Friday, May 31, 2013

Rebels Torch Quarry Equipment in Surigao

From the Manila Times (May 31): Rebels Torch Quarry Equipment in Surigao

SUSPECTED rebels torched late Tuesday night heavy equipment used in hauling sand and gravel in a suburban village in Surigao City, belated police reports said Thursday.

Reports at Philippine National Police national operations center in Camp Crame said the burning occurred at about 11:13 p.m. at the boundary of Barangay Ipil and Danao in that city.

The equipment, a pay loader, is owned by a certain Gloria Pascual Jovita, a businesswoman engaged in gravel and sand trade in Purok-7, Navalca, Barangay San Juan, Surigao City.

Reports said that a certain Ricardo Gonzales, alias “Kumander Gonzales,” is demanding P50,000 from Jovita as “protection” fee for her sand and gravel business.

The said man also threatened Jovita that something might happen if she fails to give in to the demand, but Jovita refused, reports said. Reports said estimated cost of damage on the said equipment was about P300,000.

3 dead as explosion of unknown origin rocks Serendra

From the Manila Bulletin (May 31): 3 dead as explosion of unknown origin rocks Serendra

Photo shows Unit 501 located in Two Serendra in Bonifacio Global City where the explosion on Friday originated. The blast sent chunks of concrete nearby, which landed on an Abenson delivery van killing all three inside. (Photo by Mark Balmores)

An explosion of unknown origin rocked Bonifacio Global City (BGC) Friday night.

Chief Supt. Jose Erwin Villacorte, chief of the Southern Police District (SPD), said that based on initial investigation, an explosion rocked Unit 501 Two Serendra, Bonifacio Global City (BGC) at 8:15 p.m.

Initial reports said at least three people were killed in the incident but this is still yet to be confirmed by members of the Taguig City Police Station, under Senior Supt. Arturo Asis said Police Supt. Alex Fulgar, of the Southern Police District (SPD) Public Information Office (PIO).

According to a report of Nimfa Ravelo on DZBB, the fatalities were caused when a slab of concrete was hurled from the explosion of Serendra Two building onto a delivery van, crushing the occupants inside. Chunks of concrete were also hurled towards nearby vehicles, damaging them.

Authorities said all three people aboard the delivery van died on the spot. Their bodies were being extricated as of press time. 4 people were injured, and were immediately taken to St. Luke's Taguig for treatment. 

Fulgar added the strong explosion shattered windows of nearby stalls and shops around area.

The explosion, according to reports, also caused panic among shoppers and motorists near the area.

Two Serendra is right beside shopping mall Market, Market, which also owned by the Ayala's.

The incident occurred when most establishments in the area, especially restaurants, were packed with customers.

Fulgar said members of the Explosive Ordnance Division (EOD) and Crime Laboratory of the both the Taguig City Police Station and Eastern Police District (EPD), are still in the area conducting an investigation to determine the cause of the explosion.

Villacorte said as of press time, police investigators are determing the cause of the explosion.
"Inaalam pa namin ang cause ng explosion. Magco-conference kami ngayon [We are still investigating the cause of the explosion. We will conduct a conference now]," Villacorte told Manila Bulletin in an interview.
Rescue Units from Taguig and members of the Taguig City Fire Station, were also in the area.

Meanwhile, Taguig City Administrator Atty. Joel Montales, said that despite the sketchy information they are receiving, "the local city government is on top of the situation".
He added that the Taguig City Police, Taguig Bureau of Fire Protection, and Taguig Rescue are still in the area to help determine the cause of the incidence and names of the casualties.
He added that they have set-up a rescue and medical center in the vicinity.
"We confirm there's an explosion. We're still in the process of getting all the information and determing the cause," Montales.
As of press time, tenants and homeowners were evacuated to safer grounds.

DILG Secretary Mar Roxas has asked the public to stay away from the site. On his official Twitter account, he tweets 'Re serendra explosion. Pls temporarily stay away,
don't add to burden of rescue and peace n order efforts.' He further asks people to stop speculating on the the cause of the explosion, tweeting 're explosion.Pls dont speculate as to source and nature. Police eod & soco doing its investigation & we will issue findings once established.'

ABS CBN reports that President Aquino has arrived at the area. DILG Secretary Mar Roxas has also arrived in the area, and is touring the site with President Aquino. 
Ayala Land has issued a statement on the explosion:

At around 8pm today, an explosion occurred at unit 501 of building B at Two Serendra, in Bonifacio Global City. Ten units on the floor were damaged. Four residents were injured and taken to the St. Luke's Medical Center. Three persons on board a delivery van passing through McKinley Parkway were killed by debris that fell on the van.

The building has been evacuated and the residents are being taken care of and provided with lodging while the incident is being investigated.
The Taguig police and the Bureau of Fire Protection are on site to conduct the investigation. We are fully cooperating with the authorities as they try to determine the cause of the explosion.  A large area in front of Two Serendra has been cordoned off for the safety of residents and bystanders.
Photo shows the Abenson delivery van that was crushed by chunks concrete from the explosion that occurred in Unit 501 Two Serendra, Bonifacio Global City on Friday evening, killing all three people inside. The fatalities are not yet known as of press time. (Photo by Mark Balmores)

After Scarborough, is Ayungin next?

From Malaya (May 31): After Scarborough, is Ayungin next?

Chinese general boasts of takeover

IS CHINA poised to repeat its takeover of Scarborough Shoal in Ayungin Shoal?

A Chinese Air Force general has boasted to China’s media about how its military took control of Scarborough Shoal, sealing it using a layered “cabbage (security) strategy” and transforming the island 124 miles west of Zambales province into an exclusive fishing ground for Chinese fisherman.

Chinese Air Force Maj. Gen. Zhang Zhaozhong said the tactic could be adopted in other islands that are occupied by the Philippines.

The transcript of Zhang’s recent television interview in Beijing was posted by China Daily Mail in its website last Tuesday.

China has been in virtual control of the Scarborough Shoal, which it calls “Huangyan Island,” which used to be an impact area for US bombing run exercises when the Americans still had military bases in the Philippines.

In April last year, a standoff between Philippine and Chinese ships took place after a Philippine Navy ship tried to accost Chinese fishing boats gathering giant clams, turtles and corals at the shoal.

Chinese ships later responded and prevented the Filipino ship from arresting the fishermen.

The Philippine Navy ship, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, was later replaced by a Coast Guard ship and Bureau of Fishery and Aquatic Resources vessel. However, the two ships withdrew due to supposedly inclement weather, leaving China in virtual control of the shoal.

“Since then, we have begun to take measures to seal and control the areas around Huangyan Island, seal and control continuously up to now,” said Zhang.

“In over one year period since then, there have been fishermen inside. Our fishermen are often there because there is lot of fish there. Fishermen go there in large ships and then sail small boats in the lagoon to fish. They can have shelter in the lagoon when there is a typhoon,” he said.

Defense officials have admitted that China has put up buoys at the shoal, which Philippine authorities are continuously monitoring pending the resolution of the dispute.

