Thursday, June 27, 2013

Army Helps 4,780 Farmers in the Island of Negros

From the Negros Daily Bulletin (Jun 27): Army Helps 4,780 Farmers in the Island of Negros

Handog Titulo Program by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in collaboration with the 11th Infantry Battalion and Local Government Unit of Moises Padilla, NOC facilitated the individual Land Title of 66 farmers in Moises Padilla, Negros Occidental.

Guihulngan City - Troops from 11th Infantry (Lapu-lapu) Battalion facilitated the awarding of Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA) to 2, 066 farmers, giving the certificates of stewardship contract to 712 farmers, application of Certificates of Ancestral Domain Title to 201 farmers, release of emancipation patent to 288, conduct of resurvey/documentation to 1, 201 farmers, the petition for inclusion and exclusion to 180 CLOA holders and legalized crop sharing to 132 farmers.

Thanks to the Philippine Army, particularly 11th Infantry Battalion’s Bayanihan Teams. The farmers and their families who have been waiting all their lives to be able to proudly till their own piece of land.

Lt. Col. Wilfredo Isaac, the 11th IB Commander, stressed that his unit seriously tackled Agrarian Reform issues that foment insurgency in the countryside. He believes that if the root causes of insurgency such as land reform and poverty, will be addressed effectively and efficiently through the convergence of concerned stakeholders, peace and security can easily be achieved.

More than 2,000 farmer beneficiaries in central Negros Island received their CLOA. Most of them have literally drenched the fields with their own blood, sweat and tears, and dedicated their being to ‘their land’ yet remained unsure of their fate.

Among the new CLOA holders, Valentino Paunal, 72 yrs old, from Brgy. Macagahay, Moises Padilla, Negros Occidental surfaced as the longest waiting CLOA aspirant. For 50 years, his family still lived on a borrowed piece of land not knowing when the landowner would expel them from the plantation. But a ray of hope flashed for the aging couple when, early this year, soldiers from the 11th Infantry Battalion, came to their barangay offering assistance to every household in resolving prevailing and long standing issues. In a few months since Bayanihan Team arrived in the barangay, the old couple among others, finally received their CLOAs from DAR. The land they titled for decades was finally theirs.

Meanwhile, the Bayanihan Team (BT) activities in 11th IB started early in 2011 in Guihulngan City following the implementation of the AFP’s Internal Peace and Security Plan "Bayanihan". Initially tagged as "Peace and Development Teams".

The BTs are deployed to immerse in different barangays in order to help in the identification and resolution of primary issues affecting the people, such as but not limited to agrarian reform.

Through convergence of efforts among various stakeholders such as DAR, DENR and LBP. It also aims to bridge the perceived gap between the farmers and the stakeholders and eventually facilitate the implementation of government programs and services especially in far-flung areas.

Mayor Francisco Nazareno of Moises Padilla congratulated the soldiers from 11th IB for a "job well done" in facilitating the release of the CLOAs to the farmers in his municipality. "These people waited for many years that the land they cultivate be given to them (through CLOA)," Nazareno said.

Vice Mayor Omar Gayares of Isabela, Negros Occidental also noted the efforts of the soldiers in promoting social justice and equality. "Iba na talaga ang sundalo ngayon," Gayares stressed. The Army’s 11th IB hosted a Multi-Stakeholder Agrarian Reform Awareness Symposium together with the DAR/ MARO/ DENR/ LBP/ DILG and participated by 302 farmers from hinterland barangays of Isabela.

The barangay Captains in Guihulngan City and Valleher-moso, both of Negros Oriental support Gayares observation.

"They feel secure with the soldiers. Peace and order in our barangay significantly improved," according to a Barangay Chairman from a remote barangay in Guihulngan City.

87th Infantry Battalion encounters New Peoples Army, recovers 2 high powered firearms

Just posted to the Samar News (Jun 21): 87th Infantry Battalion encounters New Peoples Army, recovers 2 high powered firearms

recovered firearms from NPA

June 21, 2013

CAMP LUKBAN, Catbalogan CityOn 21 June 2013, at 5:50 in the morning, the 87th Infantry Battalion under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Cerilo Balaoro encountered around 10 New People’s Army under Section Committee, Southern Samar 1, Samar Provincial Party Committee in Barangay Bugho, Pinabacdao, Samar.

Acting upon an information given by a concerned citizen living in Barangay Bugho about NPA presence in the vicinity of their barangay, Captain Tuguinay Agoy, the Commanding Officer of Alpha Company, 87th Infantry Battalion formed a combat platoon to verify the information. When Captain Agoy and his troops arrived in the area where the NPAs were reported to be harbouring, they were fired upon and an encounter ensued for about 15 minutes until the NPAs withdrew.

The encounter resulted to the recovery of the following enemy materiel: one (1) M16 Armalite Rifle, one (1) M653 Baby Armalite Rifle as well as three (3) loaded magazines of AK 47 Rifle with 100 extra live ammunition, seven (7) empty magazines for M16 Rifle and NPA documents. No casualty was reported to have incurred by both sides.

Major General Gerardo T. Layug, Commander of 8th Infantry Division, Philippine Army in his message said, “I congratulate the troops who conducted the successful combat operation and for risking their lives in doing their mandate to protect the people from the NPAs. I assure the people that we will continue in clearing the interior barangays in the region from NPA influence so that LGUs can implement their programs and be able to provide basic services for the people.”

“The chief executives of Leyte, Southern Leyte, Biliran and Eastern Samar already declared their respective provinces as manageable conflict affected areas and ready for development and are now focusing on economic programs that will alleviate their people from poverty. On the same token, the local chief executives of the provinces of Samar and Northern Samar are currently working with other peace stakeholders for their provinces to be declared as manageable conflict affected areas and ready for development so that they can also focus on development programs they have crafted for their people. On our part, we assure the chief executives of these provinces that we will provide security for their programs for to be implemented without interruption,” Major General Layug added."

Gov’t-MILF peace talks back on track

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 28): Gov’t-MILF peace talks back on track

After a four-month lull in the negotiations, the government and the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are returning to the negotiating table and will be meeting early next month in Kuala Lumpur, according to Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the head of the government peace panel.

“The panel chairs have already agreed on a date early next month to further discuss the annexes on wealth-sharing, power-sharing and normalization,” Ferrer said in an e-mailed statement to the media.

She said she and Mohagher Iqbal, the chief rebel negotiator, had discussed the matter of resuming the talks when they met informally at the Oslo Forum 2013 organized by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD) from June 18 to June 19.

‘Chance meeting’

However, while he admitted meeting Ferrer in Oslo in a “chance encounter,” Iqbal said there was no tentative date agreed upon for the resumption of the talks.

