Friday, June 28, 2013

Unmanned vehicle now being used in search for downed OV-10

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 29): Unmanned vehicle now being used in search for downed OV-10

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Saturday announced that it is now using a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) in its ongoing search for the downed OV-10 "Bronco" attack plane which went downed while on a night proficiency flight last June 23.

Commodore Enrico Evangelista, PCG Palawan District commander, said that the decision to use the ROV was done to ensure the safety of divers.

He added the ROV will be used to determine if an object detected by sonar equipment five nautical miles off the Puerto Princesa airport last Thursday is indeed the wreckage of the OV-10.

The Coast Guard has been searching nearly a week for the Air Force OV-10 aircraft that crashed off Palawan following a night proficiency flight Sunday night.

Earlier, the military's Western Command activated a task force to oversee search efforts for the two pilots of the OV-10.

The pilots were identified as Major Jonathan Ybanez and 1st Lt. Abner Trust Nacion

The crash had prompted the Philippine Air Force to ground its fleet of OV-10 aircraft while an investigation is ongoing.

US destroyer to join war games near Scarborough

From the Daily Tribune (Jun 28): US destroyer to join war games near Scarborough

A US destroyer will join the Philippine Navy’s flagship for war games starting yesterday close to a flashpoint area of the South China Sea, adding to tensions with China over rival territorial claims.

The exercises are a boost for the Philippines’ poorly equipped military as it struggles with perceived rising Chinese aggression, and follows repeated pleas to longtime ally the United States for protection.

“The goal of these exercises is to further boost cooperation... between the two armed forces and further streamline responses to counter-terrorism and maritime security,” deputy presidential spokesman Abigail Valte told Agence France Presse.

The six-day exercises are an annual event but this year they will be held off close to Scarborough Shoal which China insists it owns.

The shoal is a tiny set of rocks and islets in the South China Sea 230 kilometers east of Luzon and 1,200 kms from the nearest major Chinese landmass.

China claims nearly all of the strategically vital South China Sea, even waters close to the shores of its smaller neighbors.

Tensions between China and other claimants to the sea, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam, have escalated in recent years amid a series of Chinese political and military actions to assert its claims to the waters.

Philippine Navy (PN) spokesman Lt. Commander Gregory Fabic said some of the Philippine-US exercises would be held between Luzon island and the shoal.

Specifically, Fabic said some of the drills would be 108 kms east of Scarborough Shoal in “sea lanes of communication within Philippine territory.”

Nevertheless, Fabic stressed the war games were not meant to provoke China.

“While the exercises will be between Scarborough Shoal and the main island of Luzon, the focus is inter-operability and not targeted against the Chinese,” Fabic told AFP.

The Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises will involve three US Navy vessels, including the USS Fitzgerald, a guided missile destroyer, according to a PN statement.

The Philippines will deploy its flagship, a former US Coast Guard cutter called the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, as well as other Navy and Coast Guard vessels.

About 500 US forces and another 500 Filipino troops will take part in the exercises, according to Fabic.

He said among the highlights was an exercise designed to intercept suspected enemy ships, board them and seize materials they may be carrying that could pose a danger to allies.

Since last month, the PN has also been monitoring Chinese vessels circling in another part of the South China Sea close to a Philippine-controlled reef Second Thomas Shoal.

RP to build air, naval bases for US use

From the Daily Tribune (Jun 28): RP to build air, naval bases for US use


The Senate had already junked the American bases in the Philippines, and the 1987 Constitution bans the presence of foreign bases and the troops, as well as vessels equipped with nuclear arms. But the Philippine military, now under its commander in chief, President Aquino, has revived plans to build new air and naval bases at Subic Bay — once an American base — which the US military would be free to use to counter China’s creeping presence in the disputed South China Sea.

Manila confirmed this yesterday as defense officials said it is looking to give the US 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 Aquino 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.

However 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.

However 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.

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

The bases would allow the Philippines 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, newswire reports said.

A senior military officer said of the plan to build bases for the US: “The chances of this plan taking off under President Aquino are high because his administration has been very supportive in terms of equipment upgrade,” said a senior military officer who asked not to be identified.The people around him understood our needs and more importantly, what our country is facing at this time.”

Constitutionlists, however, raised doubts over the revived bases plan of the Aquino government.

In a GMA online interview, it was reported that former Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioners Rene Sarmiento and Christian Monsod took the view that the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ plan appears to be a way of skirting certain constitutional provisions.

“If it’s a foreign military base or a foreign military facility, it is not allowed in the Philippines, except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate,” Sarmiento said.
Monsod echoed Sarmiento’s views and added: “The provision is clear and self-explanatory.”

The Navy officials, however, stressed that the military bases would be for the Philippines and not the US, saying that P10 billion would be used for the development plan, upon President Aquino’s approval.

“That sounds like a circumvention of the Constitutional provision—stretching what is now allowed,” Monsod was quoted as saying in the report.

The Aquino government is now crafting an agreement that would allow United States access to their former military bases in the country, Gazmin admitted yesterday.

During a press conference with his Japanese counterpart Minister Itsunori Onodera in Camp Aguinaldo, Gazmin, however, stressed that such access agreement will be within the Constitution and anchored on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

“We are in the process of crafting the agreement based on, relative to our Constitution and the VFA,” said Gazmin.

“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 US,” added Gazmin.

Gazmin said that should an agreement is reached, other countries, particularly Japan, will also be allowed access to military bases.

“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,” said Gazmin.

At present, US troops are allowed temporary stay in the Philippines under the VFA but not permanent bases.

It will be noted that Filipino and US troops are regularly conducting joint military exercises in various parts of the Philippines under the existing Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the VFA.

Aside from the US, the Philippines and Australia also has a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) which was ratified by the Senate in July last year.

Allowing access to US equipment to military bases in the country was first brought up by Gazmin last April at the height of the tension in the Korean Peninsula.

Gazmin then said that the Philippines could allow access to military bases under “extreme emergencies” like when there is war.

However, such pronouncements were met by criticisms from various militant groups.
Japan also yesterday pledged 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 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 co-operate 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.

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 defence 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.

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 neighbours’ 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.

4 Abus slain as troops seek seized Fil-Algerian sisters

From the Daily Tribune (Jun 29): 4 Abus slain as troops seek seized Fil-Algerian sisters

Government troops killed four Abu Sayyaf members and wounded five others in Sulu during combined air and ground assaults as they continued searching for two kidnapped Filipino-Algerian sisters, a military official yesterday said.

Members of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group opened fire on a military helicopter in the southern island of Jolo last Thursday, prompting the soldiers to counter-attack, Col. Jose Cenabre, 2nd Marine Brigade commander, said.

“The aerial attack was launched immediately on the area which led to the four killed,” followed by a ground assault, he added.

Two of the slain Abu Sayyaf bandits were identified as Kasim Hajan and Rakman Malim while the two other Abu Sayyaf fatalities were not immediately known.

“This is part of the tactical pressure against the Abu Sayyaf group. We will continuously conduct operations against these lawless elements,” Cenabre stressed.
He, however, said there had been no sightings of Linda Bansil, 35, and her sister, Nadjoua, 39, who were seized in the area of the attack last Saturday while working on a film about Jolo’s impoverished Muslim coffee farmers.