“The fishermen conduct normal production there. In the area around the island, fishing administration ships and marine surveillance ships are conducting normal patrols while in the outer ring there are navy warships. The island is thus wrapped layer by layer like a cabbage. As a result, a cabbage strategy has taken shape,” said Zhang.

Zhang said Filipino vessels have to ask permission from Chinese Navy and fishery administration officials if they want to go into the outermost part of the shoal, also known in the Philippines as Bajo de Masinloc.

“Therefore, our fishermen can carry out their production safely while our country’s marine rights and interests as well as sovereignty are safeguarded. Is that not satisfactory?” Zhang also said.

He said the takeover strategy can be adopted elsewhere by China without having to resort to war.

“You have invaded and then left. You have violated Chinese law and China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, haven’t you? Why did you point your guns at our fishermen?” he asked, apparently referring  to how the Philippine Navy ship accosted their fishing boats at the shoal in April 2012.

“As you have first violated the law and pointed your guns at our fishermen, you would never be allowed to enter the area,” added Zhang.

Zhang said China should pursue similar actions in the future and “grab the right timing to do them.”

“For those small islands, only a few troopers are able to station on each of them, but there is no food or even drinking water there. If we carry out the ‘cabbage’ strategy, you will not be able to send food and drinking water onto the islands. Without the supply for one or two weeks, the troopers stationed there will leave the islands on their own. Once they have left, they will never be able to come back,” said Zhang.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said China, not the Philippines, is violating the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea that binds countries claiming the disputed Spratly Islands not to resort to use of threat or force.

“We have been adhering to the conduct, we’ve been following the DOC. We’ve not changed anything,” Gazmin told defense reporters in an ambush interview at the military general headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo.

Gazmin was reacting to the appeal by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei for claimant-countries to fully and earnestly implement the DOC that also mandates the parties to refrain from actions that will amplify the dispute.

“They’re the ones who are not (following the DOC),” said Gazmin, adding that the violations are reflected in the series of diplomatic protests that the Philippine government filed against China.

The latest protest involved Chinese incursion at the Philippine-occupied Ayungin Shoal where 30 Chinese fishing boats, escorted by a Chinese Navy frigate and two Chinese Maritime Surveillance ships, were seen last May 8. As of last Monday, the two CMS are still at the shoal.

A Philippine Navy ship is due to proceed to Ayungin Shoal to bring supplies for the soldiers who are staying at the landing ship tank BRP Sierra Madre that ran aground in the area in 1999.
The wrecked navy transport ship could be the next flashpoint in the South China Sea as Philippine officials expressed fears that the Chinese ships will block supplies to about a dozen Filipino Marines there.

The Ayungin Shoal, known as Second Thomas Shoal, is a strategic gateway to Reed Bank, believed to be rich in oil and natural gas. In 2010, Manila awarded an Anglo-Filipino consortium a license to explore for gas on Reed Bank but drilling stalled last year due to the presence of Chinese ships.

Manila says Reed Bank, about 80 nautical miles west of Palawan island at the southwestern end of the Philippine archipelago, is within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Beijing says it is part of the Spratlys, a group of 250 uninhabitable islets spread over 165,000 square miles, claimed entirely by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and in part by Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said China is not in a position to dictate what the Philippines can do within its maritime domain.

“China should pull out of the area because under international law, they do not have the right to be there,” Raul Hernandez, spokesman of the foreign affairs department, had said.

He has said the Chinese ships were a “provocation and illegal presence.”

Hong said on Tuesday the Second Thomas Shoal was part of the Spratly Islands, over which China had “indisputable sovereignty”.

“It is beyond reproach for Chinese boats to carry out patrols in these waters,” Hong said, adding China called on all parties to “refrain from taking actions that complicate the situation.”

As of Tuesday, two Chinese marine surveillance ships remained in the area, Philippine navy spokesman Col. Edgardo Arevalo said, adding the fishing boats and the frigate had left.

“The presence of those ships is a clear and present danger,” said another senior Philippine navy officer, who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to media. He said the Philippines believed China was trying to pressure it to leave the shoal.

“We don’t want to wake up one day with fresh structures sitting near our navy ship there. We have to bite the bullet and strengthen our position there or risk losing the territory.”

Ian Storey, a scholar at Singapore’s Institute of South East Asian Studies, said tension at Second Thomas Shoal could prove more dangerous than last year’s stand-off at unoccupied Scarborough Shoal, given the presence of Filipino troops.

“It is hard to imagine China using force to gain full control over Second Thomas, but some kind of blockade to drive out the Philippines’ troops would have to be a possibility,” Storey said. “There is a real chance of escalation or miscalculation.”

The tension comes just before U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel meets his Asia-Pacific counterparts at the so-called Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore from May 31 to June 2. The South China Sea is on the agenda of the regional security forum.

Second Thomas Shoal is one of several possible flashpoints in the South China Sea that could force the United States to intervene in defense of its Southeast Asian allies.
Gazmin will participate in the security forum and will speak about “New Trends in Asia-Pacific Security”, along with Lt. Gen. Qi Jianguo, the deputy chief of staff of the China’s People’s Liberation Army, and Canadian defense minister Peter MacKay.

Gazmin said he is due to have bilateral talks with his counterparts from US, New Zealand, Singapore, and Malaysia but not with China.

Asean foreign ministers are also due to meet in Thailand in August to forge a position on the code of conduct in the South China Sea before meeting Chinese officials in late August or early September in Beijing.

NPA rebel killed, young recruit captured in series of clashes in ComVal

From InterAksyon  (May 31): NPA rebel killed, young recruit captured in series of clashes in ComVal

A member of the New People’s Army (NPA) was killed and a young rebel captured in a series of encounters with government troops Friday in Compostela Valley.

An initial report from the Philippine Army Headquarters in Taguig City said the last encounter started around 4 pm and lasted for about 20 minutes in the vicinity of Sitio Minsua, Barangay Baluarte in Laak town.

The Army report said its troops led by 1Lt. Puhayon, “while in blocking position,” engaged in a firefight a group of five rebels whom another team from the 60th Infantry Battalion had earlier encountered at around 1:40 p.m. in the vicinity of Sitio Buayahon, Barangay San Antonio.

"This resulted in the death of one of the rebels and the recovery of an M-16 rifle and an Icom radio,” the Army said.

The rebel group was led by Alias Tol of the Front Committee 3 of the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee.

Lt. Col. Lyndon Paniza, spokesman of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, said the incident led to the capture of a wounded male minor and the confiscation of his AK 47 automatic rifle.

"The young rebel sustained head injury during his escape when he rolled down the rugged terrain. He was given immediate first aid treatment by the soldiers. [There were] no reported casualties on the operating government troops,” Paniza said.

Much earlier in the day, at around 8:40 a.m.,  responding government troops of San Antonio Patrol Base engaged a group of 20 rebels who set up a checkpoint in Sitio Sitio Kugon, Barangay Lunganapan. “The firefight ensued for 20 minutes. The rebels escaped in small groups,” Paniza said.

The troops “recovered 40 rounds of ammunition for Cal 7.62 mm and M60 machine gun, a backpack and a 50 meters electrical wire for landmine,” he added.