“I was there and the (Malaysian) facilitator was there. It was very clear that it was not a formal meeting but a chance meeting, just a social meeting,” he said in an interview.

Iqbal would not elaborate on what he and Ferrer had discussed, but he said the “chance meeting” did not change his pessimism about the peace process because of the government’s alleged backtracking on some agreements.

Although the agreement was initialed last February, the government is seeking to subject the annex on wealth-sharing to “some refinements” after a due diligence review.

Among other things, the government said it does not want to peg grants to the proposed future “Bangsamoro” government as a percentage of the total annual budget.

Rather, it wants to peg the grants to a specific fund source, in keeping with generally accepted fiscal management practice, Ferrer explained earlier.

The MILF also pointed to some changes being made in the percentages of some wealth-sharing items. In its original proposal, the MILF sought a 75-25 sharing scheme in favor of the future Bangsamoro government.


Iqbal said the new position of the government constituted “backtracking” and that this has caused the delay in the resumption of the talks as the rebels are insisting on the terms of the original document that was signed.

“The reason for the delay is very easy to understand, the backtracking of government and the change in their position. It’s the cause of the delay and not the MILF,” he said.

Apart from wealth-sharing annex, also still to be completed are the annexes on power-sharing and normalization. So far, only the annex on transitional arrangements and modalities is done.

The four annexes plus the “Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” which was signed on Oct. 15, 2012, make up the comprehensive peace agreement designed to end the decades-old Muslim insurgency in Mindanao.

A news release from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) quoted government peace panel member Senen Bacani as saying the comprehensive agreement “will be signed in a month or two.”

Not before Sona

Ferrer earlier predicted it might happen before President Aquino delivers his state of the nation address at the opening of Congress on July 22.

But Iqbal said this might not be possible because of the huge difference in the positions of the two sides.

“I don’t want to make any comment on the draft, the most I can say is that the differences are still that wide,” he said.

Despite the drawback, Iqbal said the MILF was not withdrawing from the peace negotiations, but warned that time was running out.

“It’s not a question of waiting but of the people getting quite frustrated. I’m afraid of the slow-paced negotiations because we cannot control everything. There are forces we cannot control inside and outside the government and MILF,” he said.

He warned that if the annexes are not finished in time and the comprehensive agreement not signed soon, a problem would “surely occur” which would threaten more the security of Mindanao.


“I admit that in an organization, there are hardliners and there are those who do not believe in any negotiations,” he said.

He said some members of the MILF are saying that the government cannot be trusted because it changes its position at will.

“Their stand might be unfounded but the sad thing is the scarcity of evidence the Aquino government’s daang matuwid campaign is succeeding,” he said.

Kato’s men attack army posts; clash still ongoing

From the Manila Standard Today (Jun 27): Kato’s men attack army posts; clash still ongoing

Three Muslim rebels were killed following fierce clashes between government forces and the breakaway Muslim rebel group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters led by Umbra Kato, which reportedly attacked at least three army detachments in Central Mindanao.

Kato was a former commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, who broke away from the MILF in 2008 and later founded the BIFF.

Heavy shelling was continuing but there were no immediate reports of additional casualties either from the BIFF group or the military side.

Western Mindanao Command Chief Lt., Gen Rey Ardo, however, declined to provide any details on the running gunbattle.

But a military source confirmed that at least three Muslim rebels were killed in the encounter in Datu Piang.

Reports said that some 300 heavily armed men of Kato, led by a certain Sukarno, attacked an army encampment at Brgy. Pagatin in Datu Piang.

There was no immediate report, however, whether the rebels were able to overrun the detachment during the ambush, but sources said army troopers were outnumbered by the BIFF forces. The rebels also attacked a military post in the outskirts of Datu Zalby town in Shariff Aguak but no information on possible casualties from both forces were available.

In Sultan Lambayong town, Sultan Kudarat, BIFF fighters also attacked a nearby army detachment, resulting in another gunbattle.

The rebels also allegedly attacked another military post in Midsayap town, Sultan Kudarat, but reports were not clear on the outcome of the clashes.

The fighting continued until late Monday night but went into a lull after the BIFF reportedly ran out of ammunition.

At dawn, the clashes resumed and at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the fighting was reported to be progressing.

Government troops shelled the rebels’ position with mortar by midday, but the BIFF forces remained in the area.

Meanwhile, communist rebels, killed a soldier and wounded 11 others in separate encounters in Northern Samar and Zamboanga del Sur, the military said.

Capt. Amado Gutierrez, public affairs chief of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division, said a member of the 20th Infantry Battalion was killed when an undetermined number of New People’s Army rebels ambushed the soldiers at around 4:30 a.m. while they were on their way to Bgy. Lungib in Victoria town.

“The rebels detonated the landmines they planted on the road and immediately followed by a volley of fire against our soldiers. The landmine blast killed a soldier and wounded six others, five of whom suffered only minor injuries,” Gutierrez said.
The gun battle lasted for 30 minutes. There was no reported casualty on the NPA side.

Malaysia starts trial of Kiram’s supporters

From the Manila Standard Today  (Jun 27): Malaysia starts trial of Kiram’s supporters

A Malaysian court has started the trial of 31 people charged with various offenses in connection with the intrusion of armed Filipinos into the remote town of Lahad Datu in northern Borneo last February, Malaysian media reported on Wednesday.

Testifying before the Kota Kinabalu High Court, former Sabah Special Branch deputy chief Senior Assistant Commissioner Zulkifli Abdul Aziz said he met Esmail Kiram, a brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, in late December 2012, according to the Malaysian newspaper The Star.

The meeting was held two months before a group of about 200 armed supporters of the sultanate entered the coastal village of Kampung Tanduo in Lahad Datu on February 11.

The group, calling themselves the “Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo,” was supposedly dispatched by Sultan Jamalul, under the leadership of his brother Agbimuddin Kiram, to reassert the family’s territorial claim to eastern Sabah.

Earlier on Wednesday, another witness claimed Malaysian authorities had intercepted telephone calls between Agbimuddin and his nephew Amir Bahar, who lives in Sabah.

But the sultanate’s spokesman Abraham Idjirani said in Taguig City on Wednesday that the sultanate will not honor whatever decision the Malaysian court will hand down.

“They have no rights and authority to try and prosecute Filipinos in Sabah because they do not own Sabah. They only have administrative authority,” Idjirani told Standard Today, citing the 1963 Manila Accord between Malaysia and the Philippines recognizing the sultanate’s rights over Sabah.