The abduction shocked local residents, with the Muslim sisters active in human rights advocacy and having worked on films showcasing the plight of the Muslim minority.
The Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in country’s history as well as many kidnappings of foreigners and Filipinos, often demanding hefty ransoms for their hostages.

Other Abu Sayyaf factions are believed to be holding hostages, including two European bird watchers and a Jordanian broadcast journalist.

In March, Abu Sayyaf militants released Australian Warren Rodwell after holding him for 15 months. An undisclosed ransom was paid to win his freedom.

US troops have been based in Mindanao for more than a decade to help train local troops in hunting down members of the group.

Navy asks US help on missing pilots

From the Manila Standard Today (Jun 29): Navy asks US help on missing pilots

The Philippine Navy on Friday said it was considering to request the directors of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) of American and Filipino sailors in Subic, Zambales to send equipment and a team to Palawan to help in the ongoing search-and-retrieval (SAR) operations for the missing OV10 Bronco 630 with two pilots possibly trapped inside it after it crashed Sunday night approximately five nautical miles off Puerto Princesa City.

The CARAT has a SAR component.

The families of the missing pilots, Maj. Jonathan A. Ybanez and 1Lt. Abner Trust Nacion, are hoping their bodies would be retrieved.

“Actually, we’re exploring all possibilities including that option,” 1Lt. Cheryl Tindog, spokesperson of the Western Command, said in a phone interview.

She said the option had already been suggested by Commodore Joseph Rustom Pena, commander of the Naval Forces West (NAVFOR-West), to Westcom commander Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero.

Navy spokesman Lieutenant Commander Gregory Gerald Fabic said the idea is “great” and they will “suggest” the matter to higher-ups.

“I just don’t know if it will be considered considering the hectic schedules of the CARAT exercises. Such request needs planning also. Anyway, we’ve already a 6-man team of SEALS in the crash site and they are very capable to accomplish their mission,” Fabic said.

Since Sunday, the Navy was still figuring out how to get into the area where the Philippine Air Force craft crashed. PAF had hired a portable sonar from a Cebu-based private company to help in the search of the still missing two pilots and fuselage.

Meanwhile, Tindog said the 6-man SEALS from the Naval Operations Group are preparing to dive the 200-meter deeps where the planes’ fuselage possibly rested on the seabed.

The BRP Mangyan (AS71) skippered by Commander Carlo Lagasca said the ship would provide support for the technical divers.

Lagasca said they are hoping that the detected wreck on the seabed would be that of the fuselage.

“We have to move quick dahil baka biglang tumungo dito ‘yung Tropical Depression ‘Gorio’ dahil kung magkaganun ay siyempre we have to take shelter for safety and therefore the SAR operation would have to be postponed,” he said.

Govt eyes forces pact with Japan

From the Manila Standard Today (Jun 29): Govt eyes forces pact with Japan

To allow Japanese troops join military exercises

The Philippines and Japan have agreed to study the possibility of pursuing a status of forces agreement that could enable Japanese troops to participate in joint military exercises here, the Defense Department said Friday.

“The details still need to be firmed up. Right now we are at the level of forming the technical working groups,” said Defense spokesman Peter Galvez.

Galvez said such a military agreement was broached during a meeting between Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and his Japanese counterpart, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera.

Under the government’s 2010-2016 National Security Policy, the Aquino administration will purse a “larger border security” program to ensure territorial sovereignty and defense.

National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia said it is “desirable” to pursue other status of forces agreements with neighboring countries and other allies instead of relying heavily on the Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.

The Mutual Defense Treaty paved the way for the Visiting Forces Agreement, which governs joint military exercises of Philippines and American troops in the country.
The Philippines currently has a status of forces agreement with Australia.

In December 2006, then President Gloria Arroyo directed the Defense department to be more active in drawing up similar agreements with other neighboring countries after Washington temporarily suspended joint military exercises.

The suspension was seen as a move to pressure the Philippine government into turning over the custody of convicted rapist Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, a participant to the Balikatan in 2005, to the US.

The Balikatan eventually resumed after Smith was transferred to the US embassy in Manila.

The Palace said China, which has conflicting territorial claims with the Philippines, should not see a proposal to give rights to American troops to use military bases in the country as an aggressive action.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte also assured the public that whatever access agreement is reached with the United States will be in accordance with the Constitution and the Visiting Forces Agreement.

She said the proposal was part of an agreement to increase the “rotational presence” of American forces in the country.

Asked if the proposed access rights would result in more incursions from China, the Palace official pointedly said that it was none of China’s business.

“At this point, whatever that we do within our territory is perfectly within our rights to do. Other countries must respect that,” Valte said.

On Thursday, Gazmin clarified that the proposed access agreement is not equivalent to basing rights.

Gazmin said other defense allies of the Philippines can also be given access to military bases.

China, reacting to reports of the planned access agreement, has warned that countries with territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea which look for help from third parties will find their efforts “futile.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the strategy was a “path of confrontation” and it would be “doomed.”

But Gazmin on Friday said the Philippines needs allies to defend itself against the China.

“You know at this point we cannot stand with our own feet; we need allies. If we will not do this we will always be at the mercy of big powers. What is happening is that China is already here, they are already on our territory. We cannot just attack them. We had already run after them before a court but look they will not leave us. So, what are we going to do now? Shall we wait they will come further and enter our doorsteps? They are already inside our garage,” Gazmin said.

Gazmin’s remarks came as leftist lawmakers slammed the government for negotiating anew with the United States government for its forces to have greater access into military facilities in the country.

The government is also exploring a similar agreement with Japan.

Gazmin brushed aside Chinese warnings.

“Well that is their right, their prerogative to say such a statement but you know we have to protect ourselves too. In the process of building up our defense we should be able to collaborate with other countries so that we become stronger, we become united,” he said.

After Beijing rejected a series of diplomatic protests by Manila over its relentless intrusions into Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea, President Benigno Aquino III ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs to bring the case for arbitration before an international court, which triggered more aggressiveness on the part of China.

At present, China has roped off and is building structures in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

China also intruded into Ayungin Reef, part of the municipality of Kalayaan Island Group in Palawan. The Philippine Marines have troops stationed in the area.

Gazmin also explained that the possible “access agreement” for American forces would be in accordance to the Visiting Forces Agreement, which needs the approval of the Senate.

“Of course, it should pass Congress approval. Right now, our legal luminaries are carefully studying it,” he said.

Gazmin said such an agreement could include introducing “new military technology” from US.

The Defense chief also said the agreement was part of a US agreement to increase the presence of its forces in the Asia Pacific.

He also said that with the expected increase in joint military exercises, the US would need access to bases here in Subic and Lumbia Airport so they could temporarily park their planes from Okinawa or Guam or Hawaii while the exercises were ongoing.

Gazmin said a similar agreement can be forged with Japan, which he described as a “strategic ally.”

He said, however, that without a visiting forces agreement, Japanese troops wouldn’t be able to enter or be stationed here.

“We might hold an exercise with Japan but they wouldn’t be able to disembark. Our technical working group will explore this and come up with a mechanism,” Gazmin said.