China in spotlight as US defense chief arrives in Asia

From InterAksyon (May 31): China in spotlight as US defense chief arrives in Asia

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Singapore on Friday for an Asia-Pacific security conference at which he is expected to press China on cyberattacks and reaffirm Washington's strategic shift to the region.

The Pentagon chief is expected to urge Beijing to agree to "rules of the road" to mitigate cyber threats after a US report found evidence of a broad Chinese spying campaign against top US defence contractors and government agencies.

"The United States knows where many of these incursions come from," Hagel told reporters on his plane as he travelled to the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual international security conference in the city state.

"It's pretty hard to prove that they are directed by any specific enemy but we can tell where they come from and we've got to be honest about that."

His comments came after a Pentagon report found that Chinese hackers have gained access to secret designs for a slew of sophisticated US weapons programs, possibly jeopardising the US military's technological edge.

During his four-day stay in Singapore, Hagel is expected to meet many of his Asian counterparts although there will be no high-level talks with the Chinese.

However, Pentagon officials said he would have the opportunity to speak with Chinese military officials on the sidelines of the talks.

General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Beijing in April and Hagel has invited his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan to Washington in August, while President Barack Obama is set to meet with new Chinese leader Xi Jinping next week in California.

At last year's Shangri La Dialogue, then US defense secretary Leon Panetta announced that the majority of the US naval fleet would gradually be shifted to the Pacific region as part of the pivot towards Asia.

"The focus is really follow-through this year," a senior defence official who spoke on condition of anonymity said ahead of Hagel's visit, his first to Asia since taking over in February.

"Last year, we were sharing with the region the new strategic guidance. This year is really about showing that that strategic guidance, the rebalance, is under way," the official told reporters.

While in Singapore, Hagel is due to pay a visit to the USS Freedom, the first of the new Littoral Combat Ships that will be based out of the port. The ship deployments are touted as part of the US strategic focus on Asia.

China blasts RP gov’t for using grounded ship as Spratlys outpost

From the Daily Tribune (Jun 1): China blasts RP gov’t for using grounded ship as Spratlys outpost

China has condemned the Philippines over a Navy warship grounded on the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), noting that the illegal grounding of the vessel on the Ayungin Shoal (Ren’ai Reef) is a “serious encroachment of territorial sovereignty.”

It also warned the Philippine government not to stir up the situation in the South China Sea any further.

Observers said Beijing acted in response to an attempt by the Philippines to assert territorial claims by keeping its warship stranded on the reef since 1999.
The Navy is maintaining troops in the area with grounded BRP Sierra Madre as barracks.

China’s resolution and will to safeguard its territorial sovereignty is unswerving,” Xinhua quoted Geng Yansheng, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, as saying.

He branded as groundless the Philippines claim that Chinese vessels have threatened to cut off supplies of water and food to its military staff at the reef.

“Chinese naval patrols in the area are justifiable,” he added.

After the warship was grounded on the reef, Beijing repeatedly asked Manila to retrieve it, but the Philippines ignored the request despite having promised to tow the ship away.

Li Guoqiang, deputy director of the Center for Chinese Borderland History and Geography at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said, “The Philippine’s logic is ludicrous in calling its grounded ship a symbol of occupation while it is in China’s inherent territory.”

The shoal and the lives of the troops guarding it were thrust into the global spotlight this week after the Philippines said a Chinese warship was “illegally and provocatively” circling the area.

It was the latest in a series of aggressive steps by China in recent years to assert its claim over the South China Sea that have rattled Manila, with others including the Chinese occupation of another Filipino-claimed shoal.

China says it has sovereign rights over nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters far away from its main landmass and approaching the coasts of Southeast Asian countries.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts of the sea, and the area has for decades been regarded as a potential trigger for major military conflict in the region.

All claimants, except Brunei, have troops stationed on various islands and atolls in the Spratlys — the biggest archipelago in the sea — to assert their claims.

But Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing has never tolerated Manila’s illegal attempt to seize the reef and Chinese government vessels are entitled to patrol there.

He was speaking in response to a recent claim by the Philippines that Chinese ships pose a threat to the security of the Spratly Islands.

Hong said China also urged relevant countries to fully and sincerely implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, to refrain from actions that could aggravate or complicate the issue, and avoid any action that could undermine peace and stability in the region.

Yang Baoyun, a Southeast Asian studies expert at Peking University, said Manila is again acting like a victim but is actually provoking Beijing to gain international sympathy and show off its “influence” in the South China Sea.

“The Philippines also plans to play up the reef topic at the Shangri-La Dialog, starting on Friday in Singapore, to win more support from major powers such as the United States. They did the same thing last year regarding the Huangyan Island,” Yang noted.

MalacaƱang, meanwhile, admitted that the government has no option but to remain on the “minimum defense” on the aspect of asserting the Philippines’ claim on the Spratlys group of islands off Palawan waters.

Chinese Ambassador Ma Kequing has notified Manila over the activities of Philippine Navy in Ayungin Shoal, also known as Second Thomas Shoal, expressing concerns that the Philippine military is putting up structures in the islet.

“The ‘why’,  I cannot answer for them. At least from the point of view of our government, we’ve repeatedly asked them to leave Ayungin,” presidential deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said.

“We’ve also made the necessary representations through the proper channels and we keep reiterating that the need for them to leave given that that area belongs to this country,” she added.

Valte said the government could not ascertain on how long China would continue acts which could be considered as “bullying” on the part of the Philippines.   

“Well, as far as we are concerned, we’ve taken the matter to the proper forum and we will let that procedure take its course,” she stressed.

The Palace official added the Aquino administration “cannot speculate at this point how long this will take but we will abide by, as you can see, we have been abiding by international laws.”

“We have been abiding by our commitments, and we will leave the resolution of it to the processes that we have chosen to undertake,” Valte said.

She added the minimum credible defense are the steps to upgrade the Philippine Navy.

“Yes, certainly, and this is not been a secret; and we are in the process of upgrading our hardware, the procurement of our choppers. We’ve not made this a secret. In fact, our new boats that already arrived, Hamilton class-cutter, that’s always been made public,” she added.

Valte also said it’s a deliberate choice in the part of the Philippine government not to respond to any provocative actions regarding disputes .

“It’s a deliberate step taken not to respond to any provocative actions regarding but whether it will achieve the minimum credible defense posture we want to achieve is something that need to assess,” military and security officials,” she stressed.

MILF-MNLF clash looms in Cotabato, villagers flee

From the Manila Standard Today (May 31): MILF-MNLF clash looms in Cotabato, villagers flee

About 600 villagers fled their homes in Tulunan, North Cotabato for fear of a possible clash between troops of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council confirmed Thursday morning that about 168 families, or 587 people, evacuated their homes after hundreds of MILF guerillas showed up in two villages of Tulunan town on May 25.

The NDRRMC reported no injuries in the harassment that allegedly occurred at 4 p.m. of May 25 in Sitio Silan, Sitio Malipayon and Purok 1 of Barangay Maybula and Sitio Tuburan of Barangay New Bunawan in Tulunan.

Maybula residents were brought to the Barangay Maybula multi-purpose building while those from New Bunawan were brought to the Sitio Tuburan Purok Center, the disaster agency said.