Idjirani said they will ask the United Nations Human Rights Commission to intervene in the trial of Amir Bahar and other Filipinos being held in Sabah in the aftermath of the intrusion that resulted in the death of eight Malaysian troops and at least 20 Sulu gunmen.

In his testimony, Zulkifli said he met with Esmail in late December 2012 to get to know him over a cup of coffee, but Esmail did not say anuthing about the intrusion and just wanted some help in finding Malaysian investors who may be interested in an oil palm plantation in Mindanao.

Zulkifli said he did not have advanced knowledge of the intrusion and only learned of the intrusion when he was told by a duty officer at the Sabah Command Control Center on Feb. 12.

The former police official said he again contacted Esmail on Feb. 12 to get the telephone number of his younger brother Agbimuddin.

Zulkifli testified at the trial of a Malaysian detective Hassan Ali Basari who was charged with withholding information relating to terrorist acts.

The first witness against Hassan was an administrative assistant of the Sabah police special branch, who claimed said she listened and translated intercepted phone calls between the sultan’s nephew Amir Bahar and Agbimuddin, who claims to be still in Sabah.

The Star Online reported that police started tapping into the phone calls of Hassan after a group of people wearing camouflage uniforms were spotted at Kampung Tanduo.

When questioned by deputy public prosecutor Datuk Nordin Hassan, the administrative assistant said she had listened to calls between Datu Amir Bahar and Raja Muda.

The administrative assistant said Amir Bahar said he came to know from Hassan who was a policeman that the authorities will go in at midnight and Agbimuddin replied that they were prepared, the Star reported on its website.

Another witness testified in the trial that Sabah police were tipped off as early as January  about the plan of followers of Sulu Sultanate to sneak into Lahad Datu, according to Star Online.

The witness, a fish vendor, said he told Hassan Ali Basari about a “possible intrusion” after hearing 1,500 Kiram followers were planning to claim their ancestral land.

“I told him that they were four tempel (boats) that will enter Lahad Datu,” the Star Online’s report quoted the witness as saying.

Hassan is among 31 people charged in court for various offenses related to the Sabah incident. He pleaded not guilty to an amended charge of withholding information on terrorist activities before the Kota Kinabalu court.

At least 100 other Filipinos in Sabah suspected of conniving with Kiram’s followers have been charged with terrorism-related acts following the crackdown against suspected sympathizers by the Malaysian authorities.

49 killed as soldiers, Kato’s fighters clash

From the Manila Standard Today (Jun 28): 49 killed as soldiers, Kato’s fighters clash

A total of 49 persons were killed in clashes between government forces and the Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters, a breakaway rebel group, since late Monday night following simultaneous attacks launched by the rebels on at least three military detachments in Central Mindanao.

The military said it killed three more rebels on Thursday, bringing to six the total of casualties on the rebels’ side, while BIFF commander Samsudin, who led the attacks on military posts, claimed that his men killed at least 43 members of the Civilian Volunteers Group, a militia group, and wounded several others.

At least thirteen high powered firearms from the militias were also believed taken by the rebels.

Samsudin was a former commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, who broke away from the group with 2,000 of his men and joined the Moro National Liberation Front.

He has also allied with Umbra Kato, the founder and leader of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, also a breakaway group from the MILF.

The military, meanwhile, denied Samsudin’s claim of heavy casualty on the government side.

Army 6th Infantry Division Spokesman Col. Dixon Hermoso said the report on the government casualty “was  not true,” and also denied that there were clashes in Datu Piang and Sharif Aguak.

“No incidents in Datu Piang and Sharif Aguak. Only in President Quirino, Sultan Kudarat and Midsayap, North Cotabato,” Hermosa said.

Hermoso said there was a lull in the fighting on Thursday,  but the rebels had not withdrawn.

“They are still in the area since there are residents in those areas,” he said.

A source said that at the time of fighting, MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari called for an emergency close-door meeting in Zamboanga City supposedly to talk about the ongoing clashes.

In Malacanang, government chief negotiator Miriam Ferrer between the government and the MILF, said that both sides have already taken steps to ensure that the clashes will not jeopardize the ongoing peace talks.

Ferrer said the operations against Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters leader Umbra Kato were cleared with the coordinating committee on the cessation of hostilities.

“All of the law enforcement actions that the military has taken are coordinated with the CCCH,” she said.

Samsudin said his group launched the attacks to recover their ancestral lands that he claimed were being grabbed by prominent Christian families in Mindanao.

The issue on ancestral lands by the is one of the three remaining annexes which has yet to be resolved by the government and the MILF in the ongoing talks.

“It’s a war between Muslim and Christians because they have taken from us our ancestral land,” he said.

Samsudin added that they were also forced to attack Christian communities to avenge the discrimination that their children had suffered in Christian schools.

The sustained clashes forced some 2,000 residents in nearby Kulasi S.K. Pendatun to scamper for safety to nearby villages.

Meantime, MILF leaders were reportedly concerned about “territorial encroachment following Monday’s intense confrontation between the military and the BIFF, after the clashes spilled-over to MILF controlled territories.

Renegade rebels attack army base

From the Manila Bulletin (Jun 28): Renegade rebels attack army base

Renegade elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Force (BIFF), the combat arm of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), attacked lately a patrol base of the Army’s 33rd Infantry Battalion in Barangay Bagumbayan, President Quirino town in Sultan Kudarat, the Maguindanao-based 6th Infantry Division (6thID) reported yesterday.

6thID spokesman Col. Dickson Hermoso named a certain Zukarno Sapal alias “Diok” as the alleged leader of the BIFF elements that staged the attack on June 21.

“Several hours before the attack, militiaman Vicente Macaraeg of the 9th Sultan Kudarat Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) Company was shot dead by the same BIFF renegade elements while the victim was driving his motorcycle along the irrigation road in Barangay Bagumbayan to fetch his son to school,” Hermoso said.

Farmer Roy Viola, 40, was also shot dead by the same BIFF elements while on his way to his farm in the same town, the Army official added.

The Army patrol base attackers included Sapal and about 40 followers armed with rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers, and homemade 50-caliber sniper rifle, among other high-powered firearms, Hermoso said.

The attack prompted reinforcing soldiers to slug it out with the rebels in an ensuing firefight that lasted for about an hour, said Hermoso, who reported no casualty in the incident.

Kidnappers demand P20M for gov’t clerk; abductors of Bansil sisters silent

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 27): Kidnappers demand P20M for gov’t clerk; abductors of Bansil sisters silent

Nadjoua Bansil and Linda Bansil INQUIRER file photo

The kidnappers of a 56-year-old clerk at a government-run university here have demanded a P20-million ransom, the military said.