Leftist lawmakers on Friday accused Aquino of insulting Filipino war veterans and comfort women by allowing Japan to gain greater access to Philippine military bases and facilities.

They also said it was a shameful act of national betrayal if President Aquino overturned the 1991 historic verdict of the people and the Philippine Senate against the US bases by turning the country’s bases and facilities into American military outposts.

They demanded that the Department of National Defense divulge the details of the access agreement that will give open access to US troops and other foreign forces to Philippine territories.

“These so called access arrangements are so vague that it appears to expand the Visiting Forces Agreement. The Aquino government is allowing an undetermined number of US military troops as well as Japanese forces to stay and make use of an unidentified and undetermined number of Philippine facilities for an undetermined period of time. These are de facto military bases,” Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said.

“Japan’s military presence in the Philippines is not only unwanted, it is also unwelcome. This is an insult to our veterans and comfort women who suffered under the Japanese,” said Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlo Zarate in a statement.

“While we should strongly assert our territorial integrity against China’s bullying, basing the US and Japanese military here is not the solution to the territorial dispute with China. Bringing our case to a multi-lateral body and gather international support against China’s bullying is the strong but peaceful track that we should follow. The Visiting Forces Agreement with the US must be terminated instead of expanded,” Colmenares said.

Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap said since 2010, US naval ships have frequented Subic Bay supposedly for maintenance, refueling and courtesy visits.

“In the past six months, 72 US warships and submarines docked at Subic, 88 ships visited in 2012, 54 in 2011 and 51 in 2010,” Hicap said citing official reports.
“These visits are not simple logistical stopovers. The Philippine government is obviously portraying an active role in the US government’s increasing economic, political and presence and military build-up in the Asia-Pacific region,” Hicap said.
Hicap also lambasted the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercises that started this week near the disputed Panatag Shoal.

“We refuse to be dragged into the proxy military wars between US and China. Filipinos must raise concerns over the increasing presence and deployment of US and foreign troops in the country under the guise of joint military trainings. We must not allow further encroachment of our national sovereignty by US superpowers and foreign forces,” Hicap said.

ACT Teachers Rep. Anotnio Tinio said historically, the US has used the Philippines as a stepping-stone for military intervention in China.

US troops based in the Philippines were among the foreign troops that invaded China and occupied Beijing in 1900, Tinio said.

“Most Filipinos are probably unaware of this, while the Chinese certainly have not forgotten. Instead of forging an independent and self-reliant foreign policy in response to Chinese territorial incursions, the Aquino administration would let this country reprise its role as neocolonial outpost, a staging area for the encirclement of China by the US,” Tinio said.

He said the Aquino administration should stop fooling the people.

“Whether they’re called basing or access agreements, the expanded access deal for US forces will further diminish our national sovereignty, perpetuate the abject dependence on the US military for external defense, and aggravate the tension over the disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea,” Tinio said.

“The government’s disturbing hospitality towards US and other foreign troops is a direct affront to our national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The DND is acting like a willing host and aide to foreign forces without giving due consideration to the safety and security of Filipinos,” Hicap said.

Amid the controversy over access rights, US Secretary of State begins his first Southeast Asian trip with a visit to Brunei to attend a regional security forum with more than 20 counterparts from countries including China, Japan and North Korea.
The US 7th Fleet, meanwhile, said it has deployed its amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard to patrol its area of responsibility in the Asia Pacific.

No sightings of 2 sisters as troops clash with Abus

From the Manila Standard Today (Jun 29): No sightings of 2 sisters as troops clash with Abus

Soldiers killed two Islamic extremists and wounded five others in the southern Philippines as government forces continued searching for two kidnapped filmmaker sisters, a military official said Friday.

This developed as a commander of the Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters, who attacked government positions in Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato, demanded payment from the government for the death of his kinsman.

The slaim extremists, who were members of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group, opened fire on a military helicopter in Sulu island on Thursday, prompting the armed forces to counter-attack, said local Marine commander Colonel Jose Cenabre.

“The aerial attack was launched immediately on the area which led to the two killed,” followed by a ground assault, he said.

He said there had been no sightings of Linda Bansil, 35 and her sister, Nadjoua, 39, who were seized in the area of the attack on Saturday while working on a film about Sulu’s impoverished Muslim coffee farmers.

The abduction shocked local residents, with the Muslim sisters active in human rights advocacy and having worked on films showcasing the plight of the Muslim minority in the largely-Christian Philippines.

The Abu Sayyaf is an extremist group founded with seed money from Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. The US government has officially designated it a terrorist organisation.

Meanwhile, BFF commander Samsudin, a former commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front who defected to the Moro National Liberation Front, demanded that the government pay his family P300,000 for the death of a kinsman who was part of the attack on military posts in Suktan Kudarat, Datu Piang and North Cotabato.

Samsudin claimed that he attacked the government posts manned by militiamen to avenge the land grabbing of their ancestral land.

“We demand that the P300,000 expenses [incurred] the death of our relative be compensated back to prevent similar attacks in the future. The land that was grabbed must be returned to them,” Samsudin said.

At least six Muslim rebels have been killed in the three-day skirmishes with government troops that started last Tuesday.

But the fighting subsided a few hours after religious leaders and elders intervene asked for a ceasefire to settle Samsudin’s supposed grivances.

During the talks, Samsudin pressed for the return of their ancestral land grabbed by influential persons, particularly in Bagumbayan, Sultan Kudarat.

Tension anew between MNLF, MILF in Matalam

From the Philippine Star (Jun 20): Tension anew between MNLF, MILF in Matalam

Tension spread anew in the restive Matalam  in North Cotabato  after a local group of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) on Thursday tagged the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as behind Sunday’s attack on a multi-million sugar mill in the area.

Datu Dima Ambil, chairman of the MNLF’s North Cotabato State Revolutionary Committee, said a group of members of the MILF’s 108th Base Command as responsible for the attack.

The rebels, believed to have come from Barangay Marbel in Matalam, came close to a village where Ambil and his men reside and shot houses with assault rifles.

Villagers said the gunmen also fired at positions of MNLF members securing the periphery of the milling plant of the Cotabato Sugar Central Corp. in Barangay Kilada, also in Matalam.

Ambil’s group  figured in running gunbattles in Barangay Marbel last month, causing the dislocation of 5,234 villagers.

The provincial government of North Cotabato brokered a  peace pact between the feuding MNLF and MILF groups, but combatants from both sides continued firing  shots at each other, preventing the return of evacuees to the barangay.

Editorial: Another kidnap story

Editorial from the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 28): Another kidnap story

What the military dismisses as a spent force has struck again, this time abducting two sisters who had traveled from Jolo to Patikul in Sulu in the course of producing a documentary on the plight of impoverished Muslims in the South. From reports, the Abu Sayyaf seized independent filmmakers Nadjoua and Linda Bansil in Barangay Liang in Patikul as they were heading back to Jolo on June 22 in the company of 19 local residents. There’s a poignant detail: The sisters spent the night in Mount Sinumaan, a purported stronghold of the bandit group, to take shots of the sunrise.

