mayoral candidate in Agusan del Sur
Two aides of a mayoralty candidate were alarmed to find an improvised explosive device while clearing the route of their candidate's campaign trail 9:30 a.m. Sunday in Brgy. Sto. Tomas, Loreto, Agusan del Sur.

Reports from Agusan del Sur Police Provincial Office mentioned that the two civilian aides of mayoralty candidate Dario Otaza of the said town accordingly found the IED concealed among the bushes along their candidate's route.

They reported the find to the authorities. The personnel of Loreto police, 14th Special Action Company and 26th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (PA) acted on the report and proceeded to the place where the landmine was found.

The responding authorities retrieved the IED which was composed of 2 and 3/4 kilogram main body, PVC Housing with lever and a push button switch, energizer batteries, a blasting cap and an 87.5 meters long electrical wiring. The authorities successfully detonated the explosive device at 10:00 a.m. Sunday, and the recovered item is now under the custody of the Loreto police.

Suspected NPAs burn bunkhouse of mining company in Narra, Palawan

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 22): Suspected NPAs burn bunkhouse of mining company in Narra, Palawan

A joint military, police and fire bureau investigation is currently ongoing at the mine site of Citinickel Mines and Development Corporation (CMDC) in the southern Palawan municipality of Narra after a fire burned down its thatch-roofed bunkhouse 8:00 p.m. Sunday night.

Palawan Provincial Police Office (PPPO) Sr. Supt. Atanacio Macalan Jr. said nobody was hurt in the fire that completely burned down the bunkhouse of the CMDC that is located on a hilltop.

Made of light indigenous material, it reportedly serves as resting place for mine workers of the CMDC, and as storage area of the implements they use. He said empty shells were found in the initial investigation that was conducted by the Municipal PNP of Narra.

Macalan said the joint investigation is considering two things: involvement of members of the New People’s Army (NPA) operating in the south, and that the fire was an inside job.

“We are not discounting that the NPA is involved in the fire,” Macalan Jr. told the PNA, adding that it could also be an inside job. He did not elaborate on this.

Incidentally, the fire happened while the a multi-partite mining team (MMT) is in the area of the mine site to conduct its quarterly inspection of the CMDC.

The CMDC is the same mining corporation penalized by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) after its tailing pond broke down and spilt silts in November last year in Narra.

The DENR imposed upon it to fine more than P500,000 to compensate damaged farmlands surrounding the mine site.

PDEA-8 links with Philippine Army in anti-drugs campaign

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 22): PDEA-8 links with Philippine Army in anti-drugs campaign

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in Eastern Visayas and the Philippine Army (PA) will collaborate to contain the reported protection of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) of illegal drugs activities aimed at beefing up their logistical resources.

Liza F. Baoy, PDEA-8 regional information officer said the agency and the Department of National Defense (DND) have received reports that the NPA is turning to the illegal drugs trade as a major source of funds to procure weapons and sustain their more than three-decade old uprising against the government.

“There were confirmed reports that leaders of some local drug syndicates have forged ‘unholy alliances’ with rebel groups for protection and self-preservation,” Baoy said.

Alleged involvement of NPA rebels in the maintenance and cultivation of marijuana plantation sites in the countryside, particularly in Cordillera region, had been exposed since the early 1980s. In some cases, government troops raiding secret cannabis plantation have come under heavy fire from suspected NPA guerrillas guarding these sites.

“Illicit production, trafficking, sale, distribution and use of illegal drugs are potential dangers enough to unsettle our domestic stability and tranquility. There were several heinous crimes committed by perpetrators who are under the influence of illicit substances,” Baoy added.

The findings, according to Baoy, are reasons enough for the PDEA and DND to launch a massive campaign against illegal drug trafficking and abuse. This is by way of providing PDEA with much-needed intelligence and manpower and logistical resources.

“The two bastions of law enforcement and peace likewise vowed to combine their forces and resources in order to keep the citizenry safe and free from drug-related harms,” Baoy said.

“While the PDEA’s foremost mission is to suppress the supply of illegal drugs in the country, DND’s mandate is to guard against external and internal threats to national peace and security,” she added.

AFP chief leads turnover of Eastmincom leadership

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 22): AFP chief leads turnover of Eastmincom leadership

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista spearheaded the turnover ceremony Monday afternoon of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) based in Camp Panacan here.

Bautista presided over the change of command of outgoing Eastmincom head Lt. Gen. Jorge Segovia to Major Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz, who were both members of the Philippine Military Academy Mapitagan Class of 1980.

Segovia is retiring from military service effective Tuesday, April 23, upon reaching the mandatory age of 56. He was once the commander of the 10th Infantry Division based in Camp Manuel Domingo Yan in Mawab, Compostela Valley before his assignment with the Eastmincom.

One of the many highlights of Segovia’s career as Eastmincom chief was the comprehensive Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response operations conducted following the onslaught of typhoon Pablo in December last year in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental.

Secondly, his leadership made the successful conduct of the first-ever National Youth Leaders Summit (NYLS) in October last year that convened more than 700 youth participants from all over the country. Under his leadership, Davao City became a suitable pretext for the election of NYLS’ national officers.

Meanwhile, Cruz was the commander of the 1st Infantry Division based in Zamboanga City before his transfer at Eastmincom. He was previously the Assistant Division Commander of the 10th Infantry Division and was its 1002nd Infantry Brigade Commander based in Compostela Valley.

Replacing Cruz in the 1st ID is Brig. Gen Daniel Lucero, the current Commander of the 103rd Infantry Brigade. He was an awardee in The Outstanding Philippine Soldiers 2011 and served as Spokesperson of then Southern Command and the AFP.

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Retired Analyst