Meanwhile, another group of kidnappers belonging to the Abu Sayyaf remained silent on what it wanted for documentary filmmakers Nadjoua and Linda Bansil, whom they abducted in Sulu on June 22.

In the case of Alrasid Rojas, a clerk at the Western Mindanao State University here, Colonel Andrelino Colina, commander of the military-led Task Force Zamboanga, said the abductors made the demand on Monday by calling one of the victim’s children.

“In fact, that particular child of the victim’s managed to talk to him over the phone,” he said.

Colina would not confirm the military was using a tracking device to locate Rojas but he said the call was traced from “the vicinity of Luuk, Sulu.”

Rojas, who was assigned at the WMSU’s Islamic Studies department, was forcibly taken from his house on Amping Drive in Barangay (village) Campo Islam here by about a dozen men wearing military uniforms.

He resisted the kidnapping but the kidnappers, whose identities remained unclear to this day, beat him, Senior Superintendent Edwin de Ocampo, city police director, said.

The police chief said police had leads on the identities of the kidnappers “based on the testimonies provided by the witnesses during the abduction.”

De Ocampo said the initial police theory was that Rojas’ abduction had something to do with his “relationship” with colleagues at the university.

“We see it more as work related. First, the victim is not wealthy even if he owns a small coffee shop at the public market. The coffee shop is not really making money,” he said.

In Sulu, meanwhile, amid the silence of the military and the police, Governor Abdusakur Tan said he had ordered an investigation of all individuals associated with the Bansil sisters, including the 19 members of their party.

Tan said the 19 members of the Bansil sisters’ party had to explain why they had some of the victims’ belongings.

For example, Tan said the siblings’ guide, Yasir Rajim, got their mobile phones, camera and other personal gadgets.

Rajim is allegedly the spokesperson of Mauzidin Bantilan, the supposed caretaker of the Sultanate of Sulu. Mauzidin’s claim had been denied by Abraham Idjirani, an aide to Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

Colonel Jose Johriel Cenabre, commander of the military-led Joint Task Force Sulu, said authorities have been investigating Rajim who was also asked to turn over all the belongings of the victims.

Cenabre admitted that Rajim and some members of the Bansil sisters’ party have become suspects because they could not properly explain why they had the personal belongings of the victims.

Tan said he wanted Mauzidin to work for the release of the victims because he was the one responsible for their visit to Sulu.

The Bansil sisters were shooting a documentary on the defunct Sulu sultanate when abducted in Patikul town.

The Bansil family said they were at a loss over the fate of their kin because even authorities had not updated them as of Thursday.

“It has been five days since they were taken but not a single policeman came to us to ask us. We might be of help if they had approached us,” Medmessiah Bansil, brother of the victims told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Nadjoua, a respected filmmaker, was nominated at the Gawad Urian for her film, “Bohe, Sons of the Waves.”

Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu said he has been exerting effort to locate Nadjoua, whom he described as a close friend, and her sister Linda.

As of Thursday, authorities said they had no update on the negotiations being conducted by Sulu locals to secure the victims.

AFP: Phl, US naval exercises 'far' from Panatag Shoal

From the Philippine Star (Jun 27): AFP: Phl, US naval exercises 'far' from Panatag Shoal             

The Armed Force of the Philippines (AFP) said Thursday that it is confident China will not see its naval exercise with United States troops near Panatag Shoal as a "show of force."

Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan, AFP spokesperson, said that the annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) with the US will be held 60 nautical miles or 110 kilometers from the West Philippine Sea and far from Panatag Shoal, which is now under China's de facto rule.

"Ang pagpili ng lugar has been undertaken a long time ago ... long before the issue on the West Philippine Sea has happened. So it's not a show of force or an after-effect of the issue. This is interoperability," Tutaan said in a radio interview.

Related story: US, Phl in joint naval exercise near Panatag

Six warships including the US Navy's guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald and the Philippines' BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15) frigate will be deployed for the joint naval exercise, which would include live fire drills.

Tutaan dismissed criticism against the naval exercises, which is a yearly event based on the mutual defense treaty between the US and the Philippines.

"It's not altogether a naval exercise in the strict sense of the word," the official said.

"We are putting everything in proper perspective as far as what the exercise is all about and where it is going to be undertaken kasi some would like to put it within the vicinity of Panatag shoal, but that is not the case," he said.

About 1,000 American and Filipino sailors and Philippine Coast Guard servicemen will take part in a joint naval exercise from June 27 to July 2.

Located 124 nautical miles from mainland Zambales, Panatag Shoal has been a traditional Filipino fishing ground until Chinese forces imposed naval and maritime defenses around it in 2012.

Fighting breaks out between troops, Sayyaf in Patikul

From the Philippine Star (Jun 27): Fighting breaks out between troops, Sayyaf in Patikul

Fighting sparked when the Abu Sayyaf group fired at the military helicopter providing supply to marines shortly before noon Thursday in the jungle of Patikul, Sulu, according to security officials.

Col. Jose Joriel Cenabre, commanding officer of the 2nd Marine Brigade and Task Force Sulu, said the government troops immediately launched airstrike with two MG-520 attack helicopters pounding with rockets and machinegun fire the position of the Abu Sayyaf militants at Barangay Tambang.

He said the Philippine Air Force (PAF) helicopters were providing logistical supply and transport to marine troops based in the Abu Sayyaf-infested area of Patikul when they were fired upon about 11 a.m. Thursday.

“No one was hit when the aircraft was fired upon,” Cenabre said.

He said the troops spotted the hostile ground location sending two MG520 attack helicopters and marines on the ground,  pummeling the militants’ positions.

Cenabre said they  have yet to determine the number of casualty suffered by the Abu Sayyaf group as the operation is still under way.

Police Senior Inspector Kris Conrad Gutierrez, public information officer of the Sulu Police Provincial Office, confirmed there is an ongoing firefight on the ground.

“As of now,  we can hear gun fires from the distance,” Gutierrez said.

Both police and military did not say if the fighting was in connection with the search and rescue efforts for the abducted two Filipino-Algerian sisters Nadjoua and Linda Bansil, both independent filmmakers.

Police authorities disclosed the two kidnapped Filipino-Algerians sisters were allegedly  escorted by personalities with connections to the Abu Sayyaf group prior to their abduction when they arrived in Jolo, Sulu province.

Police Senior Superintendent Abraham Orbita, acting Sulu provincial police director, said the Bansils, who are members of the Tausug Citizen under the Sultanate of Sulu Darul Islam (SSDI),  left for Mt. Sinumaan, a known bailiwick of the Abu Sayyaf Group in Patikul and stayed there overnight with the same group that escorted them on June 23.