The Bansils are storytellers who seek to depict in their work little-known facets of the lives of destitute tribesmen and other marginalized groups. They have made inroads in their field, and their advocacy in human rights enriches their work. It can be said that they walk their talk. Their short film “Bohe: Sons of the Waves,” about the hand-to-mouth existence of young Badjao islanders, was a nominee in the prestigious Gawad Urian; Linda wrote for Amnesty International publications in the Philippines.

But now, with the women’s abduction, the tables appear to have been turned. Their brother Medmessiah Bansil put his finger on the matter when he told The Associated Press that his sisters “have become the story.” And the narrative has been murky since Day One, suggesting that the very people who served as the women’s escorts in Patikul had a hand in their disappearance. The idea is neither new nor far-fetched. The halfway attentive observer will note that the fundamental reason the Abu Sayyaf has not been stamped out is its flexibility, its porousness: Its members come and go; they assemble for, say, a kidnap-for-ransom operation, and then by turns detach and weave seamlessly back into the community, and, when the situation requires, such as when authorities mount a manhunt, vanish into its fabric—until it’s time for another “project.” The system has worked for years, obviously with more than the actual kidnappers profiting.

In the case of the Bansils, the telltale sign came early: When a member of the Peace and Conflict Journalism Network called Nadjoua’s mobile phone after news of the sisters’ disappearance spread, the one who picked up was a Yasir Rajim who was among the locals who had accompanied the sisters to Patikul. Rajim could not explain why he was holding the phone (as well as, it was learned later, Linda’s own phone, and the sisters’ camera, gadgets, and other belongings); why, even if the sisters were among a group that included 19 locals, only they were taken by the armed men; or why the 19 could not prevent the abduction.

There has been no word from the kidnappers at this writing. Almost a week after the fact, Medmessiah Bansil was reported as saying, the family has yet to hear from even the authorities—a procedural lapse that is both grave and incomprehensible.

It’s uncertain how long this story will drag on, given that the Abu Sayyaf has been holding at least four foreigners—a Japanese treasure hunter, two European birdwatchers and a Jordanian journalist—for years. Foreigners hold a particular attraction for the bandit group because of the idea that the ransom to be paid for their freedom will necessarily be bigger—for example, the ransom paid for Australian Warren Rodwell was reportedly $2 million. (The amount of the ransom paid for the foreigners known as the Sipadan hostages is legendary. The story that the bounty was enjoyed by local officials and military men, as well as the intermediaries, refuses to go away.) But Nadjoua and Linda Bansil are not foreigners although their looks may suggest it. They were born in Algeria to an Algerian mother and a Filipino Muslim educated in the Middle East, but they were raised in the Philippines. They studied mass communication at Ateneo de Davao University. Their family is not known to be wealthy.

Predictably, it was suggested that the sisters had it coming because they ventured into reputedly dangerous territory without “coordinating” with authorities who presumably could have made security arrangements. One will be reminded of the warning to women years ago in Marikina City, in the wake of the rape-murder of a number of young women coming home from the night shift, to steer clear of the streets at night. One will be reminded as well of how women in Europe and the United States have marched for the right to move freely day or night without fear of harassment or assault. They called their movement “Take Back the Night.”

BIFF fighters attack patrol base

From Tempo (Jun 28): BIFF fighters attack patrol base

Around 40 elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), attacked a patrol base of the 33rd Infantry Battalion at Barangay Bagumbayan, President Quirino, Sultan Kudarat, the Maguindanao-based 6th Infantry Division reported Wednesday.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, 6th ID spokesman, identified the leader of the alleged BIFF elements that staged the attack on June 21 as Zukarno Sapal alias Diok.

A few hours before the assault, militiaman Vicente Macaraeg of the 9th Sultan Kudarat CAFGU Company was shot dead by the same BIFF renegades while the victim was driving his motorcycle along the irrigation road in Barangay Bagumbayan to fetch his son from school, Hermoso said.

A 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 said.

The Army patrol base attackers were armed with RPGs, homemade 50-caliber sniper rifles and other high-powered firearms, Hermoso said.

An hour-long firefight flared up between the rebels and responding soldiers. No casualty has been reported so far.

Missing PAF plane reportedly found; AFP won’t confirm

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 28): Missing PAF plane reportedly found; AFP won’t confirm
Searchers have finally located the wreckage of a Philippine Air Force OV-10 plane in the waters close to the approach to the runway of the Puerto Princesa Airport, a source privy to the ongoing search effort told the Inquirer Friday.

Initial dives indicated that the plane was stuck in the sandy seabed with the body of one of the two pilots inside the cockpit, according to the source, who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak about the ongoing operation.

The Inquirer tried to get confirmation from officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command here but they did not answer calls.

The source said actual retrieval still has to begin and they were still about to lower an underwater camera borrowed from the Department of Science and Technology.

The area was just off BM Beach, a public beach, on the eastern side of the city, the source added.

The aircraft, which belongs to the PAF 15th Strike Wing, went down in Puerto Princesa Bay between 7 p.m. and  8 p.m. last Sunday, June 23, as it was returning from a night training flight.

Its two pilots, Maj. Jonathan Ybañez and Lt. Abner Trust Nacion, remained missing.

China: Path of confrontation over South China Sea 'doomed'

From ABS-CBN (Jun 27): China: Path of confrontation over South China Sea 'doomed'

With just a few days before ASEAN member-states meet for the 46th Ministerial Meeting in Brunei Darussalam, China has stepped up its rhetoric aimed at nations laying claim to isles and waters off the South China Sea.

China's foreign minister Wang Yi warned choosing the path of confrontation will be "doomed," and turning to third parties will be a "futile" effort.

"If certain claimant countries choose confrontation, that path will be doomed. If such countries try to reinforce their poorly grounded claims through the help of external forces, that will be futile and will eventually prove to be a strategic miscalculation not worth the effort," Wang said after a speech at the annual Tsinghua World Peace Forum.

China is locked in a territorial dispute with the Philippines, Vietnam and other countries over areas rich in marine life and possible oil and gas deposits.

The so-called third party, though not mentioned, alludes to the US which is a close ally of the Philippines and Taiwan.

Wang's statements came after the Armed Forces of the Philippines confirmed it is in the middle of crafting an agreement to allow US forces to regain access to Philippine air and naval bases in Subic, Olongapo meant to counter China's aggressive presence in the disputed seas.

The 10-member ASEAN hopes to reach a legally binding Code of Conduct to manage maritime conduct in the disputed areas. But for now, a watered-down "Declaration of Conduct" is in place.

"Let me clarify issues. We're not going to construct 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," said Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

The 46th ASEAN meeting will also hold a post ministerial conference with dialogue partners, China and Japan meant to exchange views on regional and international issues, regional architecture and external relations.

MNLF blames MILF for NCotabato attack

From Tempo (Jun 28): MNLF blames MILF for NCotabato attack

A top official of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has accused another rebel group operating in North Cotabato of orchestrating recently an attack on his life and a sugar company located in Matalam town.

In an interview, MNLF Commander Datu Dima Ambil said that he could not think of any group that has reasons to ‘annihilate’ him and his men but the 108th base command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Ambil said after the 30-minute gun fire last Sunday, they recovered from the site empty shells from armalite rifles and other highpowered firearms they considered ‘signature’ of the MILF.