It was the second time Cotabato residents complained of armed intrusions by the MILF.

On May 16, fighting broke out in neighboring Matalam town, the provincial capital, after the MILF supposedly intruded into another MNLF-dominated area purportedly because they were conducting a “peace caravan.”

At least one man was killed in the Matalam incident while 200 families fled their homes for fear of an armed clash between the MILF and the MNLF. But community elders prevailed upon the two groups to prevent fighting.

Meanwhile, MNLF troops started to pour into strategic positions around Tulunan town on Thursday in case the MILF would try to force their way into what they described as “MNLF territory.”

The Tulunan Mayor Lani Candolada confirmed the presence of hundreds of armed MILF men who supposedly harassed her despite a ceasefire agreement with the government.

Candolada said she rounded up groups of military, police and militiamen to inspect the area after residents, mostly B’laan tribesmen and Christian settlers, reported sporadic explosions in the area on May 28.

The international team monitoring the cceasefire agreement admitted that the explosions and sporadic gunfire came from an MILF camp and the IMT held a dialogue with MILF Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar, town mayors of Sultan Kudarat and Datu Paglas to ease the tension which could lead to hostilities.

But minutes after the IMT left, the MILF positioned themselves in Sitio Barko-Barko and fired five rounds of mortar fire.

Gov't denies peace talks with MILF hit snag

From the Philippine Star (May 31): Gov't denies peace talks with MILF hit snag

The government’s peace panel denied Friday the GPH-MILF talks have been stalled  contrary to speculations.

The government’s chief negotiator, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, told Catholic station dxMS here via telephone that they have continuing engagements with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front  after the deferment two times of the supposed formal talks in Malaysia before the May 13 elections.

“It doesn’t mean that if there are no meetings in Malaysia, the peace process is not moving,” Ferrer said.

The government  sought the postponement of the formal talks last March and in April, because  President Benigno Aquino III wanted to review the contents of all the annexes the two panels have  drafted for inclusion in the October 15, 2012 Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro.

Ferrer said the Transition Commission, which is chaired by the MILF chief negotiator Muhaquer Iqbal,  has held sessions recently.

Ferrer said the government is also to embark on “quick impact projects,” in areas covered by the 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities, under MalacaƱang’s Sajahatra Bangsamoro program.

The Sajahatra, which President Aquino launched last February at Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao, is a  number of  socioeconomic activities to help  impoverished communities in known MILF enclaves.

Msgr. Jose Colin Bagaforo, auxiliary bishop of Cotabato, has appealed for the immediate resumption of the peace talks to allay apprehensions by the local communities.

Bagaforo also urged more transparency on the crafting of the remaining annexes for the FAB deal, which is to become the basis for the replacement of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with a new Bangsamoro self-governing entity.

Peace talks between the government and the MILF started January 7, 1997, but gained headway only in 2003 with the help of Malaysia as third party facilitator.

Troops, NPA clash in Zamboanga del Sur town

From the Philippine Star (May 31): Troops, NPA clash in Zamboanga del Sur town

Fighting sparked when government troops clashed  with 20 heavily-armed suspected New People’s Army (NPA) members that left undetermined rebel casualty Thursday in the hinterland of Bayog town, Zamboanga del Sur,  a security official said.

Brig. Gen. Daniel Lucero, commanding general of 1st Army Division, said the troops under the 53rd Infantry Battalion launched the operation and caught up  with the rebels  at Barangay Dagum about 11:35a.m Thursday.

Firefight sparked for 20 minutes,  sending the rebels to retreat with undetermined casualties toward the forested area and evading the pursuing military troops.

No one was reported  hurt from the troops during the attack.

The military launched the combat operation after the rebel groups rounded up  village watchers and officials two weeks ago.

The rebels who disguised as military forces slipped  into the barangay hall and rounded all the village officials and watchmen present and took the barangay officials' firearms  before escaping.

MILF calls PCOS 'cheat' machines

From ABS-CBN (May 31): MILF calls PCOS 'cheat' machines

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) calls the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines used in the recently concluded midterm elections as "cheat" machines.

MILF First Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar said they are now worried about the upcoming plebiscite that will determine the proposed areas in Bangsamoro territory.

He said vote-buying was very evident before the May 13 polls in some areas that will be under the Bangsamoro territory.

"If PCOS machine pa rin ang gagamitin, mangangamba ang marami na lalabas ang 'NO.' Sabotahe sa plebisito yun, eh di mas delikado dahil hindi matitigil kaguluhan sa Mindanao," Jaafar said.

He said it would be better if in the upcoming plebiscite for the proposed areas in the Bangsamoro territory and Bangsamoro Basic Law, biometrics systems will be applied just like in the United States.

"Ayaw rin namin gamitin ang manual kasi vulnerable yun for cheating, and gagamit na lamang ng biometrics tulad sa US kasi medyo safe gamitin yun, ma-guarantee ang safety," he said.

The MILF is hopeful that the government will do something about the matter.

Cotabato local exec accuses MILF of violating ceasefire pact with govt

From GMA News (May 30): Cotabato local exec accuses MILF of violating ceasefire pact with govt

The mayor Tulunan town in north Cotabato has alleged members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front were behind the harassment of a local community there, in violation of the ceasefire agreement with the government.

Tulunan mayor Lani Candolada told reporters on Thursday she personally experienced the harassment against civilians, police, and military forces while on their way to Sitio Malipayon, Barangay Maybula, around 9 a.m. on May 25.

Candolada said she was with the military, police, and Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team (BPAT) members to assess the situation in the community receiving reports a group of armed men have been harassing the villagers, mostly B’laan natives and Christian settlers.

“During the multi-lateral dialogue held on May 28 at Datu Paglas, Maguindanao, members of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) admitted to us that the area where the mortar fires and sporadic firing originated was an MILF camp,” said Candolada.

“At that time of the attack...,  I was negotiating with the IMT, with MILF vice-chair for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar, and with the LGU mayors of Columbio, Sultan Kudarat and Datu Paglas, Maguindanao to stop the firing… to end the hostilities. After an hour, it stopped,” she added.

But 10 minutes after they (members of the negotiating teams) left the place, the MILF rebels positioned in Sitio Barko-Barko pounded the community with at least five mortars.

The Sitio Barko-Barko, according to the mayor, is considered a "high ground" and a "very strategic position" in military terms.

It is the subject of the boundary conflict between the LGUs of Tulunan, North Cotabato; Datu Paglas, Maguindanao; and Columbio, Sultan Kudarat.

The harassment in Sitio Malipayon started on the night of May 24 when BPAT members monitored a group of armed men massing in Sitio Barko-Barko.
MILF denies attack

MILF commander Abner Maniba of the 109th base command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces said they just defended their perimeter camp when armed men had entered.

“When these armed men arrived at our perimeter on May 24, we did not reply with gunfire.    We waited for one day.  But they started shooting one of our farmers identified as Tatang Manding,” said Maniba.

A report said armed BPAT members were chasing a group of cattle rustlers when they saw the armed robbers exited towards Sitio Barko-Barko, which is a Moro-dominated place.

Maniba, in an interview over Catholic-ran DXND, clarified it was not their men that started the armed fighting.