However, the next morning they were abducted after leaving Mt. Sinumaan in Sitio Bauno, Barangay Liang, Patikul, Sulu, while on their way to Jolo town proper, said Orbita.
The police also said the two failed to coordinate with authorities regarding their movement in the province.

Orbita said police and marines have been conducting pursuit operations to locate and recover the victims, while, appropriate charges are being readied by police investigators handling the case.

He said there has been no ransom demand received by the family of the victims. 

Blast in Zamboanga Sibugay town

From the Philippine Star (Jun 27): Blast in Zamboanga Sibugay town

An improvised bomb exploded Wednesday night and rocked a village in the coal-rich town of Malangas, Zamboanga Sibugay, according to police here.

Chief Inspector Ariel Huesca, Spokesman of the Police Regional Office 9 (PRO), said no one was reported hurt but villagers panicked from the explosion that ripped the house wall of a certain Jonathan Lorena Aming at Barangay Candiis about 11 p.m. Wednesday.

Huesca said responding police forces disclosed that prior to the explosion, two unidentified men on board a motorcycle pulled along the road in front of the store owned by Aming and asked if the latter was selling retail gasoline.

However, Aming refused to sell and further opted to keep his store’s door  closed, prompting the suspects to leave.

Some 15 minutes later a powerful explosion ripped the house wall of Aming, according to Huesca.

Police are still trying to determine the motive of the attack.

Troops, NPA clash in Albay

From the Philippine Star (Jun 27): Troops, NPA clash in Albay

Soldiers involved in peace and development projects were harassed last Wednesday by members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Guinobatan, Albay.

Army reports said an undetermined number of rebels harassed a team from the 2nd battalion in Sitio Danao, Barangay Ongo at about 6:15 a.m., resulting in a firefight.

Government troops did not suffer casualties during the clash, which lasted for a minute. The military, however, did not determine whether the insurgents sustained casualties.

Lt. Col. Medel Aguilar, spokesman of the Army’s 9th division, said all development teams have been alerted for possible retaliation by the rebels.

“The harassment launched by the NPA accomplished nothing but disturbed the peace which the people enjoy in Sitio Danao,” he said.

The attack took place more than a week after five soldiers performing development projects were kidnapped by NPA members in Paquibato district in Davao City.

Abducted were Cpl. Emmanuel Quezon, Pfcs. Ronald Gura, Bernie Padilla, and Donato Estandia and Pvt. Marteniano Pasiagas Jr.

The kidnapped soldiers were reportedly unarmed and were in civilian attire. Military forces in Davao are now conducting operations against the abductors.

Japan willing to help PHL defend territorial sea, remote islands

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 27): Japan willing to help PHL defend territorial sea, remote islands

With Philippines and Japan being close neighbors, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Thursday expressed his government's willingness to cooperate in "defense of remote islands as well as the defense of territory or territorial sea."

Onodera made this statement during his courtesy call to Department of National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin at the DND main building in Camp Emilio Aguinaldo, Quezon City Thursday.

The two-day visit, which started Thursday and will end Friday, is Onodera's first on the Philippines.

"We agreed that we will further cooperate in terms of defense of remote islands as well as the defense of territory, or territorial sea as well as protection of maritime interest and we also agreed that East China Sea and South China Sea, we both common are facing concerns and that the issues of those concerns should be solved based on the rules of law," Onodera said through his translators.

He added that as good neighbors, Japan and the Philippines, needs to further defense cooperation.

Onodera also said that during his talks with Gazmin, the Japanese Defense Minister expressed his country concerns over China's behavior in the South China Sea.

"I also said that Japan(ese) side is very concerned that this kind of situation in South China Sea (as it) could affect the situation in East China Sea," he added.

China's movement in the South China Sea has been aggressive for the past years and it is constantly feuding with other states with territories in said body of water.

This includes its claims over Panatag (Scarborough) and Ayungin Shoals which are well within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

While on the Japanese side, China has been aggressively claiming the Senkakus Islands which is under the jurisdiction of Japan.

"I heard Secretary Gazmin about various activities taken by the Philippine Armed Forces in this matter and I have told him that Japan, we will cooperate with the Philippine side in this matter and I also learned about the Philippine efforts for United Nations arbitration process (in the matter)," Onodera added.

"Japan is supporting this kind of efforts to resolve this problem," he stressed.

When queried for his side on the matter, Gazmin said that the Philippines is very happy with Japan's expression of support.

"We are very happy to note that the Japanese government is supportive of our peaceful resolution of the case through the arbitration and we have agreed to continue our exchanges of information, exchanges of technology to help each other come up with a, make the defense relations stronger," the DND chief added.

Despite this development, Onodera clarified that Japan is not aiming to keep in check as their stance is to keep their "territorial space, territorial air, and sea space well protected according to their activities."

"(But) this should done according to the rule of law and I would like to emphasize here that the current situation should not be changed with use of force but should be done through the rule of law and I think this the concept that is agreed upon in international communities these days," he concluded.

No military bases being built, just access -- DND chief

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 27): No military bases being built, just access -- DND chief

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin Thursday denied the Philippine military will be building installations in Subic Bay, Zambales which the country will share with its key allies.

He said: "Let me clarify issues, we're not going to construct bases, we will be accepting access (to by foreign allies); right now the agreement has not been firmed up, we are in crafting the agreement based on our constitution and the Visiting Forces Agreement.

"After that is done then we will be allowing if and when there is agreement on the access then there will be equipment coming in from the United States."

Gazmin said that should this plan go ahead, Japan is more than welcome as the latter is a strategic partner in accordance with existing protocols.

The reports claimed that proposed bases would allow the Philippines and its allies to station warships and fighter jets just 124 nautical miles from Scarborough Shoal, a contentious area of the South China Sea now controlled by China after a tense standoff last year.

10th Infantry Division receives 40,000 shoeboxes

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 27): 10th Infantry Division receives 40,000 shoeboxes

The 10th Infantry Division on Thursday afternoon formally received 40,000 shoeboxes, filled with school supplies and personnel care items, from cargo forwarder 2GO Express Inc.

The items were personally delivered by 2GO area manager Reema Bugayong to 10th Infantry Division commander Major Gen. Ariel Bernardo.

The commander vowed to deliver the items as quickly as possible to its beneficiaries.

The above-mentioned items are part of the Army's "Project Shoebox" which seeks to provide basic school supplies and other personal care items to indigent children living in the "Pablo" ravaged provinces of Compostela Valley Province and of Davao Oriental.