Ambil and his men survived the attack.

He said the MILF launched the attack so they could take over the security of the Cotabato Sugar Central Corporation (Cosuseco) based in Barangay Kilada, Matalam.

Many of the security personnel of the Cosuseco are members of the MNLF.
Ambil said the MILF also attacked the truck yard of the Cosuseco.

The MILF vehemently denied the accusation.

Commander Noa Sabel of the MILF’s 108th base command, in an interview, said their leadership did not order the attack on Ambil and the Cosuseco last Sunday.

Sabel told authorities: “You do not easily accuse the MILF of orchestrating such attack just because you recovered from the site slugs of armalite rifles you believed come from us. There are other armed groups that also use those kinds of firearms.“

He said that there are other groups that do not want peace to reign in Matalam town.
“This group believes that if there’s war, there’s money,“ he explained.

Sabel stressed the MILF only wants unity among the `Bangsamoro’.

“We’ve long dreamed of peace and unity among the Moro people in our land. But it seems there are groups who do not want this to happen,“ he said.

Malaysia to try 29 Filipinos in Sabah standoff

From the Philippine Star (Jun 28): Malaysia to try 29 Filipinos in Sabah standoff

A Malaysian court will hold a joint trial for 29 persons implicated in the entry of Sulu sultanate followers in Sabah last February.

A report by The Star Online said Malaysian judge Ravinthran Paramaguru had ordered the conduct of the joint trial for the accused, who have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The 29 have been accused of waging war against Malaysian king, among other charges.

“One or more persons can be charged and tried jointly if they are charged for the same offence or different offences under one transaction,” the report quoted Malaysian Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail as saying.

'The keyword here is one transaction,” he added.

The Star Online said 21 of the accused have been accused of violating provisions against declaring war against the king and being a member of a terrorist group, which is punishable by death and lifetime imprisonment, respectively.

Among those facing the two charges, the report said, is datu Amirbahar Hussin Kiram, the nephew of Sulu sultan Jamalul Kiram and general of the sultanate forces that entered Kampung Tanduo in Lahad Datu.

Also facing trial for similar offences were Basad Samuel, Mohamad Ali Ahmad, Pabblo Allie, Abd Hadi Mawan, Atik Hussin Abu Bakar, Dani Ismail, Saidili Jaharul, Totoh Hismullah,  Basil Samiul, Rizman Gulan, Abdul Majil Jubin, Rijmal Salleh, Julham Rashid, Tani Lahad Dahi, Al Wazir Osman, Virgilio Nemar Patulada, Masir Aidin, Anwar Salib Akhmad, Ismail Yasin and Binhar Salib Akhmad.

The report said four persons were charged for supposedly joining a terrorist group namely Aman Radie, Timhar Hadir, Holland Kalbi and Lin Mad Salleh.

Three others have been charged for harboring terrorists namely Norhaida Ibnahi, Kadir Uyung and Lating Tiong. The crime is punishable by life imprisonment.

A certain Salib Akhmad Emali is facing four charges including the recruiting of persons to become members of a terrorist group.

The report said the plea of a suspect identified as Habil Suhaili would be recorded on July 12 since he was still undergoing treatment in a hospital.

"The judge also fixed July 15 to hear the case management," the report said.

The Sulu sultanate followers led by Raja Muda, brother of sultan Jamalul Kiram III, went to Sabah last February to assert their claim to Sabah, which they consider their ancestral land.

Violence erupted after the sultan’s followers refused to leave the area despite the deadlines set by Malaysian government. A Malaysian court will hold a joint trial for 29 persons implicated in the entry of Sulu sultanate followers in Sabah last February.

Bansil sisters 'sold out' to kidnappers?

From ABS-CBN (Jun 28): Bansil sisters 'sold out' to kidnappers?

A former kidnap victim in Sulu believes that the two independent filmmakers abducted in Sulu were "sold out" by their contacts in the province to their captors.

Professor Octavio Dinampo said he is looking at four angles as reasons for sisters Linda and Nadjoua Bansil to visit Sulu.

First is that they are filming a documentary on the coffee growers in the province.
Second is to lend a hand in the peace negotiations, as their father is from Maguindanao.

Third is to facilitate the release of kidnapped Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani, and the last is to help the Tausug Citizens of Sulu, a group who has filed a petition before the United Nations for the independence of Sulu.

Dinampo said whatever is the real reason for the Bansils' presence in Sulu, the common denominator is that, "they have contacts in Sulu and that is the Tausug Citizens of Sulu."

Dinampo named a certain Isa Tahan as the leader of the Tausug Citizens of Sulu, who reportedly served as the host of the Bansil sisters.

Dinampo said it was Tahan who escorted the victims to Barangay Kabuntakas in Patikul, where they stayed the night on June 21.

The following day, as the filmmakers along with Tahan and 16 others were on their way back to Jolo town, they were flagged down by a group of armed men led by Nenok Sapari.

Dinampo believes the abduction was well planned.

"The group was there at a specific time and place and purpose. There are some members of the group that could have sold them out,” he said.

As a former kidnap victim himself, Dinampo said he knows what happened to the Bansil sisters.

"It is actually what happened also to Atyani, who walked into the trap," Dinampo said. "After trusting their contact too much.”

Dinampo is calling on the authorities in Sulu to probe the companions of the victims. As per latest information received by the university professor, the Bansils have reportedly been brought to Buhanginan in Patikul town.

Meanwhile, Dinampo said government troops should also be giving attention to the group of Sapari, or the so called “Lucky 9”, who is already making a name for themselves.

"They called themselves ‘lucky’ after the successful string of atrocities, kidnappings of traders, harassments," Dinampo said.

Sapari and his group’s members are related to former Abu Sayyaf Group leaders and members, who have either died or been arrested.

Police reports show that Sapari and his men are involved in the kidnapping of Engr. Carlos Tee, Reynato Yanga, employees of a construction company and workers of a sardines company, all of whom were brought to Patikul town.

Dinampo said although original groups of the Abu Sayyaf are still existing in Sulu, authorities should also be alert against the group of Sapari.

"They are drug addicts, they dare to go to the town proper," Dinampo said. "Only Allah knows what they are capable of doing to their captives."

US shows use of drone to Philippine Navy

From ABS-CBN (J un 28): US shows use of drone to Philippine Navy

Toys for the big boys

Naval forces from the Philippines and US held joint exercises on Friday.

The two sides shared techniques in sea reconnaissance that could come in handy as Manila shores up its capabilities to patrol its maritime territories, a Philippine naval officer said.

The joint naval exercises, now in its 19th year, are aimed at improving cooperation between the two allies in maintaining regional maritime security, addressing trafficking and smuggling, and responding to disasters.

Around 200 Filipino and 600 U.S. personnel joined the annual Cooperation, Afloat, Readiness and Training (CARAT).

US forces demonstrated the use of their unmanned aerial system, which can be used for sea surveillance and convoy, and tracking target positions.

They said a similar system was used before in helping to capture a leader from the extremist Abu Sayyaf Group.

The Kevlar radio-controlled plane, weighing 6 kilos, can fly up to 10,000 feet at a speed of 40 nautical miles.