“When the BPATs shot... Tatang Manding on May 24, his relatives fought back, using their own firearms.   But when the BPATs continued to enter our perimeter, that was the time that we decided that we defend our camp,” said Maniba.
The tension has resulted in the evacuation of nearly 600 people, a report from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said.

As of Thursday, the NDRRMC said a total of 168 families or 587 people had been evacuated from their homes. No on one was initially reported killed or hurt in the incidents, it added.

Multi-lateral dialogue    

On May 28, Candolada led the multi-lateral dialogue attended by LGU executives from Datu Paglas and Columbio towns, top military and police officials, and representatives from the governments of Malaysia and Brunei in the IMT.

Brig. Gen. Cesar Sidello of the government’s coordinating committee on the cessation of hostilities was also present during the meeting that lasted for about four hours.

During the meeting, they drafted a resolution where the three LGU executives agreed to put up a composite team, which is PNP-led and supported by the military, along the tri-boundary.

This, Candolada said, is to ensure the safe return of civilians who used to enjoy the ‘pleasure’ of tilling their lands in the area.

Also she said she had instructed the government forces deployed in Sitio Malipayon stay.

“Once the police and the military abandon the place, the thickly-populated area would become vulnerable to the attacks...,” she said.

“I am confident that all forces involved in the peace process will abide by the ceasefire agreement,” she added.

Coast Guard submits report after completing USS Guardian probe

From GMA News (May 31): Coast Guard submits report after completing USS Guardian probe

A Philippine Coast Guard team on Friday finally completed its investigation into the grounding of the minesweeper USS Guardian at Tubbataha Reef last January, submitting its findings to Coast Guard head Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena.

Isorena will submit the report to Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, who in turn will give it to President Benigno Aquino III, radio dzBB's Carlo Mateo reported.

The report said the findings include recommendations on what to do to prevent a repeat of the incident.

However, the investigating team under Coast Guard vice commandant Rear Admiral Luis Tuason Jr. did not give further details, saying it was not authorized to do so.

The USS Guardian ran aground at Tubbataha Reef last Jan. 17, and damaged 2,345.67 square meters of the reef.

The USS Guardian was cut and removed from the area last March 30.

A news release from the Tubbataha Management Office said the fines for the Jan. 17 grounding may amount to P58.4 million ($1.5 million).

Taiwan probers leave Manila with controversial video of shooting incident

From GMA News (May 31): Taiwan probers leave Manila with controversial video of shooting incident

After nearly a week-long investigation in the Philippines, the Taiwanese team probing the May 9 killing of a fisherman left Manila on Friday with the most contentious piece of evidence – a purported video of the incident recorded by the Philippine Coast Guard.

The video may or may not be the smoking gun that will prove innocence or guilt. Both Philippine and Taiwanese authorities are mum about its specific contents, although Philippine officials have suggested the video will support their contention that the Coast Guard fired in self-defense and that the Taiwan boat was inside Philippine territorial waters.

Asked what the particular purpose of the Taiwanese team was in getting a copy of the video, Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) chairman Amadeo Perez said: "Maybe they need it for them to complete their investigation."

Apart from the video provided by the Coast Guard, the Taiwanese team carried with them various documents and testimonies they obtained from their four-day investigation in Manila.

"Iyong video (na) ibinigay ay pinakita muna uli sa Coast Guard at kinopya at signed by Coast Guard," Perez said. He added that the Department of Justice (DOJ) gave the permission to give the Taiwanese a copy of the video for the sake of "transparency."

The seven Taiwanese investigators and prosecutors left Manila at 10:30 a.m. via China Air, he said.

Bone of contention

The only known recording of the tragedy was a major bone of contention between the two sides. The Taiwanese had refused to grant visas to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) team of probers before the Philippine government agreed to turn over a copy of the video.

The fatal shooting that occurred in disputed waters north of the Philippine mainland has severely damaged Philippine-Taiwan relations.

Both sides agreed to a "parallel probe," rather than the joint investigation demanded by Taiwan. An NBI team that went to Taiwan at the same time that the Taiwanese team was in Manila will wrap up their visit Friday as well.

The Taiwanese probers made no comment on the results of the ballistics tests they did on the firearms of the Coast Guard personnel that engaged the Taiwanese, as well as on their interviews with those involved and their viewing of the video.

NBI team in Taiwan

Meanwhile, Perez said the eight-man NBI team is scheduled to leave Taiwan on Friday afternoon. The team, which flew to Taiwan last Monday, was led by NBI foreign liaison division chief Daniel Deganzo.

Perez said the team will be coming home with another video related to the incident.

"I am sure kumuha sila [NBI team] ng kopya ng video footage ng autopsy ng Taiwanese medico-legal on the victim," he said.

The MECO chief said the NBI investigators would be bringing home documents and testimonies of the three companions of the victim: the fishing vessel's captain, the victim's brother, and an Indonesian companion.

Perez said the NBI team inspected the slugs recovered from the Taiwanese fishing vessel, but said he was not sure if the team was allowed to take some of the slugs back to the Philippines.

Parallel but independent probes

According to a report from Unang Balita's Mav Gonzales, NBI head Nonato Rojas clarified that the results of the investigation of the Philippine and Taiwan teams may vary.

“Ang resulta natin ng NBI ay base sa ating sariling assessment at evaluation ng evidence. Although we shared the evidence, we also inspected in Taiwan and the Philippines pero kanya-kanya naman kami ng resulta, kanya-kanya naman kami ng evalutaion,” Rojas explained in a media conference Thursday night.

He added that teams conducted parallel probes and not a joint investigation, meaning the results will be independent.

He also maintained that the NBI will stand by their findings.

Officials from the Taiwanese investigative team were present during the media conference with Rojas on Thursday.

According to the Taiwanese probers, their investigation in the Philippines went smoothly as they managed to gather the evidence and information they sought. The Taiwanese thanked the NBI and the Justice department for their cooperation.

The Taiwanese are expected to release a final report indicating their recommendation in a few days.

Interviews of Coast Guard, BFAR men

The Taiwanese probers interviewed 17 Philippine Coast Guard personnel and three Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources personnel from Wednesday to Thursday.

Immediately after arriving in Manila last Monday, Taiwanese investigators conducted a ballistics exam of the firearms used by Coast Guard personnel. On Tuesday, the  team inspected the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessel that confronted the group of the victim, who was allegedly caught fishing in Philippine waters.

The NBI team in Taiwan confirmed that the Taiwanese fishing vessel had at least 40 bullet holes.

Taiwan has insisted that their fishermen were in Taiwan's exclusive economic zone, not in disputed waters.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Taiwanese probers reviewed a two-hour video of the May 9 incident.

Taiwan-Philippines row
The PCG claims that the incident occurred in the Philippines' Balintang Channel, but Taiwan said satellite records show that their fishermen were within Taiwanese territory.
After saying the initial apology of the Philippines for the incident was insincere, the Taiwanese government issued an order freezing the hiring of new Filipino workers.
Taiwan had demanded an apology from the Philippine government, compensation for the family of the slain fisherman, an impartial investigation of the incident, and new fisheries talks between Taiwan and the Philippines.
Taiwan also recalled its envoy to Manila in protest of the killing, while ordering the Philippine representative to leave Taipei.
The death of the fisherman triggered public outrage in Taiwan, with OFWs suffering harassment and in some cases, violent attacks.
Taiwan's president has appealed to the Taiwanese not to vent their anger on Filipino migrant workers who had nothing to do with the incident.