Joining the Philippine Army (PA) in this endeavor are the Department of Education (DepEd), Sigma Alpha Sorority- UP Los BaƱos Chapter, National Bookstore Foundation and 2GO Express.

The 40,000 shoeboxes were shipped out of North Harbor, Manila by 2GO Express free of charge last June 6.

"Project Shoebox" was first conceptualized by the officers and men of the 4th Light Armor Battalion, based in Camp Nakar, Lucena City, in February 2012.

“Illiteracy or ignorance is another battle that we, the men in uniform, could wage war on. For this reason, the PA is fully supporting the project to heighten the dimension of helping the youth who are future leaders of this country. Not only will this project help and encourage the children to go to school, but it has also become a facility of convergence among different groups and individuals towards attaining a noble cause,” Army chief Lt.Gen. Noel A. Coballes said.

Grenade blast rocks Cotabato Marine detachment

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 27): Grenade blast rocks Cotabato Marine detachment

Cotabato City -- Two men riding tandem on a motorbike tossed a hand grenade at the detachment of the 1st Marine Battalion Landing Team at the corner of Don Rufino Alonzo Avenue and Roman Vilo Street here Wednesday night, police said.

Nobody was hurt in the 7:00 p.m. grenade attack which exploded few meters away from the Marine detachment, according to Supt. Rolen Balquin, city police director.

Responding policemen recovered the grenade safety lever near the old city hall which has been used as Marine detachment.

Master Sgt. Abela Castro and Cpl. Job Vargas of the 31st Marine company were inside the detachment when one of two suspects riding on a motorbike without license plate tossed the grenade and fled.

Marines and police invited for questioning a certain Elpidio Alarde, 34, of PC Hill, Cotabato City relative to the grenade throwing incident. He was later released.

Major Danilo Pacundo, speaking for the Marines, said the grenade attack could be the handiwork of lawless elements whose illegal activities have been checked by the Marine operatives.

Pacundo said the grenade attack will not stop the Marines from helping the police in implementing laws against lawlessness in the city.

Part of the Marine Battalion was deployed in Cotabato City and its environs to thwart kidnapping activities in 2012.

Kidnap for ransom gangs have been preying on Filipino-Chinese traders.

Since its deployment in the city and in the towns of Datu Odin Sinsuat and Datu Blah Sinsuat, both in Maguindanao, kidnapping activities have been stopped.

North Cotabato blast victim could be IED carrier, says PNP

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 27): North Cotabato blast victim could be IED carrier, says PNP

Police investigators here have theorized that the person wounded in the explosion of an improvised explosive device here last Saturday could be the bomb carrier.

The victim was later identified as Ali Manisi of Barangay Patadon, Kidapawan City who later died at a hospital in Cotabato City, according to intelligence reports gathered by the Kabacan police.

Citing intelligence information, Supt. Leo Ajero, Kabacan police chief, said Manisi was injured in the blast and was rushed to the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) hospital after the IED went off at 8 p.m. near Laira Marketing along national highway here.

A day after the blast, investigators rushed to the USM hospital but were told Manisi was rushed to Cotabato Regional and Medical Center in Cotabato City where he later died.

His family brought him back to Kidapawan and eventually buried.

Police recovered fragments of 81 mm mortar which was used as bomb component and motorbike believed to have been used by Manisi.

Police are still determining the owner of the motorcycle.

Ajero appealed to the relatives of Manisi to come forward to clear his name if indeed he was not the one who carried the IED.

Saturday's bomb explosion here was the sixth since January.

Soldiers join Iloilo City blood donation drive

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 27): Soldiers join Iloilo City blood donation drive

Troopers of the Philippine Army’s 62nd Infantry Battalion and 3rd Civil Military Operations (CMO) Battalion based in Escalante City, Negros Occidental participated in the monthly bloodletting activity conducted by the city government.

The blood donation activity, also supported by the city’s 21 barangays, Escalante City Police Station, and CAFGU Auxiliaries, was held on June 25 at the Escalante City Health Office (CHO).

Dr. Lolita Legaspi, city health officer, said she is grateful for the hundreds of participants who donated blood to help those in need while Dr. Ropelia Dollosa, CHO bloodletting coordinator, said the activity showed the unity of Escalante residents for the people’s well-being.

While promoting peace and development in Escalante City, the 3rd CMO Battalion took part in the bloodletting activity as part of their “serving the people, securing the land” campaign.

This activity is another opportunity for us to affirm our heartfelt commitment to service. It is one of the brave acts of service we could offer to the people especially here in Escalante,” Lt. Col. Patrick Cinco, commander of 3rd CMO Battalion, said in a press statement.

The two Army units also took part in the campaign against dengue fever in northern Negros as records show that Escalante City has the most number of cases in Negros Occidental.

1st Lt. Gizelle Lim, public affairs officer of 3rd CMO Battalion, had earlier said they have joined the local health officials in the information dissemination program to fight dengue.

The launching of Aksyon Barangay Kontra Dengue was held last June 21 in Barangay Alimango, Escalante City.

168 candidate soldiers undergo military training

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 27): 168 candidate soldiers undergo military training

CAMP MELCHOR DELA CRUZ, Gamu, Isabela -- Some 168 sons and daughters of former Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) members officially started their six-month training Wednesday after the 5th Infantry Division, Philippine Army course director received them as candidate soldiers and future enlisted members of the Army.

First Lieutenant Rowena G. Abayon, 5th Infantry Division, Philippine Army public affairs office chief, said the 168 candidate soldiers are considered as the 3rd batch to undergo rigorous military training.

Abayon said the candidate soldiers are composed of 148 males and 20 females.

She said 118 of the candidate soldiers are single, 49 are married and one is widowed while on educational attainment, 80 are high school graduates, 55 are college levels and 33 are college graduates and have passed the regular screening process conducted by the 5ID headquarters.

Abayon said 66 are from Kalinga, 49 from Mt. Province, 26 from Abra, 18 from Apayao, 5 from Benguet and 4 from Ifugao province and came from the "economic force” in the Cordillera now known as Cordillera Forum for Peace and Development (CFPDI).

The Army division public affairs chief said the integration of the candidate soldiers is mandated under Executive order Number 49 of President Benigno C. Aquino III signed on July 19, 2011.

During Wednesday's opening ceremony for the 168 CPLA candidate soldiers held at the 5ID grandstand, Army chief Lt. General Noel Coballes served as guest of honor.

Army chief asks CPLA candidate soldiers to be steadfast in joining the military

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 27): Army chief asks CPLA candidate soldiers to be steadfast in joining the military

CAMP MELCHOR DELA CRUZ, Gamu, Isabela -- The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Army chief urged the 168 Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) candidate soldiers to be committed and responsible in joining the military.

Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes made the call to the candidate soldiers during the opening ceremonies of the training held inside the camp Wednesday and witnessed by police and military officials.

Coballes acknowledged the efforts made by the 5th Infantry Division, Philippine Army (5ID-PA) and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and other government agencies who are making the Cordillera region a safe place to live in.

“We have proven that lasting peace and progress for all Filipinos will not be achieved by arm struggle and hatchet," Coballes told the CPLA integrees.

“We shall walk to the path of prosperity, only to be made easier through 'bayanihan',” Coballes added.

He challenged the candidate soldiers to help win the peace for themselves, their families, communities, for the Filipino people and for the nation.

“Your entry to the military is beyond having a job, it is a commitment for your honorable service to the Filipino nation,” Coballes said.

Tribal residents hold indignation rally against NPAs

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 27): Tribal residents hold indignation rally against NPAs

ESPERANZA Agusan del Sur -- About 500 members of the tribal communisty in this agricultural town held an indignation rally condemning the alleged acts of atrocities and killings perpetrated by the New People’s Army (NPA) in the farming village of Milagros few days ago.

Lt. Krinen Peter G. Sarsagat, spokesperson of the army’s 26 Infantry Battalion based in Esperanza, said in a press statement on Thursday that the indignation rally was held at the town’s plaza after a protest march last Monday.

He said that the rally was lead by family members of five people who were shot and killed by NPA rebels who raided the farm owned by the Shannalyn Agro Forestry Inc. in Barangay Milagros Esperanza Agusan del sur on June 18.

The protesters condemned the merciless killings by the NPA rebels on five innocent civilians and for the burning of eight heavy equipment owned by the agro-forestry company, Sarsagat said.

Initial investigation disclosed the NPA rebels attacked the company’s plantation for the alleged failure of the management to give in to the “extortion” demands of the rebels, he added.

The indignation rally ended with the tribal leaders initiating prayers and rituals for peace and stability in the town of Esperanza, Sarsagat said.

He said some sectoral groups like the People's Anti-Crime Crusade of the Philippines, religious leaders, and local government units joined the indignation rally.

Sonar makes significant findings in search for 2 missing pilots

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 27): Sonar makes significant findings in search for 2 missing pilots

M/Y Sakura, the private sonar search vessel hired by the Philippine Air Force (PAF) to help look for the two missing pilots of the OV-10 Bronco 630 that crashed in this city, has reportedly made significant findings involving the fuselage of the multi-mission aircraft.

Lt. Cheryl Tindog, spokesperson of the Western Command (Wescom), told the Philippine News Agency in an interview that the sonar vessel has detected something within the five-nautical mile radius area distance that was earlier pegged for the search at approximately 200 feet below water surface.

She said this might already be the fuselage of the multi-mission aircraft that went missing on June 23 following a special training flight with another OV-10 Bronco.

“Our sonar equipment was able to detect something significant at approximately 200 feet. Divers from the Navy Special Warfare Action Group (SWAG) are now on their way to help dive that spot which we hope is the wreckage of the OV-10 Bronco 630,” she said.

Tindog said the M/Y Sakura was only able to give “coordinates” of the area and not the name of the exact place where it can be found.

However, the five nautical mile radius, she said, is within barangays Bancao-Bancao to Tagburos in Puerto Princesa, going to Honda Bay.

Japan vows to help PH amid China sea row

From Rappler (Jun 27): Japan vows to help PH amid China sea row

Japan pledged Thursday, June 27, to help the Philippines defend its "remote islands", as both governments expressed concern over China's robust moves to stake its claims to disputed Asian waters.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said China's contentious claim to nearly all of the South China Sea and its territorial dispute with Japan in the East China Sea were discussed during top-level talks in Manila.

"We agreed that we will further cooperate in terms of the defense of remote islands... the defense of territorial seas as well as protection of maritime interests," Onodera told a joint news conference.

"We face a very similar situation in the East China Sea of Japan. The Japan side is very concerned that this kind of situation in the South China Sea could affect the situation in the East China Sea," he said, speaking through an interpreter.

Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin welcomed Japan's offer of support for its poorly resourced military.

"We have agreed to continue our exchanges of information, exchanges of technology to help each other to make our defense relations stronger," Gazmin said.

Neither side offered specifics but Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in February his country was expecting to get 10 new Japanese patrol boats within 18 months.

US presence welcomed

The Japanese military brutally occupied the Philippines during World War II, but the two countries have since grown closer due to trade and investment, and more recently, through China's assertiveness.

Del Rosario told the Financial Times newspaper in December that a rearmed Japan would help the region counter-balance China.

Onodera and Gazmin also on Thursday welcomed an increased military presence in Asia by their mutual ally, the United States.

However Onodera said Japan was intent on avoiding conflict with China.

"I would also like to emphasize here that the current situation should not be changed with the use of force but should be done through the rule of law," Onodera said.

China claims most of the South China Seam including waters close to its neighbors' coasts. The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have competing claims.

The Philippines has complained of increased Chinese "bullying" in the contested waters in recent years, and infuriated China by appealing to allies Japan and the United States for help.

The Philippines says China last year occupied an atoll well within the Filipino exclusive economic zone.

Tensions between China and Japan have also escalated over competing claims to the Japanese-held Senkaku islands, which Beijing calls the Diaoyus, in the East China Sea.

PH wants to give US, Japan access to bases

From Rappler (Jun 27): PH wants to give US, Japan access to bases

The Philippines said Thursday, June 27, it was looking to give the United States and Japan greater access to its military bases, as it seeks to counter what it perceives as a rising security threat from China.

The government is initially drafting a plan that would allow US forces to spend more time on Filipino bases, something that could also be offered to Japan's military later, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.

"If and when there is agreement on the access, then there will be equipment coming in from the (United) States," Gazmin told a joint news conference in Manila after meeting with visiting Japan Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera.

"Now as far as Japan is concerned, we do welcome other countries —particularly Japan since Japan is a strategic partner — in accordance with our existing protocols."

President Benigno Aquino III had already stated that the Philippines would welcome an increased US military presence, amid tense disputes with China over competing claims to parts of the South China Sea.

WARM WELCOME. Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera (L) and Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin (R) pose for photographers during a news conference in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, 27 June 2013. Photo by EPA/Francis R. MalasigWARM WELCOME. Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera (L) and Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin (R) pose for photographers during a news conference in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, 27 June 2013. Photo by EPA/Francis R. Malasig
Expanded exercises

Gazmin's comments indicated the Philippines was hoping to expand on the standard military exercises that the two nations' armed forces regularly engage in.