Images taken by a camera inside the unit can be monitored by squadron members on the boat. It is also capable of capturing infrared images.

"The unmanned aerial vehicle will be a very very important tool in our operations in safeguarding the entire maritime territories," public affairs officer for the Philippine Navy, Lieutenant Junior Grade Rommel Rodriguez said.

Troops also practised insertion and extraction operations on inflatable boats and firing of light machine guns.

Humanitarian activities were also part of this year's training.

"I think that over time two forces working together builds both camaraderie and capabilities. And right now that's been demonstrated with the US and Philippines. And what I've learned here is they have a few practices, that I'm not going to go in depth about, that I'm definitely going to take back to my unit," said Senior Chief Jeremy Eden of the U.S. Navy's Maritime Civil Affairs Security and Training unit.

Though some of this year's joint exercises will be held in waters facing the disputed Scarborough Shoal, where Chinese and Philippine vessels faced off last year, naval commanders from the U.S. and Philippines said that the exercises were routine, and were not related to maritime tensions.

US ships have been traversing the region more, as Beijing grows more assertive in the South China Sea, which is claimed entirely by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and in part by Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines - one of Asia's biggest flashpoints.

The frequency of US Navy ships passing through Subic Bay, a former US naval base, has increased dramatically, underlining its strategic importance near vital sea lanes and just 130 nautical miles (241 km) east of Scarborough Shoal, a rock formation controlled by China since a tense two-month stand-off with the Philippines in 2012.

The maritime dispute will again loom large over regional diplomacy next week when US Secretary of State John Kerry joins his counterparts from Southeast Asian nations and China among other countries for an annual summit in Brunei.

NPA – Mt Province Attacks PNP Public Safety

Posted to the CPP Website (Jun 28): NPA – Mt Province Attacks PNP Public Safety Battalion Training

Magno Udyaw
NPA Mountain Province Provincial Operations Command (Leonardo Pacsi Command)

At about 7:15 AM today, a unit of the Leonardo Pacsi Command-NPA Mountain Province successfully ambushed troops of the Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) who were undergoing combat training in Brgy. Kabunagan, Tadian, Mountain Province. The swift attack was conducted while the said troops, numbering more than a hundred including their trainors, were on bivouac towards Abatan, Bauko.

The ambush left one dead and 9 wounded, while the NPA withdrew without casualties after giving first aid to the wounded and releasing a number of captured PNP combatants. The NPA seized 14 high powered rifles (11 M16s and 3 M14s). The PNP troopers were fully armed.

The ambushed PNP troops belonged to the 2nd Company, Regional Public Safety Batallion, one of the numerous batches of the RPSB undergoing training in succession since last year in Babalaan,Tadian.

The PSB is a special unit of the PNP presently trained to focus in counter-insurgency and urban warfare tactics, according to documents seized in previous armed engagements.

The said program is an integral part of the doomed ISP Oplan Bayanihan of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) where the PNP actively participates in combat operations against the revolutionary forces.

In recent pronouncements, Chief Supt. Benjamen Magalong of the PNP PRO-CAR announced that special units of the PNP are in rigid training for counter-insurgency readiness. In fact last April this year, the special PNP unit that was ambushed in Asipulo, Ifugao, were trainees at Babalaan, Tadian, who were mobilized jointly with the 86th Infantry Batallion conducting massive counter-insurgency combat operations in the towns of Tinoc and Asipulo, Ifugao.

Last year, the PPSB of Mountain Province acted as blocking force during the raid of the composite force of the 54th IB and the PNP in the temporary camp of a unit of the Leonardo Pacsi Command at the outskirt of Barangay Alab, Bontoc, Mountain Province. Earlier this year, the training camp in Babalaan, Tadian had been the subject of protest by the residents who were unduly disturbed by the incessant firing of the PNP trainees. The firing range is very near the densely populated area of Poblacion, Tadian and nearby communities were kept in the dark about the said trainings.

The 54th IB of the Philippine Army and the PNP through its PSB with their numerous detachments spread all over the province has virtually turned Mountain Province into a military garrison. In addition, their patrol bases and mobile units serves as security forces of large mining and power generation companies that aggressively invest in ancestral land areas in all of the province’s 10 municipalities.

Most notorious of these companies are Hedcor-Aboitiz building a hydropower dam in Sabangan; Asia Pac and Phil Magma with geothermal and hydro projects in the municipalities of Bontoc, Sadanga, Barlig, Natonin and Paracelis; and Philcarbon with a windmill project in the scenic towns of Sagada and Besao. Most of these companies are foreign owned or has ties with their local lackeys and at present is in the process of securing the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) being facilitated by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).

In response to the brewing people’s resistance in MP against these profit-driven and destructive “Renewable Energy”(RE) companies, the reactionary state as a matter of procedure and commitment to profiteering capitalists has commissioned the Philippine Army and the PNP to secure the targeted areas where these facilities are to be constructed.

The intensified influx of destructive and anti-people projects in the province and the Cordillera region is unprecedented and further exemplify the exploitation of the region as mere resource base area targeted for the said projects by big foreign and local profiteering companies. This is happening while there are halted applications of large scale mining in the whole province stopped on its tracks by people’s protests, and the proliferation of Carbon in Pulp (CIP) Plants in the nearby mining areas of Mankayan, Benguet, and Quirino, Ilocos Sur that affects the people and environment. Their operations encroaches into the communities in the boundary areas of MP.

At present, these companies are on fast track mode in securing the FPIC and employ dubious tactics in tricking and hoodwinking the Igorot communities of Kankanaeys, i-Bontoc, i-Sadanga in the western part of the province and the tribes in the municipalities of Barlig, Natonin and Paracelis in the eastern part into approving the aforesaid projects. In doing so, they have payrolled known Igorot personalities and has-been politicians in aggressively participating in the consultations and schemes to convince their fellow kailians (townmates) to give up their rights.

In glaring collusion, the NCIP has been a willing tool of these companies in the ongoing consultations of hydro, geothermal and wind power applications. The people of Mountain Province and nearby provinces has time and again resisted destructive projects that poses danger to numerous communities and the environment. The New People’s Army is duty bound to march with the people in resisting and defending their rights. It carries out punitive action against companies and the state security forces that trample on the people’s rights.

As long as the present ruling system continues, the threat to the people’s ancestral domain and the impunity enjoyed by large scale mining and power generation projects in collusion with the present US-Aquino regime continues unabated. It is only through the strengthening unity of the national minorities of the Cordillera region and the peoples’ army that accumulated strength can be attained in combating these plunderers, and only through the victory of the People’s Democratic Revolution that progress through nationalist industrialization, genuine autonomy and self-determination can be attained.

US presence and military exercises hinder peaceful resolution of South China Sea disputes—CPP

From the CPP Website (Jun 28): US presence and military exercises hinder peaceful resolution of South China Sea disputes—CPP

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) denounced the US and Aquino governments for conducting joint naval exercises in the South China Sea, violating Philippine sovereignty and hindering the peaceful resolution of the South China Sea disputes between the Philippines and China. The naval exercises are part of the US’ continuing efforts to build up its military presence in the Asia-Pacific and are clearly acts of provocation against China.