Development compatible with Bangsamoro aspiration pushed

From the MILF Website (May 31): Development compatible with Bangsamoro aspiration pushed

A Bangsamoro lady named Dr. Ayesha Uy Abubakar lectured on Development compatible with the Bangsamoro aspiration for self-determination on May 28, 2013 at Al Nor Hotel and Restaurant, Cotabato City.
The activity was sponsored by the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies (IBS), Cotabato City through its Executive Director, Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga, also a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Peace Panel engaging talks with the Government of the Philippines (GPH) on the Bangsamoro question.

Abhoud who tendered the occasion and Ayesha are both celebrated Bangsamoro scholars on their fields. The former is a well-known figure in the Bangsamoro homeland especially in Central Mindanao owing to his involvement in the peace process and his background as a University Professor. The latter is still on the ladder but already in the far echelon bracket symbolizing that Bangsamoro women, like many other women leaders of the world, can be exceptional in their intellectualism. She graduated from famous universities in Metro Manila, Philippines, among them, is the University of the Philippines. She is now a key official of a famous Malaysian University.


She said, human development must be the solution in the Mindanao conflict that must synergize with the sustainable peace framework. Meaning, human development must go hand in hand with the search for the right to self-determination.

Accordingly, the same subject matter she had in her Dissertation. She designated two barangays on which she piloted her work, namely: Barangays Datu Campong (originally known as Labungan, Upi) and Dalgan, all in the Province of Maguindanao. This was aside from the fact that she had gone as far as Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and in Central Mindanao interviewing proper persons.

On the peace process, accordingly, the Bangsamoro model is unique as compared with the experiences elsewhere in the globe. Here, there is already little development introduced while the peace negotiation is still going on. But the case of Ache is more fortunate on their peace engagement due to the tsunami that triggered attention from all over the world. They were burgeoned with political, material and other concerns from the international community.

One participant, who was named, described the forum as fascinating. The forum was fascinating.

PH refutes US, UK, Australia warnings

From Rappler (May 30): PH refutes US, UK, Australia warnings

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Thursday, May 30, refuted travel warnings issued by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia over supposed security threats in Mindanao.

In a press conference, DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said “there are no specific threats that have been monitored in that area” based on consultations with the police, military, and other law enforcement agencies.

Hernandez said the US, UK, and Australia might have gotten information from other sources.

He noted issuing travel advisories “is normal for any government.” He said the Philippines itself does this in case of security or safety problems in various parts of the world, such as Libya, Syria, Egypt, and even Boston in the US.

“We nevertheless wish to assure the public including foreign visitors that the Philippine government continues to undertake appropriate measures to ensure the safety of the public,” Hernandez said.

'Credible threat'

The travel warnings from all 3 countries cited threats of kidnapping.

In an emergency message on Wednesday, May 29, the US Embassy warned US citizens about “a credible threat of a terrorist kidnapping-for-ransom plot against foreigners.”

The embassy said the threat affects the Zamboanga area. It said the warning stands until June 12.

“As a result, the embassy advises all American citizens residing in or planning to travel to the Zamboanga area to re-evaluate their personal safety situation and consider postponing travel to this area at this time,” the US Embassy said.

In another warning, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised “against all travel to southwest Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago because of ongoing terrorist activity and clashes between the military and insurgent groups.”

The FCO also advised against “all but essential travel to the remainder of Mindanao for the same reasons.”

The office cited a “high threat from terrorism, including kidnapping.”

Citing the US Embassy's warning, Australia also warned its citizens against travelling to Mindanao.

“We continue to strongly advise you not to travel to central and western Mindanao, including the Zamboanga peninsula and Sulu archipelago, due to the very high threat of terrorist attack, kidnapping, violent crime, and violent clashes between armed groups,” Australia said.

Last weekend, members of the Abu Sayyaf ambushed Marines in Sulu, killing 7 soldiers. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is in peace talks with the government, has mobilized its forces to help soldiers seize the perpetrators.

Don't dictate to PH over seas, China told

From Rappler (May 30): Don't dictate to PH over seas, China told
So what if a Philippine ship sailed to Ayungin Shoal, a territory also claimed by China in a long-standing conflict over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea)?

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Thursday, May 30, asserted that the Philippines can do whatever it wants within its seas. “China is not in a position to dictate what the Philippines can do within its maritime domain,” DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said in an interview with reporters.

Hernandez said China, in the first place, “has no right to be there.” He said Ayungin Shoal remains an “integral part” of Philippine territory.

The DFA spokesman said this after a meeting between Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing.

In this meeting, according to Gazmin, Ma said she was concerned that the Philippines was building additional structures on Ayungin Shoal. The defense chief, however, told Ma: “The ship that is moving toward Ayungin Shoal is only for provisions of food and water for the soldiers who are there.”

Hernandez, for his part, said the DFA has not received an official report on the meeting. He said the DFA, however, considers rotation of personnel and provisioning "a sovereign and humanitarian duty."

Ayungin, also known as Second Thomas Shoal, is within the Philippines' internationally recognized exclusive economic zone and is surrounded by waters rich for fishing.

Tension erupted over it after the Philippines protested against a Chinese warship circling the reef. The Philippines called the Chinese ship's presence “provocative and illegal.”

'Help PH fishermen'

The diplomatic problem has affected fishermen as well.

Hernandez said the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) is mandated “to help out our fishermen.”

“We don’t want to put our fishermen at risk and therefore, what is important is that they are able to fish in safe waters. And that’s why we have been asking China to withdraw and leave our exclusive economic zone because those areas are for Filipinos,” he said.

On Wednesday, May 29, BFAR bared plans to develop alternative fishing grounds. The agency said it will develop fishing in Benham Rise, a 13-million hectare area off the coast of Aurora province.

Benham Rise became part of Philippine territory in 2012 after the country secured the approval of the United Nations.

This is on the eastern side of the Philippines and is not subject to any territorial conflict.

Taiwanese probers, NBI team finish parallel work on May 9 shooting

From InterAksyon (May 31): Taiwanese probers, NBI team finish parallel work on May 9 shooting

A six-man team of Taiwanese investigators flew back home Friday morning, wrapping up four days of work almost at the same time as an NBI team doing a parallel inquiry in Taipei into the May 9 fatal shooting of a fisherman off Batanese coast.

The investigators said they were generally satisfied with the cooperation extended by the National Bureau of Investigation, which helped them interview members of the Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and view the official video of the incident from the BFAR boat.

The 8-man NBI team, meanwhile, is expected to be back in Manila later Friday.

Atty. Virgilio Mendez, deputy director of NBI, said in radio interviews Friday that more work needs to be done, particularly, to evaluate “the evidence we have gathered,” but added the work isnt’ so much.

Mendez said the NBI probers in Taiwan received cooperation from authorities there.