"Modalities for the increased rotational presence are right now being examined. One modality is the conduct of high-value, high-impact exercise," Gazmin said, without elaborating.

Gazmin emphasized the plan would not see any new bases or a permanent US presence in the Philippines.

The United States had tens of thousands of troops stationed in the Philippines, at the Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base north of Manila, until the early 1990s.

The United States, a former colonial ruler of the Philippines, was forced to abandon the bases amid anti-US sentiment and a row over rent. The constitution now bans any permanent foreign bases in the Philippines.

However the Clark and Subic facilities, now partly converted to business use, still host and service US military aircraft and warships on short-term exercises.

One of those began Thursday in waters between the Philippines' main island of Luzon and a disputed shoal now occupied by China.

READ: PH-US war games in Scarborough Shoal

Several hundred US Special Forces troops have also been rotating through Mindanao since early 2002 to train Filipino soldiers who are fighting Islamic militants.

Elite SEALS to join divers in search for downed Air Force plane

From InterAksyon (Jun 27): Elite SEALS to join divers in search for downed Air Force plane

A team of technical divers from the Navy’s elite SEALS unit was en route from Sangley Point in Cavite City to Palawan to join the search for the fuselage of an OV-10 Bronco aircraft that crashed off Puerto Princesa City Sunday night as it came in to land.

The six-man team left Villamor Airbase in Pasay City on a C-130 transport plane early Thursday morning, Navy spokesman Lieutenant Commander Gregory Gerald Fabic said.

He said the team would dive in waters where sonar located what is believed to be “a wreck on the seabed,” Fabic said.

The Air Force earlier contracted the Cebu-based M/Y Sakura, which is equipped with portable sonar equipment, to aid in the search for the downed aircraft, one of two planes that conducted a night proficiency flight Sunday.

On Wednesday, Commodore Joseph Rustom Pena, chief of Naval Forces West, said it was possible the downed plane’s pilots -- Major Jonathan A. Ybanez and 1rst Lieutenant Abner Trust Nacion -- failed to bail out and remained trapped in the fuselage.

Commander Carlo Lagasca, skipper of the Navy’s BRP Mangyan (AS71), which has led the search operations for the missing airmen, said they hope what the sonar detected was the plane’s body.

The 507th Strike Wing has formed a Board of Inquiry to investigate the crash while the Air Force has grounded its eight remaining OV10s for inspection.

ARE WE PROVOKING CHINA? Party-list lawmaker assails PH-US war games near Panatag Shoal

From InterAksyon (Jun 27): ARE WE PROVOKING CHINA? Party-list lawmaker assails PH-US war games near Panatag Shoal

The conduct of joint naval exercises of the Philippines and the United States near the disputed Bajo de Masinloc off Zambales constitute “a provocative act” that will only “heighten tension” between Manila and Beijing, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said Thursday.

“While we should strongly assert our territory against China we should not allow a bully to replace another bully. It also serves the imperialist agenda of the US making its pivot to Asia to reinforce its hegemony and promote the US war industry,” Colmenares said.

The congressman assailed the joint war games near what is also known as Panatag or Scarborough Shoal.

“We denounce President Benigno Aquino III’s subservience, undermining of our sovereignty and the peaceful resolution of the dispute. The US troops should be pulled out," Colmenares said.

"We will file a resolution to junk the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA),” he added.

Since April last year, China has occupied the shoal with civilian fishing boats, and civilian government patrol ships, preventing Filipino fishermen to fish in the area.

The Philippines has elevated the issue for arbitration before an international court.
The naval drill that involves US warships is called the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Carat) exercise.

DND chief rules out 'new bases,' but expanded US—and even Japanese--access possible

From  InterAksyon (Jun 27): DND chief rules out 'new bases,' but expanded US—and even Japanese--access possible

Amid rising tension over territorial disputes between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Thursday shot down speculations over plans to build air and naval bases in the country to accommodate US forces.

However, he hinted that there are talks of a scheme that allows US forces - and even Japan's - greater, temporary access to certain Philippine sites as part of defense cooperation.

The speculation was fanned by the holding this week of joint naval exercises by the Philippines and the US near Panatag Shoal off western Luzon, where Chinese military boats blocked Philippine attempts to apprehend poachers in April 2012, triggering a standoff.

“Let me clarify issues. We’re not going to construct bases,” Gazmin declared.

Nonetheless, said the defense chief, the Philippine government may or may not enter into an agreement to give greater access to American forces, or even Japanese forces, to visit Philippine military bases.

"We will be accepting access. Right now the agreement has not been firmed up. We are in the process of crafting the agreement relative to our Constitution and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). After that is done, then we will be allowing [access]. If and when there is agreement on the access, then there will be equipment coming in from the United States,” Gazmin said.

He then turned to the matter of Japan, which on Thursday reiterated its willingness to help the Philippines, which it occupied for three years during World War II, defend its territory against China.

Japan and China have their own festering dispute over a chain of islands in the East China Sea, known as Senkakus to Japan and Diaoyus to China.

“Now, as far as Japan is concerned, we do welcome other countries, particularly Japan, since it is a strategic partner in accordance with our existing protocols,” Gazmin said.

At the opening of the PH-US Balikatan Exercises 2013 a month ago at Camp Aguinaldo, the national headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, both Gazmin and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the government is open to giving American forces greater access to military “bases” in the country such as the one in Subic Bay in Zambales, which once hosted the largest US military base outside of the US mainland, until 1991.

The officials, however, clarified that this can be done only in “extreme situations.”
Gazmin explained again on Thursday that an agreement is very much possible because of the “increased rotational presence” of US forces in the Asia Pacific.

“The modalities for the increased rotational presence are right now being examined. One modality is a conduct of high-value, high-impact exercises. We do have this regular exercise with the Americans and we have not talked about specific equipment but we do welcome the inclusion of a new technology, very new to us that this is part of our education,” he said.

As Gazmin spoke, another joint PH-US naval exercise started near Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Masinloc, Zambales, where Chinese military and civilian surveillance vessels and fishing boats had descended more than a year ago.

In April 2012, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF15) of Philippine Navy apprehended 10 Chinese fishing vessels caught poaching in the area. But a Chinese maritime ship, bigger than the Navy patrol ship, blocked the Navy’s attempt to apprehend the poachers, leading to a standoff—and the virtual occupation of the site by Chinese boats that never left.

At the height of diplomatic shuttling, Manila withdrew its maritime vessels from Panatag to “de-escalate” the tensions but China did not.

Sources said “satellite photos” of new Chinese activities at Panatag are already in the hands of the government, which continues to deny such.