At least three US naval warships—the USS Fitzgerald, the USNS Washington Chamber and the USNS Salvor—are set to participate in the US-RP naval exercises dubbed Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT). The exercises are to be conducted near the Panatag shoal off the coast of Zambales which has been the subject of dispute between the Philippines and China.

“The naval exercises are clearly part of the effort of the US to project its military power in the Asia-Pacific and encircle China,” said the CPP. “They do not help in efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution to the territorial disputes over the Panatag shoal, the Spratlys and other land formations in the South China Sea.”

“By actively supporting the US military buildup in the Asia-Pacific and allowing it to use the Philippines as a platform for US naval operations in the region, the Aquino government has made the peaceful resolution of the South China Sea disputes more difficult to attain,” added the CPP. “It is provoking China to be more aggressive in its defense of its territories and push beyond its sea borders.”

“In the face of all this, declarations of the Aquino government calling for a peaceful resolution of the South China Sea disputes are mere rhetoric,” added the CPP.

“The CPP condemns the Aquino government for allowing US warships to sail at whim into Philippine territorial waters and conduct military exercises in outright contempt of Philippine sovereignty,” said the CPP. “Under the Aquino regime, the US military has enjoyed unprecedented access to the Philippines, taking full advantage of the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement to establish its permanent armed presence through the rotational docking of nuclear-capable warships and submarines.”

“The CPP further denounces the Aquino government for its plans to erect facilities at the Subic port to be used by the US military where it could deploy equipment to service US ships and submarines which regularly dock at the port,” said the CPP.

U.S. access at Subic Bay needed no Senate ratification – Escudero

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 28): U.S. access at Subic Bay needed no Senate ratification – Escudero

Senator Francis "Chiz" Escudero on Friday said the reported plan of the government to give the United States air and naval forces access at Subic Bay needed no ratification by the Philippine Senate.

”I don’t think so,” Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on justice, replied when asked if the U.S. access at Subic Bay, a former U.S. military base, should be ratified first by the Senate.

”Only treaties need to be ratified by the Senate. Foreign policy and relations are still primarily within the domain of the Executive Branch,” Escudero explained.

Escudero, however, clarified the Executive Branch should get the opinion not only of the Senate but by key stakeholders “in order for things to flow more smoothly.”

”It’s always better to get the consensus or at least opinion of the Senate and key stakeholders,” he said.

Escudero drew support from outgoing Senator Panfilo Lacson and resigned Senate majority leader Vicente Sotto III.

”If only for the sake of inter-departmental courtesy, they should consult the Senate, not necessarily to get its approval,” Lacson said.

”If there is plan outside the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement), Senate should scrutinize it,” Sotto, for his part, said.

Senator Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan II believed the U.S. access to Subic is a violation of the Constitution.

”But if our national interest and society are at stake, we have limited choices because we are still a developing country at the mercy of an dependent on powers like the U.S.,” Honasan, a former military colonel, said.

The U.S. Naval Base in Subic Bay was closed in 1991 after the Senate rejected to ratify the extension of Treaty of Friendship, Peace and Cooperation between the U.S. and the Philippines that was approved in 1947.

'AFP winning the battle against NPA'

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 28): 'AFP winning the battle against NPA'

Despite a series of New People's Army (NPA) attacks against innocent civilians and unarmed government forces, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday expressed confidence that it is winning the battle against insurgency thanks to its Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) "Bayanihan".

The military made this statement after noting a 40 percent increase in AFP-initiated engagements against the armed rebels from fourth quarter of 2012 to the first quarter of 2013.

Since January up to March this year, the AFP recorded 96 focus-military operations against the NPA which only conducted 46, according to military public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala.

To further prove IPSP’s competency, more and more NPAs are returning to the government fold. Records show 189 rebels have surrendered since January 1 including the 54 NPAs who gave in last June 23 in Northern Samar.

Recent incidents on the other hand, show that the NPAs continue to attack soft targets which manifest the NPA’s projection that they are still a force to reckon with despite the fact that they are losing their mass base support and their strength continuously dwindling.

This Friday morning, an undetermined number of NPAs ambushed a group of unarmed police trainees while on a morning road run in Cabunagan, Poblacion in Tadian, Mountain Province.

Zagala said those police personnel were unarmed and had no capacity to engage the rebels in an armed confrontation. As a result, one personnel was killed and nine were wounded.

This violent act is an utter disrespect not only to the police who maintains peace in our communities but also to the people who benefit from the services provided by our law enforcers.

Not more than two weeks ago, the NPAs abducted five soldiers in Purok Lubas, Barangay Poblacion of Paquibatao district in Davao City. Similarly, the abducted AFP members were in civilian uniform and possibly armed only with short firearms.

"The AFP strongly condemns these recent attacks against unarmed law enforcers. Just like the police, the soldiers are here to uphold peace, and by targeting them, the NPAs are depriving our people of the opportunities a stable and peaceful environment can offer," Zagala stressed.

However, these attacks should not hamper AFP’s ongoing peace and development programs which seek to address the root causes of insurgency. It only challenges the military to do better and further improve its ways to achieve the goal of a just and lasting peace for our country, he added.

"It is high time that the NPAs put a stop to these senseless and criminal acts which only puts innocent lives in danger," Zagala concluded.

BRP Ramon Alcaraz arrives in San Diego, California

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 28): BRP Ramon Alcaraz arrives in San Diego, California

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), the second Hamilton-class cutter in Philippine service, arrived in San Diego, California early Friday morning (American time).

This is the ship's first port call shortly after departing for Charleston, South Carolina last June 10.

"She is now docking as we speak," PN spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic said.

"Everything went on schedule as per voyage plan," he added.

Shortly after that, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz will sail for Hawaii and Guam before proceeding to her voyage to the Philippines.

She is expected to be in the country by first week ofAugust and in commission by September.

BRP Ramon Alcaraz successfully concluded her Panama Canal crossing last June 18 (American time).

With this achievement, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz becomes the first Filipino warship to cross the historic waterway under her own power.

"She passed by Panama Canal Tuesday evening," Fabic stated.

The Philippine frigate entered the Panama Canal Zone during the weekend or almost five days after her June 10 departure in Charleston, South Carolina.

The 82-kilometer Panama Canal connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific Ocean.

It cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a key conduit for international maritime trade.

Prior her arrival at the Panama Canal Zone, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz made a brief stopover at Mayport, Florida to successfully test fire her 76mm Oto Melara automatic cannon and speed trials and attained the speed of 25 knots without any difficulty.

The ship's top speed is place between 29 to 31 knots.

DND chief: PHL needs allies in fending off incursions

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 28): DND chief: PHL needs allies in fending off incursions

With the Philippines just starting its modest military upgrade programs, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Friday admitted that the country needs the help of its allies, especially the United States, in fending of the creeping incursion being done by China.

"At this point in time, we can't stand on own. We need (the help of a long-standing) ally," he stressed.

Gazmin said that if the Philippines will not do this measure, there is good chance that the country will be further pressed by a much larger force, as like now.

The DND chief cited the case of China which he said is now encroaching on Philippine territory.