The NBI men were allowed to examine the vessel, determine the trajectory of bullets from the volley of gunfire unleashed by the PCG team when, they alleged, the Taiwanese fishing boat repeatedly tried to ram their vessel to prevent their boarding the fishing boat suspected of illegal fishing. The NBI also examined slugs retrieved by the Taiwanese from the fishing boat that was towed back to Taiwan, for “comparison with the slugs we extracted from guns turned over to NBI by PCG,” explained Atty. Mendez.

There is yet no formal report from the NBI team which is flying in late Friday, he said.
Mendez acknowledged the possibility there will be differences in the parallel reports of the Taiwanese and Filipino probers, especially on the location of incident---was it within Philippine or Taiwanese waters?

He declined to confirm if the NBI investigation showed it indeed happened in Philippine territory. He wanted to avoid a premature disclosure, saying location is a vital aspect of the investigation.

“We also want to see everything, evaluate everything we have, since we’ve advanced well into this inquiry.” In case of a variance in parallel reports of Taipei and Manila, Mendez doesn’t see a need “to reconcile our findings, since the point of the exercise” was for both sides to do their exhaustive fact-finding and come up with reasonable conclusions into what really happened on Balintang Channel last May 9.

MECO chief: Tensions eased, but precautions taken

Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) chairman Amadeo Perez said the situation in Taiwan has eased considerably, and it’s been 13 days since they last received any spot report of tense encounters involving Filipino workers. Still, they advised OFWs to be careful and avoid unnecessary trips outside their homes or work sites.

US guided missile destroyer due in Manila Friday

From InterAksyon (May 30): US guided missile destroyer due in Manila Friday

The USS Paul Hamilton (DDG6), an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer of the US Navy, will arrive Friday, May 31, in Manila “for a routine port call,” the United States Embassy said.

During its visit, the Paul Hamilton “will refuel and receive supplies, while its crew will be given opportunity for rest and recreation as well as to render community service at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Fort Bonifacio,” an embassy statement said.

At least 24 Filipino-Americans are among the warship’s crew of 300.

The destroyer was commissioned in 1995 at the US Naval Station in Charleston, South Caroline, and is now based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

It is 505 feet long, displaces 8,300 tons on full load, and has a top speed of more than 30 knots.

Soldiers undergo endurance shooting course in Ilocos Sur

From the Philippine Information Agency (May 30): Soldiers undergo endurance shooting course in Ilocos Sur

Law enforcers in Ilocos Sur underwent an endurance shooting course to enhance their marksmanship skills inside an army camp in Barangay Sulvec in Narvacan town.

Commander Lt. Colonel Desiderio Alaba of the 81st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (PA) said that a firing range for the training course was established to provide enforcers the proper skills.

“We made the endurance shooting course with a corresponding firing range because this is one of the basic requirements of all the units under the command of 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army,” Alaba said.

“Aside from the soldiers, members of other law enforcement agencies like the police may experience this gun’s shooting skills training in our camp,” he added.

Alaba said that the training will equip soldiers with appropriate skills in gun firing to further reduce casualty and collateral damage during encounter or gun battle.

“The course is one of the strategies to provide skills for our law enforcers and extend safety and security to our people. The training program is designed to improve shooting skills which are essential to maximizing shooting performance,” he said.

Alaba clarified that the training course, which is held for three days during special occasions in the camp, have two components such as the orientation and dry shooting, and actual gun firing using four kinds of firearms in four stages.

Part of the training involves the following drill: the participant would run 100 meters before reaching the K3 or the Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW); after firing the SAW; the participant will run another 50 meters to reach the M-14 rifle for firing; followed by the firing of M-16 Armalite rifle upon reaching another 50-meter distance; and lastly, firing the Caliber .45 pistol in the last stage of the shooting.

Every stage of the shooting has corresponding distance of target. K3 has target distance of 100 meters; M-14 rifle with target distance of 75 meters; M- 16 armalite rifle with target distance of 50 meters; and Caliber .45 with target distance of 15 meters.

The participant should fire five rounds in every stage of the shooting course and after completing the gun shooting activity, an evaluation will automatically follow.

Any participant, who failed to pass the standard number of hit target will repeat the course until his or her capability improves.

Heavy equipment torched in Surigao City

From the Philippine News Agency (May 30): Heavy equipment torched in Surigao City
A heavy equipment owned by a businesswoman engaged in sand and gravel extraction was torched by unidentified suspects at a barangay in Surigao City 11:13 p.m. Tuesday.

Belated report from Surigao del Norte Police Provincial Office stated that a pay loader owned by a certain Gloria P. Jovita, a businesswoman and a resident of Purok 7, Navalca, Brgy. San Juan was burned by the suspects at the boundary of brgys. Ipil and Danao, all of Surigao City, after the latter failed to pay allegedly the P50,000.00 demanded by a certain Ricardo Gonzales alias "Kumander Gonzales".

The damage to the torched equipment was estimated by the police to be around P300,000.00. Police is conducting a deeper investigation on the incident to really identify the suspect, determine the motive and to file the appropriate charges against him.

Zambo mayor: U.S. travel advisory ‘very unfortunate and unfair’

From the Philippine News Agency (May 30): Zambo mayor: U.S. travel advisory ‘very unfortunate and unfair’
Mayor Celso Lobregat on Thursday described as “very unfortunate and unfair” the latest travel advisory issued by the United States Embassy against Zamboanga City, saying that no less than U.S. Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. was in the city Wednesday and nothing untoward happened.

“The U.S. Embassy was asking its nationals to re-evaluate their travel plans to Zamboanga and I am also asking the U.S. Embassy to re-evaluate its travel advisory,” Lobregat said, adding that when Ambassador Thomas was in this city Wednesday there was no mention about any travel advisory.

“Of course, any travel advisory from anywhere in the world will always have an effect,” Lobregat said when asked whether the latest U.S. travel advisory would affect this city’s tourism programs.

Thomas visited this city Wednesday, probably his last prior to his scheduled transfer to another country, to launch three projects of the United State Agency of International Development (USAID) namely; the Enhancing Governance, Accountability and Engagement (ENGAGE) Project, the Mindanao Youth Development (MYDEV) Project, and Mindanao Health Project.

Lobregat was invited to a breakfast with the ambassador together with USAID and Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) officials hours before the launching of the three projects.

The mayor also had a chance to speak with Thomas at the project launching at noon after the ambassador had delivered his speech.

“But nothing was mentioned about any threats to the Americans in this city and no less than the ambassador was here on the day the embassy issued its travel advisory. That is very, very unfortunate and unfair,” Lobregat reiterated.

4 cops survive ambush in Jiabong, Samar

From the Philippine News Agency (May 31): 4 cops survive ambush in Jiabong, Samar

The chief of police of the Paranas municipal police station and his three companions were able to escape death when ambushed by undetermined number of suspected rebel group past 1 p.m. Thursday at Jiabong, Samar province.

C/Insp. Doughlas Antonio B. Eloja, the chief of police, and his men PO3 Cayetano Abantao, PO2 Romulo Tabique Jr and PO2 Rodrigo Agbon Jr were on board the patrol car of Paranas MPS on their way to Catbalogan City, initial report reaching the Police Regional Office 8 (PRO8) here stated.