He added that China possessed a numerically and superior military force, a factor the Philippines can't just counter at the moment.

With this lack, Gazmin said the Philippine government has brought its case against China before the court but in spite of that, they still continue to occupy some of our area.

The DND chief urged the public to understand and support the renewed partnership with the U.S. as he stressed that we need this to prevent an oppressive neighbor from stepping on us.

Gazmin on Thursday confirmed the government is now looking to give U.S. and Japan greater access to its military bases.

He clarified that the Americans will not be putting up military bases in the country, instead the Philippines will be accepting access.

"We’re not going to construct 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,” Gazmin stated,

"After that is done (access agreement), 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,” the DND chief concluded.

233 NCRPO policemen completes SCOUT

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 28): 233 NCRPO policemen completes SCOUT

Regional Director Leonardo Espina of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) on Friday graced the graduation ceremony of 233 policemen who completed their PNP Revised Special Counter Insurgency Operation Unit Training (SCOUT) held at NCRPO Grandstand, Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, Taguig City.

Espina congratulated the graduates and stated, “Ako’y nagagalak dahil nadagdagang muli ang ating pwersa na maghahatid ng tulong at serbisyong makatotohanan sa bayan sa panahon ng pangangailangan. Bukod pa riyan ay napalakas din ang ating pwersa upang labanan, sugpuin at panagutin ang mga kriminal, mabigyan ng agarang saklolo at hustisya ang mga biktima.”

Espina said under his leadership in NCRPO there are already 949 police officers trained in SCOUT based on data last year to present. he added that the NCRPO continue to conduct and sponsor more training to update the knowledge and skills of the NCRPO policemen.Espina said that another 127 poliemen will be training under the SCOUT.

According to Espina that the Revised Special Counter Insurgency Operation Unit Training (SCOUT) mainly focused on training rookie police officers on skills and strategies that will hone their capabilities and efficiency on Water Search and Rescue, air to ground operation, jungle environment survival training, water bourne and others.

The training is a mandatory requirement for all Police Officer 1 for their next rank promotion. The training is also geared toward developing their competence in addressing the needs of all stakeholders.

Espina also challenged the graduates and incoming trainees: “Gamitin ninyo ang inyong mga natutunan sa pagtulong sa ating mga kababayan. Panatilihing sariwa sa inyong kaisipan ang inyong mga natutunan sapagkat ito ay magsisilbing isang sekretong sandata at kalasag sa pagtupad ng ating mga tungkulin.”

PNP to transfer Maritime Group headquarters to Zamboanga

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 28): PNP to transfer Maritime Group headquarters to Zamboanga

The Philippine National Police (PNP) is set to transfer the main headquarters of the Maritime Group from Manila to a shoreline barangay in this city to help other maritime related agencies enforce the law in the seas of Mindanao and the Sulu Sea.

The Maritime Group is a National Operational Support Unit of the PNP mandated to perform all police function over Philippine Waters.

Its functions include the enforcement of the law, prevent and control of crimes, maintenance of peace and order, public safety and internal security over Philippine islands, coastal areas, ports and harbors to protect and sustain the development of the maritime environment.

9th Maritime Mobile Group (MMG) commander Supt. Rollen Ariño said that except for a few other things to be ironed out, the transfer could start this year.

Ariño added the proposed transfer of the Maritime Group headquarters has a 90 percent “go signal” from PNP Director-General Alan Purisima.

He said this city appears to be the most suitable place although the Maritime Group is also considering others areas in the country for its main headquarters.

Arino said negotiations are on-going for the use of a four-hectare shoreline area in Barangay Bolong, 32.6 kilometers east of this city.

He noted that Barangay Bolong is an ideal place for the Maritime Group headquarters since the place sits along the sea lanes where pirates and other lawless elements criss-cross from the Sulu Archipelago to Southern Mindanao with illegal pursuits and purposes that needs positive and aggressive response from the authorities.

Bolong is also easily accessible to Sacol Island and the Eleven Islands, which are known sanctuaries and jump-off points of pirates, kidnappers and other lawless elements.

The Maritime Group headquarters, once transferred, will have its own wharf and berthing areas for the command’s sea crafts.

The 9th MMG has its headquarters at present along the shore of Barangay Baliwasan, 3.5 kilometers west of this city, but it does not have its own berthing facilities.

New classrooms built through soldiers-media 'bayanihan' spirit

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 28): New classrooms built through soldiers-media 'bayanihan' spirit

Hundreds of students of the Sto. Niño National High School here expressed elation that they now have new classrooms.

They used to see the light of day literally peeking through punctured holes and dilapidated roofs. Overcrowded classrooms were also common.

But these problems would soon be a thing of the past as they witnessed on Thursday the completion of two classrooms built through private-public partnership.

Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) Commander Lieutenant General Caesar Ronnie Ordoyo led his troops and education stakeholders in thanking Tina Monzon-Palma, program director of the ABS-CBN Foundation “Sagip Kapamilya” for the building of classrooms.

“This is a concrete example of our 'bayanihan' trademark in action. It is imperative to work hand in hand with the different stakeholders in our country to achieve peace and development towards attaining national goals and objectives,” Ordoyo said.

Palma, through the Sagip Kapamilya program, facilitated the much-needed funding of the school buildings while SOLCOM soldiers and rural folks served as the construction manpower in the spirit of “bayanihan.”

Ordoyo also thanked his men in the joint partnership which reflects the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) mission to serve the country and people not only during security operations but also in community development.

PNP identifies lone fatality, 9 wounded trainee cops in Mt. Province ambush

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 28): PNP identifies lone fatality, 9 wounded trainee cops in Mt. Province ambush

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has identified the police trainee killed and nine others wounded in the treacherous attack conducted by 20 suspected New People's Army (NPA) rebels in Sitio Kabunagan, Tadian town in Mt. Province early Friday morning.

All of the victims are members of the PNP Cordillera's Special Counter Operations Unit Training Group (Scouts).

Senior Supt. Oliver Alilis Enmodias, Cordillera police operations and plans chief, said the incident took place around 5:45 a.m. while the policemen were on an early morning jogging.

Senior Supt Reuben Theodore Sindac, PNP public information chief, identified the lone fatality as PO1 Denver Balabag.

The nine wounded were Insp. Melenium Bantas, who sustained gunshot wound on the arms and foot; PO1 Alex Dulnuan, gunshot wound on right arm; PO1 Pawas Dakelan, gunshot wound on stomach; PO1 Junelle Ngalawen, gunshot wound on right leg; PO1 Jasmin Salve, gunshot wound on left shoulder; PO1 Mitchell Maludon, gunshot wound on right knee; PO1 Robin Benito, gunshot wound on both knees; PO1 Jefferson Sarri gunshot wound on both knees and PO1 Everson Wagis.

Enmodias said the group, numbering 99 (four assistant instructors and 95 trainees), were jogging and technically “unarmed” since the guns they were carrying are not loaded with bullets.

However, he said the group has an escort of 10 armed policemen who engaged the rebels positioned in an elevated area in the mountains some three kilometers away from the police camp.

Enmodias said the PNP strongly condemns the dastardly attack by the NPAs, adding that pursuit operations are ongoing.