The team was traversing the Maharlika Highway along Tagbayaon village when ambushed by the suspected New People’s Army with the use of landmine.

While no casualty was reported the vehicle was slightly damaged.

A hot pursuit operation is now ongoing while an investigation is being conducted by the Jiabong MPS, Scene of the Crime Operatives and the Samar Police Provincial Office (SPPO).

Meanwhile, C/Supt Elmer R. Soria, regional director of the Police Regional Office 8 (PRO8) said that they will “pursue the terrorists and bring them to the bar of justice” even as he called the incident “another cowardly and treacherous act perpetrated by lawless elements.”

Eastern Visayas top cop condemns NPA ambush in Samar

From the Philippine News Agency (May 31): Eastern Visayas top cop condemns NPA ambush in Samar

The New People’s Army (NPA) has violated the international humanitarian law on the use of landmine when they ambushed a police patrol car Thursday afternoon in Samar province.

This was the reaction of the top cop in Eastern Visayas as he condemned the cowardly and treacherous act of the rebel group.

“This is clearly an evil and terroristic act. We will pursue these lawless elements and bring them to the bar of justice,” said Police Regional Office 8 (PRO8) director C/Supt. Elmer R. Soria as he ordered pursuit operations against the rebels who ambushed his men past 1:00 P.M. on Thursday.

The police regional director informed that communist rebels set off a roadside bomb and opened fire on a police patrol car carrying members of Paranas Municipal Police Station along the Maharlika Highway in Brgy. Tagbayaon, Jiabong town in Samar.

Paranas police chief, C/Insp. Doughlas Antonio B. Eloja, and his men -- PO3 Cayetano Abantao, PO2 Romulo Tabique and PO2 Rodrigo Agbon Jr., were en route to Catbalogan City, some eight kilometers northwest from the ambush site, to attend a court hearing when undetermined number of communists-terrorists detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) and sprayed the vehicle with gunfire, he added.

The policemen were able to maneuver towards the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) facility at nearby Brgy. Lagundi and escaped death.

The patrol car was slightly damaged by shrapnels and bullets.

Troops set up roadblocks and dispatched reinforcements to track down the assailants, said Soria.

The incident occurred three days after an ambush carried out by NPA rebels in a far-flung village in Allacapan, Cagayan that left eight police commandos of the PNP’s elite unit, the Special Action Force, dead and seven others wounded.

Soria said government forces have heightened their pursuit operations against the perpetrators.

In Eastern Visayas, the most notorious barbaric act staged by NPA terrorists in recent years was on August 21, 2010 in a remote area of Sitio Elembo, Brgy. Imelda in Catarman, Northern Samar when eight policemen, now known as “Catarman 8,” were mercilessly executed by the communists.

The lawmen were on their way to investigate the killing of a village official perpetrated by the rebels when their patrol car was hit by a landmine. After the explosion, the NPAs also peppered the policemen with bullets; most were shot on the head, ensuring their death.

The rebels also took the policemen’s personal belongings like wallets, uniforms, and service firearms.

USS Paul Hamilton to arrive in Manila Friday

From the Philippine News Agency (May 30): USS Paul Hamilton to arrive in Manila Friday
The USS Paul Hamilton (DDG-60), an Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer of the US Navy, will arrive in Manila on Friday for a routine port call.

The US Embassy in Manila, in a statement, said the visits highlight the strong historic, community, and military relations between the United States and the Philippines.

During its visit, the Paul Hamilton will refuel and receive supplies, while its crew will be given opportunity for rest and recreation as well as to render community service at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

The ship has a crew of 300, including 24 Filipino-Americans.

Named after the third Secretary of the Navy of the U.S., the Hamilton was commissioned in 1995 at the US Naval Station in Charleston, South Caroline, and is now based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

It is 505 feet long, displaces 8,300 tons on full load, and has a top speed of more than 30 knots.

BRP Ramon Alcaraz can be used as radar picket

From the Philippine News Agency (May 31): BRP Ramon Alcaraz can be used as radar picket

Once the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), the country's second Hamilton-class cutter arrives in August, the ship can be used as a radar picket by the Philippine Navy (PN) in its efforts to protect our extensive maritime domains.

Radar pickets are ships equipped with powerful radar and deployed in the high seas to detect ships or aircraft attempting to violate the country's territories.

"As a platform, radar equipment like that of the littoral observation stations (coast watch stations) can be mounted for wider range data gathering. All of these will be linked in a shore facility for better command and control for effective decision making," PN spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic said on Friday.

BRP Ramon Alcaraz is expected to leave the US for the Philippines by the first week of June and will be here in August.

Aside from this capability, the impending arrival of the country's second Hamilton-class cutter will boost the PN's maritime domain awareness capability, Fabic said.

At present, the Filipino warship is believed to be carrying a 76mm Oto Melara automatic cannon, two 25 Bushmaster guns and assorted machine guns.

It is also reported to be carrying a Harpoon anti-ship missile system.

"As an additional asset it will greatly improve our maritime domain/situational awareness (capability) because it is capable of long range deployment," the PN spokesperson added.

Also, since the ship is fitted with hangar facilities, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz can host a naval helicopter that can further extend its monitoring and detection capability.

"Also a helicopter can be launched from the vessel allowing wider and further coverage," Fabic stressed.

The ship is "fully mission capable" on her arrival.It has a complement of 167 officers and men.

Maritime observers said that this developments speak well of the Philippine Navy (PN) efforts to modernize itself and boost its power projection capabilities.

"With the arrival of our Hamilton-class cutters, which are being converted to frigates, the PN has started its first step in developing its blue-water capability or the ability to detect or engage intruders in the high seas," they added.

At present, the PN is rated only as coastal protection naval force and nothing else.(

All PAF W-3A 'Sokols' operational

From the Philippine News Agency (May 31): All PAF W-3A 'Sokols' operational

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) on Friday said that all of the country's eight W-3A "Sokol" combat utility helicopters are operational and mission capable.

"They are all operational," said PAF spokesperson Col. Miguel Ernesto Okol.

Okol said that six of the helicopters are now being used for various missions from search-and-rescue, to administration lift duties.

"While two are for transition training. All are with the 505th Search and Rescue Group," the PAF spokesperson said.

The last batch of four W-3A "Sokol" arrived in pairs last Nov. 26, 2012 and Feb. 17 this year.

This is the last batch of four out of the eight ordered from Augusta PZL Swidnik of Poland sometime in 2010.

The four earlier delivered was commissioned and put in service on March 9, 2012.

The PAF's W3-A "Sokols" or "Falcon" combat utility helicopters are equipped with the latest navigation and avionics systems including a night vision goggle compatible cockpit, allowing it to operate day and night in all weather conditions.

This six-ton class helicopter can transport up to 11 troops in the cabin or can lift up to 2,100 kilograms using its external cargo hook.

This helicopter can also be fitted with a M-60D machine gun on each side of the cabin.

PZL-Swidnik is Poland’s the biggest aerospace manufacturer with the capability to design, develop and manufacture its own helicopters.